The Wisdom of an African Donkey…

Having just completed a trip through East and West Africa and then heading to Canada for PDAC 2015, much of my reflection from the trip has been related to how much patience is required to cope with the challenges of working in Africa.

On a mine site we visited, we happened across a group of wild donkeys that roam the property at their leisure. One in particular had parked himself at a crossroad’s stop sign and was employing a careful and cautious approach to the road rules as when we returned 20 minutes later to the same spot, he was still there having only moved several metres forward. I wondered if it was the 40+ degrees heat of the day that led to his slow movement or if indeed his patience and cautiousness was there to teach us some lessons about working in Africa.

Now I’m just a simple HR guy and certainly no macro-economics expert so when I see a donkey standing at a crossroad, I can relate to this. Over the past 10 years, Africa has taught us that it is not for the faint hearted and more so than ever, patience is required at a personal, corporate and investor level.

For visitors like me, it starts as soon as you hit airport customs and are faced with various official and un-official rules to be granted access to the country. It is quickly challenged again when negotiating a taxi fare and then the traffic… no Congestion Charges in Africa unfortunately.

Whilst it’s more an inconvenience and a good story than anything, on a larger scale companies who take the risk of spending their shareholder’s money in uncovering an African treasure, have a bigger cost at stake and must have much greater measures of ‘patience’ balanced with equal doses of ‘push’ and ‘persistence’. Be it local employee development, government permitting, community relations or supply and logistics, it seems that these 3 P’s are minimum ingredients for a company’s hope of success.

At an investor level, the 3 P’s can also be applied. Institutions and banks who have typically funded much of the continents project developments also must display patience with a company working in Africa acknowledging that results are not overnight and in many cases will take years to realise. Investors are also entitled to ‘push’ and well in their right to hold Directors and Executives accountable for their financial stewardship with cost management certainly order of the day. Their persistence to stay financing this great industry rather than hopping across sectors is critical to the industry’s long term viability.

There are some outstanding success stories in Africa and they speak of a patient and persistent group who in the face of all its challenges, continue to believe in themselves and push their company towards success. There are however, many companies currently standing at the proverbial crossroads unsure of the next step to take. It was at PDAC where I saw examples of companies who had hit this junction and then through wisdom and careful planning selected a new, but more appropriate direction and are moving through the ‘stop’ sign. Whilst their steps may now be smaller or going a different route, they are moving in the right direction – forward.

Africa remains a continent of opportunity and I only hope that through continued patience, pushing and persistence at all levels, there’ll be many more success stories for years to come.

Lachlan Spicer (CEO, Globe 24-7)

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