The #1 Problem Facing Businesses In Sierra Leone

Got a business in Sierra Leone? If so you may have encountered this problem at one time or the other. I went to a women empowerment meeting sometime ago – organised by Afford SL, UNICEF and the Cheri Blair Foundation – and the aim of the meeting was to discover the main obstacles facing business women in Sierra Leone.

For me, to realize that I wasn’t alone in some of the problems I was facing was enlightening as well as encouraging in many ways.

Some of the problems discussed included lack of government help, high rental rates, lack of good roads, lack of affordable capital and a few more. I’m sure each business type may face its own specific problems.

For instance, there are entrepreneurs who have serious and in-demand products which are doing well locally. Now some of these products, will do even better when exported. However, to export, all products must meet international standards.

Now these standards have to be implemented in individual countries and the framework for implementing can be quite slow here in Sierra Leone. Thus, you may have good exportable product but until it’s gone through & passed rigorous international standards, you’re stuck with marketing it only in Sierra Leone.

The #1 Problem

I can go on and on but really, the reason for this post is to discuss the main problem which all of us at the forum agreed was THE biggest problem to businesses in Salone. This problem is the lack of trust. Now this is so major that literally all attendees of the forum agreed and almost everyone had a story to tell on this issue.

Here’s my take on it: Lack of trust leads to so many other problems and the bottom line is business either fail very quickly or they are never able to expand beyond a certain limit.

Recently I heard of friend who had a trusted employee steal Le100 million(approximately USD $25,000)  from his account by forging his signature. Did someone at the bank collude with him? No one knows but these things happen all the time.

You employ security guards from a company only for the them to steal. In fact most of these guards prefer to be posted in places where there’s enough stuff to steal, preferably “fuel” ❗ Imagine the cost to the owners of the security companies? I mean we were victims of such crime and the security company had to pay us back over $3000! This is money coming out of their turnover and we must be one of many of such victims.

Let’s explore this scenario further, this security company employs an individual who’s desperate for a job. Before posting him they make sure they vet him, gets him to provide a guarantaur (who presumably has some form of collateral like house or land) takes his picture, finger print, all the works… Now if this guard goes to steal, the most common scenario is the person whose property they’ve stolen charges the company the value of the property and they in turn charge the guard or put him in prison. The first scenario rarely works because the guard likely has no money. The second one means the security company spending even more money to get little or no justice so either way the company looses.

Now unless you’re a big company, how will you survive? Your business is brought down by untrustworthy low-life individuals who only think of what they’ll eat today.

This is repeated right across many other types of industries 🙁 I mean I’ve heard of restaurant owners who have to be vigilant because their staff can bring in their own drinks to sell so as an owner your stock of drinks remain unsold

People with shops are tied to their tills because if they don’t chances are a hefty sum will get missing!

All my friends I know who own shops close them down when they go on holiday because they can’t trust their staff/employees to deliver on quality and also NOT STEAL the daily takings! So now, as a business owner, if you’re tied to your till to prevent stealing, what time have you got to expand? Is it a wonder, businesses remain "micro" or "small" in Africa? Is it a wonder, less than 5 businesses started in Africa are listed on the FTSE stock market?

In comparision, do I know the owner of MacDonalds restaurant in say Croydon, South London? No! Why not, because he’s got trusted employees running the show for him so he can take a break in Malaga or somewhere fancy like that or if not so he can concentrate on other matters such as expanding and employing more people.

Some Solutions

All said and done, Sierra Leonean business owners need to start employing technology such as cameras, computerised systems etc to help combat some of these problems. I know several cases where this has reduced petty crime almost to nil and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Come hell or high water, only the smartest survive! After all, there are some business doing well in Sierra Leone. How are they making it?

I’ve got more to say, but I need to go…duty calls…ciao

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