“We want you to be our local partner,” he began. “You are smart, and you have lots of friends in governments across Africa. When there’s a tender which interests us, we’ll call you and we can work on it together. We will pay you a 10% commission on every deal that we win together.”
The company he worked for was big and prestigious. It is one of the largest in Europe.
The gentleman talking to me was a director, and had traveled all the way to see me.
“What happens if your tender is not the lowest?” I asked quietly.
“Then you must do everything to make sure we (you and us) get it.”
“You want me to be a Commission Agent?”
“No, no,” he said, “our local partner.”
I could see I was making him uncomfortable.
“We make only the best equipment. This Chinese stuff is rubbish. Ours is the best, but you know it costs a little more, that is why we need someone like you with a little influence.”
I looked at him.
“You are looking for a Commission Agent. I don’t do that kind of business because it means that somewhere along the line I will be required to cut deals which are corrupt.”
His face turned red, then white as a sheet. Then he got up hurriedly and left my office.
He could hear me laughing loudly as he left.
“Commission Agents…” Know them for what they are.
There are some countries where all business is done through so-called Commission Agents. This is organised corruption.
Do not admire people who make money as “Commission Agents,” despite the conspicuous consumption that often follows their way of life. Commission Agents are not entrepreneurs. Also be wary about companies that simply want to use you as an agent and middleman. That is not entrepreneurship.
The business of “providing access” is one of the worst forms of corruption. Large international companies that have so called “local partners” whose role is simply to provide “access to the right people” are not innocent of corruption, even though their fancy lawyers might say otherwise.
Let’s play by a different set of rules! Let’s kick corruption and corrupt practices out of Africa.
Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa