By Melanie-Ann Feris
Businesses in Africa need to be more serious about doing business in Africa. This, for Ivorian businessman Boris Konan, is the best solution to building a more prosperous Africa.
Konan, who was born and raised in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, is a serial entrepreneur. He created his first company (that developed websites), while still a student in France, where he had gone to study IT after college.
He has also established a number of prosperous business ventures between Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa since he first came here in 2015, when he worked for a company selling LP gas.
“I fell completely in love with South Africa, especially thanks to the wine and the meat. I launched my first business venture in South Africa in 2016; I created my own company, Africa Business Group, helping businesses from both sides [Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa] find investors. I am still working towards the same vision to build bridges between South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire,” he says.
Today his business ventures in South Africa involve facilitating investment and funding for South African companies. Last year he created a cooperation agency, an NGO that comprises six South African and 25 Ivorian members, which facilitates business, cultural and educational cooperation between the countries.
Its current project is with a South African company working in the oil and gas sector, wanting to expand operations into the West Africa region.
Konan says that Côte d’Ivoire is the hub of the business world in West Africa, and his NGO starts the process by lobbying and advocating to create access for South African businesses in Côte d’Ivoire – which gives them access to the wider region. Once they have that access, the NGO’s cooperation board helps the business find potential distributors and define their business strategy.
“We prepare the ground for these South African companies and we assist them along the way.
“There is a perfect link between these two countries. South Africa is good with technology; bring your technologies and experience here,” says Konan.
Konan explains that many Ivorians study in France, Canada or the US, and go on to set up business connections with these countries. However, his broader vision is to advocate for Africa-to-Africa business, to build the continent’s economy.
“In Ivory Coast we have a strong need for English. You can’t do business if you are not proficient in English. I have a vision to connect universities and private schools between the two countries,” he says.
The sectors that he wants to address are education, healthcare, energy, IT and agriculture. Konan sees great opportunities between Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa and says there are infinite possibilities, including agriculture benefits. He is interested in creating food security, drawing on South Africa’s strength in agro-processing and Côte d’Ivoire’s strength in agriculture – with a focus on coffee, quinoa and cacao – to create a champion partnership in Africa.
Another venture involves attracting investment through partnering with the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone in Limpopo.
Konan is optimistic about business in Africa, especially between South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire, because of the new Air Côte d’Ivoire route that launched in July. At seven hours and 45 minutes, it is the quickest route between Johannesburg and Abidjan, with a stop in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He highlights the benefits of the route, including duration, frequency and price.
“The new route is going to completely change the approach to travelling to South Africa. Back in the day we used to travel on South African Airways; we had a one-hour stop in Accra, Ghana, and then a direct flight to Johannesburg,” he says.
“Since the cancelled route between Côte d’Ivoire and Johannesburg the only options we had were Ethiopian Airlines with a connection in Addis, and Kenya Airways with a connection in Nairobi. In terms of comfort, Kenya’s Boeing 737s are less comfortable than the SAA planes. You don’t get the same comfort for the same price,” he says.
“Air Côte d’Ivoire’s planes are more efficient, more modern, more comfortable. Another major plus is the time spent flying between the two countries.
“With Ethiopia, we take close to seven hours to Addis and then another seven hours to Johannesburg. Also, this offering by Air Côte d’Ivoire is great in terms of pricing – it’s the most competitive price on the Johannesburg-Abidjan route, for now. It will be a huge boost for business between our two countries, and make business much easier to do,” he says.
Konan believes better business between the two countries has also been spurred by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Côte d’Ivoire in December last year and the nine bilateral agreements signed, one of them an air transportation agreement. This has been bolstered by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara’s recent visit to South Africa. On 22 July 2022, Ramaphosa signed an additional six agreements to strengthen bilateral relations between the countries and bestowed the Order of South Africa (Gold) on Ouattara.
But he concludes that the continent’s prosperity rests firmly in the hands of African businesses and through doing business with each other, not just with subsidiaries of international companies.
“We have to change our habits in Africa. We have to do business with companies in Africa (instead of overseas countries). In African countries, the problems we face are the same.”