One of the most discomfiting stories that welcomed Africa to the current year was written by US-based Zambian journalist, Field Ruwe, after meeting, on a transatlantic flight, a white man who introduced himself as a member of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation.
Ruwe’s companion had scathing words for African leaders and their people, their reasoning, their inferiority complex against whites, their laziness with making inventions, their thoughtlessness.
Although he admitted that scientific research had long confirmed the equality of white and black men, save skin pigmentation, Ruwe’s friend (barring the well-known bitterness of truth) boasted that he felt superior to any black man. “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education ….,” he added.
He ended his rather demeaning but candid assessment of Africans with an advice, though: “Get over this white-skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff, for God’s sake.”
Of course, any honest African will agree with the unidentified white man’s utterances. It was clear, too, that Field Ruwe had little answers for the many embarrassing questions he was faced with. Ruwe’s predicament was understandable: he hadn’t met many people like Bola Akindele. This, again, is understandable: on the continent, there aren’t many Akindeles, the IT-savvy chief executive officer of Nigeria’s only company in the business solutions development sector to be certified compliant with international standards under the ISO 9001:2008 approved standards.
Incorporated in 2005 as a limited liability company, Courteville Business Solution plc. already operates in 18 of Nigeria’s 36 states and is poised to stamp its international presence in other African countries within the next 18 months.
But it is Courteville’s work at home that has earned it a place in the international spotlight, having stepped into the country’s business of vehicle licensing and insurance with such vigour and technological innovation that even his compatriots could not believe is wholly homegrown.
The process of registering, licensing and insuring vehicles had been a cumbersome affair, spawned by a combination of the country’s ever-rising population and the drudgery associated with the manual system of the process, which, worse still, is very often usurped by layabouts.
“It was clear to me that the solution lay in intelligent deployment of IT,” he says. “What was needed was a large-enough database and an automated system. If we could bypass all the bureaucratic nonsense, the dilapidated filling systems and the handwritten chits then in use, we could deliver the same service far more rapidly, efficiently, securely, verifiably and profitably. Everybody would win — the vehicle owners, the councils, the insurers.”
It was “difficult” initially, but the buck soon began rolling in. “We had to wait for owners to come renew their annual licenses to start inputting data,” he recalls. “Once the initial information had been installed, other items fell to place. Our database continued to grow rapidly. We now have records of over 15m motorists in Nigeria and in each file you have at least 10 entries. I believe we have the largest database in sub-Saharan Africa.”
In implementing his strategies, he was widely expected to turn to the West, but he turned in a pleasant disappointment: “I get calls from some states asking to know our promoters and if we are representing foreign firms because they cannot believe that what we do can be done solely by Nigerians,” he laments, saying it shows “the extent of disbelief in our own capabilities.”
“Everything about this business is homegrown,” he assures. “We did not buy any proprietary software. We design, develop and deliver everything locally. There is a goldmine of young IT specialists right in this country. They are very innovative. With a little help from government, we could be exporting our expertise — much as India is now doing — and probably earn more, with far less investment, that [we do] from oil.”
If there are any lessons to take from Courteville’s success, they are the power of self-belief, which the country unfortunately is lacking in bounds; the value of thoughtfulness, that intellectual determination to carve out a bridge from a scene of gridlock traffic; that essential recognition of the strength of the black man.