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Values: The Greatest Challenge of Doing Business in East Africa

  May 26, 2014

Baha’u’llah, a Persian nobleman and the founder of the Baha’l religion, pointed out that, ‘Commerce is a heaven, whose sun is trustworthiness and whose moon is truthfulness’. Anyone would agree that such values and, values in general, are a crucial part of commerce and business at large. Sadly, lack of values is a disease that greatly inflicts our society and can defensibly be said to be the greatest challenge of doing business in Africa.

One may not think much of the role values play in business but that it was a key point in the recent Association of African Business Schools (AABS) Connect Annual Conference held at the Strathmore Business School (SBS), which was attended by numerous high ranking members of the academic and business society, says a lot. NasimDevji, Group CEO and Managing Director of DTB Group, who was in attendance, affirmed this. ‘Values are missing the most’, she said. This was later asserted by Patricia Murugami, Vice Dean of Executive Talent Development at SBS, who emphasised on value-based leadership and ethics.

To say that it is a great problem that needs our unified attention is by no means to downplay other factors like poor infrastructure, unskilled labour or a weak economic eco system, which also pose great challenges to businesses in our region. It however means that it is time for us as a nation and as the East African region to treat this chronic illness before it causes any more detriment than it already has.

It would be unnecessary and daunting to explain how lack of values is a problem inhibiting the growth of successful sustainable businesses. One only has to look around and see for themselves; from nepotism in offices to corruption in institutions big and small. Unfortunately, these are but only a few examples- a tip of the ice berg.

The most effective way of combating this challenge would be to encourage institutions to inculcate these values into the members of society. The first institution that would be responsible for this is the most fundamental unit of the society, the family. Values like honesty, impartiality and respect should be imparted into the little ones at a young age so as to ensure that they become a solid foundation on which they shall base their lives on. ‘We have to deal with this from a family value system…’ said Patrick Bitature: Chairman, Simba Group Uganda. He continued by saying that ‘…the government will put up all these mechanisms in place but they are useless unless we deal with this from the core.’ Schools should also ensure that they develop these values in their students as a way of reinforcing the values learnt at home. If these two institutions carry out their roles religiously, employers will not have the taxing role of forming their employees’ characters. They would only have to promote the values already learnt by their employees.

With values, the market place will be friendlier. Many more opportunities will be available to entrepreneurs and investors and growth will be the only direction the economy can move towards. Of more importance, values will ensure that we progress continuously without pause or return. As they say, you may get yourself to the top, but character is what will keep you there. In our case, values will take us to the top of the economic ladder and shall without fail keep us there. We only have to make them ours and never let go of them.

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