We have been in Guinea just over a week. We have looked at goods and have shown the mine owners exactly what we want and what we cannot accept. We have an appointment for Thursday to buy. Because we have figured out how to eliminate the risks for all parties, it has taken longer to get through the process.
Before we came to Guinea, we had completed all due diligence. While in America, we slowly forged our
relationships with the respective banks. It took over a week, but the banks finally agreed upon the verbiage for our financial instruments. All banking was completed before we came and we had completed and signed our contracts with the mines.
To most Westerners, who have not worked in Africa, they would think what was left would be quick and
easy. Go to the mine office, pick out the goods, negotiate a price, give mazol (mazol means to close a diamond deal) send diamonds to get Kimberly Certificates, ship and go home. This is how it would happen in the West, but not in West Africa.
In Africa, everything slows down by a factor of 10. Everyone wants to have a pre-meeting to the meeting. Usually they want to meet you at your hotel. Of course, it is almost never a meeting with one person. Even though the other people may have nothing to do or say at the meeting, they will come.
Because they come to your hotel, African etiquette demands you offer them a drink or if it is near breakfast, lunch, or dinner, something to eat. It is funny how nearly all meetings happen at chow time, even when you schedule them for in between meal times. In all the times I have been to Africa, not once has anyone offered to pick up the check.
Years ago, this used to bother me. Why would a vendor expect the customer to pick up the check? Now, I just pick up the check and make up the expense in my price negotiation. Perhaps it is better this way, when a vendor pays for a meal you feel an obligation, even if it is subconscious. When I pay for the drinks and meals, I feel they owe me, and there is nothing unconscious about it, I want my money back.
When you finally sit down to look at goods, especially with new vendors, they rarely show you what you came to purchase. They want to test your knowledge. You expect D-I color, you see M-Z. You asked for clean goods, they show you Pique (heavily included) stones.
Only after, you have finished the compulsory ‘dance’ will they actually show you what you came to buy. Do not expect the parcel to resemble the manifest, not going to happen. You will have to examine the parcel as if all your conversations, manifests and contracts never existed. There is no sense in getting angry or upset. Accept it, and pick out what you want.
There is no way to protect yourself from this practice. This is Africa; they expect you to know how it works here. You are not dealing with Western ethics and laws. You are dealing with people whose customs follow this method as a due course in negotiations. In their mind, they are not lying or trying to cheat you. They are just following their customary business practice.
Because of the business customs of Africa, I come here directly to buy or when hired, to evaluate vendors and goods. It has been my experience; it is useless to try to do this from the comfort of your office. You must work with the African people in person. You must understand the culture and have plenty of patience. In addition, you must overcome your Western sense of superiority and except that
the poverty and filth you experience is no more real then the dream you are living in your own country. (Unless you have studied Eastern philosophy, you will not understand my last statement.) You must also free your mind from the silly notion that the African people are not as smart as you are. Show me a man
who can produce thousands of carats in diamonds and I will show you a very, very smart man.
I love Africa, and I love the African people. Once you get the hang of it, you can do business here. I am actually grateful that it is so darn hard to do business in Africa. If it was easy, then everyone would try to do it and I would not be able to make any money. It is true that some of the shenanigans drive me nuts, but it is what it is, and it isn’t what it isn’t.
For any of you who want to do business in Africa, if you lack experience and knowledge, hire a rough diamond gemologist who does, otherwise you will probably find yourself quenching your thirst from an empty cup.
Louis Pearl G.G.
Click 'All' to view every article