Working in Africa - It's all about the right connections / Tanzania 2013
Since 2003 I travel regularly to Africa for Viafrica. My work consists of acquiring new business relationships and forging partnerships. 'External relations' it says on my business card. But is that the correct title?
Just arrived in Dar es Salaam to work full force for Viafrica again. But first to the hotel for a good night sleep. I know this hotel. I’ve been here before. Last night I made my reservation by telephone. It was somewhat difficult this time though. Probably a new receptionist. He asked for my full passport name. “Naemie Voltman”, I said. “WHAT?”. I decided to only give him my surname. That would be difficult enough, I guessed. “VOLTMAN”, I shouted through the phone. “SPELL IT!” the guy shouted back. “Alright: Victor, Otto, Leo, Theodore, Marius, Anthony, Nico. One person -VOLTMAN- single room please.” “Yes, yes, goodnight. See you tomorrow”, the guy replied.
The next day, when I arrive in my hotel, there is no reservation in my name. Also there are no rooms available. “ Sorry, we’re fully booked”. I show the receptionist my passport and point out my name. No response. After some discussion, I finally get a, more expensive, double room. Not what I hoped for, but I am tired and want to go to sleep. That night my phone rings. Somebody is shouting at me: “Where are you?” and “You come to hotel?”. A strange story about some Victor and Anthony enrolls. I don’t understand anything of it and put my phone down. I am irritated and want to go to sleep.
The next morning I am awake early. I have an appointment with the Director of ICT from the ministry of Communication, Science and Technology. We met before. To be on time I decide not to take the two and a half hour taxi drive. Instead I travel per Tuk-Tuk, the local transport, better known as Bajaj. It is cheap and efficient. These small cars drive along the traffic and many times against the traffic. You need to have nerves from steel though, but it is really fast and saves you a lot of time.
My appointment with the Director of ICT is not at the ministry this time, but at some luxury hotel. My fixed Bajaj driver guides me through the traffic of Dar es Salaam. On arrival at the luxury hotel, I see the doorman staring at me. A 'Mzungu' (white) in a Bajaj and no car keys to deliver?
In the hotel, my eyes search the space. I spot my appointment and walk to his table. He looks different compared to the last time we met. It is not the man I remember. When talking with him I come to know why this is. The man is now former Director of ICT. He, his whole staff, including his driver, are thrown out of the ministry. Fired. And he has no idea why. I am very surprised and ask him: “So, what's next?” “Well”, he replies. “I don’t know. This is Africa, this is how things go. I am trying to find a new job. Maybe I’ll go back teaching at the university”.
“It’s such a pity”, he continues: “I was busy with big projects concerning ICT. It would have been great to cooperate with Viafrica. But now I don’t know anything about the current status of those projects. I did not even speak to the new Director of ICT. It’s such a shame…” We talk a little bit more about Viafrica and our plans to expand our operations to other regions in Tanzania. I leave a brochure about our work at his table. Shake hands and tell him that we will stay in contact.
Somewhat disillusioned I return to my hotel. My thoughts are still with the meeting with the former Director of ICT. I pass by the reception. Then I suddenly think of that strange phone call last night. I ask the receptionist if he called me that night? He grabs his book with reservations and points at a page with the names Victor, Marius and Anthony on it. Than he points at the telephone number that is written there. Would this be my number? I smile and show him my passport and spell my surname loudly. The man gives me a very surprised look. Suddenly, he gets my story. “Very sorry”, he says. “This is a complete misunderstanding”. Unfortunately there is nothing he can do about it. The hotel is still fully booked. So I have to stay in my expensive double room.
A few seconds later I see somebody I know. It is the receptionist that helped the last time I stayed here. He shakes my hand, claps me on the shoulder and is very happy to see me. I share the funny story about the reservation. He laughs, walks to his colleague, takes a quick look at the book with reservations, marks something with a pen and says: “No problem, it’s all arranged. You can stay in your double room for a single room rate.”
Back in my hotel room, my phone rings again. It is the former Director of ICT. He has been thinking about our conversation earlier that day. He likes to have a follow up meeting to talk further about Viafrica. Especially about how and with whom Viafrica can reach its goals. He has still some very good contacts that he wants to share with me. So, we make a new appointment for a follow-up meeting.
During Viafrica’s 10 years anniversary, in May 2013, I got a present from my colleague Joost Dam. It was a book with the title ‘Only in Burundi’. The writer travels around in Burundi together with a photographer. There are some nice pictures in it and some beautiful personal stories told by the guide and narrator Koky. Koky’s most important conclusion when working in Burundi: ‘to get things done, you need the right connections’. To me this is so true. In my work it is not so much about external relations. It’s all about personal connections. I hope to be part of Viafrica for a long time by making many more new connections.
Like to know more about the book: ‘Only in Burundi’? Take a look at: http://www.anaislopez.nl/order_only_in_burundi/in/shop
The right connections