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12 invaluable lessons learned as a woman moving back to Africa (for work) | Episode 3: Better safe than sorry

Posted in Africa, and Transformation & Development

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In 2014, I decided to quit my consulting job in France and moved back to Cameroon to run an e-commerce startup. I now work on new projects across Africa, and wanted to share the lessons I learned as a Woman moving back to the continent for work!

In the last episode, we talked about Love and other surprises. This time, we will have to turn away from our romantic side and be more strategic in the way we organize our move back to Africa. I will share with you how and why you should have a solid plan B before going -back- to Africa and share few tips on how to deal smartly with the administration once there. You are going to love it!

Click here if you missed the previous episode

Disclaimer: Please be aware that my “‘lessons” are mainly drafted from my personal experience, and that I am not a financial expert. If needed, seek additional feedback from relevant professionals. Also, my pragmatic approach to moving back you may not be aligned with your views. I respect that, and I would like to hear from you! Let’s have that conversation in the comment section below.

 

Lesson 5: Be (emotionally) smart when dealing with the administration

An office – Somewhere in Africa (c) Candace Nkoth

I have worked in several countries in Africa, and I know for a fact that the experience with the public administration can vary significantly from one place to another. For example, in Ghana, I once made a non-citizen ID card in 30 minutes, which is up to the standards of countries such as Singapore! However, here is a couple of tips that might be helpful dealing with most of the public administrations on the continent.

Build a good network to “fast tracks” your administrative formalities. In some countries, it is possible to waste weeks/months/years trying to have a new passport, driver’s license or any kind of certificate that requires a signature from a public service. Basically, in some situations, the chance of you having your document on time could be very slim if you are not a bit proactive. If you don’t have a strong family network or don’t want to rely solely on luck, do not hesitate to ask to your contacts in the country if they know someone who knows someone who could help you to have that administrative document in a decent amount of time. Of course, the ideal situation would be for some of our administrations to have better organizational structures and to invest in proper data management tools/processes. We are not there yet. Until it’s the case and if you time is worth money, be resourceful!

Breathe. Living in some countries in Africa took my patience to another level. Some civil servants are not aware that the core of their job is actually serving, and could tend to be more slow/aggressive/rude than necessary. If you have been in such country or simply in an embassy, you KNOW what I am talking about. My advice: do not take anything personally, and be as laid back as possible, ask clarifying questions (even if they question your intelligence) and kill them with kindness, especially when you feel otherwise. Trust me. By all means avoid responding, giving them a lecture or trying to defend your ego, because inevitably the situation will escalate, and you will end up losing time, your nerves and money. Be the bigger person. And if you happen to know their boss or someone in the administration, give a call to report them. 

Stay organized. Knowing that things could take time, plan (up to 6 months in advance if necessary) any document you may need (ID, certificate, authorization).  Keep the originals of your local passport with western visas (or your foreign passport if you have a Western citizenship) in a safe place at home. Passport trafficking is a reality in many countries in Africa, and you don’t want your identity to feed those networks in case of loss/theft. And try to keep your papers (bills, IDs, banking documents) organized.  To go even further, have the most important ones in a file with that could easily fit in a backpack of a brief case, in case you need to leave the country in a rush.

Perfect transition to our next point!

 

Lesson 6: Have a personal backup plan.

Signal Hill – Cape Town

Africa is a fascinating continent that is full of possibilities. It’s also a place of high uncertainty, and it is my belief that one must be responsible enough not to burn bridges when they leave a stable situation in the West.  

–  As controversial at it may seem to some of my Afrocentric brothers and sisters, I would highly suggest before moving back to make sure have a green card, long term residency permit or a western passport. In case you want to make a personal/business trip back to the country you previously live/studied/worked in, it will avoid you to deal with the complexity, discomfort and high uncertainty that goes with applying for a Schengen/UK/US/Canada visa. It’s not romantic, but pragmatic enough.

– At all costs leave on good terms with your former employer. Don’t do anything that could hurt your reputation or the relation you have with them. Just in case you have to come back in the West and find a job, you wouldn’t want them to give a negative recommendation to a peer of a future employer. It’s a small world out there! But don’t get me wrong. If you have a legit reason to resent your former employer or some colleagues, I would suggest you call or invite a good friend over on Sunday and to curse whoever you want over a drink in the secrecy of your kitchen table. The rest of the time, try to be as gracious as queen on a throne and let Karma deal with the rest. You will thank me later.

– If you can afford it or if you are well organized in your financial life, I would highly suggest investing in real estate before moving to Africa. Why ? After all, you might be going back forever, and you are not sure you still want any ties with a country after your leave. Okay. But still.  A home in a western country could be useful for several purposes. It could be a source of passive income if you rent it, even on Airbnb.  And if you think it’s too complicated, there are more and more agencies that could help you manage it if you think it’s too complicated. Another reason is safety. God forbid if you have a serious health issue or deal with a political crisis in Africa and need to go back to Europe/America for a while, you would be grateful not to have to crush your aunt’s couch or pay for a hotel.  Plus it’s a decent investment. Even if you have opportunities to buy cheap land in your African home country, for the sake of diversification you may not want to keep all your eggs in the same basket. But why before leaving? Simply because it is way more easy to be granted a loan while you have an address, a salary and a tax number in the West. Except if you can afford to buy an apartment cash in Paris, DC or London with your glorious CFA, Naira, or Cedis savings (and if yes congratulations boss), you don’t want want to limit your option. Once again, it’s not romantic, but pragmatic enough.

Stay safe. Once you have landed in Africa, and if you have a foreign citizenship go and register to your embassy and get the details of the relevant people/services to contact in case of an issue. Also, make sure to send your PIN location to your contacts abroad. There is a very simple way to do that using Whatsapp or Google Plus Codes or What Three Words.

On a lighter note, (and I say that from experience) knowing that worst case scenario, you can always be somewhere else (for a week or for a while) will help you keep your sanity at times. Furthermore, it will allow you to remain your best self while you are fulfilling your purpose in Africa.

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What did you think of this episode? Is there any tip or experience that resonated with you? Let’s chat in the comment section! Oh, and I am always sharing my current activities and inspirational stories on my Facebook page  and on Instagram (@candacenkoth). Follow me for daily inspiration! And as usual, make sure to subscribe to my VIP list to receive updates that I only share via e-mail.

See you soon!

Candace

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