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  • 2020/05/01

Working in Africa : what it takes to succeed

1. THE WILLINGNESS TO WORK IN AFRICA

To be able to work in Africa, I believe that you must first love Africa or in any case, be willing to settle there.
However, going to work in Africa is not such a simple decision, even for people of African descent.
Even for those who were born in Africa and grew up there up to a certain age, when someone has then spent almost 20 years in Europe, it is no longer so easy to find their way in an environment that is completely unknown to them. This is all the more true when one settles in a country, which is not their country of origin and where this person hardly knows anyone.

Even when the theoretical will is there, some members of the diaspora are looking for opportunities to return to Africa. It sometimes takes them several years to make up their mind or to secure a job in an African country .

For my part, the idea had been in my head for a while but I had not yet planned anything concrete for a possible return to Africa. I would rather say that it is chance (or fate) if I found myself in Gabon where I have been based for almost 6 years now.

2. EDUCATION & DIPLOMAS

Being born in the Central African Republic and having grown up there until the age of 9 - practically 10 -, I went to nursery school there and a large part of the primary school at the Lycée Charles de Gaulle in Bangui.

In 1994, my family decided to move to Europe because of the security situation, which prevailed in the CAR at the time and was quite critical. We settled in Belgium.

I spent 13 years in Belgium. I did all my secondary school there and finished my university course with a “Licence en droit” (5 years of studies in total - different from the “Licence” of the French program), with a specialisation in private law.

Then I decided to go and perfect my English in London, England. We were in 2007. I was 22 years old and the adventure did not scare me because I was leaving my family but I was not going that far, having only to take a train (Eurostar) for about 2 hours to cross the Channel Tunnel. Still based in Europe, I had the opportunity to easily travel and go see my family. So my mind was relatively at peace.

I originally intended to spend a year in London but in the end I stayed there for 7 years, which really allowed me to master the language of Shakespeare.

During these years spent in London, I first did a Master Degree in International Relations , not being so sure that I wanted to work in the legal field, as surprising as it may seem. In 2008, I was selected to do an internship at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where I stayed for three months with a friend of mine in an apartment that we sublet to an American couple. It was the time when Barack Obama came to power in the USA.

At the end of the internship, I finally realized that I preferred the field of law and on my return to London, after having finalized my Master Degree in International Relations, I took an equivalence program in English law (Anglo-Saxon law very different from Napoleonic law that I had studied in Belgium), called the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) . I then started the Legal Practice Course ( LPC ), which was the way to enter the legal profession as a solicitor.

With my diploma in hand, I made several applications to become a trainee solicitor and I attended a few interviews, but I never managed to secure any internship. The competition was really tough and it is very likely that my destiny was actually not in England.

3. PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

Despite everything, my London experience was extremely enriching and I never twiddled my thumbs. Indeed, during all these years spent in London, I worked ; initially part-time and in different business sectors (textile sales industry, marketing, law firms), because I was still studying and I still wanted to be, at a minimum, financially independent, while growing my professional experience.

And at the end of my studies, I continued to work in law firms, sometimes for a salary that did not match my qualifications, and also in the private sector.

In 2014, I was still living in London and working as an interim corporate lawyer in the subsidiary of an international company, which is the world's leading manufacturer of industrial yarns. I was mainly in charge of maintaining their contract database. I had accepted this position because it was relatively well paid, although my workplace was 2 hours away (one way, therefore 4 hours round trip) from my home.

I knew that I was not going to stay in this position very long because I was not particularly fulfilled professionally. I thus decided to take a LLM course in International Business Law by distance learning so that I could continue to work. In the past, I had never had a particular interest in this branch of the law but something told me that it was in this direction that I had to orient myself to open up a new horizon.

And you have to believe that this choice was really relevant, even if when I made it, I didn't know it yet.

2014 is indeed the year when my destiny was changed …

I had spent a short stay in May in Libreville, Gabon, shortly after starting my distance learning course in International Business Law. During this stay, I was offered a legal consultant position in a legal and tax consulting firm specializing in business law. Of course , I accepted the offer immediately, without having to think much about it, and on 29 June 2014, I was flying to Gabon. Two days later, on 1st July 2014, I started my new job.

The early days were quite difficult. From the first month, I wondered what I had come to do in Africa and how I was going to adapt to my new way of life.

It was the start of my African adventure…

4. LANGUAGES

I must say that if I had this work opportunity, without being specialized in Business Law, it is mainly because I had a particular asset : I was good at English. My employer wanted to develop its foreign clientele established in Gabon and he therefore needed to strengthen his team with a person fully bilingual English / French.

I realize today that at a time of globalization and given the number of foreign investors present in Africa, it is important to master the key international language of business. This opens many doors and is extremely useful for communicating with people who do not speak French.

And yet, I could see that this language is only little known, even at the level of the young population and of law graduates that I had to meet during job interviews that I arranged, which does not benefit them when they apply for a job for which a command of English is required.

On each occasion that presents itself, I make young people understand that it is important, even essential, to speak English because many are those who are looking for a job and mastering the language can make a difference and make them stand out from other candidates.


5. OPEN MIND, ADAPTABILITY …. TASTE OF RISK ?

I will end my remarks by saying that Africa is a land of opportunities. Much remains to be done and beyond the labour market, it is possible to embark on entrepreneurship.

In any case, no matter what choice you make, you have to know how to adapt to a new environment, hang on, even if the beginnings can be difficult and not be afraid to seize any new opportunity that is offered to us.

I am in my third job since I started working in Africa and I have never looked back. I know a lot of people who want to change jobs but can't find anything else or who don't want to get out of their comfort zone, not knowing what lies ahead. Fear of the unknown or fear of being unemployed can hold back more than one.

For my part, I am one of those who are not afraid to leave a job without having found another. When I no longer evolve in a position or when I do not feel at the right place, I am ready to take risks because I find it stimulating and I believe in myself and in my skills. I know that whatever happens, I will always fall back on my feet but the main thing for me is to get satisfaction in my work.

To all those who today still hesitate to return to Africa, I will tell you : he who tries nothing has nothing. Ignore your fears, Africa is waiting for you…

And if you have a project that you would like to discuss or if you wish to benefit from support, we are at your disposal. You can write to us at contact@iwaniconseil.com .


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