African Business

By Patrick Wildermann

29.03.2012 / Der Tagesspiegel

The documentary theatre specialists of Rimini Protokoll present „Lagos Business Angels“ at HAU 1 after having travelled to Nigeria to meet business people and soldiers of fortune.
The entrepreneur Uwe Hassenkamp does not need to have second sight to predict the future. The Nigerian Central Bank will grant him the licence to implement a Mobile Payment System in the Western African state. He can be sure of this as the examiners of the procedure have received a certain amount of cash so that he “gets more information than usual”. Business as usual in Nigeria.
The Mobile Payment System would facilitate bank transfers from the city to far away villages – a service welcome in a country where everyone owns 2 to 3 mobile phones but only 20 percent of the population have their own bank account.
Hassenkamp has further plans up his sleeve. He wants to introduce a system like the German “TÜV” (Association for Technical Inspection) in Lagos. In this city with an estimated 20 million inhabitants many of the vehicles on the streets are not safe. Yet another gap in the market. The “project consultant” from Berlin hands out business cards with a picture of a black and a white man shaking hands. His motto is to always bet on several horses.
The documentary theatre specialists of Rimini Protokoll have travelled to Nigeria to meet business people and soldiers of fortune. These mainly bustle around in Lagos, boom town of the most heavily populated country in Africa. Nigeria is sixth on the ranking of oil producing countries, but suffers from bad infrastructure as well as ethnical and religious tensions. At the same time, it is a paradise for investors with a growing demand for hotels, cars and other consumer goods for the up-coming middle classes.
Rimini Protokoll called their production „Lagos Business Angels“. It is a performance course with ten performers which leads throughout the theatre venue HAU 1 and confronts the audience every 10 minutes with amazing business ideas and biographies.
Frank Okoh is also known as „The German Machine“. He runs an import-export-company called “Edi Investment Ltd.” that ships salvaged old cars and spare parts from Germany to Nigeria. In Nigeria the smart tradesman with entertainer qualities sells the goods straight from the container and one hesitates to believe how much scrap he fitted into one container. Silke Hagen-Jurkowitsch, “The Lace Lady”, has contact to Nigeria via Austria. The idea developer comes from the Austrian town of Lustenau, a traditional stronghold for textiles, where well-heeled Africans have been buying their high-class textile since the 1960s, today at a price of 900 Euros for 5 yards. This is a profitable business because Africans often buy in bulk as for instance at weddings men and women all wear the same fabric just in different patterns.
Kester Peters’ specialist field is tropical fish which he mainly sells to German customers. He is one of ten children and grew up in a slum. But now he is also somehow involved in the oil business. There are no refineries in Nigeria and, if all works out fine for Kester Peters, he will soon turn the black gold into petrol and therefore ready cash. Or are these just fantasies?
Throughout its course „Lagos Business Angels“ enables fascinating encounters with busy networkers, who pass on their business cards and wish to stay in touch. Obviously their stories often seem obscure. But this is part of the concept as well as not linking the performers’ biographies into one context. Rimini Protokoll are not offering community college courses. Neither are they interested in conveying a picture of Africa. The performance throws you into a confusing and bustling market place where it is hard to distinguish between hot-air merchants and serious businessmen and every merchant is selling himself. Obviously the European perspective of Nigeria is beclouded by clichés. For instance, when the German Frieda Springer-Beck, who became a victim of economic fraud in Nigeria herself, and now works for the “Economic and Financial Crimes Commission”, explains that only 5 percent of Nigerians are fraudsters.
It is the shift of perspective that makes this evening interesting. Whereas everyone in Germany would normally rage against the economisation of all spheres of our life, one handles the clever approaches of the Nigerian businesspeople in a far less critical manner. They came to Berlin with a few good business ideas. The HAU (Hebbel am Ufer) for instance is never used on Sunday mornings. Why not rent it out?