The new land of opportunity

31 July 2013

By Neil Coker in Liberia

The hunger for development and rehabilitation in Liberia means that there are opportunities everywhere.

The country is screaming out for experienced and qualified professionals who are registered here.

The opportunities include infrastructure, hotels, mixed developments and mining. Consultants, contractors and all supply chain players are needed in equal measure.

I mentioned before that I’m here as a consultant on a World Bank funded project to deliver a schools construction programme, and to train government personnel in project and construction management.

The first phase of that is well underway, and I have a strong management team in place.

It’s going so well, in fact, that I found myself with some spare capacity, so I decided to set up a company.

You need an Edwin

Making the decision was the easy part; doing it was another matter – or so I thought.

It turns out Liberia is quite unusual in Sub-Saharan Africa in having a clearly defined and fairly simple approach to business registration. You can even do it online, apparently, though I have never actually met anyone who has done this.

You need a facilitator, a fix-it man who knows where to go, who to see and what is required.

View of downtown Monrovia from the now derelict Ducor Palace Hotel (Neil Coker)

Mine is a gentleman called Edwin. I’ve appointed him as my General Manager, a local term which essentially means he deals with the ministries, banks, officials, logistics and procurement, thus ensuring that my company is not getting "burned" too badly in the process.

Edwin was a procurement director before the war and since then has been doing whatever he can to provide for his family.

There are many "Edwins" in post-conflict Africa, talented and experienced individuals who for many reasons have not had the breaks they merit.

I needed an individual who knew their way around, who I liked and respected and who wanted to work for me. On this occasion, I lucked out. Edwin is extremely knowledgeable, experienced and, most importantly, I trust him.

Pleasant surprise

Edwin secured a local attorney who was extremely efficient. After sourcing all the necessary papers and showing me how to fill them in he went about submitting my company for registration.

The actual documentation part took only three days. It then took three more days of Edwin queuing in the various banks and government departments to actually pay the fees.

In an amazing six days, my company had been born in Liberia and was legally entitled to trade.

The next step was setting up bank accounts. I decided to use a regional bank, basically because they were the most pro-active in trying to gain my business.

Village tribal dancing during a ground breaking ceremony on one of the World Bank funded schools projects (Derick Williams)

I had mixed feelings because my experience with business accounts elsewhere has not always been good.

What a difference! The new branch manager, a young Liberian lady, couldn’t do enough.

She had the paperwork finalised within the hour. She told me how to do international transfers (I hadn’t thought of that), and had all necessary paperwork for my new employees ready to hand (nor that).

I know others’ experience of Liberian banks are not so good, but I was impressed.

The next bit

So now I had a business, two employees, bank accounts, office space, and a website. All I needed was clients.

I’m glad to say that that bit has gone as smoothly as everything else. Thanks to previous relationships with some fairly major international organisations – who are keen to enter the market here – I’ve landed two projects already.

So things are looking very positive. We are bidding for a number of projects now, both my company on its own and as a joint venture with local and international partners, and I am very positive for the future.

Neil Coker is a project manager with experience delivering projects in the UK, Middle East and Africa. He is now heading a niche construction delivery company in Liberia. Website

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