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Given my decision to spend more time with my family in Ghana, I have to do the usual things one does when they try and establish themselves in a new country. You know, join a gym, figure out the best places to eat, get a drivers licence, acquaint yourself with the traffic code. The usual practical stuff. Well, a few days after I arrived, it was time for me to get a local mobile number.

Driving back from the gym, I stopped at a local Vodafone store to pick up a Blackberry and top-up my account. For those who haven’t been to Ghana before, or perhaps anywhere in West Africa, walking into a Vodafone store is like being transported back to the UK. Pristine counter tops, cool climate and formal service.

“Hi, may I help you?”, came the friendly remark from a staff member. “Yes please, I’d like to buy a Blackberry, could you show me what you have?”. It took her about 30 minutes to find the right person because they had just one expert on Blackberries. After a 5 minute consultation, where I was asked very specific (and pointless) questions about data plans, he gave me some options. After mentioning I was not interested in a contract, I had a number and just wanted a phone, he felt betrayed. His formal training clearly did not work out for him! So he then gave me a catalogue with all my options, after picking the one I wanted, he then referred me to a third person. Yet another person I had to go through my entire story all over again. An hour into my visit, I was ready to pay. But if only things were that simple. A fraction of a second before my transaction was complete I was informed that my phone was locked to Vodafone (I have an MTN sim, a competitor). “What’s the reason? I am buying the phone outright”. Apparently, protocol from HQ.

I left angrily and popped next door to the MTN office.

MTN were out of stock but the shop assistant wasn’t phased. “No problem, please wait for me”, he came back with the one I wanted, from his friends down the road (he promised to give one back from another one of his branches). I sheepishly asked if they took card, but they didn’t. “No problem, come with me”. He locked the shop door and walked me to an ATM.

I left the shop 15 minutes after I arrived, with a connected phone (he helped me set it up) and a smile on my face.

Now, I am sure there is some sophisticated and eloquent way to say this, but that’s not what I am known for. When did the West lose their thirst for commerce and become so enslaved by processes?

I feel like every shop I enter in the west, every government official I speak to, union, non-profit, NGO, association and committee is built around a series of “Nos”. No, we don’t do things that way. No, that is not possible. No, that person has left and no one else knows how to do it here. No, our hours of operation are over. Well Vodafone, that doesn’t work in Africa!

When did we limit ourselves to a set of rules? What happened to being commercially astute and helpful to one another? How are we to know a decision is wrong unless we make it (quickly) and realise sooner rather than later?

The same applies to our governments. I guess a lesson can be learnt in the West, to be faster and more nimble when it comes to making decisions. Procrastinating over banks’ capital regulation, tax brackets, subsidies, government debt limits, the fiscal cliff etc. Emerging markets, I guess, are used to shocks and changes (coups, natural disasters, you name it). As a result decisions are made more quickly and efficiently.

Rant over. I look forward to exploring opportunities here in Ghana.

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