GUIDE FOR WESTERNERS WANTING TO SETTLE IN AFRICA


Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...

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So you want to come to Africa, be an expatriate or an “expat” as we are commonly known here.
Africa is a beautiful continent and does offer a sense of adventure. However, my guide provides a different view from the official brochures and Websites about  Africa.
Also, do not believe the hype provided by African embassies, they are somewhat inaccurate, what they want is your money!  The staffs are often not career diplomats but political friends, families or cronies of the government in power so their credentials in providing accurate information are questionable.
My guide is not specific to any African countries but has relevance to most or all African countries.
My guide is factual and based on more than 15 years experience living in various parts of  the African continent.
Never be discouraged, and do give Africa a chance. If you fail, it will not make you richer but surely stronger.
Note: before going you must check the country index on corruption, press freedom, human rights, failed state so forth and so on. They do give theoretical picture of the realities you will face.

Immigration
Immigration fees could be prohibitive. Actually, in these countries you are seldom an immigrant, you are given long-term renewable visa or “permit”. In some places “permits” are as high as US $700 per year.
You can acquire citizenship but do it only if your government, and the host country, accept double nationality or you shall regret it later on.

Your embassy
Give your full and exact coördinates, including family members, to your embassy. Do heed to whatever advice they give you via phone or e-mail. They probably have more of an inside track ,than you have,  on political development or imminent danger the host country faces.

Housing
It all depends where you are from and the country you choose in Africa. Housing goes from cheap to very expensive. House finishing is from mediocre to good but rarely excellent. Carefully read your lease, or you may end up being fully responsible for the structure of the house.
Some landlords are ruthless, so get prior information on that person before moving in. It’s a must. Do not think of moving in, even if you receive negative information based on rumors.
Always get a receipt of paid rents and never make permanent change, that’s obvious, to your place before receiving prior written approval from your landlord. Otherwise, you will be sorry upon leaving. The rule is even more relevant for businesses.

Medical doctors and Hospitals
An expat, unless sick due to catching a tropical disease such as malaria, should patronize another expat doctor or one educated abroad, never stay in public hospitals, but hospitals referred by your embassy.
Doctors spewed out from local universities are very good in theoretical skills. Medical universities are not always staff with proper teaching tools or equipment and the medical degrees are not always recognized in other part of the world.
Prominent people go abroad for their medical ailment or surgery; they do not trust their own. Why should you?
A full medical insurance is strongly advisable. Pay your bill in full upon being discharged from an hospital, some will hold you hostage in the ward until you do.
Purchase medicine from reputable pharmacies, counterfeits are rampant and life threatening.

Water and Electricity
Water is a major challenge in almost all parts of Africa. It is probably easier to acquire in urban than rural areas but still it’s rare and precious.
When living in a rural area I had one rule about my toilets; flush it down if it’s brown and let it mellow if it’s yellow.
Water is expensive even when supplied by municipalities. So, acquire large water tanks or even a bore hole.
Interruptions of electricity are frequents and without warning. It is wise to surge protect your house and all your valuable electrical equipment. Electricity Company may not reimburse equipment destroyed by surge.
A generator is noisy and expensive to run but is a must for all businesses.

Schools
Any expat’s child(ren) should, at best, school in the home country. The second option is an international school of your choice in the host country. Private international schools are very costly, high on status but fabulous for children.
Check carefully, before sending your child to local schools as some practice corporal punishment and sexual promiscuity among student and teachers is a reality.

Fire Services
If you cannot extinguish a fire with a bucket of water or sand, then sit down by the road side and look at the bonfire made by your property and pray that no one gets hurt.
An investigating reporting from a large African capital, populated by more than one million, discovered that besides being inadequately equipped, the fire company had only two working fire trucks.
Most capitals, cities and towns do not have working fire hydrants since it is not properly thought of in their city planning and infrastructure.
In case of fire the best bet is to call a private fire company, if they exist where you live, and get ready to spend up to US $2,000, or much more, for its deployment to your site.

Business
The best way to start a business is by getting information from people who already are in business or have one similar to the one you wish to set up. The amount of required licenses could be phenomenal and the help from the government is minimal.
Acquiring licenses is time-consuming and since in business time is money use my simple +2 formula to get the truth to start-up a business.

i.e. : The meeting starts at 2pm. +2 = the meeting starts at 4pm.
         Come tomorrow for your license. +2 = your license will be ready in 3 days.
         Two months to complete. +2 = 4 months to complete.

Expat’s businesses are often the target of government’s agents or inspectors. Expats are visible and perceived to have more money which equates in giving larger bribe to avoid harassment.

The fear factor is always a tactic used by government’s representative. It is understandable, as getting a warning, a fine or a summon is rare. They roughly arrest you and put you in a city or police cell before seeing a judge.

Police
Unless it is a major necessity, don’t call the Police.
They are underpaid, overworked, under trained and live in pallid conditions, reasons enough for them to extort motorist and even kill on sight anyone whose only offence is being “suspected” of committing a crime.
Suspects are killed before committing any act, and the alleged fire arms and exact amount of bullets recovered from the bodies are meticulously displayed by the police to the media.
Motorists are the police daily bread. They routinely give a bribe for existing or non existing offence to avoid long queue at traffic court.
Any infraction by an expat is galore as the bribe may go up 10 fold or at least all the change available in your wallet plus cigarettes if you’re a smoker.
Police bail money is not always refundable. Even with a receipt you’re lucky getting back the full amount paid.
Oh course, everyone will tell you that laws are in the books to protect you. Sorry, in corrupt countries impunity is the rule. The Police has gun and you don’t.

Crime
Unfortunately, crime is increasing in Africa due to poverty and lack of opportunities. The major crimes are; rape, car hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and robbery with violence.
Do not take it lightly; many of my friends have been subject to horrible incidents and with an ill-equipped and corrupt police force even small matters become nightmares. Consequently, have a sober public appearance, be aware of your surroundings, always tell others of your coming and going, and go out to well-known and reputable establishments.

Justice / Legal system
Justice is a fix game of poker, whoever has more money or clout to fix the game wins the ante.
Any expats is better off settling dispute in an amicable manner or forgo the lost.
If you are right, odds of having a case judged in you favor against any member of a prominent member of the ruling class including their extended partners or family are almost non-existent.
You are on your own, get ready to pack and go empty-handed enjoying life back home under the bridge of your choice. Retribution is faster than justice and quick to come.
To avoid litigation, it’s always better to legally over protect yourself and never use good faith in any transaction.

Sexuality
Africa revere heterosexuality and especially in Muslim countries. However, sign of public affection is frown upon. It is welcome by societies for heterosexual men, single or married, to have multiple sex partners or mistresses. It is a sign of virility and opulence .
Homosexuality is a taboo and once revealed attracts severe punishment or jail sentences. Consequently, practice with utmost discretion.
Transgender should not travel to Africa.

Employees
Always hire employees by proxy, use local Human Resource for that job. The face of foreigners always attracts a higher expected salary.
Do give probation time, good workers are hard to find so treat and pay them well if you want to keep them.
Be careful in firing employees even when they are blatantly wrong. What they can do to you, after loosing their job, for retaliation is quite senseless.

The Media
Stick to well established international news media for information.
The local media is rife in self-censorship and may work together with the government in power. Also, the press media is at the mercy of powerful Public Relation firms, politically well-connected, who are their bread and butter for advertisement as well as these three or more pages spread exhaling the good work of a government ministries etc..  I tune my car radio to only three stations; BBC, RFI and VOA.
More important, prominent persons will aggressively sue for libel when their names is adversely mentioned.  That’s why,  the media has no other choice but to keep quiet or say nice things about them.
Understand, the murder of an expat in her house or a couple found dead on the beach make little or no ripples as it negatively reflects on the image of that country.
Don’t forget, the host country want expats and tourists to bring hard currency and provide jobs.

House help
In Africa it is almost impossible living without house help. Use extreme care in hiring one. Always get them from a person you know well and make copies of all their identifications. Do not negotiate salaries; let a friend with experience in the country to do so on your behalf.
At the beginning take care of your valuable, once you set up a trust they become part of your family.
I knew someone hacked to death by a member of her house staff.

Special mention
– I do not recommend Africa for albinos even highly qualify and educated or rich. Sadly, their body parts fetch a high price for the performance of certain rituals.
– The quality of locally grown vegetables is almost organic. Absolutely fantastic in smell and taste.

Patrick-Bernard

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2 responses to “GUIDE FOR WESTERNERS WANTING TO SETTLE IN AFRICA

  1. Wow! Makes one think twice about it. Is there a difference regarding the westerner’s race? Are black westerners treated differently than white westerners?

  2. A continent as diverse as Africa cannot be generalized in single post.

    Try again.

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