Learn to make the hard choices in life
__What do you do as an entrepreneur at election time?
Someone asked me in a recent comment to one of my FB posts, whether it is okay for an entrepreneur to make political donations. I did not answer at the time because I thought it needed a more comprehensive response, which I will now attempt to do... Personally and through my business interests, I do not finance or give political donations of any kind. Period. I would not provide support even if my own family member were running for election!
I made a #HardDecision a long time ago that if I wanted to build a “multi-nation” business, I must never engage in the local politics of any country where I do business. And that includes my own country of origin, Zimbabwe.
In many countries including the United States, it is totally illegal for a foreigner to engage in any form of political financing. I completely agree with such a law where it exists, and I wish all African countries would adopt such laws.
Our various businesses, including companies like Econet Wireless, Liquid Telecom, Cassava, Cumii, and KweséTV, collectively operate in 29 African countries. Within two years I hope we will be in almost every single country on the continent. We are a truly home grown African “multi-nation” company, employing thousands of people.
It was a #HardDecision because I do care passionately about many issues, and I believe in democratic expression through the ballot box. I respect the right of people who want to campaign and be elected as public servants, especially those with a vision to help build more equitable and prosperous nations. By the same token, I ask that they respect my right as a business person who has chosen not to get involved in funding politics.
A decision to avoid funding politics is a very personal matter for each of us as entrepreneurs. I cannot make it a hard and fast rule for you. Certainly there are countries where giving political donations by business is encouraged.
__All I can say is this: Be wise and think of the consequences: Experience garnered over the last 32 years in business would lead me to recommend to you strongly not to engage in political financing.
There are generally four observations that I have made:
#1. It can lead to a perception that you did it with a corrupt intent, and this perception will be propagated by those you did not support, and their own followers.
#2. It can lead to retribution by those who win, if they knew you supported the other side. This happens even in America.
#3. You can even lose customers or the support of some members of your own staff.
#4. If you are a foreigner in that country, people generally see it as corrupt interference in their country’s democracy. Don’t ever fool yourself that you can do it secretly. In Africa, if one person knows, almost all know!
Nearly every single day I receive a request from a political party or politician somewhere in Africa asking for financial support for political or election-related activities. The requests can become such a deluge during election time in some countries that I avoid going anywhere near them, until after the election.
Once I know there's an election coming up in a country, I personally minimize making contact with politicians. If I cannot avoid it because of business, I make sure it is transparent (going there in the daytime and with others).
People running for office have sometimes made me all sorts of extraordinary (corrupt) promises, whilst others just made naked threats to “deal with you” (after they win), because they don’t accept my refusal was genuine; they think I must be supporting their rivals!
Some people think I should be doing it secretly (for themselves of course!) whilst others will even mischievously claim (after I have turned them down) that they have my support or, because I refused to support them, will immediately slander me with false accusations of supporting their rivals!
Hence my resolute #HardDecisions:
Never to fund anything to do with politics in any country.
Avoid commenting on political issues. Not even when I’m falsely accused of either having political ambitions of my own or in support of one political entity or another.
I also forbid anyone working for the Econet Group of companies in Africa from engaging in political activity from within our various offices around the continent and the world.
I did not come to these #HardDecisions easily. Much of it was borne out of very harsh and sometimes bitter experience, either personally, or watching other business people, including some who lost their businesses or even their lives.
My personal advice to @RealAfricanEntrepreneurs and business people is never even share your own political views in front of your employees, or try to get them to vote for a particular party or candidate.
__Let it be their own choice. Let them exercise their right.
Keep your own personal preferences to yourself and your family, and on Election Day go out and vote like anyone else.
If someone tells you they met me, and that I expressed views or preferences on an ongoing political process, or that I’m willing to give support to this or that party or candidate, know that you are dealing with a liar or worse, a liar who wishes to defraud you!
Not everyone likes my personal approach, and as some of you know I’m often criticized for it. I know wisdom is vindicated by the results of one’s actions.
A friend who became President of a country once joked with me: “As long as you don’t support my opponent, I’m happy that you don’t support me!”
“If I supported someone you would know, because I don’t do anything in half measure," I joked back. "I don’t know how to!”
So what do you do as an entrepreneur at election time? I have already given my own personal advice not to get involved in funding politics in any way. But if you're still thinking about it, why not ask yourself this question: What is holding you back or what is pulling you to make this decision?
Image credit: Ubuntu Hope