My name is Muhammed Jah. I am a Gambian. I am married, I have three kids and became an entrepreneur 21 years ago, immediately after my university education. In 1994, I started a small business called QuantumNet Institute of Technology, where I trained individuals, companies and the government how to use computers. Today, that small institute we started is one of the biggest institutes in The Gambia, graduating 100s of students every month. The institute is also a certified Microsoft Centre. We are now in the process of upgrading from an institute into a private university.
We want to focus on technology and Management. I was the first Internet Service Provider in The Gambia. We have over 50 per cent market share of Internet Subscribers. We also are the distributors for Mercedes Benz, Ford, Mazda, and some Chinese brands. We also have the best service centre in the Gambia. In 2009, we started Qcell, which is the telecommunication mobile arm of the group. We went from being an ISP to being a telco operator, offering 3G. Now, we’ve launched 4G in the Gambia, and we are currently number 1 in data.
Last year in May, I bought a bank. The idea is to bring the bank and telco together, design a model and export the product across the region. As a group, we are also looking at getting into industry. In The Gambia, everything is imported so we want to get into industry. We have started by producing bottled water. We are distributing a brand called Naturelle, which actually has existed in the Gambia for about 10 years. We took it over and we want to make it bigger and better and export it outside Gambia.
The best entrepreneurial advise I’ve heard came from my father. When I graduated from the University, I came back home to a family of teachers. I am the first business man in the family. When I told my father I wanted to start a business, he told me that: “If you want to be a good entrepreneur with a future, you, first and foremost, have to be a good human being. A good human being is disciplined, does not lie, does not cheat, does not do bad things to his fellow human being”. I think that was an excellent advise. He never spoke about money or how to make money.
First of all, young entrepreneurs have to learn to be patient and stick to timelines at the same time. They have to be resilient and have patience. Business transactions that took weeks to seal when I started business, now take a couple of minutes thanks to technology. The world has changed and everything nowadays happens so fast that nobody has the patience to wait anymore. Developing patience will mean that you’re going to be more meticulous and will do most things right the first time. If you don’t follow a process, you will have problems troubleshooting when you run into problems.
I worked for a while in Denmark but discovered that as much as I could make money, I couldn’t make much impact on the society. I grew up in a family where I watched my father focus on impacting lives and not making money so I decided to come back home and impact lives. To contribute to the development of my people. I didn’t want to be one of those, who only sought their personal interest. I thought the easiest way to impacting lives was to open businesses that hired people.
The fact that I live among my own people, gives me peace of mind. As much as the challenges are there, I feel very accepted wherever I go in Africa. This is what Africa offers me. I don’t feel foreign on the continent. Secondly, Africa is virgin. It is mainly untapped territory. It’s far easier to do so much more in Africa than it is in the Western world. I often enjoy first mover advantage because not much has been achieved yet and there is so much more to do. Now, everywhere you go in Africa, the private sector is leading. It wasn’t like that 30 years ago when everything was owned and run by governments.
A have no boundaries to what I want to achieve in the future. I am not the kind of person who says, “look, others will do it”. If I see a need out there, I go and do it. There’s a lot of young people out there, who don’t have jobs. I believe the private sector’s role is to create jobs so the populace can join in the economic development of their countries. I always want to see people have better lives.
Gambian at my core
In ten years time, The Gambian economy, which is already doing very well, based on the resources we have: groundnuts and tourism, will even do better. We will see more private sector participation in our economy, our economy will be bigger, our people will live better lives and if the peace and stability we currently enjoy continue, then the sky is the limit for us.
I think the Gambians biggest opportunity is in being in a regional setting of over 300 million people. The Gambia is a small country but economically gives us a lot of opportunity. About 80 per cent of everything that is imported into The Gambia goes to the neighbouring countries around us. The Gambia is a great hub for doing business in the region. Our small size is a big opportunity. Turn around times are faster.