Six years after brokering the first American investment in Mozambi-que I got a call at my then home in Windhoek, Namibia from a friend I had made while working on Mozambi-que in Washington.   Bill Friedman called me from Mozambi-que where he had built a new fish processing factory on an island about 500 meters off the coast of the country in the Gulf of Beira. 

I had seen Bill earlier in Johannesburg where we discussed his new venture.  The idea was to process shrimp and crab bought from local fishermen to ship to Johannesburg.  He needed my help.  Bill had built the factory on Chilowan Island using a small plane he had purchased in South Africa to carry all the materials to the island and to be used in shipping the product to Johannesburg.  The factory would clean and pack the shrimp, prawns in that part of the world, and send them quick frozen to the market.  He counted on having the freshest product in the very competitive Johannesburg market.  However, there was a shortage of shrimp in the bay so Bill added picked crab meat taken from giant crabs to his offer.  The key to his success would be to ship the products directly from Chilowan to Johannesburg without having to pass customs in the capital Maputo, you see, even exports had to pay a tax. 

Bill called me over to draw up and get through the Mozambican authorities a charter for his company as a foreign investment and, more importantly, permission to ship directly from the island to Johannesburg.  To do this Bill offered to set up a customs station on the island near the factory to be staffed by a customs official at Bill’s expense. 

I arrived in Maputo to disturbing news, the rebels, Mozambi-que was in a civil war, had occupied the factory.  None of his employees was harmed but the rebels held the place.  Bill took me to see the commander for that region in Maputo and demand he drive the rebels out of the factory.  He made a passionate appeal and the general said he would do what he could.  I am sure he called the rebels after our visit and told them to either leave or  face a fire right and no armed force in Africa ever wants to actually duke it out with another armed force.  They prefer to kill the poor sots caught in between the armies.   The next day the rebels had left carrying away most of Bill’s supplies.

I had to dissuade Bill from forming a militia from his workers and having his security chief, an ex-French Foreign Legion professional who you knew meant business, train them.  I told him that if the rebels returned to do the same thing, i.e. have the workers scatter into the bush and the French security chief take Bill’s  cabin cruiser, named “Dollar Bill,”  to sea while the rebels had their fun.  I said the last thing we needed was bloodshed.

I then turned to the task of preparing the proposal for a charter as a foreign investment.  In the process I also reorganized the business to cut costs and improve efficiency. 

While preparing the documents I visited the various government offices that would be reviewing the proposal in order to soften them up and alert them to what we were going to do.  My first stop was at the Office for Foreign Investment where I was ushered into a room and told that, “Mr Sambo would be seeing me.”  Soon after a diminutive coal black man came in and it suddenly hit me, I was face to face with “Little Black Sambo.”  I smothered a smile and got down to business.  He was soon joined by his foreign advisor who I instantly recognized as “Rosie the Red.”  Fresh out of the London School of Economics she started with a litany of evils visited on Africa by “Western Imperialist” Corporations.  I did not take the bait but simply took notes to use in preparing the proposal.

My most important visit was to the Directorate of Fisheries where I first met with an affable Irishman who was that office’s foreign advisor.  While we were talking in came the Director of Fisheries, a rather chubby man who obviously had issues.  He started in instantly accusing Bill’s enterprise of being “illegal.”  I showed him the commercial license Bill had taken out and explained that we wanted to upgrade the status of the business to a chartered foreign investment for several reasons. 

The director brushed past my comments and continued to accuse Bill of “illegally” fishing without a permit.  I looked the director in the eye and said Bill was not fishing, in fact the project had been designed to buy fish, really shrimp and crabs, from small fishermen, process the products and export them to Johannesburg.  I asked the director did he not want to help small fishermen in his country?  Further, did he only want foreign companies to come in as were the Soviets with large factory ships that were draining Mozambi-que’s fisheries with truly unsustainable practices?  He quickly replied that of course he wanted to help the small fishermen and wanted to end the ruthless exploitation of Mozambi-que’s fisheries.  I smiled and then showed him a draft article I had prepared and said, “I’m glad to hear that since if you were ready to sacrifice your small fishermen to foreign factory ships, this article would appear in most of Johannesburg’s newspapers the following day.”   The article slammed Mozambi-que for preferring to work with foreign mega-fishing companies instead of their own fishermen.  The director quietly said he thought Bill’s project merited approval.

A word about the fishermen.  When I say small I mean really small.  These brave souls went out to sea in hand carved dugout canoes with small, tattered nets to catch shrimp.  They caught the giant crabs with their bare hands and you could tell how long the fisherman had been at this trade by the number of fingers that had been clipped off by the giant crab claws. 

We got approval of Bill’s enterprise as a foreign investment and permission to fly directly from Chilowan to Johannesburg using the small customs post Bill put up at the factory.  No one believed we could get this but I guess the fisheries director wanted to make sure he was not skewered in the press.

So there you have it, I brokered the first American investment in Mozambi-que and got a charter for the second, as well as reorganized it.  In the process I had lots of opportunity to instruct and advise the Mozambican authorities on how to treat foreign investors.  The lessons took hold and Mozambiq-que is now the most desired location for foreign investors in Southern Africa. 

Foreign investment plays a key role in Africa’s economic growth.  The main difference now is that most comes from the East instead of the West.  China and India are investing heavily in Africa to the advantage of both sides.