South African businesswoman Jess Henrich always wanted to create a gin inspired by the ocean. In 2016, after more than a decade working in the advertising industry – first as a client account manager and then as a copywriter and creative director — she took a dive into the murky waters of entrepreneurship and partnered with her university friend Niel du Toit to start A Mari Ocean Gin. The gin is inspired by the icy Atlantic Ocean, and sea water is utilized in the distillation process where it is infused with indigenous Cape coastal fynbos. Her A Mari Ocean gin has now become a favorite among South Africa’s young, urban, upwardly mobile professionals.
Henrich recounted her business story to Billionaires.Africa Editor-In-Chief Mfonobong Nsehe.
— Walk me through your early beginnings in life and some of your major milestones. What was growing up for you like? Where did you go to school and what are some of your earliest memories of your earliest entrepreneurial ventures?
— Growing up was pretty magical, as I was born in Kenya. We had the sort of wild freedom there as children that I think today is pretty rare. My time, when not in school, was spent either in the Ngong forest, on the coastline, in Lamu, or exploring some rugged beautiful part of this incredible country. I went to Banda, then Switzerland, and then back to Kenya and Hillcrest, and was then sent to Swaziland for two years at Waterford. My earliest entrepreneurial venture involved, at age seven, trying to buy Masai goats with my pocket money to resell to my mum’s friends as lawnmowers. Hugely unsuccessful sadly.
— What did you did you do before starting A Mari Ocean Gin company, and what are the series of events that inspired you to create your gin and distillery?
— I am a brand strategist and copywriter by trade. The story of A Mari starts on the small Spanish island of Ibiza, where I was living and working.
At a dinner party one night I heard about the Ibiza Preservation Fund, which aims to kickstart agriculture on the island again by granting free land ( and sometimes houses) to people with agri-projects.
Ibiza used to be a prolific producer of fruits and vegetables and now imports most of its produce as the farmers have gone into tourism and the land is largely lying fallow.
Anyway, the next morning, I was at the preservation fund offices and there was an old finca (farmhouse) in the north that was up for a pitch — they asked me if I had an agricultural project to present, as the Balaeric government were there that weekend for grants. This is on Thursday. I said yes — though I didn’t have an agricultural project.
I went home and cobbled together a business plan for a distillery, as the island is covered in juniper and at that point there wasn’t an ibiza gin, plus I had worked with wine and am really fascinated by plants and alcohol. So, I end up presenting, through a Catalan translator, in an olive field to the Baleric government — sheer madness.
They liked my project, though, so I flew home to South Africa and sold everything I owned and moved back to start this distillery. Within six weeks of me being back on the island it all went bottoms up, the license fell through, I couldn’t use the finca as the distillery had to be in an industrial area.
Fast forward six months and I am back in South Africa and working for an ad agency, my now business partner, Niel, had just moved back from London, and we are old friends from university days.
We met for dinner and started talking about my gin idea, which had very much stayed on my mind, but I didn’t have enough cash to do it alone. Niel immediately said he’d go in on it.
Around 3AM that morning after several bottles of wine, we bought a potstill on the Internet and both quit our jobs the next day.
We literally walked up and down this coastline distilling everything from seaweed to citrus. We were at that point in. Niel’s bathroom, with this utterly dreadful temperamental potstill that is plugged into the water mains over his bathtub. If anyone flushed the loo or turned on a tap in the house, the temperature would leap and the batch would be ruined- so we had to sit with it for 12-hour shifts at a time. We knew we wanted to do something different to what was on the market, and the only variable to change with was the water and it has a profound effect on whiskey; so stands to reason it does in gin. We spent three months playing with recipes and coastal plants and trying it on our friends (who each time were like are you sure we aren’t going to go blind?).
So there we are on the day of our first big distillation and we only have enough money for one run. We arrive with jerrycans of seawater having had the genius idea in the middle of the night — why not actually distill with ocean water? No one had done it. Including us, Roger looked at this when we arrived and he was like guys are you sure? We only have one shot at this. We looked at each other and were just like hell yes. So we did, and it was beautiful, and A Mari Atlantic was born.
— A Mari is the only ocean water distilled gin in the world. What exactly does that mean?
We are the only gin made from the sea — we literally put ocean water into the potstill with the botanicals and spirit. It desalinates as it distills, which means the gin is not salty but the process gives the gin a unique and beautiful smoothness. You can drink it on the rocks its that good!
— Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
Haha, no — as above this was a combination of balls, timing and sheer determination to succeed. And a lot of learning curves on the way.
— How did you initially raise the finance to start your own gin company?
We have bootstrapped from the beginning and put all our own savings into it. We’re actually looking at raising at the moment to expand.
— Tell me about the thought process that went into developing A Mari Ocean Gin. What makes it different from your regular gin brand, and what has been the recipe for A Mari’s success?
I think two things, the quality of the gin — making a superior product has always been at the heart of what we do, and we have never compromised quality for volume. We still make small batches and I grow all the Fynbos myself. The second thing is the USP, which is the ocean water story, we are the only gin in the world made this way. We are also supporters of marine conservation, working with SeaShepherd to give back into the ocean.
— Can you tell us more about your production process?
We start with the botanical harvesting and measuring out the recipe (endless peeling of oranges, lemons and limes), then these botanicals, with the ocean water and the neutral spirit goes into a potstill. Its a one shot distillation, which means everything goes into one run so there is no room for error! When it comes off the still we cut it to strength at 43 percent and bottle and label and it goes off to our distributors around the world.
— How would you describe your gins in three words?
Extremely, unusually delicious.
— What is the one thing you’ve learned from being an entrepreneur that you can share with us?
Resilience. You get knocked down, thats the nature of the game. You just get back up stronger and more determined.
— What’s next for A Mari Ocean Gin?
Our goal is to get a bottle of A Mari into every sea facing bar in the world, so thats what we work towards. We are bringing out a limited edition too which is going to be super special.
Ethiopian tycoon Negusse Hailu recounts his experiences with EABSC
Hailu said he was fortunate to have influential people in his life who shaped his outlook on life and business.
Negusse Hailu, a prominent Ethiopian businessman, was one of several Ethiopian partners who purchased the state-owned East Africa Bottling Share Company (EABSC) from the former Ethiopian Privatization Agency in 1995.
Abinet Gebremesqel, Munir Duri, Dereje Yesuworq, Shadia Nadim, and Hussein Abedella were among the other prominent Ethiopian businessmen involved in the acquisition.
The five partners joined forces with the South African Bottling Company (SABCO) to purchase the business and then formed a private limited company, which was later transformed into a joint venture in 1999 under the name EABSC.
In a recent interview with Billionaires.Africa, the Ethiopian businessman clarified a report published on April 3, 2021, and concerns about his shares in EABSC as he recounted his journey as a successful businessman who built a fortune in Ethiopia from the ground up through hard work and determination to create shared wealth in the country.
— Walk me through your childhood and some of your major life events. What was it like for you to grow up; where did you go to school, and what are some of your earliest memories of your first entrepreneurial ventures?
I was born in Ethiopia in 1969 to a father educated at the American University in Beirut, who after graduation in 1953 had the opportunity during Emperor Haile Selassie to become the foreign exchange director, replacing then a British citizen, and a mother who graduated from commerce school but chose to be a housewife to raise my sister, cousins, and me.
In Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, I attended Lycee Guebre-Mariam, a French international school. The school provided me with not only a great education, but also the opportunity to form long-lasting friendships with people from 48 different countries who now live all over the world.
My father, who has instilled in me the values of discipline, morality, and humility, was forced to flee Ethiopia during the Derg regime (Socialist-era Ethiopia).
In his absence, my godfather Antonio Varenna (an Italian national and businessman) and my uncle Abiselom Yehdego assumed the roles of father figures in my life, raising me to be a good citizen. Antonio Varenna was one of the first investors to come to the Derg era to invest in textiles, after being invited by two of my uncles.
Since the age of 10, each summer break has been spent as follows: working for two months, taking a 15-day vacation wherever I want with my family, and then preparing for the upcoming school year. My first summer job was in a family garage, where I worked for two summers in a row. Following that, I worked at a printing press and a bakery owned by my family, and my final summer job was at an Ethiopian government-owned shoe factory with an export managed by Antonio Varenna. Under Antonio’s supervision, I was able to obtain all of the certificates required for agriculture and textile from Europe shortly after graduating from Lycée.
Joining Antonio, the pioneer, to export Ethiopian garment products gave me the opportunity to be the first Ethiopian to export to the Italian market fruits and vegetables such as beans, strawberries, asparagus, and sweet melon with the help of my Italian family Case Anselmo. As a result, my entire childhood revolved around the family business. The farm was my idea, with the encouragement of Antonio Varenna’s Case Anselmo family, even though Antonio helped me until the end of his life.
— During a privatization exercise in 1995, you took control of EABSC from the government. What prompted your entry into the beverage industry, and what series of events led to your acquisition of the company? Tell us about the company’s history and how it got to where it is today.
The government announced the privatization of the Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Ambo factories in 1995. Munir Duri had the vision to participate in this venture. He had gathered all of the necessary paperwork, while I had gathered the financial information. Bereket and Kassim raised their own funds as well. Furthermore, Bereket, who has corporate experience, assisted Munir, while Alula continued to work on the day-to-day operations of our other businesses. Inchcape was our sole competitor in this new venture. We both failed on the first try because our offer fell short of the government’s expectations. We met the government’s expectations on the second try and were awarded the Addis bottling company. Our goal was to expand to Eritrea, Somalia, and other African countries, so we chose the name East Africa Bottling Pvt Ltd.
Kassim Houssein, Munir Duri, Bereket Haregot, Alula Araya, and I founded East Africa Bottling Pvt Ltd in 1995. A negotiation with the SABCO began in early 1996 and was completed in 1999 in an effort to expand the company. As a result, the name of the company was changed to EABSC. Personally, I believe that selecting SABCO as a partner was the best thing we could have done for the EABSC.
SABCO is a family-owned company that was already in the Coca-Cola business and worked from dawn to dusk. We only sold 5 million crates when we first started in 1995, with more difficulty during rainy seasons. Today, thanks to their expertise and capital injection, we have reached 100 million crates with no stock.
— Can you provide more background on the company’s operations and some of its major achievements to date, as the chairman of EABSC?
EABSC is a company that grows at a rate of more than 25 percent per year, the firm is a platinum taxpayer, and is well managed in the business world. The CEO is the company’s executive, while the chairman is in a non-executive position.
— How have EABSC’s operations evolved over time, and what has contributed to EABSC’s extraordinary success in Ethiopia: how big is it in terms of revenue, profit, and job opportunities?
For the last 10 years, EABSC has grown at a rate of 25 percent per year. After 2006, the beverage industry as a whole expanded. Coca-Cola has not only grown as a result of experience, but management has also managed to maintain a market share of 60 percent for the last nine years. Coca-Cola, as previously stated, is one of Ethiopia’s top five taxpayers. Our company has received the platinum price from the PM on a consistent basis.
— You have previously sold some of your EABSC shares. What is EABSC’s current shareholding structure?
My 26,000 shares were diluted to 11,054 by the end of 2017. After 2017, I had 121,000 paid-up shares and 5,000 unpaid shares. I sold 50,000 of my shares to three individuals in April 2021, and I still own the remaining 71000 paid-up shares and 5000 non-paid shares. I am still the chairman of the EABSC as well as the director of Ambo mineral water.
— What major obstacles, in your experience as a successful entrepreneur, must be overcome to encourage the formation of businesses?
I can’t take full credit for my success. I can only say that I was fortunate to have influential people in my life, including my father, uncles, and godfather. My father, an educated, generous, and knowledgeable man, showed me what it meant to be successful. My generous uncle, Abiselom, taught me how to socialize and be nice to everyone. My uncle Yehdego taught me about the wonders of nature and the joys of traveling. Most importantly, my Godfather Antonio, a generous man, taught me to be a strong, hard worker, and fighter. Last but not least, my Lycée classmates who have given me friendship, love, respect, and the ability to welcome me wherever they are. Most importantly, Amaretxh’s prayer group gave me faith, hope, and divine power.
— Most people identify you with your interests in Coca-Cola. What are some of your other interests?
My interests are in agriculture, manufacturing, and mining in Ethiopia and elsewhere, primarily in gold as a deal maker. I also represent various international companies in Arica’s east and horn. I am proud to be called “Negusse coca,” I fought so many battles that had nothing to do with my shares, but in every battle, people envious of my shares wanted to take me out of the EABSC, and thanks to the Lord, I survived, but I prefer to be called, “The Farmer.”
— What does success mean to you?
For me, success is waking up when my body wants to, doing what pleases me, being known as a helper, and, most importantly, being a pioneer in what I do. My personal interests include farming and making deals in mining large contracts.
Meet Osinachi Ukomadu, an African tech entrepreneur revolutionizing logistics
Heroshe allows Nigerians to buy products from any trusted U.S. online store.
Osinachi Ukomadu is one of many entrepreneurs using technology to revolutionize the logistics industry in Africa and Nigeria, taking last-mile delivery by storm through innovative solutions.
He is the founder of Heroshe, a platform that allows Nigerians to buy products from any trusted U.S. online store.
Through Heroshe, Ukomadu has been able to solve the problem of access to global commerce outside Nigeria for businesses and individuals who want products that are not locally available.
Under his leadership, Heroshe has evolved from assisting family and friends in Nigeria to shopping for and shipping goods from stores in the United States to becoming a fast-growing startup with more than 40,000 customers that deploys cutting-edge solutions to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions, last-mile delivery and payments for goods and services.
In a recent interview, the leading tech entrepreneur and businessman described his experiences in corporate America and as a businessman.
Heroshe, according to Ukomadu, has been built to last through a network of strong relationships with its first-leg, last-mile logistics and payment partners, allowing the startup to overcome challenges in its operating environment.
— Can you tell us about your upbringing in Nigeria and the United States? What it was like growing up in the United States, and how did your education shape your business outlook?
I was born and raised in Abia state. I grew up around different parts of Nigeria. I lived shortly in Port Harcourt, moved to Kano, and then to Lagos where I finished my high school education. I did JSS 1-3 in Adebayo Mukuolu College Ogba before leaving the country with my family to the United States. I finished my high school and university education there.
My upbringing in Nigeria, as you can see, was punctuated with a lot of changes. We moved around a bit. My father, who worked in the bank, was transferred very often to different parts of the country. It was always interesting to experience different cultures and languages. This is one of the many advantages of moving around the country. I look forward to doing more of this in the future.
Emigrating to the United States as a teenager was quite an experience. I initially struggled to adapt to the new culture. It took me a while to settle into the rhythm of life here. Schooling in the United States brought me to the reality of my otherness. It was hard relating to the other kids, who have formed strong bonds through years of doing school together. The Nigerian kids in school did not want to associate with me, because they wanted to protect their reputation from mingling with a Nigerian who still had a thick Nigerian accent. It wasn’t until new students came from Nigeria to the school that I began to feel a sense of belonging. I learned to adapt to these changing experiences.
This is one thing that has shaped my life and approach to business today. Adaptability was embedded into my core. With each move, my parents would register us in the school, and we were left to navigate the rest of the transition ourselves. I never valued those experiences back then. Looking back now, I see how those experiences have shaped the man that I am today. The adaptability and resilience that came through those experiences have shown in my approach to life in general and business specifically.
— What was it like to build your first startup, and how did you get the funding to get started?
The first company I ran was a home health services company. This came about as a result of life circumstances. My mom, who was a nurse, was thinking about leaving her full-time work to start a home health service and at that time I had just lost my first job right out of college. She shared the idea with me, and it made sense to be a part of it. I was young, fresh out of college, and looking to have an adventure. This was an opportunity. I didn’t think much about it. I jumped right on it. Being very inexperienced, I made every mistake you could possibly think of. However, the learning was immensely valuable.
The company was bootstrapped. We depended on the revenue from operations to run the business. This meant that we had to make consistent revenue every week to keep the business running. Without access to credit, this proved to be a daunting task, especially when we would not get reimbursement or the reimbursement was short. I remember times I would have to call a meeting on a Friday evening to tell employees that there were not enough funds to make payroll that week. This happened a few times.
The most painful part of this experience was looking at the faces of these men and women who have trusted us, working diligently for weeks, only to be told there was no money to pay them. It was a painful experience. I could only imagine what they had to tell their families. One thing we had going for us was the culture we built. It was such an empathetic place to work. I was surprised when Monday rolled around, seeing them all still trooping into work while waiting patiently for the funds to be sorted. This taught me a great lesson on culture. The company went on to do millions of dollars in revenue over time. I exited to pursue other interests while the company continued to operate successfully.
— Can you share with us the key milestones you achieved in terms of strategic partnerships, customer base, and revenue in the recently concluded fiscal year compared to the first year of Heroshe’s operation as a business?
We grew our customers to 40,000. We deployed our mobile app. We grew revenue by 24 percent month-on-month in the fourth quarter. We did more than 100,000 in tonnage.
– Heroshe takes pride in delivering value to customers through its operations, which are linked to the company’s commitment to solving e-commerce logistics, access and payments challenges in Nigeria. How has the company been able to deliver on this promise, particularly with payments and the country’s recent transportation and logistics rigidities?
Our primary focus is to link Africans to global commerce. Logistics, access and payments are the mechanisms by which we accomplish this. We are not immune to the global logistics challenges everyone is facing. However, we have been very strategic in making sure to build the right partnerships to enable us to deliver delight consistently. We have built a set of robust relationships with our first-leg, last-mile logistics and payment partners enabling us to overcome these challenges.
We spend time building and maintaining these relationships that ensure our delivery is assured. There are so many challenges to be solved in Africa that you can’t build fast enough to solve all of them, so working with the best of breed in each space to leverage existing infrastructure helps us to further our mission. Our goal is to continue to nurture these relationships to enable us to build towards our mission.
— The supply chain was strained in 2021 due to growing consumer demands and capacity-related issues that crystallized key discussions in the industry in 2021. With the structural difficulties in Nigeria, can you tell us how Heroshe has been able to manage some of these issues competitively, while turning challenges into strategic opportunities?
We’ve been affected by the global supply chain challenges everybody is facing. However, our volume has continued to grow. Nigerian logistics may have some structural challenges; however, there are a few players who have done a great job solving these challenges. We seek them out and selectively partner with them to deliver on our promise.
We are taking advantage of our growth to strike the right partnerships that drive better value for our customers. We make sure to only work with first-leg and last-mile partners who are aligned with our culture of delight. Increased volume gives us so many options when it comes to partner selection. Choosing the right partner has been the game-changer in the continuous delivery of a delightful experience to our customers.
— According to some supply chain experts, the COVID-19 pandemic created more opportunities for companies in the logistics industry than it caused. What are your thoughts on this, and how did it affect Heroshe’s performance during the two pandemic years?
I agree that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the industry. We saw unprecedented growth in the last year as a result of increased demand for e-commerce. Prior to COVID-19, people would travel out of the country to shop. Since COVID-19, people have depended more on shopping online. More people have gotten accustomed to shopping online. People got used to shopping online locally as a result of social distancing, this also translated to shopping online outside the country.
The fear of shopping online has been broken by several people. There is no going back now. We see this trend continuing into the future. Not only will more people shop online locally, but they will also shop online globally as the barriers between countries shrink due to the impact of technology.
— What are the key strategic inputs you brought to Heroshe from your extensive experience with iconic brands and organizations such as Apple, Hasbro, ExxonMobil and T-Mobile, and how did this translate into company growth?
Working at these iconic brands gave me the opportunity to see execution at a different level. I found one thing consistent among the top-performing companies where I worked — they knew their core competencies and focused on them. Everything else was de-emphasized or completely ignored. I brought this strategy to Heroshe. I know that for us to stay alive and grow, we had to do very few things that we were very good at doing and were core to our DNA.
We learned to be laser-focused from the onset. We learned to experiment quickly, take what is working and discard what is not working. This level of ruthless execution helped us immensely in our beginning days. We were met with so many options to pursue. My constant refrain was “focus.” Focus, in the beginning, looked like we were missing so many opportunities however, in the end, it became what has kept us delivering consistently.
— Is Heroshe planning a capital raise to scale the operation in light of the recent growth in the logistics industry? If so, where do you intend to invest this capital in your business?
Yes, Heroshe is looking to raise capital to grow its product and reach more customers. We have spent the last couple of years figuring out the customer, market, and product. We are at a place where we have a high level of confidence in the product roadmap. We will invest significantly in the product.
We will focus on building products that solve for specific segments of users. We have built out our core logistics infrastructure which is broadly serving the market. The next set of products would build on top of this logistics infrastructure to enable more tailored services to our various customer segments whose use cases are unique.
— What’s next for Osinachi Ukomadu and Heroshe? Are you setting your sights on expanding into other countries in Africa?
Eventually, we will expand to other African countries. Our current focus is solving deeply for the Nigerian market. When we have solved cross-border e-commerce access, logistics and payments deeply in Nigeria, we will set our eyes on another anglophone West African country before venturing to other parts of Africa. We want to facilitate the opening up of markets across Africa and the world.
— Do you have any words of advice for young Africans who are afraid to start something?
Your youth is a gift. You still have time to make mistakes, learn and iterate. This is the best time to get started. It becomes more difficult when you have more responsibilities. Acquire a skill that is currently in high demand. While using that skill to build your career, find time to also use that skill to build your future.
Someone once reminded me of the “food crop” and “cash crop” strategy, which we were taught in the agriculture class. Our forefathers employed this strategy, and it worked for them. Your career is your food crop, since it provides for your daily living; however, your side hustle can become your cash crop that pays for your future. You can’t afford to grow one at the expense of the other. What is your current food crop? What is your cash crop? How much time are you dedicating to each?
African Judo Union President: ‘Businesses must support sport. It has the power to change the world.’
MP and AJU President Siteny Thierry Randrianasolo-Niaiko is one of Madagascar’s most dynamic public figures.
Siteny Thierry Randrianasolo-Niaiko is one of Madagascar’s most accomplished public figures. The businessman, politician and sports administrator was elected in May this year as president of the African Judo Union, the highest governing body for the combat sport in Africa.
A successful businessman, Randrianasolo-Niaiko’s interests have spanned telecom distribution and the media. He is the founder of Siteny Distribution – one of the largest wholesale distributors of Airtel products in Madagascar. He is also the founder of TV Plus of Toliara, a Free-To-Air (FTA) television station in the island nation.
As a sports administrator, Randrianasolo-Niaiko has served as president of the Malagasy Olympic Committee, president of the Malagasy Judo Federation and chairman of the African Judo Union.
Finally, as a politician and technocrat, he is a member of parliament in the National Assembly of Madagascar.
Randrianasolo-Niaiko recently spoke with Billionaires.Africa Editor-In-Chief Mfonobong Nsehe about his ambitions for the African Judo Union and his hope to attract more corporate sponsors to its activities. Seeding the historical values of judo into the hearts and minds of African youths, he believes, is a means for ensuring peace and economic and social prosperity on the continent.
— What ignited your interest in judo? What makes the combat sport so exiting and why should more Africans practice judo?
— I joined my first judo club when I was 13 years old. At the time, martial arts were just starting to make their way, and were becoming quite popular in Madagascar. Managing school and training was the first real challenge I felt in life. I learned to organize myself and reconcile between school and judo. My parents’ encouragements were instrumental all throughout my judo career. They considered judo to be an excellent way to instill important values such as a love for one’s family, oneself, and one’s country. My father used to say that judo is much, much more than a sport – it helps to develop self-confidence and respect.
Judo has played a formative role in my professional life and was a core driver of my success in business and politics. The competitive nature of judo is one of the most characteristic features of the sport. The objective of judo is to either throw or take your opponent to the ground. It teaches you about human-to-human interaction, how to engage, brotherhood… I strongly encourage my fellow Africans to practice judo. It is a tool for social development.
The International Judo Federation has contributed significantly to the development of the sport in Africa. It has donated many tatamis and judogi to national judo federations on the continent, as well as provided robust assistance in building dojos in numerous countries.
In geographic zones marked by conflict, judo has also served as an excellent instrument for bringing peace to local communities. I will say that, on a personal level, judo has guided my actions and helped me to overcome day-to-day challenges. It is a tool that not everyone has.
Dr. Jigoro Kano, the much-loved founder of judo, said: “Judo is the way to the most effective use of both physical and spiritual strength; by training you in attacks and defenses it refines your body and your soul and helps you make the spiritual essence of judo a part of your very being. In this way you are able to perfect yourself and contribute something of value to the world. This is final goal of judo discipline.”
If we could ensure that the values and discipline of judo were instilled in everyone in the world, it would be a more peaceful, prosperous and stabler place. Alas, this is, of course, not possible to achieve in reality. However, this does not stop us from doing the best we can.
The African Judo Union and the International Judo Federation are working hard to bring the best messages of judo to the African continent and the greater international community.
— Who is the “typical” judo practitioner in Africa?
— Today, judo is developing rapidly all over the world. This revered sport is gaining more media coverage and social media traction with every passing year. To me, this is really astounding, especially when we consider its long history. Judo is well over 100 years old.
The International Judo Federation is investing much effort into helping judo reach the largest number of youths possible worldwide to get them interested in practicing the sport.
Judo is also becoming more popular in Africa. If you look at the statistics, you will find that there is no such thing as a “typical” practitioner in Africa. Our judokas are of all ages and social categories. Today, more and more parents are encouraging their kids to take up judo.
This is because they see how the sport positively impacts their children. I am not speaking about the very clear physical benefits of judo, but rather how its values shape their minds.
— You have been involved with judo globally and within Africa for years, having served as the vice president of the International Judo Federation and president of the Malagasy Judo Federation. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the sport in Africa today, and what ideas do you propose for developing judo on the continent?
— My positions as the International Judo Federation as vice president and chairman of the Malagasy Judo Federation have helped me to have a broader vision for judo’s development.
It has also consolidated my approach for new strategies to promote judo throughout Africa.
One of our newest and most interesting initiatives is a joint program titled, “Judo at School.” We are working to teach judo’s core values at schools in Africa: friendship, honor, respect, modesty, courage, self-control and sincerity. We are convinced that children who practiced judo at one time or another will have an advantage for the rest of their lives. We are also finalizing a strategic development plan for the continent’s top judokas. We hope to qualify a larger number of athletes for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games in Paris and Los Angeles.
This is no easy task. But we are determined to reach our final goal. I am confident we will.
Judo in Africa would also benefit from more engagement from companies operating on the continent. Businesses must support sport. It has the power to change the world. Although judo is relatively new to the continent, more African companies are reaching out to us to cooperate. It is my sincere hope that, as more international companies enter Africa from countries that boast a longstanding historical relationship with judo – such as Japan, Korea, Russia, Brazil, Germany and France, and numerous others – we will see more, and better, opportunities to collaborate closely with the foreign business community as well. We can all work together, hand-in-hand, to foster values in Africa’s youth that will secure for them the best possible future. The way to do this is to get them into sports while they are still young.
— You are now five months into the job as president. What have you achieved so far? And what are your short-, medium- and long-term plans for the union and for combat sports in Africa?
— After my election in May, I have been working hard with my team to develop a strategic plan for the next Olympic quadrennial. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that we not only meet but surpass the expectations of our national federations and partners.
The greatest challenge for us today is to keep up the momentum – to propel the African Judo Union forward so we remain at forefront of African and international sports.
Today, judo is undergoing profound changes. We need to launch new innovative projects that will help us consolidate our sport’s influence and attract the media and sponsors.
To do this, the African Judo Union will start to digitize its programs and processes. We are making plans to do this right now. The International Judo Federation offers us a well of knowledge and experience. We will build off this knowledge and experience while taking into account our own realities and peculiarities. Each geography is different in its own right.
Because we are part of the International Judo Federation, it is important for our continental events to adhere to its highest standards. We are working diligently in this regard. To further improve in this area, we plan to set up training and retraining programs for those coaches, who prepare our best athletes on the continent. We also plan to invite high-level experts to support our judokas, referees and coaches. We also want to consolidate the concept of judo at African schools in partnership with African governments and our national federations.
— Could you tell us a bit about your political background – you presently serve as an MP in Madagascar – and future goals? What role has judo played in your life in your development as a human being, a politician and a leader?
— Judo strengthened me mentally and physically and really contributed to my development as both a leader and a human being. It gave me self-confidence and for this I am grateful.
But judo needs broad political support to reach the level of global development that it really deserves. I have said this already and I will say it again. Returning to the innermost values of judo, I believe that the world would be a much better place if everyone practiced or, at least studied, the sport. My position as a member of parliament has helped me promote judo in Madagascar. I have developed strong relations with mayors nationwide and with the media. Thanks to their kind support, judo has made progress in Madagascar and come a long way.
I often quote one of Africa’s greatest political leaders, Nelson Mandela, who said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.” Our goal is to inspire more African youths to practice judo, while imbuing them with its values. We are fighting as a union to root deep within the continent the sociological tenets of the sport.
— On the major challenges facing the development of sport in Africa is a lack of sponsorship funding. What can be done to help deal with this issue?
— Funding is extremely important for the Olympic sport movement. Here at the African Judo Union, we are well aware that we need to develop a new marketing strategy to help us sell our continental events. We are studying the International Judo Federation’s experience to find new ways of attracting sponsors to support competitions and activities. I think that it is important to increase the awareness of our organization and our events. I have appointed two strong individuals – who are themselves longtime associates and business partners – as special advisors to my office to help promote the union’s global reputation and exposure.
They have significant international networks and a belief in what we are trying to achieve.
I think that this is a positive step forward for the African Judo Union. Previously, we invested most of our efforts into developing our training and professional capacity, while we placed less of an emphasis on strategic marketing and developing corporate relationships.
We are going to try an added approach to see how this affects the union’s future growth.
— Interesting. Who are they and what are their backgrounds?
The first is Anton Pisaroglu. He is a Romanian political operator, who served as senior counsel for international affairs to the former prime minister of Romania and advised former President of Guinea Alpha Conde during the 2019 referendum. He has managed and contributed to presidential campaigns in Romania on both sides of the aisle. Anton advises political actors independently and together with his partner, Marshall Comins. Previously, he was a distinguished member of the Romanian National Rugby Team and, last year, he was elected as vice president of the Romanian Rugby Federation, where he is helping to bolster media exposure and international relations. Anton brings extensive networks on both a business and a governmental level, which will help us solidify relationships throughout the European Union, the Middle East and beyond.
The second is Marshall Comins. He is a strategist and international affairs consultant who served as a senior advisor to one of the world’s best-known election campaign managers, where he led special projects and digital. He has a deep focus on Eurasia, and has advised political actors, state- and privately-owned companies and high net-worth individuals across that region. His roles have included senior advisory positions with politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Forbes-listed African and Eurasian businessmen, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Russia and Eurasian corporations. He also ran a wildly popular campaign to turn an ageing American former UFC legend into a superstar in Russia, crafting for him a trajectory that resulted in him receiving Russian citizenship and being elected to political office. Marshall’s relationships internationally and in Eurasia will help us strengthen ties, particularly from a corporate and government sponsorship standpoint.
So, they are a robust addition to our team, and I believe they will add real value to our work.
We remain deeply persuaded that the union is on the right track.
Randrianasolo-Niaiko’s Newly Appointed Special Advisors
– Romanian political consultant Anton Pisaroglu.
– Strategist and international affairs consultant Marshall Comins.
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