A Venture in Africa is certainly out of the ordinary. Andrew
Sardanis, a Greek Cypriot who owned a chain of stores in Northern Rhodesia, was no
friend of the British and particularly of the Provincial Administration in preindependence
days. This antipathy was mutual as he sided with Kenneth Kaunda's
United National Independence Party (UNIP). He reaped his rewards at Independence
when UNIP came to power and he was put in charge of the President's programme of
nationalisation in its rush to embrace socialism.
Andrew Sardanis sees Zambia and Africa in a very different light from most other
Europeans who know them well, even those who have lived there all their lives.
The picture of him that comes over in the book is of brilliant business talent,
a courageous innovator and a man who genuinely loves Africa.
Inevitably however, Sardanis is associated with the failures in Zambia arising from
the then politically correct socialist policies embraced by virtually all African nationalist
governments as they attained power. The irony was that there he was the natural
entrepreneur, effectively running a socialist economy with life made all the harder by
recession, the fall in the price of copper and massive skill shortages in government and
in all sectors of the economy.
Interestingly and in my opinion rightly, he places great importance on the role of
indigenous as opposed to expatriate management and decision taking. In truth, at the
time he was trying to get things going, for historical reasons experienced and effective Zambian management talent must have been near impossible to find. It is another irony
that while Kaunda and his government still embraced socialism, Sardanis the natural
entrepreneur was launching into hugely risky enterprises at a time of recession and
limited economic activity arising largely from aid money.
The author's description of the travails associated with setting up and running the
Meridian Bank is a mass of detail, which I found hard to follow. I was surprised how far he
got and how long he kept going with all the doubtful, corrupt and unreliable partners and
associate companies in some of Africa's most unstable countries. The narrative is clearly
and understandably a self-justification. Where were the profits coming from in all this?
How on earth could Sardanis, clearly the King Pin, afford to travel around the world in a
company jet associated more with rich multinationals and not with impoverished Africa?
I was left wondering what were the special and popular ways in which Meridian Bank
served its customers in Zambia and who they were? I can't help admiring Andrew
Sardanis for his confidence in Africa which prompted him to have a go in the teeth of
opposition from the international banking establishment. I fear though that the proof of
the pudding was in the eating. And how many people lost money?