The British Empire Library

A Venture In Africa - The Challenges of African Business

by Andrew Sardanis

Courtesy of OSPA

Jonathan Lawley (Northern Rhodesia 1960-69)
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?

British Empire Book
Andrew Sardanis
I B Tauris
978 1 84511 288 2


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