When you look at the top 20 trading partners of the USA and Canada, you’ll find that Asia, Europe, and South America dominate the lists. Yet, the 54 countries of the vast continent of Africa aren’t just rich in resources. The continent is equally rich in talented, knowledgeable business people, eager to engage. Still, North American SMEs might find making connections in these new markets challenging, due to limited understanding of the business climate, regulations, and culture. If so, help is available. One young Toronto, Canada, company, Eschaton Solutions, is bridging the divide between the continents thanks to a CEO with long experience working in both hemispheres.
WPG recently spoke to Tapfuma Musewe, Eschaton’s CEO. The following Q&A has been edited for style, length and clarity.
WPG: Tell us about Eschaton Solutions.
Musewe: We're a boutique international business strategy firm. We focus on helping our clients conduct trade with and invest into African markets.
WPG: What kinds of investments do your clients ask you to help with?
Musewe: We've been working mainly with private equity firms based in Canada and the US that are looking for good, investment opportunities. We are agnostic in terms of sector, although we currently work a lot in agriculture. Each of our clients have different criteria and objectives – for example, some are looking to provide trade finance, while others are looking to get equity and a board seat in a company of interest. These agribusinesses investment opportunities are also varied in nature, from primary production, such as rice, to processing products like cocoa. So, it's both the production and processing parts of the agri-value chain.
WPG: And how long has Eschaton been doing this?
Musewe: We’re about a year and a half old.
WPG: So these are not start-ups, but are up and running and looking for capital?
Musewe: Correct. We identify projects that meet our investors’ criteria. Typically, they are growth-oriented, and have a track record of five or more years. Their financial records show profitability and they are looking to expand.
WPG: Are any of these businesses agricultural producers, seeking to export?
Musewe: Export is a big part of it. Usually the investor would like to see that there is some international off-take already in place and that there is international interest for any new production generated through the investment. This is becoming increasingly important on the project sponsor side too, because African economies want to create and capture more value by exporting processed goods rather than just primary goods.
WPG: What specific countries in Africa are you primarily working with?
Musewe: We're actually quite across the board in terms of where we offer our services. Right now our focus countries are South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe.
WPG: And what about your background makes Eschaton the ideal middleman?
Musewe: I would answer this question firstly by describing my motivation. I grew up in Canada, a son of immigrants, my dad being from Zimbabwe and my mom being from Trinidad. I grew up with a strong affinity for all things Pan-African, in large part due to how my parents exposed me to my rich heritage through it. I’ve always wanted to play a role in building this vast region and sharing my love for it with others.
My passion was partly realized when I went to live in South Africa as soon as I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I lived there for 10 years and lived in Ghana for one year, and then returned to Toronto, Canada with my family. From this deep exposure, I've always felt that Canada has such a partnership role to play in Africa beyond just development and aid.
WPG: Why is that?
Musewe: Canadians have a unique approach to engaging in foreign regions. We're known for being really respectful of cultures that we go into. That's a key aspect. We tend to listen more, suspend judgment more, and to prioritize understanding the people we're engaging with. This is often how host countries see us. So whether you're talking about foreign trade policy, our military, or NGO volunteers, that’s the sort of feedback that one would tend to get. There are great investment and trade opportunities across Africa, so if any foreign nation is going to be there, I believe Canada should be one of them.
WPG: And you, personally, have long experience living in both the Canadian and African cultures.
Musewe: Yes, having spent a lot of time invested in understanding how societies function in both of these contexts, I feel that I have a very particular ability to traverse both worlds, and import some meaningful connections. I also think it’s important to highlight that African nations have enormous value to offer Canada, so it has to be a two-way relationship.
WPG: Do you advocate for fair trade?
Musewe: I don't get involved with lobbying, but I do get involved with ensuring that there is some kind of impact element to the projects that we engage in. My primary goal is to help stimulate local economies, and what's wonderful is that a lot of the people that I work with, especially investors, often have a very personal connection to Africa. A lot of times, we're facilitating investment back into countries where the investor might come from. In these cases, there is a deep appreciation for what's happening on the ground, what the needs are, and how best play a role in it.
WPG: Have regional conflicts on the continent affected business?
Musewe: Africa is 54 countries. It's just massive. Even in countries where there has been some level of conflict, take Cameroon, for instance, it actually has not served as a major deterrent. There are just a handful of countries we might not currently look for opportunities in, but generally speaking, regional conflict hasn't been a problem in any of our work.
For more information about Eschaton Solutions, please visit: www.eschatonsolutions.com
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