Black African Businesses in Tunisia: A Nigerian Success Story



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By Houda Mzioudet

In Tunis, there is a small Sub-Saharan African community. Mostly living in the northern suburb of Nasr and the Lafayete area in downtown Tunis, this group of people are contributing to the entrepreneurial spirit of the capital.

With the relocation of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to Tunis in 2003 from its original headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the number of Sub-Saharan Africans in Tunis has risen steadily.

The influx of employees from the Pan-African institution have added vibrant African colors to the capital. AfDB employees have joined the existing expat student community with the sub-Saharan population composed mainly of French-speaking Senegalese, Malians, Ivorians, Congolese, and Gabonese, among others.

New African businesses have opened next to the bank in recent years. Restaurants that serve authentic African food and beauty hair salons catering to Africans have been sprouting up, for example. Some Tunisian restaurants have even had to adjust their selection to African tastes to suit a growing clientele of AfDB employees and a thriving Sub-Saharan African community.

Akuma Chide Mac-Homs is a Nigerian man in his late 30′s and owns an African barber shop in Lafayette, a few hundred yards from the AfDB premises. Some of his clients are employees from the bank but also Sub-Saharan African students from West African countries such as Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and Cameroon. He arrived to Tunisia 13 years ago. He is married to a Tunisian woman, and the couple has three children. The psychology major opened his barber shop seven years ago. In setting up his business, he had to overcome some hurdles.

“Getting a license and other documents was difficult. As a foreigner, I do not have the right to set up a business [on my own] like this,” he stated. So, Mac-Homs had to find a Tunisian partner, who turned out to be his Tunisian wife. “It was on the condition that she has a higher percentage of at least 51% of the business’ share. It was impossible to do it alone,” he explained.

In May 2012, Mac-Homs opened a leisure space in the Soukra area, in the governorate of Ariana, north of downtown Tunis. Wood House is a large two-storey villa with a big garden in the backyard.

“This place is a leisure club where Sub-Saharan Africans in Tunis come to relax, sit down, meet friends, and have a drink after working hours. [They] have something African to eat, listen to African music, meet other Africans.” Most of the people, who come to the Wood House, are footballers or wives of AfDB’s employees.

Wood House has a large room with a counter that serves as a DJ platform. It  also has a small conference room and a mini-library with internet access. Mac-Homs helps organize parties, conferences, reunions, ceremonies, expositions and other events at the Wood House. African fashion shows are also organized in the space.

“We held a student event on June 19 here. Cameroonian students organized an African music and dance party,” he recounted. Some Tunisians also come to the space. “Some Sub-Saharan African students have Tunisian friends. They come out of curiosity, to see what is happening,” he explained.

“We offer tailored activities to the African community in Tunis. We rent the space for birthday parties, goodbye parties, end-of-year parties,” he added.

On June 17, the Wood House had a black and white party, where attendees dressed in black and white. The Wood House is also planning to co-organize a music carnival in early July, sponsored by a Congolese basketball player’s foundation.

“We will invite musicians from some African countries to perform here in Tunis,” he said. “We play Makusa music from Cameroon, Afro-beat, and reggae music.”

Mac-Homs charges African students five Tunisian dinars ($3) for entry to such musical events.

Wood House also hosts VIP parties thrown by African embassy employees, AfDB employees, and soccer players where invitees have to confirm their attendance beforehand.

Interestingly, Wood House is not Mac-Homs’ only business. He also owns a barber shop in the capital where he hires other sub-Saharan Africans.

One of Mac-Homs’ employees in his downtown barber shop is 26-year-old Osman from Ghana. “I arrived here three years ago. I am a part-time student but wanted to work as a barber here in Tunis,” Osman explained, while shaving the head of one of his African customers with an electric shaver.

Pictures of different African haircuts of men and women are plastered on the wall of Mac-Homs’ salon. The salon offers African braiding and hair relaxing to members of the Sub-Saharan African community in Tunis.

But not all Sub-Saharan Africans are as lucky as Mac-Homs in running their own businesses. A quick walk in downtown Tunis, near the old city’s Souk Bou Mendil, or in the streets around Barcelona Square, and one can observe a few West African ladies in their Senegalese and Malian outfits selling necklaces and other West African wares on the street. Tunisians stop to look curiously at the artifacts, picking up an African statue made of ebony or other similar memorabilia. However, these West African street sellers are becoming rare due to a recent crackdown of Tunis’ municipal police on illegal street sellers.

In addition to the occasional African street sellers, some Sub-Saharan Africans, mainly students, are becoming hairdressers. They make a living, offering African braids to their Sub-Saharan African and Tunisian customers.

Back in Mac-Homs’ barber shop in downtown Tunis, a few West African customers trickle in around noon for an African hairdo. Two young men are getting their hair shaved by Osman.

Just a few yards away, there is an IT maintenance shop, run by Korico, who is from Togo. He has been living in Tunis since 2003 and is married. Korico said he co-owns the IT shop with a Tunisian national. “This is because as foreigners, we are not allowed to open our own businesses unless we partner with a Tunisian to do so,” he explained.

Korico employs a young man from Côte d’Ivoire who helps him fix electronic supplies, laptop computers, and mobile phone accessories.

A young Tunisian man enters the shop one afternoon and asks Korico to fix a computer cable. When asked why he chose to come to a Sub-Saharan African IT technician while there are dozen similar shops owned by Tunisians nearby, he answered that Carrefour Market, the famous French mall chain where he works down the street, has a contract with Korico to fix any malfunctioning electronic appliances in the mall.

“They trust me because I do a good job for them,” Korico interjected.

Despite these successes, many other Sub-Saharan Africans continue to struggle to set up businesses in Tunisia. Mac-Homs complained that Tunisia has one of the most restrictive laws for foreigners to set up businesses, and that is why many Sub-Saharan Africans find it hard to work legally in Tunisia, let alone set up a business like he did. “Tunisia has the most closed market in Africa for Africans to invest,” he claimed. However, he remains optimistic for the future of African businesses in Tunis, despite the current difficulties they face.

Culled from http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/07/02/black-african-businesses-in-tunisia-a-nigerian-success-story/

 


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