Early in July 2015, Timi and myself, from the JLL West Africa team hopped on a plane for what was supposed to a be a quick and easy 48 hour “zip in and out” trip to Accra. The objective was to conduct a Grade A office market study for a major client.
The “Zip-In” was seamless. Though the driver’s name Juju, connoted images of black-magic voodoo (the Nigerian Yoruba language translation for the word Juju), he was efficient. He knew the city like the back of his hand and was extremely helpful and pleasant. We got to visit the city of Accra in two days focusing on the main areas of Airport City, Airport Residence, Ridge Area and the CBD. These 4 zones represented the key locations for the new stocks of Grade A commercial developments and international corporates.
The trip also afforded us the opportunity to meet with a few brokers who shared their knowledge of the real estate players – the most successful developers being the South African PE firms Actis and RMB with their development partners Laurus and RMB Westport. Their projects One Airport Square in the Airport City area and Accra Financial Center in the Ridge area were successfully let out prior to the project completions. This, in sharp contrast to the local developers both private and government, some of whom were experiencing difficulty leasing out their spaces in the same locales. Reasons provided for the successes of the international developers included aggressive marketing particularly to global corporates.
The “Zip-Out” of Accra however, was another story. Giving in to the Nigerian mentality of “No traffic can surpass the Lagos rush-hour”, we under estimated Accra and the city’s ability to come to a standstill during rush hour. Needless to say, we arrived at the airport late, missing our return flight and then began the stressful process of attempting to get onto the next flight. After much struggle and difficulty, we barely made it for a flight that left 2 hours later! Luckily for us, we did and avoided a long night in the Accra airport. Below are some of the key lessons learned, that I personally seek to carry with me for future inter-continental Africa travels – Enjoy!
- Always carry cash – preferably in the country’s local currency or USD/GBP/EURO in that order.
- Never , ever underestimate traffic – especially rush hour traffic.
- Have several credit/debit cards with cash in the accounts. You never know when that “never fail bank card” will fail you.
- Have phone access – check before you leave your home country that your phone has international roaming enabled.
- Don’t rely on travel agencies – they have the same challenges you do.
- Wherever possible, travel with a colleague/travel companion – in this case, 2 heads are really better than 1.
- Try to have a sense of humour – Relax, this is Africa. Just because you are in a hurry doesn’t mean that everyone else is.
- Be humble – a little humor, a kind word, respectable manners, particularly to airport personnel, can get you a long way.