“My overall vision is to develop one million housing units across sub-Saharan Africa in the next twenty years. We intend to achieve this by investing in quality human resources, building technical expertise, and an excellent financial base.”
AfricaLive talks with Mr. Mustapha Nije regarding his entrepreneurial journey building TAF Global, the development of the company in multiple African markets and the opportunity that the housing market on the African continent represents.
AfricaLive: Could you please give our readers a bit of a background on your company and the inspiration for starting it?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: TAF Global started as a small contracting firm off the back of my construction background. I set up shop in the Gambia thirty years ago after about thirteen years of working for international construction firms. In our early days, we were engaged in contemporary construction where we were bidding for jobs and working them. We did a few private home projects in our early days and soon started having an eye for the international market. It became clear to me in my travels that most Gambians living abroad wanted to come back home and build a house. That was my chance to cater to that particular niche of potential clients. Our catering for African diasporans with housing needs led us to the mass housing business, which later morphed into an affordable housing project.
It’s been thirty years now since we began, and we have grown immensely. We have breached the boundaries of the Gambia and are registered in seven other African countries. TAF Global is most active in the Gambia and Nigeria at the moment. We have benefited immensely from the high number of public-private partnerships (PPP) we have secured. Our biggest project in Nigeria, for instance, is a PPP. We also have a bright outlook and blueprint for the future. Though I am swamped and engaged most of the time, I take the time to acknowledge where I am at this stage in my career. I am sixty-three years old with four of my daughters occupying top positions in the company. I see the experience my daughters are gaining as a great succession plan.
My overall vision is to develop one million housing units across sub-Saharan Africa in the next twenty years. We intend to achieve this by investing in quality human resources, building technical expertise, and an excellent financial base.
AfricaLive: Which countries do you intend to expand into to make this overall vision a reality?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: Apart from the Gambia where we produce a thousand units per year, we want to play a more significant role in the Nigerian market. Making huge housing strides in Nigeria will go a long way in solving Africa’s housing problem. Nigeria has a housing deficit of twenty million units which is almost half of the continents fifty million deficit. Tapping into that market will solve most of the housing headaches that plague the continent. The other country we are looking to go into is Senegal. The country’s head of state, Macky Sall recently unveiled a national housing plan that seeks to build a hundred thousand units within five years. His idea has caught our attention, and we are looking to tap into that. An opportunity like the one in Senegal is why we have a cross-border approach to our business.
AfricaLive: In your forays into foreign countries, what kind of partnerships do you seek to create?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: The thing about doing business in Africa is that you must have strong roots in the host country. We go by an unwritten but well-known law that demands engagement with a local partner wherever we set up outside the Gambia. There is always a deliberate effort to make the host country our second name; that is why we have the likes of TAF-Rwanda and TAF-Nigeria. Local partners are incredibly vital for the success of foreign businesses.
AfricaLive: What traits do you look for when it comes to identifying suitable local players?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: We like to associate with partners that have a private sector leaning. The company must have a record of delivering a quality product and must have a good reputation. The goal is not just to have a local partner but one who can strategically add value.
AfricaLive: How big of a role are you playing in driving Gambia’s economic and social agenda?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: People think of housing as just an exercise of putting roofs over people’s heads. Housing does way more than providing shelter because it also creates jobs and improves society. Our firm helps to transfer hard skills to empower the youth. Our TAF Foundation seeks to empower through seven initiatives that are already underway. The first is the TAF-Con which is a conference that brings together key stakeholders in various industries. This year’s theme was the ‘Gambian performance within the world of borders with boundaries’. International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Ms. Fatou Bensouda was our main guest speaker. The conference is an opportunity for interaction, networking, and the hatching of new ideas to move our people forward.
We also have TAF- Start-ups where we hand out prizes to young entrepreneurs between ages 18-30. Impressive young entrepreneurs can get as much as twenty thousand dollars for coming first in the competition. Those that come second and third get ten thousand and five thousand dollars respectively. We don’t just hand out prize money and wave the winners goodbye, we help them invest in their ventures and see them grow. Another initiative is the TAF-Icon which identifies individuals that have achieved greatness in the business and corporate arena.
The focus is not just on the business and corporate world but also on the performing arts. It’s a pity that these arts have been underrated for so long by our governments yet they have helped feed unemployed youth for decades. The TAF-leadership programme is another that we have in place to help nurture leadership traits in our young people. We also have ‘clock ten’ which is a network of young entrepreneurs that I mentor. The group and I have social meetings every month just for networking and bonding purposes. Our sixth programme is the TAF-training academy that focuses on training young Gambians in the construction industry. Last but not least is the Gambia Disability Trust Fund, started to help cater for marginalised disabled populations amongst us. All these initiatives focus on giving back and empowering our young people.
AfricaLive: TAF Global’s record in bettering society sounds remarkable. How do you find the time to be involved in all that and stay focused on the firm’s core business?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: I have built a structure over time that has grown to become self-sustaining. I don’t need to babysit any operation for it to be a success, especially in this era of technology and improved interconnectivity.
AfricaLive: Your thirty-year journey to where you are today must have been full of challenges. What would you say to the current generation of youthful aspiring business people?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: The difference between them and my generation mostly has to do with mentality. Young people today have this false belief that one must have deep pockets to set up a start-up. My generation understood that ventures could start small with very little money. Today’s generation also wants to plunge right into it after their schooling. I was different because I understood the value of being an apprentice first. A mentor taught me how to run a business and save money to build capital. My advice to young people is to have patience and start looking at obstacles as the way.
AfricaLive: If you were to analyse your whole career, what would you single out as your most significant achievement?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: I would have to go with my brave foray into the Niger Delta about eight years ago. That part of Nigeria may be known for crime and civil unrest, but I had the vision to make something out of nothing. The land was very arid, and there was a shortage of human resources. The project did not stop because of these challenges because we somehow managed to ferry in workers from neighboring Senegal and Gambia. The success of this project alone is enough to fill up my memoirs.
AfricaLive: Our publication’s main aim is to educate people on the realities of doing business in Africa. How can we de-risk Africa, and what would be your message of confidence to international investors?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: My message to them is that sometimes you need to take the plunge. It’s important to note that many powerful nations are seeking partnerships with Africa. We just had the Russia, China, and UK-Africa summits. These summits are happening because there is a general understanding that Africa is the last frontier.
AfricaLive: Do you believe that the Africa Free Trade Area agreement will open borders and facilitate rapid economic growth?
Mr. Mustapha Nije: The agreement is a big step in the right direction and shows that there is political will. More than twenty of the fifty-four countries have ratified it, which shows that Africans are on the same page on this. If our leaders work together, then economic growth will happen at a fast pace.