How I set up a business in DRC – Business Daily
John Mwanzia, the founder of Skyborne Hospitals in DRC. PHOTO | POOL
Had John Mwanzia known in advance the challenges that awaited him when he was setting shop in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he probably would have never embarked on that odious journey.
About a decade later, he counts the gains and offers lessons for Kenyan entrepreneurs racing to invest in the newest East Africa Community member.
The former paratrooper with the Kenyan military first visited DRC in 2006 on a UN peacekeeping mission. It was during his tour that he noticed that the healthcare industry was grossly untapped. He had his light bulb moment and quit after two years.
Armed with Sh5 million from his savings, he went back to Goma, the capital city of North Kivu province. “I was touched by the sorry state of the healthcare facilities I had visited during my peacekeeping missions,” says Mr Mwanzia of his push to establish a hospital.
But setting up a business in Goma is not a walk in the park. In a multilingual country where an estimated 242 languages are spoken, Mr Mwanzia faced a language barrier. French is the official language, but it is spoken mainly in Kinshasa.
He is currently learning French and some local languages to be able to communicate effectively with the locals.
Then he had to contend with greater political instability besides shaky economic conditions. A year before he started the business, the Congolese franc had lost more than 40 percent of its value against the US dollar.
With the current global economic crisis, inflationary pressures have pushed up the cost of goods and services, making it hard for residents to pay hospital expenses.
“I also had to liaise with the local authorities to get the relevant permits to practice in Goma before setting up the business, which wasn’t easy,” he says adding, ” I had to contend with the slow process of getting approval from the local health authorities to operate. You have to be patient or else your application can fall off the window. In Goma, officials don’t work as fast as they do in Nairobi.”
But eventually, he set up Skyborne, which has since grown into a chain of six hospitals and two clinics.
One of the six is situated in Bukavu, a city in eastern DRC, and another at Uvira in South Kivu province just a few kilometres from Burundi, Congo border.
He also has a hospital in Goma and two more in Walukale which is 200 kilometre from Goma and one more in Kisangani. The two clinics are located in Bisie and Logu.
He has hired 300 local staff and 18 Kenyan medics. To woo the best talents in a foreign and sometimes volatile country, he pays them better salaries ranging from Sh100,000 to Sh300,000 a month.
Another headache that the investor has to deal with is the bad road network that often delays his deliveries and increases the cost of doing business. “The road network in Congo is bad even though the government is trying,” Mr Mwanzia says.
Mr Mwanzia is however proud that he has brought services that were not easily available to DRC. His hospitals have laboratories, radiology units, maternity clinics as well as a dental clinic.
While he is reluctant to disclose their monthly sales, Mr Mwanzia says the business is growing. In a month the hospitals serve up to 500,000 patients. Some of the common illnesses treated include malaria, typhoid as well as complicated kidney transplants.
Besides the locals, his hospitals, which he runs alone, also serve a growing list of foreigners and workers on UN missions and from mining firms in Goma.
What has worked for him, he says. is ploughing back earnings into more investments. He has set aside Sh10 million to open two more hospitals this year to meet the growing demand for quality healthcare.
“It is a good thing to be a daring person. It is the only way you can achieve anything in life,” says the International Relations graduate.