MANITECH CONGO is n agribusiness company producing natural fresh jams, jellies, peanut butter, sauces and flour. A 100% Congolese products, sourced from Congolese farmers and transformed by Congolese workers. Inspired and headed by Sivi Malukisa Diawete, born and raised in the small city of Kisangani, north of Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After completing high school, she was accepted to UNIKIN (University of Kinshasa) where she obtained her Bachelors degree in Biotechnology.
In 2016, Sivi made the decision to leave the corporate world with experience in Human Resources and rose to the top of the ladder in her career as HR Director with top multinationals in DRC like DHL, Vodacom and MIH so she could follow her passion to empower the local economy by founding MANITECH. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Sivi shared her views on entrepreneurship, the role of government, how her company is promoting and modernizing DRC traditional cuisine. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell us about your brand, MANITECH Congo and the gap its filling?
Sivi: MANITECH is the products line powered by MANITECH CONGO, our company. We are in the food industry and produce 100% Congolese products, sourced from Congolese farmers and transformed by Congolese workers. We want to be a 100% Congolese food processing company. Our products lines are jam with tropical and local fruits, traditional peanuts butters and Congolese cuisine’s sauces.
In DRC, our local food is not yet transformed in modern way. We want to offer traditional food modernized.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Sivi: I didn’t have a chance to raise any capital. I worked on my own from scratch. I had only 300 USD in hands when I started and slowly I built my company brick after brick.
Alaba: How are you different from other brands in terms of your unique selling point?
Sivi: Our uniqueness is the fact that we offer traditional food in modern manner. For local market, the innovation is in term of the packaging that we offer. For external market, it is the content which is the innovation. At the end of the day, our customers are happy both with the content and the packaging.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Sivi: The biggest challenge is environmental; the business climate is very tough here in DRC, and for small business, it is even worse. Aside the environmental issues, we also face infrastructural, electricity and water challenges. Add on to that is importation; people are used to imported products and it is not easy to convince them that local is also good and even much better. This is because buying local reinforce local economy.
Finally, we have difficulties in packaging. For all these issues, we have decided to advocate, showcase, promote values of local companies, etc. And we import packaging, sadly I will say.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Sivi: Our next step is building a 10 times bigger factory. I’m focus on my objectives and embracing opportunities. It is a learning process, a journey from A to C and as one of my mentors says, “I trust the process, I’m going my way.”
Alaba: What are the challenges facing entrepreneurs in Congo, today? What crucial role can the government play?
Sivi: Hmm, this is a difficult one. Let say it this way: if you succeed as entrepreneur in DRC, you can make it in any part of the world. Any challenge you name, we face it here. Get the picture, no fund system to boost start ups, no water, no electricity, very expensive internet and bad network, no proper road, one of the countries with the high cost of clearing imported goods, difficulty to find good employee due to lack of proper education, high taxes, one of the highest rate of corruption, no justice, etc.
I don’t want to give a bad image of my country but unfortunately this is the environment in which we as entrepreneur, are supposed to strive and develop.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Sivi: Proud. Africa is a giant who is awaking now. We see every where entrepreneurs, innovations, excellence. Africa is better than ever and I’m happy to witness this and to be part of this shift. In few years, AFRICA will be the place to be for any business in the world.
Alaba: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs and investors in Congo?
Sivi: Let do it. It is not easy, but we can make it easier. There are opportunities everywhere; the country needs some courageous people ready to take up the challenge. We are the disruptive generation and believe me; future generations will thank us for this. This is the perfect time to change things around and we have everything we need to do it.
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Sivi: My country, my flag, my people, my children. Our country is one of the biggest in Africa, with so much wealth. Yet, my people are poor because we don’t use our resources properly. To be an active actor of change in my country is the best legacy I can give to my children.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Sivi: I take 30 mins off for meditation and 20 mins to exercise daily, and I play with my kids. Most of the time I read novels or I take courses on finance, leadership, marketing, etc.
Alaba: Teach us one word in your local language.
Sivi: FIMBU which means WHIP. A lingala word that Congolese use for victory. We use it in competitions such as football to mean that we are champions. We dance it, and shout it. We gave this word a national meaning and it is associated to the leopard, the DRC’s totem animal.
Alaba: What’s your favourite local dish and holiday spot in Africa?
Sivi: My local dish, definitely is FUMBWA. I don’t know the name in English. But it is a forest leave that we cook with smoked fish and peanut butter and we eat it with FUFU (cassava pap). My grandma use to make the best fumbwa in the world. And this is my inspiration for our MANITECH peanut butter. My favorite holiday spot is Cape Town, South Africa. I love to sit in front of the sea and just listen to the sound of the wave, some time you see whales or dolphins. It is amazing.
B I O G R A P H Y
Sivi Malukisa Diawete grew up in the small city of Kisangani, north of Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After completing high school, she was accepted to UNIKIN (University of Kinshasa) where she obtained her Bachelors degree in Biotechnology.
Shortly after graduating Sivi was offered a position as the Head of Human Resources with DHL in DRC and Republic of Congo. Her work with DHL created opportunities for advancement in the discipline of HR with companies such as Vodacom and MIH where she was promoted to HR Business Partner than HR Director.
In 2016 Sivi made the decision to leave the corporate world so she could follow her passion to empower the local economy by founding MANITECH, an agribusiness company producing natural fresh jams, jellies, peanut butter, sauces and flour.
After 4 years of hard work and dedication, MANITECH started to grow significantly, which allow her to get national and regional recognition. She was nominated Entrepreneur of the year in DRC by the prestigious MAKUTANO Network, she was featured in Forbes Afrique Magasine (septembre-octobre 2018) and was ranked among the 50 most influential under 40 Congolese’s people by the magazine KivuZik, she was also named ambassador for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Recently, she extended her investments in new companies such as DRC Paint, a paint factory; DRC Constructs, a construction service company; and some other investments.
As a leader in the community, Sivi founded the MADE IN 243 association to bring together the resources and expertise of the owners and executives of local Congolese industries. She also Co-Founded ACPRH, the largest HR Association in DRC in which she is the vice president.
Visit MANITECH CONGO
Claire Rutambuka: Showcasing the beauty of diversity
Claire RUTAMBUKA is an entrepreneur and the creator of Akâna Dolls. Beyond her professional background in International Trade, she has always been passionate about the creation of small and diverse objects. During her early childhood in Rwanda, she was fortunate to have toys and in particular a doll that she cared very much about. It was not only a privilege to have a doll but even more so to have one with her skin color.
When Claire Rutambuka became a mother years later, she was surprised that she couldn’t easily find such a doll for her children that would showcase the beauty of little black girls. That’s how the idea of creating “Akâna Dolls” came about. Akâna is a word of Rwandan origin that can be translated as “little child”. It’s also a nod to the founder’s origins.
The brand was born from a mother’s desire to meet a need; namely, giving all children the opportunity to choose a doll they can relate to and adults an additional choice when it comes to gifting. After the first realization of the “Kaliza” doll, the ambition is to gradually expand the collection to include more skin shades and hair textures, so that every child feels represented.
Hakeem Abogunde: Building Slash, a solution for Africa B2B market
Hakeem Abogunde, CEO Slash Africa. SLASH is a decentralized B2B marketplace where buyers and sellers meet to facilitate and protect their transactions. Buyers can place orders and make payment into “Slash Account”. Slash will hold the fund until item(s) is delivered. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Hakeem shares his journey into tech entrepreneurship and how he is building the solution for Africa’s B2B marketplace with Slash. Excerpt.
Alaba: To start with, could you share your journey into tech entrepreneurship?
Hakeem: Growing up as a kid, I was the type of guy who loved the internet. I spent most of my time reading, studying, and researching information and news on the internet. Most times, I would be on my computer from night till the next morning; that’s how attached I was to the internet space.
My journey as a tech entrepreneur started in 2005 when I dropped out of school to pursue my career as an entrepreneur. I joined my sister in her wholesale business at Lagos Island. During this period, I witnessed how people traveled from different parts of Nigeria to Lagos just to purchase products and resell them in their various locations. This journey was usually stressful, time-consuming, and costly. As an internet expert, I began to think of how I could use the internet to connect with these people and stop them from traveling to Lagos. Unfortunately, the internet wasn’t as popular then, and the only functioning platform available was Nairaland. On Nairaland, I would post some of our products and connect with a few people who were online at that time.
After a few years in the business, I joined a Multi-Level Marketing company where I led a team of over 500 sales reps. In the Multi-Level Marketing company, we usually went offline to meet with customers, sell our products to them, and get paid based on the sales volume. As an internet expert, to increase my team’s sales volume, I started selling the products online using different social media platforms. However, I later realized that most of these platforms were not efficient. It was then that I decided to build my own e-commerce website. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to write code then.
So, I enrolled in a web programming course online, and as a fast learner, in less than 3 months, I was able to build our own e-commerce site from scratch. That actually increased our sales volume by 10 times. I started falling in love with programming and became a freelancer. I worked as a freelancer, developing mobile and web applications for both individuals and companies for 5 years. After, I decided to build a startup.
Alaba: You are currently building a solution for Africa’s B2B market through your venture, Slash Africa. Kindly tell us more and the inspiration behind it?
Hakeem: Slash Africa is a decentralized B2B marketplace that connects African retailers with suppliers globally and enables them to carry out secure transactions without any intermediary.
I got the inspiration when I was working with my sister in her wholesale business. I discovered a huge economic inequality between suppliers and retailers. For instance, one of the biggest problems Nigeria is currently facing is artificial scarcity perpetuated by most suppliers in other to increase the price of their products. This creates a market environment that heavily favors them, leaving retailers at a disadvantage. Having experienced this myself, I think now is the best time to democratize Africa’s wholesale market. This will give retailers access to varieties of quality products at very competitive prices and also save them more money and time.
Alaba: What sets Slash Africa apart from other Africa B2B market solutions, and how are you positioning it to become the go-to solution for Africa’s B2B market?
Hakeem: We are the first decentralized marketplace in Africa. We allow both small and big suppliers to list their products and enable direct interaction between suppliers and retailers, allowing them to define their terms and conditions of transactions without an intermediary. This will increase the level of trust and transparency and also gives everyone equal access to the market. Additionally, by operating on a decentralized fulfillment management system, we make our operation faster and minimize cost.
Alaba: What have been Slash Africa’s biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Hakeem: Initially, our intention was to build a platform that enables everyone to create their own independent online store in minutes without coding. But we later realized that most suppliers/sellers, after creating their stores, didn’t have the money and skills to promote their stores. As a result, they didn’t make any sales and they would abandon their store. At that point, we decided to convert it to a marketplace, this enables them not just to create their stores but also connects them with potential customers.
Alaba: Raising capital has been one of the major challenges entrepreneurs face. How are you currently fundraising?
Hakeem: Raising funds as a local founder is very difficult if you don’t have any investor connections. Most African investors are not helping the situation either. Imagine this: because an African investor doesn’t know you, they won’t want to have anything to do with you. They also like to copy the US model. Technology in Africa is still at a very early stage, and the level of adoption is still very low compared to the US. Without local experience, getting people to adopt your solution will be very difficult, and this is where local founders have the advantage. So far, we have been funding our project through bootstrapping and support from families and friends.
Alaba: Can you tell us your impression of the current entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa? How have you seen it transform in the last 5 years?
Hakeem: In the last 5 years, the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa has been growing rapidly. I see a lot of young entrepreneurs solving problems by leveraging modern technologies. But we need to work more in the area of getting people to adopt these solutions, and that is where local expertise is needed.
Alaba: What are Slash Africa’s priorities/plans for the year, and where do you see this venture in the next 5 years?
Hakeem: This year, our priorities involve raising funds, strengthening our team, scaling in Nigeria and reaching $1 million in monthly sales. In the next 5 years, we are projecting Slash Africa to hit $200 million in monthly sales and become the largest B2B marketplace in Africa.
Alaba: What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech?
Hakeem: My advice to entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech is to come with the pure intention to solve a problem and not just for the money. Because when you prioritize money, you won’t have the drive to build the business, and eventually, you will fail. Secondly, you also need to love the people you are building the project for because this will also be your driving force.
Alassane Sakho: The Senegalese Serial Entrepreneur
Alassane Sakho is a young and brilliant Senegalese entrepreneur, Telecommunications engineer specialized in the Technical-Commercial field, He founded KALIMO GROUP in January 2023, with the ambition to contribute to the development of Senegal. A graduate of ESMT in Dakar, Alassane is passionate about sales, ICT, Mobile Money and real estate. He began his career in 2010 with the Orange Money Senegal and Orange Business Service projects. Later, he joined large real estate companies as a commercial developer, (SIPRES SA, SENEGINDIA, TEYLIUM Group and the company Fimolux, where he held the position of General Manager of the commercial subsidiary.
Alassane Sakho has also supported many Senegalese and international companies in their development in Senegal, including Wizall Money, ATPS, MOODS, etc. Its vision extends beyond national borders, initially targeting West Africa, with projects planned in Mali, Gambia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, before expanding to other parts of the continent.
Kalimo is involved in various areas of activity, including real estate development, digital communication, sales, rental and asset management, construction, training, advice and assistance. In addition, the company plans to enter the film industry, with its subsidiary K7film, which will produce short and feature films, animated films, corporate communication, documentaries, etc.
Apart from his professional activities, Alassane SAKHO is involved in sports, especially football. He coaches youngsters from 8 to 20 years old and has the honour of winning the “Universal Youth Cup” tournament in 2019 in Italy, against big clubs such as Inter Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Atletico Madrid and AC Milan. Its main objective is to consolidate Kalimo’s presence in Africa and to help foreign companies wishing to set up in Senegal.
Finally, its digital team is ready to help companies or public figures increase their notoriety and visibility on social media. Other areas of activity, such as agribusiness and mass distribution, are currently being explored.