Meet Shafiq, an entrepreneur whose ventures have criss-crossed him throughout the African continent! Originally from Seattle, Shafiq is based in Marrakesh, Morocco with his family, while the majority of his professional time is spent in Guinea. An ingenious drive and spirit has granted Shafiq with extensive experiences across the continent. This is his motivating story below!
Hi! Where are you living right now?
Marrakesh, Morocco, in northwest Africa.
When did you first visit the African continent and what were your first impressions?
My first visit to Africa was in 1974 to Dakar, Senegal. I remember stepping out of a Pan Am Airliner and smelling the palm oil. It was like I had been there before. However, I could not speak French at the time which made things very difficult, so I then visited The Gambia where I could speak English.
I’ve lived in Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Morocco, Gabon, Egypt, Cape Verde, Las Palmas, and Equatorial Guinea. My impression of these places were that they were opportunity central.
How long have you been living in Morocco and how long do you plan to stay there?
I have been living in Morocco since 1984. I plan on living the rest of my life here.
What are you doing professionally in Morocco?
I am currently producing Argan oil and selling it to cosmetic manufacturers in the United States and India. I also have a plastic bio-degradable additive to degrade plastic products along with a gold mining operation in the west African nation of Guinea. We are also in the solar energy industry here in west Africa in collaboration with the Taiwanese.
I also work in the fishing industry using my own vessel, and have invested in telecommunications.
Would you say that West Africa has a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities?
Too many! Africa is crying for talented Black people in sectors like agriculture, mining, construction, fishing, engineering (electrical, and chemical), poultry and dairy.
There is also a wealth of natural resources around the continent such as gold, diamond, cobalt, uranium, bauxite, silver and iron ore, so there is great demand for geologists in the mining sector, in which I also work. There are positions throughout the sector such as accountant, project manager, equipment manager, excavator or bulldozer driver, loader, security, cook, and demolition. If you are interested in fishing sector positions there are opportunities like deck hand crew member, mechanic, vessel captain, first officer, cook, rigging master, line processor, and navigator. All of these positions pay top dollar.
How easy is it for a foreigner to start up a business?
For Black people in America, the best thing to do is come with your own money or private investment and scout out an area of interest. Spend maximum time researching that interest. Find all of pitfalls and positives. Wait it out and be realistic. Once you have reached a conclusion and you think you have all of your bases covered and you have the country’s government’s blessings and permissions (permits and licenses), you should then have your investors make an overall assessment of your “plan of action”.
Always budget double or even triple to make sure you have enough funds to see your project through. I was taught that you must have “verifiable representation”, which means to check all of your sources. Don’t take anyone’s words for face value. It can be difficult because there are some very gray areas so you must be very clear before you invest one penny in any country in Africa.
Can you describe your experience immigration wise, of moving to Morocco?
It was very easy. They give many concessions if you decide to make Morocco your home and get a residence visa. I have citizenship so I get even more perks because I am now a native.
Any advice for potential expats?
For expats moving to Morocco there are a few things to be mindful of. This is a Muslim country and there are some things they will and will not tolerate. I find it very easy because the weather and lifestyle is similar to living in southern California.
Looking for a job will be very difficult because the locals have a very hard time finding employment, so come with the entrepreneurial spirit, please!
What industries are potentially hiring the most, if any?
Tourism is very big business here. Morocco receives about 8 million tourists annually. As a result there are a multitude of restaurants, from Mexican to Vietnamese eateries. If you are skilled in the cuisine industry this will be paradise for you.
What’s life like in Morocco for you?
For me Morocco has everything I want – the ocean, mountains, and the desert. You can surf, ski and hit the sand dunes all in the same day. Casablanca boasts the largest mall in Africa. There are a lot of activities – from jazz clubs to operas and from the city of Tangiers you are 35 miles from Spain!
Morocco is very modern but try to visit some places off the beaten path like the old cities and palaces and ancient Roman forts. As this is the home of the Moors, you’ll notice that there are a lot of Moorish designs and buildings.
Were you welcomed as an African American? Or as an American in general?
I was warmly welcomed because I am a Muslim. They saw my name and thought I was from the Arabian Peninsula. When I told them I was from Seattle they were shocked.I had to tell them I was African American. My name has also gotten me into many high places.
I’ve come across a few African Americans who visited Morocco for vacation, complain about racism – and vow to never to return. What are your impressions?
There are a lot of Africans from other countries coming into Morocco to cross into Spain and get into Europe. They often see Morocco and say this is European enough for me. However, Morocco has a serious unemployment problem – many Moroccans themselves are also trying get into France and Belgium for example. So if you add the Africans from the south sitting here in transit and unemployed you have serious problem.
Moroccans hate the fact that there are so many foreigners in their country committing crimes like physical assaults and robbery. So you have a time bomb. You find brothers and sisters from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Guinea etc. begging in the street, homeless.
So Black Americans who are innocent tourists may be catching an economic backlash and mistaking it for racism. The Moroccan will think, “Oh here comes someone coming into my shop trying to steal”, when it’s in fact a brother or sister from Howard University who will then in turn say they believe Moroccans are racist.
What do you love the most about living in Morocco?
I love being a father to my three daughters, a husband to my wife and a grandfather. Being with my family in Africa brings me the most pleasure.
Morocco also has so many western amenities that sometimes I forget I am in Africa.
Favorite memory so far?
Seeing my granddaughter for the first time! Now I understand how my mother felt when she saw her grandchildren from Africa for the first time. Icing on the cake!
Easiest things to adjust to?
The Moroccan cuisine – it’s the best in Africa; although Senegalese food is a close second.
Most difficult things to adjust to?
Morocco is changing many systems to English (eg. school) and slowly moving away from a more French culture, which was too laid back for me anyway. For example, there is a custom of three and four-hour lunches makes you slow and lazy. People are often late to appointments which drives me crazy.
What is your social life like in Morocco?
Morocco is Africa, and Africa is all about family. My life is dedicated to my family. I have a brother here in Morocco with three daughters and we both have very large and extended families. We learned quickly when coming to Africa that family comes first so that is our social outlet. We travel within the country because it’s so large and has so much history that even relates to Black people in America. We spend a lot of time checking out the same restaurants that tourist flock here to try.
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in your community?
I am in a situation where I’ve paid for my villa (home). We have a 6,000 square foot home with 1.5 acres. For electricity we spend around 150USD a month. Food is not that expensive for my family as we are not big meat eaters, so we spend around 600USD a month. Water and high speed internet each run to about 40USD a month, and satellite/cable TV around 80USD a month.
Do you think enough African Americans visit the continent?
No, and I am very disappointed. They’d rather go to Europe and play it safe which to me means they have fallen victim to the propaganda that western news media portrays of Africa as a savage, dangerous, uncivilized, racist, tribal, barbaric, dirty, and poor place. This is so far from the truth. While there are some places that fit the script, Africa as a whole is a rising star and it will not be complete without the African American playing his and her role. The prodigal sons and daughters of Africa must return!
What would you say to encourage more of them to visit?
I would be very direct and to the point. To Black people in America your only hope and future for your children, grand-children and future generations is home – Africa. You have a continent full of opportunities available to you. Don’t come if drugs are on your mind because they will deal with you in a very harsh manner. If you looking to build a future and not afraid to get down and a little dirty then come and get your piece of the pie.
How long do you plan to stay in Morocco?
This is home for me, although I do have a couple of graduations to attend in America. I will make my farewell tour in 2017 to go to my class reunion, ship two or three containers of goods back to the continent and say my goodbyes.
What has living in Morocco taught you?
Morocco taught me that I do not need America like I thought I would as well as how to be totally independent. It taught me that I was welcome and what I was taught in Islam in America was true about my people in Africa – that they would take care of me if I allowed them to. I’ve also learned to be humble, patient, resilient, a fighter, not to quit and finally, I’ve gotten a better understanding of Black people.
Did you always dream of living abroad?
I’ve always wanted to travel however I never thought of Africa until I was around 19 years old. By the time I was 24 I set foot in Africa and never left.
Best advice for someone who wants to move to Africa?
Do your homework. Do your research. Plan every move because here there are often no safety nets like unemployment, social security, food stamps, aid to dependent children, retirement, foster care, retirement homes or health care in place. Be mindful that you have to make yourself “socially secured”. Also, in America we have been removed a bit from reality so coming here you should try something like growing your own food or building your own home like the natives do.
Is there somewhere on the web that we can follow you?
This is the website of my mining company: www.thegoldenrulelimited.com.
Thank you Shafiq!