BOOK REVIEW Learning To Love Africa: My Journey To Harvard Business School and Back

Author: Monique Maddy
Year of Publication: 2004
Publisher: HarperCollins

This is a story about a unique woman, Monique Maddy, whose heritage, education, experiences and achievements to date are admirable and worth a second look. She leads the reader through a series of life events that call her to look within herself and try everything that she can to succeed. Her trip to the point of Harvard Business school is a witty account of her birth and early childhood in Liberia, English schooling and American collegiate exposure. my dear Uncle, an avid reader, encouraged me to read her story sometime, and I thank him dearly for his advice.

There is more to this lady than just her studies. She illustrates in lucid detail the sacrifices that her family made to ensure that she was a recipient of the best opportunities that life can afford. In her welcoming style, she pays homage to her late father, Emmanuel, whose vision for his children transcended the borders of Sierra Leone, where he was born, and Liberia, where he raised a family. Her story about her father is a doorway to the acumen and sterling business traditions of his ancestors. This insight is reinforced by the description of Ma Kema, Monique’s maternal grandmother who was a stoic example of the strength that people in rural Africa possess in the midst of upheavals and changing culture.

Monique was sent at the age of six to boarding school in England as there was no other British education available, to her father’s specification. Her feeling of alienation is tangible as she navigates the all-white system. Her family returns her and her brother to the fold after a few years, as the separation proves daunting for their normal life together.
Later, however, the same feelings of belonging to Africa prevail in her high school and college studies in the United States of America.

Monique provides us with a familiar backdrop to the developments in Liberia that led it to its present turmoil. Lacking the strong government needed to drive infrastructure development, Liberia arms itself with multinational investment in the form of companies such as LAMCO, a mining company with which her father works. LAMCO is the sole provider of school, hospital, road and job for many of the employees and residents of Yekepa, their small village. The small village echoes the growth of other company towns in Africa and other developing countries. However, tribalism mars co-operation in the village as the growing discontent between the indigenous people and the Americo-Liberian population.

However, by far the most significant role that Monique has played was as the initiator of the ACG Company, later named Adesemi, whose role in defining entrepreneurship in Africa leads the field of developing country investment initiatives in the late 1990s. Monique’s Harvard Business School experience came after five years’ experience in the lower ranks of the United Nations organization. Maddy, who had firmly believed in the development mandate of the organization, becomes disenchanted with its bureaucracy and results, thus she decided to return and obtain a Harvard MBA with her memories of the business needs of the developing world as her eventual emphasis.

Starting a business in Africa is not for the faint hearted. Monique Maddy marshaled some of Harvard’s most brilliant minds and watched them abandon the project midway for safaris. It was only after this mutiny that she linked up with Come Lague as her saving partner in the initiative. His enthusiasm for the project and his commitment spurred a longer commitment, renewed enthusiasm in Monique, and went on to be the beginning of their commitment to ACG and a lifelong friendship. While the project did not last, the lessons of its development from investment to local partnership did. The lessons continue to feature in classrooms at business schools over the world.

Of interest to sports afficionados is that Ms Maddy has actually trained and ran marathons. She trained with some of the great Kenyan runners of the last decade and even credits Paul Tergat, a Kenyan indoor athlete turned marathoner for inspiration.

This is a book not to be missed by any, whether or not you have ever been to Africa.


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