A burgeoning entrepreneur and philanthropist, the rising star of northern based Banda Shilimela is perhaps one of the most astonishing achievements in Namibia’s hall of entrepreneurial fame.
The Villager caught up with this humble IUM Honorary Doctorate holder to get a glimpse of his world which boasts thirty businesses sprawled within the country and across the world in various sectors, from security to mining, fishing and technology.
“We are in Zambia, we are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are in China, we are in Mozambique and we recently started in Kenya,” he tells The Villager.
A vessel in Kenya’s fisheries sector, a security company in DRC and a technology monitoring service company in Zambia, the man says he is not one that is given to hunting after opportunities, but challenges.
For a man whose education levels never went anywhere beyond Standard 2, the entrepreneurial charisma and exploits that have all morphed him into a giant are nothing but breathtaking.
Yet just like any rising indigenous Namibian coming out of a difficult war which had one way or the other shaken some vital economic fundamentals and had not entirely wiped out the vestiges of apartheid, his rise to the higher echelons was riddled by a considerable share of trials and tribulations.
Oozing with a stubborn sense of matured confidence yet lined by an element of firmness in his voice, Shilimela says he does not regret the moment he failed to pay a bank loan and ended up blacklisted on ITC.
“I refused to pay that particular loan in order for my name to stay on ITC so that I could work with the small things that I was getting. It was a tough decision to make,” he reminisces.
Deriving from that experience, he today regards the banking institution as exploitative and loans a form of financial slavery.
The difference between a person working in a bank and that from without, he says, is that, one is in an air-conditioned office while the other is in the sun, “at the end of the day all these people are working for the bank. I refused to do that.”
His advice for the upcoming entrepreneurs is to start small and grow big.
“If you give a person N$3 million then you have damaged the brain of that particular person because you have made the person a multi-millionaire but that person has not even handled a N$100 000. How do you expect that person to behave?”
“We are the ones who are brain-damaging our young entrepreneurs by giving them the money that they are not supposed to get,” he says.
Shilemela’s views on tenderpreneurship are marked with disgust and disdain, he considers the model of business as antithesis to entrepreneurship but rather “a game”.
“You can not call a person who is in tenders an entrepreneur, no, then you people are wrong. You must call those people game players and you must know that a game has a time frame. You can play well but you need to score goals. For us we are scoring, we are not aiming to entertain the crowds,” he says.
Shilimela says the current economic meltdown should be considered as Namibia’s learning curve or to put it in his own words, “a good university for all business people and myself.”
“No one will prosper without passing into hardships. It is a good thing that we are in this situation because we are learning a lot of things. This means that Namibia will prosper because of the experience we are facing now. I say thank you to the global crisis,” he says.
Although not happy with the current levels of corruption in the country, but he has confidence in government and the ACC.
Having been instrumental in establishing Namibia’s first all inclusive post-colonial modern army, it is thus by no shadow of coincidence that he landed smoothly in the security sector as a business man with a security company on his shoulders.
“I am a former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia fighter and I had been participating in the battles for the liberation of Namibia. I have been in the army for ten years and then in the year 2 000 I decided to bring the rich experience that I had acquired both from PLAN and from the Namibian defence force where I worked as a military policeman.”
“I brought that within the mainstream economy and started my security company and making money. Then I ventured into a cash loan and taxi businesses and from there I started moving with all the sectors,” he says.
Shilimela’s daring temperament in exploiting sectors that for too long a time had been a no go area save for a white and few established black elite, made him to, along the way, break records.
He goes down in the annals of Namibia’s business history as among the first crop of indigenousness to 100% own a mining licence and purchasing two private helicopters.
“I am probably one among a few to own a vessel. We are busy with exploration in the Kunene region. We are in diamonds,” he says.
Northern based, Shilimela says he does not need to be in Windhoek to make money: “I can be anywhere else and I can make my money. Those ones who want to be in Windhoek are maybe those who want to bribe the top officials there. I don’t need that.”
His humour is quite intriguing as mush as it is honest.
He has successfully struck a deal with Standard Bank and First National Bank to mentor budding businesses and providing collateral free of charge, a remarkable demonstration of his love for start-ups.
Together with his wife, a partner in his sprawling empire, he has a foundation that has provided wheel-chairs for the disabled and continues to reap back in communities.
Meanwhile, he continues to monitor the global economic developments to try new ventures and as he says in his final words, “There are more things to come”.