The entrepreneurial tragedy

Posted on March 10, 2014

Without differentiation in the market, there is no growth. Without growth, there is no business. Its that simple!

Business dynamics are different here. Although the heat is a contributing factor to the way that we do business it is our “enterprise culture” that sets the tone of what is unfamiliar practice to the rest of the world. On the one hand there is what I’d term “Swahili time,” on the other an entrepreneurial movement of co-operatives.  Allow me to explain ….


A couple of months ago a small business researcher from the United States, informed me about an unfortunate experience she incurred. The cause of it was due to her misunderstanding of how things work in Zanzibar. Upon her arrival to the island, she had set up a business meeting for 3 pm. It was refused on grounds on it being too early. The sun rises and sets at about 6 daily. Instead of starting and ending the day at 12, 6 o’clock is the hour which all time is based on.


As to the second enterprise culture often misunderstood about Zanzibar is the nature of co-operatives. Here, an entrepreneur does not exist alone. As a result I have had to learn to build my business through the support of competitors as opposed to finding ways to outperform them. Competition here is the foundation of industry. All the competitors in a fish market, flea-market and even those who provide travel and accommodation for tourism   work together to build sustainable products. As a result, the 80 – 150 industry players collectively set a price range, points of operation for the benefit and sustainability of each others business. Of course, this means that I won’t be making a $ 1 000 000 anytime soon (because there is no flexibility in operation) but it does ensure that my family has food to eat. The same mechanism that ensures the existence of my business, is that which prevents it from growing to dominate the industry.


When I first entered the market with my handmade bags – which are significantly different to all the other product offerings – I had little knowledge of the politics behind entrepreneurship on the island. I had set my own prices, and given the overwhelming interest by tourists, the association of the other entrepreneurs felt as though I was stealing clients from them. They austresized me. The situation got bad to the extent that I was pushed to leave, or change my prices to meet the price floor established by others. I surrendered because I had no choice. But the business principles remain foolish to me!  How does one plan to progress if their product offerings are exactly the same as others? If you cannot separate yourself from the crowd; then your business does not exist. It is a project.


Take the lesson from the entrepreneur who is dying to progress, but is imprisoned by mediocrity!


  • Edmond Dougherty

    Very interesting article Adilah. I have seen the same problem(s) in other parts of the world. I do not know of a solution other than persistence.. So, please don’t give up — if you keep up the effort, I expect you will eventually succeed.

  • James Klingler

    While you may not be able to differentiate yourself on price, you may be able on service (best English, French, instructions about care of the products you sell, keeping in touch with customers on their return to their home, etc.), cleanliness, store organization and “eye appeal”, and additional services such as shipping, packaging etc. As you do this, others will catch on and duplicate your efforts, so you will need to constantly innovate. After a few years of this your subtle “push” will have made everyone better. I agree with Edmond, you must not give up.