When Miles Nan got an invitation from a Chinese compatriot already residing in Botswana then, he did not hesitate to start packing his bags and heading to the Promised Land. He did not doubt his friend’s advice and he got busy selling his company bonds.
“I had some businesses in China, but I decided to sell my bonds and headed for Botswana. I knew little except what I was told by my friend. The technology then was far from advance, hence we could not Google more about Botswana. But I knew it was some part of Africa with beautiful nature, peaceful and loving people. “After I got a first visiting visa to Botswana in 1998, and upon my return to China, the Botswana Ambassador in China was impressed with the feedback I gave him about the business opportunities and friendliness of Batswana in general,” he says.
Miles says the ambassador imagined if more Chinese people would emulate him, greater country relations would improve in terms of business tourism. He describes his first 10 days in Botswana as challenging as he had to grapple with the local language, though he could express himself fairly in English.
After attaining his university degree in international trade and economics in Beijing, Miles wasted no time and started his business on imports and exports. “I never dreamt of becoming a businessman.It is in our genes as a family, so I just started my own business,” Miles says.
Arriving in Botswana, the 46-year-old, who prefers to be described as a local rather than a foreigner, was guided by his friend to go from office to office, seeking advice on how he could set up a business. Miles says the process than to apply for business licences was not so difficult,t hence within 10 days he had found a place to operate from. “I started to operate an import and export business in Botswana and the business environment was refreshing and profits started to pour in while I also befriended some locals in the business arena.
“But I must state that I got some good advice then, from the Botswana Export Development Investment Agency (BEDIA),” Miles said, further stating that he then became one of the first expatriates to join the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), the forerunner of Business Botswana.
“I would later develop some friends with some local businessmen and community members. I was also introduced to former President, the late Sir Ketumile Masire and visited his ostrich farm. “ Miles shares.
He describes Sir Ketumile as his mentor who played an inspiring role in setting up his businesses in Botswana. Miles says at one point during their meeting with Masire, they discussed market possibilities of ostrich meat in China. During his early business days in Botswana, Miles attended locally organised business expos, such as the Gaborone International Trade Fair in 1999, where he says he showcased his electronic security gadgets, spares and accessories for cars. Though importing was a bit expensive, Miles had to do it in order to build some confidence and trust for his customers. He, however, says he has since expanded his business enterprise, from electronics, vehicle spare parts to refrigeration and air conditioning.
“At the moment, I run Mileage Group with various companies offering refrigeration, electrical and mechanical engineering services, and we are the sole agent of Gree Air Conditioning.
“I am also into the media business. As you may be aware, we have a Chinese newspaper that we publish weekly while we also have cooperating terms with some other media organisations for documentaries.Miles describes the media industry is very difficult to run. He says to venture into the industry especially in Africa, one has to have a real commitment to long-term investment.
“You need a lot of money to spend, and that is how we were able to establish the media businesses with my associates, across Africa, in the south of course and recently in East Africa.
“We are into TV, radio, PR, print media, events organising and advertising. The traditional media should improve and come out of the closet though social media has impacted the whole media arena nowadays. In the midst of the Chinese-Botswana bilateral agreement, Miles observes some challenges affecting his fellow countrymen. “We had many Chinese companies in Botswana a few years ago. But now they are slowly disengaging due to stiff competition in the construction industry,” Miles says.
Also obtaining visas for Chinese companies wanting to do business in Botswana also seems very difficult for whatever reasons advanced by the authorities,” he says. Miles maintains that despite the current tension between the two countries on the Dalai Lama visit to Botswana, he hopes Botswana and China presidents will address their differences amicably and that the diplomatic relations between the two countries will remain. “We are enjoying a very conducive business environment in Botswana,” he says. Miles is of the view that for one to succeed in Botswana and Africa at large, especially in the media spaces, he needs to invest on a long-term basis, not to come and make money and go and want to come back again.
“Africa is close to my heart. In fact, I have since 1998 committed my life to Africa and sometimes I become emotional when I think of my family and friends back home, but because I have grown up here and have become successful because of the people in Botswana, I shall forever have Africa as my second home,” Miles said. He says he gets very angry when the western media describes Africa negatively as a continent with no hope.
“I am against those who portray Africa badly, and I must state that I recently accompanied a Chinese delegation to Tanzania and Zimbabwe on agricultural prospects, but I was surprised to learn that they had brought along with them blankets and food. “It was a disturbing scenario influenced by negative portrayal, but I was however quick to advise them not to follow the negative reporting about Africa. “Poverty, hunger, and obviously conflicts are everywhere in the world, but the way the Western media reports about that in Africa, really upsets me,” Miles charges. One area that Miles says he is committed to, is giving back to the community. “I chair one of the Chinese businessmen charity organisations (Charity Association of Chinese in Botswana (CACB), and we assist communities in various aspects such as education and health,” he says. He says the recent highlights of the CACB initiative was the medical care day held at SOS Children in Tlokweng as well as the one held at Old Naledi. “Old Naledi is a semi-urban location with pockets of underprivileged households, hence we worked with the Botswana Council of Churches to target the less privileged children,” Miles said
Chinese doctors based at various government hospitals under the Botswana and Chinese agreement responded positively to the call and they conducted free full medical check-ups to around 200 kids, for probable potential diseases. Miles is also the president of the Botswana Work Camp Association (BWCA).