I have no idea the number of hotels I’ve stayed in in various African countries, but it’s been a few. The situation is usually the same in that the hotel is owned by some non-African who realized that there was a need for accommodation in Country X and so they plunk down a hotel, maintain it as much as they have to, hire five times the local staff that they actually need to hire, and don’t train them at all. The theory behind all of this is that the hotel money will continue to come in regardless and since manual labor is typically cheap, they just toss a who bunch of people at the work and assume it will get done in a “good enough” fashion with the occasional condescending yelling to push them along if it doesn’t. I loathe this as when it happens in Africa, it makes it come across that the staff are unintelligent clods when in reality it’s a reflection on some greedy owner who doesn’t give a damn and just wants a revenue stream.
I’m sure any number of people can cite specific examples of this if they’d like and I could go on at length in a post that would serve only to rant. But, it was when I was in Mali last month that I saw that this pattern can indeed be broken; it merely takes owners that care and understand where they are creating their business. It might happen again in the future, but I think this is one of the extremely few times that I will plug a hotel, which is Comme Chez Soi in Bamako, Mali. The owners are a younger couple who have traveled around Africa and then decided to open up a small (currently six room) hotel in the Hippodrome Quarter of the town.
At this point, I’m sure most people are moving this to their, “Big Deal” list, but there are important things to note. For starters, they don’t yell at the local staff that they’d hired. In fact, their staff is exceptionally good and there are very few of them as they do their work wonderfully. I have to give credit to the owners who actually took the time to a) train them well b) find people in Bamako who already had the skills needed to work in hospitality and/or c) I assume pay them a living wage. This may seem like a no-brainer type of thing, but it’s not and this doesn’t just apply to running a hotel in Africa, but also operating as an NGO. Finding or training qualified, reliable staff takes time and few people are willing to do it as it slows down the revenue of a hotel or growing statistics in NGO reports. Although the truth is that in the long term, it doesn’t and sustainable development whether economic or aid will always outpace short term solutions.
But above and beyond the staff, there’s also the fact that the owners of Comme Chez Soi are working within their neighborhood to make it better. Sure, the focus will probably make their business flourish more, but again, they’re actually making the effort of doing things like paving the approach to the hotel (all side roads are dirt in this area) and giving out garbage cans that lock and can’t be stolen to the residents in the neighborhood to dispose of their trash, which usually piles up in the street until some kind of torrential rain washes it away.
On top of this, they’re working with a fellow at Mali Health who is working on ways to recycle plastic in town as yes, Bamako, just like many large African towns has a problem with piles and piles of plastic building up. I have no idea if they’ll make any headway in this as it’s a massive problem, but we’ll see.
But there, in the end, this spot has become an oasis off the main drag of Rue Bla Bla that visitors to Bamako can enjoy and the reason for that exists in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the environment that they are operating in and reacting accordingly. It seems so simple, but so many completely miss how this works.
When expats in Africa get 'it'