Sept 2023 – Nov 2023
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Born and raised in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Paul Bessala is a happily married father of two and lives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast where he works as the country MD for Bboxx.
He undertook his entire schooling from nursery to university in Cameroon. Paul initially attended a public university to study ‘Economic Sciences’ but during his second year he decided to move to a professional school (Université du Golf) to study ‘Accounting’. He later went on to ISMA (Institut Supérieur de Management) to finish his studies.
Raised amongst three brothers and two sisters, family remains of the utmost importance to him. Paul relishes a challenge and likes to commit fully to anything he has undertaken to do.
AGN; Why did you switch from one school to another and change what you were studying back when you were at university?
PB; At that time I came to the conclusion that the change would enable me better achieve my objectives. I had been cocooned in a very stable family upbringing and the initial school I chose kept me in my comfort zone.
Professional schooling is more appealing to industry due to the practical nature of the education; by graduating from such a school I new I would increase my chances of securing a good job. I also believed that going to a professional school would take me out of my comfort zone which would help me grow as a person and become more independent.
AGN; Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gabon; you have worked in a number of countries in Africa. What would you say has surprised you the most about the diversity you have encountered?
PB; I was really amazed by the similarity of the natural environment. Everywhere I went I found beautiful landscapes and great food. However, I was also surprised by how closed/single minded some people can be. Culture, religion, socio-economic standing, history, ethnicity etc all inter-play in distinct ways. Some countries are more welcoming to foreigners than others.
AGN; Would you say that in general Africans harness their diversity equitably and mostly effectively?
PB; I do feel there is far more we can do to build greater solidarity across our diversity. It can be quite painful to see some groups fighting against others for reasons that really aren’t that fundamental. It is not of course easy to harness our diversity more effectively but we do need to find ways to engage far better than we do now.
AGN; You worked for the largest e-market place in Africa, Jumia, for over 5 years and held a senior role prior to your departure. Why did you decide to leave?
PB; I spent seven years there. I learned a great deal and grew up professionally at Jumia. However, there was an inner voice that was asking, could it be a good time to find a new challenge?
I was very settled in what I was doing there but if one is not careful one can begin to stagnate rather than grow both professionally and as an individual. I left because it was time to seek out a new challenge and to grow.
AGN; What appealed to you most about the company you currently work at, Bboxx, and hence led to you applying to work there?
PB; Initially I moved to PEG Africa but the company was acquired by Bboxx. The previous company I worked at, Jumia, was impactful in terms of how it enabled millions of Africans across the continent to engage in e-commerce.
The range of products and services that Peg Africa offered appealed to me. I could see how impactful they could be. However, Bboxx offered a more comprehensive range of products and services that can have even greater impact across the whole spectrum of need that many poor people in Africa have. I feel I am at the right place at the right time.
AGN; The operations of Bboxx intersect a variety of needs for some of the poorest in society amongst others. Which out of all of the things it focuses on would you say is the most pivotal in enabling people to improve their situation?
PB; It’s important to note that poor is a relative term. Many people have land in Africa so in absolute terms they are not that poor. They are just not well connected and this is where Bboxx comes in.
In my opinion access to light is the most pivotal closely followed by connectivity. Where an individual or community is able to increase their productive hours, they are subsequently able to improve their financial resilience and thus enhance their quality of life going forward.
AGN; If there was one thing Africans living on the continent could do more of in order to accelerate achieving greater equitable, sustainable change rather than relying on a catalyst from elsewhere, what would you say that is?
PB; We need to have greater self-belief in ourselves. Often times we start to make a comparison with what others are doing on other continents. It is not necessary to do so.
Deciding what one wants to do and planning to do so without the requirement of input from others elsewhere requires a change of mindset for many. In a nutshell I think self-belief is the main thing that is lacking.
AGN; Cameroon is a member of ECCAS while the Ivory Coast is a member of ECOWAS. Was it more difficult to work and settle in a country that is of a different REC from that which you originate from rather than if you had done so in a different country within the same REC and if so what were the main challenges?
PB; ECOWAS is more cosmopolitan as it comprises of a larger grouping of countries. In that regard it was not that difficult to move from a country in ECCAS to one in ECOWAS.
The main thing one has to be mindful of is the higher cost of living in many parts of ECOWAS. Had I have had to move from a country in ECOWAS to one in ECCAS, I’m not sure what that experience would have been like.
AGN; The long term objectives of AfCFTA includes creation of a single market. The EU is often touted as a model to look to and while it has its supporters and detractors; even if it is considered a success in some quarters that doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for Africa to look to it as a blueprint. There are those who are convinced that AfCFTA is a step in the right direction. Where do you stand on this?
PB; I feel it is the way forward. There is of course a long way to go before we will be at a point where things will work more harmoniously for the many across the continent rather than for the few.
If we make a start as we have done and are fully committed over the long term to doing what is needed to bring about an equitable and sustainable basis upon which to do things, we will surely transition the continent to a better place.
AGN; You have intimated family life is of utmost importance to you. Why is that?
PB; I believe that to be the case because that is where you obtain the fundamentals for life i.e. values, love, caring…. Well rounded families with strong values provide a great basis for youngsters to develop and tilt the balance of probabilities towards each family member making a meaningful contribution to the family and society as a whole.
AGN; What did you mother and father do?
PB; My mother was a nurse and my father a sales manager for a tyre firm.
AGN; How would you describe your upbringing?
PB; I would say it was underpinned by our faith in God, hard work and the discipline my mother exemplified.
AGN; Which of your closest family members most inspired you as a child and what is it about them that you found so inspirational?
PB; My mother; I’m a big fan and despite the fact that when I was younger we would fight a lot, I believe we have a similar personality. We are unstoppable when we have something we wish to do and we can work non stop until we get it. She showed me how strong you can be when you believe in something and that you don’t need to rush, just work hard and you will be rewarded.
AGN; How would you describe your personality?
PB; My wife will say impossible is not Cameroonian and discouraged is not Ivorian, lol; but I would say I’m an extrovert, open-minded, kind and strong willed.
AGN; What is your greatest achievement?
PB; Being part of a loving family; being a husband and father is not always easy but I will always consider it to be a bigger achievement than everything else.
AGN; What hobbies and interests do you have?
PB; Movies, travel, music and on occasion drinking a very good glass of cognac.
AGN; Is there anything you would like to add?
PB; Firstly, thank you for your efforts and the questions you have asked. Some required a bit more reflection, but I liked the experience overall. Secondly, we Africans should be proud of ourselves and what we have achieved. Let’s continue to work hard to develop our beautiful continent for future generations to come.
Previous ‘Personal Profile’ interviews are available here; archive
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on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Sept 2023