Even though he studied to be a lawyer, the fact that Amadou Samba is more known as a businessman than a lawyer is perhaps no great surprise.
His own father, the late Abdoulie Samba, was a successful building contractor in Banjul. From him Amadou also learnt the spirit of philanthropy. His philanthropy was such that he earned the name “Bokul Fashion” from his many benefactors. Another man from whom Amadou learnt business is his uncle, Dodou Jallow. It was this man who actually brought up Amadou. As a boy Amadou always stayed with him on his return from Freetown for school vacations. Jallow, who is also a brother of Amadou’s mother, is a businessman who had done trading in general merchandise for several firms in Banjul.
But if these two formed the base for Amadou’s business inclinations to grow, the one man who actually ushered Amadou to the world of practical business is a Nigerian he simply calls ‘Loito’.
“He advised me to enter business,” he said. At that time Amadou was still in University. Accepting his friend’s advice, Amadou started what he termed his business career in Nigeria, combining it with his legal studies.
“I would travel to Europe, buy fashion goods and bring them back to sell in Nigeria,” he explained. Thus, by the time he set up private practice in Banjul in 1986, Amadou was already an experienced man of business. He said in his private practice, he met a lot of clients including business people. It was these clients who first invited him to become a partner in business.
The first was a Spanish national called Eduardo, whose request for assistance in a business venture caused Amadou to form ALFRON Gambia Ltd. This was established as an import/export company. Eduardo had brought in a ship load of general merchandise – potatoes, onions, oil, cosmetics etc. – and he asked Amadou to retail it for him on commission basis. “This started me as the first real serious business. I sold everything and made a profit which I ploughed back into business,” he said. That first business venture in The Gambia was not all that easy as Amadou said most of the potatoes and onions were rotten and had to be separated from the good ones. It was here that Amadou started what was soon to become his hallmark in business. This was to price his goods lower than the competition so that everything sold very fast.
Thus ALFRON got launched as an import/export business by Amadou. From that first operation, he next got into the cement business as an importer, mainly for the Senegalese construction firm, CSE, which was then building the Banjul-Serekunda dual carriageway.
Amadou did not only supply all the cement they needed, but he also became CSE’s legal adviser and representative. CSE then got their cement at a price below the market price, Amadou said, because they had duty free concessions.
Yet even in the case of the general public, Amadou said he was selling cement at a price much lower than others were doing. When asked to explain this business method, he said for him, one should not operate on the basis of making profit in one day. “If you want to stay in business, you have to be reasonable with your prices. The aim should be to have more of turnover as what is important is the volume.” He went on to say that he preferred to make a dalasi on 2,500 tonnes than 10 dalasis on 1,000 tonnes. He explained that this was for him both a business strategy and philanthropy to the public. He said a lot of people could not afford to buy goods at high prices. In case of cement, the idea is to get everybody. He saw cement as an essential commodity since every human being needs two basis things in life, food and shelter.
Was this way of seeing things as a result of his father’s influence, he was asked. “My father was also a philanthropist”, he said simply. At any rate, he said he saw no justification in anyone selling cement at D52 a bag. In Amadou’s view, the normal price of imported cement should not exceed D44 to D45 a bag. He cited an incident when the country completely ran out of cement for a period of three months. That was when the Kairaba Beach Hotel was being rushed to completion for the Ecowas summit 1990.
It was at this critical time that Amadou’s company “was lucky to have the first vessel bringing in cement”. Despite this, he said he did not then increase price of cement. But as soon as his stock ran out, the price of cement went up to D70 a bag.
“I did not take advantage of that scarcity to increase the price. I could have sold cement for even D100 bag at that time.”