By Motlabana Monnakgotla
For continental traders like Robert Mensah and Nomkhosi Shongwe who sell organic soaps made of cocoa, the border bans induced by the pandemic have meant undelivered products and a backlog of work.
Ghana, the beautiful country in West Africa, famous for its cocoa, is one of the world’s largest exporters of the natural product. The humble bean is also used to make organic black soap, favored by many for its dermatological benefits.
But the current Covid 19-induced lockdown in the country has meant that Accra-based traders like Robert Mensah are not seeing any monetary returns for their esoteric organic cocoa products.
The brand he founded, named Akwaaba, produces and supplies ‘raw African black soap’, organic cocoa butter and even shea butter (another West African specialty) to overseas markets.
Mensah’s entrepreneurial journey had initially even included a stint in South Africa, when he sold djembe drums in the quaint old suburb of Yeoville in Johannesburg, but then, decided to return home to Ghana for good and start selling the soap.
“I left South Africa about three years ago to set up this organic black soap business to sell locally and internationally. The business has been operating for over two years, employing three people; two of assist with packaging and the remaining one is a dispatch driver,” he says.
Like most other countries in Africa, Ghana too has travel restrictions, so this means Mensah cannot make deliveries to other towns.
“International trading is one of our biggest challenges as all borders and airports are closed.”
Mensah had orders that were meant for overseas deliveries but at the moment, his goods are stuck, although production is ongoing.
“It’s very tough, that is how the world has come to be, for now,” he says.
All he can do, for now, is mentally travel back and forth in time.
In 2018, when his business was still new, he recalls receiving an order online from Nomkhosi Shongwe, a South African curious about his organic skin products.
Shongwe, an advertising professional in Johannesburg, who is now Mensah’s business associate, had been researching organic products when she stumbled upon the black soaps.
“I just saw the benefits of African soap and shea butter online and searched for an African supplier and Mensah’s name popped up. I ordered the soaps to try them out and possibly sell. People liked it and I promoted the business on social media and I now sell it nationally.”
From Ghana to South Africa, her woes are the same as Mensah’s.
She says business has also been slow since the lockdown effected in South Africa from March 27. She is unable to collect the supply delivered prior to the lockdown because of travel restrictions.
“The product is in high demand globally and locally; customers locally have even made deposits in case they run out of money post the lockdown.”
Luckily, Shongwe has another source of income so is not solely reliant on the sales of the organic products.
But the business is dependent on social media promotions, as she regularly posts and educates people about the organic products.
“I am comfortable knowing that the information about the product is out there and whoever searches for skin solutions might come across my page and all the information is there. So the business manages itself while I am still busy with my nine-to-five [other job],” she offers.