Let me tell you a story that goes back to the early days of blogging in Cote d’Ivoire. One of the pioneer blogs focused on business stories linked to the West African Stock Exchange or BRVM. The blog was the initiative of a Congolese medical doctor then based in Abidjan. The website eventually became Okibourse.com (no longer functional) which included one of the first examples in the country of an e-book (a guide on investing in the stock exchange).
From the blog came the project ‘Club Croissances’, an investment club formed on 18 April 2009 which brought together 20 people (including two women). They signed up for ‘shares’ in the Club and as joint-owners discussed investment decisions at regular meetings. The blog itself gave updates on how the Club was doing. As a regular reader of the blog, I noticed growth in the early days was pretty spectacular.
Although membership was fixed at a ceiling of 20, the statues gave provision for additional ‘partners’ of which (to my knowledge) there were only ever two. One left almost as quickly as they joined, and the other was me. The minimum investment for a partner was 100 club ‘shares’ which had then risen to 11,500 cfa ($20) each (November 2010), plus a joining fee (I think around 50,000 cfa ($100)). Along the way some members dropped out and I was quickly admitted as a full member, allowing me to take part in discussions. A key reason for joining was to be part of what seemed like an interesting group of people and hearing other people’s views on how different companies were doing.
The Club was due to run until 2019 but things have been largely moribund for the past few years. In the last month, the decision has been taken to disband the club. Along the way, some members had already sold up, and so we’re 13 members at the end of the day. Unfortunately for me, I joined just as the Ivorian election crisis got going – a rather inauspicious time to invest in anything in Abidjan. But incredibly, the crisis had very little impact on the stock exchange (although the exchange closed for a period), although it did push the club founder to head back to Congo, and with him much of the vitality left. We tried to meet a few times, but things never properly restarted.
Financially though, the club has done well. My initial investment now leads to a payout this month of 4,722,000 cfa ($8,000), or a fourfold increase in just under five years. The portfolio of shares basically didn’t change since I joined due to inactivity. And as the newest member, I’ve gained the least. The average investment growth for club members since 2009 is 461%.
I wanted to share this experience to pick out some lessons. Firstly, even though you need to be really careful about investment projects in this low trust environment, there are good people out there, and there are gains to be made. Secondly, even with a small amount of funds, it’s possible for Ivorians to club together and invest in the stock exchange. Thirdly, the Club opened the doors to my own separate investment in the BRVM which although not growing as fast, has also done well. Fourthly, it shows the value of blogging – the Club and Okibourse.com was a blog that opened eyes to investment opportunities in Abidjan, and was a great example of the communication channels opening up outside traditional media.
For the Club itself, a few of us are starting out on another similar adventure, this time with more dynamism. I’m putting back in everything I earned with the first Club. Who knows, eventually my initial $2,000 investment might come to enough to buy a place to live.