Peter Taylor-Whiffen 5 Oct 2017 10:46am

Doing it for themselves

One of Africa’s most influential young business people, Evita Nyandoro, tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen why the continent will be a global driving force – and why its women hold the key to success


Evita Nyandoro is an outstanding talent. The 33-year-old’s progress to her position as Citigroup’s regulatory reporting head for the Middle East and Africa saw her named in Accountancy South Africa’s 35 under 35 list of the industry’s top young professionals in 2015.

But Nyandoro is at pains to make it clear she is not exceptional. “There are thousands of talented Africans in business. Gone are the days when multinationals thought it sufficient to parachute in their people to run their businesses on this continent. But we still need to get out there and show that not only do we have the local, on-the-ground knowledge, we have the expertise too.”

It was her eldest brother who suggested she follow a career in accountancy. Born in Zimbabwe in 1983, the youngest of four siblings, she had wanted to become a lawyer. “But I was always very numbers focused – not great at maths but always interested in looking at the household finances, and my brother suggested accountancy would suit me. He was right. Plus, the family was moving to South Africa and I thought there would be more opportunities there for an accountant than a lawyer, which also proved correct.”

She passed her accountancy degree at Johannesburg’s Witwatersrand University with honours and then chose to study for her ACA with Deloitte over other offers from EY and PwC. After completing her articles in 2010 she gained her first international working experience by transferring to the London office. “It was difficult in South Africa just after the financial crash, and I hadn’t got residence there so thought it would be easier to learn the trade in the UK. I already knew Britain pretty well – my mum has lived in Birmingham for nearly 20 years, so I was a regular visitor.”

Nyandoro then moved across town to Santander’s London office as regulatory manager responsible for the provision of Basel III liquidity risk – but in 2013 the pull of her home continent proved irresistible. “I found I didn’t want just any job,” she recalls. “I felt I could do more in Africa.”

She moved back to Johannesburg as vice president of governance and controls at Barclays, overseeing 12 countries – which underlined her determination to “show off” Africa to the rest of the world. “Because the route into accountancy in South Africa is mainly through accountancy degrees and auditing, the level of experience in young accountants is actually much higher than it is in Britain, where people might do a degree in arts or science before their articles. There tends to be a greater general depth of understanding among young accountants in South Africa.

“I came back because I wanted to help the continent progress. People need to stay here. You must be aware of the struggle on the ground, build processes, build policies from the ground up – and you can only properly do that if you are in Africa.”

Which makes her sad that 12 months after her departure from that job to join Citigroup, Barclays decided to pull out of Africa altogether, ending an association of more than 100 years. “But let’s turn this into an opportunity for Africans to do it for themselves. You can’t expect everyone to help. Our future can’t be sustainable if other countries are always laying the foundations for us.”

And she’s now using her current role, overseeing 25 countries including 13 in the Middle East, to get that message out.

“Africa has so much to offer,” she says. “In terms of resources, minerals, agriculture – most of the planet’s arable land is here. By 2050 most of the world’s population who are able to work will come from Africa – you can’t ignore us. And yes, it is a balancing act for the multinationals, the line between globalisation and empowerment. If they don’t parachute in they have to maintain that international standard – so let’s motivate them to invest properly in Africa, give people adequate training, build effective centres here, run and overseen by Africans. Multinationals are extremely welcome, as long as they get an African perspective on the business.”

And, she says, the future of Africa’s business potential lies at least as much with its women as its men. “Women are the most easily undervalued asset Africa has,” says Nyandoro. “Africa has
a patriarchal system yet women in sub-Saharan Africa provide approximately 70% of agricultural labour and 90% of all food. It’s evident that, given a different opportunity, women in Africa hold the key for many companies’ success.”

Nyandoro uses her current role to motivate other women across the continent – and get them to talk to each other. “I have female friends in business in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya. I encourage women to talk to each other, I hold interactive sessions on entrepreneurship. Let’s start the conversation. What can we do? What is the governance on the ground? What resources do we have? Every conversation I have, I’m thinking: ‘How can I personally ensure that this person carries forward into their next conversation something positive to say about Africa?’”

In her down time she runs, practises yoga and having gone through school unable to swim, is now taking lessons. And she remains a proud Zimbabwean. “I live and work in South Africa and I’ve had the opportunity to change citizenship, but I haven’t,” she says. “Zimbabwe is still my home and I would love to go back. We need to build Zimbabwe as much as the rest of Africa. But as Africans, we need to put it into a bigger perspective – to understand how the world sees us, what it thinks of when it says ‘Africa’ and how we can enhance the view that Africa is ready to do business in equal partnership with the rest of the world.

“Africans need to stop saying: ‘I’m from this country, I’m from that country.’ We have a much bigger voice as one continent than 54 countries. You can’t ignore 1.3 billion people.”


I like being an ACA because... of the opportunities it opens up

I’m happiest when… I have completed a challenging task

My favourite book is… action or crime, thrillers by Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell

The hardest lesson to learn has been… things don’t always go your way – but it’s what you do after they haven’t gone your way that really matters

I’d like to be remembered as… what’s more important is giving my best shot at everything I do

My worst habit is… it’s actually a best and worst habit. Window shopping and online scrolling. I can spend hours looking at things and not buy a single thing. While I love shopping I’m a compulsive saver so that works well

The love of my life is… my family