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Why Forbes thinks Isaac Oboth is one of Africa’s finest young entrepreneurs

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

It seems that these days Africa is bursting at the seams with young innovators. 26-year- old Ugandan Isaac Oboth is a fantastic example of one such individual. The young man is the founder and CEO of Media 256 Ltd, one of East Africa’s fastest emerging film and television production companies. Oboth has scooped coveted awards and been recognized as one of Africa’s hottest emerging entrepreneurs. It is peculiar that many highly successful individuals have often suffered tragedy during their childhoods. Perhaps by enduring such hardships they develop uncommon tenacity and fortitude. In Oboths case, by the time he was seven years old, both of his parents had passed away. The young orphan was taken into care by his older brother Ivan, who worked hard to provide for him.

An entrepreneurial spirit

When Isaac was 16 and still attending school, his brother lost his job. Isaac said “It was a pivotal point for me, Ivan was my sole provider," Ivan could no longer afford to send Isaac to school, and asked his younger brother to start earning money. However, Isaac wasn’t going to let his education slip away easily. In his first foray into entrepreneurialism, he started making rock cakes, a fruity snack which he sold to finance his schooling. Isaac quickly devised other methods of making money. He sold photo DVD albums as well as and drinks at rugby games.

The genesis of a media master

The seeds of his current business were born because of his high school prom. He wanted a way to commemorate the special event, so he decided to produce an alumni album. However, cost was a major concern, as printing costs were astronomically expensive so Isaac decided to produce a digital album which was much more affordable. At the time, Isaac didn’t have the skills to produce the album by himself, so he hired a contractor to film photograph and edit.

Isaac was disappointed with the final product. He felt the editing was shoddy and that the photography was second rate. Despite the lack of quality, the album was popular and sold out. He realized that if poor quality media products still sold, that top quality work would be highly sought after. That’s when he resolved to go into the multimedia business. He spent countless hours learning about filming and editing by watching videos at a local internet café. He rented equipment, and after tirelessly promoting his material and searching for work, he managed to land a contract to produce a short film for the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange. The film was a success, and Isaac earned enough money to buy his own equipment.

Heavyweight clients and serious recognition

His business then grew in leaps and bounds. He offered his services for free to Coca Cola who were so impressed with his work that they signed him up for future productions. Isaac has since gone on to produce great work for the likes of the African Leadership Academy, USAID, the UNDP and the Mara Foundation. One of the companies most recognized project’s is a ten part series called Discover Uganda which aired in multiple African countries before its success saw it picked up by The Africa Channel, a US cable outlet. Today, Media 256 is a profitable fully fledged business. The team currently consists of 7 full-time videographers and editors as well as support staff, and Isaac intends to keep on growing. Forbes magazine has recognized Isaac’s significant achievements, listing him as one of Africa’s 30 most promising young entrepreneurs. He was also the recipient of the much coveted Anzisha Prize, which also awards the best young talent on the continent.

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Brexit, the EU and Africa: The Ghost of the Future

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics, UK

The news of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in June shocked the world, sending several currencies into turmoil, including some in Africa. Immediately following the announcement, the already tumultuous South African rand plummeted by 8% against the US dollar, the fastest drop since the 2008 financial meltdown. The decision, deemed the ‘Brexit’, is expected to have long term impacts upon Africa’s stance within the European Union: for decades, the UK has been Africa’s greatest ally, but with the imminent departure of the UK, Africans are worried they may be left stranded.

The relationship between the UK and Africa is complex and laden with colonial history: the legacy of the UK’s decades of imperialism is still felt in the deep racial tensions in Southern Africa, and in the education systems of West Africa. This is demonstrated through the Commonwealth, where member countries (states that were at one point occupied during British imperialism) enjoy fewer trade restrictions, trade preference and/or free trade. Without the UK negotiating and handling imports from these countries, many African countries stand to lose their beneficial relationship with the EU.

Broken Words: Trade Agreements between Africa and the EU

Of primary concern to many African leaders and business people is the future of existing contracts between their respective countries and the EU. Just one example of the potential impact of Brexit is the impending Economic Partnership Agreement between the East African Community and the EU set to take place later this month. The Kenya Flowers Association is concerned that the Economic Partnerships Agreement may not extend its current easy access to the UK, one of Kenya’s biggest flower export markets. The UK currently imports the majority of its flowers from Kenya thanks to a deal negotiate through the EU. This, and many other contracts, would have to be re-negotiated with the UK following the Brexit, which could result in less beneficial contracts for African industries.

Realistically, the EU is not Africa’s biggest trading partner– China is. Some critics say the weight being given to the potential impact of Brexit on African trade is unwarranted. Sangu Delle, a Ghanaian entrepreneur and pan-African macro-finance specialist, said that the United Kingdom has been a major supporter of Africa in EU and G8 negotiations, and has a history of pushing for deals that benefit the continent. “It was instrumental in supporting development aid being allocated to Africa,” he said, bringing up the other major concern regarding Brexit and Africa.

The End of Aid?

The UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, the EU’s international aid and development branch. Without the weight of the UK, many fears, the EU’s development funds may be re-directed to other African states where other members, such as the Dutch and French, have colonial-era obligations. Furthermore, without the contribution of the UK, the European Development Fund may be forced to scale-down its overall funding.

Not only would a Brexit diminish the European Development Fund’s coffers, but it would deplete Britain’s influence on global development. According to DevEx, the EU is the world’s single largest donor organization: the 28 (soon to be 27) member group provides more than half of the world’s international aid total, around 30 billion euros. Without the weight of the EU, the UK will have much less sway in terms of ‘pet projects’, or specific areas it wants to develop both in Africa and beyond.

Potential for a post-UK EU

Not all are pessimistic about what this means for the continent. Delle was quoted saying “Brexit, to me, is a warning to us all…it wasn’t about racism. A substantial segment of UK citizens feel disenfranchised– that they are not stakeholders in the new economic order. As we go about creating new African economies, we have to make sure that the economic systems we put in place don’t just create economic growth, but create shared economic prosperity.” This epitomizes the optimism that is needed to move the continent forward– both in terms of economic prosperity, and in building cohesive societies.

Delle is optimistic that whatever the outcome, African’s will prevail– they are, after all, best suited to find context-appropriate solutions. “I’ve now spent time in 43 countries across Africa. The one thing I’ve seen in every one is resiliency. No matter what the socio-economic situation, whatever hand they’re dealt, people move forward.” In a time when the world seems to be unraveling, this type of level-headed analysis and faith in one’s own people is vital. Because, no matter what the outcome of Brexit, humans will move forward as they have done for tens of thousands of years.

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Water filtration device holds promise for Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Featured

A simple and inexpensive water filtration device soon will be produced in Tanzania and marketed across the continent, where tens of millions of people do not have access to drinking water.

The Waterfilter was designed for emerging nations by a group of students in India under the aegis of the nonprofit Enactus. The device is a small cistern made from clay mixed with organic materials such as coffee grounds. The cistern is heated with water inside and the organic material burns away, creating micropores that capture impurities while letting the water drip out.

According to Michael Simet, a program manager with the Germany-based Enactus, the cistern can clean about two to four liters of water per hour, removing 99.9 percent of impurities.

Enactus expects to start production of the Waterfilter soon in Kigoma, Tanzania. However, the nonprofit organization will not become the manufacturer. Instead Enactus plans to teach local residents how to make the device on their own, including an important process to achieve the right mix of the clay with other materials.

Designed by students in India

The device will sell for $28 and is expected to last about two years, meaning the average cost is just over $1 per month.

The filtration device was designed by a group of students at Delhi University’s Sri Ram College of Commerce in India, where potable water is also unavailable in many areas.

Under a project named Asbah, the student members of the Enactus SRCC Society in collaboration with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (SRCC) set out to develop an inexpensive clay filter that could be made and sold locally. In India, potters mix readily available river sand or sawdust with clay to create the filter.

Enactus is an international nonprofit social enterprise organization of students at more than 1,600 universities in more than three dozen countries. It has about 67,000 active student members.

Millions lack access to water

Access to water is an urgent issue for many parts of the world, including much of Africa.

As the population of the continent has grown, the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water has increased nearly 20 percent, from 265 million in 1990 to 316 million last year.

At the same time, access in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 20 percent in the past 25 years.

African stakeholders want water supply and sanitation to be considered as part of the November Climate Change conference (COP22) in Morocco in November. They want water issues to be incorporated in climate talks.

‘’Water for Africa” launched

More than 20 foreign ministers, including 18 from Africa, issued a call for “Water for Africa” in July at climate change talks in Rabat to highlight the need to mobilize around pressing water issues on the continent.

Charafat Afailal, Morocco’s Minister in Charge of Water, said “40 percent of the African population lives under water stress and that the figure will increase to 64 percent by 2025 if nothing is done.”

Kate Bayliss, a research fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said investment in water and sanitation infrastructure has lagged badly.

Bayliss estimated Africa would need to spend $15 billion annually to meet its development targets. Instead, she said, spending is about $3.6 billion.

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Honey: Africa’s Golden Ticket?

Comments (0) Africa, Agriculture, Featured

Stability is not a word often used to describe the status of small-scale farmers, particularly not those in Sub-Saharan Africa. African farmers are especially vulnerable to variable climates: should a rainy season arrive early or late, be heavier or lighter than anticipated, an entire community’s livelihood can turn to dust or be washed away in a flood. At the recent African Honey Exhibition, experts discussed the viability of beekeeping and honey production as not only a key to eradicating poverty for farmers, but as an industry that has a multitude of positive externalities, such as pollination.

The Buzz Around Town

Small scale investment has gained more traction as a viable development tool in recent years: from micro-credit enterprises in Bangladesh to projects focusing on African farm collectives, more money is being given in small scale projects than ever before. Agriculture is a challenging area in which to invest, particularly in a region now characterized by unpredictable weather, political turmoil and lack of connectivity between urban and rural areas. Beekeeping, or apiculture, has recently been identified as a potential agriculture venture that can thrive in the

African climate: in a 1990 paper for the Food and Agriculture Organization, Stephen Adjare wrote that beekeeping and honey production had long been occurring in Eastern Africa, but that they made use of antiquated techniques that inhibited expansion or growth. His points as to why Africa is ideal for beekeeping and honey production are now being echoed by development experts and economic advisors around the world.

Tropical apiculture is not only inexpensive, but it allows farmers to be self-reliant. It is not dependent upon the importation of expensive foreign equipment or experts, it does not require a beekeeper to own large amounts of land, as hives can be created on very small plots or even in a garage or shed, bees positively impact the surrounding environment through pollination and the semi-arid climates that render other crops fallow are ideal for beekeeping. According to one source, African bees are better for pollinating that European or American bees. That is because African bees emphasize colony growth over honey production, which necessitates more pollen to feed to bee larvae. In this way beekeeping may even be an excellent complementary practice for farmers with crops that require pollination, such as fruit trees.

The New Gold Standard

Kenya is an interesting example of the potential for honey production. While it is not the continent’s largest producer, it is the largest consumer. Demand exceeds the country’s production, and so tons of honey are imported from neighboring Tanzania each year. The production gap is so large, in fact, that international exportation is yet to be a viable option, despite the high demand of the United Arab Emirates for African honey. This is due in part to the small-scale nature of Kenyan apiculture.

There are currently no commercial beekeeping or honey production operations in East Africa. Small-scale farmers currently manage the sector, which has both positive and negative aspects. The most obvious positive aspect of this is that more individual farmers profit– there is no large company taking a portion of their profits. The downside is that the industry is not operating at maximum efficiency given the gap in production ability. It seems unlikely; however, that consolidating wealth produced in this industry into the hands of a corporation would prove at all beneficial for the average African farmer who turns to beekeeping as a mode of poverty prevention.

The Future of African Honey

In a 2012 video with more than 35,000 views, modern techniques for African beekeepers are explored through the development of modern hives by a local company. This video demonstrates the sustainability of hive production: not a single aspect of beekeeping is wasted, meaning fewer dollars lost in the production of new colonies. Should apiculturists be enabled to engage in modern beekeeping techniques, this could greatly benefit their honey production and greater pollination?

Unfortunately, it does not seem that African bees are immune to illness. Bees around the world have been plagued by a parasite that cut global production in half. Unlike the agriculture branches of European or American governments, there has yet to be a concerted response to this threat by African governments. Responding to such threats require expensive scientific experiments and investment.

The Money is in the Honey

Investing in modern beekeeping techniques for small-scale African farmers has enormous potential. Doing so provides economic security for individuals and their families, and has positive externalities for surrounding crops, such as fruit trees or flowers, both of which are large export industries on the continent. Investment requires careful planning; including contingency plans for occurrences such as colony die off due to parasites or extreme weather. That being said, honey may just turn out to be the golden ticket out of poverty for African farmers.

 

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Ibrahim Hissein Bourma is the 27 year old millionaire with big dreams for Chad’s future.

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Ibrahim Hissein Bourma is only 27 years old and yet, after only 7 years in business, he already runs 3 companies with a value of around $30 million. Bourma was born and raised in Chad, and a passion for his home country is central to his business ethos, as he aims to create more than just a personal empire, but to help his nation prosper too.

3 companies inside 7 years

Bourma was born and raised in Chad, but he went to France in order to pursue higher education, graduating in 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Finance. Although Chad is not a country with a well-established history of entrepreneurship, Bourma was determined to return to his homeland in order to begin his business career. After graduation, Bourma set up his first company in Chad – Umm Alkheir Construction – which later became known as Imperial Construction. The move into construction was one that seemed logical, as Bourma’s father runs Chad’s first ever construction company. By 2014, Bourma decided to set up a second company, operating in a field that he was personally passionate about – cars. Iby Motors turned a hobby into a thriving business, as Bourma began importing automobiles of numerous types to sell within Chad, while also offering affordable maintenance at the largest garage complex in Chad.

Diversification of interests paid off, and his success encouraged Bourma to move into a third arena of enterprise – the fashion industry – as he launched Iby Fashion. Iby Fashion offered central African nations imported European fashion brands, in much the same way that Iby Motors offered car enthusiasts in Chad the opportunity to buy imported automobiles. As the 3 companies that Mr. Bourma created continued to flourish, he created the holding company Oum Alkheir Holding, of which he is the CEO. Oum Alkheir Holding had an annual turnover in excess of $30 million by last year, and Bourma is driven to continue growing his businesses, and providing Chad’s people further opportunities for work.

The future for Bourma and Chad

Mr. Bourma has made major decisions in his personal life, but even some of these are linked to his burning desire to open up more markets within Chad. Bourma is married, and after his wife gave birth to their first child he moved himself and his family to Dubai. However, despite this change in his living arrangement, his commitment to Chad’s economic development remains unwavering. Bourma explains that the main motivation behind his move was to create business connections that could benefit Chad, saying that his thought process was “If I move to Dubai, it is (with) the aim to make…relationships in the midst of international investors.”

Bourma already plans to open an Iby Fashion store in both Dubai and Montreal, as Iby now creates its own range alongside stocking established fashion labels. While 80% of Oum Alkheir Holding’s profits currently come from the Imperial Construction wing of its operations, Bourma sees opportunities to create new projects that will create more jobs within Chad. Bourma says that he is open to any proposal for new business ventures in Chad, and that he carefully looks at any new idea from prospective collaborators. Moreover, Bourma is convinced that entire areas of industry can be better organized to change Chad’s fortunes. With his existing interests in fashion, the textile industry is one that stands out, as Chad is a net exporter of cotton. Bourma states that, “While the stock is at hand, Chad has no textile industry.”

As Chad’s economy improves, Bourma sees openings in numerous areas, explaining that he wants to “revive industry in Chad” and that “everything remains to be done, in textiles, in food processing, leather etc…I’m open to new ideas and people…I like the risk, but only when controlled and calculated.”Bourma already employs 600 people, and if his ambitions for new ventures are met, than this number should grow rapidly, bringing new employment and revenue to his country of birth.

Ibrahim Hissein Bourma is already a renowned name within Chadian business and industry, but at such a young age he has years in which to make an even grander reputation for himself and his country. Only 7 years into his career, he has already created firsts within Chad’s economy, and his determination to continue in this vein should provide exciting times ahead for commerce in one of central Africa’s often overlooked nations.

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Top four South African banks boost IT spending

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

As customers shift to electronic banking, South Africa’s four largest banks spent a total of more than $2 billion on information technology and personnel to run it during the year ending in June. At the same time, two of the four banks, Barclays Africa’s Absa bank and Standard Bank, have closed dozens of branch offices, a further reflection of the growing preference for virtual banking, especially among young consumers. The $2.1 billion IT spend represented about 15 percent of the banks’ total operating costs for the same period, according to Hilton Tarrant, an analyst based in Johannesburg with the tech firm immedia. In addition to Barclays Africa’s Absa and Standard Bank, Tarrant’s analysis includes First National Bank and Nedbank. Tarrant also said IT spending is increasing, led by Standard and Barclays. For example, Standard Bank’s IT spending, including salaries, totaled $900 million in 2015, up 11 percent from the year before. Barclays Africa spent $480 million, a seven percent increase over the prior year.

Trend expected to continue

“The trend is only going to accelerate as transactions continue to be offloaded to Internet and mobile banking,” Tarrant said, noting that native mobile banking apps with better security would also drive the appeal of electronic banking. In total, the four banks have reduced the number of branches in South Africa from 3,005 in 2011 to 2,862 at the end of 2015, a reduction of 143 branch offices or five percent, according to Tarrant. Barclay’s Absa closed more than 100 branches in the last five years, and Standard Bank over 50. First National Bank has about the same number of branches as it had in 2011 and Nedbank has added 13 branch offices. In 2015, Barclay’s Absa had the largest footprint of the four with 784 branches. First National Bank had 723, Nedbank 708 and Standard Bank 647.

Branch offices incur high costs

While there have been complaints about bank branch closings, Tarrant said that is a good idea, given high costs to operate them and reduced consumer interest in banking in person, especially among mobile-focused young people. “Traditional banks’ branches have high costs, which is one of the reasons why the companies have pushed hard to shift transactions to electronic channels,” Tarrant said. South Africa is part of a global and continental trend toward electronic banking. In 2014, mobile money transactions generated more than $650 million in revenue in sub-Saharan Africa and the amount is expected to double to $1.3 billion by 2019, according to research by Frost and Sullivan ICT. According to the World Bank, fewer than 25 percent of the 1.4 billion  population of the continent have a bank account while 40 percent have a mobile phone.

Banks dominate mobile market in South Africa

On the continent, South Africa is unusual. With 75 percent of the adult population using banking services, the country’s banks have established themselves the major players in online and mobile transactions. In many other sub-Saharan African countries, where a much smaller share of the population uses any banking services, mobile service providers dominate the marketplace. Earlier this year, a top East African bank announced plans to challenge a major telecommunications operator to gain a larger share of Kenya’s electronic banking market. Banks in Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria also are trying to tap into the growing market of electronic payments.

In contrast, efforts by telecommunications companies to crack the South African electronic money market have foundered. The African telecom giant MTN in September announced it would halt its mobile money service, saying it was not commercially viable. It was the second telecom to drop service in South Africa this year. In May, Vodacom, a Vodafone subsidiary and the nation’s largest mobile network, announced it was throwing in the towel after its M-Pesa service – popular in other countries including Kenya – failed to catch on. The company had hoped to sign up 10 million South African users when it launched M-Pesa in 2010. However, by 2015, only one million people had signed up and only 76,000 were active on the platform.

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Jamila Abass: Changing the face of farming in Africa

Comments (0) Agriculture, Featured, Technology

Jamila Abass is a shining example of the young, innovative, tech-focused generation emerging throughout Africa. Her business, M-Farm – a tech solution that provides valuable services to Kenya’s farmers – is a fantastic model of how technology is breaking down long-standing barriers. Early in her life, Abass worked tending crops in her family’s small kitchen garden. She grew and sold kale and coriander, giving her perspective on the agricultural industry, and playing a key part in her later interest in rural development. Abass proved to be a gifted student. She went on to study Computer Software Engineering at the Université Abdelmalek Essaâdi Tétouan in Morocco. After graduating in 2009, Abass teamed up with fellow tech entrepreneur Susan Oguya. They were both perturbed by the state of Kenya’s farming industry. Abass said, “The newspapers always had sad stories of farmers getting exploited by middlemen.” She explained that unscrupulous intermediaries were leveraging farmers into selling their produce for a fraction of their true market value; a situation which had been ongoing for decades.

Tackling the exploitation of farmers

Abass and Oguya wanted to develop a solution to tackle this issue. They conceptualized a digital platform that farmers could access through their mobile phones. They theorized that this marketplace would arm farmers with the information they needed to protect themselves and make smarter decisions. Looking back, Abass explained “They (farmers) had no information and no alternative market. We wanted to close that information gap between the farmers and the market”.

Soon after coming up with the idea, the pair took their concept to the IPO48 challenge, a kick-starter designed to support promising online solutions. Abass and Oguya won a US$10,000 dollar prize and subsequently began building M-Farm. M-Farm began as an SMS service by which farmers could check the daily prices for over 40 popular crops, and identify buyers throughout the country. Through partnering with renowned tech startup M-Pesa, M-farm allowed farmers to make and receive mobile payments. With mobile phone technology widely available across Kenya, M-Farm is an affordable option for even the poorest rural farmers. By 2012, Abass had over 5,400 users on the platform. These farmers had managed to more than double their profits, thanks to the direct links M-Farm offered with legitimate buyers and exporters.

Progress, but some still struggling

In late 2012, M-Farm made the finals of the highly prestigious Unreasonable Institute Exhibition. M- Farm’s success was on full display, and Abass’s excellent presentation brought valuable exposure to the firm, ultimately attracting further investment. With financing secured, Abass and the team looked at ways that they could improve their service. They identified that for some farmers, simply providing them with pricing information was not enough to improve their fortunes. Many were still struggling to access the markets and get a fair price for their crops.

Abass identified that rural growers were producing in low volume, and that for major buyers, it was impractical and expensive to acquire the produce they needed from multiple small-scale enterprises. To counter this, M-Farm launched its group selling tool this enabled local farmers to form cooperatives, making their produce more attractive and easier to sell. Abass quickly extended the cooperative model by rolling out a buyer's cooperative feature, whereby farmers can band together and negotiate better purchases of fertilizer, seeds, and equipment.

International ambitions

The M-Farm platform has evolved to become a powerful and promising tool. As Abass said, “There are so many things you can do with the technology.” Today the platform offers transport services to farmers through partnerships with local logistics and haulage businesses. M-Farm now also arms its members with valuable industry knowledge. For instance, farmers can access expert agricultural advice, forecasts for future crop demands, or guidance on international regulations such as prohibited chemicals and pesticides.

Abass has also made inroads into the international market, establishing links with major retailers in Europe who are keen to run a socially responsible supply chain. With over 22,000 clients now thriving in Kenya, it’s clear Abass has a seriously effective business. She now intends to scale M-Farm globally, bringing its considerable benefits to farmers in other emerging countries. The story of Abass and M-Farm signifies how entrepreneurship and technology are changing the face of Africa.

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Azuri: Solar energy for off-grid Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Featured

A British company is bringing pay-as- you-go solar power to rural communities in a dozen countries in East and West Africa with the help of artificial intelligence. With about 90,000 customers so far, Azuri said its PayGo solar system for communities that are too remote to access a power grid has the widest reach of any such provider in sub-Saharan Africa. Using artificial intelligence, Azuri said it has solved a significant problem with off-grid solar systems. On cloudy days, solar systems may not capture and store enough energy to provide electricity for the entire evening, causing frustration for users who may be watching television, doing homework, keeping a business open in the evening or charging their cell phones for the next day.

In addition to providing batteries and solar panels to customers, Azuri offers artificial intelligence technology that monitors each customer’s usage and slightly reduces electrical output to make sure power is not interrupted if the day’s supply is short. The reduction may dim the lights slightly, but it is barely noticeable, according to Simon Bransfield-Garth, chief executive officer of Azuri.

Power available longer

With this reduction, a battery that might only provide three hours of power at regular levels of output can stretch to four or five. People “want to be able to see at night. They’re less concerned about how bright the light is. They just want to be able to see,” Bransfield-Garth said. So the artificial intelligence technology figures out the customer’s average use then looks at the battery in the evening and adjusts the brightness of the lights so customers are “guaranteed to get that duration of light every night.” “It’s like the engine controller in your car that’s looking after all sorts of things in your engine,” he said.

System works in cloudy climates

So far, Bransfield-Garth said, the system has operated well in a diverse range of climates, from Ghana’s lengthy rainy season to Kenya’s abundant sunshine. “We have made technology that works in countries where there is a lot of sunshine and in countries where it is cloudier,” he said. Azuri’s pay-as- you-go system makes buying the package practical for many who would not be able to afford an up-front payment for the Azuri package. Using mobile payment services to buy credit on a weekly basis, customers typically pay for their equipment in 18 months, the company said.

Lower costs, environmental benefits

Bransfield-Garth noted that off-grid electricity costs in Africa are much higher than power costs in the west. He said burning kerosene costs about $8 per kilowatt-hour compared to U.S. electrical prices of about 15 cents. Azuri’s system frees up those costs to cover the solar payments to individuals who may earn only two or three dollars a day. He said the Azuri system is much cheaper than traditional sources, which can cost as much as 30 percent of the income of poor families. According to Azuri, solar power is an effective and environmentally safe replacement for traditional sources of light, which include burning kerosene or candles or using disposable batteries.

A 2014 study of customers of Azuri’s PayGo system in western Kenya found that users expressed pride that they could provide electricity for their children to study in the evening. They also said they were saving money on charging their phones and saving more than two hours each week to go and buy kerosene. More than 85 percent said they had been able to work more since installing the Azuri system. Studying and phone charging were the most common activities, each cited by about a third of the customers. Other uses included cooking, working and socializing. The company, which is based in Cambridge, has an office in Nairobi and additional staff in five other countries.

Students improve

Azuri also sells LED lights, mobile-phone chargers and MP3/radio players. The company also plans to offer a small television set with a satellite connection that can run on 10 watts of electricity. Bransfield-Garth noted that installing solar systems in remote areas has a significant social, economic and education impact as people become more connected and more productive. “On average, children spend two hours a day extra on homework when they have solar lights,” he said. “ It’s entirely normal for kids to go from mid-class to top of their class in three months just because they’re doing more studying.”

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Small economies drive growth in Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Economy, Featured

While sub-Saharan Africa’s two largest economies are struggling, experts say a cluster of smaller nations are driving growth on the continent this year. In East Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda will see growth of more than 5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In West Africa, Senegal and Ivory Coast are also expected to see significant growth.

Meanwhile, two traditional economic powerhouses will see little or no growth. South Africa faces political turmoil, labor unrest and a drop in demand for minerals, while Nigeria has been hit by sagging crude oil prices. The economic forces that challenge Nigeria and South Africa – particularly the oil slump – have helped the East African economies because they benefit from lower energy costs but do not rely on oil exports.

Economic diversity is a factor

“East Africa has been chugging along nicely,” Peter A. Montalto, economist with at Nomura International, told Bloomberg, predicting healthy growth would continue at least until the end of 2017. He said those economies are likely to continue to grow if they take advantage of low oil prices and take steps to attract investment. Economic reform and diversification play a role in the strength of the East African nations, Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix Partners LLP in London, said.

Unable to fall back on “behemoth industries,’’ these countries made economic reforms that are benefitting them now. Tanzania’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 6.9 while Rwanda and Kenya also could top 6 percent. The IMF predicts the economy of Uganda will increase by 5.3 percent. In West Africa, Ivory Coast and Senegal will also grow by, 7.4 and 6 percent respectively, the agency said.

Average growth stalls in 2016 

Since Nigeria and South Africa account for half of the economic output of the continent, growth in other countries is not expected to entirely offset their stagnation. South Africa’s economy will be flat while Nigeria’s is expected to contract by 1.8 percent. The IMF recently predicted average growth of only 1.6 percent on the continent this year, less than half the growth rate in 2015 and well below the average of more than 5 percent annually in the last decade.

Direct foreign investment also dropped last year to $71 billion compared to $88 billion a year earlier. Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered Plc in London, said many investors believe the problems of Nigeria and South Africa reflect on the continent as a whole, which dampens enthusiasm for the smaller economies even though they are doing well.

IMF recommends policy reforms

Nevertheless, the IMF says sub-Saharan Africa has bright prospects for growth in spite a challenging global economic environment. Natalia Koliadina, the IMF’s representative in Ghana, which has seen an economic slowdown, said many countries in the region need to diversify their economies in order to minimize hits from slumps in commodities prices.

Policy reforms, improvements in infrastructure and high workforce skills will all be required, Koliadina said. The IMF also encouraged putting in place policies and infrastructure to create an environment that supports businesses, especially small businesses. John Ashbourne, an analyst with Capital Economics Ltd. in London, predicted annual growth of 4 percent for the next five or 10 years.

“At the end of the day Africa is still huge, and it has a growing population and massive natural resources,’’ Ashbourne said. ‘’There will always be opportunities.”

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Amman Design Week: Arab talent on display

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Jordan’s inaugural Amman Design Week showed that creativity could flourish even in times of change and challenges that include rapid urbanization and the influx of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Organizers said the design festival in the Jordanian capital of Amman drew about 30,000 visitors during a nine-day run that ended Sept. 9. It had the support of Jordanian Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

More than 100 designers, architects and artists displayed their work at the event, which also included a MakerSpace that offered classes in 3D printing. The event showcased creativity in a variety of artistic fields, including design, architecture, furniture, fashion, crafts, and digital media. In addition to exhibits, it included lectures, workshops, and tours. Sahel Al Hiyari, an architect who helped curate the exhibits, said design is a way to cross boundaries, whether mental or geographic. “When these boundaries are transcended, we get something more unified.”

Everyday objects provide highlights

The festival spread across three major locations with three dozen smaller exhibits, many of which reflected everyday life in Amman. For example, Sissel Tolaas, a scientist and artist, potted the city’s smells –everything from jasmine blooms to trash – and built a scent map. Another artist, Dina Haddadin, created displays using scaffolding and tarps used in construction.

The Hangar, one of the event’s main locations, draws visitors into a webbed textile funnel made from large knitted tubes that visitors can peek through. A collaboration between a local fashion designer, Raya Kassisieh, and an architect, Nader Tehrani, the funnel was knit by women in small communities all over Jordan. After the festival, the knitted wool was to be refashioned into blankets for refugees. Other noteworthy works include The Glass Shaper, a collage of glass stacked in front of a mirror that refracts light. Ahmad Jallouk, who runs a small underwear ship in Amman and spends his spare time turning glassware into art, created the display.

Watermelon hills in courtyard

One of the most visible displays sat outside in a courtyard, a pile of curving watermelons that invited visitors to pose for photos while children ran through the stacks. Designed by Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis and assembled to his specifications by two longtime Jordanian fruit sellers, the exhibit punctuated an important theme of Amman Design Week – finding surprise in everyday items.

The displays featured works from a number of other Arab countries including Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq and Morocco. The event was a positive development at a challenging time for Jordan, which has seen a huge influx of refugees from the five-year conflict in neighboring Syria. Imad Fakhoury, Jordan’s minister of planning and international cooperation, said recently that the refugee population has put significant pressure on the country’s resources, particularly water, social assistance and finance, while curtailing tourism and foreign investment. The minister said the nation faces a shortfall of $2.8 billion in 2016-18.

Connecting talent is one goal

In addition to displaying deep and diverse creative talent to the public, Amman Design Week sought to raise the profile of designers and foster collaboration among them. Rana Beiruti, co-director of the festival, said she hoped the event would expose her fellow Jordanians to the tremendous talent of the country’s young designers and enable them to exchange expertise and ideas with regional peers.

Raya Kassisieh, a designer, saw an opportunity to raise the visibility of talent in the region. “Amman Design Week is an extremely important step to get the Levant area and Jordan specifically on the map of the design world. We are joining a really big movement and making a name for ourselves in the design industry internationally,” Kassisieh said. “I hope visitors from Design Week will help us spread the word about how much talent is at work in our region.”

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