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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

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East

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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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: An economist, a global leader and a policy maker

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has come from humble beginnings to serve two terms as Nigeria’s finance minister, and has been within a hare’s breath of becoming president of the World Bank. The “Iron Lady” of Nigeria is credited with the emergence of Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy and her work in office and in the humanitarian spheres have been greatly celebrated. She has been described as a “triple threat” with strong experience in economics, finance as well as development and governance.

She was born in 1954, in a village in the south of Nigeria when the country was still a jewel in the heart of the British Empire. She reportedly perfected her English reading Louis Stevenson and Enid Blyton and had a charmed, “wonderful” childhood. She credits her early upbringing with her later tenacity: “I learned real life, fetching wood, water. At five I could cook. This life has given me strength and a strong character.” When she was 15, she carried her Malaria stricken three-year old sister on her back for 10 miles to reach a doctor, and then insisted on her treatment, ultimately saving her life. Her sister is now herself a physician, and a rock of support to Okonjo.

Nigeria’s civil war and the end of her childhood years 

Her childhood ended in 1967 when the civil war broke out, and her father was called away to fight in the army. She explained that her parents lost “everything” and she learned what it was to have nothing. They moved frequently and often survived on one meal a day; resilience and tenacity became essential to survival. These early experiences crafted Okonjo into the woman she is today. Interestingly, she describes her humble beginnings and later greatness as similar to that of her country, Nigeria.

Her escape came at 18, when she left her warring Nigeria to study at Harvard University, followed by a Phd in Regional Economics at MIT. A prodigious talent, she was headhunted for the World Bank and spent the next 21 years here as a development economist.

Her financial experience with the World Bank

After a strong and steady tenure at the World Bank, she was elected to serve as Finance Minister in her homeland. This began her defining years. She served two terms between 2003-2006 and 2011- 2015, punctuated by four years as a Managing Director at the World Bank. During her tenure, she also held the post of Minister of Foreign affairs. Okonjo was the first female to hold either position.

Although she didn’t act alone, Okonjo is credited with being an instrumental figure in shaping Nigeria’s modern economy, bringing in necessary reforms and increasing governmental transparency. Her biggest achievements include targeting Nigeria’s rampant corruption by identifying and eliminating 5000 fake civil servants on the payroll. She also fastidiously cracked down on political and military leaders who were stealing crude oil. For this, she received death threats, her addresses were published in the media and her mother was kidnapped. She told the Observer: “Fighting corruption, corruption tends to fight back”. She did not falter and in the end, succeeded in her war against the insidious nature of Nigeria’s administration.

Shaping Nigeria’s future by fixing its economic deficit

Her economic background was showcased by her greatest achievement in office: securing a cancellation of $30bn debt from Nigeria’s name. She also added strength and stability to the country’s public finance systems by obtaining its first sovereign debt ranking in 2006. She later established the Mortgage Refinance Corporation which stimulated Nigeria’s housing market and was involved in numerous gender and youth empowerment schemes. The most recognized, the Youth Prize with Innovation, which supports young entrepreneurs and has created thousands of jobs, was evaluated by the World Bank to be one of the most successful of its kind globally.

During her time as finance minister, Nigeria emerged as the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of $481bn in 2015. After stepping down last year, she has dedicated her time to humanitarian causes. She currently chairs the board of the Global Alliance of Vaccines and Immunizations and the African Risk Capacity, a weather based insurance for African countries. Still regularly leading “top 100” lists of the world’s most influential people, it’s clear that Okonjo is still a force to be reckoned with, both in Nigeria and worldwide.

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Iqbal Al Assaad: Palestinian prodigy, doctor

Comments (0) Education, Featured, Middle East

As a high school graduate at age 12 and a medical school graduate at 20, Palestinian Iqbal Al Assaad is in every sense a prodigy despite many challenges. But her childhood dream to become a doctor and help Palestinian refugees is only partly realized. With limited opportunities for professional work in Lebanon, where she grew up, El Assaad instead practices medicine in Ohio – for now. El Assaad graduated from high school four years ahead of schedule at the top of her class including studies in biochemistry and mathematics she would need for medical school. At age 13, she caught the attention of the education minister of Lebanon, who helped her win a scholarship to study medicine in Qatar. In 2013, still only 20 years old, she became the youngest student ever to graduate from Cornell University medical school’s Qatar branch and possibly the youngest Arab doctor ever.

Opportunities for Palestinians limited

But since then, she has been unable to use her skills to help Palestinian refugees and offer them services by opening a free clinic for them in Lebanon. Medicine is one of several dozen professions from which Palestinian refugees are barred. Palestinians in Lebanon were allowed to take clerical and lower-level jobs starting in 2005 and allowed to work in some professions in 2010. But highly skilled fields including medicine are regulated by professional associations that impose strict membership restrictions in order to protect jobs for Lebanese nationals. These associations are concerned that Palestinians might overwhelm the labor market, “so they feel it’s about job opportunities for Lebanese nationals”, said Lina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee.

Refugee population swells with Syrian conflict

As the ranks of refugees grow in the Middle East, Al Assaad’s situation is increasingly common. The United Nations Relief Works Agency, estimates there are about 450,000 Palestinians in Lebanon and more than 90,000 have arrived from Syria since that country’s conflict began five years ago. While the UN agency provides primary medical care, it does not pay for more serious medical conditions, often forcing refugees to chose between forgoing treatment or going heavily into debt to pay for care. Growing up in Bar Elias, a rural village in the Bekaa valley, after her parents arrived in Lebanon, Al Assaad visited relatives in refugee camps and was struck at an early age by the poverty and lack of access to medical care.

Inspired to help refugees

Inspired to help, she pursued an education in math and science, which led to help from Lebanon’s education minister Khaled Qabbani in winning a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation to attend Weill Cornell Medical College. Recognizing her accomplishment in graduating medical school and obtaining a prestigious residency in the United States, Arabian Business named her one of the 100 most powerful people under 40 in the Middle East in 2015.

Inspired to help refugees

Inspired to help, she pursued an education in maths and science, which led to help from Lebanon’s education minister Khaled Qabbani in winning a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation to attend Weill Cornell Medical College. Recognizing her accomplishment in graduating medical school and obtaining a prestigious residency in the United States, Arabian Business named her one of the 100 most powerful people under 40 in the Middle East in 2015.

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Malian physician probes genetic disease

Comments (0) Health, Science

The only doctor in Mali who studies rare genetic diseases is the recipient of a grant of more than $1 million to further his research. Guida Landouré, who trained as a neurologist in Mali, the United States and Britain, was awarded funding for four years by the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3 Africa) fund, an initiative sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom to support genetic research in Africa.

Landouré, who is based in the neurology department of University Hospital Center in Bamako, divides his time between seeing patients at the hospital and conducting research on 123 families at the center of his research protocol. Genetic disease in Africa has long been overshadowed by the continent’s challenges with infectious diseases, Landouré and other researchers said in a paper published earlier this year.

More genetics studies urged

However, they noted, genetics may play a significant role in increasing vulnerability to infectious diseases and increasing resistance to treatment. They said research in Mali has already revealed disease-associated mutations but more study is needed to increase understanding of the functions and interactions of different genes. They argue that Africa is the logical place to focus genetic research. “Because of the population diversity in Africa and the limited studies done on the continent, genetic and genomic research in Africa will answer health questions that cannot be solved by studying other populations.” In Mali, Landouré is at the forefront of this research.

Focus is neurological disorders

Because African families tend to have more siblings than in Europe, sampling can detect defective genes more quickly and develop treatments of inherited diseases more effectively, he said. He said the Malian research would investigate genetic defects that cause hereditary neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, which is a major public health issue in the region.

He said funds also would be used to support a bioinformatics network that will use computers to collect and analyze genetic information.

From neurology to research

Landouré became interested in genetic research by happenstance. As a doctor at University Hospital in 2002, he met visiting officials of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Since neurological studies were not available in Mali, he opted to take a research position in the United States in 2004 and went on to study in London. He returned to Mali in 2010 to become the only researcher working on rare genetic diseases.

For four years, the research will be funded with a grant of $1.1 million from the H3 Africa initiative. A partnership between the National Institutes of Health and Wellcome Trust, a London-based global charity, the project has committed $37 million for genetic research on the continent. The African Society of Human genetics has acted as the organizing partner for the initiative as well as providing a forum for genetic scientists in Africa.

In addition to supporting genetic research, the project aims to expand research capacity on the continent through improvements in facilities and creation of new collaborations among researchers in Africa, the United States and Europe.

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With fiber optics, Ivory Coast seeks to become a tech hub

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

Pushing its nascent digital economy to catch up with its booming commerce, Ivory Coast is investing $165 million to lay more than 3,000 miles of additional fiber optic cable. The West African nation has already installed nearly 400 miles of fiber optic cables and planned to add another nearly 900 miles this year, according to Andre Augustine Apete, Minister of information and communications technology. When the work is completed, the country will have more than 4,000 miles of cable, about one-fifth of its goal of more than 12,000 miles. As Ivory Coast emerges from a decade of political turmoil, the government has adopted an ambitious agenda of investment in infrastructure that has driven economic growth to about nine percent during the past four years, one of the highest growth rates on the continent. While commodities-reliant economies elsewhere in Africa have slowed, Ivory Coast posted growth of 8.4 percent for its gross domestic product and projects growth of 8.5 percent this year, according to the World Bank. The country has seen large increases in overall production, particularly in agriculture, as a result of regulatory reforms, public investment programs and infrastructure development.

Mobile banking, shopping boom

The world’s top cocoa producer, Ivory Coast has also experienced a boom in digital activity driven by mobile banking and shopping that total nearly $2 million profits a day, outpacing traditional banking. “I don’t think all our banks put together are doing as much”, Apete said. However, the government has more ambitious plans to grow the emerging digital economy, which today directly or indirectly employs about 150,000 people out of the country’s population of more than 20 million. Until recently, mobile access has dominated the marketplace with more than 85 percent penetration, while the internet and broadband sectors have been largely undeveloped in the Ivory Coast.

High costs limit development

High international bandwidth costs played a major role in limiting development because the unique submarine fiber optic cable served merely Ivory Coast. With the landing of a second cable in 2011 and as many as three additional cables expected to be added, prices have begun to decline. Another major development in Ivory Coast was the introduction of 3G mobile services in 2012, with the launch of the first 3.5G mobile broadband service. The wide geographic reach promised by 12,000 miles of fiber optic cable is intended to position the country to develop a booming digital economy. Fiber optic cable is much less expensive than copper wire, and, importantly for digital communications and data, it has a higher carrying capacity and provide fastest broadband connexion.

Ivory Coast aims to become a regional tech hub

Innocent N’Dry, head of new technologies, innovation and services development at Ubifrance in Abidjan, said the Ivorian government wants the country to become a regional hub for communications and information technology. The sector has seen sustained growth in the past decade, and it was one of only a few countries in West Africa that obtained 3G coverage by 2012. However, the lack of a fiber-optic network has held the country back at a time when technological entrepreneurship is emerging. “In terms of young companies and new technologies, there is real entrepreneurial dynamism, with the creation of incubators,’’ N’Dry said. He cited development of the Orange Technocenter in Abidjan, where marketing, research and engineering teams develop new products and services for the Orang telecommunication company’s customers.

Support for startups is key

N’Dry said Ivory Coast is emulating a model from Senegal in which the government provides support for young companies. To encourage new digital businesses, the Ivory Coast government implemented a free zone dedicated to information and communication technology companies. More recently, the government in July announced a fund of more than $260 million to strengthen the infrastructure for tech innovation and to support tech companies, especially startups. The fund, created with support from the African Development Bank, will also be used to help establish networks of investors and to train entrepreneurs from Ivory Coast and other countries in the region.

Mobile improvements sought

While the Ivory Coast government seeks to develop broadband capacity, it is also moving to encourage improvements in mobile services. This year, Ivory Coast will limit the number of operating licenses for telecoms to four. Three companies, which account for 96 percent of the country’s more than 20 million mobile subscriptions, will be re-licensed. They are France’s Orange, South Africa’s MTN and Mov, which was sold the Morocco Telecom by the United Arab Emirates’ Etisalat in 2014. At the same time, the government said it was withdrawing the licenses of several smaller mobile operators, stating that they had not paid for due taxes and fees. Apete said smaller companies might have the opportunity to merge into one single company controlled if a new majority shareholder emerges. “We are leaving this fourth place free in case a significant operator comes in tomorrow and says it’s interested. Those companies can then join with it”, Apete said.

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