No place to hide: Nigerian government cracks down on corruption.

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

Earlier this month, several of Nigeria’s top judges were arrested in a stunning sting operation. Since the arrests, details have come to light that hold major implications for Nigeria and the direction that the country is headed.

Nigeria’s Department of State Service (DSS) stormed the homes of some of the country’s top judicial figures. The DSS found significant sums of foreign and domestic currency, alongside evidence of bribery. Alarmingly, two of the arrested judges are from The Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial office.

The two Supreme Court judges have been named as Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro. It has since come to light that the DSS seized close to US$ 900,000 from their homes. The investigation has also allegedly uncovered that Ngwuta, Okoro, and others hold hidden properties, which should be beyond their means as judicial officials.

Corruption an obstacle to progress

Nigeria has long been renowned for systemic corruption. This unfavorable reputation has naturally been a source of concern in the international community. Economically, the perception of corruption has deterred foreign investment. Normal Nigerians, frustrated by corruption and unscrupulous official practices, have been clamoring for change

 Last year, Muhammad Buhari ascended to the presidency, promising to root out corruption in all its forms. His administration has made good on its pledge by bringing charges against leading businessmen and politicians. However, many of these cases have stalled in court, and critics have suggested that rampant corruption within the judiciary makes it exceedingly difficult to actually convict powerful individuals.

Arrests uncover web of conspiracy

The recent arrests of these senior judges represent an attempt to deal with the judiciary and pave the way for further anti-corruption measures.

In the case of Ngwuta and Okoro, the allegations are particularly serious. It is alleged that Ngwuta traveled to the Middle East to obtain a substantial bribe, which he then shared with Okoro and others. The plot becomes even more insidious, as recent information obtained by Sahara Reporters links the bribe to State Governor Nyesom Wike.

Allegedly Wike paid the bribe in order to obtain a favorable verdict in his election case, which is currently under review by the Supreme Court. It would appear that the State Governor is at least involved in some capacity. He swiftly appeared with his staff at the scene of one of the DSS raids and argued with officials. In the commotion, an unnamed judge was said to have escaped.

Applause and tenuous protestations 

It is interesting to note that Wike is a prominent member of the People’s Democratic Party, the official opposition. Critics have said that corruption cases are only being wielded against those who are out of favor with, or in direct opposition to the administration.

The judiciary itself has argued that the DSS doesn’t have the authority to carry out raids and that investigations into the judiciary are fundamentally unconstitutional. However, such grievances are ringing hollow in the ears of most Nigerians, who are glad to see decisive action being taken. The protests sound more like the desperate cries of an archaic and self-serving class, which has realized it is under bitter siege.

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Why female leadership is so important in Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Featured

Across Africa, women are ascending to roles of prominence and leadership. This phenomenon is encouraging. More women attaining top positions in both the political and business spheres are positive indicators of progress and social inclusion. Women are needed every bit as much as much as men, in shaping the continent’s new image.

Women for Africa

Earlier this year, at the New African Women Forum, many of Africa’s foremost females were in attendance to recognize exemplary leadership, and discuss the obstacles to gender equity across the continent. The highly regarded former World Bank Africa VP, Oby Ozekwezili was one of the key speakers at the conference. Ozekwezili said: “When women participate in the decision-making process at every level, there is a higher propensity of positive outcomes.”

Well known for her achievements as former Minister of Education in Nigeria, her focus on ethical leadership has led her to influential board positions with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and The Centre for Global Leadership. Additionally, in the wake of the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, Ozekwezili was one of the driving forces behind the viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign. As one of the most formidable female leaders on the continent, it’s no surprise that she scooped the New African Women Award for Contributions to Civil Society.

African women tackling the big issues

Women like Ozekwezili are no doubt consummate role models. However, the big problem is that in Africa, there are still too few of her kind. Statistics show that women are woefully under-represented in African politics. Across the continent, women account for a mere 19.7% of total parliamentary positions. Additionally, these figures are skewed by the likes of South Africa, Rwanda, and Mozambique, who have substantially higher levels of female inclusion.

Outside of politics, women are being underutilized in the African workforce. The United Nations Development program has estimated that Africa lost 61% of potential development due to gender equality. Another cause for concern is the fact that only 20% of African women have access to a bank account. This means that the vast majority of women are going without the financial security that comes with being connected to the formal economy through banking.

Culturally there are big obstacles to overcome. African society favors the education of boys over girls, especially in lower income areas. When it comes to cultural gender expectations, African women face an uphill battle against the notion that their traditional place is as child-raiser and housekeeper. In a similar vein, outdated ideas about women’s innate ability are dangerous and need to be dismantled. Prominent Ghanaian lawyer and politician Betty Mould-Iddrisu said “Since there is an ingrained skepticism towards women’s ability to succeed in Africa, it means, simply put, that women leaders must work doubly hard. The path to success is littered with obstacles and it takes huge doses of courage and determination to stay the course.”

A movement is growing

The New African Women Forum was designed specifically to tackle issues such as these. Bringing the current generation of leaders and innovators together is critical to generate discourse and develop coherent strategies. This forum is part of growing movement of both men and women, determined to break barriers and usher in African gender equality. South African Dalphne Mashile-Nkosi embodies the progress women are making. Nkosi, a former African CEO of the Year winner, is the head of billion dollar mining giant Kalagadi Manganese. Nkosi is a proponent of affirmative action and is striving to staff 50% of her corporation with female talent.

She said: “Figures show that when women earn, 90% of it goes back into their society, their children’s education or the local community.” However, not all female African leaders agree on such policies. Valentine Rugwabiza, a renowned Rwandan politician and former Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organization is in favor of meritocracy. She explained: “By having quotas it may seem like they are in their position, not because they deserve it, but because some international statistic requires it.”

While there may be some disagreement between heavyweights such as Rugwabiza and Nkosi, there is no doubt that recent years have seen an increasing emergence of strong female role models.

Women are initiating change in a myriad of sectors, and that’s a cause for great celebration.

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Vangsy Goma – the entrepreneur behind an African Uber.

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Vangsy Goma is the young man behind Africab, the latest Uber style taxi service within the continent of Africa. Goma himself is only 31 years old, but his company has already had an immediate impact in the Ivory Coast, and his fresh approach to the industry could reach far further than its launch site.

From Africa to Europe and back again

Vangsy Goma was born in the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, into a powerful Congolese family. Goma’s grandmother is the wife of Congolese president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and yet his privileged upbringing did not dent an enthusiasm to create changes in his home continent. Goma went to pursue further education in France, and eventually graduated with a degree in management and marketing from France’s IDRAC institute. Goma decided to return to Africa, and his home country, where he began working as a project manager for Congo’s Assistance Foundation – a body that focuses on spreading access to education for children within the Lower Kouilou region. By 2012, Goma changed path, and began working for the oil company CNPC as a commercial services manager; before another move into a higher position, as commercial director, at Congo’s MBTP construction company. It was during his time with MBTP that Goma devised his plan for Africab, and he began talks with professional colleagues and the investment group, CEMAC, about his vision.

The creation of Africab

While Goma could have easily avoided the stress and financial risk that comes with starting up your own business, nothing in his background (or successful early career) appears to have reduced his entrepreneurial spirit, or desire to help his own people. Goma says that it was a conversation with a friend, and fellow entrepreneur, Vérone Mankou, that led to him formulating his idea for Africab. Mankou is the man behind a highly successful Congolese mobile phone company, VMK, and Goma explains that his business model was one that inspired him, because “he turned great local demand for imported products into inclusive local economic growth. VMK means new jobs and new skills for Africa.”

Goma felt that this was something he could also use as a model to rectify a problem that he had noticed on a visit to the Ivory Coast’s capital city, Abidjan. Goma explained, “Africab is a ‘startup’ born from the observation…that African urban populations had new transportation needs.” Goma observed that many African nations had a rapidly growing middle class, and that existing transport systems were unreliable, unsafe or lacking modern facilities that many consumers desired. The initial target audience was the men and women of the professional middle classes, which is why Goma proudly describes how “In our taxis, we have electronic tablets, on which you can check emails and city guide. There is also a 4G network available on board.”

Abidjan is only the beginning

Despite being Congolese, Goma chose Abidjan as his launching point, due to “purely economic reasons and opportunities”, as the city (and Ivory Coast as a whole) has a well-established middle class, with stable growth, and a high demand for new services. However, Goma’s goal is to revolutionize transport across sub-Saharan Africa, and he is eager to bring Africab to his hometown of Brazzaville as well as many other destinations.

While Abidjan’s relative prosperity was ideal for the company’s launch, Goma wants his company to not only work for the customers, but also for its employees. Unlike Uber, and other established taxi apps, Africab owns all of its cars, directly employs its drivers, and sees long-term job creation as one of its core components. Goma says he wants it to be a truly pan-African company that provides its staff with training, and opportunities to develop their potential.

Since Africab launched in February of this year, the fleet of cars has extended from 30 to 50, and has already ordered 120 more vehicles, such is the demand! Goma states that 10,000 potential customers have downloaded the app, and he recently signed a deal with the Beninese Company, MIG Motors, which will be responsible for rolling out the service in Benin. Vangsy Goma is still only 31, but his success looks likely to continue, and investors will be watching his progress with interest.

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William Kamkwamba: The Malawian wind tamer

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Featured

William Kamkwamba is someone you may have heard of. The 29 year old Malawian is has made himself famous for his remarkable achievements and brilliant mind. Indeed, the young man has delivered inspiring TED talks, and his book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a New York Times Bestseller.

Hard times suggested a bleak future

Kamkwamba’s early life was difficult. Born in a poor rural community in Malawi, his family relied on farming for subsistence. In 2001, when he was just 13, a major famine swept through  claimingthousands of lives and destroying entire communities. At the peak of this crisis, more than 70% of the nation’s farmers were considered at risk of starvation.

Food was so scarce that Kamkwamba parents would often go without a meal so that their children could eat.

For Kamkwamba, the disaster meant that his family could no longer afford to send him to school for five full years. As a natural and avid learner, he was devastated by his inability to attend class. However, determined to continue his education however he could, Kamkwamba immersed himself in books from a local lending library.

A mind that couldn’t be denied

Through the library, he developed a passion for engineering. He taught himself about circuitry, materials, and physics despite only having a basic understanding of English. In the aftermath of what he set up his own small business fixing people radios and other electrical appliances.

One book in particular called Using Energy, concerning wind turbines, became of particular interest. He was astounded to learn that wind energy could provide reliable electricity and power irrigation. As a result he vigorously studied the complex schematics, all the while considering how he could apply them in his own environment.A crude Kerosene-powered generator was the only source of energy his family possessed at that time.  Since the engine was costly, expensive and unreliable Kamkwamba started by fashioning a prototype windmill form an old radio motor. Pleased with the results, he set about building his first real windmill, salvaging what he could from a scrap yard. He said, “Many people, including my mother, told me I was crazy.”

Undeterred, Kamkwamba created his windmill with an old bicycle, a dynamo, PVC pipes, the fan blades from a defunct tractor, and a shock absorber. He connected his contraption to a car battery so he could store the energy he harnessed. What’s more, he completely wired his own house to include switches and a circuit breaker.

John Collier, an Engineering Professor and advisor to Kamkwamba said, “To start with nothing and end up with a fully-fledged windmill that produces power is an extraordinary move – and to do it all with no tools except for some nails?”

International Acclaim

Before long, local villagers were clamoring to charge their phones at Kamkwamba’s house; the only source of reliable power in the area. The news of his achievements spread across the country, and journalists came to visit. The national newspaper, The Malawi Daily Times wrote a long piece on Kamkwamba, as did Hacktivate blogger Mike McKay. The story came to the attention of Emeka Okafur, the Program Director of TEDGlobal. Fascinated by Kamkwamba’s story, Okafur invited him to TED as a fellow.

Before his talk at TED, Kamkwamba had already made some serious improvements to his system. He increased the diameter and height of his first windmill, which provided power to additional houses in his village. He also built a second windmill which powers a pump and an irrigation system.

An example for a generation

Upon attending TED, his story was incredibly well received. Inspired philanthropists in the audience became mentors and benefactors. The famous satirist and TED speaker Tom Reilly pledged to support Kamkwamba through seven years of school and university.

He was swiftly enrolled in the African Leadership Academy, a prestigious institution designed to rigorously prepare the talented students through academics, ethical leadership, entrepreneurialism and design. Kamkwamba then went on to study Engineering and Design at Dartmouth University, USA.

Since graduating in 2014 Kamkwamba has overseen numerous wind turbine installations throughout Malawi. He intends to use his education to continue solving problems his home country is facing with. His foundation, Moving Windmills, has already delivered numerous life changing development projects across the country.

Finally he wants to open an innovation centre to inspire the next generation of young leaders and entrepreneurs. Perhaps a quote from Kamkwamba’s own TED talk should adorn the walls: “Trust yourself and believe, whatever happens don’t give up.”

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New bank SunTrust focuses on tech to make changes in Nigeria

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

A new player has arrived in Nigeria’s banking sector. SunTrust Bank officially opened for business last month, becoming the first new institution to be granted licensing by the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2001. SunTrust has been making headlines due to its innovative, tech-driven business model that stands in stark contrast to Nigeria’s traditional financial entities. The bank could prove to be a disruptive force within the country’s banking space.

A technology based bank is born

Muhammad Jibrin, the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, has been one of the driving forces behind the bank’s emergence. Jibrin founded SunTrust in 2009, at the time the firm was focused solely on mortgage lending. After enjoying years of steady success, the board decided to pursue a commercial banking license, a notoriously difficult proposition given Nigeria’s stringent financial controls. SunTrust finally obtained the coveted license in late in 2015, becoming the first new bank to do so since the beginning of the 2000s. Jibrin and the SunTrust team have a vision of providing a modern, technology driven service that will change the way banking works within Nigeria. He said “Banking is no longer where you go, it is what people do. Therefore, the only thing that can stand the future is no longer physical branches, but banking services that would be driven by technology.”

New ways of banking can help millions

Nigeria remains woefully underserviced by the traditional banks in the nation. An estimated 40 Million adult Nigerians are currently “unbanked”. SunTrust is looking to bring quality banking services to this demographic. In order to achieve this SunTrust has laid out a daring strategy and ambitious goals. The bank only runs a handful of branches as it is restricted in where it can physically operate by its regional license. However, this suits their strategy just fine. SunTrust intends to attract customers the length and breadth of the country by focusing on purely electronic banking services. Jibrin said: “We will be everywhere because we are not limited by barriers or by physical location; technology is not limited physically and therefore whether you are in the South-East or in the North, we can easily service you.” Less branches on the ground means less overheads; SunTrust says that it will be able to offer the same services, more cheaply and effectively than the traditionally encumbered financial institutions.

SunTrust focused on the future of finance

Jibrin recently made an excellent point about the future of banking in Nigeria. He pointed out that 70% of Nigeria’s population could currently be classified as “young” and that this demographic is growing rapidly. The country has approximately 170 million citizens, yet this number will be as high as 220 million by 2025, making Nigeria one of the youngest countries on the planet. It is this growing, young and tech savvy population who largely don’t have access to, or can’t afford traditional banking services. SunTrust intends to be the bank for the new Nigerian generation. SunTrust has received praise for its courageous decision to launch in the midst of a recession, an unprecedented event for a financial institution. Charles Onyema Ugboko, SunTrust’s Chairman, said that going into business at this time proved that “the board and management are committed to the growth of the Nigerian economy.” Similarly, SunTrust has been lauded for its intent to focus on small and medium scale enterprises. These companies have long struggled to obtain credit from traditional banks, yet SunTrust intends to break the mold by placing them in clusters and cooperatives which will help to mitigate risk. The bank’s board is dedicated to this strategy as they feel that these underserviced businesses hold immense potential to drive growth In Nigeria.

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U.S. and Africa: From aid to trade

Comments (0) Africa, Economy, Featured

U.S companies are just “scratching the surface” of business opportunity in Africa, effectively leaving an expanding market wide open for China, according to advocates for boosting trade, including President Barack Obama. Dismissing the economic slowdown of some African nations as temporary, experts at the second U.S.-Africa Business Forum pointed to the potential offered by an expanding middle class, untapped mineral wealth and expanses of uncultivated farmable land on the continent. Among those urging more trade between the United States and Africa was President Obama, who spoke to the forum in New York on Sept. 21. “We are making progress but we are just scratching the surface,” Obama said. “There is still so much untapped potential.”

Share of trade remains small

Obama and others pointed to significant growth in trade between the United States and Africa. But experts noted that economic activity is tiny as a share of total trade on either side. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for only one percent of all U.S. trade in 2015. While 5.6 percent of Africa’s trade was with the United States, that amount is much smaller than the more than 19 percent of the continent’s trade with China, which has stepped up economic ties with Africa in recent years. According to the Obama administration, American and African countries have made deals worth $15 billion since the first U.S.-Africa Business Forum two years ago. Another $9 billion in deals were announced at the forum.

U.S. investment grows

American investment in Africa grew by 70 percent with major companies including Google and FedEx increasing their presence on the continent. African nations, meanwhile, have encouraged increased trade and business development by cutting red tape and promoting political stability. The Obama administration has pushed initiatives to double access to power and offer preferential trade terms in order to help the continent develop its manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Obama said infrastructure will power the economies of African in the future, especially increasing access to electrical power for two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans who lack access today. Besides the extension of trade accords with Africa and its Power Africa program to boost electricity supplies, the U.S. increased support from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Millennium Challenge Corp.

Red tape, political instability slow growth

For its part, Africa is working hard to ease barriers to trade and investment through development of regional free-trade accords and political stability, according to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission. Still, there is more to be done as Africa seeks to recover from an economic slowdown prompted by falling oil and commodity prices as well as a drop in demand from China, which has its own economic struggles. The International Monetary fund recently forecast that sub-Saharan Africa’s economy would expand by only 1.6 percent this year, about half the growth rate of 3.3 percent in 2015 and well below the annual average of 5.7 percent in the 10 years before that.

Meanwhile, foreign direct investment in Africa dropped as the commodities boom ended. Foreign direct investment fell to about $71 billion last year, down nearly 20 percent from more than $88 billion in 2014, according to accounting firm EY.

Some African economies thrive

However, the averages for the continent do not tell the whole story. While South Africa and Nigeria, the two largest economies in the sub-Sahara, are struggling, several nations, including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast and Senegal, are expected to experience economic growth well over 5 percent this year. At the same time, a growing population and increased consumption pose opportunity for businesses that gain a foothold on the continent. Household consumption in Africa is expected to grow 3.8 percent annually until 2025 when it will reach $2.1 trillion, according to McKinsey & Co. It projected that the continent will have a bigger workforce than India or China by 2034.

Amadou Sy, director of the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative, said U.S. companies have been slow to shift from seeing the continent as an aid recipient to seeing it as a potential business partner. While aid has long been the primary focus of dealings with Africa, that is changing Sy said. ‘’The other side of the coin is that we have fast-growing economies. We have business opportunities,” he said. “The first accomplishment is getting U.S. businesses and U.S. stakeholders to look at Africa as a business partner.”

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South Africa leads the way with renewable energy

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

Long dependent on coal, South Africa has become the leader on the continent in developing renewable energy sources thanks in part to a competitive bidding process that helps keep costs low. South Africa had accepted a total of 92 projects providing an estimated 6,300 megawatts as of April. The projects represent more than $13 billion in private investment.

The Cookhouse wind farm on the country’s eastern cape is the largest installation, producing 138 megawatts of electricity since it started feeding the power grid in 2014. But wind, solar and biomass projects are popping up all over the countryside. Still, South Africa remains highly dependent on fossil fuels. It is the 11 th largest emitter of carbon output from energy use in the world. But it is making progress with renewables. Tina Joemat-Pettersson, South Africa’s minister of energy said the country had added a total of about 4,300 megawatts of renewable energy capacity between 2011 and 2015 alone.

Low cost drives development

One driver is cost. By last year, the price of wind energy from new projects had dropped to five cents per kilowatt-hour, about half the cost of coal. “Not only is technology producing much cleaner power, it is doing so at a lower cost than traditional fossil fuel technologies,” Evan Rice, chief executive of Greencape, a government funded not-for- profit development agency in Cape Town, said.

In partnership with the city of Cape Town, the national government, and Germany, Greencape is launching the South African Renewable Energy Technology Center, which will train 250 technicians annually to operate renewable energy systems around the country.

Bidding process plays a role

Anton Eberhard, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa’s competitive bidding process has helped keep costs low while assuring efficient development. Rather than negotiating with a vendor directly on a case-by- case basis, the bidding process uses competitive tenders and may give awards to multiple bidders,

Eberhard said. He said the transparent process leaves less room for corruption, which has hampered development efforts in other countries. The process also offers financial advantages, Eberhard said, noting that prices bids had dropped by 48 percent for wind and 71 percent for solar energy over the course of four rounds of bids during the past several years.

He said advances in battery technology will reduce the problem of interuptions in wind and solar power when there is no wind or sun. This will drive more development of these resources and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Energy installations produce jobs

The developments are also benefitting local communities. For example, a factory that will produce wind towers in the economically depressed township of Atlantis outside Cape Town is expected to employ 200 people to build 150 towers a year. Rice expects employment to grow as production ramps up. Also, 15 percent of the sale of energy itself goes into a community trust that enables local trustees to funnel money into education, health care and economic development locally.

Renewable energy developments will “transform rural communities in terms of health care, education, job creation and a raft of other interventions,” said Johan van den Berg, director of the South African Wind Energy Association.

Nation still banks on fossil fuels

Despite the promise of renewables, South Africa is not turning away from fossil fuels entirely. The government plans to open up 20 percent of the country to shale fracking and President Jacob Zuma has approved a deal to buy eight nuclear power plants from Russia at a cost of $84 billion.

The country is also building Medupi, the largest dry cooled coal-fired power station in the world. Construction began in 2007 but has been mired in cost overruns and delays for years. Once completed, it is expected to produce more than 4,000 megawatts, about the same amount that South Africa developed with renewable projects in just four years. Still, Berg and others see a bright future for renewables in South Africa and beyond.

The continent, he said, has “the opportunity to leapfrog the old centralized large scale fossil fuel power and big grid paradigm. With technology and project prices continuing to drop, and rapid breakthroughs in battery and other storage technologies, I have no doubt that renewables will address all of our power needs in time.”

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Japan pledges $30 billion in aid to Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Trade

Japan recently promised $30 billion in aid to Africa, a pledge that comes in the face of a spate of major investments on the continent by rival China. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the commitment at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 27. The meeting, previously held in Japan, was staged in Africa for the first time this year at the request of the host continent. Abe said the aid will be spread over three years and comes on top of $32 billion Japan pledged to Africa over five years starting in 2013. He said about two-thirds of that money had been put to use. With longstanding trade ties, Japan has a keen interest in Africa’s resources. That interest has intensified since the island nation began to import more oil and natural gas after the 2011 Fukushima disaster shut down nearly all of its nuclear reactors. In recent years, Japan has found a growing rival in China, whose One Belt, One Road trade policy focuses squarely on Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Funds for infrastructure, education and health care

The latest round of Japanese funding will be used to develop infrastructure and improve health care and education on the continent, Abe said. About $10 billion for infrastructure will be allocated in cooperation with the African Development Bank. It will include roads, ports, airports and power plants that are expected to increase the continent’s electric capacity by 2,200 megawatts.

The money will also be used to train 20,000 mathematics and science teachers throughout the continent, as well as 20,000 experts on how to handle infectious diseases. “Today’s new pledges will enhance and expand on those launched three years ago. The motive is quality and enhancement” Abe said.

Chinese promise $60 billion

Abe’s pledge comes on the heels of a Chinese promise of $60 billion in aid, much of it loans from Chinese banks or export credits rather than direct aid. With its One Belt, One Road policy of establishing trade routes in the West, China has stepped up its investments on the continent in recent years, although the Chinese economic slowdown has reduced trade and posed challenges for African economies that rely heavily on oil and commodity exports.

Still, China has continued to announce large investments on the continent. It plans to build a naval base in Djibouti along with expansions of port facilities and new airports at a cost of more than $12 billion. China will also fund a $4 billion rail link with neighboring Ethiopia. However, with its economic slowdown, China’s investment in Africa decreased by about 40 percent last year.

China dwarfs Japan in trade

Six years ago, China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. The Asian giant has also eclipsed Japan in financial importance to the continent. China’s total trade with Africa of about $179 billion last year dwarfed the approximately $24 billion in trade with Japan.

Japan’s overall direct investment in Africa totaled $1.24 billion in 2015, down from about $1.5 billion a year earlier, according to Japan’s External Trade Organization. China made a single investment of $2 billion in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in the month of April 2015 alone.

Geopolitics in play

“Japan has a sense of rivalry with China, which has provided large-scale assistance,” Koichi Sakamoto, professor of regional development studies at Toyo University, said. “Since Japan can’t fight China in terms of cash, it needs to stress quality.” Abe said Japanese direct investment totaling $10 billion will begin to flow this year, along with another $20 billion in investment from Japan’s private sector.

In addition to it’s interest in Africa’s resources, Japan has strong political motives on both regional and global fronts for strengthening ties with Africa, according to Seijiro Takeshita, an economist and professor at the University of Shizuoka. For one thing, Japan is seeking support to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Japan and other nations in the region also see China as an aggressor. “This is basically (seeking) to ward off continuous aggression the neighboring nations feel from China,” Takeshita said.

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Angola looks to hydropower, shipyards to boost its economy

Comments (0) Featured, Transport

A major shipbuilding company based in the Middle East has forged a partnership to bring a shipyard, naval vessels and hydropower to Angola. Privinvest announced the launch of a major shipbuilding and maritime development project with the Republic of Angola in early September. The agreement builds on a previous pact to develop hydrokinetic power in the southern African nation. Both efforts are to be joint ventures of the government and Privinvest.

Under the latest agreement, Privinvest will provide a range of ships of the Angolan Navy. At the same time, the company will work with the British firm Simportex to develop and operate a shipyard in Angola. The modern shipyard will be able to build and service ships. In addition to supplying ships, Privinvest will provide state of the art technology to enable future construction of naval vessels in Angola.

“This marks a step in cooperation with one of the most dynamic economies in Africa,” Boulos Hankach, President of Shipbuilding Investments at Privinvest, said. “It shows that we have the skills and capabilities to promote high-level programs in countries around the world.”

Projects to generate 9,000 megawatts

In July, the government of Angola and Privinvest signed an agreement to bring hydrokinetic power generation to the country over the next 10 years. Angola wants to be able to generate 9,000 megawatts of power by 2025, with much of it coming from the capture of energy from water flows. The project will initially develop three test sites with a total expected output of 12 megawatts or more. The first site is expected to be operational next year. Privinvest will build hydrokinetic turbines and develop hydro-energy fields under the agreement. The Angolan public utility Prodel has agreed to buy all of the electrical output of the venture.

Joao Baptista Borges, Angolan minister of energy and water, noted that the country is a major source of untapped hydropower. With the introduction of new technology, it will be possible to produce low-cost energy for rural areas of Angola with the goal of providing access to energy to more than 14 million residents in the next decade.

Company based in Lebanon

Privinvest, based in Lebanon, has shipyards and other facilities in the Mediterranean region, the Arabian Gulf, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The company was founded and is led by Iskander and Akram Safa, two French brothers of Lebanese descent.

Long a global leader in shipbuilding, the company designs and manufactures naval and commercial vessels as well as luxury yachts worldwide. Privinvest also provides technology and training to countries that want to develop their shipbuilding industry along with logistical support and supply management, training and supply management services for navel fleets.

Privinvest said its shipyards have produced more than 2,000 vessels and more than 40 navies use its ships globally. Currently, the company is working with six national navies in addition to private customers.

The company began working in hydrokinetic power in 2012 with affiliates that manufacture turbines for use both in rivers and at sea.

Angola hurt by oil slump

Angola, meanwhile, is under pressure to diversify its economy. As the second-largest oil producer in Africa, the nation has been hard it by falling crude prices. Last year, the World Bank agreed to give the country $650 million in financial support – a loan of $450 million and guarantees amounting to $200 million – to help stabilize its economy, the first such aid to Angola since 2010. Even with the aid, the government was forced to cut its budget by 25 percent while its currency lost 15 percent against the dollar. Nonetheless, growth in the country’s gross domestic product was nearly 5 percent in 2014.

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Peter Njonjo : from a top IT job to BBQ!

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Peter Njonjo made a risky decision last year. He left his top IT job at the European Union to launch his own prepared meats company, Gregos Foods. He says he was compelled by his love of cooking and his search to finding high-quality barbecue products in his native Kenya. He explained: “Kenya has the best meat in terms of the world, but what we are actually getting in terms of retail is not the best. I thought we could do better so we started off.” In just over one year he’s gone from a backyard conversation to seeing his products on supermarket shelves. This is a massive achievement in a country that is dominated by one industry leader: Farmer’s Foods, which has an enormous 44% of the market share. Avid cooks, Njonjo and his friends were inspired to make their own meat products by a lack of processed meats available in stores. They realized there was a gap in the market and that their homemade products were in demand and could be produced on a larger scale. He conducted a vast amount of market research and customer testing before deciding that this was a viable business. They created products such as goat sausages, bacon and beef burgers and wrapped chicken thighs, which were all extremely popular with their product testers. Although he initially knew very little about this industry, he was determined to make the company a success.

Smart business decisions that have led to success

Seven months later the first factory was opened. There were a number of factors that determined the success of the company, most of which were related to Njonjo’s business acumen and sharp, academic mind. First, he chose to rent space in an already operational factory that was running under capacity instead of an expensive new build. This factory was located in Kikuyu, a small agricultural town about 20 km outside of Nairobi. It was a central location for distribution, but considerably cheaper than renting inside the capital city, and much closer to the meat producers they would rely on. Next, he reached out to his network of friends and ex-colleagues for assistance in areas that he lacked specific expertise, such as HR, finance and marketing. This avoided expenses on external consultants services, and reduced the startup costs considerably. They relied on social media marketing, local events and word-of- mouth for publicity and slowly built a loyal consumer base through their home and business deliveries. They eventually broke into retail and secured deals with supermarkets to stock their products.

Savvy spending of profits, brand awareness and driving sales

He explained that they don’t expect to make any money in the first year, offering deals to spread brand awareness and ploughing profits back into increasing production capabilities. The company also elected to use influencers and food bloggers to drive sales and publicity. The biggest challenge, says Njonjo, is competing with industry leaders, who have significant visibility and customer loyalty. The focus has been maximizing their exposure to challenge these market leaders, something many competitors/newcomers have failed to do in the Kenyan food industry.

The future for Njonjo and Gregor Foods

After just one year in business, “Gregos Foods” is booming. The company has plans to expand its manufacturing capacity to meet growing demand and have recently expanded into wholesale, as well as catering for hotels and restaurants. The long-term goal is to expand into the export market, supplying products to neighboring African countries, and even beyond. They intend to collaborate with other small-scale producers who have unique recipes and are looking for production and distribution partners. This could see Gregos Foods growing into a parent company for a number of different producers, while at the same time helping other people like Njonjo who had a plan/an idea but struggled to compete with dominant giants in the food industry. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to be realistic about the market: “Give yourself time to grow, go for what you can do best and ensure that you add value as opposed to being ordinary.” With the rise of food and manufacturing entrepreneurs across the continent, people like Njonjo have been encouraged to follow their dreams. Although he has no experience in the in food industry, his business expertise has enabled him to succeed where others have failed.

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