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Forbes Identifies the Best Businesses in the Arab World

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

2020 is not looking like a good year for most businesses. Covid-19 is affecting every stock market around the world and profits and forecasts are becoming major victims of the global pandemic. 20202’s Q1 results are what many people are looking at as indicators of how companies could perform once the current crisis is over. Forbes’ recent list of the Top 100 Companies in the Middle East is a good reflection of not only what companies have been doing well (and will do in the future), but is also a good indicator of how the region itself is performing.

Regional Financial Health

Generally speaking, it comes as no surprise that an oil-rich region does well financially. But in recent years, the oil-producing nations have sought to diversify interests and investments as they keep one eye on a finite and dwindling resource that has for so long provided a steady revenue stream.

Looking at the Top 100 Companies listed, they have total aggregate assets of $3.5 trillion and a value of around $2.3 trillion in terms of market cap over 2019/2020. The total sales amassed by the businesses was $670 billion which represented $148 billion of net profits.

Who and What?

Saudi Arabia dominates the Top 100, with 33 of the 100 companies listed there. Behind them is the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) with 21 companies, and Qatar in third place with 18. So those three countries alone have 72% of the list.

As far as business sectors are concerned, the burgeouning financial sector dominates the list with 46 entries. Far behind them in second place is industrial companies with nine entries, then real estate/construction and telecoms companies with eight each.

Top Spot

Despite the increasing diversification happening across the region, it is an oil giant that holds the No. 1 spot and they would hold that spot in most lists whether regional or global. Saudi Aramco is not only the world’s most profitable company, but also the world’s most valuable listed company. It produced the biggest IPO in history and on it first day of trading in December, its market value soared to $1.9 trillion. $0.7 trillion above Apple’s market value on the same day.

To put Aramco in a global context, they pump more than 10% of the world’s crude oil supplies and produce more than twice the oil of all of Canada. Of course, being (prior to the IPO) a government-owned entity and the only oil producer in Saudi Arabia has given it a unique advantage.

Aramco covers several areas of the energy sector, including exploration, transportation, and sales of not only crude oil but also natural gas and chemicals. While other companies may focus on diversification, Aramco focuses on innovation. In 2017 alone, they were granted 230 patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

As far as the Top 100 List is concerned, Aramco accounted for 59.6% of the net profits, 11.4% of assets, 69.6% of market cap, and 49% of aggregate sales.

The Other Contenders

While dominating the list, Aramco is surprisingly the only energy company in the Top 10. The other nine companies represent banking and financial, with six out of the ten positions, two telecommunications companies, and one industrial company. The gap between first and second is telling, however. Aramco had profits of $88.2 billion, while the second-placed company – QNB of Qatar – had profits of only $4 billion.

However long the Covid-19 situation lasts, some business sectors may take considerable time to completely recover. But there will be a constant need for most of the sectors covered in the Top 100 list. While oil prices may fluctuate, the sheer size and diversity of a company like Aramco will ensure that they will not suffer too much. And for businesses such as financial and telecoms, the need for their services may grow if anything. One thing is for sure; the Middle East continues to see many companies continue to thrive and grow at both regional and global levels.

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Vivo Activewear – a Kenyan Success Story Trying to Survive a Pandemic

Comments (0) Business, Featured

As 2020 started, the coronavirus was a small footnote to some news broadcast and no-one had any idea of the impact it would have on every aspect of our lives. Words and phrases such as lockdown or social distancing meant nothing to any of us and we planned the year ahead as normal. 

So it was for Wandia Gichuru, who was looking forward to a bumper year for Her Vivo Activewear business and a projected 40% growth rate over 2019 figures. Fast forward 6 months and she is doubtful that the company can even match the previous year’s sales and revenue figures and her focus now is ensuring that they can keep their 175 staff employed.

Viva la Vivo

Gichuru’s success story is one that is becoming more and more common across Africa. A bright young entrepreneur with a vision that recognises the potential of the continent’s massive spending power, a market that has over 1 billion consumers and a total GDP in excess of US$3 trillion. 

Gichuru founded Vivo in 2011 with her business partner, Anne Marie Burugu. Since its founding, Vivo has grown to be one of the leading fashion labels in Kenya with 14 stores across the country and a reputation for stylish and affordable clothing. It has built a reputation for bright and colourful designs that often have an edgy feel to them. The company also owns the ShopZetu e-commerce platform, selling not only its own designs but also items from 3rd party retailers and manufacturers. 

Covid 19 

The global pandemic has forced the company to circle the wagons and rethink their growth projections for 2020. While Kenya has not suffered badly from Covid 19, the company decided to close all their physical stores in mid-March. They reopened around a month later but with some precautions in place such as not allowing customers to try items on. 

But rather than sit idle for that period, Vivo switched some of their production capabilities to reusable cloth face masks. They have made more than 200,000 units to date, and these are sold through their stores, at pop-up stalls, and through their online platform. They also received bulk orders from farms, banks, and other large-scale employers. That decision was a good one, as mask sales accounted for around 65% of the company’s revenue in April. 

Strong Foundations

Gichuru has a solid business background that has helped nurture Vivo. Before founding the company, she worked as an international business advisor and was employed by the UK government, the UN, and the World Bank. And as well as the day to day demands of running a successful fashion chain, she finds time to be a life coach, a regular investor on Kenya’s version of Dragon’s Den – Lion’s Den – and is also a trustee for the Mbugua Rosemary and Charles & Rita Field-Marsham Foundations. 

She has a strong belief in the power of African commerce and that women are an integral part of the potential the continent has. As part of that belief, she looks to transform lives by training and employing women as well as supporting small independent businesses operated by women. 

While Vivo may not see the growth in 2020 they expected, there is little doubt that they will survive and continue to grow in the future.

Photos : Youtube.com and destinafrica.co.ke and nairobifashionhub.co.ke

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Rwanda : Jacqueline Mukarukundo Tackles the Problem of Electronic Waste

Comments (0) Business, Featured

Electronic Waste is poisoning Africa 

When it comes to electronic waste (e-waste), Africa has long faced two battles to fight. Not only does it have to deal with its own e-waste, but it also has to cope with the large amounts of e-waste imported, often illegally, from other continents. E-waste can refer to any electronic product that is either coming to the end of its working life or that already has passed that use by date and can include computers, televisions, mobile phones’ etc. 

For example, the UN Environment Programme’s study in 2009 found that Ghana imported 215,000 tons of electronic equipment that year with only 30% of that total being new. Of the rest, around 22,5000 tons could neither be recycled nor sold and would end up in landfill sites. The problem with the amounts that end up in landfill – something that is repeated across many African countries – is that these electronics often contain toxic elements such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, which then enter the soil and water. 

Finding Solutions, Recycling for the future.

Compared to other areas of the world, recycling is an industry still in its infancy in Africa, particularly when it comes to e-waste. In East Africa alone, and not counting any imported e-waste, some 130,000 tonnes of e-waste is produced every year and only about 20% of that is recycled. 

It needs dedication and vision to make the industry viable across the continent. And those are two attributes that you can say Jacqueline Mukarukundo has for sure. This young Rwandan entrepreneur was recently awarded the Margaret Prize which is given to women who are creative and active in the digital world.

It Began with an Accident

Her idea began with an accident back in 20011, when Mukarukundo was only around 13 years old. With some friends, she was taking part in a recycling campaign in the northern Rwandan city of Musanze. As they were working on a landfill site, a landslide happened (a common and dangerous occurrence on these sites) and her friend was lucky to escape. For Mukarukundo and her friends, that incident was the catalyst to get more involved in waste management and recycling. 

In 2018, at the age of 20, Mukarukundo co-founded Wastezon along with Ghislain Irakoze. The company uses mobile technology to link consumers and businesses who have e-waste that needs disposed of to the main recycling companies in that area. 

Simplicity Means Ease of Use

In order to make the process easy to use for consumers and recyclers, the person with the e-waste simply posts a photo of the e-waste – most often computers or mobile phones – and the recycling companies can then choose what they want and make an offer for the waste. 

Since they started, Wastezon has enabled 400 tonnes of e-waste to be sold, a drop in the ocean for now but an idea that is both working and growing. The monetisation side of the app comes from Wastezon taking 10% of all transactions. 

Low Internet Use and Mobile Phone Penetration Means There is a Long Way to Go

It has to be recognised that with a low level of internet connections (especially outside the capital, Kigali) and low mobile phone penetration (though this has dramatically increased to over 9 million subscriptions in recent years), this is an idea that is very much creating a foundation for future benefits. Rwanda also need to transform from a linear economy to a more circular one, though the amount of people repairing appliances rather than throwing away is also increasing. 

As Mukarukundo herself says: “The biggest challenge is the transformation of mentalities and funding.”

Recycling and waste management tend not to be businesses that attract a lot of funding as though the societal and environmental benefits are many, it is not a sector that sees high profits. 

Building for the Future

Mukarukundo knows that they have to keep pushing forward. They plan to expand their business to the cellular network to capture those consumers who do not have smartphones. And as 90% of the waste produced in Rwanda is organic, they also plan to expand their services to include that. 

“I dream of a world without waste, and I believe in the power of technology to achieve it.”

She also dreams of enabling other young Rwandan women to follow her entrepreneurial path and hopes to have her own funding in place one day to achieve that.

With dreams like that, and with the dedication and visions she has been showing for most of her life, there is little doubt that the amounts of e-waste ending up in Rwandan landfill sites will continue to decline and that Mukarukundo’s business will continue to grow. 

Photos : web24.news and media-exp1.licdn.com

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Google Helps African Startups to Grow and Thrive

Comments (0) Business, Featured

Helping Startups

Startups can find the first stages of development very challenging. While many people tend to think of funding and investment as being the main hurdle, there are also other challenges that can make or break a new business. Google’s new Startups Accelerator: Sustainable Development Goals program aims to fill those gaps, help startups meet challenges head-on, and to do so while meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which include inequality, poverty, climate issues, environmental concerns, increasing prosperity, and ensuring peace and justice. 

The programme, new for 2020, is aimed at technology startups in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. The aim is to provide those startups with the expert advice and help Google can provide in order to allow the startup to thrive and build solid companies that can have a social impact. 

On offer are a number of ways in which Google mentors – and some external experts – can assist the business. These include help with technology, advice on design and branding, product development, how to attract funding, and training in leadership skills. 

With 1,200 applications received, only 11 startups were chosen to be part of the first programme, and three of them were from Africa. So who were they? And what will they bring, not only to the Google table, but to the communities they operate in.

Flare – Uber for Ambulances

Aimed mainly at the healthcare sector (though they do also work with fire services), Kenya’s Flare is an innovative app that serves both customers and providers. For customers, it has been described as the medical version of Uber, allowing them to see the closest, or best, options when it comes to medical assistance or ambulances. Founded by Caitlin Dolkart and Maria Rabinovich, who have many years of experience in the medical sector between them, they see Flare as the next-generation 911. 

The 24/7 service aims to have assistance to the client within 15 minutes. And if it does not arrive within 30 minutes, the company will refund your annual membership fee. The service will also allow hospitals and ambulance services to work closer together and for ambulances to update their destination hospital on arrival times and patients’ conditions. 

Solar Freeze – Helping Small Farmers Increase Productivity 

A major issue facing African farmers, particularly smallholders, is the lack of reliable old chain storage and transportation. In fact, an average of 45% of harvested crops can spoil in developing nations due to the lack of these services. Solar Freeze, another Kenya-based startup, aims to reduce that figure and help low level farmers across Kenya increase their output to market and their prosperity. 

With a diverse team of 11 Kenyans, and with an average age of 27 years old, they have produced a solution for the farmers that does not require internet access and runs simply on USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data). Using their service, farmers can access various logistics services as well as portable solar-powered cold storage services that may eradicate any losses after harvesting crops. 

mDoc – Digital Healthcare for Sub-Saharan Africa 

The third African startup joining the programme is Nigeria’s mDoc. mDoc was founded to address the issue of people in sub-Saharan Africa not being able to always access the health services they need. With some 80% of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) occurring in low and middle income countries, this can be a very real issue that causes widespread distress. 

mDoc aims to address these issues by providing both mobile and web-based platforms that people living with chronic diseases can access on a 24/7 basis in order to get care and medical support from a network of providers. They also aim to assist doctors and other medical services to access the patients themselves to offer education on a range of related issues as well as being able to give those patients a self-management toolbox to help with any medical conditions. 

Founded by L. Nneka Mobisaon and Imo Utek, the startup believes that by bringing healthcare and technology together, they can improve the lives of many in the region and also help to develop the full potential of countries and people. 

Looking to the Future, Encouraging Growth

Time and time again, we have seen that technology and innovation can be two of the biggest tools in helping propel Africa forward. By harnessing technology at different levels that can be accessible to rural populations – such as mobile apps and USSD – companies can overcome the oft cited issue of lack of access to internet connectivity. 

Hopefully, Google’s first round of their Startup Accelerator Programme will prove to be a major success and will lead to increasing numbers of new businesses being supported in future years. By including the U.N.’s sustainable goals in their programme, they also ensure that companies aiming for positive social impacts will receive the support they need and deserve.

Photos : techstartups.com and lelab.info and techawkng.com

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Can Bahrain’s Fintech Bay hub lead the region?

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

The Fintech (Financial Technologies) market is a huge one and one that continues to grow. It consists of products, such as apps, platforms, and other technologies, catering to the financial sector. It can cover anything from bank to bank transfer technology through to consumer contactless payment apps. In 2018, the global fintech market had a value of around US$127.66 billion and that value is forecast to grow to $309.98 billion by 2022, an impressive annual growth rate of 24.8%. 

More and more companies are looking to cashless payment systems to pay for goods bought online or in the physical world. One of the industry giants, PayPal, had reached 267 million active users by the end of 2018 and there are many other competitors looking to increase their market share. 

It was perhaps inevitable, in a long evolutionary chain from Silicon Valley and other such sites, that small areas dedicated to companies working in Fintech would emerge. They offer ideal locations for Fintech startups – and some already established companies – to work in close proximity and to encourage tech development. In February of 2020, there were 8,775 such startups in America, 7,385 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and 4,765 in the Asia Pacific region.

Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms 

In recent years, countries in the Middle East have been investing heavily in the future of various sciences and technologies. With Dubai leading the way with the region’s first Fintech hub – now 15 years old – other countries in the region have looked to join a lucrative and booming sector that offers many opportunities and creates new jobs. 

The Findexable Global Fintech Index City Rankings identifies that the growth of these Fintech hubs marks a movement away from the traditional financial centres of the past. While no Fintech companies have yet to make the Fortune 500 or the S&P 500, that could be in part to the very nature of many Fintech companies. They tend to be young and ambitious and often focusing on niche markets such as cashless payments within a small geographical area. And while the traditional centres of the financial industry still feature in any Top 20 list of Fintech hubs, it is the new entries that are most interesting. Cities such as Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms of old and Dubai and Bahrain are not far behind. 

Successful Fintech Hub: Bahrain Is an Attractive Choice

Deloitte believes there are four essential factors needed for a successful Fintech hub: capital, talent, demand, and policy & regulation. Capital is something that is not lacking in the region and the Bahrain hub is aiming to attract talent not only from the Middle East and Africa but from anywhere in the world. By also attracting existing experts in the field, they hope to nurture their own and regional talent. As far as demand is concerned, the demand for new and better Fintech products continues to grow, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and in some ways that crisis has increased need. 

Finally, Bahrain Fintech hub offers many incentives and positive policies that makes choosing Bahrain as a location an attractive choice. With access to international partners and a global network, Bahrain Fintech Hub offers attractive potential to new startups. Its geographical location is also a major advantage as it is ideally situated to not only serve the Middle East and Africa, but also Europe and Asia. Bahrain has also introduced fast track regulatory frameworks that allows it to bring in regulations quickly for newly emerging ideas and products, something other hubs do not always offer. 

Bahrain’s Fintech Hub Can Only Grow 

In January 2020, the Bahrain Fintech Hub announced a major partnership with Standard Chartered, the British multinational financial institution that operates in more than 70 countries. This will not only allow startups access to one of the world’s leading banking group but will also allow Standard Chartered potential access to new ideas as they happen. 

Fintech is an area that will continue to grow, and Bahrain is positioning itself to take advantage of that growth and to challenge the current Top 10 Fintech hubs. Even with a pandemic causing disruption in most business sectors, Fintech experts and entrepreneurs continue to develop new ideas and systems. With the financial backing and strong policies they have in place, Bahrain’s Fintech hub can only grow and grow. 

Photos : bahrainedb.com – bibf.com – unfoldbrics.art – bizbahrain.com

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Agricultural data is becoming big business in Africa

Comments (0) Business, Non classé

Africa can often be a continent of major contradictions, but perhaps especially when it comes to agriculture. The African Development Bank (ADB) released a recent report which stated that the continent contained an astounding 65% of the world’s uncultivated but arable land. Many areas also have an abundance of fresh water. The soil is extremely fertile, and the continent has around 300 days of sunshine every year. And when you look at the working population, in excess of 60% of people work in the agricultural sector in some capacity. 

Yet despite that potential, the continent as a whole continues to import much of its food ($64.5 billion in 2017) and many regions continue to suffer annual famines with around five million Africans dying every year from hunger and over a quarter of the population classified as “severely food insecure in 2016”.

To increase efficiency and productivity – and thus hopefully reduce hunger and reliance on imports – many African countries are now looking to data collection and analysis for solutions and creating a new demand and market by doing so. 

A lot of Challenges to Face

There are a number of challenges that Africa’s agricultural sector faces. As far as development of uncultivated land is concerned, many areas have poor or no transport links. There may be little in the way of communications, little credit to buy the machinery and seed stock needed to cultivate the land, issues with property rights, endemic corruption at local and national levels, a lack of access to technology, and various other issues. 

Many now see the use of data identifying the areas offering the most lucrative prospects as the way to move forward. Coupled with simpler smart phones to be used in situ, data scientists can analyse data from satellite imagery and records of climate and weather patterns to help focus on those initially promising areas. 

Another major problem that faces the sector, and also another that technology may offer a solution to, is that many African agricultural products are subject to the overuse of pesticides (or the use of banned pesticides). This means that they do not pass the stringent standards of target markets such as the European Union. 

Using Technology

Companies such as Acquahmeyer in Ghana are now using drones to monitor the health of crops so as to allow farmers to reduce their reliance on these pesticides. At $5 to 10 per acre, this is a growing data market across the continent. 

The ADB are also investing in data and data collection. As of 2018, they had launched a drone programme partnering with the Tunisian government and the city of Busan in South Korea. The programme will include training 32 young Tunisians on how to pilot drones and collect agricultural data. 

South African startup, Zindi, is another African company looking to harness data to improve agricultural yields. They use their platform to host competitions that brings together over 9,000 African data scientists to crunch numbers and data from satellite imagery and other sources to provide real solutions on – and in – the ground. 

But it is also about different data sets being harnessed to improve agriculture. In Nigeria, the government are undertaking a major registration programme to include its farmers on an electronic wallet system. This will allow the government to make grants and subsidy payments, share information on better farming practices, and help improve the continental supply chain. 

Monsanto Has Established Data Sharing Agreements: Good News for Africa?

Multinational conglomerate, Monsanto, has already established data sharing agreements with the American agricultural machinery producer, Agco. They also launched Climate FieldView in 2018, a tool specifically designed to collect and exploit agricultural data from across Africa. Given Monsanto’s track history, there are justifiable worries that while African NGOs seek to reduce hunger and poverty by increasing crop yields. 

Hopefully, the Pan-African efforts by various parties will continue to yield promising results.

Photos : blogs.worldbank.org / idss.mit.edu / agroinformatics.org

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Dubai Expo 2020: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

It would appear that Dubai can do no wrong at the moment. With visitor numbers in 2019 up 5.1% from 2018 to a new high of 16.73 million, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates continues to look for new ways to bedazzle the world. 

As the first city in the Middle East to hold a World Expo, Dubai has a chance to not only put its own achievements and plans for the future on show but to host countries from around the world willing to share, show off, and sell their own ideas and developments.

But just what is a World Expo?

The idea originated with France’s national exhibitions with 1844’s French Industrial Exposition often touted as the greatest of the time. But it was 1851’s “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ held at London’s Crystal Palace that is seen as the blueprint for all the world expos up to the present day. The London World Expo is viewed as the first exhibition of manufactured products from around the world and is seen as having a major influence on trade, tourism, and art & design for decades to come. 

The development of World Expos is split into three distinct eras. The first, from 1851 to 1938, focused very much on industrialisation, and showcased technological progress and inventions. From 1939 to 1987, it was the era of culture, with the sharing of cultural ideas as well as innovation. The modern era, which began in 1988 in Brisbane, focuses more on the idea of nation branding, with countries seeking to improve their image to potential investors and tourists. 

It is difficult to judge the economic benefits to countries that participate in the Expos. The average cost of a pavilion at Hanover’s Expo 2000 was €12 million ($13 million), a figure that puts many countries off. However, an independent study into The Netherlands’ investment at Hanover estimated that their €35 million pavilion generated around €350 million in revenues for the country.

Few If Any Countries Do It Better Than Dubai

When it comes to nation branding, few if any countries do it better than Dubai. It’s a name that has become synonymous with luxury and with making dreams come true. Global recognition of Dubai is extremely high, thanks in no small part to the state carrier, Emirates Airlines, whose sponsorship deals outstrip any of their competitors. They sponsor Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Paris St Germain, three of Europe’s leading football clubs. 

World Expos take place every five years and last for six months. Dubai won a resounding victory in 2013 at the 154th General Assembly of the governing body of world expos, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

Dubai 2020’s central theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” reflects the philosophy Dubai follows in attracting some of the world’s leading scientists and tech innovators to work in this small gulf state. The Expo also has three subthemes:

  • Opportunity. Bringing together the people with the potential to help shape our future. 
  • Mobility. Creating a smarter world where it is easier for people, ideas, and goods to move around the world. 
  • Sustainability. Respecting the world we live in and finding ways to preserve it. 

The Expo site itself lies in the Dubai South district, within easy reach of three airports (Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai International Airport, and Abu Dhabi International Airport) as well as the Dubai and Abu Dhabi cruise terminals. The Dubai 2020 site will also have its own metro line which will be capable of transporting 40,000 passengers per hour. The Expo site is open from 9am to 1am every weekday and from 10am to 2am at weekends and on holidays. 

Millions of Visitors, 200 Participants, 192 Countries

Over the six months’ duration, millions of visitors will visit the pavilions from some 200 participants representing 192 countries. Given that previous World Expos have given us architectural wonders such as the Eiffel Tower and the Seattle Space Needle, as well as things we now take for granted such as the typewriter or Heinz Tomato Soup, the anticipation is already growing for the Expo’s opening on October 20th.

The focal point of the Expo will be the Al Wasl Plaza, named after Dubai’s historical name of Al Wasl – the connection – due to how it connected people from around the world. The site will have three thematic districts, anchored by an accompanying pavilion, and all linked to the Expo’s theme and subthemes. The UAE will have its own pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava and resembling a falcon in flight. With exhibitions, performances, art, music, gardens, and food from every corner of the globe, Dubai 2020 promises to be as spectacular as Dubai itself. 

Photos : rnz.de / e3.capital/ apnews.com

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Tourist numbers to Dubai continue to grow in 2019

Comments (0) Business, Featured

When you look at most cities in the world that serves as major tourist destinations, they tend to have long and illustrious histories. London and Hong Kong both have histories dating back 2,000 years or more, Luxor dates back over 5,000, and Athens some 3,500 years. But Dubai is very much a modern city in every way with little in the way of history, so it was very much a sandy tabula rasa for the rulers to write their ideas and dreams on. 

Although Dubai has brief mentions in the annals of travellers and traders as far back as the 11th century, it was little more than a waypoint though the general area was popular for pearl fishers. The Al Abu Falasa dynasty founded Dubai proper in the early years of the 19th century and one early historical footnote of interest is the signing of the “General Maritime Peace Treaty” between several of the regions sheikhs and the British government which was the first formal denunciation of slavery in history. 

In 1892, Dubai became a British protectorate, with tax exemption granted to foreign traders in 1894. By the early years of the 20th century, the Sheikh of Dubai had convinced a British steamship company to make Dubai a port of call, perhaps the first real hint of the city’s future. The merchant class gained strength with Dubai cementing its position as the main – and busiest – port in the Gulf, and they continue to be at the heart of the city’s political and power structures.

Dubai had a lean period between 1920 and the late 1960s with economic blows from the collapse of the pearl industry, the Great Depression, and World War II. This period was marked not only by poverty but by political unrest and instability. 

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum : the Modernisation and Revitalisation of Dubai

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum became ruler of Dubai in 1958 and it was he who was the driving force behind the modernisation and revitalisation of the city. The United Kingdom’s announcement in the late 1960s that they were withdrawing protection led to the foundation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 in order for the small kingdoms to work together in defence and economically. 

But it was oil that was the real game-changer for the area but for Dubai in particular. With the discovery of oil in 1966 and the first shipment in 1969, the ruling family now had the funds to start realising their visions for the city.

Emirates Airlines has played a big part in the growth of Dubai. It operates over 3,600 flights a week from Dubai and the geographical location of Dubai has helped it become the major hub for many long-haul flights. The government saw that people looking to break up 15-25 hour flights offered huge potential tourism wise and billions of dollars were pumped into that area. They also realised that as oil production slowed down in the early 1990s – not to mention the constantly fluctuating prices – they need to diversify in order to survive and grow. 

A New Record of 16.73 Million of Tourists

That diversification has seen Dubai become not only a major tourist destination but also a regional centre for finance and real estate. Its diversity is perhaps underlined by the fact that some 90% of its population are foreigners, with many seeing the rich emirate as an ideal hub for many types of businesses.

2019 was a record year, with visitor numbers rising 5.1% from the previous year to a new record of 16.73 million. India keeps its top spot of providing the most visitors, with just under two million tourists, and Saudi Arabia and the UK stay 2nd and 3rd respectively. Omani tourists saw the biggest jump with a 24.3% increase in visitors from 2019. 

So why do so many tourists continue to flock to Dubai? As mentioned, a major factor is the city’s location combined with the routes flown by Emirates Airline. Many people initially chose to just have a one-day layover in the city to break up their long haul flights and to reduce the effects of jet lag. But now, the average length of stay is 3.5 to 4 nights, giving visitors an opportunity to sample some of Dubai’s many attractions. 

The Magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the Splendour of the Burj Al-Arab

And this is where Dubai excels. They have taken a hot and arid desert with average temperatures that range from 25 degrees Celsius to the low 40s and turned it into an air-conditioned paradise for tourists and expats. The magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the splendour of the Burj al-Arab (the world’s tallest hotel) continues to wow visitors. The Dubai Mall offers a cornucopia of shopping and entertainment choices and the Dubai Aquarium attached to the mall is one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. 

But not all the attractions are modern. The beauty of the Jumeirah Mosque is a must-see and the souks of Deira give a glimpse into Dubai’s merchant past. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is perfect for nature lovers and Kite Beach is ideal for those looking to soak up some rays or watch the spectacular kite-surfing. 

Dubai is a destination that offers something for everyone – if you can afford it – and numbers will likely continue to grow throughout the coming decade. 

Photos : gulfnews.com/ arabianbusiness.com/ thenational.ae

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Moroccan-American Team Wins First African Solar Decathlon

Comments (0) Business

In a time where climate change is a phrase on many people’s lips, it is heartening to see renewed efforts to find ways to use renewable energy in our daily lives. One such effort is The Solar Decathlon Africa, first held in Morocco in September, 2019. The principal idea behind the contest is for international collegiate teams to build a house – judged over 10 categories – that is solely powered by the sun. The contest is modelled on the original Solar Decathlon held every second year in the U.S. since 2002. 

The contest has expanded from America, with Solar Decathlons now held in Europe, China, Latin America and Caribbean, and the Middle East, as well as this new one in Africa. 

To Design and Construct a House That Uses Zero Net Energy

The inaugural African competition, held in Ben Guerir in Morocco’s central Rehamna Province, took place from September 13th to the 27th, 2019. With more than 1,200 entrants from 20 countries, the competition is not only international but is also underpinned by international cooperation as many of the teams comprised members from more than one country. 

The idea is to design and construct a house that uses zero net energy. That is to say, the whole house must be powered by renewable energy, in this case solar. Teams are judged over the following 10 categories, with each category offering 10 points to be won (architecture, engineering and construction, market appeal, comfort conditions, appliances, sustainability…).

There were two primary organisers of the competition in Morocco. The first was IRESEN; a research organisation and institute founded in 2011 by the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment, and which cooperates with several of Morocco’s key energy companies. The second organiser was Ben Guerir’s University Mohammed VI Polytechnic. The jury consisted of 27 members, chosen from a wide range of fields including education and business and representing several countries. 

One factor all teams were asked to incorporate into their designs was recognition of Africa’s cultural and architectural heritage. With harsh conditions across the continent, building design has often evolved to recognise this challenge and to include features which protects inhabitants against these climactic factors. A good example of this is the narrows streets and thick-walled houses found in Morocco’s Medina which keep the heat out at the height of summer and in when the winters get cold. 

The Inter House Winner of the First African Competition

The winners of this first African competition were the Inter House Team, a multidisciplinary cooperative effort between Colorado’s School of Mines, Marrakech’s National School of Architecture, and Cadi Ayyad University, also from Marrakech. They used CSEBs (Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks) as their primary building material for the house walls, comprised of 95% local soil and 5% lime cement to stabilize the blocks. Not only do these CSEBs reflect the traditional brickwork of Morocco, but they also provide work for locals while offering a sustainable and energy efficient building material. 

One thing the team wanted to achieve was the marriage of modern and traditional values and styles. Taking inspiration from the famed courtyards which often form the heart of Moroccan homes, the team also made the courtyard the centre of their design. As well as offering a private outdoor space, the courtyard divided the home in two, with sleeping areas to the northwest and living and dining areas to the southeast.

But, of course, the main idea behind these designs was to be energy efficient, a real challenge in the local climate. The house’s CERV (conditioning energy recovery ventilator) utilised a highly efficient heat pump that exchanged energy between the incoming supply and the outgoing exhaust air. Combined with the CSEB walls used, this system not only keeps the house full of fresh air, but also monitors air quality throughout the house using special sensors. The system also allows occupants to monitor and set the home’s VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) and CO2 levels as well as temperature and humidity levels. 

To Allow To Control Lighting, Window Shades

The home also features a state of the art HACS (Home Automated Control System) that allows the homeowners to not only monitor several environmental aspects of the home’s interior but also to control things such as lighting, window shades, etc. 

Power for the house comes from two types of solar panels. The first is a rooftop system that supplies most of the house and the second is a solar thermal system to supply renewable hot water. The way the system was designed using heat transfer eliminates any need for boilers or electric pumps. 

One of the most innovative features of the winning design was its constructed wetland, a specially designed and built black water filtration system. The water filters through rocks and plants where natural bacteria remove or breaks down any toxins or pathogens. This not only sustains the plants in the filtration system but also provides water to use for landscaping or irrigation. 

An Increasing Level of Cooperation across Borders and Between Diverse Organizations

With increasing worry over a changing climate, it is encouraging to see not only innovative ideas in creating energy efficient homes, but also the increasing level of cooperation across borders and between diverse organizations. While the homes in the competition, complete with all their technological gadgetry, are mainly aimed at middle class buyers, many of the ideas will be able to be incorporated into lower income homes in the future. 

Photos : insidearabia.com / iresen.org

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Anbessa: Best Foot Forward for This Ethiopian Shoemaker

Comments (0) Business, Featured

When you think of an international shoe exporter, Ethiopia may not be the first country that springs to mind. Yet Anbessa Shoe Share Company, based in the Akaky Kaliti suburb of Addis Ababa, has been making its mark across Africa as well as several international export markets. 

Originally founded in the 1930s by an Italian expatriate living in Ethiopia, the company has had an at times turbulent past. Operating as DARMAR in the 1950s, it made shoes for men, women, and children. But in the 1970s, it was nationalised by the Derg Regime, the shortened name for the ‘Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia’, a Communist Marxist-Leninist military junta that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987. The fall of communism worldwide also affected Ethiopia and led to the formation of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in February of 1987. 

The company remained under government control until 2011 when it was purchased by the current owner, Ato Tedla Yizengaw. Yizengaw, a serial entrepreneur who owns several thriving Ethiopian businesses, and who has guided Anbessa into a new era with the backing of a strong board of directors.

Anbessa exports to Africa, the USA, EU, Middle East, and Asia

With a staggering 65-70% of the domestic market, Anbessa also exports to the rest of Africa as well as the USA, EU, Middle East, and Asia. While its primary product is shoes, it also manufactures bags and belts, ensuring that no leather is wasted in the production process. 

Its growth and success has been recognised by the Brand Africa 100 ratings, with position #23 in 2018 followed by an impressive climb to #12 in 2019. It is the sole Ethiopian brand recognised in the Brand Africa charts. Export figures for 2017 exceeded $750,000, a figure they hope to grow steadily with a new factory looking to increase production levels.

In September 2017, the company moved into a new UD$15 million production plant in Akaky Kaliti. The primary aim of the new plant was to ramp up production from the previous 3500 pairs of shoes made daily to a new output of 10,000 pairs daily. But Yizengaw is an astute businessman and knows that it’s not just about quantity; he needs to improve and maintain quality to increase their export market. So the company has partnered with the Leather Industry Development Institute (LIDI), an Ethiopian organisations founded in 2010 to offer training to all areas of the leather industry and to improve skills at all levels of the workforce.

To increase their export volume from 10% to 70%

More recently, Anbessa bought the bankrupt Habesha Tannery in July of 2019 for just under 1 million US dollars. This will allow the company to not only produce their own leather but also to have a much more hands-on approach to quality control at every stage of the manufacturing process. Anbessa sees the acquisition of the tannery as a crucial part of their plan to vastly increase their volume of exports. The machinery in the tannery – which Anbessa plans to expand – was worth over US$1 million alone, so it was a clever bit of business. The Turkish company who had owned the tannery had become bogged down in default payments with the Development Bank of Ethiopia. Anbessa hopes that the new acquisition combined with their new factory will increase their export volume from 10% to 70%. 

As well as the quality of their footwear, many commentators point to Anbessa’s business practices as a major positive. All the material they use in production comes from sustainable sources, a major selling point when it comes to international markets. And their focus on fair treatment for all their workforce – up to 1,636 since moving to the new factory – also draws praise. The staff received discounted meals in the factory’s modern and clean cafeteria. Every staff member also receives free medical check-ups, and the factory itself meets stringent safety standards. The company also adheres to International Labor Organization (ILO) regulations, ensuring that all staff are of minimum working age and that no minors are ever employed. 

With experienced and forward-thinking management, a dedicated and well-treated workforce, and quality products that are being more and more recognised internationally, Anbessa is a success story that looks like it will keep on growing. 

Photos: resolution.studio / squarespace-cdn.com / twimg.com

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