Gilbert Diendéré: Coming Out from the Shadows

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Chief of staff to Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s ex-president, Gilbert Diendéré is far more than a jack of all trades; intelligence, information, organisation and control, he is a master of all.

Burkinabé military officer and head of the powerful Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) for almost three decades, Gilbert Diendéré, who was known to lead from the shadows, took an unprecedented step into the lime light on September 17th, 2015.

In a move the General is now calling “the biggest mistake,” he took power of his West African home country, in a coup d’état that lasted a mere six days. After which, he and his army succumbed to mounting pressure to step down.

The coup, which pushed out the interim president, appears to have been an attempt to reinstate his comrade, Compaoré, the man for whom he was the quiet power behind through the former president’s entire time in office.

A Military Force

As the officer who announced the October 1987 coup, this was not Diendéré’s first experience of overthrowing a government. Taking power from the popular and revolutionary Thomas Sankara, with whom Diendéré had trained alongside as a young cadet in the army, he then placed it in the hands of Compaoré.

This was a pivotal time for the General, who was subsequently made head of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). With Compaoré’s blessing, he developed and expanded the RSP into a reportedly stronger and better trained army, which offered its soldiers better conditions and higher pay. It also answered directly and exclusively to the president himself.

Together the pair ruled Burkina Faso for an almost unfeasibly long time. Not until October of last year, when Compaoré’s push to be re-elected resulted in him being ousted by mass public demand, did their reign come to an end. Throughout his time in power, Diendéré has been accused of crimes against humanity. The charges against him include murder and firing at unarmed protestors, allegations for which the General will now stand trial.

Multifaceted Man

Standing at an impressive 6.5 ft, Diendéré may be physically imposing and considered to be one of the most powerful men in Burkina Faso, but until recent events the 56 years old had chosen to exert his power indirectly.

His international connections boosted Compaoré’s network and political status, whilst also cementing his own reputation internationally, particularly in America and France. In 2008 Diendéré was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, one of France’s most prestigious military medals.

The former head of RSP is highly regarded for being well informed, knowledgeable in many fields; particularly that of the West African political affairs, and a skilled negotiator and strategist. Known as a “master of intelligence,” the Burkinabé General has been involved in delicate negotiations with al-Qaeda linked group AQMI and in the release of several European hostages in 2009 and 2011.

A fearless thrill seeker, he enjoys regular parachute jumps and is popular and respected amongst his colleagues. However, it is recognised that the man described as shy and calm, with the formidable “iron fist” handshake, is a man one would prefer as a friend and not a foe.

In the Face of Justice

Just days after the coup began Diendéré conceded, “I am willing to turn myself over to face justice,” and called for his army to lay down their weapons. “I would like the people of Burkina Faso to find a solution to this crisis through dialogue.” He said, after turning himself in on October 1st.

The self-appointed Chairman of the National Council for Democracy sought shelter in the Vatican embassy as crowds on the Burkina Faso streets became violent. Negotiations took place to ensure his safety before he was handed back to the interim government. The Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) was later ordered to be disbanded and the assets of Gen. Gilbert Diendéré, frozen.

What is next for the shadowy figure is uncertain. He remains adamant that Compaoré had no dealings with the latest coup and has openly denounced his own actions. For now the country awaits the delayed elections which will take place on November 29th, perhaps a clever by-product of the General’s failed coup. The complicated history of Burkina Faso informs us that the future is most likely to follow suit, as for the rest, only time will tell.

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African Solutions to African Problems: Ushahidi is Taking the Internet to the Next Five Billion

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Ushahidi's BRCK

Representing a new frontier of innovation in Africa, non-profit technology collective Ushahidi is developing African solutions to African problems

“If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere,” is the motto of Ushahidi, a Kenyan non-profit technology collective which designs and builds open source software and digital tools to help people in the developing world.

Indeed, while in the West technological possibilities are being stretched to their bounds, across Africa something as seemingly straightforward as an Internet connection is unreliable. Figures from the East African Community (EAC) suggest 90% of schools and 30% of hospitals are still off-grid. Only 24% of the developing world is connected to the internet. And, as Ushahidi comments, “power spikes and outages are everyday occurrences in Nairobi and across Sub-Saharan Africa, no matter your income level”. But in a region lacking adequate roads and clean water, developing reliable Internet connectivity is simply not a priority for governments.

There are a number of Western companies working to solve the problem – and at the same time bringing their products to the world’s next five billion Internet users. For example Google has ProjectLink Uganda and LoonBalloon, and Microsoft is experimenting with the TV White Spaces spectrum. But Ushahidi has developed an African solution that really might solve the African problem.

The Internet back-up generator BRCK

Designed to be an “internet back-up generator”, Ushahidi has developed BRCK, a piece of hardware that offers rugged and reliable connectivity. Working like a phone, it can be used in any area that gets mobile signal, as it works by intelligently and seamlessly switching as per the need between the strongest network types in the vicinity (broadband, Ethernet cable, Wifi, CDMA, and 3G or 4G mobile phone networks). It supports up to 20 wireless connections at a time. And it also has up to 16 gigabytes of storage space and a BRCK Cloud connection so it can serve as a back-up server and sync with connected devices and cloud applications.

Designed to face Africa-specific environments, the portable hardware handles the heat and dust of even the most demanding environments. And while it connects to the mains, is also comes with about 8 hours of power back up, can be charged via a car battery, or plugged to a solar charger, combating the region’s lack of reliable energy sources.

“As the next 4.5 billion people (65% of the world) start coming online, the need for rugged, reliable, and simple connectivity becomes critical in places with poor infrastructure and limited resources. While existing technologies work well in modern cities, the demands of emerging markets necessitates a rethinking of how technology is engineered, packaged, delivered, and supported. BRCK was conceived in exactly this type of environment. In particular, our struggles in Africa with reliable connectivity inspired us to rethink the entire concept of rugged internet access device – designing the world’s first go-anywhere, connect-to-anything, always available internet device,” says Ushahidi.

Ushahidi driving innovation in Africa

Indeed, Ushahidi, which is part of the thriving Kenyan tech start-up scene – nicknamed the Silicon Savannah -, developed BRCK as a solution to its own problems. “As a company full of engineers working in places with poor infrastructure, we simply couldn’t get connected as reliably as our peers in the developed world”.

Ushahidi designed and developed BRCK with $172,000 raised on Kickstarter. And in doing so, pushed another frontier of innovation in Africa. Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon in the region, but Ushahidi’s Kickstarter success has kick-started crowd-funded entrepreneurship and innovation.

UshahidiExpanding technology’s reach

Co-founder Ory Okolloh, previously Google’s policy manager for Africa and named by Forbes as “one of the most influential women in global technology”, is committed to bringing the benefits of technological innovation to Africa. The company’s first project, for example, was a location-based crowdsourcing crisis-tracker map developed in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. Empowering individuals to document and report incidents in real time, the software allows users to text, email, tweet, or photograph information which is then plotted on to a map. The idea is that media, governments, and relief organizations can see a live picture of what’s happening on the ground and can target responses in real-time. The map has since been used in India during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, during the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and in Japan during the tsunami in 2011. It has also been used to log medicine shortages across Africa and reports of violence in the Middle East.  The company takes its name from this piece of software; “Ushahidi” means “testimony” in Swahili.

And the company is currently expanding its reach with the launch of a digital classroom – the Kio Kit. Ushahidi explains: “You open a box and there are 40 tablets inside, there is a BRCK inside and on the BRCK there is a Linux [open-source] server — so we can locally cache educational content, and serve it up to the tablets.” Ever prepared for the African environment, the modem is in a watertight, hardened-plastic wheeled suitcase and acts as a wireless charging station.

African solutions to African problems has become a bit of a catchphrase, but the impact of socially motivated entrepreneurs could have huge implications for the technological development of the region.

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Magatte Wade, the New African Global Voice

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magatte wade

39-year-old Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, who made her name in Silicon Valley, has brought the love for her continent and her business flair together to bring the world a taste of African soul and the world to Africa.

If you are not prepared to face a pride of lions or find yourself pitted against the former CEO of Nestlé in a debate on the importance of organics, then step down, you are not prepared to be Magatte Wade.

Walking away from a $32 million business to create her second company in 2009, Magatte Wade is no stranger to making hard decisions, shunning the easy route and following her instincts. Five successful years went into Adina World Beverages before her departure, a company whose concept blossomed from a much loved yet rapidly disappearing traditional Senegalese drink, bissap, made from hibiscus flowers. The brave entrepreneur left behind Adina World Beverages not because it hit difficulties or became financially unviable, but rather due to a realization that her beliefs were no longer in sync with those of the other key stakeholders.

Now the founder and CEO of Tiossan, which produces luxury, organic skincare products, she brings traditional Senegalese recipes to the global beauty and health market, selling online, in high-end boutiques across the US and in their Hudson, New York, based store. Tiossan gives 10% of all profits towards creating innovative schools in Senegal.

“Use the power of brands to change perceptions”

As an entrepreneur Wade saw the disappearing bissaps’ marketing value but more than this, her experience had taught her that branding is the opportunity to tell a story and she had one she wanted to share.

During her first TEDex talk in 2011, the young Senegalese spoke of brands creating a culture. At the time over 50% of the Top 100 World Brands were American and not a single one African. She observed that American culture is in all our everyday lives and she concluded, “America has succeeded beautifully in exporting its own culture,” it being one of the most sought after worldwide.

To Wade this means building a powerful consumer brand of Africa’s own, to put it on a platform to engage on a global level and subsequently having a say on world issues. There are solutions and Africa can be part of it. “I want my continent to be an economic and cultural power.” Rather than sitting waiting for the next trend to come from America, she said “we can change whole world’s problems by addressing those in the US” first. Selling America healthier drink alternatives like bissap, to reduce obesity levels, was a clever example.

Big ideas and big ambitions

magatte wadeAs a girl, she ran free until the age of eight in her Senegal family compound. Always the instigator of fun hunting and fishing trips, she led a pack of boys with her on her escapades, leadership skills she now draws upon greatly.

From her grandmother, who was her main caretakeruntil she went to join her parents in Germany, she was given a “tremendous feeling of confidence and boundless opportunity”. These attributes, she says, taught her more than anything she learnedat school.

Arriving in Germany, school came as a cold slap of new reality. The rigidness she felt from those initial days would follow her to France, where she studied from the age of 10 until 20 and attended PSB-Paris Business School, which lefther seeking to inject more warmth, humanity and soul into the business world. She made connections while on an exchange program to Indiana and moved there in 1997, before finding her way to Silicon Valley nearSan Francisco.

That special something

It appears her grandmother was onto something when she told her she had “something” special and “something”special to give the world. Ranked first in Forbes 2014 ”20 Young Builders of Africa of Tomorrow” as well as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum at Davos, the list of impressive accolades goes on.

A woman of Africa and a visionary for her continent’s future, she remains humble and good humored. About that run-in with the Nestlé heavyweight, it was his un-gentlemanliness that allowed her to gracefully side-step a technical question she didn’t have the means to answer. It was “scarier than the day I ran into a pride of lions on the Okavango. And just as beautiful.”

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Souq.com CEO Ronaldo Mouchawar: Empowering the Middle East through E-commerce

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Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, Ronaldo Mouchawar is the co-founder and CEO of the Arab world’s largest online shopping site and a pioneer of e-commerce in the region. He is also an eloquent symbol of a rising trend that’s seeing entrepreneurs reject the, if not saturated then busy, Western market, so long seen as the choice, in favor of using their expertise and innovative spirit to revolutionize and empower the market at home.

Originally trained in the West, Mouchawar was educated at Northeastern University, Boston, where he obtained a Bachelors in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a Masters in Digital Communications. He also spent the early years of his career in the US working in technology and business management, including a role as technical and systems consultant at Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

But in 2000, he returned to the Middle East with a belief he could improve the Arab world by exploiting the empowering possibilities of technology. He first launched a consulting company managing web and e-commerce projects for the local Arab market, before in 2005 joining forces with Maktoob’s Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury to launch online retail site and marketplace for third party sellers, Souq.com, just as the Arab world began to embrace technology and mobile.

A decade on, Dubai headquartered Souq.com, known as the Amazon of the Middle East, now operates in the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and ships to Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, selling more than 400,000 products from consumer electronics, to fashion, household items, and babywear. And it is growing fast: in the last two years, Souq has expanded ten times over; and in 2014 it saw an annual growth of over 100%. The site sees 30 million unique visitors per month, of which more than 10 million are on mobile. And an app, launched in 2014, has now been downloaded around two million times. There are rumors that Souq is fundraising at a valuation of $1 billion.

It’s some success story. But Mouchawar still considers his company a startup. While in financial terms this cannot be considered true, he says: “If continuing to think of Souq as a startup helps us innovate, then great.”

Innovating the e-commerce model for Arab markets

Certainly, Mouchawar’s ability to innovate has been key to Souq’s success. Originally launched as an auction site modeled on eBay, he quickly redirected the company into a fixed price model, recognizing its potential in the Middle East. And while Souq.com may now superficially seem like a copycat-Amazon, Mouchawar has transformed that business model for the market: he has localized and arabized e-commerce.

For example, Souq.com has gone some ways to rebalance the disparity between the availability of Arabic content online (currently just 3% of all content) and the number of Arabic speakers around the world (around half a billion). Arabic content has become a Souq forte, as are localized promotions, partnerships, and exclusive products. Mouchawar has also adapted operations for Middle Eastern challenges. For instance, in Egypt, only about 10% of the population have credit cards, and in countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 60% of online purchases are still paid for via cash on delivery. Mouchawar has developed prepaid cards which can be purchased in real life (IRL) and used online. He has also overcome an underdeveloped logistics infrastructure by developing a Souq-owned local delivery system offering “last mile” deliveries to places with no mail service or postal address, along with investing in local logistics companies and building relationships with local couriers. Souq teams are also in place in the majority of Souq’s operating countries, to continually innovate local solutions for area-specific problems.

Job creation in the Middle East

But Mouchawar believes his e-commerce solutions can have even further reaching impacts: he believes that e-commerce can empower.

“We believed the Internet and e-commerce specifically could be an empowering tool to support SMEs, and help create a knowledge base economy where we employ as many people and create jobs, as our region needed it,” he says. “It could create badly needed jobs for young people and boost the businesses that are the backbone of Arab economies.” “Imagine the access a merchant can have from a street in Cairo to a customer base in Saudi Arabia, to the UAE. If we can connect all these dots, you will have an incredible customer base.”

The Souq.com website proudly reveals that it employs 1,000 people directly and has provided jobs for another 6,000 people indirectly through its networks of partners, suppliers, and couriers, “not to mention the 75,000+ sellers, many of whom have built their livelihood via the website”.

Unsurprisingly, Mouchawar has become one of the Middle East’s most prominent entrepreneurs, visible and accessible on the startup circuit, speaking at conferences, and looking to inspire where he can.

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Freeman Osonuga: To Space and Beyond

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Freeman Osonuga wired

31-year old Nigerian Doctor, Freeman Osonuga, has 927 followers on Twitter. That number is minuscule compared to 44,700 who follow fellow countryman, and former NBA star, Hakeem Olajuwon. That could change quickly. A man of many hats, Osonuga may have a larger global impact than the basketball player when all is said and done. In 2014, TIME Magazine pegged him as a “Person of the Year” with other Ebola fighters, joining the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pope Francis in an elite club of world changers. What will he do for an encore? Freeman Osonuga may become Spaceman Osonuga, exchanging his Ebola suit for a spacesuit as part of his mission to save the world.

Born the youngest of six children, Freeman grew up in Ogun State, an impoverished area of Nigeria that was once a part of the short-lived Republic of Biafra. He lost his father in his youth, and his mother struggled to send him and his siblings to public schools. At the Olabisi Onabanjo University, he studied medicine and surgery. Osonuga started an NGO as an undergraduate student called Heal the World Foundation Nigeria. The foundation’s objectives are to care for children with disabilities, orphans, and the less-privileged. So far, they’ve helped over 550 children with disabilities and orphans in Nigeria: a good start for a man who strives to save the world.

One of Ten Outstanding Young People in Nigeria

Freeman OsonugaIn his writings, Osonuga has stated that the Heal the World Foundation Nigeria aspires to be the leading organization working with global organizations to guarantee that poverty in Africa is eradicated and becomes an informative display in a museum where it belongs. His work with the group has garnered attention locally and internationally. In 2013, he was named by Junior Chambers International (JCI) Nigeria as one of ten outstanding young persons in Nigeria and was selected by MTN Group Ltd (South Africa) to be one of their 23 delegates to 2013 One Young World Summit in Johannesburg. One Young World is the preeminent global forum for young leaders aged 18-30. It brings together the most promising young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections and develop solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.

The Kruger Cowne Rising Star programme selected Osonuga as a One Young World Ambassador for the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin. Outstanding members of the public and Ambassadors, aged 18-35, were invited to nominate themselves to go on a once in a lifetime trip. Young people from 90 nations cast their vote in Kroger Crowne and One Young World’s global search for an icon of the future to catapult onto the international stage and into space – upon the XCOR Lynx® Spacecraft. Freeman Osonuga put himself in a position to be that icon.

The Meritorious Service Award from President Bai Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone for Osoguna

Soon after the Summit, Osonuga embarked on the most dangerous journey of his short life; he volunteered to battle the Ebola virus at its peak in West Africa for six months with 835 African Union Ebola responders. Over 28,000 people have contracted the virus, and over 11,000 have died during the epidemic, including 230 medical care workers battling it. Freeman worked with a medical team in Magbenteh Ebola Treatment Unit, a 100-bed facility, in northern Sierra Leone. Fortunately, he did not contract the Ebola virus while treating the disease. In his walk through this valley of the shadow of death, he gave hope and comfort to fellow Africans fighting the disease, both those afflicted and the medical team. The Magbenteh Unit had a 65% survival rate with patients and a zero percent infection rate among the medical staff. For his efforts, Osoguna received the Meritorious Service Award from President Bai Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone as well as the recognition by TIME magazine.

Life has not slowed down for the Nigerian doctor. He is a WIRED 2015 Innovation Fellow and recently spoke at their 2015 event with 11 other featured speakers. He has also been named an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society. On October 2, 2015, he was shortlisted as one of three finalists for the space trip sponsored by Kruger Cowne, One Young World, and Xcor Space Expeditions. Freeman will deliver a keynote speech to thousands of delegates and a panel of global business trailblazers at the One Young World Summit in Bangkok in November. After the three finalists give their speeches on topics of their choice, a winner will be announced. If selected, Freeman Osonuga may make history as the first black African to venture into space.

The trip will last about one hour and will blast off in 2016. G-Force training is scheduled for the trip, in the Netherlands, to prepare passengers for their travel outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Osonuga told Quartz Africa that the overall objective of the project is not just going to space; it is to raise global conversations on issues that affect all inhabitants of Earth such as climate change, global peace, and poverty. Godspeed, Freeman Osonuga!

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Lubna Olayan, a Modern Arab Business Leader

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by Sheldon Mayer, Managing Editor

Lubna Olayan appears in “Most Powerful Women” lists every year, featured by Forbes, Fortune, and Bloomberg as a model of modern international business leadership. She was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by her alma mater Cornell University. After her renowned father and founder of OFC summoned her to head the Middle Eastern sector of his OFC conglomerate, Lubna Olayan raised the standards, and quietly began modernizing work flow practices, undaunted by her singularity as the only woman in a conservative, heavily male-dominated Arabic business-scape. Notably she now continues a trend to fill roles in her companies with women who are “deserving” of positions in business and engineering, in what she describes as a unique meritocracy for Middle Eastern businesses. Her meritocracy sweeps across vast borders of business and finance, and as a holding company it is uniquely diverse.

Although Olayan Financing Company is reserved in comments about their revenue and profit, assets are currently estimated to range from seven to ten billion dollars. With the leadership of Lubna Olayan the company expanded into real estate, manufacturing, and partnerships in international brands such as Nabisco and Burger King. Lubna, her brother, and two sisters sit on the board of directors of this global enterprise, each sibling taking a role as leader of a particular geographic area within the global scope.


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From the Bottom(ish) Up: Aliko Dangote, Africa’s Richest Man

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Aliko Dangote is Africa’s richest man. Valued at $17.4billion, this Nigerian magnate is the 67th richest billionaire in the world, one of an elite circle of fabulously wealthy individuals who have made their fortunes in the poorest region of the world. Thirty years ago, Dangote received a loan from his uncle, which he used to break into commodity trading. In the intervening decades, 54-year-old Dangote has managed to build a multinational trading empire.


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Bernard Dunn – the new President of Boeing Middle East

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Bernard Dunn

On May 20, 2015 The Boeing Company named Bernard Dunn the new president of Middle East Division. He succeeded Jeff Johnson who moved to the US in March 2015 to become a vice president of business development at Boeing Military Aircraft.

Dunn is now in charge for fulfilment of Boeing’s strategy towards Middle East and the company’s business development in Middle East region. He is responsible for GR, partnership development, expanding Boeing presence and improving company relationships with customers and shareholders. He will cooperate with the President of Boeing Saudi Arabia Ahmed Jazzaar.


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Dambisa Moyo – Macroeconomist, Author and International Affairs Expert

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Dambisa Moyo

As an internationally renowned economist and author, Dambisa Moyo has analyzed the many aspect of macroeconomics and global current affairs, with focus on developing economies, market trends and finance, earning herself a position as one of the most respected people of our generation. 

Ms. Moyo was born on September 15, 1969 in Lusaka, Zambia, but spent a fair portion of her childhood in the United States while her father completed a postgraduate degree, after which they returned to Zambia. Her father ended up with a career in an academic setting as well as public administration and her mother, with a career as chairwoman at a bank. The success of Dambisa’s parents had set her up with opportunity for her future education and career. She began a chemistry degree at the University of Zambia, however, chose to complete it back in the United States. This was done at American University in Washington, D.C., followed by a Master’s degree in business administration. She went on to obtain a second Master’s degree in public administration from Harvard, as well as a Ph.D. in economics from Oxford, with her thesis on savings- “Why Is It That Some Countries Save and Others Not?” Her interest and expertise lie in a number of fields which include, but certainly are not limited to, business strategy, economic modeling, foreign direct investment, unemployment, commodity supply, currency wars, public markets, U.S. fiscal policies, oil and trade.


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Building the Foundation of Trust from Below: Amine Mazouzi’s New Position as CEO of Sonatrach

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Amine Mazouzi is one of those lucky individuals for whom changes in large Algerian companies are most beneficial. Mazouzi has recently been named CEO of Sonatrach, Algeria’s state-owned oil and gas company, which operates more than 10,000 gas stations across Algeria and produces 90% of the country’s hydrocarbons. Mazouzi’s new position does not, however, come without complications.


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