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Africa’s major central banks embarking on policy easing cycle ride

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By Vuyani Ndaba

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa’s major central banks are entering an easing cycle as they try to stimulate growth after months of drought, austerity drives and confidence issues across the continent, a Reuters poll found on Thursday.

Much of southern and eastern Africa is still recovering after an El Niño-related drought wilted crops last year. Poor business confidence in South Africa and foreign exchange restrictions in Nigeria have also hampered growth.

“We expect that African monetary policy is entering a widespread and protracted period of policy easing. This will provide a boost to growth,” said John Ashbourne, Africa analyst at Capital Economics.

Ghana, which agreed a three-year fiscal discipline deal with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for aid in 2015, cut 100 basis points from its benchmark interest rate in May and is expected to do the same on Monday, putting it at 21.50 percent.

Medians in the poll predict South Africa will make a first quarter trim of 25 basis points to 6.75 percent and while Kenya will hold steady on Monday it is expected to cut 100 basis points to 9.00 percent in the second quarter of next year.

Nigeria is expected to hold rates at 14.0 percent on Tuesday, and through this year, but will reduce borrowing costs by 175 basis points across 2018.

BATTERED CONFIDENCE CHIPS AT GROWTH

Aly-Khan Satchu, CEO of Nairobi-based Rich Management said policymakers in Africa’s biggest economies have lost credibility and it would be difficult to regain that.

To try to reduce demand for dollars, Nigeria banned the importing of 41 items, but that only fuelled the gap between the official and black market rates for its naira currency.

The policy, alongside a commodity price slump that hurt oil exports, has since 2015 forced its central bank to hike the benchmark rate 300 basis points to 14 percent as it tried to deal with much faster inflation and restore the currency’s strength.

Nigeria — Africa’s biggest economy — fell into recession for the first time in 25 years in 2016 but is expected to turn in growth of 1.0 percent this year and 2.5 percent the following.

South Africa is expected to expand 0.7 percent this year after escaping a six-month recession last quarter that was partly due to weak confidence and drought.

Confidence in South Africa’s economy has been sapped by the chopping and changing of finance ministers four time since the end of 2015 by President Jacob Zuma. The last change in March triggered a credit rating downgrade to “junk” status.

Kenya is expected to grow 5.2 percent this year and 5.9 percent next.

Growth slowed to 4.7 percent in the first quarter, hit by a credit slow down after authorities late last year capped the interest banks could charge on loans.

However, Ghana is expected to fare better than most, growing 6.1 and 6.8 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, supported by the IMF programme, recovering from 3.5 percent last year.

On Tuesday, President Nana Akufo-Addo said Ghana would not extend its three-year aid programme with the IMF beyond April 2018, but the fund urged it to do so to allow time to complete the programme’s goals.

 

 

(Editing by Jonathan Cable/Jeremy Gaunt)

 

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Kenyan shilling inclined toward depreciation as oil demand weighs

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Kenyan shilling was broadly stable against the dollar on Monday, but some demand from oil and merchandise importers was seen giving the local currency a depreciation bias, traders said.

At 0757 GMT, commercial banks quoted the shilling 103.30/40 per dollar, compared with 103.25/45 at

 

(Reporting by John Ndiso; editing by Elias Biryabarema)

 

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Kenya government to guarantee $750 million in Kenya Airways debt

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By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya will offer $750 million in guarantees to Kenya Airways’ existing creditors to help the heavily-indebted carrier secure financing from other sources to complete its recovery, a cabinet document showed on Tuesday. The guarantees, approved by the cabinet, will cover $525 million owed to the U.S. Exim Bank and the rest to local lenders, said the document seen by Reuters.

The airline, partly-owned by Air France KLM and the Kenyan government, has struggled to return to profit after tourist traffic slumped four years ago following a spate of attacks by Somalia-based Islamist militants.

The government will also convert its existing loans to the carrier into equity, it said. It was not immediately clear how much it has lent the carrier, but a source at the airline said it was a “significant” amount lent over time. The plan to guarantee the existing debt will be taken to the National Assembly for approval, the government said.

“The guarantees would be in exchange for material concessions to be provided as part of the financial restructuring which would secure future funding for the company,” the cabinet document said, without giving details on the concessions.

The government views the airline as a strategic asset, supporting other industries such as tourism and encouraging investments from abroad. Several international firms have set up their regional headquarters in Nairobi to take advantage of Kenya Airways’ extensive route network on the continent. Kenya Airways ferries 12,000 passengers a day on its fleet of Boeing and Embraer planes to destinations such as Juba and Accra.

At 1012 GMT, Kenya Airways shares were down 1.5 percent at 6.65 shillings.

The government would not provide additional cash as part of the restructuring of the airline, it added.

The debt owed to the U.S Exim bank is related to the financing of the purchase of the carrier’s Boeing planes. Kenya Airways says the financial restructuring will involve restructuring debt and securing additional capital to help dig itself out of a position of negative equity, and attain a better balance between cash flow and debt repayments.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Mark Potter)

 

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Kenya’s finance minister opposes capping of banks’ lending rates

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s Treasury opposes a move by parliament to cap commercial lending rates because other measures being put in place will help bring down borrowing costs over time, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

Parliament passed changes to the banking law two weeks ago to cap commercial interest rates at 400 basis points above the central bank’s policy rate, now 10.5 percent. The changes are awaiting presidential approval.

Henry Rotich, the finance minister, told Reuters his ministry preferred to improve the transmission of monetary policy signals to commercial rates and the creation of a central registry for collateral to cut rates, rather than capping them.

“Our approach in this issue is to deal with the root cause of why interest rates are where they are in Kenya,” he said.

The average lending rate was 18.2 percent last month, compared with 15.8 percent in July last year, the central bank said. The central bank cut its policy rate to 10.5 percent in May, having left it at 11.5 percent since July 2015.

Rotich said they were working to improve the Kenya Banks Reference Rate (KBRR) to ensure banks were pricing loans correctly.

Introduced by the government in 2014 to help rein in high costs of loans by offering a benchmark for banks to price their loans, the KBRR has been criticised widely for failing to help bring down interest rates.

“There is more room for refining the KBRR and banks are working on ensuring that the margins reflect the best pricing of loans,” the minister said without offering details.

He said a law to establish a central registry of collateral would be taken to parliament soon, enabling borrowers to transfer their loans between different banks easily and cutting costs of securing collateral once it is passed.

“We think these measures are going to help to bring down rates over a period of time,” Rotich said.

Kenyan banks have reported rising profits in the last decade, attracting foreign investors. Rotich said the growth of the sector had helped to boost the share of the population with access to formal financial services to 70 percent.

“We don’t want to rock that boat … Anything that reverses that would not be a good way to go,” he said.

The central bank also opposes capping interest rates saying it could restrict lending. It however wants banks to lower their rates.

Rotich said the government’s budget deficit for the fiscal year starting last month would be lower than the 9.3 percent approved by parliament, adding they would also raise money in capital markets abroad to avoid putting pressure on local rates by borrowing too much in the domestic market.

“Our strategy is to diversify our sources of funding so that we don’t borrow heavily domestically,” the minister said.

(By Duncan Miriri, Editing by Richard Balmforth)

 

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Strikes unlikely to curb Kenya tea output

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Several weeks of strikes by tea pickers in Kenya’s biggest estates in June and July are unlikely to disrupt production enough to warrant a change to the forecast for the year, the agriculture industry regulator said on Thursday.

Tea pickers were awarded a 30 percent pay increase by a court in June but went on strike when tea estate owners refused to pay, saying it would drive up costs and deter investment.

Tens of thousands of pickers in the major growing regions of Nandi and Kericho went on strike in protest. Pickers have since returned to work after the Labour Ministry brokered a deal allowing the award to be implemented in two phases.

The East African nation, the world’s No. 1 exporter of black tea, expects output to jump to as much as 450 million kg this year, thanks to good rainfall, from 399 million in 2015. Tea is one of Kenya’s top foreign-exchange earners.

“There is no change to the output forecast,” Alfred Busolo, acting director-general of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Authority told Reuters, adding that the impact of the stoppages was “minimal”.

The government is working to remove numerous levies and taxes on the tea industry to make its exports more competitive.

The labour stoppages had mainly affected big tea estates in the Rift Valley region, which account for 40 percent of production. The rest comes from small-scale farms.

 

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Edmund Blair and Dale Hudson)

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Catherine Mahugu: Inspiring Women in Kenyan Tech

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Catherine Mahugu

Catherine Mahugu is a tech innovator from Kenya who has built an empire on socially beneficial projects and connectivity.

Catherine Mahugu is leading the way in the Kenyan tech industry. Currently working from San Francisco for her e-commerce accessories business which connects consumers and local African manufacturers, she has made waves across the tech, IT and retail worlds. She credits her early interest in science and technology to her engineer father and at just 27, she has achieved a great deal in these industries.

Early life

Mahugu graduated from the University of Nairobi with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. From an early age she broke the mold, favoring entrepreneurial projects over “corporate” roles that she considered to be the “safe option.” Her first projects were collaborations with her student colleagues at university, such as a mobile application that helps rural water vendors connect with customers by advertising their location and prices.

Combining her degree, enterprising spirit and intimate knowledge of the regional issues affecting her native Kenya, Mahugu has been at the forefront of creating many projects that benefit local people. Her first official foray into the tech world was with KamataKab, a mobile solution that uses GPS to locate taxis in the area, an option to contact and then a rating system to rate the taxi’s service for other users to utilize. Although this was the overall winner at the Garage4Kenya awards in 2011, Mahugu knows that this app was a little too ahead of its time; it didn’t meet the recent successes of Uber and Easy Taxi today. This hasn’t fazed Mahugu however, and she feels that the experience showed her that innovation was a viable career route and that her ideas had traction in the tech world.

Innovation, Innovation, Innovation

The building blocks to her latest enterprise can be seen in her next project, SasaAfrica. This provided the foundations for Soko, launching an app that allowed merchants to connect with customers using only their mobile phones. The idea for the projects came from a chance meeting with the two other founders while in Nairobi. They all believed in a future for mobile phone technology to help African enterprises. With the percentage of mobile phone usage up to 90% in some parts of Africa, they realized that is was an obvious global solution to connectivity issues between consumers and vendors. After seeing many predominantly female artisans at local markets struggling to sell their ware to a limited customer base, they decided to launch a global marketplace that these vendors could access, in which they could accept orders and then organize distribution.

soko artisans

Profiles of the artisans on the ShopSoko.com website

Now based in California, the company helps over 1,000 artisans sell their products to a global community. After joining the Soko network, users see their yearly income increasing by a massive 400% on average. They now operate in over 40 countries and plan to expand to reach vendors in Mexico and India. Mahugu is committed to overcoming the challenges that many Africans face. They were confronted with supply issues from vendors, caused by problems such as inconsistency of electricity, so they are adapting their business model to include trusted, shared spaces where artisans can create and collaborate.

Mahugu knows the struggle many women face coming from traditional backgrounds, having less access to education, and to the outside world. She is committed to rebalancing gender inequalities and believes that “when one woman helps another, amazing things can happen.” She is a role model to young women, particularly in the tech-world. When she was expanding her business, and receiving no applications from women for the technology roles, she realized something had to be done to appeal to women like herself. She explained that the gender imbalance in the tech industry was “a harsh reality that dawned on me, and that we still need more women in technology and collaboratively need to promote this awareness.” Social enterprise and IT seem to be a winning combination for Mahugu, and her commitment to social justice and interest in empowering other women in the tech-world make her a person worth keeping an eye on.

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Kenya Airways says full-year pretax loss narrows 12%

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya Airways Ltd narrowed its pretax loss by 12.2 percent to 26.1 billion shillings ($257 million) in the year to end-March, it said on Thursday.

The carrier, which is part-owned by Air France KLM, has been reducing its fleet, selling land and cutting jobs to recover from losses caused by a slump in tourism and the cost of renewing its fleet.

Finance director Dick Murianki said the airline, which says it ferries 11,500 passengers a day, reduced its operating loss by 75 percent.

Gross profit rose 42 percent and the operating loss shrank to 4.1 billion shillings.

“We have taxied and we are aligned for take-off,” he told an investor briefing.

Passengers numbers rose to 4.23 million from 4.18 million as the proportion of occupied seats, the “cabin factor”, rose 5 percent to 68.3 percent.

However, a firmer dollar against the shilling during the year, higher financing costs and fuel hedging losses offset the impact of higher revenue, the airline said.

Chief Executive Mbuvi Ngunze said they were raising funds to support the airline’s recovery. He did not give details.

He said the main risk facing the carrier was uncertainty around Kenya’s presidential election, set for August 2017.

The airline’s shares fell 10 percent to 4.25 shillings midway through the session, after the results were released.

 

($1 = 101.4000 Kenyan shillings)

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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Kenya’s new vehicle sales plunge 30% in first half

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – The number of new vehicles sold in Kenya dropped 30.2 percent in the first six months of this year from the same period last year mainly due to high lending rates.

Most buyers of new vehicles, like light commercial trucks, rely on asset financing facilities by banks and interest rates were as high as 24 percent during the period.

The east African nation’s car market is dominated by low-priced second-hand imports from countries such as Japan, but investors monitor new car sales to gauge the health of the economy.

Vehicle assemblers, including GM, sold 6,946 cars in the period, down from 9,953 in the first half of last year, The Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers Association said.

Sales were not expected to pick up soon due to political uncertainty over an election set for next August and a new 20 percent excise duty on new vehicles imposed by the Treasury last month, the association said.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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From Tragedy to Tech Triumph: Mubarak Muyika

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Mubarak Muyika

The remarkable story of Mubarak Muyika and his burgeoning tech empire.

The tech scene is exploding across Africa as ambitious young entrepreneurs are changing the face of the continent. Kenyans have been at the vanguard of the action in recent years. One individual currently making big waves is Mubarak Muyika, a dynamic 22 year old with a colorful past.

Muyika was born in Western Province, Kenya. His father was a prominent civil servant and his mother was a high school teacher. Unfortunately, his young life was marked by tragedy: his father passed away when he was two years old. Then, when he was ten, his mother died and the young orphan was taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband.

Great Beginnings

It has long been observed that tragedy seemingly makes, or breaks an individual. In Muyika’s case, it was most certainly the former. He was known as a sharp and gifted student and it was in the early days of high school that his tech-entrepreneurial promise first blossomed.

Aged 16, Muyika developed the “enhanced petrol tracker.” The tracking database was designed to mitigate government mismanagement of oil resources by more efficiently cataloguing oil tanker movements, oil flow and demand. The project was incredibly well received. He was recognized as the best student in the computer exhibit category at the annual Kenya Students Congress on Science and Technology.

His adoptive parents were the owners of a book publishing and distribution company, Acrodile Publishers. Mubarak realized that the web presence provided by their current website manager was substandard and expensive, bottlenecking the company’s productivity. He taught himself PhP, Java and HTML and built a highly functional website for the business.

Business Blossoms

On the back of his newly earned skills, Mubarak launched his first business, Hype Century Technologies and Investments LTD. The company offered website designation, management, domain reselling and hosting services. He enlisted the help of two friends and the business quickly began to take off.

In a 2012 interview, Mubarak spoke about Hype Century’s remarkable success in the startup period: “By May after our first financial year we had about 1,800 domains which represented clients in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and some in the RC (Republic of the Congo). That was something that I can say is the biggest achievement, in terms of where the company is today.”

It was during this early period that Kenyan multi-millionaire Chris Kirudi realized Mubarak’s great potential. Through his contacts he recommended Mubarak for a scholarship to one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard. Incredibly, Mubarak turned down the scholarship in order to focus on his business ventures, demonstrating extreme belief in his own talents and entrepreneurial ability. He is a man who knows his own mind. He gave insight into his tenacious business philosophy, saying, “If you are in a society with intelligent people who have a plan and a strategy, you need a plan, a strategy, speed and aggression. That is the only way to succeed in Africa.”

Soon, Mubarak’s business attracted heavyweight attention. International tech investor Jignesh Patel teamed up with the rising star, buying a 25% stake in the company. This proved to be a shrewd move, as Patel’s connections and experience propelled the firm to even higher heights.

A Bright Future

Zagace platform

Zagace platform

However, Mubarak soon felt the itch to challenge himself further; he clarified his decision to move on from Hype Century saying, “I had the feeling that I was not maximizing my potential. I opted to sell my shares and develop a new venture.”

In 2013, he settled a deal netting himself a cool six figure settlement for his 60% stake. Astonishingly, Mubarak was still only 19 years old.

His newest venture, ZAGACE is both ambitious and innovative. His firm offers a unique service providing a completely integrated, online business management toolkit for small and medium sized companies. ZAGACE allows users to manage human resources, inventory, accounting and communications all through a series of well designed, instanced apps. The concept has been lauded as ingenious and effective.

Eager to feed his business with the best talent available, Mubarak has recently moved his operations to Silicon Valley, USA. The young Kenyan means serious business, and the world has noticed. In 2015, he was named one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs in Forbes 30 under 30, while Yahoo named him one of nine “Mark Zuckerbergs” of other countries. With his talent, resilience and determination, Mubarak Muyika is setting the tech scene ablaze. We will no doubt be hearing more about him, very soon.

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Kenyan Geothermal power continues its expansion

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Kenya Geothermal Energy Project

Kenya continues to attract interest with its extensive geothermal energy schemes.

In the space of only a few years, Kenya has shifted its entire focus on energy, and created unprecedented growth in geothermal production. While hydro-electricity has long been the nation’s main source of power, the Kenyan government now hopes that by 2030 only 4% of the country’s energy will be hydro-electric. The notoriously unreliable rains of East Africa make a shift to geothermal power a sensible choice, and Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is proving to be a giant source of energy.

Power from within

It was back in the 1950’s when the first exploratory wells were dug in the Rift Valley. The Olkaria region of the area was quickly ascertained to have serious potential for energy creation. Under the surface there is a seething mass of geothermal activity that blanketsthe area with hot springs and bubbling, sulfuric fissures. It is no surprise that the national park in which Olkaria is found is known as “Hell’s Gate.”

Within 10 years of the first drilling, the Kenyan government, working alongside the UN, began more in-depth assessments of the energy potential that bubbled beneath the ground. By 1981, the first geothermal power plant had opened in Olkaria, with an initial output of 45 MW.

Kenya geothermal energy

Kenya geothermal energy

Harnessing this natural energy became a large project, with over $1 billion of investment over the next 20 years. However, it was an investment worth making, as Kenya’s energy demands have rocketed as the nation develops. Considering that in 2008 only 25% of the population had access to electricity, this demand was only going to increase. As such, the government developed its Vision 2030 program.

A bolder vision

Vision 2030 was launched in 2008 to outline Kenya’s plans for energy expansion that would facilitate rapid economic growth. However, droughts highlighted the unreliable nature of Kenya’s hydro-electric dependency, and in 2013 the project was updated with Olkaria’s geothermal plants the priority.

Olkaria expanded rapidly in the 21st century, with Olkaria II opening in 2003 and expanding its production in 2013. Olkaria III hosts a 110 MW generator to add to the combined power of 290 MW coming from Olkaria sites I and II.

As recently as 2014, Olkaria opened up site IV that hosts a further 140 MW of power, as the company KenGen has worked closely with multinational companies to further its production.

KenGen is the company responsible for Kenya’s geothermal production, and as a majority government owned body it has made massive inroads into expanding the energy supplied by the Rift Valley’s activity. Alongside companies like Toyota and Toshiba, KenGen has created a huge increase in the energy produced from Olkaria.

The financiers supporting its growth include the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, which hope that affordable, green energy will have even more far reaching effects. Diarietou Gaye, the World Bank’s country director for Kenya, said, “That’s why we are investing in the energy sector… [it] is a key infrastructure investment in the fight against poverty.”

This is borne out by figures quoted from KenGen CEO, Albert Mugo, who stated that the increased production from Olkaria had seen a 30% drop in energy costs for consumers since 2014.

Continued Growth

The expansion of Kenya’s geothermal power base is far from complete. The development of Olkaria V is already underway, and there are plans for an Olkaria VI site. Moreover, the fact that Kenya is now the 8th largest producer of geothermal energy in the world has attracted interest from neighboring nations. Ethiopian president Hailemariam Desalegn recently visited Olkaria, and the two nations have agreed to work side by side in the development of renewable energy.

Geothermal energy looks set to be at the forefront of Kenya’s energy revolution, and will surely play a vital role in the country’s continuing development.

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