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African women making strides in technology

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In recent years, there has been a notable resurgence in the matriarchal influence of African women. This resurgence is not only breaking down the former barriers of gender disparity but also helping to influence a new generation of African girls. While this new wave of strong African women crosses several business sectors, it is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the field of technology. These ‘TechWomen’ are not only making their mark in their chosen field, but are helping ensure there are training and work opportunities for other women and girls. There is also now a junior version – TechGirls – aimed at introducing African girls aged 15-17 to STEM. 

African Women’s Day.

Many of these women will be recognized this coming July 31st as part of African Women’s Day. This date was chosen at the first congress of PAWO (the Pan African Women’s Organisation) on 31st July, 1974. It was chosen in recognition of the first ever Pan-African meeting of women (Conference of African Women – CFA) held on that same date in Tanzania in 1962. 

TechWomen

TechWomen is not just a name given to these African women succeeding in the technology sector. It comes from the organisation of the same name, set up by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2011. It targets women from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia who show potential in the fields of science and technology or who need support with innovative ideas. Each year, 100 women are chosen and flown to California and then Washington. In those cities, they are welcomed by more than 50 of the world’s leading companies including Microsoft, Google, Twitter, etc. 

Objectives 

The primary objective of the TechWomen scheme is to support the next generation of female innovators and leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and to offer them access to the leading global companies for mentoring and employment opportunities. Over 200 volunteer mentors and ‘teachers’ from some of the world’s leading corporations give their time to help each year’s winners. There are training courses, lectures, workshops, as well as one on one session to assist the women with any current solo or group projects. 

Moroccan Laureate

One of 2019’s Moroccan laureates was Lamia Fikrat, the winner of her local ‘edition’. She holds an initial degree in engineering from Paris’s Ecole Centrale as well as a Masters in Management from London’s ESCP graduate school. Her fields of interest include the circular economy and also sustainable development (the latter being a huge focus across Africa). As part of their time in the U.S., participants spend a short period in a mentorship placement. For Fikrat, that was with San Francisco’s Environment Department, SF Environment. Fikrat was enthusiast about her experience and the opportunities it affords her fellow countrywomen: “Participating in the program has been an incredible networking opportunity in Silicon Valley. I strongly encourage Moroccan women to apply for it.”

From Tunisia

Tunisia has been involved with TechWomen since 2012. One of their 2016 laureates was Raouhda Lagha, an engineer who works for Sofrecom Tunisia. Sofrecom promote diversity, multiculturalism, and gender equality, so the inclusion of Lagha was a source of immense pride for the company. 

Lagha is also a team leader at Sofrecom, part of their policy of encouraging women to not only pursue scientific and technical careers, but also to seek leadership positions and to move up the management ladder. 

Lagha said of her Techwomen experience: “”Cultural mentorship is particularly useful for people like me working in an international company. It’s important to fully understand the cultural codes and behaviors of contacts and avoid offending people who might have different viewpoints.”

To the Future

As the battle to break down the barriers of gender disparity in Africa continues, programs such as TechWomen and other schemes that offer mentorship and investment are crucial. Equality in the workplace, and in education, are crucial components in the progress of the continent as a whole. Hopefully, TechWomen will continue for many years to come and will recognize the many outstanding women in STEM fields. 

Photos : europeansting.com – sofrecom.com – htxt.co.za – leconomiste.com

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Tunisia Becomes the 21st Member Country of Arabsat

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It was announced April 12, 2018 that Tunisia has been formally elected as a new member country of Arabsat (Arab Satellite Communications Organization) by the Tunisian Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, Anouar Maarouf. Now with 21 member countries, Tunisia enters with a 0.7% stake in the organization and acted as the host of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Arab Satellite Communications Organization in Gammarth.

While there have been issues in the past with member countries acting in a coordinated fashion, Arabsat’s unique coalition and organization structure is a boon to the technology field throughout the Arab world. The addition of Tunisia to Arabsat seems to be a massive win for the quality of services in the region.

Under the new agreement, Tunisian television and radio will now be broadcasting directly through Arabsat due to the creation of a new satellite station with the National Broadcasting Corporation (ONT). Thanks to this change, picture and sound quality will greatly improve to higher levels capable of taking much better advantage of high definition televisions. Arabsat already offers over 500 standard definition, 95 high definition (HD), and 200 radio stations for its user base. With this added footprint, it is very likely that there will be more and more HD programming coming shortly. Better programming will hopefully means more technology sales and a greater incentive to create more diverse programming across the Arabsat networks.

To increase the planetary footprint of Arabsat

With Tunisia on board, Arabsat Executive Chairman, Khaled Ben Ahmed Balkheyour mentioned the satellite telecom coalition is currently seeking to invest over $600 million (1440 dinars) in two brand new industrial satellites. One of the control stations will be located in the Edkhila region of Manouba in Tunisia while the second will be featured in Saudi Arabia. The goal of will be to increase the planetary footprint of Arabsat, and strengthen coverage in the rest of Africa and Europe. Not only allowing for better television broadcasting, but also better internet services, and better maritime and military communications. As of now, the expectation is that each of the new stations will be operational by the first quarter of 2019.

Like with any satellite venture, much of the costs are up front. It requires a great deal of capital to build and launch a satellite into geosynchronous orbit around the planet. Such an early sizeable investment explains the need for over 20 countries at its inception. Making satellite technology viable and profitable takes a great deal of time and effort and backing money. This is a major explanation for the fact that while it was started in 1976 (with much unofficial history before that), Arabsat did not have its first satellite in orbit until 1985. However, in the 21st century, Arabsat has more support than ever as well as the ability to bring in revenue on its own thanks to its robust content and internet offerings. Arabsat has become a major player in the telecom industry and experts say that its very existence is a powerful beacon of collaboration throughout the Arab world.

A new member country: the continued expansion of the organization

As one of the most massive telecom conglomerates in the world, this year’s conference saw the chairman speak highly of the host country, playing up Tunisia’s role in promoting the direction and connection of Arabsat. He also announced Arabsat’s profits in 2017 reaching $120 million (288 million dinars) and a strong hope for future growth in the industry. With Tunisia on board, Arabsat seems to believe the future looks very bright. A greater footprint, more satellite stations, and a new member country signal the continued expansion of the organization and its reach to citizens living and working all over the world.

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Activist Lina Ben Mhenni Continues to Fight for Tunisian Democracy

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Activist and avid blogger, Lina Ben Mhenni is no stranger to both accolades and threats. Through her blog A Tunisian Girl, which is written in Arabic, French and English, Ben Mhenni has reported on the overthrow of the Tunisian government, behind the scenes of the Tunisian revolution and the continued threat of corruption in her country.

As one of the only sources of uncensored information during Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, Ben Mhenni has been awarded the Deutsche Wells International Blog Award, the El Mundo’s International Journalism Prize and received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

The Jasmine Revolution

Born in 1983, Ben Mhenni was exposed to political activism from an early age. Her father, Sadok Ben Mhenni was a left-wing militant, who opposed the regime of former President Bourguiba, and was detained and tortured in prison. Her brother helped establish the Tunisian office of Amnesty International and she grew up hearing her family discussing politics, reading books and watching the news. She started writing a blog in 2007 and later launched A Tunisian Girl to cover issues surrounding freedom of expression, human rights and social problems facing women and students in Tunisia.

From 2008 to 2009 she studied in the United States and taught Arabic at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Upon her return she took a position as a teaching assistant in Linguistics at the University of Tunisia. In May 2010, Ben Mhenni and her friends organized a protest against the government’s censorship of the media via the internet, and by the time the protests against Ben Ali started in December, her blog had become an important source of information for both Tunisians and the international media.

International Fame

For many years Ben Ali had lead an oppressive regime in Tunisia, prohibiting any opposition and abusing human rights. Opponents to his regime were tortured and killed and journalists intimidated and silenced. During the protests, Ben Mhenni visited Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine and was one of the first to report on the atrocities committed there by Ben Ali’s security forces. She published video footage and photographs of police injuring and killing protestors and revealed the victim’s identities online. She also visited victims in hospitals and interviewed their families, publishing everything to her now infamous blog. Never hiding her name, Ben Mhenni put herself at risk to show the world the determination of the Tunisian people to overthrow Ben Ali.

Following the revolution, Ben Mhenni was involved in the interim government’s reforms to media and information laws, but resigned shortly after. However, she continued to track the progress of press freedom and human rights in Tunisia, and attempted to boycott the Constituent Assembly elections due to the fear the leading party, Al-Nahda would buy votes and not be moderate. In 2011 she published a book ‘Get Connected’ and won the Duetsche Welles Best Blog award and was nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The Reach for Democracy VS Clicktivism

Ben Mhenni continues to observe and critique the development of human rights in Tunisia, but says the country still has a long way to go. A new constitution has been written and organized elections have been transparent and democratic, but the regressions are still alarming says Ben Mhenni. Children are still being forced to drop out of school to work, women are dying during child birth due to lack of equipment in hospitals, and people still do not have enough electricity of running water in Tunisia. Ben Mhenni says Tunisia still lacks honest politicians and people who see being a citizen implies rights, but also duties.  

Although Ben Mhenni maintains she has never been an activist, she says people today think they can change the world by clicking the ‘Like’ button. “It is not enough to publish a status, or a video, or share a Hashtag,” she told Huffington Post. “You have to work in the field, meet people, and be present during the demonstrations.” Ben Mhenni continues to act on her words, she and her father have started an initiative to create libraries in prisons to promote culture and thwart terrorism, and she aims to teach the importance of organ donation after receiving a kidney transplant from her mother.

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Foreign tourist numbers up 23 percent in Tunisia in 2017

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TUNIS (Reuters) – The number of foreign tourists in Tunisia rose by 23 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, official data showed, indicating that a vital industry crippled two years ago by Islamist attacks is recovering.

Tourism accounts for about 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product, provides thousands of jobs and is a key source of foreign currency, but has struggled since two deadly militant attacks in 2015.

A total of 6.731 million tourists visited the North African country in the year until Dec. 20, data provided by the presidency showed.

The number of European tourists rose by 19.5 percent to 1.664 million, the data showed. The number of French visitors rose by 45.5 percent and the number of Germans by 40.8 percent in the same period.

The number of Algerians visiting rose by 40.5 percent to 2.322 million.

Tunisia’s tourism revenues rose by 16.3 percent to 2.69 billion dinars ($1.09 billion), data showed.

In 2010 Tunisia’s tourism revenues had hit a record at 3.5 billion dinars with almost 7 million tourists visiting.

The rise is helping the government weather an economic crisis as it plans to raise taxes from 2018, part of reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund in return for a loan package.

High unemployment has driven youth to seek illegal migration to Europe.

($1 = 2.4758 Tunisian dinars)

 

(Reporting by Mohamed Argoubi; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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Tunisia central bank holds key interest rate unchanged at 4.25 percent

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s central bank has kept its key interest rate unchanged at 4.25 percent, an official in the bank said on Tuesday.

The bank last cut its main interest rate in October from 4.75 percent, in a bid to boost economic growth as inflation fell.

 

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Tunisia struggles to attract foreign investment

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Tunisia reports slowed growth as international companies show concern about the difficulty of extracting oil and phosphates as well as high taxes.

Growth of foreign investment in Tunisia has slowed amid concerns about a lack of government incentives and the difficulty of extracting the North African nation’s oil and phosphates.

Direct foreign investment in Tunisian industry amounted to $81 million in the first four months of 2016, an increase of less than 5% over the same period in 2015. A year earlier, direct foreign investment had doubled as the country adopted its first constitution and formed a government in the aftermath of Arab Spring.     

Tunisia lacks appeal to investors for a number of reasons, according to experts.

“Insecurity, high taxation and the difficulty of extraction of potential reserves are the main obstacles that prevent Tunisia from being attractive to foreign investors,” said Radhi Meddeb, chief executive officer of the engineering company Comete.

Tax policy cited

Only 15% of oil company executives believe Tunisian tax policy encourages investment, according to Global Petroleum Survey 2015.

Under the nation’s tax policy, the state gets 80%of the revenue on the sale of oil while the operating companies receive only 20%, even though they bear all of the costs with no help from the government.

Tunisia also has more limited reserves than other sources of oil and phosphates. The Global Petroleum survey estimated the country’s oil reserves amount to the equivalent of about 850 million barrels, compared to nearly 24 billion in Texas. Reserves of phosphates amount to 100 million tons, 20 times less than in Algeria.

While relatively stable compared to other nations that were part of Arab Spring, Tunisia is not immune to political and economic upheaval. For example, Gafsa Phosphate posted nearly $10 million in losses in 2014 amid recurring strikes by transport workers.

Production drops sharply

While 50 foreign companies were operating in the extraction industry in 2010, when the Arab Spring began, fewer than half that many operate in Tunisia today.

Nationally, phosphate production has dropped by nearly 60%, from 8.5 million tons in 2010 to 3.5 million tons. Oil production has fallen by half, from about 90,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 45,000 this year, according to Trading Economics.

On the plus side, Tunisia has announced it will join the Initiative for Transparency in the Extractive Industries, a global standard that promotes accountability and fights corruption in the use of revenues from extracted resources.

Tunisia first applied to join the initiative in 2012, but political instability prevented its membership, according to Kais Mejri, head of governance at the Ministry of Industry.

Tunisia believes that the initiative will make the nation more attractive to foreign investors compared to rivals who are not part of the initiative. “We hope to return next year to the same (foreign investment) rates as before 2011,” said Ridha Bouzaouada, Tunisia’s Director General for Industry.

Part of larger, regional struggle

Tunisia is not alone in its economic challenges.

More than five years of turmoil across the region has created a negative economic outlook, according to Hamdi Tabbaa, president of the Arab Businessmen Association.

Tabbaa estimated regional economies have lost about $1.2 billion in the past five years as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia saw an average decrease of 35% in their gross domestic product.

Direct foreign investment in the region was also dropping. It declined from $48 billion in 2014 to $44 billion last year, well under half of the record high of $96 billion in 2008, according to the Arab Investment and Export Credit Guarantee Corporation.

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Tunisia’s dinar hits record lows over tourism, economic data

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s dinar currency has fallen to record lows versus the euro and the U.S. dollar this week as weaker exports, lower investment and a plunge in tourism revenues have eroded the country’s foreign reserves.

The dinar traded at 2.47 against the euro and 2.13 against the dollar on Wednesday and on Thursday was at 2.43 versus the euro and 2.16 against the dollar, according to central bank figures.

The government was expected to announce new measures on Monday aimed at stabilizing the currency. The North African state’s tourism industry has been shattered by two major Islamist militant attacks on foreign visitors last year.

“The record drop in the value of the dinar is caused by lower exports and a lack of investment that have lowered foreign exchange reserves,” central bank director Chedli Ayari told reporters in parliament on Wednesday.

He said the central bank would not interfere to halt the slide in the dinar because “the level of reserves is still average… and reflects the reality of the Tunisian economy.”

Exports fell 2.6 percent during the first five months of the year while foreign direct investment dropped 5 percent to $268 million in the same period compared to a year earlier, according to government statistics.

Tourism, which comprises 8 percent of GDP and is a key source of foreign revenue, has been struggling.

Islamic State gunmen attacked the Tunis Bardo museum and a Sousse beach hotel packed with tourists within a 3-month period last year, prompting many tour operators to suspend visits to the North African country.

Tunisia’s government is currently trying to push through reforms and some austerity measures to curb its deficit, among the measures demanded by international lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Government spokesman Khaled Chaouket said officials would next week announce measures meant to arrest the fall of the dinar including commerce ministry initiatives. Some analysts expect these to include restrictions on luxury imports.

The weakened dinar may boost smaller local exporters by making their products cheaper abroad, but could also make debt service payments tighter and widen the deficit if the government does not act, said local financial risk expert Mourad Hattab.

“The dinar has never been at these levels against the dollar and the euro,” he said. “But there is a tendency for the financial authorities not to interfere because it is part of the reforms the IMF is demanding.”

 

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Why Tunisia Believes Exports May Ignite Recovery

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Due to political instability and terrorism, Tunisia has been struggling economically. Could exports be the solution?

Tunisia’s economy had been in a fragile condition for many years. Still reeling from the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings left Tunisia and many other North African economies stagnant as a result of the regional instability. The problem was further compounded by risk adverse foreign investors, who came to view countries in the region as unattractive prospects.

Then came the terrible terrorist incidents of 2015. The attacks were designed to undermine the Tunisian economy, and they were successful in doing so. The portents were dire for a country in which tourism accounted for 14.9% of GDP in 2014, whilst employing approximately 12% of the working population.

Exports as the answer

A full-on financial crisis was fortuitously averted by the slump in global oil prices, combined with a good year for Tunisian exports of olive oil. Olive oil production on the European continent was hampered by a historically poor harvest in 2015. Yet Tunisia enjoyed record harvests, which enabled the beleaguered nation to quadruple its export revenues of olive oil from US$ 250 million in 2014 to in excess of US$ 1 billion in 2015. These factors have helped Tunisia narrowly avoid the fiscal brink; additionally they have illuminated a potential escape route from the economic wilderness.

The boom of last year’s olive oil season has set events into motion, as Tunisia can ill afford to let such a success become a one-off. Fortunately the EU has realized this, and in an effort to assist Tunisia they doubled the country’s olive oil export quota back in September 2015. If high production can be maintained, Tunisia can become a perennial player in this area. However, in a microcosm that reflects the overall Tunisian economy, Tunisian olive oil products are exported in their most basic and least valuable form. Value and jobs can be added by exporting refined, branded bottles as opposed to the current situation: exporting raw olive oil that is refined and branded by Spanish or Italian firms.

Transitioning to the exportation of more diversified and sophisticated products is something that would benefit other sectors within Tunisia. As an example Tunisia currently exports crude oil. However efforts are being made to finance and build the necessary facilities that will allow for the exportation of refined oil products. As with olive oil, this will create jobs and generate more revenue from the countries resources.

What needs to be done

At a recent conference to discuss the promotion of Tunisian exports, the President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry Trade and Handicrafts, Wided Bouchamaoui, highlighted the value that an increased focus on exportation would bring to the economy: “Tunisia could raise the value of its annual exports to 100 billion dinars in the next decade.”

However, if such targets are to be achieved, continued oversight will be needed. Due to government intervention, the Tunisian dinar has been overvalued for many years, subsequently hampering exportation as Tunisian goods have been comparatively expensive. In an attempt to remedy the situation the Tunisian Central Bank has allowed the Dinar to depreciate in a controlled fashion. Despite this, the currency is still overvalued by as much as 15% according to some analysts. Further controlled depreciation is an ugly necessity, should Tunisia want its goods priced properly on the international market. This would serve as the catalyst to stimulate Tunisian exports and help reduce the trade deficit (US$ 6.6 billion).

The painful fallout from this policy is that for ordinary citizens their savings have lost value and their buying power has been reduced. The government finds itself in a precarious, high stakes situation: risk social unrest by allowing the currency to slide further, or hamstring the export-led recovery by giving in to public pressure.

Additionally, Tunisia has a major problem with illegal cross border imports and exports, a legacy from the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime. These activities undermine the country’s legitimate export enterprises, discourage foreign investors and deprive the state of taxable revenues. Whilst the current government has taken some steps to eradicate these practices, more must be done to legitimize all cross border trade.

If managed correctly, the export industry can be used as a major weapon in the Tunisian economic recovery. The benefits are numerous: exports can generate much needed revenue for the nation, tackle high unemployment, rebalance the trade deficit, generate new industries and encourage long-absent foreign investment in the country.

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Carlyle sets up $500 mln Europe, N.Africa energy vehicle

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Carlyle Group on Monday announced an investment in Tunisia-focused oil and gas explorer Mazarine Energy which will also receive $500 million to make bolt-on acquisitions in Europe and North Africa.

The deal is the first investment in over a year for Carlyle International Energy Partners, the private equity firm’s overseas oil and gas investment fund, which has more than $2.5 billion at its disposal, CIEP head Marcel van Poecke said.

The size of the investment in Mazarine was not disclosed.

Private equity funds including Carlyle, Riverstone and CVC Partners have built up significant firepower in recent years to invest in the oil and gas sector which has struggled following the collapse in oil prices since mid-2014.

“I think we will see more deals this year. Very slowly the M&A (merger and acquisition) space is starting to pick up,” van Poecke told Reuters.

Mazarine will seek investments in “low cost, low-risk opportunities” in onshore exploration and production assets, Chairman and founder Edward van Kersbergen told Reuters.

The company will focus on onshore fields in Romania, where CIEP acquired assets in March 2015 from Sterling Resources, as well as North Africa.

“We want resources that we can develop in a relatively short space of time at a low technical cost,” van Kersbergen said.

In Tunisia, Mazarine expects to start production of 1,500 to 2,000 barrels per day next year, according to van Kersbergen.

CIEP has in recent years created two companies to invest in assets in the North Sea and the Indian subcontinent.

Neptune, the North Sea vehicle set up by CIEP and CVC Partners a year ago which is headed by former Centrica boss Sam Laidlaw, was expected to make an investment over the next 12 months, van Poecke said.

 

 

(Reporting by Ron Bousso; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)

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Tunisia’s central bank holds key rate unchanged at 4.25%

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East, Non classé

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s central bank kept its key interest rate unchanged at 4.25 percent, the spokesman of bank said on Friday.

The bank last cut its main interest rate in October, from 4.75 percent, in a bid to boost economic growth as inflation fell. Inflation was 4.9 percent in 2015, down from 5.5 percent in 2014.

 

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by Patrick Markey)

 

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