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Africa’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2022

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Between the digitization of informal trade and agriculture, new banking options for those without banks, and co-working opportunities, the African continent is ripe for investment. With the release of the Statista report by the Financial Times on Africa’s fastest growing companies, three stand out – Wasoko, Flocash, and AFEX.

The African continent is a unique and rapidly-evolving economic environment. In recent years new opportunities have arisen to fill the newest niches, from the digitization of informal trade and agriculture, to new banking options for those without access to traditional brick-and-mortar banks, to co-working opportunities; the African continent is undergoing a change. With the release of the Statista report by the Financial Times on Africa’s fastest growing companies, it is possible to get an insight into what businesses are flourishing in the current environment. The list of fastest-growing companies is dominated by technology providers in every industry including agriculture, financial services, logistics, and transport. The top three of these are Wasoko, Flocash, and AFEX.

Wasoko – 346% compound annual growth

The informal retail sector is huge in Africa, with hundreds of billions of dollars of product sold yearly from shops and kiosks. Yet these sellers have little access to capital, and face challenges getting goods either regularly, or on time from suppliers. This is where Wasoko comes in. It has become a full-scale distributor, owning and leasing facilities in the supply chain from warehousing to logistics. It began in Kenya, but quickly expanded into Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda, the Ivory Coast, and Senegal.

Wasoko allows retailers to order products from suppliers via SMS or its mobile app for same-day delivery to their stores and shops via a network of logistics drivers. The company also offers a buy now, pay later option for retailers who need working capital to order more goods. The company is trusted by over 50,000 retailers and has over 1,000 employees, with their revenue having gone from 0.3 million in 2017 to 27 million in 2020.

Flocash – banks for the unbanked

In a continent where around 57% of the population do not have a traditional bank account, making electronic payments is difficult. With the growth of e-commerce, and greater prevalence of internet access, it was doubtless that someone would step in to fill the void. Flocash, a provider of payment services across Africa and the Middle East is the fastest-growing. It offers more than 200 payment options, 20,000 cash points, and 30 different currencies.

The company currently covers 60 different countries and has more than 400 million customers, with a compound growth of 275% and revenue going from $0.121 million in 2017 to $6.3 million in 2020.

AFEX – the reference point for commodities

Until 1990, commodity exchanges were generally restricted to industrialized nations but the rise in affordable technology has seen them spread globally. Commodity exchanges began to emerge in Africa in the 1990s but the only successful exchange was the South African Futures Exchange which was birthed from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited provides commodity brokerage services. The company has been developing a viable commodities exchange and supply chain infrastructure to support agricultural products since 2014, and it reached $31 million in revenue in 2020.

Many notable companies in the top 10

There are many interesting companies listed among the fastest-growing in Africa. Starsight Energy is ranked number 6, and delivers comprehensive, end-to-end solar solutions. AfricaWorks is a partner with Seedstars and offers workplace solutions, including co-working spaces with a compound growth of 238%. Lori systems has built an e-logistics platform that is revolutionizing the cargo-transport value chain in frontier markets from the ground up, currently number 7 on the list.

Considering that the current two biggest companies in Africa by revenue are oil and gas companies, and the third is a timber company, this could be seen as a sign of the continent becoming more developed, and moving away from traditional resource extraction markets.

Photos : breakingnews.com – ft.com

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The historic train line linking the UAE and Israel among new infrastructure projects

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The historic train line linking the UAE and Israel is among several agreed infrastructure projects following the Abraham Accords in 2020. The two countries seek to forge closer relations, with the line set to allow Israel to access new markets in the UAE, eventually carrying passengers from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. 

A historic re-opening to a historic line connecting Dubai and Haifa

At one time in the past it was possible to take the Hejaz Rail Line from Medina in Saudi Arabia to Damascus, and then onward to Haifa. After the establishment of the State of Israel however, this stopped, but based on comments made at Expo 2020 in Dubai from Merav Michaeli, Israel’s Minister of Transportation and Road Safety, the Al-Marj Train, built on the historic Hejaz line, may soon be running again. According to Michaeli, a train out towards Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, from Dubai to Haifa, is one of several big infrastructure projects being discussed between the UAE and Israel to build better relations and increase co-operation.

A sign of improving relations

The joint infrastructure projects are a sign of improving relations between the two countries which have had strained relations in the past. Israel was called ‘The Enemy’ by the first president of the United Arab Emirates, and there was another rocky period following the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in 2010. In recent years though, the relationship has taken a big step forward with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, the first public statement normalizing relations between an Arab country and Israel since that of Jordan in 1994, and the establishment of diplomatic embassies in Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. More than 50 agreements have now been signed between the two nations in diverse sectors, including the train line from Haifa to Dubai.

The Al-Marj train line in Israel, connecting the towns of Haifa and Beit She’an re-opened in Israel in 2016, connecting the Jordan River Crossing, Jalamah, and the Jenin area in the West Bank. The idea was that it could be extended towards Saudi Arabia and the gulf. Eventually, it would link Haifa to Dubai. As far as infrastructure projects are concerned, this is a relatively easy one to start with as the tracks needed for the rail connection are nearly all in place. With the exception of 200-300 kilometers of line that remains to be built in Jordan, the line is ready to connect the UAE and Israel.

Benefits for everyone involved

Once all the tracks are in place, goods from Israel can be transported to the UAE within a couple of days, rather than the approximately 12 days it currently takes when shipping along the Suez Canal. It will also allow Israeli producers to access new markets – fresh vegetables in particular are in demand in the UAE.

The project, backed by the United States, will also benefit the economy of Jordan. Jordan is in desperate need of an economic boost, with unemployment on the rise and reaching 25% in 2021, with youth unemployment rates reaching an unprecedented 48.1%. Both the employment created by the building of the infrastructure for the rail line, and revenue from the long-term operation of the line will inject much-needed funding to the country.

Egypt watches with wary eyes

Not everyone in the region is excited about a possible new railway line between Israel and the UAE. In Egypt, where Suez Canal revenue is the third largest source of national income, representing 10% of the GDP and an important source of hard currency, a land passage between Israel and the Gulf states is not welcome news. Nor are reports that the UAE intends to buy Haifa Port in Israel, leading Egyptian economists to talk about the upcoming impact on Egypt’s economy from the two states forging closer relations.

While the agreement is a big step, there are still many challenges before the line becomes operational. Nonetheless, the prospect of rail travel from Abu Dhabi to Israel leads to the question: Will Israeli passengers be able to travel to Abu Dhabi by train, like they could on the famous Hejaz Rail Line back in the time of the Ottoman Turks? According to the ministry, the network will one day be able to transport passengers from the Mediterranean to the east, and between the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Iraq to the west. Perhaps in time, after the successful launch of rail transit of containers between Dubai and Israel via Jordan and Saudi Arabia, passengers will be a possibility again.

Photos : whatson.ae

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Realizing the digital potential of Africa requires a regional data governance framework

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There is an urgent need for a data governance framework across the region that is supported by robust, empowered institutions which can support development and allow for entrepeneurship to flourish, offering huge possibilities for the African continent.

Rapid digital growth could drive big developments in Africa 

Rapid digitization offers huge possibilities for the African continent, galvanizing regional developments like free trade areas and structural transformations that in turn promise economic and social growth. Moreover, with the pandemic proving that digital access is a necessity for all, creating secure, reliable digital infrastructure should be a priority for everyone. But while African countries have benefited from technological uptake across health care and economic sectors, there is a large digital gap, and threats ranging from digital monopolies, to lack of electricity, to inefficient regulation could slow this digital revolution. Implementing a data governance framework for the entirety of the continent is therefore a crucial next step.

A regional approach to data governance

A data governance framework is the collection of rules and processes that ensure privacy and compliance with enterprise data management in a country or region. With rising cybercrime, ransomware attacks, and identity theft, ensuring that all organizations and governments are following an established set of rules will offer safety to consumers and encourage confidence for entrepreneurs. There are two broad sets of laws:

  • Safeguard laws are the most well-known. These are laws focused on data protection and privacy, and in 2021 some 52% of African countries had enacted at least one form of data protection legislation.
  • Enabler laws are less commonly known. The idea of enabler laws is to support development outcomes, and policymakers in Africa should scale-up efforts on this type of policy. Investment into information technology infrastructure, improving technical skills in the region, and standardizing regulations particularly around e-commerce and financial transactions allows businesses to take advantage of digital opportunities.

While national efforts are ongoing, the data policy environment in Africa as a whole remains fragmented. Currently only eight African countries have ratified the Malabo Convention, a regional approach to data protection and cybercrime, and only six are participating in the World Trade Organization’s e-commerce negotiations to set up new global trading rules for e-commerce and digital trade.

Rapid growth constrained by infrastructure struggles

Before the continent can properly realize any kind of digital transformation, it must resolve a connectivity problem. In 2017 only 22% of the population had access to the internet, barring most of the continent from e-commerce and other new services. This holds back both startups, who struggle to attract funding, and established businesses who are slow to adopt digital technologies due to a lack of customers benefiting. While the ICT and mobile sectors have grown since then, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic started, millions in Africa still lack basic connectivity. In response to this, there are two main options being pursued:

  • Increasing sovereign debt to pay for new infrastructure, much of it Chinese-supplied. This strategy carries with it numerous other challenges, not least of which is transparency and corruption surrounding such deals, but also the predatory nature of many of the agreements.
  • Allowing the private sector to flourish by establishing the regulatory conditions in which it can grow. Too often in Africa the success stories of entrepreneurs are in spite of government interference, rather than as a result of it. African businesses have become well-practiced at circumventing government obstacles, rather than capitalizing on government policies.

A united, regional approach focusing on ‘enabler laws’ would help with this problem, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represents a key stepping stone towards a regional data governance and infrastructure policy that could start to change this environment.

From cybercrime to monopolies to offshoring

Even though infrastructure problems are slowly being resolved, a true, effective, regional data governance framework is important for promoting productive and inclusive growth on the continent. In order to ensure that technology complements and does not substitute workers, the digital literacy of Africa’s workforce needs to be increased, both in terms of hard and soft skills. This will help promote job opportunities, rather than replacing jobs with offshore jobs or automation.

There is also the threat from private businesses themselves. The current platform-based business model that dominates in the digital sector encourages a winner-takes-all, monopolistic paradigm which is especially harmful to developing economies. Still, leaving the solution with governments raises questions about data protection and citizen privacy. In both cases, it leads to high prices, poor quality of services, and potentially includes privacy violations for the customers and service users.

The intersection of all of these threats significantly affects the potential positive impacts of digitization on the African continent. There is an urgent need for a data governance framework across the region that is supported by robust, empowered institutions. This can foster a fair and competitive ICT market on the continent, promoting sustainable and productive growth.

Photos : cigionline.org – data4sdgs.org

 

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Video Games Thriving on the African Continent

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In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa had approximately 77 million gamers, but in 2021 that number had shot up to 186 million, making Africa one of the fastest-growing in the world.

Video gaming is taking off on the African continent

In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa had approximately 77 million “gamers” – someone who plays video games at least semi-regularly. In 2021 that number had shot up to 186 million. Crucially for developers, the number of people willing to pay for video games has also skyrocketed. When taking into account the growing youth population in Africa and greater access to mobile phones on the continent, analysts are predicting a compound annual growth for the video game market of 12% until 2026, making Africa one of the fastest-growing in the world.

Impressive growth, but small total numbers

While the number of gamers in Africa is increasing rapidly, the total numbers are still relatively small. Across the world, there are an estimated 3 billion gamers, meaning that sub-Saharan Africa currently only accounts for 6.2% of the total number of gamers in the world. South Africa accounts for the biggest market within in Africa, with nearly 40% of the population identifying as ‘gamers,’ compared to only 27% in Ghana and 23% in Nigeria. In Kenya and Ethiopia the gaming population makes up 22% and 13% of their overall population, respectively. For comparison, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in the United States of America estimates that 67% of American adults play video games at least semi-regularly.

Why this growth is not just a pandemic pop

One of the biggest drivers of growth in gaming across the world has been in mobile games. Mobile gaming now dominates the market with the segment worth nearly $100 billion and showing a 7.3% YOY growth.

In Africa, video gaming has gone hand-in-hand with greater proliferation of mobile technology and smartphone ownership. In South Africa nearly 51% of the population have access to a smartphone, and it is estimated that by 2023 nearly 84% of the sub-Saharan population will own a mobile phone. This proliferation has meant that along with gaming, online shopping and social media have exploded on the continent. In some industries, such as banking, this has even led to a ‘leapfrog’ effect where traditional players, such as brick-and-mortar banks, have been skipped in favor of smartphone and internet-driven solutions. In the video game market, traditional devices such as personal computers or games consoles have low ownership numbers due to the relatively high cost of equipment, along with often unreliable power sources, and people are going straight to mobile gaming.

When looking at growth that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic there is always the question of whether lock-downs and social distancing played a part and how long the trend will last post-pandemic. The video gaming trend in Africa has been going on a similar trajectory for many years now, and when comparing the percentage of adults that play video games in Africa to that of the United States it is clear that there is plenty of room for further growth.

The link – or not – with cryptocurrency

Frequently making headlines, it is no surprise that analysts have looked to see if cryptocurrency is important to the gaming community in Africa. TripleA notes that gamers are more likely to own crypto compared to non-gamers, with 55% of gaming millenials owning crypto as compared to just 5% of millenials overall. On top of this, 80% of gamers who own crypto are interested in using cryptocurrency for gaming purchases. In Africa and the Middle east, a total of 5.9 million gamers own crypto. Along with this, many game developers are looking for more ways of integrating cryptocurrency into gaming.

This has not always been a welcome choice however. Globally, crypto and blockchain technology in gaming is a controversial topic. Vice Magazine describes it as a ‘culture war’ between developers and players, and executives and crypto evangelists. Developers at major studios that are actively using or considering crypto in their games, such as Electronic Arts, Zynga, Behaviour Interactive, and Ubisoft, have described internal turmoil and disapproval over what is often seen as “dollar signs guiding executive-level decisions that seem to add little to the already wildly popular medium, and if anything, present a threat to how and why games are currently made.”

But if gamers want to use crypto, then perhaps it is simply a matter of implementation.

Local games, local developers

The African video game market is one that so far has seen little attention from the international community. This is allowing local developers like Nairobi-based Usuki Games, Ghana’s Leti Arts, and South African startup Carry1st to thrive. But with Africa having one of the fastest-growing video game markets in the world, it is unlikely to be long before multinational companies have the continent in their sights.

Photos : euronews.com – inews.co.uk

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The Africa Tech Summit returns to Nairobi for its 4th Edition

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 In February 2022, the Africa Tech Summit returned to Nairobi with over 500 delegates, 150 guest speakers, and more than 350 companies, with the aim of bringing African Tech leaders and international players together across three key summits.

February 2022 marks the 4th Africa Tech Summit

On February 22nd and 23rd 2022, the Africa Tech Summit returned to Nairobi for the 4th edition of the exposition. This two-day event will bring together over 500 delegates, 150 guest speakers, and more than 350 companies to share their insights on technology on the continent. Attendees, both companies and investors, had networking and business opportunities in the FinTech, Startup, and Mobile sectors. The goal was to connect startups and visionaries with industry leaders from across the world and there were opportunities for startups to pitch live on stage, along with attending workshops, use a deal room, and join venture showcases. Previous Africa Tech Summits have been held in Kigali, London, Washington DC, and Shanghai, all with the aim of bringing African Tech leaders and international players together.

Getting the necessary funding at the Startup Summit

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 saw over $4.27 billion invested into African startups, a huge increase on 2020. In such a fast-moving ecosystem the Africa Tech Startup Summit is the perfect place for companies to pitch to investors. This summit, a recurring component of the Africa Tech Summit, will encourage collaboration and showcase investment opportunities with the aim of developing entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa. Industry leaders, corporations and startups will all have the opportunity to connect at the summit.

Crypto was prominent at the summit

FinTech (Financial Technology) solutions have become massively important across the continent, illustrated by the $200 million acquisition of Paystack and Beyonic by Stripe and MFS Africa, respectively. FinTech companies work with digital identity, remittance, cyber security, and payment and banking systems to offer services previously only available from traditional brick-and-mortar banks. This year’s summit focused on Decentralized Finance, a term for various financial applications of cryptocurrency or blockchain that has the potential to disrupt traditional financial intermediaries in Africa. This was continuing the theme set in the previous years where a Money and Blockchain Summit was held.

This year’s summit was supported by Celo and VerifyMe, and featured African Fintech leaders as they deep-dive into the opportunities offered by FinTech, Crypto and Decentralized Finance (DeFi) in Africa through conferences, panels, and organized sessions.

Tapping into Mobile Technology in Africa

Nearly 800 million people in Africa lack a mobile internet connection, but the sector is expanding quickly. By 2025 over 425 million people will be using mobile services on the continent, and the data center market in Africa and the Middle East attracted over $6.55 billion of investment in 2021. Opportunities are plentiful, and the Africa Mobile Summit featured keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions from across the sector. MarTech (Marketing Tech), gaming, connectivity, cyber-security, cloud computing, and application development were focused on during the mobile summit, which was supported by Ethiopian startup, Gabeya, a pan-African source for freelance professional talent that recently launched its talent mobile application. The 2022 Mobile Summit is the evolution of 2020’s Future Summit, which focused on new technologies across the African digital landscape.

Photo : resilient.digital-africa.co

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A circular approach to the economy promises huge gains for Africa

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Turning towards a ‘circular economy,’ one that focuses on avoiding waste, promoting repair and reuse, and embedding ecological principles, is quickly gaining popularity in the world, but the transition to a circular economy will require policies, incentives, new infrastructure, and business support to make the change a reality.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has shrunk the economies of nearly every country in the world, which has led to renewed calls to restructure economies to support more resilient future growth. Turning towards a ‘circular economy,’ one that focuses on avoiding waste, promoting repair and reuse, and embedding ecological principles, is quickly gaining popularity in the developed world. In Africa these principles have always been practiced both consciously and unconsciously, and the continent is in a very strong position to take advantage of this. With support from local governments, industry, and the international community, Africa could leapfrog the developed world in embedding the principles of the circular economy into its industrial growth and infrastructure development projects.

The calls for a new economic system

The 20th century has been characterized primarily by the ‘linear’ economy, one that heavily relied on the “make, take, dispose” model. This has been hugely successful in industrialized nations and generated massive amounts of material wealth, however the extraction of resources has been highly unsustainable, and in the early 21st century it became increasingly clear that this type of consumption would have severe consequences for ecosystem quality, human health, and food and water prosperity. With the world’s population growing at rapid rates, the impacts are only going to become more severe, and the need for a more sustainable economic system is undeniable. The circular economy has gained traction over the years as an effective approach to achieve global, national, and local sustainability. The principles of mindful ecological practices, repair and re-use of items, and avoiding waste could be the solution to guaranteeing sufficient resources for future generations.

The Circular Economy exists informally in Africa

The idea of re-use, repair, and refurbishment of goods instead of disposing of them is practiced in Africa, but much of it exists at a startup or informal level. In Senegal a company called Proplast produces plastic resin from recycled plastic waste. In Kenya, Ecopost turns plastic into building materials. Despite the 5 million tons of plastic Ecopost has up-cycled so far, the country still produces far more plastic every year than the company can handle. Other industries are more developed though. The high cost of luxury goods like electronic equipment or cars is prohibitive to many people on the continent so cheaper options must be found. In Nigeria, 95% of cars are second-hand vehicles, and in Ghana 80% of second-hand electronic products are re-used, repaired, or refurbished.

Challenges to the circular economy in Africa

The circular economy in Africa is mostly practiced at a small or informal level, but if the benefits are to be properly realized, a coordinated, strategic approach will be necessary. If this does not happen, there is the risk that companies will adopt token or even harmful activities under the name of ‘circularity.’ This could ultimately lead to even worse results, for example waste-to-energy initiatives could see sub-standard burning practices employed that create health risks.  In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, it is common to burn insulated copper wire. Once the plastic insulation is gone, the copper wire can be easily recycled for trade, however this process exposes workers to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and other hazardous chemicals. Likewise, recycling initiatives with poor practices could see ‘pickers’ risking physical harm in landfill sites – a practice that is already common in much of the developing world. 

At the other end of the spectrum, switching to circular solutions would lead to large-scale shifts in industrial policy and this could risk job losses for those employed in resource extraction and processing. Careful consideration and management of these problems will be required in order to see a successful transition to a more sustainable economic system.

Making the circular economy a success for the continent

In a report by the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy initiative titled “5 Big Bets for the Circular Economy in Africa,” the waste conversion, plastic waste recycling, e-waste recycling, mass timber, and garment recycling industries are identified as the sectors that can lead the charge towards a sustainable, circular economy on the continent. Training farmers to recover irrigation wastewater and converting food waste into organic fertilizer, instigating bottle deposit systems, conserving forests, and developing the e-waste repair and recycling capacity of nations can bring new opportunities and resilience to Africa’s economic sector. But these are not overnight projects, and the transition to a circular economy will require policies, incentives, new infrastructure, and business support to make the change a reality.

Photo : iucn.org

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Africa stands to benefit from $1 trillion of investment into solar energy

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 A partnership between the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Bloomberg Philanthropies to mobilize over $1 trillion worth of investment into the solar sector could see the continent – home to 40% of the world’s solar potential – become a global leader in green energy.

International Solar Alliance and Bloomberg Philanthropies working together

A partnership between the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Bloomberg Philanthropies was announced at the end of October 2021. The goal of this partnership is to mobilize over $1 trillion worth of investment into the solar sector to scale up solar energy production across the 80 member countries. Across the world, solar power capacity stands at about 788GW. $1 trillion in investment would see roughly an additional 1.6 TW of capacity added by 2030. Africa stands to benefit heavily from this investment – most of the ISA member countries are in Africa and much of the continent sits in the world’s ‘sunshine zone’ near the equator, the prime location for solar power generation.

Launched recently, the ISA aims to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels

The International Solar Alliance was launched in 2016, set-up by the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside former French President François Hollande with the goal of realizing a massive deployment of solar energy across the world. This would also help pave the way for future technologies. Since its inception, over 80 countries have signed and ratified the ISA Framework Agreement – a majority of them being African countries – making it the largest grouping of states world-wide after the United Nations.

Bloomberg NEF analytical backing paints Africa as the perfect place to start

The recent BNEF report titled Scaling up Solar in ISA Member Countries Report, paints a positive picture for investment in African solar power.

Global electricity demand is set to double in the next 30 years, however among the 80 nations that make up the ISA’s ‘beneficiary’ classification – low income countries with solar markets of less than 100MW annually – demand is set to triple.

At the same time, cost of photovoltaic modules and lithium-ion batteries have fallen rapidly. In 1976 crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules cost around $77/W when adjusted for inflation, while in 2021 the cost stood at only $0.24/W. The BNEF report predicts that the price will fall further still as manufacturers tweak the technology for higher efficiency and reduced amount of material waste.

Many of the ISA’s beneficiary countries are in Africa where strong sunlight, coupled with a lack of infrastructure to create energy from fossil fuels make these markets perfect for development. Unfortunately the report notes that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, investment in solar projects in 2020 fell below 2019 levels by 44%.

Solar power promises huge benefits for the African continent

Developing solar power on the continent has the potential to lift at least a billion people out of energy poverty. Along with that, strong investment in solar power on the continent would be a significant driver of Africa’s shift towards renewables. Right now, Africa is home to 40% of the world’s solar potential, but is home to only 1% of the world’s solar panels. This means Africa has the potential to become a global leader in creating a low or zero-carbon energy grid if solar power is developed heavily.

Along with lifting the region out of energy poverty and creating a new, green direction for power supply in Africa there would be economic benefits for the continent. If the One Sun, One World, One Grid Declaration (OSOWOG) released at Cop 26 achieves its goal of creating a worldwide grid where clean energy can be transmitted anywhere and anytime then a solar-rich region like Africa can sell the excess power generated across the world.

No small number of challenges still to be met

While the region certainly has potential, there are many challenges to overcome in order to turn the goal of $1 trillion into actual, on-the-ground investment. In a continent as large as Africa with thousands of languages and cultures across over fifty different countries, potential investors must deal with multiple governments, regulatory bodies, legal restrictions, and of course, cultural differences.

As of yet, how the money will be materialized, by who, and in what capacity remains a mystery. For those beneficiary countries that signed the ISA Framework, the only thing to do now is wait patiently for the ISA and Bloomberg NEF to release their upcoming Solar Investment Roadmap for 2022, which will shine a light on what the next steps will be to turn the goal into reality.

Sources: theafricareport.com – financialexpress.com

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Demand for Internet Growing, but Infrastructure lags Behind

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Broadband penetration across the African continent is limited, and to meet the growing demand, the continent needs an additional 700 data centers, which will require collaboration between engineers, telecoms and governmental organizations.

Current state of internet in Africa

Broadband penetration across the African continent is limited. Even the leaders for internet penetration – South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – only have broadband penetration of 64%, 45% and 40%, respectively. This is a far cry from countries like the UK, that boast a 96% penetration. This disparity has been highlighted by the pandemic, but even putting aside the increased demand on internet services during Covid-19 restrictions, demand for internet is growing fast on the continent, following a similar path to the rest of the globe. Streaming services, ride-hailing and banking are all leading the growth in content consumption. A new report by African Data Centers Association (ADCA) and Xalam Analytics has calculated that in order to meet the growing demand, the continent needs an additional 700 data centers for an additional 1000MW of capacity.

Differing responses to pandemic pressures

Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to work from home and stay indoors. In countries with high broadband penetration internet usage more than doubled. On the African continent the situation varied. In Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria peak traffic actually decreased at the end of March 2020, while in South Africa usage spiked. This has been put down to the fact that in offices in Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria there is typically a good internet connection. This allows high-bandwidth applications to be used, but as people adjusted to working from home and using their own, often limited internet connections, these high-bandwidth applications caused problems. By contrast, in South Africa where internet infrastructure is more developed, industries were much better prepared to work from home, and so internet usage increased.

Server racks with telecommunication equipment in server room

With growing demand, Africa offers opportunities

For the data center sector, Africa offers a land of opportunity. The industry only entered the continent in 2008, and investment and development has been slow and uneven. IBM entered in 2016, and more companies like Microsoft and Huawei have joined since then. More than 30 Tier III or higher data centers have come online since 2016, effectively doubling the region’s hosting capacity. Despite this, only one third of Africa’s cities with a population of over 1 million have a local data center that meets Tier III standards.

Demand for internet services is growing across the world and more and more devices and industries are taking advantage of high-speed internet, so demand will not shrink. On top of that, Africa’s median age is 20 years old, less than half that of Europe, and an age at which data consumption is particularly high. This makes Africa a golden opportunity for those looking to invest in data centers. Investment was valued at $2 billion dollars in 2020, and the data center industry in Africa is expected to value $6 billion by 2026.

Concerted, coordinated effort required to meet requirements

ADCA’s report, while positive about the future growth prospects of internet in Africa, did warn that achieving the 700 data center target would be challenging. The land, power, and water requirements for data centers of a meaningful scale would need national, regional, and local government involvement. It also would come with a high cost. The average yearly cost to operate a large data center ranges from $10 to $25 million, before taking into account the upfront costs of building the data center and the initial set-up. When including access, power, network connections, servers, storage units, and software licenses the cost can be significant. One mile of fiber-optic connections alone can cost as much as $250,000. To make things more difficult, the infrastructure supply chain in Africa is significantly less developed than in Europe, Asia or the USA and many important components will have to be brought in from overseas.

With such a high price tag, it is clear that collaboration will be important. Industries must invest in connectivity across the continent, with engineers, telecoms and governmental organizations working together to improve connectivity and capacity across the continent as a whole.

A varied continent means varied challenges

While unified and coordinated action is required, addressing the continent’s data problems will also require looking at each region individually. With 54 countries, 2,000 spoken languages and vastly differing populations and population density, there is no universal approach to the problem. In many of the remote and poorly connected areas mobile internet like 4G may be the most economical option, and still a lack of access to electricity will be a major consideration. Nonetheless, the prospects of rapid growth demand and usage of the internet makes the investment a promising one.

Photos : cio.com / infotechlead.com / iclg.com

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African Nations Descend on Dubai’s Expo 2020

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After being postponed for a year due to pandemic, Expo 2020 is finally set to begin in Dubai, with nearly every country on the African continent represented both individually and through a dedicated pavilion for the African Union.

No expenses spared to make Dubai’s Expo 2020 a success

After being postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Expo 2020 is finally set to begin on the 1st of October 2021, with Dubai hosting the Universal Exhibition. For the first time in the 170 year history of World Expos, nearly every country on the African continent will be represented, both individually and through a dedicated pavilion for the African Union. Architecturally alone the event will be spectacular, with Morocco’s pavilion being a vertical earthen village that offers views of the whole event from it’s rooftop. With an estimated allocated budget of $8.7 billion, it is not a cheap event to host, but if successful it has been expected to generate up to US$17.7 billion in revenue for Dubai. Aside from the potential economic benefit, for the United Arab Emirates hosting the expo is a way to position themselves as a country of influence on the international scene, and further their political and economic presence on the continent of Africa.

A unified Africa presents a new image of the continent

For the continent too the exposition is an opportunity, as a myriad of countries wish to deepen their ties with Africa. With it’s Agenda 2063 – a 50-year plan to see an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens” – the African Union is ready to use the expo to show that the continent represents a dynamic force in the international arena. Aspiring to an Africa with no borders, whose people see themselves as Africans first, united in common heritage, culture and values the African Union pavilion will highlight Africa’s potential and ambitions, showing a new face of the continent that is exciting, young and modern.

The highlights of the continent on display

Within each carefully curated pavilion, over 40 countries on the continent will showcase to the world what they can offer:

Investment Opportunities

Some countries, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo will showcase the resources of the country. To attract investors the Congolese pavilion will highlight the country’s 80 million hectares of arable land, and the energy-production potential of the Congo River. Likewise Zimbabwe’s pavilion will showcase a destination filled with mining, construction and agriculture opportunities. In the Ethiopian pavilion conveyor belts will display locally-made products, while Nigeria’s ‘Opportunity City’ will put the country’s booming creative and technology sectors at the forefront for visitors to see.

Tourism

For many countries the Expo offers a chance to sell the country as a tourism destination. With the recent rehabilitation of Benin’s cultural sites, the country wants to revitalize its tourism industry. In fact, standing out as a tourism destination will be the challenge at Expo 2020. Heavyweights in tourism like Egypt will deploy pyramids, hieroglyphic signs and genuine antique pharaoh statues, while Nigeria will show visitors around it’s untouched destinations on a virtual reality Eco-tour.

Culture

Along with highlighting the economic opportunities, African countries will be reminding the world of the wealth of culture on the continent. Entering the Ethiopian pavilion will see visitors coming face to face with a replica of ‘Lucy,’ the world’s oldest human fossil, while in the Nigerian pavilion the ‘Nollywood’ film scene will be highlighted. Meanwhile in the Kenyan pavilion is the opportunity to meet the 44 different tribes that make up the country, and visitors can leave with a Kenyan name and digital copy of their own Kenyan passport.

Enticing investment into the continent remains a challenge

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, Africa as a continent had seen 25 years of continuous economic growth. Despite this, the bottom half of the global Human Development Index is dominated by African countries, and the continent’s lack of infrastructure remains a barrier to international trade. This makes international investors wary, further holding the continent back. This is acknowledged by Eugene Manga Manga, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s General Commissioner for Expo 2020. He has stated that, “The continent has a lot of difficulties, but it has also started to develop.” With rich natural resources and a youthful, entrepreneurial population, the continent does indeed have a lot to offer, and Expo 2020 may be the perfect chance to remind the rest of the world of this fact.

Photos : expo2020dubai.com/

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Ory Okolloh’s Fascinating Career from Activist Blogger to Manager at Google

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Ory Okolloh Mwangi might be one of the most well-known women on the internet, at least across Africa, gaining recognition for her creation of online platforms to monitor Kenyan politicians and map violence.

Activist, Lawyer, Blogger, Manager

Ory Okolloh Mwangi might be one of the most well-known women on the internet, at least across Africa. Born in Kenya in 1977, she studied Political Science as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, and also gained a degree from Harvard Law School. She rose to fame for her role in creating a public website to monitor Kenya’s parliament. Two years later she created another monitoring utility aimed at reporting violence during the tumultuous elections, and she later worked as Policy Manager for Africa at Google. Okolloh has earned a spot on Forbes’ top 20 Power Women in Africa, as well as TIME’s 100 most influential women.

Keeping politicians accountable in the public eye

Okolloh first came to prominence with the launch of Mzalendo, a non-Governmental, non-partisan Parliamentary monitoring website in Kenya. With many details of MPs missing from the official parliament websites, and finding constituencies and boundaries difficult or impossible, Mzalendo was launched as a way of systematically recording speeches, bills, attendance of MPs and their voting record. The name comes from the Swahili word for patriot, and the goal was to increase public participation in politics and to hold MPs to account. In 2010 the site received funding from Omidyar Network which allowed for a relaunch. Users of Mzalendo can now see ‘scorecards’ for each Member of Parliament that assesses their attendance, contactability and spending performance.

Testimony to violence 

Okolloh, who was living in Johannesburg at the time, returned to Kenya to vote in the now-infamous 2007 elections. After a contentious election where the results were called into question, riots and looting swept the country. During a period of limited news and few official statements, Okolloh used her blog to give updates from political parties, journalists and sources within parliament. She reached out for help, and soon like-minded people had set up a new site with a link to Google Earth, allowing Okolloh to add the information to the map – where violence was taking place and what and where peace efforts were active.

This was the tumultuous birth of Ushahidi, a phrase that means ‘testimony’ in Swahili. It has since evolved into a platform that can be used by anyone around the world to gather and map reports to create a crowdsourced archive of events with geographic and time-date information.

From crowd-sourced activism to google to beer?

In 2010 Okolloh caused a shock by joining Google as Policy and Strategy Manager for Africa. When asked why she left her position at Ushahidi she stated, “It is a huge opportunity to bring Google’s resources to bear as far as the growth and development of the internet in Africa (and hopefully a reminder of why I went to law school in the first place!).” Google’s operation in Africa at the time already included Gmail and Chrome in Amharic and Swahili, YouTube South Africa, University Access Programs, Google SMS and Google Trader.

In 2013 she moved to Omidyar Network as a director of investments, staying with the company until January 2020. While Okolloh maintains her blog and is prevalent on Twitter, her latest job is something of a departure from her previous roles and she is currently Independent Non-Executive Director of East Africa Breweries.

Photos sources : ifex.org – alchetron.com –

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