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Google Helps African Startups to Grow and Thrive

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Helping Startups

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

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

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

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

Flare – Uber for Ambulances

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

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

Solar Freeze – Helping Small Farmers Increase Productivity 

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

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

mDoc – Digital Healthcare for Sub-Saharan Africa 

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

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

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

Looking to the Future, Encouraging Growth

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

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

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

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Tourist numbers to Dubai continue to grow in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Record of 16.73 Million of Tourists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anbessa: Best Foot Forward for This Ethiopian Shoemaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To increase their export volume from 10% to 70%

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

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

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

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

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Adamant, the new african digital adventure

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Entertainment and Lifestyle, Featured

Adamant is a new digital medium aimed at connected African youth. The media promotes continental ambitions through a network of creative and offbeat influencers. Meeting with its founder Denis Cantin and its program manager Angélique Amougou.

  • Denis Cantin, you are the founder of Adamant Media, before talking about your new digital media, let’s talk about you and what led you to create Adamant?

Denis: I was heading the content sales over Europe-Middle East- Africa for A+E Networks (Disney / Hearst) for 5 years in London and I thought there was still a place in Africa for high level Entertainment media , gathering Africans and Diaspora, offering the best of comedy Series, sketches, Beauty, Sports and news. And that media should be digital, free and on mobile to reach everyone. I left my job last summer and we have launched Adamant on the 1st of April 2019.

  • Can you explain how Adamant works? 

Denis: We are settled like a proper Media group and we control the whole chain from Creation and Production to Broadcast and Advertising: 

First, adamant is the media of Continental Entertainment. Millions of people watch us and enjoy fresh high quality African content on a daily basis. 

adamant is also a studio, aggregating and supporting the best producers and talents from every corner of West and central Africa. 

Last but not least, adamant is an unique expertise in digital communication and marketing over the the whole Continent. Africa is experiencing massive growth you could compare it to a startup for that matter. Africa is as digital as you can get. We are in our element. Our logline is indeed “ Digital, Continental, adamant”. 

  • Angélique Amougou you are in charge of influencer relations at adamant, what drives the talents and influencers to join Adamant, according to you? 

Angélique: Quite honestly, there’s no better home than adamant for talented influencers. Our business model has been set up to allow comedy influencers, our A-Producers,  to grow without losing their soul and their business. We encourage creation, we finance the best talents. Not only, we are also sharing our experience in terms of storytelling , post editing, promotion and access to sponsors. 

Some influencers are already big in their own country like the super popular duo the Pakgne (Murielle Blanche and Marcelle Kuetche) in Cameroon with already 1 million followers.  With us, they have become continental stars. Some are less known, and when the adamant team feels they’re good, we offer them an A class treatment and after a few weeks, it looks like they have always been famous.

“babatché à tout prix” was watched by a few thousands people before we got involved, it was promising but still limited. Now with adamant, each of their episodes is followed by between 300 000 and 2 million people! They are some genuinely International stars now. We did the same for the couple Thakai and many others. We have now the biggest team of influcencers in this part of the World. And we can tell you: each and every of them count. 

African talents are amazing and we are glad to share this with the rest of the world.

Les gos Babatche – adamant
  • What kind of audience Adamant is targeting ? 

Denis: Our audience is mostly between 18 and 44 years old. They are adults and parents. Social networks in Africa are usually male skewing but we are very balanced between male and female at 50/50. Our audience is connected and engaged. Our engagement rate is just tremendous: 34%!  Our audience is urban and strongly connected. Our first cities are Abidjan, Dakar, Douala and Paris but we do not only reach the big cities; adamant is followed in every corner of Francophone Africa and the world. You can’t imagine how global we are.

  • What new programs are you trying to put in place? 

Denis: adamant will remain pure entertainment and close to our audience’s everyday life. So we won’t explore genres like crime, sci-fi …Unless there is a twist, a good idea and lots of fun! 

 I will tell you that the quality will only go in one direction: up. And more and more content will be original and never seen on line. Stay tuned!

Angelique: Talent wise, we have wonderful talents in the key territories Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon now. We are about to contract with influencers in Burkina Faso, we are digging in Mali, Madagascar, Guinée. Be sure we won’t forget any territory.

  • So you are producing branded content, what do you bring to advertisers that is unique to adamant?

Denis: The affinity. adamant is close to our audience thanks to a very dedicated team and our influencers. We make people laugh on a daily basis. There is no better communication than a smile.

And with this smile, we provide the top notch values services of a digital agency with reflection, strategy, tactics, ads and even more important, high value video production. We invent formats and new series on demand. We clearly do our best to spoil our clients ad we are committed on our targets and KPIs.

  • What are your ambitions, your future plans or projects for Adamant?

Denis: adamant is fast and furious (smile). We are launching this week our free VOD site with all our videos. We will announce soon a business partnership with a leading Film production and talent agency in the heart of Nollywood. This allows us to produce both in French and English original with top influencers. We are post producing our first animation for pre-school children with our talent’s voices. We will of course expand out of the Francophone area soon, but first thing first, we have to make sure our clients are spoiled and that we remain the leaders.

Ah yes, maybe a last one;  the Studio veteran is now talking, my sincere dream would be to produce the Pan African comedy feature Film starring all our great influencers. And this will come true sooner than later!

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Russia’s Return to Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Once an important player on the African continent, Russia has renewed its aspirations for economic, military, and trade ties with several African nations. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, Russia is investing in energy and resource projects, lending military and diplomatic support to embattled African leaders, and once again positioning itself as an influential presence in the region.

Historical ties with Africa and shifting interests

During the height of the Soviet Union, newly independent African countries such as Mozambique, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Benin and Uganda all received valuable materials and ideological support from the Russian superpower, including training and education to many of these country’s leaders. The Soviet Union’s influence across African states was widespread until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the regime in 1991.

Fast-forward to 2018, and Russia appears set to return to its influential position over the continent – yet with a very different approach and goal in mind. As African nations are opening up to being courted by new strategic partners, the time is ripe for new foreign entrants to make their mark on the continent. Russia is thus in a good place to re-establish itself across the region – and indeed appears to be doing so – via strategic investments in energy and raw materials.

Investment in Energy and Minerals – new opportunities arise

According to ISS Africa, trade and investment between Russia and Africa grew by 185% from 2005 to 2015. Whilst in 2017 alone, Russia’s trade with Africa rose by 26% to $17.4 billion. Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Paul Stronski says there are many advantages for Russia engaging with resource laden countries on the African continent. With a shortage of minerals such as chromium, bauxite, and manganese, all of which are important to industry, Russia is looking for rights to extract minerals, oil, and gas in less complicated or costly places than Siberia and the Arctic, Stronski says. With a strong presence on the national soil and a proven expertise in raw material extraction, no doubt that CEOs such as UMMC’s Iskander Makhmudov will be setting their eye on the continent sooner or later.

Economically, the focus of Russian investment is on energy. Russian power companies, such as Lukoil (oil), Gazprom (gas), and Rosatom (nuclear energy) are already active across the continent, with most activity being in Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and Algeria. Others, such as Kuzbassrazrezugol (a coal mining organization, and also a company Iskander Makhmudov has stakes in), are already global exporters and could very well aim to penetrate the African market in the future. Others, such as Transmashholding (also a company Iskander Makhmudov has interests in), already trade with Egypt and South Africa – admittedly some of the most developed markets on the continent.

According to energy news site Power Technology, a deal between Rosatom and Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity to create the country’s first nuclear power plant has already been finalized. As most large Russian corporations are fully or partially state-owned, Russian interest takes the form of public/private partnerships.

Indeed, although Russia’s main arms exports are to Asia, according to the BBC, sales to Africa continue to rise, strengthening Russia’s position on the continent.

A growing geopolitical influence…

Another reason Russia may wish to gain a foothold on the continent is that diplomatically, Africa is a geopolitical strategic landmark. African states comprise of the largest voting bloc across diplomatic, security and economic institutions, such as the UN Security Council. Therefore, holding influence over Africa could have a global reach. Other emerging economies, such as China and India, have also expanded trade significantly across the African region. According to US research group the Brookings Institute, China provided some $60 billion in financial support to Africa in 2018.  

Although Russia lacks the financial muscle of China, through strategic investments, military might and soft power, the country will see a gradual increase in influence across the African continent, according to ISS Africa research analyst Stephanie Wolters. She believes that, amid a new ‘scramble for Africa,’ it will be up to African leaders to exploit the renewed attention from Russia by brokering favorable deals on good terms, rather than fall victim to previous exploitation by Europe and the West.

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Africa gets its first smartphone manufacturing facility in Nigeria

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While mobile phone penetration has been rapidly increasing throughout Africa for several years, until now, all the smartphones sold on the continent were imported from overseas. However, as AfriOne opens up its first smartphone production factory on the continent, the hope is that the flourishing technology can provide greater employment opportunities for the next generation.

The First in Africa

Mobile phones have become an integral part of life for many people, and the proliferation across Africa has increased rapidly in recent years. In Nigeria, the market penetration has surged and investments in the telecoms sector skyrocketed by 6400% in the past 4 years. With such growth, it is no surprise that Africa’s first smartphone production unit has found its home in Nigeria.

The company AfriOne has established the factory in Nigeria’s Lagos Free Zone with an initial investment of $10 million. The plant will begin producing 120,000 units per month; however the company is confident that the facility will eventually produce as many as 300,000 products per month.

The new range of smartphones will cost between $92 and $108 and are aimed at Nigeria’s middle income consumers. AfriOne’s parent company, Contec Global, intends to open up a second production unit as it continues its expansion.

The investment seeks to capitalize on the huge expansion in e-commerce within the region. E-commerce is predicted to account for 10% of all retail sales in Nigeria by 2025, and consultant group McKinsey estimates it could be producing $75 billion in annual revenue by this time.

The 20,000 square foot production facility includes a Research & Development (R&D) department and testing laboratories. Mr. Sahih Berry, AfriOne’s Founder and CEO, said that the company has a goal to “democratize technology, by offering affordable innovations through our product offerings and removing barriers deterring the large scale adoption of advanced technology in Nigeria.”

By Nigerians, For Nigerians

The unveiling of a facility such as AfriOne’s new smartphone production unit offers immediate job opportunities as well as the obvious increase in options for the Nigerian consumer. AfriOne’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Sandeep Natu, told the press that the factory will initially employ around 500 people. Both the company and government officials are hopeful that the long term benefits of the operation will be more far-reaching.

Contec Global’s Managing Director, Mr. Roheen Berry, said that the company is dedicated to increasing opportunities for young Nigerians through a policy of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Mr. Berry explained that the facility will have various training programs for young men and women working at AfriOne, and added, “We are tangibly investing in Nigeria’s future through AfriOne, while providing a valuable skill set to its workforce that will facilitate continued innovation in Nigeria’s emerging, dynamic and robust market.”

The Nigerian government believes that the venture will not only create immediate employment opportunities, but will help foster a culture of innovation and technology within Lagos that could lead to greater long term growth. Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, announced the plant’s opening at a press conference in which he expressed hope that this would lead to the city of Lagos create a 24-hour economy.

Mr. Ambode also discussed AfriOne’s commitment to working with a local college, Lagos State Polytechnic, for the maintenance and repair of mobile devices. He said, “The collaboration with Afrione will be of immense benefits to these students and the State.”

The factory promises to offer these students practical experience within the field of telecommunications and mobile technology, thus spreading the potential impact on future job creation far beyond the direct employment within the plant.

Lagos State Government already had a youth training initiative in place, known as the Empowerment Trust Fund, and Mr. Ambode believes that, “AfriOne’s collaboration will complement efforts by the Lagos State government in ensuring that these youths are empowered.”

Nigeria currently has around 154 million mobile phone users, and e-commerce and mobile banking are both rapidly growing sectors within the West African nation. As these markets continue to grow and attract investment, a domestic center for the production of the medium needed to access these fields may seem long overdue. AfriOne assured press that the phones would use cutting edge technology and would come with popular African apps for banking and farming already installed.

AfriOne will be looking to expand its production base quickly, and the local government hopes that further development provides an ongoing boost to economic growth and employment.

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First Female Head of UN Economic Commission for Africa: Vera Songwe

Comments (0) Featured, Leaders

Announced in April by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Dr. Vera Songwe has become the first woman ever to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UNECA is one of the UN’s five regional commissions, and was established in 1958 to encourage economic cooperation among the nations of the African continent. A prestigious position by itself, Songwe has also acquired the rank of Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.  

Beating more than 70 candidates for the role, Songwe, aged 48, takes over the reins of the organization at a critical time, following the departure of Dr. Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau, who stepped down from the organization in September, last year. Labelled as one of 25 African’s ‘to follow,’ by the Financial Times in 2015, the UN reported that her longstanding track record of policy advice and results orientated implementation in the region, as well as, her demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent, is what lead to the decision.

Track Record in Economics

Before her appointment, Songwe was serving as the International Finance Corporation’s Regional Director, covering West and Central Africa. Between 2012 and 2015 she was the World Bank’s Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Before that, she held the post of Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia. She is also currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Global Development African Growth Initiative, since 2011.

Starting her professional journey as a Young Professional at the World Bank in 1998, Songwe worked in the Middle East and North Africa region covering Morocco and Tunisia in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit (PREM). Later she joined the East Asia and Pacific region PREM unit where she held several roles, such as, Regional PRSP Coordinator, Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines. She has also worked in Mongolia and Cambodia for the World Bank.

Born in 1968, Songwe earned a PhD in Mathematical Economics at the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics, as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Economics, and a Diploma of Profound Studies in Economic Sciences and Politics, from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. She also has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan in the United States. Songwe has also published several papers on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility, and trade and new financial infrastructure.

In the Shadow of Lopes

With the departure of the charismatic, and sometimes combative, Carlos Lopes, Songwe arrives in an institution where her predecessor has left a large imprint. Joining the organization in 2012, Lopes has been credited with reshaping UNECA and raising it out of obscurity on the continent. According to The East African news outlet, Lopes championed the need for improved data and statistics for informed decision making. He was the first to call for debt cancellation for the Ebola-effected countries in Africa, and led a team to demonstrate the economic impact projections on Africa were highly exaggerated and part of a negative narrative. During his resignation, Lopes was also praised by colleagues for taking the relationship between the organization, its partners and member states, to a higher level, for beautifying the UNECA compound, leading UNECA to host big conferences impacting on Africa’s development and empowering employees and ensuring gender parity in the organization.

Songwe’s Vision

However, Songwe is not without her own talents and tenacity. With some 20 years at the World Bank, Songwe’s new duties of advising African governments on their development projects will be well within her grasp. Described by her colleagues as a hardworking and competent leader, she is on the selection committee for the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an annual program of training, funding and mentoring for the next generation of African entrepreneurs and the influential African Leadership Network. According to RFI, as the new Executive Secretary for UNECA, Songwe will give priority to innovative financing, agriculture, energy, and economic governance.

 

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Cameroon Tastes Success with its Penja Pepper Export

Comments (0) Agriculture, Featured

Cameroon’s distinctive Penja pepper, hailing from the volcanic soil of the Penja valley, is the first African product to receive an internationally protected geographical indications label (PGI) by the African Intellectual Property Organization. Recognized by the European Union, the label awards the name of an area, a specific place, or in exceptional cases, the name of a country, as a description of an agricultural product or foodstuff. The product must be traditionally and at least partially manufactured within the region and thus acquire unique properties.

The Penja pepper, known for its bright, musky flavor, has become a prized spice used by Michelin-starred chefs around the world and fetches as much as USD$33 per 3.5 ounces. There is some confusion as to the origins of the pepper, some saying a farmer stumbled across it and gave it to his wife to plant, whilst others maintaining a French colonialist planted it on his banana plantation, but it is clear the white peppercorn rose to prominence through French entrepreneur Erwann de Kerros. Kerros came across a farm growing the pepper, in Cameroon, in 1992 and was astounded by its distinct flavor. He stayed in the region for four years before returning home to reveal the great qualities of the pepper. Today Kerros runs his spice company, Terre Exotique, with almost $10 million in revenue.

PGI Label Profits Farmers

The PGI label on Penja pepper has also helped the local community who farm it. The small town of Penja, and surrounding villages have been transformed by the localized Penja production. According to law professor Michael Blakeney, from the University of Western Australia, who has advised nations on intellectual property rights, there are huge economic benefits from the PGI label. You can charge between 8 – 10% more for a product that’s sold under the label and it protects rural economies: farmers stay where they are if their product is profitable, he said.

The label prohibits the products name from being used by producers outside of the region, just as champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France and therefore means more work for the local people of Penja. Since the label was awarded in 2013, some 200 new farmers have taken up production, said pepper plantation owner Rene Claude Metomo. Many others have abandoned growing coffee and cocoa in favor of Penja pepper. Although there are some growers in Madagascar, Cameroon is the only country where it’s grown on a large enough scale to be reflected in export statistics.

Production on the Increase

Over the past five years, production of Penja pepper has increased more than fifteen-fold, according to Business Cameroon. In 2012, before the PGI label was awarded, production levels of Penja were at 18 tons per year, but in 2015 that figure had risen to 300 tons and continues rise. With around 60% of production consumed locally, the remainder is exported to the European market and chefs around the world are clamoring for more. New York City chef, Lior Lev Sercarz said he buys around 331 pounds of Penja pepper per year. It’s got herbaceous, grassy notes and doesn’t burn, he said.

Business Cameroon also reports that there are plans made by Swiss agro-food giant, Nestle, to use Penja pepper in their Maggi bouillon cubes. Maggi stock cubes, officially represents 90% of the production of the Nestle Cameroon factory, which supplies the whole CEMAC market – Cameroon, Congo, Chad, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea. The project would mean an increase in demand and production of Penja pepper, and a further boon to the local people of the area. Most of whom are farmers who would not be protected if it weren’t for the PGI label.

Penja pepper is one of three African products to be awarded the PGI label, along with Oku honey from Cameroon and Ziama Macenta coffee from Guinea. According to the general manager of the African Intellectual Property Organization Paulin Edou Edou, there may be six more African products with the PGI label in the near future. Only a few years ago the notion of intellectual property was unknown in the African continent, said Edou Edou. Now, countries are lining up to have products registered. With the success, Cameroon has seen with Penja pepper, it is easy to see why.

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Africa’s first online shopping mall looks to make its mark

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Online shopping is big business across much of the world, but in Africa e-commerce has yet to make the sort of impact that other technologies, such as cell phones, have done. However, the online retailer, Odjala, is Africa’s first online shopping mall, and it hopes to capitalize on the ever increasing access the continent has to smartphones and the internet.

The spread of e-commerce

While most African consumers still visit bricks & mortar stores or markets to make a purchase, the market for online retail in Europe and North America is huge. The man behind Odjala, Afiss Bileoma, mentioned that 60% of people in Europe and North America use online shopping to make purchases. The company E-marketer, states that Africa only accounts for 2% of online purchases worldwide, but this is a situation that is already changing and likely to change even more as time goes on.

Internet penetration is around 20% in Africa now, and smartphones are rapidly spreading along the path that cellphones already trod.

This embracing of technology has already led to large online retailers such as Nigeria’s Jumia, which has sites in 23 different African countries. However, the Benin based Odjala will be the first to offer a virtual mall online, and it will be offering consumers the chance to buy a wide range of products.

Bileoma states, “We turn around 10,000 Internet users a day, 20% of which will go through with a purchase. They buy a lot of gifts, clothes, toys. We succeeded a big blow by signing a partnership with Naomi Dolls; dolls that were only available in Côte d’Ivoire or France.”

In addition to offering exclusive products such as Naomi Dolls, Odjala’s main role is in providing an online presence to Benin’s largest outdoor market. The market is called Dantokpa, and is situated in the Cotonou area of the nation. Dantokpa hosts numerous independent shops and stands, yet most of its stock is now available on Odjala’s online mall which allows Benin’s consumers to peruse the extensive range of goods from their own homes.

Outdoor meets online

It would initially seem that an outdoor market is the antithesis of online shopping, but Odjala has sought to connect the traditional way that most Beninese shop, with the growing demand for online services. Odjala means “Big Market” in the local language of Yoruba, and the Odjala app is free to download on both Android and Apple products. Bileoma set up Odjala in 2016, and secured agreements with the majority of Dantokpa’s stores, and additionally made deals with other retailers in the area.

A consumer can use either the app or visit the online mall directly on their computer; any order that is placed is then delivered to their door by a courier. Bileoma accepts that this relatively new concept will take time to grow, as many potential customers have to get used to shopping in such a different way. Bileoma has promoted the concept on social media sites, such as Facebook, but still encountered a lot of customers who he said would “call and who actually wish to see the stalls.”

Nevertheless, such problems can often be overcome by providing customers with a sense of security that lessens concerns they may have over a new service. Bileoma explained that, “If a customer is not satisfied by a product, he can return it.”

This policy is fairly standard for online retailers around the world, but one of Odjala’s other features is a lot less common. Around 90% of purchases made on Odjala are paid for by the customer upon delivery. This model would be highly unusual for most online retailers, and is more akin to the method used by auction sites like Ebay.

However, these types of reassurances could help ensure that people new to online retail, feel more confident about trying a new method of shopping. It is online shopping with an understanding of how the majority of consumers in Benin are used to spending their money, and Bileoma will be hoping that such things build confidence in his brand.

As online shopping saves customers’ time, and the money that would be spent on traveling to a store, Odjala looks set to make the most of the ongoing spread in Africa’s online presence.

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Israeli start-ups raise a record $4.8 billion in 2016

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Overall, last year was a successful one for Israeli start-ups, raising a record breaking $4.8 billion in funding, according to a recent survey by the Israel Venture Capital (IVC) Research Center and law firm Zysman Aharoni, Gayer & Co. (ZAG). The increase is of 11% from the year before, when Israeli high-tech companies raised $4.3 billion. The report also stated that the average financing round, which has been steadily growing over the past five years, reached $7.2 million last year, 19% above the $5.1 million five year average. However, the last quarter of 2016 saw a drop of 8% compared to the last quarter of 2015.

IVC CEO, Koby Simana explained in a statement, that 2016 was a record breaking year for Israeli start-ups, but despite the higher total amount, it was characterized by a smaller number of financing rounds, with higher average capital raised each round. “This is a troubling trend for the Israeli VC funnel, since the majority of capital goes into later rounds.” Simana said. “If there are no companies lined up for later investments, there could be a more serious issue later on.”

Fewer financing rounds

While capital-raising reached new heights, the survey found the number of financing rounds were much fewer than expected. There were 659 deals closed in 2016, which is only marginally above the average of 657 deals closed per year. It was also 7% lower than 2015’s record high of 706 deals closed throughout the year.

The IVC – ZAG report also found an upsurge in large deals (above $20 million) in 2016. Both in terms of deal numbers and capital raised. There were 76 large deals during the year and $2.68 billion of capital raised. An increase of 22% from 2015 where 76 deals closed and $2.19 billion was raised. The increase in large deals is due to the enhanced activity of foreign investors, primarily corporate investors and venture capital funds, explained Simana.

Software companies raise most capital

 Software companies led the capital raising again last year, with $1.7 billion in funding, up from $1.4 billion in 2015, which also placed them first. Internet capital decreased, attracting a mere 16% of total capital, or $744 million, compared to 2015’s $1.12 billion, when it placed second with a 26% share. Life science capital raising also decreased in 2016, by 14%. However, the outlook for life science capital is still positive, according to Shmulik Zysman from ZAG. The industry still has potential in Israel, he explained, due to three reasons: the interest shown by Chinese investors, good chances of European and US investors returning to Israel and Donald Trump’s campaign to ease price control on medical services and drugs.

An optimistic outlook for 2017

 According to Forbes, Israel continues to attract the attention of top global funds looking for great deals outside of Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City. As well as large corporates interested in the innovation coming out of Israel, Chinese investors will continue to be a major influence. Forbes also put the decline of exits (initial public offerings and merger and acquisition deals) down to a growing maturity of the tech ecosystem in Israel. Regarding the findings in the report, Zysman remained cautious for the year ahead. “We expect the uptrend in capital raising activity to continue in 2017,” he said in a statement. “Though possibly at slower rates.”

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