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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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The Internet Economy in Africa – Key takeaways of a $180 Billion Industry

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

The e-Conomy Africa 2020 report, a unique collaboration between the IFC and Google, sheds light on the great potential of Africa’s Internet economy, the promising tech entrepreneurs driving innovation, and the growing tech talent across the continent.

The e-Conomy Africa 2020 report, a unique collaboration between the IFC and Google, sheds light on the great potential of Africa’s Internet economy, the promising tech entrepreneurs driving innovation, and the growing tech talent across the continent. Of the top 20 fastest-growing countries in the world, nineteen are located in Africa. Driven by greater access to the internet as well as having an increasingly young and well-educated workforce, the IFC and Google predict an internet economy on the African continent worth $180 billion by the year 2025. This could reach $712 billion by 2050 and despite the impact of Covid-19, this ‘e-conomy’ is expected to be more resilient to the pandemic. This offers several promising avenues for investment on the continent.

Sectors Driving the Growth of the Internet Economy in Africa

Thanks in large part to easier access to mobile internet, several key sectors have been able to flourish in recent years:

  • Fintech, or financial technology, enjoys an average of 120% growth in funding year-on-year, and is the most heavily funded sector in Africa. With large amounts of the population unbanked, startups allow people to leapfrog from physical retail banking to online banking by offering services like payment processing, personal finance, insurance and microloans. Companies like M-PESA in Kenya, Fawry in Egypt and Paystack-62 in Nigeria lead the way in, with some companies growing at more than 100% annually.
  • Healthtech received $189 million in 2019, and the healthcare market in Africa is expected to reach over $100 billion by 2030. Companies like Zipline have been operating medical supply drone deliveries to rural areas, while Helium Health has been providing technological solutions for healthcare providers.
  • Media and Entertainment has seen a rapid increase in demand, thanks in part due to lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Content specifically created in Africa can be found on globally-available streaming platforms, such as Netflix’s “Made in Africa” collection, and African-made content is expected to expand quickly.
  • E-Mobility and Food Delivery has been hard hit by the pandemic, as ride-hailing saw a decrease in demand due to work-from-home and lockdown measures. It is expected to rebound quickly however, as Africa has one of the lowest car to person ratios in the world. In some areas taxis and moto-taxis make up nearly 80% of motorized trips. Global ride-hailing companies like Uber and Bolt have entered the market in the past seven years, in addition to local startups, such as Little, Gokada, Gozem, MaxNG, Safeboda and Yassir. Startups within the e-mobility sector in Africa raised $62 million in 2019. Many of these startups have branched into food and grocery delivery to alleviate the impact of Covid-19.
  • E-Logistics platforms are helping informal retailers with companies such as Kobo360, Lori Systems, Sendy, and Truckr reducing the cost of cargo and local transportation.

Young Tech Talent in Africa Drives the Growth and Consumption of Online Services

Africa has the world’s youngest and fastest-growing workforce, one that is increasingly urbanized. Tech talent in Africa is at a historical high with nearly 700,000 professional developers across Africa, a number that is still rising. Women comprise one in five of the total developer population in Africa, higher than the United States, creating new opportunities for women, especially in Egypt, Morocco and South Africa. A skills gap still exists, with self-taught developers making up the same number of as those that are university-trained. Helping to bridge this gap will help encourage the growth of the internet economy in Africa.

With support and regulation from regional governments, the internet economy in Africa looks set to boom in the coming years, thanks to the hard work and entrepreneurship of local startups on the continent.

Photos : ifc.org – bp.blogspot.com – miro.medium.com

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Controversy and Challenged for the African Development Bank

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In recent years, many African countries and organizations have worked hard to move away from the veil of corruption that has shrouded the continent for decades. Exploitative systems left in place by former colonial governments have often been marked by nepotism and misuse of power. 

The most recent ‘scandal’ has just resulted in Dr Akinwumi Adesina being cleared of all allegations and also re-elected as President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) for a new five-year term.

Who is Akinwumi Adesina?

Dr Akinwumi “Akin” Adesina is a 60-year-old Nigerian who previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2010 until 2015. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Policy and Partnerships for AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa).

From a farming family, Adesina was educated in Nigeria (where he was the first student at his university to be awarded a First Class Honours) and then at Purdue University in Indiana, USA, where he won an award for his PhD thesis. 

He then went on to work as a senior economist at WARDA (West African Rice Development Association) as well as continuing to work for the Rockefeller Foundation who he had joined in 1988. He served as the foundation’s representative for the southern African region from 1999 until 2003 and then as associate director for food security from 2003 to 2008. 

Adesina has been recognized for the work he has done in agriculture on several occasions. He was named Forbes’ African man of the Year in 2013 for his work in reforming the Nigerian agricultural sector. And in 2010, then UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, appointed him as one of 17 leaders to spearhead the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

His record at the AfDB has been impressive. It is the only African financial institution with a Triple-A credit rating, and in October of 2019, they raised $115 billion in fresh capital, an achievement many ascribed to Adesina. 

Controversy

The corruption came from AfDB staff who alleged that Adesina had committed multiple breaches of trust and of abusing his position as well as breaching the bank’s own code of ethics. An initial 15-page report accused him of embezzlement, nepotism towards fellow Nigerians, awarding lucrative contracts to friends and families, and promoting people who were suspected of fraudulent activities. 

An internal inquiry cleared him of all allegations but this was rejected by the U.S.A., who are one of the AfDB’s 27 non-regional members as well as being the second largest shareholder in the bank behind Nigeria. 

This prompted the bank’s Bureau of Governors to set up a three-person review panel, headed by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland. They were given a short four-week window to investigate and deliver their findings so as not to interfere with the approaching election for President of AfDB, an election Adesina had been expected to win unopposed until these allegations surfaced.

The review panel agreed with the original internal inquiry’s findings, stating: “…concurs with the (Ethics) Committee in its findings in respect of all the allegations against the President and finds that they were properly considered and dismissed by the Committee.”

Moving Forward

On 27th August, 2020, Adesina was re-elected for another five –year term as president of AfDB with 100% of the votes from both regional and non-regional members. 

The challenge for Adesina now is to put this controversy behind him and focus on the challenges facing the AfDB, especially in the current uncertainty of Covid 19. His first term focused on what the bank called their ‘High 5s’ priorities: Powering Africa, Feeding Africa, Industrializing Africa, Integrating Africa, and Improving the lives of Africans. 

That first term saw a lot of success which included 18 million receiving electricity supplies, 141 million benefiting from better agricultural technology, and 60 million getting access to better water supplies and sanitation. The bank has also seen its general capital reach its highest level ever, growing to $208 billion from $93 billion. 

With the independent panel exonerating him, and with the unanimous vote for his re-election, Dr Adesina can hopefully put these allegations to bed and continue to improve the lives of millions of Africans, 

Photos : Foreignpolicy.com / Afdb.org / africanleadershipmagazine.co.uk/ ft.com

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Vivo Activewear – a Kenyan Success Story Trying to Survive a Pandemic

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As 2020 started, the coronavirus was a small footnote to some news broadcast and no-one had any idea of the impact it would have on every aspect of our lives. Words and phrases such as lockdown or social distancing meant nothing to any of us and we planned the year ahead as normal. 

So it was for Wandia Gichuru, who was looking forward to a bumper year for Her Vivo Activewear business and a projected 40% growth rate over 2019 figures. Fast forward 6 months and she is doubtful that the company can even match the previous year’s sales and revenue figures and her focus now is ensuring that they can keep their 175 staff employed.

Viva la Vivo

Gichuru’s success story is one that is becoming more and more common across Africa. A bright young entrepreneur with a vision that recognises the potential of the continent’s massive spending power, a market that has over 1 billion consumers and a total GDP in excess of US$3 trillion. 

Gichuru founded Vivo in 2011 with her business partner, Anne Marie Burugu. Since its founding, Vivo has grown to be one of the leading fashion labels in Kenya with 14 stores across the country and a reputation for stylish and affordable clothing. It has built a reputation for bright and colourful designs that often have an edgy feel to them. The company also owns the ShopZetu e-commerce platform, selling not only its own designs but also items from 3rd party retailers and manufacturers. 

Covid 19 

The global pandemic has forced the company to circle the wagons and rethink their growth projections for 2020. While Kenya has not suffered badly from Covid 19, the company decided to close all their physical stores in mid-March. They reopened around a month later but with some precautions in place such as not allowing customers to try items on. 

But rather than sit idle for that period, Vivo switched some of their production capabilities to reusable cloth face masks. They have made more than 200,000 units to date, and these are sold through their stores, at pop-up stalls, and through their online platform. They also received bulk orders from farms, banks, and other large-scale employers. That decision was a good one, as mask sales accounted for around 65% of the company’s revenue in April. 

Strong Foundations

Gichuru has a solid business background that has helped nurture Vivo. Before founding the company, she worked as an international business advisor and was employed by the UK government, the UN, and the World Bank. And as well as the day to day demands of running a successful fashion chain, she finds time to be a life coach, a regular investor on Kenya’s version of Dragon’s Den – Lion’s Den – and is also a trustee for the Mbugua Rosemary and Charles & Rita Field-Marsham Foundations. 

She has a strong belief in the power of African commerce and that women are an integral part of the potential the continent has. As part of that belief, she looks to transform lives by training and employing women as well as supporting small independent businesses operated by women. 

While Vivo may not see the growth in 2020 they expected, there is little doubt that they will survive and continue to grow in the future.

Photos : Youtube.com and destinafrica.co.ke and nairobifashionhub.co.ke

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African women making strides in technology

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

African Women’s Day.

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

TechWomen

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

Objectives 

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

Moroccan Laureate

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

From Tunisia

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

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

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

To the Future

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

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

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Rwanda : Jacqueline Mukarukundo Tackles the Problem of Electronic Waste

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Electronic Waste is poisoning Africa 

When it comes to electronic waste (e-waste), Africa has long faced two battles to fight. Not only does it have to deal with its own e-waste, but it also has to cope with the large amounts of e-waste imported, often illegally, from other continents. E-waste can refer to any electronic product that is either coming to the end of its working life or that already has passed that use by date and can include computers, televisions, mobile phones’ etc. 

For example, the UN Environment Programme’s study in 2009 found that Ghana imported 215,000 tons of electronic equipment that year with only 30% of that total being new. Of the rest, around 22,5000 tons could neither be recycled nor sold and would end up in landfill sites. The problem with the amounts that end up in landfill – something that is repeated across many African countries – is that these electronics often contain toxic elements such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, which then enter the soil and water. 

Finding Solutions, Recycling for the future.

Compared to other areas of the world, recycling is an industry still in its infancy in Africa, particularly when it comes to e-waste. In East Africa alone, and not counting any imported e-waste, some 130,000 tonnes of e-waste is produced every year and only about 20% of that is recycled. 

It needs dedication and vision to make the industry viable across the continent. And those are two attributes that you can say Jacqueline Mukarukundo has for sure. This young Rwandan entrepreneur was recently awarded the Margaret Prize which is given to women who are creative and active in the digital world.

It Began with an Accident

Her idea began with an accident back in 20011, when Mukarukundo was only around 13 years old. With some friends, she was taking part in a recycling campaign in the northern Rwandan city of Musanze. As they were working on a landfill site, a landslide happened (a common and dangerous occurrence on these sites) and her friend was lucky to escape. For Mukarukundo and her friends, that incident was the catalyst to get more involved in waste management and recycling. 

In 2018, at the age of 20, Mukarukundo co-founded Wastezon along with Ghislain Irakoze. The company uses mobile technology to link consumers and businesses who have e-waste that needs disposed of to the main recycling companies in that area. 

Simplicity Means Ease of Use

In order to make the process easy to use for consumers and recyclers, the person with the e-waste simply posts a photo of the e-waste – most often computers or mobile phones – and the recycling companies can then choose what they want and make an offer for the waste. 

Since they started, Wastezon has enabled 400 tonnes of e-waste to be sold, a drop in the ocean for now but an idea that is both working and growing. The monetisation side of the app comes from Wastezon taking 10% of all transactions. 

Low Internet Use and Mobile Phone Penetration Means There is a Long Way to Go

It has to be recognised that with a low level of internet connections (especially outside the capital, Kigali) and low mobile phone penetration (though this has dramatically increased to over 9 million subscriptions in recent years), this is an idea that is very much creating a foundation for future benefits. Rwanda also need to transform from a linear economy to a more circular one, though the amount of people repairing appliances rather than throwing away is also increasing. 

As Mukarukundo herself says: “The biggest challenge is the transformation of mentalities and funding.”

Recycling and waste management tend not to be businesses that attract a lot of funding as though the societal and environmental benefits are many, it is not a sector that sees high profits. 

Building for the Future

Mukarukundo knows that they have to keep pushing forward. They plan to expand their business to the cellular network to capture those consumers who do not have smartphones. And as 90% of the waste produced in Rwanda is organic, they also plan to expand their services to include that. 

“I dream of a world without waste, and I believe in the power of technology to achieve it.”

She also dreams of enabling other young Rwandan women to follow her entrepreneurial path and hopes to have her own funding in place one day to achieve that.

With dreams like that, and with the dedication and visions she has been showing for most of her life, there is little doubt that the amounts of e-waste ending up in Rwandan landfill sites will continue to decline and that Mukarukundo’s business will continue to grow. 

Photos : web24.news and media-exp1.licdn.com

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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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Laureen Kouassi-Olsson : a new wave of female leaders

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Although Africa’s economy has shown steady growth in recent years, as well as shifts from consumer consumption to rises in exports and inward investments, 2020 may not be such a good year. A recent World Bank report estimates that, as a result of the Covid 19 crisis, economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa could decline to between -2.1% and -5.1% in 2020. 

How severe this will be is going to depend on how individual countries and the region as a whole respond to the pandemic but this would be the region’s first recession in 25 years. Perhaps now than any other time, those businesses and entities promoting investment in the region have a bigger task than they have previously faced. 

Amethis: Not Just a Silent Investor

One organisation at the forefront of that challenge is investment fund management group, Amethis, who have been operating in Africa since 2013 and who have an investment capacity of more than €725m. Amethis provides seed and growth capital to promising businesses and entrepreneurs in various sectors across Africa including the sub-Saharan region. 

Amethis does not just operate as a silent investor: they work as active and key shareholders in the businesses they invest in, offering support and on the ground expertise when needed, as well as nurturing growth and access to international markets through their global network. 

A Strong Policy of Encouraging and Promoting Talented African Females 

Another positive factor about Amethis is their strong policy of encouraging and promoting talented African females to leadership positions. With gender disparity still a major issue in African corporate entities, this policy not only helps shatter the glass ceiling, it also acts as an encouragement to young African women. 

Heading up Amethis’ West African office is Laureen Kouassi-Olsson who is based in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. Kouassi-Olsson has responsibility for investment strategy in much of the sub-Saharan financial sector and her responsibilities includes identifying potential deals and then structuring and supervising those deals. She also manages Amethis’ financial institutions investment portfolio. In addition, she oversees Amethis West Africa, an investment vehicle that is dedicated solely to the Francophone countries of west and central Africa. As if those responsibilities were not enough, she serves on several boards of directors, including Ciel Finance in Mauritius, Petro-Ivoire in Ivory Coast, and the Board of Fidelity in Ghana. 

Qualifications and Career of Laureen Kouassi-Olsson

Born in the Ivory Coast, Ms. Kouassi-Olsson is fluent in both French and English. She graduated from Lyon’s EM Business School with a Master in Science of Management. For her degree, she specialised in Corporate Finance and Capital Markets. After graduation, she worked for Lehman Brothers Investment Banking Department in London as a Mergers & Acquisitions analyst for two years. She then moved to Proparco’s Financial Institutions Group as an investment officer where she held responsibility for appraising and structuring opportunities in the financial services industry throughout the sub-Saharan area. 

Kouassi-Olsson joined Amethis in Paris in 2013 as investment director and head of financial institutions. She held similar responsibilities to her post at Proparco as well as taking charge of Amethis West Africa with total investment funds of €40 million. She also represented Amethis at various conferences in Africa and in Europe. 

In 2016, she returned to her homeland as Regional Head with continued responsibilities for Amethis West Africa and also taking charge of sourcing deals, investor relations, and fundraising. 

Females Leading the Way

Kouassi-Olsson, along with Fatoumata Bâ – founder and CEO of African unicorn Jumia – was the subject of the recent “Regards de Femmes” meeting held in Paris in March. The two women were chosen not only because they symbolise success in what was traditionally a male-dominated sector, but because they illustrate an increasing feminine dynamic in several business sectors across Africa. 

As Ms. Kouassi-Olsson said at the meeting: “… we must contribute to the emergence of the next generation of women leaders on the African continent, we must inspire and serve as a model through our actions and our commitment. My fight is to demonstrate that there are no impossible but the limits that we set for ourselves, and that we must all transform adversity into an opportunity to have an impact on our societies. “

The Gender Disparity Must Be Eroded in Africa

With women such as Ms. Kouassi-Olsson in leading roles, the gender disparity that has plagued Africa for so many years will continue to be eroded. Young African girls can look to these strong women as ideal role models for the next generation.

Photos : jeuneafrique.com – agefi.fr

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Agricultural data is becoming big business in Africa

Comments (0) Business, Non classé

Africa can often be a continent of major contradictions, but perhaps especially when it comes to agriculture. The African Development Bank (ADB) released a recent report which stated that the continent contained an astounding 65% of the world’s uncultivated but arable land. Many areas also have an abundance of fresh water. The soil is extremely fertile, and the continent has around 300 days of sunshine every year. And when you look at the working population, in excess of 60% of people work in the agricultural sector in some capacity. 

Yet despite that potential, the continent as a whole continues to import much of its food ($64.5 billion in 2017) and many regions continue to suffer annual famines with around five million Africans dying every year from hunger and over a quarter of the population classified as “severely food insecure in 2016”.

To increase efficiency and productivity – and thus hopefully reduce hunger and reliance on imports – many African countries are now looking to data collection and analysis for solutions and creating a new demand and market by doing so. 

A lot of Challenges to Face

There are a number of challenges that Africa’s agricultural sector faces. As far as development of uncultivated land is concerned, many areas have poor or no transport links. There may be little in the way of communications, little credit to buy the machinery and seed stock needed to cultivate the land, issues with property rights, endemic corruption at local and national levels, a lack of access to technology, and various other issues. 

Many now see the use of data identifying the areas offering the most lucrative prospects as the way to move forward. Coupled with simpler smart phones to be used in situ, data scientists can analyse data from satellite imagery and records of climate and weather patterns to help focus on those initially promising areas. 

Another major problem that faces the sector, and also another that technology may offer a solution to, is that many African agricultural products are subject to the overuse of pesticides (or the use of banned pesticides). This means that they do not pass the stringent standards of target markets such as the European Union. 

Using Technology

Companies such as Acquahmeyer in Ghana are now using drones to monitor the health of crops so as to allow farmers to reduce their reliance on these pesticides. At $5 to 10 per acre, this is a growing data market across the continent. 

The ADB are also investing in data and data collection. As of 2018, they had launched a drone programme partnering with the Tunisian government and the city of Busan in South Korea. The programme will include training 32 young Tunisians on how to pilot drones and collect agricultural data. 

South African startup, Zindi, is another African company looking to harness data to improve agricultural yields. They use their platform to host competitions that brings together over 9,000 African data scientists to crunch numbers and data from satellite imagery and other sources to provide real solutions on – and in – the ground. 

But it is also about different data sets being harnessed to improve agriculture. In Nigeria, the government are undertaking a major registration programme to include its farmers on an electronic wallet system. This will allow the government to make grants and subsidy payments, share information on better farming practices, and help improve the continental supply chain. 

Monsanto Has Established Data Sharing Agreements: Good News for Africa?

Multinational conglomerate, Monsanto, has already established data sharing agreements with the American agricultural machinery producer, Agco. They also launched Climate FieldView in 2018, a tool specifically designed to collect and exploit agricultural data from across Africa. Given Monsanto’s track history, there are justifiable worries that while African NGOs seek to reduce hunger and poverty by increasing crop yields. 

Hopefully, the Pan-African efforts by various parties will continue to yield promising results.

Photos : blogs.worldbank.org / idss.mit.edu / agroinformatics.org

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The Eco is set to replace old colonial currencies in several countries

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In the aftermath of World War 2, the French franc had been devalued so as to have a set exchange rate with the US dollar. This left France’s currency relatively weak, something that could affect France’s existing colonies in Africa and that could also affect imports to those colonies to France. A decision was taken in December of 1945 to create a new currency, the CFA franc, for 14 countries in western and central Africa. 

There has been disagreement over the benefits, especially in recent decades, of having a currency pegged first to the French franc and more recently to the Euro. In December, 2019, the former colonies agreed a deal with France to rename the CFA franc as the Eco and to remove some of the financial links with France that have existed since the CFA franc’s creation. But what does this mean for the countries involved? Will it give them more economic freedom or will it lead to problems with imports and exports?

The Eco Would Be Pegged To the Euro 

A lot of the impetus for this change comes from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional grouping of 15 countries established in 1975. For more than 20 years, ECOWAS has sought to establish a common regional currency in order to remove issues caused by trade barriers and to boost economic growth in a region that has over 380 million people living in it. While the 8 countries (most of them French-speaking) in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) bloc reached agreement in December to start moving away from the CFA franc, some issues still remain. The agreement would see the countries no longer having to keep half their reserves in France (something they had to do as France guaranteed the CFA franc). 

However, the new currency would be pegged to the Euro and that pegging would be guaranteed by France, something that is making Anglophone countries in the area such as Nigeria and Ghana reluctant to join, especially as France would have a seat on the ECOWAS board as a result. 

The Covid-19 Crisis Severely Impacts the Original Plan

The original plan was to roll out the new currency sometime in 2020. But there are two hurdles that stand in the way of that ambitious timetable. The first of those is that the criteria set for economic convergence included any countries involved keeping their public debt lower than 70% of GDP and also having inflation in single figures. As of December, only Togo – one of the smallest countries in the region – had met that criteria. The second hurdle is the current Covid-19 crisis which is severely impacting the global economy. With the next ECOWAS meeting schedule for June of this year, it remains to be seen whether it will go ahead as planned. 

Nigeria and Ghana are both looking at the proposals in more detail and Nigeria has stated that they will respond later in 2020. Ghana is enthusiastic about the plan but are insistent that any exchange rate must be flexible and the Governor of the Bank of Ghana has said that issues surrounding the new currency will take time to resolve. 

International Monetary Fund welcomes the proposals

The IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, has welcomed the proposals. She sees them as much needed modernisation of the fiscal policies between France and its former colonies. She also recognised that WAEMU has a solid track record in recent years as far as maintaining economic growth and low inflation were concerned and that they had increased their foreign exchange reserve levels. 

Transition and Problems

The possible postponement of the ECOWAS meeting aside, there may still be more issues facing the planned transition period. 

  • The pegging of the ECO to the Euro, and the unconditional guarantees of that from France, have to be ratified both by the French parliament and by WAEMUM members. 
  • The exact terms of the guarantee from the French Treasury have still to be agreed. Will it take the form of overdraft facilities or an extended line of credit? 
  • Withdrawing the African currency reserves held in France can only happen once these two agreements have been signed. 
  • Once those reserves have been withdrawn, the interest on them will be less than the 0.75% the French Treasury currently pays. This will mean that budgets will have to be adjusted. 
  • Dates have to be agreed for when France’s representatives on the La Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest’s (BCEAO) supervisory bodies should be withdrawn. 
  • Agreement as to note printing and coin minting for the Eco cannot be reached until the various positions of the regional bodies agree as to fixed or flexible exchange rates and the question of pegging. 

Hopefully, the nations involved can overcome the hurdles facing them. As Africa’s economic growth continues, such plans for regional currencies to support existing trading blocs may be a vital part of progress.

Photos : agoravox.fr / afrique.le360.ma / financialafrik.com

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