26 Jun

WhatsApp is getting set to be Africa’s biggest payments and ad platform

The ambitions of WhatsApp have remained something of a mystery, even as its reach as a messaging service and as the social media platform of choice for Africans has grown and grown. It has done so without a very obvious business plan and we’d often wondered why.

Then, after the departure of co-founders Brian Action (September) and Jan Koum (April) from parent Facebook, there has been some great reporting (paywall) on the internal tensions over how a desire to protect users’ privacy clashed with the goal of commercializing WhatsApp to justify the $22 billion Facebook paid for it in 2014.

WhatsApp’s competitive advantage is in emerging markets, where its service almost always works, regardless of internet speed or available bandwidth. It’s the world’s No.1 messaging service, thanks to users from Latin America to Africa and most of Asia outside China.

In these regions, there’s intense interest from local businesses that want to see WhatsApp commercialize—they want to be able to use the platform more efficiently to transact with their customers who pretty much live on WhatsApp.

Facebook understands that. “The wave of disruption we’ll see from Africa will come from small companies more so than from big corporates,” Julien Decot, Facebook’s director of platform partnerships for EMEA, said at the MEST Africa Summit in Cape Town, South Africa last week.

“It’s clear those companies will probably jump directly to WhatsApp to connect to their prospective customers and get their businesses discovered. It’s unclear if they’ll advertise on Facebook’s Newsfeed.”

That doesn’t mean Facebook thinks African or Asian businesses will never advertise on WhatsApp. It’s just taking a step-by-step approach. The first move: creating a WhatsApp Business app for millions of small businesses to reach their customers.

The next: “fixing the plumbing” by enabling key services like payments and discovery and then identifying the “underlying business model,” Decot explains.

To read the full article, click here.

19 Jun

The history behind Morocco’s “Africa” World Cup

Morocco’s fifth bid to host the World Cup, like its previous four, ended in disappointment.

After a vote by FIFA member nations on June 13, the “United” bid of the United States, Canada and Mexico was picked ahead of Morocco to host the 2026 World Cup.

Morocco notched 65 votes, compared to 134 by the United bid. Crucially, 11 African countries voted against Morocco’s bid despite its projection of a united front for another “Africa” World Cup.

That lack of African support proved costly as, to have any chance of winning the 104 votes required for a simple majority, Morocco needed the 54 votes held by Africa’s federations.

Some of the opposition to Morocco’s bid within the continent stemmed from a four-decade old territory dispute: Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a former Spanish colony in 1975.

South Africa, the first African country to host the World Cup in 2010, was one of the major opponents of Morocco’s bid over its Western Sahara claims.

Both countries have had a strained relationship since 2004 when South Africa recognized the Western Sahara’s independence.

Similarly, Namibia voted against Morocco’s bid saying “it will never support nor align itself with a colonizer” in reference to Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara.

After World War 1, Namibia was itself occupied by neighbor South Africa for 75 years until 1990.

Politics over Western Sahara territory have lingered for years. In January 2017, Morocco rejoined the African Union after a 33-year absence since the union admitted Western Sahara as a member state in 1984.

But Morocco’s re-admission was voted against by 15 of the AU’s 54 member states. Morocco also asked the AU to re-consider its stance on recognising SADR when it requested to rejoin.

Morocco’s Africa foreign policy has markedly changed in recent years under King Mohammed VI.

To read the full article, click here.

 

18 Jun

African countries and their use of data and evidence to inform policy

Rigorous, reliable evidence should be used when making decisions for any society. That’s because the use of evidence helps decision makers to maximise limited resources such as money and expertise.

It’s also a way to avoid harm and to select the courses of action that have been shown to be beneficial.

The importance of basing decisions on the best available evidence is even more important in settings like many African countries. The continent has enormous challenges to overcome. These include a lack of resources; poverty; and corruption.

Like many developing countries elsewhere, African states have a real challenge when it comes to using academic research and evidence to decide on and design policies.

The problem is twofold. Policymakers sometimes don’t call on available research, while for their part academics don’t know how to engage with policymakers.

But academics would be naive to believe that only research evidence is important, or that they’re the only ones working to tackle Africa’s massive challenges.

Rather, my colleagues and I should recognise our position within a wider community working towards real change. This community is made up of people, the organisations they work for and their wider networks.

The Africa Evidence Network is one of many on the continent working to break down the walls that stop decision makers and researchers from working closely together.

We set up the Africa Evidence Leadership Award as part of this effort. It is aimed at people from Africa who work to support evidence-informed decision making.

The way in which evidence-informed decision making has been defined has deliberately been left broad. This means that people from all sectors of the evidence ecosystem—not only academics—can apply.

It’s a chance to benchmark the highest standards of evidence-informed decision-making and to recognise people using evidence to make decisions and engaging with researchers to support evidence-informed decisions.

To read the full article, click here.

15 Jun

Taxify, Uber’s biggest rival in Africa, is now worth $1 billion

Taxify battle to win the ride-hailing market in Africa and Europe has received a major shot in the arm.

The five-year old Estonian startup has raised $175 million in a funding round which values it at more than $1 billion—the coveted unicorn status. The round is led by German car giant Daimler, Europe-based Korelya Capital, and Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of fintech company TransferWise. The round also saw participation from Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing giant in China known for backing Uber’s rivals around the globe.

The investment is Daimler’s latest foray into the ride-hailing transport business after prior investments in European car transport companies, including Flinc, the German carpooling startup. As part of the deal, Daimler will join Taxify’s board and could also offer it access to Moovel, its transport-booking app, with a user base of 2.5 million.

Taxify currently operates in 40 cities—11 of which are in Africa—and is expected to use the new funding to power an expansion into more cities. Its expansion strategy will likely target only cities where the ride-hailing business has been “proven,” as CEO Markus Villing told Bloomberg last year.

Read more: Quartz Africa

14 Jun

Barclays Africa to join the Nigerian Stock Exchange as a broker

Barclays Africa plans to join the Nigerian Stock Exchange as a broker in July and is exploring opportunities in three other African countries, in a move to create access for foreign investors looking to tap into markets on the continent.

Garth Klintworth, head of markets for Barclays Africa Group, on Thursday said its subsidiary Absa Nigeria had acquired a securities licence in Nigeria, part of a wider plan to increase it presence in west Africa’s biggest economy.

Nigeria’s stock exchange, the third largest in Africa, has in the last few years said it was reviewing applications from leading global investment banks to join its trading floor to increase foreign investment in one of the world’s least tapped emerging markets.

Read more: Reuters

25 May

Cape Town’s water crisis proves we need to think about water in a new way

Cape Town caught the world’s attention earlier this year with dramatic headlines that it could become the world’s first major city to run out of water, joining an ever-growing line-up of major cities, regions and nations facing comparable threats, including São Paulo, Mexico City, Barcelona, Bangalore, Nairobi, California; and Australia and large parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

A tough water-saving regime helped push back Day Zero for dry taps in Cape Town to 2019. But the crises around the world have surfaced deep patterns of disconnect in our relationships with water. At the same time, at a local scale, water has emerged as a lens through which to view the complex dynamics of politics, governance, privilege and agency in one the world’s most unequal societies.

The Khoikhoi pastoralists, thought to be the original inhabitants of what is now Cape Town, were drawn to the slopes of Table Mountain around 2,000 years ago for the freshwater springs and rivers that flow year round. They named the place Camissa, the “place of sweet waters.” The natural abundance of water also drew early Dutch settlers here in the 17th century to establish a supply station for ships crossing the seas for the Dutch East India Company.

Aqueducts, channels, an old sand filtration system, and other relics of an extensive colonial-era water infrastructure can still be found on the mountain. The growing modern city long ago outstripped these natural resources, however, and these local waters disappeared from everyday life. Rivers and streams were encased in concrete, recharge areas for underground groundwater stores were paved over, and distant catchment areas were tapped to feed the city. At the same time millions of liters of fresh water were channeled from the city out to sea every day in storm-water drains.

But the Cape Town water supply remains as dependent as ever on surface water collected in dams from rivers, and the ecological health of these rivers has long been neglected.

Read more at: Quartz Africa

 

21 May

African fintech and agribusiness companies attract interest from investors

African private equity and venture capital deal-making in April were dominated by investments in technology companies, particularly fintech and business-to-business platforms, together with encouraging activity in the agribusiness & food sector. This according to data provided by Africa Private Equity News, an industry information service.

Fintech investments were mostly in mobile-enabled banking and financial services companies. These include: French development-finance institution Proparco’s US$3m backing of JUMO, which helps customers to access loans and savings products in East and West Africa; and a $70m round, led by US-based Trinity Ventures, into credit provider Branch International. Digital payments network MFS Africa also raised $4.5m in funding, led by LUN Partners Group, thereby becoming one of the first fintech players on the continent to receive funding from a China-based venture capital firm.

Business-to-business solutions remains an attractive theme, with TLcom Capital announcing two investments in the space – a $5m injection in Nigeria-based mobile marketing company Terragon, and a $3.5m series-A round for Kenyan consumer-feedback platform mSurvey, which plans to use the capital to scale and expand into more countries. Asoko Insight, a provider of data on African companies, attracted $3.6m in additional funding from its early shareholders and some new ones, while South Africa-based Giraffe – which enables businesses to recruit high volumes of medium-skilled staff – closed a second round of investment, supported by FirstRand’s Vumela Fund, with participation from Omidyar Network, the Brozin family’s Forever Young Capital and Catapult Trust.

The continent’s rapidly-growing food market could be worth more than $1tn annually by 2030 as imports are substituted with high-value locally-produced food, according to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. With 60% of the world’s unused arable land, Africa’s potential in the broader agribusiness sector is also enormous.

The sector continues to attract interest from private equity firms such as DOB Equity, which last month backed Rwanda-based grain trader Sarura Commodities. Furthermore, Agri-Vie and Norfund announced a $7m co-investment in Marginpar Flower Group Holdings, which has floriculture interests in Kenya and Ethiopia. In addition, South African-based The Beverage Company, in which Ethos Private Equity and Nedbank Private Equity owns a stake, signed an agreement to acquire 100% of SoftBev, the sole licensed bottler for Pepsi and its related brands in South Africa, from Bowler Metcalf and the original founders.

Read the full story at How We Made It in Africa

18 May

Trump to host Nigerian president at White House

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is to become the first African leader to visit Donald Trump – just three months after the US president is reported as dismissing African nations as “shithole countries”.

Mr Buhari will arrive in Washington on Monday to discuss economic, security and military ties. But observers wonder if Mr Trump’s past remarks may cause some friction.

In January, he was reported to have asked a private meeting of American lawmakers: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

The comment – which Mr Trump denied – was referring to African countries in particular, according to Senator Dick Durbin who was present at the meeting. Speaking at the time, Mr Durbin said the language had been “hate-filled, vile and racist”. Mr Trump responded by telling reporters: “I’m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”

The meeting comes weeks after Rex Tillerson, then US secretary of state, visited Nigeria and other African countries. That trip was widely seen as an attempt to smooth relations after Mr Trump’s alleged comments caused outrage across the continent.

“President Trump looks forward to discussing ways to enhance our strategic partnership and advance our shared priorities,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

She added that priorities would include “promoting economic growth and reforms, fighting terrorism and other threats to peace and security, and building on Nigeria’s role as a democratic leader in the region”.

Mr Buhari, a 75-year-old former military leader, is expected to stress his commitment to democracy despite reports of rampant corruption and poor governance, according to Reuters.

He will stress the importance of the West African country’s role in ensuring stability across the continent despite itself facing insurgency threats by terror group Boko Haram in the north east.

After the talks, he will meet businesses specialising in agriculture. Senior Nigerian government officials will also discuss a number of projects with executives from major US transport companies.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/trump-nigeria-president-white-house-africa-muhammadu-buhari-oil-a8329186.html

14 May

Gambia capital Banjul elects first female mayor: Rohey Malick Lowe

Gambia’s capital Banjul made history on Saturday with the election of its first female mayor. Mayoress-elect Rohey Malick Lowe is the first woman elected to steer affairs of one of West Africa’s smallest capitals.

Her election was confirmed by the Independent Electoral Commission at the end of the May 12 Mayoral elections that took place in Banjul and Kanifing areas.

She run on the ticket of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) which elected her as candidate months back. Incidentally the Lowe name is not new to the post, her late father, Malik Lowe was a one-time Mayor of the city.

The polls were the first mayoral election after ouster of Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh’s party also lost the presidential hold on Banjul in the December 2016 elections that ended his over two decades rule of The Gambia.

That makes two mayoresses for West Africa. Across the border in Sierra Leone, a woman was also elected mayor, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, became mayor for the first time in over three decades. The Chartered Accountant became the first female mayor since 1977 – 1980 when the position was held by one Dr June Holst-Roness.

The new Banjul “overlord” in outlining her aspirations for Banjul in a Go Fund Me page in February 2018, she said: “After 22 year’s Executive neglect, the Gambia and her capital Banjul in particular need a serious face-lift. Banjul as a City is in a bad shape, and it would require pragmatic, visionary leadership with a progressive team and established structures to make that happen.

“Rohey Malick Lowe acknowledges and assumes this task as a citizen responsibility, and is ready to get in the trenches with YOU and with YOUR help, give us ‘the City We Deserve!’ Of the many issues that the City faces, a Rohey Lowe Council’s immediate priority areas will include, but not limited to: SANITATION, MUNICIPAL ECONOMY, PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE.

11 May

Stranded South Sudan govt begs U.S. against assistance review

South Sudan’s government urged the United States on Wednesday not to “abandon” the country after Washington said it would review its assistance programs because it could not continue a partnership with leaders perpetuating “endless war”.

“We are asking the United States not to abandon this country (South Sudan) because we need them … their role to assist the population of South Sudan is crucial and cannot be ignored”, said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Ariik.

The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, which has been in the throes of a civil war since late 2013 that has displaced around a third of the 12 million-strong population and killed tens of thousands of people.

In a sharply worded statement on Tuesday the White House said the United States was a “proud and hopeful supporter” of South Sudan when it gained independence in 2011.

“Seven years later, the leaders of this country have squandered this partnership … killed their own people, and repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to live up to their commitments to end the country’s civil war.”

The U.S. funding provides aid to millions of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and lifesaving assistance such as food to people still inside the war-torn country.

Washington’s statement says the United States is committed to saving lives but does not want its assistance to “prolong the conflict” or facilitate corrupt behaviour by elites.

Production in some of South Sudan’s oil fields has been shut down due to the conflict, but the government says around 130,000 barrels per day of oil are being produced. Juba spends well more than half ifs budget on weapons and paying soldiers, according to U.N. experts.

To read the full article, click here.