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Rwanda’s Rapid Electrification

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Rwanda’s Rapid Electrification

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By: Elenah Kimaru

Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Between 2009 and 2019, the country’s real GDP grew an average of 7% every year, with the World Bank projecting an average of 7.5-8% annual growth in the medium term. The IMF projects that Rwanda will be the 5th fastest growing economy in the world in 2020.

Most of the economic activity feeding Rwanda’s current success would have been impossible to carry out fifteen years ago, when less than 5% of Rwandans had access to electricity: In 2005, 75% of the country’s urban population and 98.7% of the rural population lacked electricity access.

Since then, Rwanda’s power generation capacity has experienced rapid growth. As of December 2019, 53% of Rwandan households enjoyed electricity access. Rwanda’s electrification enabled economic growth across the board. Between 2005 and 2019, the services, manufacturing, and industrial sectors more than doubled in size, and a bustling high-tech industry emerged in the country which boasts such success as the Mara phone – the first “Made in Africa” smartphone.

Rwanda’s electrification is the consequence of the government, the private sector, and non-profit organizations working together to obtain the best results in the most efficient manner. The government of Rwanda has set a strategic priority of universal electrification by 2024 in its National Electrification Plan and has partnered with private companies to develop the country’s electricity generation capacity. As of 2018, over half (52%) of the energy capacity was privately owned, with financing often coming from third parties such as the World Bank and USAID.

As of 2019, the bulk (47%) of Rwanda’s total installed capacity to generate electricity came from hydropower generated from Rwanda’s many rivers, with diesel (26%), peat (7%), solar (5%), methane (12%), and imports (2%) make up the rest. Today, 39% of households are connected directly to the national grid, and 14% use off-grid solutions.

Spillway of a mini-hydropower station located in Rwanda.

Since more than three-quarters of Rwanda’s population lives in rural areas, the road to universal electrification includes making off-grid solutions available to Rwandans in more remote regions. To reach 100% electrification by 2024, the government intends to connect the majority (52%) of Rwandans to the national grid and provide electricity to the remaining 48% through off-grid solutions.

Over a billion USD in public investments as well as substantial institutional reforms that allowed the private sector to play a key role in building power plants and innovating off-grid solutions have brought Rwanda’s energy capacity to where it is today. Reaching the goal of 100% electrification by 2024 will require continued public investment and private sector cooperation.

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Internet Infrastructure in Africa

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Internet Infrastructure in Africa

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By: Leah Ngari & Shira Aliza Petrack

The quickly evolving digital economy has made internet connectivity a necessity in today’s world. A fast and reliable internet connection not only creates new job opportunities; it also helps existing businesses perform better and expand their operational capacity.

But what is the internet? The internet is a web of connected pathways that enables the flow of data from any point on this network to any other point on the network. Initially, the internet signals flowed over the copper wire network that had been put down across most western countries by phone companies over the 20th century. In 1986, the US National Science Foundation inaugurated the world’s first fiber-optic backbone, connecting 170 smaller networks. Private ventures continued working on laying more cable, and the new internet backbone made up of resilient and interconnected fibre-optic networks allowed huge amounts of data to travel quickly across the United States. The old copper cable network served to connect individual households to the new internet backbone.

By the 1990s, when the internet became popular among the general population, another network of cables – the coaxial cables laid by cable television companies – were also able to solve the “last mile problem” of connecting end users to the fibre backbone. Various telecommunication companies joined to race to offer consumers the fastest, most reliable internet, and companies began regularly upgrading their cables following the latest technological advances, even beginning to offer direct “home to fibre” connections.

Internet connectivity in Africa – how did we get here?

In the early 2000s, while the internet was already transforming almost every facet of the world we live in, landline penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa remained low – in 2003, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa had only 1.6 landline subscriptions for every 100 Sub-Saharan Africans! As a result, the region lacked a copper wire network “backbone” that could spread the internet.

The lack of a copper wire “backbone” made it difficult to transmit the data across the continent. Transferring internet data in and out of Africa was also a challenge for a long time. In 2008, only three fiber-optic submarine cables connected the entire continent of Africa to the global internet, two of which landed in North Africa. Until 2009, Sub-Saharan Africans wanting to go online needed to rely on a single, older-generation submarine cable for their connection. A boat accidentally colliding with the cable – as would happen frequently – could cause a months-long internet blackout.

In the past decade, African connectivity has improved dramatically. Today, a number of submarine cables running up and down Africa’s coasts transfers the data to centrals servers from where the data gets beamed across the continent through a complex network of copper wires, fiber-optic cables, cellular towers, and satellites to an assortment of feature phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and industrial computers. The rapid rise in internet-enabled cell phones have allowed more Africans than ever to connect.

Nevertheless, more than 60% of Africans are still disconnected from the internet, with connectivity spread unevenly across the continent. And those who can connect often still only do so through expensive, unreliable connections.

Submarine cables

Today, 37 out of 38 African countries that have a seashore also have at least one submarine cable landing (the exception being Eritrea, and not counting the disputed territory of Western Sahara). While countries with a direct connection to submarine cables enjoy the benefits of high-speed internet such as higher internet use and higher employment, Africa’s sixteen landlocked countries are left to rely on wireless substitutes which do not work as well.

Even in the thirty-seven countries with a direct submarine landing port, nine countries have only a single submarine cable connecting the country, while another eight have a mere two. Thus, a stray anchor causing a small tear or even scheduled maintenance on the cable can lead to prolonged internet cuts. As a result, even countries with a direct submarine cable port still experience regular internet slow-downs and outages.

Samples of submarine telecom cables.

Cellular connections

Since neither fixed landlines nor cable TV was ever particularly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region still lacks an adequate network of telecommunication wires. In addition, mobile phones are much cheaper to purchase and easier to use than more sophisticated devices (such as personal computers) equipped with the capacity for wired connectivity. As a result, internet adoption in Africa has largely been driven by mobile phone penetration. More recently, the advent of cheaper smartphones has brought more of the internet to even more Africans. In its 2019 report, GSMA predicted that 3G (which provides faster browsing and downloading) will overtake 2G to become the leading mobile technology in the region.

Nevertheless, a deep digital divide remains. In 2019, mobile internet adoption (unique individuals using the internet on a mobile device) stood at only 24% in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank estimates that as many as 100 million Africans live in rural areas out of reach of traditional cellular networks.

Individuals who are connected often make due with poor service: Cell towers can transmit a stronger and faster signal when served by fibre cable, but many of the cell towers in the region are too far from the fibre cable network, and so need to rely instead on satellites and microwaves for their reception.

Fiber Networks

As mentioned above, Africa could not rely on a widespread and functioning network of telephone copper wires or of coaxial television cables for its initial internet needs, and instead needed to rely mostly on wireless transmission mechanisms to transfer internet data across the continent. And over the past decade, with advances in fiber-optic communication greatly increasing the data transmission capacity of these cables, telecommunications companies have begun gradually replacing or supplementing old copper and coaxial cables with fibre-optic cables in many industrialized nations.

Workers laying down fiber optic cables.
The advances in fibre-optic technology also give Africa a chance to leapfrog over the old hardware to design and build a modern and efficient fibre-optic terrestrial backbone. However, fiber-optic cables are also expensive to install and so are still largely absent from the African mainland as can be seen from this map.
Visualization of fiber infrastructure in Africa and population density, showing unserved regions. Total population is estimated for each 10,000 km2 hexagon; those with populations below 100,000 are excluded. Source: Network Startup Resource Center, TeleGeography, and European Commission.

Africa’s lack of terrestrial fiber-optic network is holding back the continent’s economic development. But building such a network comes at a cost: laying down just one kilometer of fiber-optic cable can cost between $15,000 and $30,000.

Increasing connectivity through private sector investment

The World Bank has estimated that connecting the 1.1 million Africans who do not currently use the internet to affordable and reliable broadband internet will require a $100 million investment to build at least 250,000 new 4G base stations and deploy at least 250,000 km of fiber-optic cable throughout the region. It will also require innovative solutions to bring internet to the nearly 100 million Africans living in rural areas beyond the signal capacity of traditional mobile networks.

Recently, the private sector has stepped in order to implement the infrastructural advances needed to connect Africa to fast and unreliable internet. Companies working alone or partnering with other governmental and corporate bodies are working on various aspects of the internet infrastructure challenge in the hopes of connecting the continent and making a profit along the way.

Google is working on Equino, a private subsea cable that will run from Portugal to South Africa, with branching units along the way that can be used to connect the countries along Africa’s western coast. Facebook has partnered with African and global telecommunication operators to build 2Africa, a subsea cable that will lie along Africa’s east and west coasts and is expected to connect twenty-three countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

Private-public partnerships are another common way of meeting Africa’s infrastructure needs. In Botswana, a land-locked country with a higher than average internet penetration rate, the government has launched a “Fibre to Home” initiative: Eleven private sector companies working in coordination with the government to build and maintain the fibre network will connect Botswanans’ homes directly to a robust terrestrial fibre backbone.

Rwanda – another landlocked country – lay 3,000 km of fibre cable before partnering with KT Rwanda Networks in 2013 (a subsidiary of the South Korean telecommunication giant) to design and manage the fixed-mobile converged infrastructure. This year, the Rwandan government announced an additional partnership with GSMA to further increase mobile broadband penetration in the country.

Creating solutions for rural connectivity

Innovative solutions will be needed to connect the 100 million Africans living out of reach of traditional mobile networks. Africa’s sheer size along with the low population density in rural areas means that it is not efficient to lay fibre cables or build cell towers in a manner that would connect every inch of the continent. Instead, companies and researchers are coming up with creative solutions that will bring the internet to Africa’s most rural populations.

Google and Facebook have both tried thinking outside the box in an effort in bringing the internet to Africa’s remote villages, with Google using helium-filled balloons and Facebook resorting to drones and satellites to beam internet signals to off-the-grid areas. Researchers from South Africa’s University of Western Cape have built a local mesh network that enabled cheap and reliable wi-fi in Mankosi, an area home to some 6,000 people with little running water and where most homes are not connected to the electricity grid and where running water is considered a luxury. In Ghana, global telecommunication giant Huawei has successfully designed lightweight base stations with concrete free foundations that can be transported entirely on standard trucks and that use 4G technology to connect with the “donor site” as opposed to satellite and microwave to provide a cheaper and more reliable internet connection.

Looking towards the future

Connectivity in Africa has improved dramatically over the past decade. Global, national, and private initiatives have made internet connections more accessible on the continent and created new opportunities for employment, socialization, and education. As more Africans come online every year, however, several challenges remain.

First, despite the promising advances, the infrastructure challenge remains. Today, in 2020, the internet is still beyond the reach of most of the continent’s population. And in areas where a physical connection to the internet is possible, the cost of the data package or of the digital device needed to connect makes broadband unaffordable for most Africans. Lastly, the high rates of digital illiteracy across the continent make it difficult for many Africans to make the most of the internet once they do connect.

Investing in African connectivity will not only improve the quality of life and economic prospects of much of the continent’s population. Better internet in Africa will also create business opportunities by establishing the conditions necessary to open or scale a business. For tech entrepreneurs, cheap and reliable broadband on the continent will open the possibility of establishing the initial data centers and server farms of the continent and employ Africans in the growing global digital economy.

The United Nations has defined building resilient infrastructures, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since the end of 2019, more than half of humanity is online, but the majority of Africans are still disconnected. Now is the time to connect Africa.

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The Commercial Potential of Africa’s Digital Revolution

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The Commercial Potential of Africa's Digital Revolution

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By: Elenah Kimaru

Did you know that over 525 million people used the internet in Africa in 2019? If current growth trends continue, almost 75% of Africans are expected to come online by 2030.

There is still work to be done in connecting the continent. According to a report by the World Bank, achieving universal access by 2030 would require an investment of up to $100 billion. Nevertheless, the current state of connectivity in Africa has already paved the way for a digital transformation on the continent. In 2018 alone, mobile technologies and services generated 8.6% of the GDP in sub-Saharan Africa (equivalent to apx. US $144 billion in economic value) and contributed to the creation of apx. 3.5 million jobs.

Overcoming barriers to business through technology

The dramatic increase in access to mobile phones has been particularly transformative. Already, mobile phones are changing how people interact and do business in Africa. And since cellular connections are often the only internet connection available to users, savvy entrepreneurs are exploring the full potential of mobile connectivity and creating products and services specifically designed with the African consumer in mind. While there is still much room for progress, Africa’s digital transformation has opened Africa for business and created room for innovation, employment, new companies, and connectivity.

From commerce to fintech to tourism, below are some of the tech companies that are revolutionizing service delivery:

Commerce – MoWoza

In 2017, only 17% of exports in Africa were intra-African, meaning that it was conducted between African countries or businesses. (This is as opposed to inter-African commerce, which is conducted between an African country or business and another business or country outside the continent.) For comparison, in that same year, 69% of European trade; 59% of Asian trade; and 31% of North American trade was internal commerce conducted between economic players in the same region. Experts agree that increasing internal trade on the continent is crucial to Africa’s sustainable economic development.

Increasing intra-African trade requires overcoming several hurdles. One major obstacle is Africa’s infrastructure deficit, which hinders the travel of people and goods between countries. This in turn greatly restricts commerce on the continent by making it difficult for enterprising businesses to source their raw materials and secure their supply chain on the continent.

Since 2012, MoWoza has sought to solve this issue by combining the advances of digital technology with Mozambique’s strong community bonds. Suzanne Moreira founded the company as a mobile platform that allowed migrant workers coming to South Africa from Mozambique to send products to their families back home using text messaging and a logistical network of community members. Sensing the potential of the network she created, Moreira expanded the service to allow informal cross-border traders (ICBT) in Mozambique – 80% of whom are women – to purchase, arrange delivery, and track the shipment of inventory from the comfort of their village by using text messages. This allowed ICBT to run their businesses without wasting entire days on expensive and sometimes dangerous re-stocking trips to and from major cities.

Since then, the company has expanded to include a business training program for small-scale informal retailers as well as a business analytics service specializing in informal markets.

Fintech – Interswitch and M-Pesa

Africa holds a lot of promise for fintech entrepreneurs. A large share of the continent’s population remains unbanked, and therefore does not keep or manage its money through traditional financial institutions such as banks. The most common reason cited for lack of bank account ownership is lack of sufficient funds.

Even the poorest populations, however, save money, receive payments, and send money for commercial or personal reasons. The growing demand for affordable financial services and products on the continent is being met by innovative entrepreneurs. Thus, fintech companies who are able to leverage the demand for easy and cheap money management and payment tools can help drive financial inclusion in Africa while building successful and scalable businesses.

Interswitch was founded by Mitchell Elegbe in Lagos, Nigeria, as a digital payments company. Elegbe, an electrical engineer and entrepreneur, identified the business opportunity presented by Nigeria’s outdated financial system, which relied mainly on cash and paper ledgers. Since 2002, Interswitch has built much of the infrastructure supporting Nigeria’s online banking system, offering both personal and commercial financial products and services.

Following its success in its home country of Nigeria – currently Africa’s largest economy – Interswitch has expanded its operations to an additional 23 African countries, and maintains a physical presence in Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya. In 2019, Visa acquired a 20% stake in the company on the basis of a billion dollar valuation, making Interswitch the first home-grown “unicorn” on the continent.

M-Pesa is another African fintech company disrupting financial transactions in Africa. The increased mobile phone penetration along with the inadequate traditional financial inclusion created a strong demand for alternative money management and transacting tools, and M-Pesa has stepped in to fill this demand. In 2018, almost half of mobile money accounts worldwide were concentrated in Africa, a large portion of which are M-Pesa accounts.

M-Pesa was founded in 2007 by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile network operator. The service allows users to use their mobile phone to deposit, withdraw, and transfer funds, as well as to buy airtime, ask for a loan, and link to a traditional bank account. Mobile money platforms have allowed for financial inclusion and empowered users to improve the management of their financial resources.

Today, around 40 million Africans use M-Pesa in Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mozambique and Egypt. According to Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, mobile money platforms in Kenya has lifted around 2% of the population out of poverty, and has helped users – especially female users – transition out of subsistence agriculture and into business.

Conclusion

Digital innovations dramatically increase the ease of doing business. The companies featured in the article help business people operate more efficiently by streamlining payments and supply chain management, but African digital innovation is not limited to fintech and digital marketplaces. From tourism to agriculture to healthcare, the digital revolution has opened Africa for business.

Despite the growing African digital economy, there are still many opportunities that remain untapped. Investing in innovative start-ups and in ICT infrastructure in Africa will further unlock the continent’s economic potential.

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4 Healthcare Companies in Africa Leveraging Technology to Drive Innovative Solutions

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4 Healthcare Companies in Africa Leveraging Technology to Drive Innovative Solutions

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By: Leah Ngari

Introduction

Africans have been living steadily longer lives over the past 20 years. Despite this progress, however, the average life expectancy at birth in Sub-Saharan Africa is only around 61 years – by far the lowest in the world, and over 10 years lower than the world average of 72.6.

Data source: United Nations, DESA, Population Division, World Population Prospects 2019

The increase in longevity over the past two decades are due in large part to reductions in childhood mortality, increased access to medical treatment for AIDS/HIV, and improved nutrition. But as the continent continues to tackle last century’s epidemics, new health threats are emerging. As the population on the continent gets older, the prevalence of non-communicable disease, such as cancer and heart disease, will continue to increase, taxing the already greatly overburdened healthcare system.

Healthcare in Africa is strikingly underfunded compared to the global average. Sub-Saharan African (SSA) governments spend, on average, a quarter of the global average government health expenditures in terms of relative budget share. While some of the difference in spending is offset by private and public development assistance funds, current health expenditures per capita are less than 10% of the world average. According to the World Health Organization, Africa shoulders 24% of the world’s disease burden, but only 3% of the world’s health workers working with less than 1% of world health expenditures.

Everyone should have access to basic healthcare; yet this right remains unattainable by many Africans. With an estimated population of about 1 billion people that keeps growing, most public health systems in Africa are straining to keep up. And with so many urgent demands on the national budgets, countries find that increasing government spending on health is not always feasible.

However, it’s not all gloom on this continent. Despite the challenges faced, many have found creative and innovative ways to improve different aspects of healthcare in Africa. Governments are using data and technology to improve healthcare despite the financial constraints. And by focussing on delivering specific services in an optimal way, the private sector has stepped in to deliver results where they are needed most. The following companies and projects showcase the region’s exceptional ability to solve problems by inventing and adopting new systems and technologies.

Innovative Public Health Solutions from Around the Continent

1. LifeBank – Nigeria

Patients in Nigeria, like in every other country around the world, often need a blood transfusion to stay alive. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have enough blood for all the patients. Temie Giwa-Tubosun, the company’s founder, describes LifeBank as a “technology and logistics start-up.” The company uses technology to identify available blood, communicate the whereabouts and availability of the blood to the company’s clients, and then pick up and deliver the available blood based on the client’s request. Lifebank works with motorbike riders who store the blood in cooling devices while awaiting notifications on where to transport the blood. The company’s app also helps users sign up as blood donors, further optimizing the blood supply chain.

LifeBank has been quick to mobilize In the face of the coronavirus pandemic: the company has diverted resources to create a national register of hospitals with working and broken ventilators, respirators, and ICU beds to prepare the country for the treatment of future COVID-19 patients.

2. Zipline – Rwanda

This California-based company partnered up with the Rwandan government to kickstart the use of drones in the health sector. Rwanda’s very hilly terrain and lack of extensive road networks makes it hard to transport goods and provide services to areas far from the capital city, Kigali. Patients in such remote areas are vulnerable to succumb to an array of treatable illnesses just because they couldn’t get a blood transfusion or medical supplies on time.

Zipline solves this problem by using drones instead of traditional trucks to transport vital health products across the country. Since 2016, Zipline has transported blood and medical supplies to some of the most remote parts of Rwanda, sometimes cutting delivery time from over three hours to fifteen minutes.

In 2019, Zipline expanded to Ghana, delivering much-needed vaccines, blood, and other health products on demand. It continues to scale its operations, and has plans to expand further within and outside of Africa.

3. Praekelt.org – South Africa

In 2019, around 22 million people, or one-third of the population, used smartphones in South Africa – and this number is steadily rising. Increased smartphone penetration makes it easier for the government to communicate efficiently with its citizens and relay critical public health information.

South Africa has the largest number of coronavirus cases in SSA to date, but the government reacted quickly and efficiently using the means at its disposal. A strict lockdown has proved effective in slowing the spread of the virus. And thanks to the rise in smartphone use, the South African government has been able to save lives by delivering urgent information concerning the Coronavirus to its citizens.

The South African government has partnered with Praekelt.org, a local non-profit, to develop a Whatsapp bot that would reply to South Africans’ questions on the pandemic. The service answers questions on a variety of topics related to the pandemic including symptoms, available treatments, and debunking myths.

In late March, after 2.6 million South Africans successfully used the platform to receive accurate and potentially life-saving information about the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the technology. The WHO Health Alerts launched on March 20, and surpassed 10 million users in just three days.

4. diaTROPIX – Senegal

The diaTROPiX initiative was launched in 2018 as a collaboration between Institut Pasteur of Dakar, the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD), and the Mérieux Foundation with the purpose of producing fast diagnostic tests that would facilitate the control of tropical diseases in Senegal. The initiative grew out of a collaborative work on creating a field diagnostic test for the Zika virus.

Now, thanks to a grant from UK AID, diaTROPIX scientists are teaming up with UK-based diagnostic specialist Mologic to design and manufacture testing kits for the Coronavirus that will allow health officials to test individuals for the virus at home and receive the results in ten minutes, eliminating the need for laboratories or electricity. In a continent where laboratories are few and have limited capacity, and where access to electricity is still too often unreliable, these ten minute kits will be of immense help to the African population. Individuals will be able to test themselves at home and proceed to self-isolation if necessary, thereby flattening the curve.

Mologic is currently concluding an initial assessment of the diagnostic test prototypes before shipping them to its international partners, including diaTROPIX-affiliated Institut Pasteur of Dakar, for validation and manufacturing. If everything continues smoothly, diaTROPIX will begin manufacturing the testing kits – which will be sold at cost – as early as June.

The Mologic-diaTROPIX collaboration is expected to continue once the Coronavirus pandemic has subsided: the partnership is working on developing an early-detection Ebola test, which could help prevent the next Ebola outbreak on the continent.

Conclusion

Good health and well-being is among the UN’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that guide international efforts to achieving global peace and prosperity. Now, as the international community continues to battle COVID-19, the critical importance of a functional and resilient public health system is more apparent than ever.

On a continent where the ever increasing population with its demand for health services and products already strains the available financial resources, numerous creative healthcare solutions have helped the continent deal with personal and public health issues. Innovation and technology can help health officials and private companies collect and store critical patient and public health information, provide telehealth services, and more. Significant gaps continue to exist that must be filled to increase Africa’s healthcare capacity.

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Africa’s Growing Population – An Opportunity for Agricultural Development

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Africa’s Growing Population - An Opportunity for Agricultural Development

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By: Elenah Kimaru

Did you know that the world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion people by 2050? Much of this population growth will be in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where population growth is the fastest in the world – over double the rate of growth of South Asia, the world’s next fastest growing region. If these trends continue, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, when 1 in 4 people worldwide will be living in SSA.

The surge in working age adults has the potential to increase productivity, improve innovation, and transform African economies. But the population surge will only benefit the economies that can absorb the influx of new workers. Already, most employment in SSA is self-employment. And in a region where the more labor-intensive manufacturing and agriculture sectors are often underdeveloped, and where good services jobs are not always available, there is a concern that African economies will lack the capacity to absorb so many new workers. Graça Machel, former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, warns: “Even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security, and prosperity”

Now is the time to increase agricultural productivity

One thing, however, is certain: An increase in Africa’s population means more mouths to feed. This is sure to pose a challenge in a region already struggling with food insecurity.

Africa has the potential to feed not only itself – it can become the world’s next breadbasket, and use its agricultural potential to guarantee food security and grow its economy. Africa’s enormous size (over 30 million km²) and variations in elevation, waterways, climates and soil types contributes to a diversity of environmental conditions where many different kinds of crops and farming operations can thrive. And increasing productivity in agriculture is key to Africa’s economic development: In 2018, the agriculture sector accounted for only 16% of SSA’s GDP, but it employed 55% of the workforce. Imagine the impact that increasing agriculture productivity could have on the population and on the economy!

Current challenges

Today, Agricultural productivity on the continent has not reached even close to its potential. This is due in large part to the lack of farming modern techniques and expertise, the use of low quality inputs and the misuse of inputs, and the relative lack of farming tools and equipment. (Of course, these trends are not equally represented in every country.) As a result, despite Africa’s significant agricultural potential, the continent is a net food importer.

The role of the private sector

Most agricultural production on the continent is carried out by small scale family farms that often produce at near-subsistence levels. Thus, improvements in agricultural productivity will need to involve private sector empowerment. Small-holder farmers will adopt modern farming techniques, input use, and farming equipment if it makes economic sense for them. So long as farmers do not have storage solutions for their surplus crops or easy access to markets, they lack the economic incentive to take financial risks to try and increase their yields.

Companies bringing innovative solutions to any aspect of the agricultural production chain can play a pivotal role in SSA’s agriculture market, help farmers unlock the potential of their land, contribute to African and global food security, and build successful businesses.

The role of government

Of course, the governments also have a function in developing food production capacity. Subsidizing the costs of farm inputs such as fertilizers and seeds can encourage farmers to take the risk on unfamiliar types of inputs. Governments can also regulate the land market in their countries. The lack of a regulated land market and clear property rights is a major impediment to long term investment in agricultural development.

Working together to accelerate Africa’s agricultural revolution

Africa as a continent must be prepared to feed its growing population. Instead of seeing the rising number of mouths to feed as a challenge, the demographic shift can be an opportunity to transform Africa’s agriculture sector into the world’s breadbasket. For this to happen, however, all stakeholders will need to work together to make sure that SSA is fully tapped into its agricultural potential.

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Education in Botswana

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Education in Botswana

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By Elenah Kimaru

Did you know that Botswana’s literacy rate stands at 88.5%? The high literacy rates in Botswana have largely contributed to an empowered workforce, which translates to good business and opportunities for foreign investment.

Here are 10 fun facts about education in Botswana.

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Kenya’s College Graduates are Ready to be Hired but Businesses Need to Step Up

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Kenya’s College Graduates are Ready to be Hired but Businesses Need to Step Up

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By Leah Ngari

With the current population at 52.6 million and the median age at 19 years, Kenya will be among the African countries to have the largest workforce in the coming years. National and multinational companies can draw on Kenya’s educated labor pool to staff headquarters or local branches. But the biggest opportunities may come from Kenyan graduates themselves establishing businesses and fashioning their future.

I spent three years studying for my B.A. in Kenya, hoping that it would give me an advantage in Kenya’s competitive job market. Most mornings, I would wake up and make myself tea to have with some ‘mandazi’ before quickly rushing out to school. I lived in a tiny studio apartment, a good 20-minute walk from university, as did most of the students who did not get space at the school dorms.

The apartments were generally more costly than the dorms, but living at home with my parents would have been more expensive: Commuting is expensive. The heavy traffic also wouldn’t have helped much.

Classes lasted two hours each, with two-three classes a day, four days a week. On days when I stayed on campus into the afternoon, I could buy lunch for $1-2 (USD) at one of the small restaurants just outside of campus. I tried to cook most of my meals at home, since this was always more affordable.

My parents paid my student fees, which are currently fixed at approximately US $160 a year. The government subsidizes the remaining tuition (approximately US $673/year).

Like most other students, however, I still needed to work to pay for my rent and utilities. Since jobs are generally scarce, it is difficult to find a job that is flexible enough to accommodate a student’s schedule. As a result, many students establish small businesses, often in printing or selling clothes or food to other students and workers. Other students opt for jobs that can be done remotely. One either has to start a business or find remote, online jobs. I opted for freelance writing. My parents paid my tuition fees, and I worked for most of the extras.

Even though I applied myself to my studies, I lived in the constant fear that I will not get a job once I graduate. Employers have pointed out that most recent graduates lack the soft skills needed in the workforce today. This includes advanced cognitive and socio-behavioural skills that the World Bank has identified as a high-level requirement for employment.

Yet these skills are not generally taught in the Kenyan education system, so students who want to be attractive to employers need to acquire these skills on their own. I volunteered with several companies and interned for others to gain the skills and experience required for the job market. Some students opt to learn new languages or get certificates in short courses such as accounting to add to their resumes.

Those with a technology background have an easier time finding a job. Indeed, Kenya’s ICT sector has grown annually by an average of 10.8% since 2016. Interestingly, however, many companies in Kenya’s ICT sector report that their primary source of technology talent is “programming bootcamps” rather than universities.

Other students turn to entrepreneurship. There are 38 incubators and accelerators currently operating in Kenya, and the country has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in East Africa.

Although only 2.8% of the total population has a university degree, the lack of “white collar” jobs makes the job search very competitive. Popular industries such as hospitality and business management are flooded, with companies getting hundreds of applicants for a single position.

Kenya’s students are doing what they can to get noticed in the competitive job market. If more businesses establish operations in Kenya, they will find an educated labor force ready to propel their business forward.

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Investors and Startups turn their Heads Towards Africa at the OurCrowd Summit

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Investors and Startups turn their Heads Towards Africa at the OurCrowd Summit

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On Thursday, Feb 13, 2020, Empower Africa was a proud sponsor of The 2020 OurCrowd Global Investors’ Summit, one of the largest tech conferences in Israel. The Summit brought together thousands of investors and tech entrepreneurs from around the world for a day of learning and networking. African delegates included angel investors from Kenya, VC partners from South Africa, students from Uganda and Tanzania, businessmen from Nigeria, a host of Israeli companies already operating in Africa, and government officials from Ethiopia and Botswana.

We were delighted to hear CEO John Medved speak from the main stage and highlight the commercial opportunities in Africa today. Medved urged investors and tech companies to increase their attention on the continent and to utilize their innovative technologies to drive impact.

The networking opportunities for the Empower Africa team were plentiful. At the invite-only Gala Dinner, held the night before the Summit, Empower Africa’s executive team represented the company to a wide range of investors, business leaders and members of the OurCrowd community.

As sponsors for the event, Empower Africa held a booth at the summit to promote investment in Africa. The booth was constantly busy with hundreds of Summit participants who were seeking to learn how to invest and do business on the continent. Julius Tsheko, the Project Manager for the Botswana Investment and Trade Center (BITC), spent most of the event at the Empower Africa booth, answering questions and engaging with a wide range of businessmen and investors. Julius expressed his deep appreciation to Empower Africa for facilitating introductions to Israeli technology companies interested in expanding their operations into Botswana.

For those less familiar with Africa’s private sector, Empower Africa held a quiz that invited participants to learn more about the business landscape of Africa and win an all expenses paid business trip on our next major visit to the continent. Questions such as “what is the fastest growing source of spending in African markets today?” had some stumped (by the way, it’s consumer spending) which led to fascinating dialogue with our team members. The contest is open until April 2nd and can be entered here.

One key takeaway from the event was the need to make use of the new technologies produced today to empower emerging markets and actualize the human potential that exists in these locations. This is in line with the growing trend of creating impact businesses- business that does well by doing good.

An important value we saw demonstrated at the OurCrowd Summit was that of collaboration. Politics were set aside and people from all regions showed up in Jerusalem to network and celebrate the technology community’s innovations and accomplishments.

The event was well produced, rich with insightful content, and an excellent platform for interacting with fascinating people. Most importantly, for us as a team, we left the event optimistic that the Israeli tech ecosystem will have a vital role in driving sustainable economic development in Africa.

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Uk Africa Summit Week in London – Driving Business in Africa Event at the Arts Club

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Uk Africa Summit Week in London - Driving Business in Africa Event at the Arts Club

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Curious to know what an Empower Africa event is like? Watch the video below.

Foreign investment can be very rewarding – but it can also be challenging. Understanding the business landscape in a country you wish to invest in is key to successful foreign investment. And to understand the business landscape, you need to have the right network.

At Empower Africa, we understand the importance of bringing the different stakeholders to the table, involving them in the decision-making process, and facilitating networking opportunities.

The recent “Driving Business in Africa” cocktail reception at the Arts Club in London is a prime example of Empower Africa’s network building tools. The reception, held during the week of the January 2020 UK-Africa Business Summit, brought together some seventy investors, businessmen, government officials, and non-profit representatives to share ideas and spark conversations on driving business in Africa. The different speakers who graced the event sparked thought-provoking conversations on the benefits of investing in Africa.

A special highlight of the evening was a speech given by Presidential Advisor on Economic and Financial Policy in Sierra Leone Mr. Joe Demby. Demby endorsed Empower Africa’s activity in Sierra Leone and its mission of empowering Africa through private sector development. Demby also spoke of the role that human capital development needs to play in sustainable national economic growth. Demby discussed President Bio’s commitment to human capital development in Sierra Leone and recalled a conversation he had had with the President on the topic eight years prior, before President Bio assumed office. Finally, Demby invited those in attendance to invest in Sierra Leone.

The evening also featured speeches by Shai Bernstein, V.P. of Business Development and Operations at Empower Africa; Zandile Nkwanyana, President of the Africa Business Club at London Business School; Sharon Bar-Li, Deputy Head of Mission at the Israel Embassy in the UK; Ron Crean, Vice President of Commercial Business at Windward; and Mr. Douglas Hansen, Founder and Chairman of Future Planet Capital.

The uniting theme that stood out from all the speakers was the value that can be created when diverse groups come together.

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Ready to soar over the fields of Sierra Leone, Agrimapic recognizes the country’s potential

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Ready to soar over the fields of Sierra Leone, Agrimapic recognizes the country's potential

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How can a government determine which areas of a country to dedicate for agriculture?

How will a farmer know which fields require the most urgent care after a major storm?

How can an agribusiness manager monitor their farm’s holdings?

Utilizing land for agriculture in a truly effective and efficient manner requires accurate and up-to-date information about the area. Unfortunately, modern mapping and surveying expertise are often unavailable in Sierra Leone. This makes it much harder to assess and chart the apx. 45,123 km² of arable land in the country that still lies fallow, despite the country’s persistent food insecurity.

Existing farms, including some larger agriculture operations, still make use of paper maps to manage and monitor the yield. But since traditional paper maps are much harder to update, and natural occurrences and fluctuations change the terrain frequently, paper maps rapidly become obsolete, making it nearly impossible for Sierra Leonean farmers to make the most efficient use of their land.

Sierra Leone has abundant rainfall and natural irrigation channels. Weather patterns in the country have remained relatively stable over the past decade. Ample tracts of tropical soil that have been cleared, lie ready for planting. The absence of modern imagery, mapping equipment, and expertise is holding the country’s agricultural sector back.

This is why we were thrilled to have Benny Shimon, founder and C.E.O. of Agrimapic, join us on our Trade Mission. Agrimapic provides high-resolution aerial data and analytical solutions in Israel and internationally. The company’s technology has numerous applications, including 3D mapping, crop inspection, environmental monitoring, forestry, and construction. Agrimapic and tailors its products and services to the specific needs of each customer.

While Agrimapic is a global company, supporting projects in Asia, Europe, and the United States, it has yet to begin operating in Africa. Benny considers the Trade Mission to have been “a life changing experience in terms of seeing how agriculture is still practiced in certain areas in Africa and understanding the potential that modern tools and practices dramatically increase yields in Africa in General and in Sierra Leone in particular”

Agrimapic is currently working on a sensor that can collect data points about the crops in real time, provide analysis on their health, and automatically initiate an automated response if needed. These sensors can attach to most drones and fixed wing UAVs and works in areas lacking cellular and internet coverage. This makes it ideal in areas with limited ICT infrastructure.

“This was my first time in Africa,” Benny said.

“The Trade Mission gave me a chance to speak to executives from other companies already established in Africa, and I learned that so much is happening now on the sub-continent in terms of agriculture. I was also able to speak to senior Sierra Leonean officials and get a sense of their commitment to developing the sector and increasing yields. This Trade Mission made me begin to view Africa as a business destination.”

If you too want to get involved in driving Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector forward, please contact our Director of Agriculture Maoz Aviv at maoz@empowerafrica.com

Register now for early access to the Empower Africa Business Network.