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A Trip to Nairobi Inspired This One-of-a-Kind Company
June 24, 2016 | 0 Comments
Simien National Park via Afro Traveller

Simien National Park via Afro Traveller

I majored in biology in college and thought I’d become a doctor. But I also wanted to travel. So as a way to do both, I spent years with international humanitarian organizations. The work was satisfying, but the social life was challenging: My colleagues would go back to their hotel at night — in part because they were almost all older than me, but also because they were fearful of the potentially unsafe, unfamiliar cities we were in. I didn’t want to be this far from home and not experience a place fully, so I often went out. And I discovered amazing things.

From a rooftop party at an advertising agency to road-tripping across the country for a DJ set, I was exposed to a side of Africa I’d never seen before. These were cosmopolitan movers and shakers, but distinctly African. In 2011, I met up with a photographer in Johannesburg; through her lens, I met entertainers, artists and other influencers. A year later, I connected with a sorority sister in Nairobi, Kenya, who was working on MTV’s African youth culture series Shuga. The show’s producer, fashion designer and filmmaker took me out to restaurants and nightclubs, and I had the time of my life.

That’s when the lightbulb went off. People weren’t exposed to this Africa, and I wanted to connect visitors to it — not just by talking about these amazing things, but by directing people to them.

I spent the next year or so developing Tastemakers Africa, a company to book epic experiences, with epic people, in every African city. In February 2014, I went to Lagos for Social Media Week to show off my early-stage mockup. My session was packed, which confirmed that I was really onto something. I was working for another NGO at the time but quit and joined MediKidz, a VC-backed healthcare startup, to learn more about building a company. The cofounder, Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair, was a sales genius. She was super-transparent with me about her funding process, and I saw a lot of her documents and pitch decks, and heard about the screwups. But the biggest thing I learned from Kim was to work harder than hard. Things need to get done in the NGO world, but there isn’t a sense of urgency; Kim always had a sense of urgency.

simien-mountians-e1461450685817By that summer, I had fleshed out a prototype. As a proof of concept, we promoted a “Tastemakers Tour of Ghana” on my Facebook page, and it sold out in weeks. I still wasn’t ready to make it my full-time job, but then MediKidz was bought and I was laid off — so I slammed the gas on the startup. My boyfriend and I closed out our 401(k)s, and I entered an accelerator that gave us $20,000 and then raised another $100,000 from angel investors. I also won first place in a Lagos competition called She Leads Africa, which got me $10,000 and a mentoring network.

We launched our website in December 2014 and ended 2015 with more than $200,000 in experience and concierge bookings. Our app, Tstmkrs, launched in beta in December of last year, and we did $100,000 in Q1 bookings for 2016. We’re still figuring out who and where our audience is and what they’re willing to pay, but we’re learning and growing fast. In five years, we expect to be in at least 40 countries on the continent. We will be the brand, and our connections, support and infrastructure will make us important to many others who come here as well. We’ve already built partnerships with Uber, South African Airways and Radisson Blu (that one’s for a pan-African travel contest in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), and have gotten interest in an acquisition from a large hospitality company. But no matter what happens, I know we’ll have played a huge role in not just how people think about traveling in Africa, but what people think of Africa itself.


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West Africa: Crisis in Africa’s Sahel, Hotbed of Militancy, Overlooked By Donors
June 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Dakar — The Sahel is a fertile soil for the rise of Islamist militancy with its loosely controlled desert expanses

Migrants sit on the open cargo of pick-up trucks

Migrants sit on the open cargo of pick-up trucks

Africa’s arid Sahel, a fertile breeding ground for militancy and organised crime, has been neglected by donors who must tackle the region’s displacement crisis to stem radicalisation and refugee flows, a leading aid agency said on Friday.

Millions of people have been uprooted by violence or smuggled across borders by militant groups and criminal networks in a region long ignored by the humanitarian community, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

The United Nations last December appealed for a record $2 billion for the Sahel’s 2016 aid plan, but it has been less than a quarter funded to date.

The Sahel band, which stretches from Senegal to Eritrea and lies south of the Sahara desert, topped the NRC’s annual list of neglected displacement crises, followed by Yemen and Libya.

At least 4.5 million people in the Sahel have been forced from their homes by violence, a number which has tripled since 2014, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Preventing conflict and refugee flows, stopping terrorist groups from taking root and combating organised crime are all intertwined,” said NRC senior adviser Richard Skretteberg.

“You can’t fight terrorism without creating development, and can’t beat organised crime unless you solve the refugee crisis and create jobs,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 With its vast, loosely controlled desert expanses and porous borders, the Sahel has proved to be fertile soil for the rise of Islamist militancy in one of the world’s poorest regions.

The combination of poverty, increased drought and shrinking water resources, and a lack of work is leaving people prey to recruitment by militant groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram and Islamic State, Skretteberg said.

More people could be recruited as the Sahel’s population continues to boom, and militants and criminals smuggling people to Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe feed off each other and exploit corruption and weak governance, he added.

Terror creates conflicts and refugees, and weakens state institutions, which criminals know how to exploit. Criminal activity helps ensure a constant flow of money to terrorists.”

Aid agencies in the Sahel must consider organised crime in their response as gangs often target the most vulnerable people, trafficking and abusing them for profit, Skretteberg said.

They should also prioritise protection and education to prevent children and young men from being recruited by militants and give them hope of finding work in the future, he added.

*Thompson Reuters

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June 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

Commander of the United Nations’ most dangerous peacekeeping mission is not a title that Major General Michael Lollesgaard relishes.

U.N. peacekeepers stand in front of a camp used by Chinese peacekeepers in Gao, Mali, June 1. The camp was attacked by Al-Qaeda militants on May 31, killing one Chinese soldier. STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

U.N. peacekeepers stand in front of a camp used by Chinese peacekeepers in Gao, Mali, June 1. The camp was attacked by Al-Qaeda militants on May 31, killing one Chinese soldier.

The Danish commander heads up the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Mali—known as MINUSMA—which is seeking to stabilize the vast Sahelian country amid ongoing threats from militant groups, including Al-Qaeda’s North African wing. In the process of doing so, the mission has suffered 101 casualties since it was established in 2013, 68 of which were due to “malicious acts”—i.e. attacks from militants or opposition groups—making it the deadliest deployment for blue helmets in recent years.

The mission has again come under siege in recent weeks after a series of attacks perpetrated by militants of a variety of stripes. Five Togolese peacekeepers were killed in May in Mopti, central Mali, after their vehicle came under fire and then hit a landmine. The attack was not claimed by any group, though a Malian militant group known as the Macina Liberation Front is believed to operate in the region. Days later, a base used by Chinese peacekeepers was besieged by mortar or rocket fire, resulting in the death of one U.N. soldier (three other non-U.N. personnel were also killed in a separate attack in Gao.) The attacks were claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM), which said that a branch of its group known as Al-Mourabitoun led by veteran Algerian jihadi Mokhtar Belmokhtar was behind the incident.

“I’m very sad about that fact,” says Lollesgaard from Bamako, referring to the MINUSMA casualty count. “It’s my responsibility, it’s my task to set up the troops in the best possible way, to make sure that the soldiers are as safe as possible.”

The recent attacks have led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to recommend that an extra 2,500 uniformed personnel be added to the ranks of MINUSMA, which currently has around 12,000 peacekeepers in the field. Lollesgaard says that the extra troops are required to upgrade the mission’s capacities in key areas—including countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are increasingly used by militants in northern Mali—but that more boots on the ground will not provide a panacea to Mali’s problems.

“The only way to improve the situation here in the long term is to get the political process running,” says Lollesgaard. “You can add 5,000, you can add 10,000 [peacekeepers], but if we’re not getting progress in the implementation of the peace agreement, it will never be enough.”

The agreement referred to by Lollesgaard is a momentous peace deal signed by the Malian government and an alliance of rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group, who inhabit Mali’s vast and arid northern deserts, in June 2015. The deal was hammered out in light of the latest rebellion to seize northern Mali, a restive region that has seen four major uprisings since independence from France in 1960.

The most recent Tuareg rebellion occurred in 2012, when an organization called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began campaigning violently for greater autonomy for the ethnic group in northern Mali.

In March 2012, Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was overthrown in the capital Bamako by mutinying soldiers dissatisfied with his handling of the Tuareg rebellion. In the midst of the chaos, the MNLA seized control of northern Mali’s three major cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—initially with the backing of Islamist militant groups including Ansar Dine. Once they had seized control and declared Azawad’s independence, however, the MNLA was overthrown by Ansar Dine and an AQIM splinter group, leaving the extremist militants in control of northern Mali from July 2012 until the start of 2013. At this point, and following a plea for foreign intervention by the Malian government, the French military launched a counter-operation—known as Operation Serval—to overthrow the militants, backed by African Union forces. The overthrow of the militants was swift, with most of northern Mali being returned to government control by February 2013. France still deploys more than 3,000 troops across five countries in the Sahel—a vast belt across Africa, separating the Saharan Desert from the savannas of central Africa—including in Mali, as part of Operation Barkhane, the successor mission to Operation Serval.

MINUSMA was established in the wake of this complex recent history in April 2013 with the mandate of overseeing a ceasefire, supporting peace and reconciliation and, significantly, protecting civilians. This last clause means that, according to Lollesgaard, peacekeepers are permitted to conduct “pre-emptive strikes” if they find militants whom they deem to be an immediate threat to the mission or civilians. But there is little support from Malian security forces in the north of the country, according to Marie Rodet, Mali expert and senior lecturer in the history of Africa at SOAS, University of London. “The state institutions haven’t been redeployed in northern Mali. The only security forces you have are [MINUSMA] and the French mission Barkhane,” says Rodet.

The U.N. mission draws its military personnel from some 48 countries—from near neighbors Niger and Burkina Faso to distant countries such as Bangladesh—and the varying levels of training that each troop-contributing country provides serves to complicate matters, according to Lollesgaard. He highlights a lack of counter-IED training as particularly significant—Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants regularly use landmines and roadside bombs to attack, such as when five Chadian peacekeepers were killed in Kidal, northeastern Mali, in May. “This [IED use] is a threat that is growing and growing and we need to adapt here, and it takes a lot of training. We would prefer that most of that training was done in the country before they arrive, but currently that’s not the case,” says Lollesgaard.

As well as within northern Mali, Al-Qaeda has been stepping up its attacks across West Africa. AQIM or its affiliates have claimed responsibility for at least three major attacks in the past eight months. One of these took place in the Malian capital Bamako, when gunmen raided the Radisson Blu hotel, killing some 20 people. The others occurred in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, where militants took control of a hotel and fired on a nearby cafe, killing 30 people; and in the coastal town of Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, where 19 people were killed in an attack on a beach resort. The U.N. commander says he is concerned by the ability of militant groups to seep across the region’s borders, which he describes as “close to non-existent.” “They can operate within a number of countries without being attacked or influenced in any way. This is, of course, an issue,” says Lollesgaard.

As Lollesgaard indicates, the state of affairs in northern Mali has not progressed much since the peace deal was signed in June 2015. Both sides have criticized each other for stalling on the terms—which include the disarmament of militias and the integration of Tuareg groups into joint military patrols in the region—and, despite the U.N.’s pleading, not a huge amount seems to have changed on the ground. “The implementation of the agreement is at a very low point at the moment,” says Rodet.

Despite the manifold challenges facing MINUSMA and northern Mali as a whole, Lollesgaard is optimistic. He says that, should the political process pick up pace, he could envisage MINUSMA winding down within the next three to four years. Lollesgaard says the fact that Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop spoke of an exit strategy for MINUSMA when addressing the U.N. in January was a good sign—“it’s always good to have an exit strategy.”

The force commander himself could be out of Mali by then—unit commanders usually rotate on a two-year cycle, and Lollesgaard is already 15 months into his term—but Lollesgaard says that, despite the high casualty count, there is no other mission he’d rather be working on. “It’s very challenging but I hope that people feel that we’re trying the best we can,” he says. “If somebody feels they can do it better or if the U.N. feels they can find someone to do it better then I’m happy to go home, but I’m not going to ask to do that.”

*Source Newsweek

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UN, Nigeria agree to Cameroon’s return of 80,000 refugees
June 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

boko-haram-refugees-600x450LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria says it has agreed to Cameroon’s voluntary return of 80,000 Nigerian refugees who have fled the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency.

Nigerian officials had said Cameroon was threatening to force the repatriation. Cameroon previously has dumped thousands on the border.
Nigerian emergency agency spokesman Sani Datti says Sunday that an agreement for their return “voluntarily and in a dignified manner” has been signed by the UNHCR refugee agency, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Last month, Nigerians who had returned home were blocked from returning to Cameroon though they complained they did not have enough water as temperatures soared over 100 degrees (42 degrees Celsius).

A new influx will tax Nigerian officials struggling to cater for 2.1 million people displaced within the country. The U.N. says another 600,000 are displaced in the region.


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This is what the conviction of Chad’s former dictator means for African human rights
June 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Elise Keppler*

Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré raises his hands after sentencing during court proceedings on May 30 in Dakar, Senegal. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam declared him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. (Carley Petesch/AP)

Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré raises his hands after sentencing during court proceedings on May 30 in Dakar, Senegal. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam declared him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. (Carley Petesch/AP)

The breakthrough for many victims of atrocities committed under the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré came on May 30 in Dakar, Senegal. After nearly two decades of effort by activists, the Extraordinary African Chambers in the courts of Senegal convicted Habré of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity and handed down a life sentence. For those of us in the courtroom, the cries of joy from the victims after the judges’ ruling underscored its immense importance.

Habré was the first African suspect prosecuted under ‘universal jurisdiction’

The Habré trial was the first in which a court in Africa prosecuted a suspect under “universal jurisdiction”— which allows states to prosecute certain heinous crimes even if they were committed abroad, by foreigners and against foreigners. While many countries have universal jurisdiction laws, few have used them. European countries have launched most such cases. South Africahas begun to investigate crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction but has yet to bring any prosecutions.

One hopes that the Habré case is a harbinger of more prosecutions of atrocities in African courts, whether based on universal jurisdiction or in the courts of the countries where the alleged crimes were committed. Such cases could involve regional or other forms of international support. For instance, the chamber that tried Habré was led by a judge from Burkina Faso, and thecourt’s statute — developed by the African Union (AU) — provided for a select number of African judges and staff from outside Senegal. The Central African Republic and South Sudan already are anticipating some similar mechanisms.

But the jury is out on what lies ahead.

Several African countries recently created the mechanisms to call human rights violators to account

In the Central African Republic last year, the government passed a law establishing a special judicial chamber within the national court system to prosecute serious crimes committed during the nation’s deadly 2012 violence. The CAR’s new court will include both domestic and international judges and staff.

Last year, South Sudan adopted a peace agreement that authorizes the African Union to establish a hybrid court with South Sudanese and other African judges and staff. Ivory Coast,  Congo and Guinea have also increased their domestic criminal investigation and sometimes prosecution of atrocities.

But we don’t yet know what will result. The Central African Republic and South Sudan initiatives aren’t yet operating, and the other countries’ domestic cases have run into serious difficulties.

The Habré conviction offers a case study in how just hard it can be to bring powerful officials to justice.

Habré was overthrown in 1990 and fled to Senegal. A Chadian truth commission found that more than 40,000 people died and torture was systematic during his eight-year regime. After an indictment from Belgium and a ruling by the International Court of Justice, the African Union recommendedthat Senegal should try him. But Abdoulaye Wade, then the Senegalese president, stonewalled. Not until President Macky Sall took office in 2012 did the case become viable.

Human Rights Watch, my employer, and many other human rights groups and individuals pressed for decades to ensure that the case was not forgotten. Desmond Tutu once called the case a “judicial soap opera.” Sixteen years after he was first indicted in Senegal, Habré went to trial last year.

Lack of justice remains pervasive. In recent years, political abuse and deadly conflicts have left victims across Burundi, the Central African Republic, Congo,Kenya, South Sudan and Sudan — with those responsible enjoying almost total impunity at home.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has observed in places such as Sierra Leone, Congo and Afghanistan that when no one is held accountable for mass crimes and human rights abuses, they — and others — tend to commit more such crimes. But when perpetrators are brought to justice, it strengthens both the rule of law and long-term stability.

That’s why it’s important for Africa to continue to support the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC — the first permanent international criminal court — is relatively young and far from perfect. Since being established in 2002, it has suffered from performance problems and needs to expand its reach to many more places across the globe. But the ICC is the only institution that can potentially intervene anywhere in the world, as crimes are unfolding, and bring cases against the highest level offenders, who use their powerful positions as a shield.

Until recently, all ICC cases involved African countries. For the most part, these countries had asked the ICC to get involved or given the ICC the authority. But the focus hit a raw nerve with a vocal minority of African leaders — especially because of the court’s arrest warrants for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for alleged crimes committed in Darfur and its cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto of Kenya for crimes allegedly committed during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. The Kenyan cases have since been dropped.

Kenya, in particular, has made a concerted assault on the ICC. It recentlyproposed that an AU committee discuss calling for the ICC’s 34 African members to withdraw from the court. In April, the AU committee resolved to insist on immunity for heads of state and senior government officials before the ICC. In 2015, the AU adopted a protocol to give its regional court authority to prosecute grave crimes, also while granting immunity for sitting heads of state and other senior government officials. That protocol has yet to be ratified by any nation; it won’t come into force unless it is ratified by 15.

AU efforts to withdraw from the ICC conflict with the AU’s own founding document, which clearly rejects impunity. The worrying trend of African leaders defying constitutional term limits only reinforces the importance of the ICC’s mandate to prosecute currently seated officials implicated in serious crimes.

The Habré case is an important reminder that justice matters. More than two decades after the crimes, victims relentlessly pressed to bring Habré to trial. If there are genuine trials before African courts, the ICC won’t need to intervenein cases. African governments may wish to consider responding to the Habré conviction by prosecuting more grave crimes at home, and by supporting ICC prosecutions when such cases are not possible.

*Source Washington Post.Elise Keppler is the associate director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

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Africa Is Now Host To Historic Number Of Refugees
June 8, 2016 | 0 Comments

The continent is housing more than a quarter of the world’s displaced people.

By Eleanor Goldberg*

OBIAS SCHWARZ VIA GETTY IMAGES People from Somalia are silhouetted in sunlight as they leave a makeshift camp for migrants and refugees near the village of Idomeni, not far from the Greek-Macedonian border, on April 30, 2016. Some 54,000 people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, have been stranded on Greek territory since the closure of the migrant route through the Balkans in February. / AFP / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

People from Somalia are silhouetted in sunlight as they leave a makeshift camp for migrants and refugees near the village of Idomeni, not far from the Greek-Macedonian border, on April 30, 2016.
Some 54,000 people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, have been stranded on Greek territory since the closure of the migrant route through the Balkans in February. / AFP / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Images of Syrians losing their lives while taking desperate measures to escape have effectively awakened the world to the refugee crisis.

But the Syrian civil war is just one of a number of conflicts that’s contributing to the highest rates of displaced people on record.

In Africa, more than 18 million people have been forcibly displaced. That’s more than a quarter of the total worldwide and the most the continent has seen in its history, according to the World Bank.

In Africa alone, eight conflicts have erupted or have been reignited since 2010 in such countries as Libya, Mali and South Sudan. As a result, there was a 17 percent spike in displaced people in Sub-Saharan Africa from 2014 to last year, according to UNHCR.

To help prevent future conflicts and foster development in fractured regions, the World Bank and six other multilateral development banks committed to bringing funds and programs to affected regions in Africa.

The World Bank announced the initiative at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last month. It approved “credits” totaling nearly $250 million this fiscal yearto provide support for refugees, internally displaced people, returnees and their host communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Great Lakes Region, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda in the Horn of Africa and Zambia.

Together with the six other banks involved, the World Bank is going to work to collect improved data on the issue, devise innovative financing mechanisms and work on country-level engagements.

In Zambia, for example, the project is working to fully integrate former refugees by granting residency and access to lands rights.

In the Horn of Africa, they’ll work to develop “social cohesion” between host communities and the displaced populations by providing opportunities to make joint decisions on development priorities.

TONY KARUMBA VIA GETTY IMAGES Refugees gather to watch the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres at IFO-2 complex of the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp on May 8, 2015. Dadaab refugee camp currently houses some 350,000 people and for more than 20 years has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled their homeland wracked by conflicts. But Kenya’s government asked the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to close the camp after an attack on Kenyas Garissa University by Somalia-based Al-Shabaab gunmen in April, whom are suspected to have planned and launched their attack from the camp. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA

Refugees gather to watch the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres at IFO-2 complex of the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp on May 8, 2015. Dadaab refugee camp currently houses some 350,000 people and for more than 20 years has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled their homeland wracked by conflicts. But Kenya’s government asked the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to close the camp after an attack on Kenyas Garissa University by Somalia-based Al-Shabaab gunmen in April, whom are suspected to have planned and launched their attack from the camp. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Bank has also called for an alternative to refugee camps, saying they “aren’t the answer in the long term.”

That statement comes at a time when experts remain divided over the closing of all refugee camps in Kenya. 

The country made the announcement last month, a decision which would displace 600,000 people, CNN reported.

The government said the decision was motivated by the “very heavy” economic, security and environmental burdens of the camps.

A number of humanitarian aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, came out against the decision.

“We see these different examples of people being pushed back into crises,” Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, told HuffPost in May of the decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. “For us, that’s really tearing at the fabric of the most basic protections that international law, and the conventions, that most states have joined are responsible to uphold.”

Daadab has been home to about 350,000 Somali refugees. 

Cone was speaking to HuffPost about the organization’s decision to pull out of the World Humanitarian Summit due to concerns that the event wouldn’t effectively address pressing human rights issues.

Still, the World Bank remains hopeful about the disposition of people residing in refugee camps and of their prospects for the future.

“Despite the hardships, many long-term camps are buzzing with activity,” Vara Vemuru, World Bank senior social development specialist, said in a statement, “a place where people are concerned about today, yet hopeful about tomorrow.”


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African Development Bank says continent far from debt crisis
May 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Matthew Hill*

Buildings and roads sit on the coast in this aerial view of Ikoyi in Lagos island, a residential area in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer which derives 90 percent of export earnings from the commodity, is struggling to cope with an almost 60 percent plunge in Brent crude prices since June 2014 to below $45 a barrel. Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg

Buildings and roads sit on the coast in this aerial view of Ikoyi in Lagos island, a residential area in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer which derives 90 percent of export earnings from the commodity, is struggling to cope with an almost 60 percent plunge in Brent crude prices since June 2014 to below $45 a barrel. Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg

Africa is a long way from facing a debt crisis even as commercial lending to the continent soars and Mozambique became the first regional country to miss a payment on a dollar loan this year, according to a senior official at the African Development Bank.

Debt levels across the continent’s 54 countries average 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP, which is low, Abebe Shimeles, acting director in the AfDB’s development research department, said Thursday in an interview at the lender’s annual meetings in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.

“In terms of the continent we are not even close, forget about crisis, we are not even close to a debt burden, especially the external debt,” said Shimeles. “It’s not systemic now. It’s not that all African countries are exposed to a debt crisis. The bad news is sometimes heard faster than the good news.”

Costly Repayments

Countries on the continent raised $26 billion in Eurobonds from 2006 to 2014 and a further $12 billion last year, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said on May 24 when he officially opened the meetings, warning a debt crisis must be avoided. While foreign-currency debt has soared, currencies on the continent have weakened, making repayments more costly as economic growth slows.

“Some countries have also experienced a spike in their debt levels that may be worrying in particular cases, unless they take measures to contain it,” Shimeles said. “The AfDB and other multilaterals can learn from previous mistakes and really step in with a solution to manage the debt, restructure it and also undertake some necessary reforms before we reach a level of crisis.”

Dollar debt sold by sub-Saharan African nations have returned 6.3 percent this year, compared with the 7.1 percent average return for emerging markets. Average yields have climbed to 7.63 percent, compared with 5.8 percent a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Economic Expansion



The bank would consider assisting countries that ask for it, and could work with other lenders including the International Monetary Fund, he said. Nigeria is already in talks with the AfDB for a $1 billion facility.

Growth on the continent will probably exceed the 4.5 percent the AfDB forecast for 2017 in a report published this week, Shimeles said. Domestic demand in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan will lead to “much higher” economic expansion, he said.

“I believe that Nigeria has now taken the right steps in terms of the macro-economy,” he said.

Africa’s biggest economy this month cut fuel subsidies and signaled a more flexible exchange rate policy for the naira, which has been pegged to the dollar for 15 months.

“We are optimistic,” said Shimeles. “Still, this doesn’t mean we deny the headwinds. They are strong but I think the economies are resilient.”

*Source Bloomberg

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The Africa We Want -The Leadership We Want! Where are the eagles?
May 25, 2016 | 0 Comments

We should not allow the chickens to lead the eagles even if the chickens convince themselves that they’re actually eagles!

 Yohannes Mezgebe

Yohannes Mezgebe

From 10 – 18 July 2016, African leaders will be meeting in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda for the 27thOrdinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU). A key highlight of the forthcoming summit will be the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). The winner, he or she, will lead the continental body for the next four years, renewable once.

The AU was founded, as a premier continental institution for the promotion of accelerated socio-economic and political integration of the continent; not just as the level of countries or governments, but also by forging greater bonds amongst citizens of Africa.

To give expression to the above imperatives, the African Union Commission (AUC) of the AU is tasked to serve as the crucial administrative hub for driving and achieving the numerous mandates; including the implementation of Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. The Commission is, in particular, envisaged to be the key organ responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Union. It represents the Union; the yearnings and aspirations of member states, and also defends the continent’s collective interests. Alongside, it is expected to articulate and give concrete expression to the African common position, determine the strategic vision, plan and future horizons of the Union.

Whatever the AU has become today builds on the pioneering efforts of prominent sons and daughters of the continent; from His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Sellasie to Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, and Seiko Toure, to name a handful. These founding fathers, without an iota of doubts, had a clear vision; they could see far where the continent was heading, almost as if they had the power to look into the future. All of them, without exception, made their mark in the struggle for freedom and liberation. When three years ago, Africans celebrated the 50thAnniversary of the Organization of African Unity/AU, it was a milestone opportunity; both to celebrate but also begin to contemplate how to translate our collective dreams into concrete results to make Africa a better place for the present and future generations. The celebration was the beginning of a new phase in the collective journey, not its end.

Clearly, the AUC has generated considerable amount of momentum around African development and Integration issues. Yet, many of the ‘teething’ challenges the continent faced at inception continue to slow the pace; just as new ones have crept in. Most of today’s problems may be attributed to the slow progress made in the quest for unity and integration. At best, these have remained aspirational despite best of efforts. If 1963 the continent’s leaders were preoccupied with colonial and post-colonial struggles, and the consolidation of independence, nowadays, there are myriad new – no less daunting – realities.

Given the many challenges Africa faces now, the continent needs to have at the helm of the AUC a leaders with proven track records in dealing with Africa’s myriad problems: poverty, resource use, economic development, wealth sharing, peace and security, democracy, human rights, neo-colonialism, environmental protection, climate change and corruption. The list is far from exhaustive. The experience of the new AUC Chair as well as his or her unshakable determination to overcome the challenges – not merely deal with them – would be critical if the continent is to realize the vision of a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa.

 In today’s knowledge-driven world, the clarion call for visionary and committed leadership at the helm of the AUC is far greater than ever. The leader needed must be capable and willing to identify and tap into the pool of amazing talent of African citizens, starting with the team of talented staff of the Union; a growing number of whom risks drudgery and disillusionment with the status quo. The men and women who work at the Commission should be more than satisfied, they should be energized and passionate in what they do not the business-as-usual attitude that is so endemic now. The leader the Commission deserves must be one that leads by example and inspires. The right leader for the AUC must have a clarity of purpose working to achieve results, hand in hand, with broad constituencies of stakeholders: from the civil society to the private sector; from women’s group to youths’ movement.

Because the AU represents the hope of Africa and its peoples, it must care about the caliber of leaders who aspire to head the Commission. So, in Kigali this July 2016, when convening to elect the incoming Chair and leadership of the Commission, all eyes will be on the Heads of States and Governments to do what is right. They must put aside petty politics and permutations to decide what is best for the AUC and the continent. We stand at a crossroads: if Africa fails to make the right decision in electing the right leader the AUC deserves, the continent risks taking several fatal steps backwards.

Because it does not pay to allow chickens to lead the eagles even if the chickens convince themselves that they’re actually eagles, African citizens must demand a move from mediocrity to excellence. The incoming chairperson must not be determined by which region the candidate comes from but rather by his or her strength of character to lead.

Africa has had its faire share of failures over the years since 1960’s. It still carries old scars and new bruises, but it must look into the future with hope. In 50 years, the architects of Agenda 2063 and those currently tasked with its implementation might no longer be around given the mean life expectancy on the continent. This means, there will not be a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa unless the youth – the very people who will still be around in 50 years – is actively engaged in the process. The message of African youth calls for a different mindset, a different way of thinking, a different way of making decisions and acting. The choice before the Kigali conclave in July will be a tall one.

As they elect the right leader, they will have no better loyal partner than African citizens. They must deliver by all means; posterity will remember and not forgive them doing otherwise. As Frantz Fanon puts it perceptibly decades ago: “Each generation discovers its mission. It either achieves it or it betrays it”.

*Founder, Ubuntu Leadership Institute

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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May 17, 2016 | 0 Comments


1434e17719d384aa17f81519a45cf84dThe Arusha airport looks like a huge souvenir shop with an airstrip attached. Thousands of tourists pass through here on their way to Tanzania’s famed national parks and Mount Kilimanjaro. But what those sunburned visitors may not know is that where their safari starts is where civil wars end.

This sleepy city in the north of Tanzania has been a diplomatic hub since the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993 ended the war in Rwanda. But now, with civil conflict brewing or in full swing in neighboring Burundi and South Sudan, this neutral city may be the region’s best broker for peace agreements. Over 345 new cases of torture and abuse by security forces have been reported in Burundi since the start of 2016 and experts warn of the violence taking an even darker turn. “We are not there now,” says Alexandre Lévêque, Canada’s high commissioner and envoy to the East African community, “but everybody remembers Rwanda.”

The role of peacemaker is one that Tanzania’s recently elected president John Magufuli is taking seriously. He has appointed a seasoned diplomat as minister of foreign affairs and at the top of his agenda is addressing the violence in Burundi, where the election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to an unconstitutional third term has thrown the East African nation into turmoil. If the Tanzanian official manages to convince Nkurunziza to come to the table, that table will be in Arusha.

Home to a number of crucial institutions, including the East African Court of Justice, Arusha is also where the Burundi civil war ended in 2005 after 12 years — and some 300,000 dead. It was there that the National Liberation Forces, Burundi’s last rebel group, finally signed a deal to stop the fighting, demobilize and be integrated into the national army. Today, nestled among rolling green hills, Arusha moves slowly; save for an occasional four-wheel-drive vehicle rushing tourists to view zebras, the city gives the impression that nothing bad could happen here.

Tanzania has more moral authority than all countries in the area combined, so they are best placed to make peace happen.

Paul Nantulya, Pentagon adviser

But can Arusha — “the Geneva of Africa,” as Bill Clinton once called it — live up to its past image as peacemaker? Part of that depends on the rest of Tanzania. Paul Nantulya, a Pentagon adviser who was part of a peace-based negotiating team in Arusha in 1998, says having morally respected arbiters — the late South African leader Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father — are key to any peace agreement. “Those accords only happened because of Mandela and Neyrere,” Nantulya says. “Tanzania has more moral authority than all countries in the area combined, so they are best placed to make peace happen.”

Given Tanzania’s neighbors, there isn’t much of an alternative. Kenya has a recent history of electoral violence, and Ugandan and Rwandan leaders have both forsaken term limits — the same issue fueling violence in Burundi. Meanwhile, Tanzania just had a peaceful change of government, and in 2003, when violence threatened Zanzibar, the country managed to negotiate the creation of a “unity government.”


Shutterstock 388127020

Source: Shutterstock

But regional unity is lacking from the Burundi negotiations. During the 2005 Burundi accord, neighboring countries agreed to a severe embargo and to put peacekeeping boots on the ground. Today, Tanzania has to be the one to lead the way to a more coordinated effort. “Tanzania is capable of doing that,” says Hassan B. Jallow, chief prosecutor of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, from his small office in Arusha. Lévêque says it’s urgent for the country to “step up to its reputation.”

There are many obstacles remaining in the way of President Magufuli playing Switzerland’s role in this heated region. For starters, his party has a long-standing relationship with Burundi’s ruling party, so it finds itself torn between its roles as peacekeeper and ally. And Tanzania’s relationship with some of its neighbors is becoming more strained, says Nantulya. Even if it manages to be the peacemaking arbiter it aims to be, there is no guarantee of success — despite Tanzania’s best efforts to help manage violence in South Sudan after the country’s civil war, the peace accord disintegrated only a few months after its signing.

Near the Arusha airport is the almost empty Mount Meru Hotel. Recently, its sad-looking conference rooms and echoing halls were packed with more than 1,000 well-dressed men and women attending an East African summit. At the top of the agenda? Burundi. Welcoming attendees was a massive photo of Nyerere — the man who brokered the Arusha Accords and who warned, more than half a century ago, “We must either unite now or perish.”

*Source ZY

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NDI’s Chris Fomunyoh to Capitol Hill: Democratic governance is critical to counterterrorism strategy
May 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L.

Dr Chris Fomunyoh

Dr Chris Fomunyoh

As African countries battle with the threats of terrorism, the international community should be cautious of giving dictators a free pass just because of their engagement in the fight says Dr Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute.

On Capitol Hill to discuss Terrorism and Instability in Sub-Saharan Africa, Fomunyoh told a Senate Hearing on May 10, 2016, that democracy and good governance must be a fundamental part of any successful counter terrorism strategy.

“Africans of this generation are jittery and extremely fearful of reliving the experience of the Cold War era during which dictatorships thrived amidst grave human deprivation and gross human rights abuses just because some leaders were allies of the West at the time,” said Fomunyoh, who has used the NDI platform to facilitate the emergence of several democracies in Africa.

“The fight against terrorism should not become a substitute for the Cold War paradigm of this century with regards to sub-Saharan Africa,” Fomunyoh said, as he cautioned the international community against giving autocratic regimes a pass just because there are partners in the fight against terrorism.

In the recommendations made to the U.S Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Fomunyoh said successful counter terrorism strategies must be grounded in the consolidation of democracy and good governance for short term military victories to be sustained in the medium and long term.

“Shrinking political space, frequent and overt violations of citizen rights and freedoms, and the undermining of constitutional rule and meaningful elections breed discontent and disaffection that form the fertile ground for recruiters and perpetrators of violence and extremism,” Fomunyoh told the Committee Chaired by  Sen .Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

Good partners in countering violent extremism and terrorism should match that with good performances in democratic governance, Fomunyoh said, while recommending that governments need encouragement to invest in rehabilitating communities and creating structures that eliminate conditions that breed the rise of terrorism.

Paying a courtesy call to President Roch Marc Kabore of Burkina Faso, Fomunyoh told the US.Senate that young but fragile democracies must be supported

Paying a courtesy call to President Roch Marc Kabore of Burkina Faso, Fomunyoh told the US.Senate that young but fragile democracies must be supported

“Consolidation of democracy should be approached as a long-term process that requires consistent and continued support with mechanisms to reward or incentivize good behavior and penalize poor performance,” Fomunyoh said in making the case for more assistance towards supporting young democracies with weak political institutions.

Supporting the argument of Nicholas Kristof that education can be more effective in combatting militancy than military intervention, Fomunyoh told the Senate Hearing that more investment was needed in education to give young people more opportunities.

“Friends of Africa must make sure that they do not, willingly or inadvertently, allow themselves to become accomplices in denying Africans their basic rights and freedoms and a secure, prosperous future,” he concluded.

Accompanying Dr Fomunyoh on the second panel of the hearing was Mr. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa United Nations Development Program.

The Senate was the first in a two day Capitol Hill blitz for Fomunyoh, who also appeared before a Congressional Hearing to discuss The U.S Role in Helping Nigeria Confront Boko Haram, and other Threats in Northern Nigeria.



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How to steal from Africa, all perfectly legally
May 7, 2016 | 1 Comments

When UK PM David Cameron opens the Anti-Corruption Summit on 12 May, we should be aware that the greatest fraud perpetrated on the majority of the world’s citizens is all perfectly legal.

by *

The City of London, arguably the heart and headquarters of a international network of tax havens. Credit: Michael Garnett.

The City of London, arguably the heart and headquarters of a international network of tax havens. Credit: Michael Garnett.

Africa loses at least $50 billion a year — and probably much, much more than that — perfectly lawfully. About 60% of this loss is from aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, which organise their accounts so that they make their profits in tax havens, where they pay little or no tax. Much of the remainder is from organised crime with a smaller amount from corruption. This was the headline finding of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, a year ago.

This amount is the same or smaller than international development assistance ($52 billion per year) or remittances ($62 billion). If we take the accumulated stock of these illicit financial flows since 1970 and factor in the returns on this capital, Africa has provided the rest of the world with $1.7 trillion, at a conservative estimate. Africa is a capital exporter.

The rest of the world didn’t take much notice of the Mbeki Panel’s findings until the Panama Papers revealed the extent to which this is just part of a global phenomenon. The rich aren’t being taxed. The rest of us pay for everything.

The OECD calls the phenomenon ‘base erosion’ (referring to the emasculation of the tax base of the affected countries) and ‘profit shifting’. The beneficiaries are a small fraction of the world’s wealthiest 1%, and the secrecy jurisdictions (aka tax havens) where they sequester their money. These locations include the City of London, numerous British overseas territories, Switzerland, and new entrants to the global business of looking after the monies of the hyper-wealthy and ordinarily wealthy, who would prefer not to pay tax. Countries including Mauritius, the Seychelles, Botswana and Ghana are seeking to enter this competition.

And the vast majority of this is perfectly legal.

Accountants’ alchemy

Two hundred years ago, the slave trade was legal. One hundred years ago, colonial occupation and exploitation were legal. This time the legal immiseration is done by accountants.

This dimension of unethical financial activity isn’t captured by Transparency International (TI) and its Corruption Perceptions Index. That index is, as it says, a measurement ofperceptions. But of what andby whom? As the UN Economic Commission for Africa recently observed, it relies on asking key power players in a nation’s economy what they think of the level of corruption. Many of those are foreign investors. Using this approach a country like Zambia will unsurprisingly tend to rank high on corruption – 76 worst out of 168. Meanwhile, Switzerland will rank low – 7th.

But the perfectly legal transfer of the wealth of Africa to Europe isn’t captured by this index. As TI notes, “Many ‘clean’ countries have dodgy overseas records”. Consider this: the number one destination for Zambian copper exports is Switzerland, which in 2014 accounted for 59.5% of the country’s copper exports. Yet Switzerland’s own imports that year scarcely contained any mention of copper at all. Had the African country’s main exports just vanished into thin air? The 2015 figures suggest that in fact much of these exports were destined for China (31%), though Switzerland remained the number one destination (34%).

The answer to where the money goes lies in accountants’ alchemy. International corporations present their books in such a way that they pay as little tax as possible in either Zambia or China. And they don’t pay much in Switzerland either – because the Swiss don’t demand it.

Suddenly the ranking of Switzerland, 69 places ahead of Zambia in the honesty league, looks a bit suspect. But of course it’s all perfectly legal.

From Zambia’s point of view, what counts as corruption is defined by the rich and powerful. When their country is robbed blind by clever accounting tricks, against which their government and people have no recourse, it is just the operation of a free market controlled – as free markets so often are – by corporations that have enough power to set the rules.

Political money in a political marketplace

Another little noticed but significant feature of illicit financial flows from Africa is that there are occasional reverse flows. The movements back into African countries aren’t as big as the outflows, but they are important. What is happening here is “round-tripping”: spiriting funds away to a safe place so they can be brought back, with their origins unexplained, and no questions needing to be asked.

The same multinational corporation that is defrauding an African country can pay money into the offshore account of one of its political leaders. Or that leader can whisk funds away by other means. Our main concern here isn’t the money invested in real estate in France, yachts, fast cars, or foreign business ventures. These are personal insurance policies in case things go wrong at home, or tickets to the global elite club. Rather, our concern is the cash kept liquid, to be brought back home when needed – the money brought back to fix elections, buy loyalties and, in sundry other ways, secure leaders in power. These are political budgets par excellence: the funds used for discretionary political purposes by political business operators.

In the United States, almost any kind of political funding you can think of can be done in a perfectly legal manner, given a smart enough accountant and lawyer. Political Action Committees can spend as much money as they like in support of a candidate. Campaign finance is essentially without a ceiling.

In Africa, political finance laws range from lax to non-existent. Spending vast amounts of money on winning political office – or staying in office – offends no law. The monetisation of politics is one of the biggest transformations in African political life of the last 30 years. It is generating vast inequalities, consolidating a political-commercial elite which has a near-monopoly on government office, fusing corporate business with state authority, and making public life subject to the laws of supply and demand. Political markets are putting state-building into reverse gear, transforming peace-making into a continual struggle against a tide of mercenarised violence, and – most perniciously – turning elections into an auction of loyalties.

Political money is discrediting democracy. Some of the transactions that constitute Africa’s political markets are blatantly corrupt, but many are simply the routine functioning of political systems based on the exchange of political services for material reward.

Yes, there is corruption in Africa, just as there is corruption in international trade and finance. But when Prime Minister David Cameron opens the Anti-Corruption Summit next week on 12 May, we should be aware that the greatest fraud perpetrated on the majority of the world’s citizens – notably those living in Africa – is all perfectly legal.

*Source African Arguments.Alex de Waal is the Director of the World Peace Foundation. 

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US$7 Million Prize to Fund African Renewable Energy Projects
May 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Calling all entrepreneurs and developers of renewable energy projects in Africa

  • Just three weeks left for entrepreneurs to enter the ACF competition which will see developers across the continent compete for funding and expertise
  • Calling all entrepreneurs and developers of renewable energy projects in Africa

Access Power , a developer, owner and operator of power projects in emerging markets, today kicked off the countdown for applications to the ACF 2016, the second edition of its successful Access Co-Development Facility (ACF) for renewable energy projects in Africa.

eef1acfb29c60dcRenewable energy developers have less than one month left to submit their applications for a chance to win US$7million in ACF prize funding. The deadline for applications is the 20st May 2016.

ACF 2016 is a competition dedicated to finding local power project developers with credible renewable energy projects in Africa who need access to funding, technical experience, and expertise to bring their plans to life.

Following the competition’s successful launch last year, the ACF increased its funding from US$5m in 2015 to US$7m for this year’s winners.  Up to three successful projects will be selected by a panel of expert judges whose decision will be based on commercial, technical and environmental merits, the local regulatory environment, and capability of the project team.

The winners of ACF 2016 will be announced on Tuesday 22nd June 2016 before a live audience during the Africa Energy Forum in London  (see Notes to Editors for further details). The winners will enter a Joint Development Agreement with Access Power, which will take an equity stake in the winning projects and fund third-party development costs such as feasibility studies, grid studies, environmental and social impact assessments and due diligence fees.  Access Power will also provide technical support, financial structuring and development process management.

Nasir Aku, ACF Program Manager at Access Power commented, “With just one month to go until the application deadline, we want to make sure that all local developers across the African continent are aware of this fantastic opportunity to secure valuable funding and expertise that can turn an idea for a renewable energy project into reality.”

ACF 2016 is leading the way in demonstrating and supporting the type of renewable energy projects that will help meet Africa’s massive and urgent need for electrification.

drawing“Through this unique facility, we hope to encourage innovation and support companies in their efforts to deliver power to places that desperately need it. Last year we received a total of 55 submissions from 18 countries across Africa, including solar, wind, hydro, hybrid and bio-mass projects. The applications are coming in fast so 2016 looks set to build on that success.”

The inaugural ACF in 2015 was won by Quaint Solar Energy from Nigeria and Flatbush Solar from Cameroon. Other competing projects hailed from Cape Verde, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Rwanda and Tanzania.

One project has already pre-qualified for ACF2016. A 25MW solar project being developed in Sierra Leone by Africa Growth and Energy Solutions (AGES) won the Solar Shark Tank competition at the Making Solar Bankable conference in Amsterdam on 18th February. In a keenly fought contest, three emerging markets developers competed for a US$100,000 grant to support the development of their solar projects, funded by Access Power and Dutch development bank FMO. Part of the prize, subject to terms and conditions, was pre-qualification for ACF2016.

  • The independent judging panel of four judges will include industry and legal experts as well as representatives from multilateral development banks.


  • Following a pre-selection process, a shortlist of applicants will be chosen to present their projects to a panel of judges at the Africa Energy Forum in London on the 22nd June 2016.
  • Applicants must present their projects to the judging panel during the Forum within a given time and take questions from panel members.
  • Panel members will score each project based on the evaluation criteria, using weighted percentages.
  • ACF 2016 submission period runs from 18th February to 20th May, 2016.

Access Power (‘Access’)  was founded in 2012 with the aim of becoming a leading developer, owner and operator of power assets in emerging and frontier markets.  Access has assembled a development team with a track record of financially closing ~30 GW of power projects across the globe.  Through its various subsidiaries, Access is currently developing power assets in over 20 countries in Africa and Asia. Access’ portfolio predominantly consists of renewable energy projects with a gross total investment cost of over US$ 1 billion.


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