(CNN)The mighty peaks of Kilimanjaro and Kenya are the highest points in Africa, towering over the East Coast nations.
The mountains will soon be sharing a skyline with a man-made behemoth named simply: “The Pinnacle.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently laid the foundation stone for what will be the tallest building in Africa in the Upper Hill neighborhood of Nairobi. Construction is underway at the development site, and slated for completion by December 2019.
The ambitious project will see twin glass-facade towers rise above the city, the larger standing at 300 meters tall, far surpassing the continent’s current leader — Johannesburg’s 223-meter Carlton Centre.
The $200m project will be completed by the end of 2019.
The Pinnacle has heavyweight backing in the shape of Dubai-based investors Hass Petroleum and White Lotus Group, which are ploughing around $200 million into the project.
The contract to build the towers has been awarded to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), which is among the world’s largest construction firms and has delivered a string of major projects including the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia and the Beijing National Aquatics Centre.
The complex will house a 255-room Hilton Hotel, the luxury chain’s third in Kenya and 50th in Africa. The towers will also include elite residences, business and leisure facilities, and a helipad on the roof of the taller tower.
Stakeholders are confident that the development has found the right location.
“Whatever happens in other parts of the world can happen in Africa as well,” says Abdinassir Hassan, chairman of Hass Petroleum and managing director of the project. “Nairobi is a hub for East and Central Africa. Why would we go anywhere else?”
Hassan says there is already a clamor for properties on the site, and that this will be “the first of several developments in Kenya” for his company.
Hilton executives are also bullish, noting in a statement that the Upper Hill area is now home to offices of major international businesses and organizations including Cisco Systems and the World Bank.
“The striking new-build property…will be well placed to meet this growing demand in one of Nairobi’s most exciting and colorful areas,” said Patrick Fitzgibbon, senior vice president for development, EMEA, Hilton Worldwide.
The 223-meter Carlton Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, will lose its place as the continent’s tallest building.
Kenya’s economy has performed steadily in recent years, with healthy GDP growth of 5.9% in 2016 according to the World Bank.
A thriving property market has underpinned this growth, particularly in Nairobi. But there are indications of a slowdown that could affect a luxury development such as Pinnacle.
Prime residential rents declined in 2016, according to a report from real estate firm Knight Frank, and prime retail rents stagnated.
“This is the first time I’ve seen any kind of market slowdown in Kenya,” says Knight Frank Kenya Managing Director Ben Woodhams, who is also serving as a letting agent for Pinnacle.
Woodhams cites a perfect storm of contributing factors, including high interest rates that have hit borrowing and liquidity, as well as the withdrawal of oil companies from Kenya, and the uncertainty of an election year. But in the longer term he sees reasons for optimism.
“We’re seeing global corporations that traditionally run Sub-Saharan Africa from Johannesburg putting regional headquarters into Nairobi…and that’s a story I expect to hear more and more,” he says. “An ambitious project like Pinnacle is ideal for maintaining that interest, and by the time the project comes to fruition Nairobi could be a very different place.”
Whether such optimism is justified remains to be seen. But there can be little doubt that Africa’s tallest tower will raise Nairobi’s profile higher on the world stage.
Aviation Africa, exhibition and summit covering the full aviation and aerospace spectrum across the African continent, is to hold its third
edition in Cairo on April 17 to 18, 2018, under the auspices of the
Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation, according to Alison Weller,
According to Weller, the expo will be held under the theme ‘Building
blocks for North African revival’ and the two-day summit will focus on
the key drivers to grow business and opportunities across North
Africa. Alongside the summit will be an exhibition area featuring more
than 50 exhibitors.
His Excellency Sherif Fathi Attia the Minister of Civil Aviation of
Egypt said he welcomed the decision to bring the event to Cairo.“We
are working with the event organiser to shape the agenda for the
Summit,” he said. “There are key issues affecting Africa in general,
North Africa in particular in subjects like aviation security,
infrastructure needs and regional cooperation. The Egyptian government
is lending its full support to the event and will be inviting our
neighbours and friends across North Africa to be part of this
EgyptAir is to be the host airline of the event. Chairman and CEO of
the Egypt Air Holding Group, Safwat Musallam said, “This event gives
an opportunity for all of our businesses to come together with
suppliers, customers and competitors under one roof. We are very
positive about the future but agree it is important that we can share
ideas and get new ideas too.”
Mark Brown chief executive of show organiser Times Aerospace, said
that they were pleased to have MoUs from all of Egypt’s airlines
including charter, cargo and low cost carriers. He said that these
will all have top executives taking part in the event and meeting with
“We are expecting delegations from other African governments and
their civil aviation authorities and of course other airlines,
business aviation operators and from companies across the Middle East
and Africa,” Brown said.
African Leadership University School of Business (ALUSB) has
announced Zimbabwean Lawyer, Zanudeen Makorie as the first recipient of the prestigious Chairman’s Scholarship for Excellence in Business Leadership, a merit based financial award that will cover the full cost of attending their flagship Pan-African MBA programme in Kigali,Rwanda.
According to Godfrey Chesang and Marie Shabaya, spokesperson for
ALUSB, the Chairman’s Scholarship celebrates the best of African
business talent particularly within professional and community
leadership. It is reported that the selection committee received
thousands of applications from across the continent and selected five outstanding finalists for the award who each have an impressive track record of success in business and civil society.
Of the finalists, Zimbabwean lawyer, Zanudeen Makorie has been
named as the first recipient of the ALUSB Chairman’s Scholarship. Makorie is currently General Counsel and Group Secretary at RioZim, a former subsidiary of global mining giant, Rio Tinto, in Harare.
His responsibilities include managing the company’s litigation
portfolio and leading the company’s corporate and strategic policy.
Prior to his current role, Makorie was a Partner at Coghlan, Welsh and Guest, one of Zimbabwe’s top law firms, where he was admitted into Partnership at 27, becoming one of the youngest partners in the firm’s century long existence. He is a member of the International Bar Association and the Law Society of
He is also a contributor and author on WLSA Zimbabwe Property and Inheritance Rights Journal. Passionate about giving back to the community, Makorie is a registered blood donor as an
active member of the National Blood Society of Zimbabwe. He recently participated in a high school national debate tournament where he coached high school students and aspiring debaters.
Speaking shortly after the announcement of Makorie as inaugural
Chairman’s Scholar, ALUSB Founder,Fred Swaniker said,
“Congratulations to Mr. Makorie and our four finalists for their
exceptional achievements in leadership and public service. The Chairman’s Scholarship is an important milestone for the ALU School of Business in fostering the next generation of African Business leaders. We have been consistently impressed by
the caliber of young and driven leaders that choose to be a part of
our ambitious vision. I am looking forward to welcoming them in Rwanda along with our second MBA cohort next month.”
The ALUSB MBA programme is an Africa-focused world-class executive development programme offered in
collaboration with a number of internationally recognised partners.
The program blends global best practices in business education punctuated with African case studies to deliver a tailored programme geared towards building critical skills essential for doing business in Africa. The second ALUSB MBA cohort begins in July 2017, the program runs over 20 months.
The ALU School of Business (ALUSB) is an Africa-focused world-class professional school pioneering a fresh approach to business education in Africa. ALUSB offers an accredited MBA, open-enrolment executive programmes and custom executive education programs tailored to the needs of African students and African firms. ALUSB brings together faculty and programmes from
top global business schools,leadership training developed and tested for nearly a decade by some of the greatest leaders on the
continent, and top-level executives teaching real challenges that
they, themselves, had to manage.
African Leadership University’s Rwanda campus provides an
institutional home for ALUSB. ALUSB is offering the continent’s first pan-African MBA program along with other executive development courses, delivered in collaboration with content partners including Wharton Online, McKinsey Academy
and the Drucker Institute.
The School is led by Dean Modupe Taylor-Pearce, a scholar in
organizational development, leadership
and management. Vice Dean Catherine Duggan leads development and teaching on the school’s programmes.
African Leadership University is a network of tertiary education
institutions whose mission is to produce 3 million young African leaders over the next 50 years. It projects to build 25 campuses across the continent, each hosting 10,000 students from all over Africa. ALU’s campus was inaugurated in September 2015 in Mauritius, and is known as African Leadership College (Mauritius).
The Mauritius campus offers undergraduate programs in business management, applied psychology, social sciences
and computing. ALC’s initial degrees will be awarded by Glasgow
Caledonian University (GCU) in Scotland, its academic and accreditation partner for the Mauritius campus. ALU has received
accreditation for its second campus in Rwanda. ALU Rwanda offers an MBA programme , which it will deliver in collaboration with Harvard Business School’s HBX program, McKinsey Academy and
The Drucker Institute. ALU was founded by Fred Swaniker, a social entrepreneur and education specialist. President Barack
Obama and other influential figures have commended Swaniker’s work as an entrepreneur who is effecting change on the African continent. He has also been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic and the Aspen Institute of Global Leadership Network.
flydubai has seen a 3.5% increase in passengers numbers travelling between the UAE and Africa in 2016 compared to 2015, a positive record for this emerging market
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, June 15, 2017/ —
Kilimanjaro becomes 3rd point in Tanzania and the 12th point on the flydubai African network
The new service increases the total number of flights to Tanzania to 14 flights a week
Direct flights to Zanzibar to more than double from 29 October 2017
Ghaith Al Ghaith, Chief Executive Officer of flydubai
Dubai-based flydubai (www.flydubai.com) today announced the start of flights to Kilimanjaro from 29 October. The relaunched service to the carrier’s third point in Tanzania, along with Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, will see flydubai’s network in Africa expand to 12 destinations.
flydubai began operations to Tanzania in 2014 and has seen a steady growth in passenger numbers. Kilimanjaro will be served with six flights a week three of which are via a stop in the capital, Dar es Salaam. In addition, the carrier will increase direct flights to Zanzibar from three to eight flights a week.
Commenting on the launch of flights, Ghaith Al Ghaith, Chief Executive Officer of flydubai, said: “With the addition of the service to Kilimanjaro and more direct flights to Zanzibar, flydubai will operate 14 flights a week, marking a 133% increase in capacity to the market compared to the previous year. This is a healthy indication of the rising popularity of Tanzania as a preferred tourist destination and we are happy to be connecting the market to Dubai.”
Kilimanjaro International Airport is located between the regions of Kilimanjaro and Arusha in Northern Tanzania. The airport is the major gateway to the Kilimanjaro region, a main international tourism destination that includes Mount Kilimanjaro, Arusha National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Only a few international carriers operate to Kilimanjaro and flydubai will be the first airline to provide direct air links from the UAE.
“We are committed to opening up underserved markets and flydubai’s service to Kilimanjaro will introduce more options for travel with a Business and Economy Class service, together with added cargo capacity available through our Cargo Division. We expect to see healthy flows of trade and tourism on this route from the GCC and Eastern Europe via our hub in Dubai,” said Sudhir Sreedharan, Senior Vice President Commercial (GCC, Subcontinent and Africa).
flydubai has seen a 3.5% increase in passengers numbers travelling between the UAE and Africa in 2016 compared to 2015, a positive record for this emerging market.
Sudhir Sreedharan, Senior Vice President Commercial (GCC, Subcontinent and Africa)
flydubai has built up a comprehensive network in Africa with flights to Addis Ababa, Alexandria, Asmara, Djibouti, Entebbe, Hargeisa, Juba, Khartoum and Port Sudan, as well as Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. The 12 points will be served with more than 80 weekly flights for the summer period.
Dubai-based flydubai (www.flydubai.com) strives to remove barriers to travel and enhance connectivity between different cultures across its ever-expanding network. Since launching its operations in 2009, flydubai has:
• Created a network of 94 destinations in 44 countries.
• Operates a single fleet type of 58 Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft and will take delivery of more than 100 aircraft by the end of 2023.
• Opened up 63 new routes that did not previously have direct air links to Dubai or were not served by a UAE national carrier from Dubai.
In addition, flydubai’s agility and flexibility as a young airline has enhanced Dubai’s economic development, in line with the Government of Dubai’s vision, by creating trade and tourism flows in previously underserved markets.
American startups are competing to bring electricity to communities that remain off the grid.
Solar panels power a solar drip irrigation system for a collective women’s garden in Kalale, Benin. The system provides a cost-effective, clean way to irrigate crops, especially in the long, dry season.Pic credit Face to Face Africa
In eighteen months, entrepreneurs brought electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in places that the grid failed to reach.
Illustration by Oliver Munday / Photographs courtesy Mathieu Young / Off-Grid Electric
The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Daban could now safely store the vaccine for yellow fever; residents could charge their cell phones at home rather than walking to a bigger town to do it. As we talked, one of the old men handed me a small plastic bag of water, the kind street venders sell across West Africa—you just bite off a corner and drink. The water was ice-cold and refreshing, but it took me an embarrassingly long moment to understand the pleasure with which he offered it: cold water was now available in this hot place. There was enough power to run a couple of refrigerators, and so coldness was, for the first time, a possibility.
I’d come to Daban to learn about the boom in solar power in sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of cell phones in the region has made it possible for residents to pay daily or weekly bills using mobile money, and now the hope is that, just as cell phones bypassed the network of telephone lines, solar panels will enable many rural consumers to bypass the electric grid. From Ghana, I travelled to Ivory Coast, and then to Tanzania, and along the way I encountered a variety of new solar ventures, most of them American-led. Some, such as Ghana’s Black Star Energy, which had electrified Daban, install solar microgrids, small-scale versions of the giant grid Americans are familiar with. Others, such as Off-Grid Electric, in Tanzania and Ivory Coast, market home-based solar systems that run on a panel installed on each individual house. These home-based systems can’t produce enough current for a fridge, but they can supply each home with a few lights, a mobile-phone charger, and, if the household can afford it, a small, super-efficient flat-screen TV.
In another farming town, in Ivory Coast, I talked to a man named Abou Traoré, who put his television out in a courtyard most nights, so that neighbors could come by to watch. He said that they tuned in for soccer matches—the village tilts Liverpool, but has a large pocket of Manchester United supporters. What else did he watch? Traoré considered. “I like the National Geographic channel,” he replied—that is, the broadcast arm of the institution that became famous showing Westerners pictures of remote parts of Africa.
There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.”
Electrifying Africa is one of the largest development challenges on earth. Until recently, most people assumed that the continent would electrify in the same manner as the rest of the globe. “The belief was, you’d eventually build the U.S. grid here,” Xavier Helgesen, the American co-founder and C.E.O. of Off-Grid Electric, told me. “But the U.S. is the richest country on earth, and it wasn’t fully electrified until the nineteen-forties, and that was in an era of cheap copper for wires, cheap timber for poles, cheap coal, and cheap capital. None of that is so cheap anymore, at least not over here.”
Solar electricity, on the other hand, has become inexpensive, in part because the price of solar panels has fallen at the same time that the efficiency of light bulbs and appliances has dramatically increased. In 2009, a single compact fluorescent bulb and a lead-acid battery cost about forty dollars; now, using L.E.D. bulbs and lithium-ion batteries, you can get four times as much light for the same price. In 2009, a radio, a mobile-phone charger, and a solar system big enough to provide four hours of light and television a day would have cost a Kenyan a thousand dollars; now it’s three hundred and fifty dollars.
President Trump has derided renewable energy as “really just an expensive way of making the tree huggers feel good about themselves.” But many Western entrepreneurs see solar power in Africa as a chance to reach a large market and make a substantial profit. This is a nascent industry, which, at the moment, represents a small percentage of the electrification in the region, and is mostly in rural areas. There’s plenty of uncertainty about its future, and no guarantee that it will spread at the pace of cell phones. Still, in the past eighteen months, these businesses have brought electricity to hundreds of thousands of consumers—many of them in places that the grid failed to reach, despite a hundred-year head start. Funding, much of it from private investors based in Silicon Valley or Europe, is flowing into this sector—more than two hundred million dollars in venture capital last year, up from nineteen million in 2013—and companies are rapidly expanding their operations with the new money. M-Kopa, an American startup that launched in Kenya, in 2011, now has half a million pay-as-you-go solar customers; d.light, a competitor with offices in California, Kenya, China, and India, says that it is adding eight hundred new households a day. Nicole Poindexter, the founder and C.E.O. of Black Star, told me that every million dollars the company raises in venture capital delivers power to seven thousand people. She expects Black Star to be profitable within the next three years.
Like many of the American entrepreneurs I met in Africa, Poindexter has a background in finance. A graduate of Harvard Business School, she worked as a derivatives trader before leading business development at Opower, a software platform for utilities customers that was acquired by Oracle last year. (Unlike many of these entrepreneurs, who tend to skew white and male, Poindexter is African-American.) She decided to start the company in 2015, after she began to learn about energy poverty. She recalled watching TV coverage of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. “There was a lot of coughing in the background, and I was thinking, That’s someone with Ebola,” she said. “But it wasn’t. It was from the smoke in the room from the fire.” Last year, in the Ghanaian community of Kofihuikrom, one of the first towns that Black Star served, the company erected twenty-two solar panels. Today, the local clinic no longer has to deliver babies by flashlight. The town chief, Nana Kwaku Appiah, said that he was so excited that he initially left his lights on inside all night. “Our relatives from the city used to not come here to visit,” he said.
When I visited the Tanzanian headquarters of Off-Grid Electric, in the city of Arusha, the atmosphere was reminiscent of Palo Alto or Mountain View, with standing desks and glassed-in conference rooms for impromptu meetings. Erick Donasian, the company’s head of service in Tanzania, grew up in a powerless house three miles from the office and joined the company in 2013; he said that, along with his enthusiasm for the company’s goals, one attraction of working there is that it is far less formal than many Tanzanian businesses, where “you have to tuck your shirt in, which I hate the most.” Off-Grid’s Silicon Valley influence was clearest in the T-shirt Helgesen wore. It read “Make something people want,” and sported the logo for Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s most famous incubator, where Helgesen’s wife had recently developed a bartering app.
Helgesen, who is thirty-eight years old and lanky, with hair that he regularly brushes out of his eyes, grew up in Silver Bay, Minnesota, a small town on the shore of Lake Superior. At fourteen, he came up with the idea of leasing the municipal mini-golf course for a summer, and tripled revenues by offering season passes and putting on special promotions for visiting hockey teams. As a sophomore at Notre Dame, in 1999, he set up a Web site that posted the college’s freshman register online, so that, as he put it, “you’d actually know who that cute girl you saw in anthro class was.” Helgesen started similar sites at other colleges, but, he told me, “I wasn’t as good a programmer as Zuckerberg. Even if I’d gotten it completely right, it would have been more Friendster than Facebook.” His first major company, Better World Books, founded in 2002, took the model of charity used-book drives and moved it online. It’s now one of the biggest sellers of used books on Amazon, and has helped raise twenty-five million dollars for literacy organizations, including Books for Africa.
Helgesen made his first trip to Tanzania in 2006, to visit recipients of Better World’s funding and to go on safari. “I was staying at a fancy lodge near Kilimanjaro, and I remember thinking, How do things really work around here?” Helgesen said. He paid a local man to take him to the nearest village. “I was peppering him with questions: ‘Do young people go to the city?’ ‘How much does coffee sell for?’ ” The experience, he said, “flipped my mind-set from ‘People in Africa are poor and they need our help and our donated books’ to ‘This is what an emerging economy looks like. This is young people, this is entrepreneurialism, this is where growth will be.’ ” During a second trip to Africa, he went scuba diving in Lake Malawi (“to see the cichlid fish, which keep their babies in their mouths”), and was invited to dinner by his scuba instructor. “It was a decent-sized town, maybe twenty thousand people, but absolutely no electricity,” Helgesen said. “It was all narrow alleys—they were bustling, but they were pitch-black.”
In 2010, Helgesen won a Skoll Scholarship to Oxford, for M.B.A. students seeking “entrepreneurial solutions for urgent social and environmental challenges,” and spent the year researching the renewables market. He found two like-minded business partners, and, in 2012, they set up shop in Arusha. At first, they planned to build solar microgrids to power cell-phone towers and sell the excess electricity to locals, but, Helgesen said, “it became clear that that was a pretty expensive way to go.” So they visited customers in their homes to ask them what they wanted. “Those conversations were the smartest thing we ever did,” Helgesen said. “I remember this one customer, she had a baby, and she would keep the kerosene lamp on low all night, as a night-light. It was costing thirty dollars a month in kerosene. And I was, like, Wow, for thirty dollars a month I could do a lot better.”
Helgesen decided to “start with the customer, and the price point they could pay, and build the business behind that.” Matt Schiller, the thirty-two-year-old vice-president of business operations, said that, in some ways, it is an easy sell. “If we talk to a hundred customers, not one says, ‘I’d rather have kerosene,’ ” he told me. “Not one says, ‘I’d like the warm glow of the kerosene lights.’ In fact, when we were designing the L.E.D.s, we focus-grouped lights. And the engineers assumed they’d want a warmer light, because that’s what they were used to. But, no, they picked the bluest, hardest light you can imagine. That’s modernity. That’s clean.”
There were solar panels in sub-Saharan Africa before companies like Off-Grid arrived, but customers generally had to pay for them up front, a forbidding prospect for many. “Cost is important to the customer at the bottom, but risk is even more important,” Helgesen told me. “A bad decision when you’re that poor can mean your kids don’t eat or go to school, which is why people tend to be conservative. And which is why kerosene was winning. There was no risk. You could buy it a tiny bit at a time.”
Off-Grid, like several of its competitors, finances the panels, so that people can pay the same small monthly amounts they were paying for kerosene. Customers in Tanzania put down about thirteen dollars to buy Off-Grid’s cheapest starter kit: a panel, a battery, a few L.E.D. lights, a phone charger, and a radio. Then they pay about eight dollars a month for three years, after which they own the products outright. The most popular system adds a few more lights and a flat-screen TV, for a higher down payment and about twice the monthly price. Customers pay their bill by phone; if they don’t pay, the system stops working, and after a while it is repossessed. That scenario, it turns out, is uncommon: less than two per cent of the loans in Tanzania have gone bad.
Despite Off-Grid’s Silicon Valley vibe, it faces challenges unfamiliar to software companies. Aidan Leonard, Off-Grid’s Arusha-based general counsel, told me that the company “requires a lot of people walking around selling things and installing things and fixing things. There’s a lot of hardware—someone’s got a physical box in their house, and a panel on the roof, and they have to pay for it on a monthly basis.” Poindexter, of Black Star, put the problem more bluntly. “We’re a utility company,” she told me, and utilities are a difficult business.
In America, utilities are burdened with infrastructure, such as the endless poles and wires that come down in storms. Off-Grid doesn’t have to worry about poles, and the wires only run a few feet, from panel to battery to appliance. Still, the company is working with technology that is brand-new and needs to be made cheaply in order to be affordable. When solar energy first came to Africa, it was expensive and unreliable. Arne Jacobson, a professor of environmental-resources engineering at Humboldt State University, in California, is a couple of decades older than most of the entrepreneurs I met in Africa. He got his doctorate studying the first generation of home solar in Kenya, in the late nineteen-nineties. “In Kenya, I was trying to understand the quality of the panels that had started to flood the market,” he said. Much of the technology had “big troubles. Chinese panels, panels from the U.K., all this low-quality junk coming in. Later, L.E.D.s that failed in hours or days instead of lasting thousands of hours, as they should. People’s first experiences were often really bad.”
Jacobson has spent his career in renewable energy; he helped build the world’s first street-legal hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle, in 1998. He now runs Humboldt’s Schatz Energy Research Center. (“You want to know why a lot of early solar research happened in Humboldt?” he asked me. “Because there were a lot of back-to-the-land types here, and they had cash because they were growing dope.”) After seeing the unpredictability of solar technology, he created, in 2007, what he calls a “de facto consumer-protection bureau for this nascent industry.” The program, Lighting Global, which is run under the umbrella of the World Bank Group, tests and certifies panels, bulbs, and appliances to make sure that they work as promised. Jacobson credits this innovation with making investors more willing to put their money into companies such as Off-Grid, which has now raised more than fifty-five million dollars. His main testing lab is in Shenzhen, China, near most of the solar-panel manufacturers. He also has facilities in Nairobi, New Delhi, and Addis Ababa, and some of the work is still done in the basement of his building at Humboldt, where there’s an “integrating sphere” for measuring light output from a bulb, and a machine that switches radios on and off to see if they’ll eventually break.
Because many of Off-Grid’s potential customers have experience with bad products, or know someone who has, the company takes extra steps to build trust with its clients. After an Off-Grid installer shows up on his motorbike, he opens the product carton with great solemnity; in an Ivorian village, I watched along with seventeen neighbors, who nodded as the young man held up each component, one by one. He then climbed onto the roof of the house, nailed on a solar panel about the size of a placemat, and used a crowbar to lift up the corrugated-tin roof to run the wire inside. He screwed the battery box to the cement-block wall and walked the customer through the process of switching lights on and off several times, something the man had never done before. The company also offers a service guarantee: as long as customers are making their payments, they can call a number on the box and a repairman will arrive within three days. These LightRiders, as the company calls them, are trained to trouble-shoot small problems. They travel by motorcycle, and if they can’t make repairs easily they replace the system with a new one and haul the old unit back to headquarters.
This sales-and-installation system presents some engineering challenges. When the company expanded into Ivory Coast, last year, it had to redesign its packaging to fit on the smaller motorcycles used there. It also runs into problems coördinating coverage across a vast area where most houses don’t have conventional addresses. “We had to build our own internal software to make it possible,” Kim Schreiber, who runs Off-Grid’s marketing operations in Africa, said. “We optimize, via G.P.S. coördinates, the best routes for our riders to take. The LightRider turns on his phone every morning, and he has a list of his tasks for the day, so he knows what parts to take with him.”
Solar companies also contend with the complexity of the mobile-payment systems. In Ghana, where many customers don’t use mobile money, Poindexter’s Black Star team instead sells scratch cards from kiosks, which give customers a code they need to enter on their meter box to top up their account. Off-Grid delivers these codes over the phone, but the company still needs a call center, manned by fifteen people, to help customers with the mechanics of paying. Nena Sanderson, who runs Off-Grid’s Tanzanian operation, showed me the steps entailed in paying a bill through a ubiquitous mobile-money system called M-Pesa. There are ten screens, and the process ends with the input of a sixteen-digit code. “And I have a smartphone,” she said. “Now, imagine a feature phone, and imagine you may not know how to read, and the screen is a lot smaller, and it’s probably scratched up. Mobile money is a great enabler, but it’s not frictionless.” One of Off-Grid’s competitors, PEGAfrica, has printed the whole sequence on a wristband, which it gives to customers.
Because one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of solar power in the region is the lack of available cash, many of these companies are essentially banks as well as utilities, providing loans to customers who may have no credit history. That can make it hard to figure out what to charge people. “What you see in this space is at least eight to ten decent-sized pay-as-you-go solar companies, all trying to parse through what the actual end price to the customer really is,” Peter Bladin, who spent many years in leadership roles at Microsoft and now invests in several of these firms, told me. Bladin first started studying distributed solar—solar electricity produced near where it is used—in Bangladesh, where the Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus used his Grameen microcredit network to finance and distribute panels and batteries. Lacking that established financial architecture, companies in sub-Saharan Africa are constantly experimenting with different plans: Off-Grid began by offering ten-year leases, but found that customers wanted to own their systems more quickly, and so the payments are now spread out over three years. PEGAfrica customers buy their system in twelve months, but the company gives them hospitalization insurance as a bonus. Black Star is a true utility: the customers in the communities where it builds microgrids will always pay bills, but the charges start at only two dollars a month. (The business model depends on customers steadily increasing the amount of energy they buy, as they move from powering televisions to powering small businesses.) Companies like Burro—a Ghanaian outfit launched by Whit Alexander, the Seattle entrepreneur who founded Cranium games—sell lamps and chargers and panels outright, saving customers credit fees but limiting the number of people who can afford the products.
This uncertainty about the most practical financial model reflects the fact that in sub-Saharan Africa there is a great deal of economic diversity, both between countries and within them. One morning, I found myself walking down a line of houses in the Arushan suburb of Morombo. At the first house, a two-room cinder-block structure with a broken piece of mirror on one wall, a woman talked with me as we sat on the floor. The home represented a big step up for her, she said—she and her husband had rented a place for years, until they were able to buy this plot of land and build this house. She had a solar lantern the size of a hockey puck in her courtyard, soaking up rays. (Aid groups have distributed more than a million of these little lamps across the continent.) She assured me that she planned to get a larger solar system soon, but, for many of Africa’s poorest people, buying a lantern is the only possible step toward electrification.
Next door, a twenty-six-year-old student named Nehemiah Klimba shared a more solidly built house with his mother. It had a corrugated-iron roof on a truss that let hot air escape, and we sat on a sofa. Klimba said that, as soon as he finished paying off the windows, he was going to electrify. He and his mother were already spending fifteen dollars a month on kerosene and another four dollars charging their cell phones at a local store, so they knew they’d be able to afford the twenty dollars a month for a solar system with a TV.
One door down was the fanciest house I’d seen in weeks. It belonged to a soldier who worked as a U.N. peacekeeper, and the floors were made of polished stone. There was an Off-Grid solar system on the roof, but it was providing only backup power. The owner had paid a hefty fee to connect to the local electric grid, so he faced none of the limitations of a battery replenished by the sun. In his living room, he had a huge TV and speakers; a stainless-steel Samsung refrigerator gleamed in the kitchen.
“This is how the solar revolution happens—one hot sales meeting at a time,” Off-Grid’s Kim Schreiber whispered to me as we watched one of the company’s salesmen, an Ivorian named Seko Serge Lewis, at work. We were visiting the village of Grand Zattry with Off-Grid’s Ivory Coast sales director, Max-Marc Fossouo. A couple of dogs tussled nearby; a motorbike rolled past with six people on board. In the courtyard next to us, a woman was doing the day’s laundry in a bucket with a washboard. Her husband listened to the sales pitch from Lewis, who was showing him pictures on his cell phone of other customers in the village.
“That’s to build up trust,” Fossouo said. He’d been providing a play-by-play throughout the hour-long sales call. “This customer is on a big fence,” he said. “He’s stuck in the trust place. And I’m pretty sure the decision-maker is over there washing the clothes anyway.” Fossouo was born in Cameroon and went to school in Paris. In his twenties, he spent seven summers in the U.S., selling books for Southwestern Publishing, a Nashville-based titan of door-to-door marketing. (Rick Perry is another company alum; so is Kenneth Starr.) “I did L.A. for years,” he told me. “ ‘Hi, my name is Max. I’m a crazy college student from France, and I’m helping families with their kids’ education. I’ve been talking to your neighbors A, B, and C, and I’d like to talk to you. Do you have a place where I can come in and sit down?’ ” All selling, he said, is the same: “It starts with a person understanding they have a problem. Someone might live in the dark but not understand that it’s a problem. So you have to show them. And then you have to create a sense of urgency to spend the money to solve the problem now.”
The man turned down Lewis’s pitch. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to make the monthly payments in the lean stretch before the next cacao harvest. “That’s crap,” Fossouo whispered, pointing again to the man’s wife. “He loves this woman, he can move the world for her.” When we went to the next house, Fossouo took over. This prospect was a farmer and schoolteacher, and they talked in his classroom, which had a few low desks with shards of slate on top. Fossouo had the man catalogue everything that he was spending on energy: money for kerosene, flashlight batteries, even the gas for the scooter that he borrowed when he needed to charge his phone. Then Fossouo showed him what he had to offer: a radio and four lights, each with a dimmer switch. “Where would you put the lamp?” he asked. “In front of the door? Of course! And the big light in the middle of the room, so when you have a party everyone could see. Now, tell me, if you went to the market to buy all of this, how much would it cost?” Fossouo tried angle after angle. “You have to think big here,” he said. “When I talked to your chief, he said, ‘Don’t think small.’ If your kid could see the news on TV, he might say, ‘I, too, could be President.’ ”
“This is great,” the man said. “I know you’re trying to help us. I just don’t have the money. Life is hard, things are expensive. Sometimes we’re hungry.”
Fossouo nodded. “What if I gave you a way to pay for it?” he asked. “So the dollar wouldn’t even come from your pocket? If you get a system, people will pay you to charge their phones. Or, if you had a TV, you could charge people to come watch the football games.”
“I couldn’t charge a person for coming in to watch a game,” the man said. “We’re all one big family. If someone is wealthy enough to have a TV, everyone is welcome to it.”
The hour ended without a sale, but Fossouo wasn’t worried. “It takes two or three approaches on average,” he said. “You always have to leave the person in a good place, where he loves you stopping by. This guy wants to finish building his house right now—his house is heavy on him—but it won’t be long.” As we talked, the first prospect came over, asking for a leaflet and a phone number. His wife, he said, was very interested.
The arrival of electricity is hard for today’s Westerners to imagine. Light means differences in sleeping and eating patterns and an increased sense of safety. I talked with one Tanzanian near Arusha who had traded in a kerosene lamp for five Off-Grid bulbs, including a security light outside his door that went on automatically when it got dark. “Crime is here,” he said, “but also dangerous animals. Especially snakes. So it’s good to have lights.” Everywhere I went, I met parents who said that their children could study at night. “You can feel the effects with their grades now at school,” one Ivorian father said. Several town chiefs told me that they hoped to get classroom computers, and one planned to mechanize the well so that townspeople would no longer need to pump water by hand. Farmers in West Africa were getting daily weather reports from Farmerline, a Ghanaian information service that uses G.P.S. to customize the forecasts. “If a farmer puts fertilizer on the field and then it rains, he loses the fertilizer—it washes away,” Alloysius Attah, a young Ghanaian entrepreneur who co-founded the service, told me. “And the farmers say they can’t tell the rain anymore. My auntie could read the clouds, the birds flying by, but the usual rainfall pattern has shifted.”
“Our killer app is definitely the television,” Off-Grid’s Schreiber said. “If the twenty-four-inch is out of stock, lots of people won’t buy.” Wandering through newly electrified towns, I saw teen-agers watching action movies. Black Star’s Poindexter told me, “There was a kid in town that I liked, Samuel, and when I came back after the power was turned on his arm was in a cast. He’d watched a karate show on TV, and he and his friends were playing it, and he broke his arm. I was horrified—I was, like, society is not prepared for this. And then I remembered that I did the same thing after I watched ‘Popeye’ as a kid. I ran right into the hedge and had to get twenty stitches. That’s kids and TV.”
In Daban, after I asked what the most popular program was, everyone began laughing and nodding. “ ‘Kumkum’!” people shouted. “Kumkum Bhagya,” an Indian soap opera set in a marriage hall and loosely based on Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” airs every night from seven-thirty to eight-thirty, during which time village life comes to a standstill. “All the chiefs have advocated for everyone to watch, because it’s about how relationships are built,” the local chief, Nana Oti Awere, said. Of course, the changes brought about by electrification will affect local communities in unpredictable ways that will play out over many years. One mother I spoke to explained that the TV “keeps the children at home at night, instead of roaming around.” The Ivorian farmer who told me about the effects on his children’s grades went on to say, “In the old time, you had to go outside and talk. Now my neighbor has his TV, I have my TV, and we stay inside.”
A decade ago, most experts would have predicted that foreign aid, rather than venture capital, would play a central role in bringing power to sub-Saharan Africa. Off-Grid Electric has been funded by sources including Tesla and Paul Allen’s venture fund, Vulcan. Allen, one of the world’s richest men, is worth twenty billion dollars, or roughly half of the G.D.P. of Tanzania, a country of almost fifty-four million people. Should he be able to make yet more money off the electrification of African huts? There’s more than a whiff of colonialism about the rush of Westerners and Western money into Africa. As Attah, the young Ghanaian who helped found Farmerline, put it, “There are a lot of Ivy Leaguers coming to Africa to say, ‘I can solve this problem, snap, snap, snap.’ They’re doing good work, but little investment goes to community leaders who are doing the same work on the ground.”
“I don’t know what that is, either—it could be the Olsen twins.”
The Westerners I spoke to, though they pledged to hire more local executives, didn’t think that the drive to help was incompatible with the desire to make money. As Poindexter put it, “There is a level of responsibility that I feel, and that I think any appropriate investor needs to have, about extraction versus contribution. I am not willing to be an extractive capitalist here, but I think that capitalism has an extremely important role to play in these communities.” Helgesen—who, despite his occasional oblivious tech-dudishness, spends most of his time in very remote places trying to provide power—is unapologetic about his company’s funding sources. Billionaires, he says, have the capital to make companies grow fast enough to matter. “Paul Allen didn’t invest because he thought it was the easiest way to make more money,” Helgesen said. “I got an awful lot of ‘no’s along the way from people who wanted easier money.” In any event, it’s not clear that other sources of funding are available, at least from the U.S.: Trump, pulling out of the Paris climate accord earlier this month, said that the country would not meet its pledge to help poor nations develop renewable energy, dismissing the plan as “yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate Fund—nice name.”
Even when aid agencies are well funded, they haven’t always delivered. Over the last decade, a strong critique of aid, ranging from William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden” to Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid,” has laid much of the blame for Africa’s continued underdevelopment on the weaknesses of sweeping programs planned from afar. Still, aid agencies and global-development banks have a useful role to play in the energy transition. It will be years before it makes financial sense for solar companies to expand to the most remote and challenging regions of the continent. As new companies launch, they will need an infusion of what Helgesen calls “ultra-high-risk capital.” Private investors will supply it, he says, “but they want forty per cent of your company in return, which makes it hard to raise capital later on, because you’ve already sold off such a big chunk.” Some aid agencies have funded private ventures in the early stages, to help them get off the ground or reach new geographic areas. U.S.A.I.D. gave Off-Grid five million dollars toward its early costs, and, over the past few years, a Dutch development agency has given the company several hundred thousand euros as it has extended into the impoverished lakes region of Tanzania, where it otherwise wouldn’t have been profitable to go. Currency risks pose another problem: Poindexter told me that when she builds a Ghanaian microgrid she has invested in an asset with a twenty-year life span in a country where inflation is highly unpredictable. “We just had an election in the U.S. with huge consequences for policy,” she said. “But over here every election is potentially like that.” And, like anywhere in the world, national governments can make things easier by establishing clear policies. Rwanda’s leaders, for instance, specified the regions in which the rapidly developing country planned to extend its grid, thereby delineating where solar would be needed most.
“African leaders used to think solar was being pushed on them,” Clare Sierawski, who works on renewable energy with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency in Accra, said. “But now they all want solar. It’s a confluence of things. Mostly, it’s getting cheaper. And governments were tuned in to it by the Paris accord.” Ananth Chikkatur, who runs a U.S.A.I.D. project in the city, had just returned from taking thirteen high-ranking Ghanaians on a trip to study solar power in California. “Renewable energy should not be considered an alternative technology,” he said. “It’s becoming a conventional technology now.” Rwanda is not the only nation expanding its grid, and many countries are turning to large solar farms to generate power. Burkina Faso, for instance, has plans for solar arrays across its desert regions.
Distributed generation, however, is especially essential in rural areas, and it is growing fast—maybe, according to some observers, too fast. The investor Peter Bladin told me that the push for quick returns on investment could lead some companies to try to “squeeze more out of poor households” and warned about “mission drift, trying to make money off the backs of the poor in a dubious way.” Earlier this year, three principals from the impact-investment firm Ceniarth, which had put money into Off-Grid and similar companies, said that it was backing out of the industry for the time being. In an open letter, they wrote that the hype of venture capitalists and the lack of government regulation “puts consumers at risk and places a great deal of responsibility on vendors to self-police.” The gush of money, they cautioned, “may be too much, too fast for a sector that still has not fully solved core business model issues and may struggle under the high growth expectations and misaligned incentives of many venture capitalists.” Helgesen, unsurprisingly, disagreed with their analysis of investor over-exuberance. “It’s like looking at a Palm Pilot and saying, ‘This is not so great,’ ” he said. “Or even an iPhone 1. The iPhone 1 was a necessary step to the iPhone 7. People who have raised real money have not raised it on the premise that we’ll be selling the same stuff in ten years.” But he wasn’t waiting for the technology to mature. “We have to think about the future, and we have to sell something people want today,” he said.
Most customers I met had little interest in the fact that their power came from the sun, or that it was environmentally friendly. Since these communities weren’t using power previously, their solar panels fight climate change only in the sense that they decrease pressure to build power plants that consume fossil fuel. But some observers hope that the experience in Africa—which today has more off-the-grid solar homes than the U.S.—could help drive transformation elsewhere. Already, a few dozen American cities have pledged to become one-hundred-per-cent renewable. (Pittsburgh did so the day after Trump held up its theoretically beleaguered citizens as a reason for leaving the climate accord.) The U.S. has already sunk a fortune into building its electric grid, and it may seem far-fetched to think that users will disconnect from it entirely. But, as Helgesen told me, “As batteries get better, it’s going to be a lot more realistic for people to stop depending on their utility.” He thinks that, in an ideal world, technological change could lead to cultural change. “The average American has no concept of electrical constraint,” he said. “If we accept some modest restrictions on our power availability, we can go off-grid very quickly.”
For many people in the countries I visited, solar power is creating a new hope: for electric fans. When I was there, Off-Grid Electric was expanding from the relatively cool highlands around Mt. Kilimanjaro to the scorching, humid lowlands of West Africa, and in every village we visited the message was the same: The TV is great, the light bulb is great, but can I please have a fan? Many homes are poorly ventilated; windows are expensive, and can attract burglars. Fans, however, draw a comparatively large amount of current, threatening to quickly drain the battery that a solar panel has spent the day filling. And, unlike light bulbs or televisions, fans have moving parts that easily break. “Our customers tend to make heavy use of their equipment,” Off-Grid’s Schreiber said. Still, she promised one village after another that fans were coming soon.
Shea Hughes, Off-Grid’s product manager, is one of the employees charged with delivering on that promise. Hughes told me that he hopes to someday make Off-Grid’s product powerful enough to perform industrial tasks: pumping water for irrigation, milling cacao, and so on. “I’m confident solar is capable of doing that,” he said. “You just add more panels and you get to the power requirements you need. And as the price drops, well . . . ” He had recently been to a consumer-electronics fair in China. “I was amazed to see the prices,” he said.
For the moment, though, a workable fan would be nice. “We’d always thought a fan would take too much power for the current systems we’re selling,” Hughes said. “But the people in Ivory Coast were so insistent that we went back and looked at it.” Because of the emerging market for super-efficient appliances, in the U.S. and elsewhere, some manufacturers had a product that, as long as you kept it set to medium, drew only eight and a half watts. (The standard incandescent light bulb that hung in American hallways for generations drew sixty.) “We’ve told the manufacturer to eliminate the high-speed option,” Hughes said. “Now medium is high. And in our tests people are satisfied with the air speed. But they say the battery tends to run out at 3 or 4 A.M., and they typically sleep till 6 A.M. So it’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.”
Thanks in part to U.S. neglect, China’s footprint in Sudan has grown exponentially over the past 20 years.
By Joseph Hammond*
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (L) attends a signing ceremony with Chinese President Xi Jinxing at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China (September 1, 2015). Image Credit: REUTERS/ Parker Song
China’s legacy in Sudan is immediately visible in downtown Khartoum. Near where the Blue and White Nile join to form the world’s longest river sits the People’s Friendship Cooperation Hall, a gift from China to the People’s Republic to Sudan that dates to 1976.
The complex, which includes a conference hall, meeting rooms, a theater, and banquet hall, stretches for nearly a kilometer along the Nile. The building has aged well and remains one of Africa’s modernist architectural gems; a Chinese extension in 2003 expanded and refurbished the building without impacting its charm In 2014, the People’s Friendship Cooperation Hall hosted the third China-Africa People’s Forum while Chinese sources hailed Sudan as an important country in Africa.
The building is not far from where the British Empire suffered one of its greatest defeats in 1885. That year General Charles George “Chinese” Gordon was killed when the besieged Imperial garrison at Khartoum was overrun by Mahdist forces. A British-led force sent to relieve him arrived just hours too late to lift the months long siege. Before his death in Sudan, Gordon was heavily decorated by the British Empire for his role in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion in China, which the Communist Party of China in recent years has come to see as an anti-imperialist uprising. As such “Chinese” Gordon provides a compelling historical link in Sudanese-Chinese relations, as both countries can claim to have suffered under the same colonial oppressor.
Chinese-Sudanese relations date to 1959, when Sudan became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to recognize China. Today, China is the largest investor in Sudan, as it is in the continent as a whole. But China’s relation with Sudan is exceptional because of the absence of competition from the United States. Other than Coca-Cola, very few American products are readily available to Sudanese consumers.
Sudan has been under U.S. sanctions since 1995 in part due to the country’s past ties to terrorists like Osama bin Laden. That same year President Omar al-Bashir signed Sudan’s first oil deal with China.
“It is surprising, the coincidence that U.S. sanctions began around the same time China invested in our oil industry,” a Sudanese government official offers sarcastically.
Yet China’s oil empire in Sudan began rather reluctantly. When first approached by Bashir’s government to invest in oil concessions, the Chinese officials suggested Sudan look to Chevron instead.
In June 1997, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company was established with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) taking 40 percent ownership and Malaysia’s Petronas taking 30 percent. India’s ONGC Videsh acquired 25 percent when a forerunner of Canada’s Talisman Energy had to leave due to sanctions.
China has invested in other aspects of the industry until it controls as much as 75 percent of the Sudanese oil industry. Sudan currently produces 133,000 barrels of oil per day — a fraction of what it produced before the south of the country seceded in 2011, taking most of the country’s proven oil reserves with it. Today, Chinese companies are looking for new oil deposits in Sudan as increasing oil production is one of the government’s priorities.
“China’s first experience in investing in Africa was in Sudan,” says Ibrahim Ghandour, Sudan’s foreign minister. “They started in oil but, now have other interests in trade, mining, and construction.”
However, in one area Chinese involvement in Sudan is exaggerated: China has been falsely accused of being an major source of armaments for Sudan. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfer database, arms from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine made up the majority — 77 percent — of imports into the Sudanese arsenal from 2007-2016. China was responsible for a modest 19 percent of all military exports to Sudan over the same period.
China’s presence in Sudan is not without controversy. For example, Sudanese labor law requires that international companies consist of staff which is 80 percent Sudanese, but the foreign minister admits that Chinese companies have failed to comply with this. However, he insists that the Sudanese benefit more than locals in many other African countries from Chinese companies.
“Yes, Chinese companies are in violation of this but, it is the smallest possible violation. Within the oil industry today most of the engineers and technical experts in Sudan and South Sudan are Sudanese. They were trained in China, and we see more and more of them… Sudan is the only country in Africa where over time more locals have gotten jobs from Chinese companies,” says Ghandour.
Though not typically seen as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Sudan sees itself as playing a critical role in the development of China’s plan to link East Asia with western Europe. The Sudanese government believes Port Sudan on the Red Sea will be an important loop on that belt.
“We are in discussions with China to work with them on developing a new free-trade area near Port Sudan, which will focus on attracting Chinese companies and of course support the One Belt, One Road Initiative,” says Sudan’s state minister for investment, Osama Faysal. “However in the long term American companies may have a competitive advantage in Sudan due to their spending on R&D.”
If the United States was reluctant to engage in transaction diplomacy back in 1996, when Sudan offered to turn over Osama bin Ladenfor sanctions relief, China has proved a willing partner. Now the Trump administration is poised to lift economic sanctions on Sudan later this year, but it will be a while before the knockoff “Starbox” coffee shops and Khartoum fried chicken eateries disappear.
Khartoum is talking about new business opportunities with American companies and the wider world. That said, despite some resentment among the local Sudanese toward the Chinese, China’s influence will likely continue unabated.
Elsewhere in Africa, China has thrived by under-cutting the competition and accepting higher risks than American companies. However, China’s influence will survive for political reasons as well.
Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since 1989, has pledged to step down in 2020. However, Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party has no intention of yielding power, and in this regard is consciously emulating China. China was the only non-Muslim country outside Africa invited to the fourth national congress of the NCP held this year. Communist Party of China officials — fluent in Arabic — furiously scribbled notes during Bashir’s speech. A few rows away an NCP party member wore a lapel pin from the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong, known in Sudan as CELAP, where some NCP leaders have undergone leadership training. As the party has reformed itself as part of a national dialogue initiated in 2014, China has presented an explicit model where competition takes place within parties, not between them.
“China offered a completely different model of human development a model very different than Europe and Britain,” says Ibrahim Mahmoud, the vice president of the NCP who led the reform. “That is an example we are closely following.”
*Culled from The DiplomatJoseph Hammond is a fellow with the American Media Institute and former Cairo Correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He has been contributing as a freelancer to The Diplomat since 2010.
Africa month recently reminded us of just how far we’ve come as a continent. Sthe Shabangu, Lead: Public Relations, Public Affairs and Corporate Citizenship, Samsung Africa Office urges leaders and innovators not to forget what still needs to be done.
Sthembile Shabangu, Public Relations, Public Affairs and Corporate Citizenship – Samsung Africa Office
NAIROBI, Kenya, 20 June 2017, -/African Media Agency (AMA)/- In the wake of Africa month it’s easy to be proud of all that we are achieving as a continent. According to the African Development Bank, Africa is the continent with the world’s second fastest growing economy.
There’s little doubt that our vibrant continent is making great strides towards a bright future, with our economy expected to grow by 3.4% in 2017 and 4.3% in 2018, according to research in the African Outlook Report.
Children are being left behind
But the 110 million children in Africa who, according to the Internet for Education in Africa report, have never seen the inside of a classroom would likely tell us that it’s not enough – and they would be right.
Children across Africa’s rural communities are being left behind – and with more than 70% of the continent’s population living in rural areas, this is a major problem. The same report shows that at least half the population resides more than 25km from the nearest fibre connection. It’s clear that while we may be celebrating the growth of connectivity in cities, last-mile connectivity is still a major stumbling block.
Many diseases; few doctors
Education is not the only challenge that requires our urgent attention. Equally troubling and of no less importance is the healthcare sector. With serious diseases like Ebola, malaria, cholera, meningitis and HIV/AIDS still threatening a great number of African lives, we have our work cut out for us. In fact, Brand South Africa reports that while Africa shoulders one quarter of the global disease burden, it is home to just 2% of the world’s doctors.
Despite the serious situation, Africa’s health care systems still lack the capacity to research, produce and deploy the health care solutions we so desperately need.
This issue was highlighted at the recent World Economic Forum Africa Summit, where it became evident that the private sector will play a vital role in improving healthcare on the continent. It is in the private sector that the resources to invest in people and product development exist.
Changing lives one Digital Village at a time
As Samsung has discovered first hand, each investment, whether in education or health care or perhaps even both, has the potential to transform hundreds of lives at a time.
Just last year we partnered with UNESCO in Tanzania to provide innovative education and healthcare solutions to the Maasai community in Ololosokwan, Ngorongoro.
Together, we established a multi-donor programme comprised of a Samsung Solar-Powered Internet School, a Samsung Solar-Powered Health Centre, a Solar-Powered Tele-Medicine Centre and a Solar-Powered generator.
While the Internet School contains an interactive whiteboard, Samsung Galaxy Note PCs and a printer, the Health Centre provides a variety of eye, ear, blood, dental and pre- and post-natal screening and treatments. The Tele-Medicine Centre, on the other hand, provides prescription and expert healthcare assistance through the use of tele-conferencing made possible by the internet and Samsung Tablets, ultimately enabling greater access to qualified medical assistance where before there was none.
Samsung also launched West Africa’s first digital village in Volo in the Volta region of Ghana, where it is partnering with government, local health services and international stakeholders including UNESCO.
Similar to the initiative in Tanzania, the Village is comprised of a Solar-Powered Internet School, Solar-Powered Tele-Medical Centre, Solar-Powered Health Centre and Solar-Powered Generator.
Not only is the Village instrumental to the improvement of healthcare and education in the region but it also helps local traders to develop their businesses through the aid of an alternative, low-cost energy source.
Through innovations like these, we believe it’s possible to start changing the status quo. We established a similar Digital Village in the community of Matshiding in Mpumlanga with the goal of making healthcare accessible to more people.
Because the Village drastically reduces the distance that patients have to travel to access medical care, almost 700 patients visit the Village each month to access basic healthcare services.
It’s true that we still have a great deal of work to do if we want to see our incredible continent continue on its path of transformation, but I firmly believe that the key to our success lies in the power of innovation.
Indeed Samsung’s innovations have been changing millions of lives since we first set foot in Africa many years ago. The drive to serve as a catalyst for transformation across the continent is in our DNA. And just as it’s been our mandate to inspire innovation in Africa, so Africa has inspired us.
When it comes to innovation, the limits to what we as a dynamic and developing continent can achieve are few. We have only to look to ourselves.
Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of Samsung Electronics.
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-Business Summit hosted in Washington DC from June 13-16, 2017.
The 2017 Summit focused on the “U.S. Stake in Africa” and aimed to shape and promote effective U.S.-Africa trade and investment policies under the Trump Administration. Honorable Wilbur Ross, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) were some of the high-level public sector participants who advocated for greater U.S.-Africa trade and investment.
CCA hosted a prelude to the 2017 U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington, DC on June 13 on Capitol Hill with a Congressional Dialogue on Africa which featured House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa Karen Bass.
Dr. Jeffrey Sturchio, CCA’s Chairman of the Board and CEO of Rabin Martin, officially opened and welcomed participants to the Summit on June 14. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross delivered the keynote address encouraging U.S.-Africa bilateral trade agreements. “The critical question that decision makers in Africa, including many of you, must ask is this: As these upward growth trends continue, with what types of partners do you want to collaborate?” said Sec. Ross during his keynote remarks, “I believe that, the more African nations partner with U.S. businesses, the better off both the United States and Africa will be.” Sec. Ross stressed the importance of bilateral trade agreements over larger multilateral agreements and the Trump administration’s stance on compliance with eligibility requirements for agreements such as AGOA.
Other speakers including President Filipe Nyusi called for greater U.S. investment and partnership in and with Africa, but President Nyusi stressed the need for diverse investors in industries such as tourism and agribusiness. “It easier to enumerate what is not grown in my country rather than list what is produced. Mozambique can almost grow everything,” said President Nyusi. “We urge and encourage the American business people to take advantage of the enabling business environment, and investment opportunities and potential that exist in Mozambique to diversify their interventions.”
The AfDB President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina also emphasized the importance of U.S.-Africa partnerships. Dr. Adesina pushed for the U.S.-Africa business relationship to go beyond trade, to investment. “Africa offers you all ‘The Deal of the Century’, and America should not be left behind,” said Dr. Adesina. “Think of a continent where household expenditures will rise to $1.4 trillion in the next three years. Think of the continent where business to business investments will rise to $3.5 trillion in the next eight years. Think of the continent where the population by 2050 will be the same as India and China taken together today. Think of the continent that will brim with huge demand from a rising youth population that will reach 840 million by 2050, all buying and owning consumer products.”
As the leading U.S. business association solely focused on U.S.-Africa trade and investment, the sessions at CCA’s biennial signature event – the U.S.-Africa Business Summit – primarily featured private sector solutions and how public sector actors could support business through an enabling environment. More than 140 speakers including leading private sector executives across CCA’s core sectors discussed challenges and opportunities related to the theme of the conference.”The Summit provided one of the first opportunities and an excellent platform for African leaders, U.S. and African CEOs and other stakeholders to engage with the Trump Administration on the important issues impacting the U.S.-Africa economic relationship” said Florie Liser, CCA’s President and CEO.
Regional integration on the continent was also a strong underlying theme throughout the Summit. ECOWAS President H.E. Marcel de Souza and Liser signed an MoU to facilitate business in the West African region. ECOWAS, which covers 15 countries and includes some 340 million people, is an excellent partner for CCA and its many member companies interested in expanding business ventures in West Africa, said ECOWAS President De Souza. CCA President and CEO Florie Liser noted that “under this MOU, CCA and the ECOWAS Secretariat will be working together to help both U.S. and African companies operating in ECOWAS countries by improving the doing business environment and, among other things, organizing trade and reverse trade missions.
The 2017 U.S.-Africa Business Summit was proudly sponsored by leading American and African businesses and organizations including: Chevron Corporation; ExxonMobil Corporation; Zenith Bank; Acrow Bridge; General Electric; AGCO Corporation; AllAfrica Global Media; Petrolin Group; Procter & Gamble; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; The Boeing Company; Caterpillar, Inc.; DAI; Development Finance International, Inc.; Fairfax Africa Fund; Philip Morris International; Varian Medical Systems; Visa, Inc.; East Africa Trade Hub; South African Airways; Covington and Burling LLP; and Manchester Trade Limited.
About Corporate Council on Africa (CCA)
Corporate Council on Africa is the leading U.S business association focused solely on connecting business interests between the United States and Africa. CCA uniquely represents a broad cross section of member companies from small and medium size businesses to multinationals as well as U.S and African firms. Learn more at www.corporatecouncilonafrica.com
Ouagadougou — The 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification was celebrated in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou on June 15 with a call to create two million jobs and restore 10 million hectares of degraded land.
Three African heads of state took part in the celebrations: Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita from Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou from Niger and Roch Kaboré from Burkina Faso. The Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Monique Barbut also attended the event.
Two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands, and nearly 75 percent of agricultural land is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.
According to the UNCCD, two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands. This land is vital for agriculture and food production, but nearly 75 percent is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.
The region is also affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly devastating in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.
“Degraded lands is not an inevitable fate. Restoration is still possible. However, what will be more difficult is to feed 10 billion human beings in 30 years. The only place where there are still lands to do that is Africa. We need these lands to feed the whole planet. Therefore restoring lands is assuring food security for the whole planet,” said Barbut.
The high-level meeting that gathered 400 experts from around the world ended in the Call from Ouagadougou, urging citizens and governments to tackle desertification by restoring ten million hectares of land and by creating two million green jobs for youth, women and migrants.
“By 2050, the African population will double to two billion people,” Barbut noted. “I fear that as the population depends up to 80 percent on natural resources for their livelihoods, those resources will vanish given the great pressure on them.”
She added that young people emerging from this demographic growth will need decent jobs.
“In the next 15 years, 375 million young people will be entering the job market in Africa. Two hundred million of them will live in rural areas and 60 million will be obliged to leave those areas because of the pressure on natural resources.”
According to UNCCD, it is critical to enact policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land, as there are nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile agricultural land that have been abandoned.
Talking specifically about Burkina Faso, which hosted the celebration, Batio Nestor Bassiere, the minister in charge of environmental issues, said, “From 2002 to 2013, 5.16 million hectares, 19 percent of the country’s territory, has been degraded by desertification.”
The situation is similar in most African countries. That’s why “it’s nonsense to sit and watch that happening without acting, given that the means for action are available,” said Barbut.
The Call from Ouagadougou comes from a common willingness to save the planet and Africa particularly from desertification. Gathered to discuss the topic “Our land, our house, our future,” linked to the fulfillment of the 3S Initiative (sustainability, stability, and security in Africa), the Call from Ouagadougou also invites African countries to create conditions for the development of new job opportunities by targeting the places where the access to land can be reinforced and land rights secured for vulnerable populations.
Development partners and other actors have also been called on to give their contributions. They were invited to help African countries to invest in rural infrastructure, land restoration, and the development of skills in chosen areas and among those facing migration and social risks.
For that, the UN agency in charge of the fight against desertification and its partners can rely on the firm support of the three heads of state who came for this 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification.
The President of Burkina Faso Roch Kaboré let the audience know that they are all “engaged to promote regional and global partnerships to find funds for investment in lands restoration and long term land management, wherever they will have opportunities to speak.”
Representing the African Union, Ahmed Elmekaa, Director, African Union/SAFGRAD, said drawing attention to the resolutions of desertification, land degradation and drought and on climate change are at the top of the African Union’s environmental agenda.
Taking advantage of the celebration, the national authorities gave the name of the very first executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Hama Arba Diallo, to a street of the capital Ouagadougou. Experts from many countries also had the opportunity to visit sites showing the experience of Burkina Faso in combating desertification.
At a dinner ceremony held immediately following the closure of the ceremony, the UNCCD announced the winners of the Land for Life Award, Practical Action Sudan/UNEP from Sudan; Watershed Organization Trust from India. The Land for Life China award was given to Yingzhen Pan, Director General of National Bureau to Combat Desertification, China.
In 2003, Roger Thurow was a journalist assigned to cover the looming famine in Ethiopia. Upon arriving in the country, he was given a warning by a World Food Program worker who told him that “looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
Thurow soon found that to be all too true. While visiting the emergency feeding tents he met a little boy named Hagirso who was five years old and weighed under 14 kilograms when his dad carried him in from their village.
“He was severely malnourished and basically disappearing,” Thurow recalled. “That haunted me. Hagirso, the whole setting, everything that was going on in the emergency feeding tents and just the magnitude of the famine. It was the first famine of the 21st century. What’s wrong with us that we brought famine into this new millennium of ours?”
Ten years later, Thurow returned to see what had happened to Hagirso. He found the boy was physically stunted, only coming up slightly above an adult’s waist and was cognitively stunted, learning at a first grade level.
“You just have to wonder, what might they have accomplished? What might they have achieved for all of us in the world, were they not stunted?” he said. “The lost chance of greatness for one child becomes a lost chance for all of us.”
On Thursday, Thurow was one of three experts testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting on the ongoing food crisis in Yemen and the African nations of Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. Labeled the worst food crisis since World War II, an estimated 28 million people now need humanitarian assistance.
In all four countries, drought or climate challenges are being exacerbated by war.
“The bottom line and the biggest takeaway is that conflict is driving these famines,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the chairman of the subcommittee. “The farmers of Africa are extraordinary. They can grow anything, plus they have this wonderful arable land that goes unplanted because of conflict. And the humanitarian help cannot get to them because of the soldiers and the militias. There has to be an all-out effort to end this war.”
Aid funding cuts
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives successfully added $1 billion to the omnibus appropriations bill specifically to address the famine through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Many, however, voiced concerns over a budget blueprint proposed by President Donald Trump that would cut USAID funding by 31 percent and consolidate it within the Department of State.
“The president’s budget that was introduced into the Congress worries me because they propose to cut a lot of hunger programs, not only overseas, but even in our own country,” said Tony P. Hall, executive director emeritus at the Alliance to End Hunger. “And so it worries me because it will hurt. I think Congress will be against a lot of those cuts, but we’re very concerned.”
Smith said the dire warnings about proposed cuts to USAID and foreign assistance are overblown. “I don’t think the budget cuts are going anywhere,” he said. “I’ve been in Congress 37 years. The next budget that I see arriving on Capitol Hill that becomes anything but a talking point will be the first.” He added of Congress: “We’re the ones who write the budget.”
Julien Schopp, director for humanitarian practice at InterAction, who testified at the hearing, said the future uncertainty of U.S. funding for humanitarian relief offers the ideal time for other countries to step up.
“The humanitarian need, if you look at the global picture, is growing, growing, growing in terms of dollar amounts and number of people that need to be assisted,” he said. “So we need to talk more to the Gulf countries, talk more to China, to talk more to non-traditional donors. Because at some point it’s not going to be possible for the U.S. and Europe to continue carrying that load.”
More help needed
Smith agreed, saying he’d like to see U.S. partners do more to address the food crisis. “We ask that more of our international partners and friends kick in far more money than they have. We’re glad they’re helpful, but they could be more helpful,” he said.
During his recent trip to Uganda and South Sudan, Smith had the opportunity to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. During the meeting, he handed the Ugandan leader a copy of Roger Thurow’s book, The First 1,000 Days. The book argues that children must be protected from malnutrition, disease and other ailments for the first 1,000 days of their lives to ensure a bright future for themselves, their communities and the world.
“My message to all of Africa, all the world including the U.S., is: get the first 1,000 days right, protect mother and baby, supplement it with food and nutrition and supplementation and vitamins; you’ll have a healthier planet because all of us will be that much stronger,” Smith said.
Carl Manlan, his wife, Lelani, and their two kids, Liam and Claire. Lizelle Krige
Would you rather raise your kids in Europe or Africa?
That’s the question that Carl Manlan faced. Carl, who’s from the Ivory Coast, and his wife, Lelani, who’s from South Africa, started their family in Geneva, Switzerland, where they were working at the time. They have two children, a daughter named Claire, born in May 2012, and a son named Liam, born in September 2014.
Geneva is a great place to raise kids, Carl says. “Lots of opportunities to stimulate kids outside of the home, playgrounds for kids. You don’t really find that in most cities in Africa.”
But he wanted to be a dad in Africa. So he and his family moved to Johannesburg and then Accra, where he works as a chief operating officer for a foundation. I spoke with Carl about his decision to be an African dad in Africa.
What is behind your decision?
Raising my two African children in Geneva has limitations. There are experiences they will not be able to have because of the geographic location.
In Geneva she could see pictures and images from Africa but the visual and sensory experience of being here is something I cannot replace, even with social media. In Ghana, we see many people, kids, selling things in the street. It’s something I saw growing up.
Does your daughter ask you why there are kids living on the streets?
She asked that question when we were driving her to school. Part of the explanation we gave her is that there are many children who cannot go to school, and they have to find a way to make a living.
What if she looks back and says, Gee, Dad, Geneva would have been a nicer place to live?
Maybe she would say, ‘My life in Geneva would have been much better.” But my answer would be, “It’s a decision we made as parents. We think it is important for our children to understand the continent where their parents come from, to be part of the local culture, to hear the local languages, to see the challenges we have to resolve as a society.”
Are you worried about health risks in Africa, where there are high rates of communicable diseases like malaria?
We focus on prevention — anti-mosquito spray and lotion on the body. And if something goes wrong we are fortunate to be able to access medical facilities.
Are you kind of the “new African dad”?
I wouldn’t say the ‘new African dad.’ But there are fathers taking a different role in Africa.
As fathers, we cannot just relay on the nanny. Raising children is a commitment. If parents delegate that responsibility they may not be helping society. Because having children is a commitment we’ve made to society, to make sure they become good citizens. And becoming a good citizen starts at home.
Any other advice for new dads?
What was your dad like?
My father was a doctor and used to travel a lot. It took a while to make time to connect. With my kids, when I travel for work I make sure we have a conversation about my traveling before I go. I explain what I’m going to do. When I come back I bring a book from the country I’ve been to. And as much as possible it’s 100 percent dedication to an activity for my children.
How did you connect with your dad?
Carl Manlan at 22 with his dad the doctor, Kassi Manlan, in a photo from 2000. Kassi died the next year. Courtesy Carl Manlan
In my teenage years in Abidjan, he’d wake me up in the early hours, around 5 in the morning, and we’d go for a walk. During these walks he would speak about being a professional and what it entails, how as a medical doctor he was committed to save people’s lives and sometimes it means he cannot be home. Being able to walk with him when it was just the two of us is something I cherish a lot.
But he woke you up at 5! Teenagers love to sleep late, right?
I would look forward to the nudge in the early hours, that voice that troubled my sleep. I am grateful for those moments because it was our moment.
And he was very good at increasing the pace as a training in perseverance.
Going for an early walk became a habit. Even now I wake up early and I walk my walk. I’m not a runner but I walk my walk. It’s a quiet moment, a special moment. It gets me ready for the day.
Do you plan to teach that custom to your kids?
I don’t know if my children will want to do that. But I will definitely try and see what the reaction is.
An Airbus A350-900 aircraft, manufactured by Airbus SAS, flies overhead during an aerial display on the second day of the 14th Dubai Air Show at Dubai World Central (DWC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. The Dubai Air Show is the biggest aerospace event in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and runs Nov. 8 – 12. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise plans to buy 10 of Airbus SE’s newest A350 wide-body jets in a transaction worth more than $3 billion at advertised prices, according to people familiar with the plan.
The deal is set to be announced this week at the Paris Air Show, according to the people, who asked not to be named as the order negotiations are private. Ethiopian will take the mid-sized A350-900 version of the plane, which has a list price of $311 million, according to one person.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest carrier already has an order for 12 -900 variants, though it has also been looking at the stretched -1000, as well as Boeing Co.’s rival 777-8, Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebre Mariam said last year.
Ethiopian Air wants more wide-body aircraft to help extend a hub-based business model that relies on transferring lucrative inter-continental travelers via its home base in Addis Ababa to and from destinations across Africa.
The airline didn’t respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment. A spokesman for Airbus said it doesn’t comment on discussions with customers.
Ethiopian is separately weighing an order for Bombardier Inc.’s Q400 turboprop and C Series single-aisle jet against models from Embraer SA, it said in May .