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Google launch SMS version of Gmail in Africa
July 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Google has launched a text message-based version of its email service targeted at users in Africa.



Gmail SMS can run on so-called “dumb phones” which only have very basic features and no access to the internet.

The service has so far been made available in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.

Gmail SMS is the latest in a line of Google products aimed at the African market – the company is also running educational programmes in the region.

The search giant describes its efforts in improving computer science training as “an important goal for Google in 2012”.

It recently offered grants to 17 universities to expand its Computer Science for High School project.

However lack of access to affordable hardware is still seen as a critical barrier to technology adoption across the continent.

Swift adoption

Geva Rechav, Google’s product manager for emerging markets, explained in a blog post how Gmail SMS was adapted to work by using simple text commands.

“Gmail SMS works on any phone, even the most basic ones which only support voice and SMS,” he wrote.

“Gmail SMS automatically forwards your emails as SMS text messages to your phone and you can respond by replying directly to the SMS.

“You can control the emails received by replying with commands such as MORE, PAUSE and RESUME.

“Additionally, compose a new email as an SMS and send to any email address recipient – who will find your message in the right email conversation thread!”

It will be free to receive messages from the system, but any sent texts will be subject to standard network rates.

Across Africa, adoption of mobile services has been swift and widespread.

Mobile commerce offerings like microfinancing tool M-Pesa have in excess of 15 million users.

*Culled from BBC

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How Kenya became a world leader for mobile money
July 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Wolfgang Fengler *

What if anyone owning a cell-phone, whether rich or poor, also had access to financial services with the ability to save and send money safely, no matter where they are located?  This is not science fiction; in fact it is already happening in Kenya, which has become the world’s market leader in mobile money.

Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” (or “M-PESA” which is very different from “mobile banking” as Michael Joseph–the former Safaricom CEO, and the man behind that revolution—can explain passionately!).

Internet access is also increasing rapidly, even though many are complaining about poor service by some operators. Within the next two years, Kenya could become one of the most connected, and modern economies in the developing world, and a unique case among the world’s poorer countries, that have an average annual income of below US$ 1000 per capita (see figure).

While the telecom revolution is not unique to Kenya, mobile money is. There are approximately 60 million mobile money users in the world, which means that almost one in three is a Kenyan. Half of all mobile money transactions are taking place in Kenya where annual transfers are now around US$ 10 billon.

The emerging social and economic impact has been remarkable. Businesses can operate more effectively: shop-owners don’t need to carry a lot of cash, or to stand in long queues at Banks to transfer money to suppliers. Urban dwellers no longer need to make overnight trips to their rural homes to pay their children’s school fees (or give money to relatives). Women have been empowered because their husbands have a harder time taking their money away. Even macroeconomic policy has become easier because the Central Bank has a better handle on the money in circulation, as mobile money helped to move cash from the mattresses to the market.

The success of mobile money in Kenya should be a source of national pride: it gives the country a global profile, which is only matched by the successes of its long-distance runners.

But Kenya’s global leadership in this area is also puzzling. Even Hillary Clinton wondered why this “brilliant innovation” is not available in the USA. How come mobile money has not yet taken off in other countries, especially those where money transfers from urban to rural areas are enormous even by Kenyan standards? If it is so beneficial to customers and operators, why have they not sought to replicate Kenya’s success, given that replication is so much easier than innovation?

There are three main reasons why mobile money took off in Kenya, while facing challenges in other countries (even though the India, Philippines, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda have started to catch up).

First, Kenya’s regulators enabled the mobile money take-off. The Central Bank in particular played a very progressive role and allowed “regulation to follow innovation”, while reassuring the market of its oversight. The regulator agreed that mobile money agents needed only limited requirements to enter the business, as they were not providing banking services, while the operator behaved as if it was regulated and periodically reported financial and usage data as Banks do.

Second, the strategy of the omnipresent operator – Safaricom – was also important. In 2007, the company already had more than 50 percent market share. Its strong position and national presence helped it to reach scale. But when replicating mobile money in other countries, such dominance by a single operator is not a precondition for mobile money to take off: many alternative models can also lead to success such as “third-party platforms” into which operators connect to. Even more important was the company’s business philosophy to “build a brand rather than make quick return”. Indeed, it took some three years until M-PESA generated a net-profit. However, it created indirect benefits from the beginning because in Kenya’s increasingly competitive market, mobile money boosted loyalty and attracted new customers to its core business of voice and SMS.

Third, Safaricom’s management understood that the success of M-PESA was ultimately about people management, not technology. Many innovations fail because management focuses exclusively on designing and launching a product, and assume that technology will take care of itself afterwards. The opposite is true. You need people to run machines and the interactions you get after product launch can generate even better products. The true secret of M-PESA’s success is the management of the agent network, which grew from 300 initially to almost 30,000 today.

There is no doubt that mobile money will soon go global, especially if countries consider the lessons from Kenya. In the whole world, there are still more than two billion people who have cell-phones but no Bank account: for these, mobile money is an extremely attractive proposition.


*Wolfgang Fengler is the World Bank’s Lead Economist in the Nairobi office of the World Bank where he covers Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea, and Somalia. This article draws on a forthcoming paper titled “Scaling-up through disruptive business models – The inside story of mobile money in Kenya” (by Pauline Vaughn, Wolfgang Fengler and Michael Joseph) which will be published by Brookings as part of a book project on “Scaling up for development impact”.Source


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Africa’s journey to space begins on the ground
July 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Meredith Baker BBC News*

Though neither country has yet launched people into orbit, both are utilising the technology they have developed from their space agencies to help people on the ground.



Nigeria founded its National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 1999 with the intent of using and developing space technology that would translate into socio-economic benefits for the population at large. It launched its first satellite in 2003.

The country has made great strides in satellite technology in the past decade with the establishment of NigComSat, an independent company charged with managing the commercial and business operations of communication satellites.

With the help of the Chinese, NigComSat launched NigComSat-1R in December 2011. It is a hybrid geostationary satellite with a 15-year lifespan that has provided improved and cost-effective wireless and internet coverage for Nigerians.

Not only has NigComSat-1R expanded opportunities for broadcast companies, but the government of Nigeria estimates that $10m (£6.5m) can be made from direct-to-home TV initiatives made possible by the satellite.

NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, launched in August 2011 from the Dnepr rocket in Russia, provide high-resolution and medium-resolution satellite images that allow Nigeria to tap into a whole new set of commercial opportunities.

Nigerian needs

UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) built NigeriaSat-2 while Nigerian engineers looked on, and then they built NigeriaSat-X under the supervision of SSTL.

“Nigeria has been the best example of SSTL’s training programme,” says SSTL’s head of earth observation and science, Luis Gomes.

“The country has a long and well-defined road map of its space programme and embodies the vision to use space technology for the benefit of the Nigerian people both by providing information to help manage the country and by providing a focus for the training of engineers and scientists.”

Mr Gomes says NASRDA wanted to ensure both satellites were designed with the needs of the Nigerian people in mind – to monitor food production, deforestation and natural disasters, and map remote areas.

Ghana is not far behind Nigeria in Africa’s space race.

In May, the country launched the Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre (GSSTC) to plan programmes in space science and technology that directly relate to the development of the country.

Much like Nigeria, Ghana wants to use its space centre to look at natural-resource management, weather forecasting, agriculture and national security.

Though the centre currently has only 10 employees, GSSTC hopes to build its human capacity by partnering with the Space Generation Advisory Council branch in Ghana (SGAC-Ghana), which seeks to engage university students and young professionals in collaborations related to space exploration and its applications.



SGAC-Ghana’s Michael Afful says: “We have already embarked on outreach programmes in various secondary and tertiary schools, tours to interesting scientific sites, and we have also created interesting competitions to spark the minds of young space enthusiasts.”

Ghana is reinforcing the work of SGAC and the Space Science and Technology Centre by offering scholarships in maths and science and free laptops to students and teachers.

Out of 53 participating countries, Ghana has been elected to chair the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (Comsats).

And with its new role, the country has promised to set aside 1% of its gross domestic product to support research in science and technology and continue joint efforts in space exploration with South Africa and other Comsats countries.

As Nigeria continues to capitalise on its current satellite technology and Ghana begins to tap into its potential, the sky appears to be the limit for these two West African space programmes.

*Courtesy of BBC News


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AGOA and the Emerging African Market
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Witney Schneidman *

When President Clinton signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act into law in 2000, he ushered in a new era of relations between the U.S. and the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result of AGOA, the U.S. engagement on the continent is no longer solely predicated on a donor-recipient relationship, but increasingly one of mutual benefit and gain. Under AGOA, the U.S. became the first country to use trade as a stimulus for economic development and in doing so laid the groundwork for genuine win-win partnerships.

Twelve years later, AGOA continues to be the cornerstone of U.S.-African relations. Forty countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are eligible for AGOA benefits, and 6 of these countries are among the world’s 10 fastest growing economies.

Between 2000 and 2011, AGOA exports from Africa to the U.S. have increased over 500 percent to $53.8 billion. This has resulted in the creation of more than an estimated 300,000 new jobs in Africa, and another 1.5 million indirect jobs that, together, benefit approximately 10 million people. This non-reciprocal trade initiative has contributed to improved political and economic governance in Africa while also being one of the most cost-effective development initiatives the U.S. has undertaken.

At the same time, both the U.S. and African governments have to redouble their efforts to ensure that AGOA’s potential is being fully utilized. While the number of countries exporting non-energy products to the U.S. has doubled over the last ten years, only about 10 percent of AGOA’s 6400 product lines are being utilized.

AGOA is set to expire in 2015 but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk have committed the Obama Administration to a “seamless extension” of the legislation. Most immediately, Congress needs to extend the third country fabric provision, now scheduled to expire on September 30, which enables apparel to enter the US on a cost-competitive basis.

Legislative certainty is one reason that AGOA should be extended for 10 years, until 2025. Not only would this provide the groundwork for a deeper commercial relationship with African nations but it would help American companies become more competitive in the region. In fact, it is beginning to happen. U.S. exports to Africa were up 20 percent between 2010 and 2011 to $21.2 billion. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this has supported or created more than 100,000 jobs in the U.S.

With the emergence of Africa’s middle class, similar in size to that of India’s, there is a new commercial vibrancy across the continent, as noted recently by the McKinsey

Graphs taken from: The African Growth and Opportunity Act: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Witney Schneidman, with Zenia A. Lewis, and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.

Graphs taken from: The African Growth and Opportunity Act: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Witney Schneidman, with Zenia A. Lewis, and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.

Global Institute. India, Brazil, Turkey and, of course, China have intensified their commercial relationships with many countries on the continent, providing Africa with a proliferation of commercial partners. At the same time, the Obama Administration’s push to double exports under the National Export Initiative suggests that the African market will increase in importance to the U.S.

AGOA, therefore, is a critical building block for deeper trade and investment ties between the U.S. and Africa. The challenge for all stakeholders is to move forward expeditiously not only to deepen the commercial ties but to do so in a way that generates sustainable and mutual benefits.

* Witney Schneidman is a nonresident fellow at the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and president of Schneidman & Associates International. He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs in the Clinton Administration.Article culled from

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Why cities, not countries, should drive investment decisions in Africa
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

By  Claude Harding*

Africa is urbanising at a rapid pace. It is estimated that around 40% of Africans currently live in urban areas, making Africa more urbanised than India, and slightly less urbanised than China.

According to Standard Bank analyst Simon Freemantle “2030 will be the tipping point whereby more Africans will reside in urban than rural areas for the first time in the continent’s history”. By 2050 it is expected that more than 60% of Africans will be urbanised.

This urbanisation is likely to lead to a growing demand for consumer goods, presenting an array of business opportunities for companies looking to tap into the African market.

In a new report, entitled Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class, consulting firm McKinsey notes that “most companies are still not looking at cities as they calibrate strategy”. The firm has found that “less than one in five executives is making location and resource decisions at the city, rather than the country level”.

“Companies that understand the shifting urban marketplaces relevant to their businesses and build an early presence with sufficient scale are likely to benefit from being the incumbent with better market access and higher margins. Looking at cities rather than countries can be eye-opening. Take laundry care products as an example. We expect to see more sales growth of these products in São Paulo than in either France or Malaysia over the next decade,” notes the report.

During this year’s World Economic Forum of Africa, Martyn Davies, CEO of South African-based Frontier Advisory, noted that in the future African cities will compete for investment.

McKinsey says that a large chunk of the world’s urban growth will come from a group of developing market cities, dubbed the Emerging 440. It is expected that these emerging market cities will account for 47% of global GDP growth between 2010 and 2025. Africa and the Middle East together contribute 39 cities to this group, of which 37 are classified as ‘middleweights’ – cities that have populations of between 200,000 and 10 million.

Middleweight cities in Africa include Angola’s capital Luanda, the third-largest Portuguese speaking city in the world; and resource-rich cities as Kumasi, which produces almost half of Ghana’s timber; and Port Harcourt, the centre of Nigeria’s oil industry.

Young, entry-level consumers

Although emerging market cities will experience an increase in demand for consumer goods, the level of adoption for specific products will differ from city to city. Demographic differences will play a large role. Companies that are targeting the African consumer should therefore take note of Africa’s relatively young population.

For example, in “Nigerian cities, one-third of the entire population is aged below 16 and sales of baby food are running at more than twice the global average at similar income levels.”

Of the top 20 cities that McKinsey has identified as growth hot spots for companies targeting young, entry level consumers, 15 are in Africa. The list includes urban centres such as Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Ouagadougou, Kampala, Lusaka and Ibadan.


Urbanisation in Africa will also lead to an increase in demand for buildings, container capacity at ports, and municipal water. This creates a huge challenge for governments, but is also an opportunity for the private sector.

“The world’s new urban consumers will have an impact far beyond sales of goods and services. To cater to their needs, cities will need to invest heavily in infrastructure,” notes McKinsey.

*Culled from

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Zambia – the new bread basket of Africa?
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

* By Imara Africa Securities team

A recent Reuters article reports that Zambia has enough maize stocks to help partly fill a regional gap as a supply crunch looms in southern Africa, pushing up futures prices for the staple and accelerating food inflation.

It is exporting to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana, Burundi and Namibia. “We are monitoring the situation very carefully to ensure that we don’t end up importing maize. I think we are standing on very firm ground in terms of food security,” Zambia’s agriculture minister Emmanuel Chenda said, striking a rather cautionary tone. “We had more than one million tonnes of surplus maize. We decided to export 600,000 tonnes because we didn’t have storage space and so far we have sold 200,000 tonnes,” he said.

Analysts are, however, concerned about Lusaka’s costly spend on maize purchases from farmers, done via the Food Reserve Agency. Brian Tembo, an Economics Association of Zambia analyst, said the government was buying the maize at above market prices and selling it at reduced prices. He said this meant the government was effectively using “treasury funds to subsidise the region”.

Zambia harvested 3m tonnes of maize in the 2010/11 season, from 2.8m tonnes the previous season. Zambia’s maize season runs from October to August. The country’s big yields have been attributed to government subsidies to peasant farmers in the form of fertiliser and seeds. However, the crop ultimately depends on rain and the agriculture minister has said the 2011/12 season had gotten off to a bad start because of erratic weather.

South African maize prices are around record highs as stocks remain tight until the next marketing season starts in May. South Africa has so far imported from Zambia and Romania and producers say the country may need to import about 700,000 tonnes of white and yellow maize to make up for shortfalls. “There are some people that are getting desperate to try and find some maize … On the white maize side, we are definitely in for a very tough time between now and May,” Jannie de Villiers, Grain SA’s chief executive, said.

South Africa previously had a surplus, but new demand came from outside of the region and so the market overcommitted itself.

Over in Malawi, maize exports have been suspended after reports that 10 of its 28 districts faced food shortages. “We want to make sure that we have enough in stock for distribution to the affected families. We have set aside 400,000 tonnes to distribute to an estimated 200,000 families,” said Erica Maganga, principal secretary in ministry of agriculture.

Malawi’s maize harvest fell to 3.2m tonnes in the 2010/11 season from 3.5m tonnes the season before. Maize prices have jumped by almost 50% to USD 18 per 50 kg bag.

It is clear that food security remains a challenge that sub-Saharan African governments need to address. Zambia’s effort towards increasing yields by subsidising small-scale farmers is commendable and perhaps other regional governments should follow suit. However, bumper harvests should also be managed well to ensure consistent food supply in future periods.

In a presentation by MACO MLF-Zambia in January 2010, they highlighted Zambia’s agricultural potential, stating that only 14% of arable land was being utilised. Moreover, the country has abundant water resources to ensure all-year round agricultural production. We believe the country should develop the agricultural sector further so as to reduce its dependence on copper mining.

*Imara is an investment banking and asset management group renowned for its knowledge of African markets.Courtesy of


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Five reasons why Africa should take off
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Wolfgang Fengler*

A week hardly goes by without one or more international investors announcing major investment interests in Nairobi, or other African capital cities.

Nokia, Nestle, and IBM are some of the companies which intend to position themselves more strongly in (East) Africa. True, their investments may still be low by international standards, but they are increasingly becoming noticeable.

On a macroeconomic level, the new Africa momentum has also been evident. Africa has weathered both the global financial crisis, and the turbulence in the eurozone. According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow above 5% in 2012 and 2013. This would be higher than the average of developing countries (excluding China), and substantially, above growth in high-income countries.

This means that at some point in this decade, Africa could grow above the levels of Asia. A few years ago, it would not have been possible for economic observers to consider such a scenario. Once Africa becomes the fastest growing continent in the world; this will also be the true turning point for Africa’s global perception.

There are five reasons why Africa can become an emerging region over the next decade, and Kenya provides a good illustration of this. The first reason is external, while the others are domestic.

First, Asia is growing richer and is becoming more expensive. With an aging and more affluent population, Asia, especially China, will need to expand domestic demand and balance its economy away from exports. This will further raise the costs for production, which will lead to “the end of the China price”, a term used by Pamela Cox, World Bank vice president for East Asia. Other poorer countries can benefit from the end of the China price, mainly due to the fact that more than 85 million manufacturing jobs are expected to leave China in the coming decade. Will Africa get a big share it? Will Kenya be part of it?

Second, Africa will be the new demographic powerhouse of the world. All continents will grow older, and many economies will have a shrinking working population. Africa on the other hand is still young (as a matter of fact, it is also growing older, but from a very low base), and the working age population is rapidly expanding. As family sizes shrink and populations grow older, countries will experience a “demographic dividend”, which occurs when the working age population exceeds the number of dependants, and continues to broaden.

For example, Kenya adds more than one million people per year to its population, and will reach an estimated 85 million by 2050. However, the number of youth (age 0-14) is expected to increase from 20 to 25 million, while that of adults from 22 million today, to 55 million in 2050. This is why rapid population growth is good for Africa, since fast growth is taking place for fundamentally different reasons, compared to the past; it is because people now live longer – not because they have more children.

Third is the geographic transition which is also connected to demography. Most African cities are still small, but growing rapidly; not least because rapid population growth by definition increases the density of countries. Studies show that doubling city size is associated with a productivity increase of an average of 6%. The key issue will be the management of these growing cities. Today, 30% of Kenya’s population lives in cities. But going forward, this share will increase by about 1% per year, over the next several decades, which means that by 2033, half of Kenya’s population will be urban. Geography should also work to Africa’s advantage, because it is not far from key markets. The port of Mombasa is relatively close to India and Europe. In addition, Nairobi has already emerged as the region’s transport and service hub.

Fourth, the expansion in education is paying off. Africans are better educated today than they were twenty years ago. Among the Millennium Development Goals, education is likely to be achieved. Kenya speaks the world’s leading language – English – and the business community largely benefits from a good labour force. Since the introduction of free primary education, most Kenyan children are now going to school. Most of them know how to read and write, but the quality of education still needs improvement.

Fifth, economic policies have substantially improved. The 1990s was the decade of controversial structural adjustment. When I was traveling through Africa during that period, black markets were everywhere. Today they are exceptional. Compared to Europe, Africa’s macroeconomic policies look excellent! For example, Kenya’s debt level of around 45% of GDP would propel it to one of the top performers in the European Union.

Is this picture of an emerging Kenya and Africa too optimistic? Aren’t the challenges still enormous? Isn’t Africa still embroiled by war, drought, climate change, corruption … you name it? Yes, the challenges remain enormous. But look back ten to twenty years, and compare it to the present day. In countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or Rwanda almost all social and economic indicators are now better than in the 1990s. Even globally, think about it: A few years ago, who would have thought that it would be possible for someone in Kenya to have a face-to-face conversation with someone in another part of the world – for free! Thanks to modern communication, it is now possible.

There are still many local and global problems which need urgent solutions. Between now and 2050, an additional 2 billion people will join the world population, who can help to solve these problems; of these, every second person will be an African. There will also be 45 million more Kenyans. This new generation will grow up in a new world, and be better equipped to solve future challenges.

*Wolfgang Fengler is a World Bank economist based in Nairobi. This is the second part of a speech he delivered at the Annual Gala of to the Petroleum Institute of East Africa.


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Young African Invents Touch Screen Medical Tablet
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mfonobong Nsehe*

Here’s an example of African innovation at its finest.

Arthur Zang, a 24 year-old Cameroonian engineer, has invented the Cardiopad,a touch screen medical tablet that enables heart examinations such as the electrocardiogram

Arthur Zang

Arthur Zang

(ECG) to be performed at remote, rural locations while the results of the test are transferred wirelessly to specialists who can interpret them. The device spares African patients living in remote areas the trouble of having to travel to urban centers to seek medical examinations.

According to Zang, the Cardiopad is “the first fully touch screen medical tablet made in Cameroon and in Africa.” He believes it is an invention that could save numerous human lives, and says the reliability of the pad device is as high as 97.5%. Zang says he invented the device in order to facilitate the treatment of patients with heart disease across Cameroon and the rest of Africa. So far, several medical tests have been carried out with the Cardiopad which have been validated by the Cameroonian scientific community.

According to Radio Netherlands, which broke the story of the Cardiopad earlier this week,

“the tablet is used as a classical electrocardiograph device: electrodes are placed on the patient and connected to a module that, in turn, connects to the tablet. When a medical examination is performed on a patient in a remote village, for example, the results are transmitted from the nurse’s tablet to that of the doctor who then interprets them.”

According to Zang, “software built into the device allows the doctor to give computer assisted diagnosis.”

Cameroon, a Central African country with a population of some 20 million people, lays claim to only 30 heart surgeons. To make matters worse, these heart surgeons are mainly concentrated in Douala or Yaoundé, the country’s two most important economic hubs. This severe deficit of medical personnel means that patients with heart ailments usually have to travel long distances to undergo heart examinations and consult with doctors. Even at that, it is still not easy. On some occasions, patients must make appointments months in advance, and some even die in the process of waiting for their appointment.

Zang believes his invention will cut down the cost of heart examinations. The Cardiopad is already generating a lot of interest in African tech and medical circles. The inventor is currently looking for venture capital to commercially produce the device.

Read the detailed report about the Cardiopad here.




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Ghana Struggles To Cash In ‘Black Gold’ Dreams Of Oil Riches
July 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

Five years after discovery of a major offshore oilfield, people in Ghana are still banking on better times ahead. But foreign companies — notably those from China — are also poised to cash in. A visit to rapidly expanding city of Sekondi-Takoradi, at the center of it all.

By Christian Putsch with K. Owusu Peprah
DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

SEKONDI-TAKORADI – The route to the training center is a crumbling asphalt road losing its battle with encroaching vegetation. The guards sitting in a wooden hut to our right barely look up as we drive past. Ebow Haizel-Ferguson is the director of the training center where we are heading; officially called “Sigma Base Technical Services,” it is Ghana’s largest “oil school.”



Steering the car to the left and through the thicket, a view suddenly opens up on to a railway graveyard. Haizel-Ferguson says proudly: “You’d be surprised what we’ve achieved out of nothing.”

Rust is eating its way through scrapped cars surrounding a large hangar. Through the dusty windows of the building, alignments of long work-tables can be seen. This is where in recent months Haizel-Ferguson and his team have taught 2,000 young people welding, pipefitting and other skills — but not for the rail sector: they’re only renting the premises in the Ghanaian coastal city Sekondi-Takoradi from the train company.

Since the 2007 discovery of the Jubilee offshore oilfield — one of the largest oil deposits ever found in Africa — only one thing has mattered in Ghana: black gold. For the country’s people it means the hope of better economic times. Investments in oil-drilling infrastructure have boosted growth by over 13%. And the rapidly expanding city of Sekondi-Takoradi is at the center of it all.

So is Haizel-Ferguson, who worked at Nigeria’s oil metropolis Port Harcourt for 22 years. The tall Ghanaian entrepreneur says he knows everything there is to know about oil: “I’ve breathed it, drunk it, and puked it.”

But Nigeria’s path is unfortunately one that Ghana is in danger of following. After decades of pollution by oil companies, oil thieves, and rebels, the Niger Delta is one of those places on the planet that look as if it’s straight from of an apocalyptic science fiction set. And while western oil companies lure employees to Nigeria with the highest bonuses in the world — a senior manager can earn 320,000 euros a year — Nigerian government figures say local firms account for only 18% of the value-creation process.

Very few Nigerians benefit from the commodity, and the oil boom has cost countless fishermen and farmers their livelihood. It is only in the last few years that laws relevant to granting supplier contracts have been tightened with the intent that two-thirds of them will go to Nigerian companies.

Cautionary tale

What happened in a country only some 100 km away is a cautionary tale — and Haizel-Ferguson wants to make sure the story doesn’t repeat itself in Ghana.

Expectations here are high indeed. Although so far the oilfields have produced less than expected, the Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association (GOGSPA) says that the industry could create 100,000 jobs for Ghanaians. Two years ago, the Ministry of Energy promised a more cautious 10,000 new jobs — and in early June 2012 announced that only 813 jobs have opened up so far. Meanwhile, as oil infrastructure is being built up, Ghanaian companies complain about how few of the contracts they obtain.

Others are benefitting instead. China, for example, which gave Ghana a 2.4 billion euro loan to construct oil infrastructure, is being paid back with 13,000 barrels per day. That’s a cheap price for the Asians who have also stipulated that a significant number of contracts be awarded to Chinese companies.

What clearly has little bearing is that five years ago the Ghanaian government drafted laws stipulating that companies like Tullow Oil (USA) and Kosmos Energy (Great Britain) had to award 90% of contracts to local firms. In any case, these laws have yet to come into force.

But all of this has not dimmed the hopes of many Ghanaians for well-paid jobs. And it’s why Haizel-Ferguson is schooling young men and women in oil industry skills at the old railway training center. “They are now qualified to apply for jobs. Bear in mind that the construction of oil industry infrastructure will be going on for another 20 years at least,” he says. “But so far they’ve not been giving the work to Ghanaians.”

If it is the largest, Haizel-Ferguson’s “Oil and Gas Skills Training Workshop” is by no means the only oil industry training center in Ghana. On the streets of Sekondi-Takoradi you see hundreds of posters advertising such institutes. All of them promise that a certificate from their school guarantees a job in the industry.

The offer is seductive to many. It didn’t take long to persuade Emmanuel Opoku-Agyeman, for example, who quit his job in the marketing department of a newspaper to pursue training. “It isn’t just Ghana that’s got oil, they’re discovering new fields all over Africa,” says the 31-year-old. “With a certificate, you can apply for jobs anywhere.”

Opoku-Agyeman earned 500 Ghana Cedi — about 200 euros — a month at his old job. In Takoradi, the “oil schools” hand out documents stating that the minimum monthly salary for a job on an oil rig is the equivalent of 2,800 euros – 14 times what Opoku-Agyeman was making. With prospects like that, it didn’t seem to him that what the Harvard Marine Petroleum Training Institute (HMPTI) was asking for a three-month course — $3000 (2,394 euros) — was excessive.

On the job market

The HMPTI’s Australian investors have made over an old office building where experienced oil industry engineers give the courses. Proudly, Opoku-Agyeman takes me on a tour of the premises and tells me about the packed days of learning, the great equipment the facility offers, the competent teachers. As one of the first 200 graduates, he’s now on the job market. He says he’s only going to start getting nervous if he hasn’t found something within the next few months — and he shouldn’t even be thinking that way, he says, there are no grounds for it, he has received excellent training “as you would expect from a Harvard school.”

No, there is no connection to Harvard University in the United States, school director Ron McGrath concedes. “The important thing is that we are qualifying young Ghanaians to work in the oil sector,” he says. The focus is not on the jobs requiring very high-level qualifications, but on occupations on the supplier side: “Future international regulations will require workers in the sector to have attended courses such as ours.”

McGrath doesn’t believe Ghanaian black gold expectations are too high, nor is the price charged by his institution. “Training in this field just is expensive, you need a lot of equipment and the teachers have to have top qualifications.”

Along with the government, schools like the HMPTI urge people to be patient. Coming up for reelection in December, President John Atta Mills has promised that oil revenues will be used to build up the infrastructure of the entire nation. And all you need to do is travel through Ghana for a few days to see the huge expectations such promises unleash in a country that is still one of the world’s poorest.

Five hours away from Sekondi-Takoradi is the village of Awukuguanyensi. Most of its population of 130 work as farmers. As you enter the village you pass a wooden sign that reads: “No electricity, no votes.” It’s a pretty empty threat, born of desperation — one way or the other, the village is likely to have to wait a long time for power lines to be put in.

On the day of my visit, the children of Awukuguanyensi are being vaccinated against Pneumococci and rotavirus for free. In Ghana, these two fatal diseases account for 20% of child mortality. Thanks to the GAVI Alliance’s mission to provide free vaccines to children in developing countries, 87% of the children in this area have been vaccinated — although overall the situation in the country is far away indeed from one of the major UN Millennium Development Goals, which is to reduce, by 2015, child mortality by two-thirds from what it was in 1990.

In this village, many families have lost a child to illness brought on by the miserable living conditions. And those who do make it past childhood face bleak perspectives. Isaac Kwasi, 25, says all he ever wanted was to be a farmer, but you can’t make a living from it. So many of his friends have moved to Sekondi-Takoradi. He sometimes gets text messages from them saying they still don’t have full-time jobs. But that’s not holding him back. Next year, he says, he’s moving too — to Takoradi, and its promise of black gold.

Read the original article in German.

Photo – Ben Sutherland


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Africa: The infrastructure that actually drives growth
July 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Claude Sassoulas*

Africa has made its way centre stage in today’s global economy.

With more and more cables connecting Africa to the high-speed internet world, the continent offers real prospects for business growth

With more and more cables connecting Africa to the high-speed internet world, the continent offers real prospects for business growth

The region’s collective economy of more than 50 individual countries barely grew during the last two decades of the 20th Century – but in the late 1990s, the continent began to stir.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth picked up and then bounded ahead, rising faster and faster through 2008.

A May 2012 International Monetary Fund regional economic outlook report for sub-Saharan Africa refers to “solid trend growth” in the region, noting that regional output rose by 5% in 2011, with a further increase expected by 2012.

The telecom, banking, retail, construction and oil and gas industries are now booming, bringing about a dramatic surge in foreign investment into the region.

Africa received its largest-ever share of global foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2011, according to the 2012 attractiveness survey on Africa conducted by Ernst & Young.

According to the survey, FDI projects in Africa grew 27% from 2010 to 2011, and have grown at a compound rate of nearly 20% since 2007.

Robust telecommunications

Key to Africa’s future economic growth in all sectors will be increasingly the quantity and quality of the continent’s infrastructure.

We estimate that today African governments and private sources combined are investing about $72bn (£46bn) a year in new infrastructure across the continent, out of which telecom-related infrastructure accounts for $21bn (£13bn).

A recent study entitled Connected World highlights the growing influence of developing markets in the global economy, and shows how critical a robust telecommunications infrastructure is for any country that wants to compete internationally or attract foreign direct investment.

The study revealed that a reliable communications infrastructure is a prerequisite for businesses considering a move into a new emerging market. Four in 10 business leaders globally stated that a lack of a secure communications backbone would prevent them from entering a new market.

The Ernst & Young survey notes for example that the Kenyan communications sector benefited from FDI, while FDI opportunities exist in communications for Nigeria.

These trends underpin the high level of interest in building broadband capacity in the region.

There has been rapid build-up of fibre-optic submarine cables over a short space of time in Africa – such as Seacom in 2009 – connecting South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya to international routes to Europe and Asia.

The Eastern Africa Submarine cable system (Eassy) was completed in 2010, and the West Africa cable system (Wacs) launched May 2012.

April 2012 also saw the launch of a major private sector initiative to build a new Brics cable to link Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to the US.

New age

Each new cable helps to bring more African communities into the age of high-speed internet, making e-commerce, cloud, real-time video and IP-based voice a reliable reality and allowing African companies to conduct business more competitively on the global stage.

There is an increasing need for both international and intra-Africa connectivity via submarine cables and cross-border fibre routes, linking businesses in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, for example.

The cables enable the high-speed communications infrastructure that is essential for various economic initiatives, lower telecommunications costs between connection points, and offer more secure communications from point to point that would be impossible with third-party cables.

To illustrate, they play an increasingly critical role in Africa’s oil and gas industry, enabling companies in Angola and Nigeria, for example, to bring high-speed Internet to oil rigs and adopt more innovative and connected ways of working.

There is no doubt about the growth potential for broadband in Africa – this is the area to watch given the fact that African governments and private sector are already working to develop the necessary infrastructure to extend connectivity beyond coastal urban centres.

Wireless technology also has a breakthrough role to play in extending broadband coverage to rural areas, boosting service provider revenues while increasing global competitiveness as more people subscribe to broadband at home and at the office while adding another subscription for mobile services.

Positioned for success

The proliferation in mobile devices will provide ever more platforms to deliver viable broadband services to customers in developing regions – in Africa, there have been 316 million new mobile phone subscribers since 2000!

Mobile broadband has had an established role in Africa’s infrastructure, with social applications driving the development of broadband services across the continent – the potential for providing everything from education, primary healthcare and banking services using mobile technology is being actively developed across Africa.



If recent trends continue, businesses will position themselves for success through helping to build the Africa of the future.

Global executives and investors cannot afford to ignore the continent’s immense potential and a strategy for Africa must be part of their long-term planning.

By 2040, Africa will be home to one in five of the planet’s young people and will have the world’s largest working-age population.

The rate of returns on foreign investment in Africa is already higher than that for any other developing region.

Early entry into this market provides opportunities to create markets, establish brands, and shape industry structure.

Wherever your business is in the world, it pays to be ready.

*Claude Sassoulas is the managing director – for Europe and Africa – of Tata Communications, a leading global provider of communications in developing economies, including one of the world’s largest submarine cabling networks.Article culled from BBC Africa Viewpoints


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Jonathan unfolds economic diversification plan
July 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Roseline Okere*

Lays foundation stone of Procter and Gambles’ N43bn plant

THE Federal Government yesterday, unveiled plans to develop the country as an outsourcing destination with the aim of enhancing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), domestic industrialisation and structural diversification of the economy.

President Goodluck Jonathan made this known at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the construction of a N43 billion Procter and Gamble (P&G) baby-care factory in Agbara, Ogun State.

The President, at the occasion, renewed government’s commitment to tackling the challenges militating against the growth of the country’s industrial sector.

Jonathan, who was represented by the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, said that government has opened up the key sectors of the economy to enable the participation of more indigenous and foreign investors, especially in areas where the country has competitive and comparative advantage.

He stated: “We are working on reducing bureaucratic obstacles to private sector investment and developing a strong public and private sector partnership with government as the enabler.

“The government has invested heavily in education, health, technology and infrastructure and also promoted entrepreneurship and competition within the ambit of fair, equitable and enforceable laws.

“We have opened up the key sectors of the economy to participation by more indigenous and foreign investors, especially in areas where we have competitive and comparative advantage.  This is to ensure that such investments provide good returns on investment, maximum impact on the local economy through job creation, value chain enhancement and capacity development.

“It is also to develop the country as an outsourcing destination with the aim of enhancing GDP growth, domestic industrialisation and structural diversification of the economy. In this regard, we have kicked off a National Industrial Revolution Plan, working painstakingly with all stakeholders in the public and private sectors to ensure success. For the first time, we are linking industries where we have competitive and comparative advantage to innovation and skills development”.

Jonathan disclosed that the One-Stop Investment Centre (OSIC) in the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) has been strengthened to achieve efficient coordination of investment facilitation between relevant government agencies and achieve a 48-hour response target for all enquiries. Businesses can also be registered within 24 hours now, he assured.

President of P&G), Laurent Philippe, stated that the company, which has been in the country for 19 years now remains committed to becoming the leading Fast Moving Commercial Goods (FMCG,) social and economic investor in the country by growing Nigeria’s economy in synergy with the President’s Transformation Agenda.

He disclosed that P&G employs over 3,000 direct and indirect employees through its offices, distributors and suppliers and has also created over 200 small to medium enterprises (SME’s) with cumulative investments of over $100 million.

He noted that the $250 million baby care plant, which is planned to occupy a land area of 16 hectares with additional 24 hectares for expansion will on completion provide 250 jobs directly and will create 300 SMEs.

“P&G has established significant investment foot-prints in Nigeria in its 20 years of operations in the country. Nigeria remains a focus area for P&G and our investments continue contributing to strong inclusive economic growth,” he said.

*Courtesy of


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Botswana’s ‘Stunning Achievement’ Against AIDS
July 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Jason Beaubien

July 9, 2012

The southern African nation of Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Nearly 25 percent of all adults in the country are infected with the virus. Only the nearby kingdom of Swaziland has a higher rate.



But Botswana is also remarkable for its response to the epidemic. It has one of the most comprehensive and effective HIV treatment programs in Africa. Transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their fetuses and newborn babies has been brought down to just 4 percent.

A decade ago, Botswana was facing a national crisis as AIDS appeared on the verge of decimating the country’s adult population. Now, Botswana provides free, life-saving AIDS drugs to almost all of its citizens who need them.

From Funerals Every Weekend

In the dusty village of Kachikau, near Botswana’s northern border with Namibia, the chief of the village, Kgosi Mmualefhe, says the national government has gained control of what was a raging epidemic.

Mmualefhe says there used to be AIDS funerals almost every weekend.

“Nowadays, ever since the drugs were brought in here, the situation is getting better and better and better,” he says.

The burden of AIDS in villages like this one wasn’t just the deaths and the funerals, but the large number of people who were extremely sick.

“Most of the people who were very, very down, now they’re starting to pick up and being able to assist themselves,” Mmualefhe says. “Some who couldn’t even walk, now they’re even walking around the village.”

And this is happening across the country.

Pioneering The Battle Against AIDS

Part of the reason Botswana’s HIV treatment program has been effective is that the country moved relatively quickly to address the epidemic.

In 2002, Botswana became the first nation in Africa to launch a program to try to provide access to HIV drug treatment nationwide. Now, roughly 95 percent of Botswana citizens who need the medications are on them.

From the beginning of the epidemic, there’s been tremendous leadership on the part of the government of Botswana to address the epidemic head on.

– Kathleen Toomey, head of the CDC’s office in Botswana

Kathleen Toomey, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Botswana, says this was a remarkable achievement.

“From the beginning of the epidemic, there’s been tremendous leadership on the part of the government of Botswana to address the epidemic head on,” she says.

That leadership started with Festus Mogae, who became president in 1998. Mogae made tackling HIV one of the top priorities of his administration. While in neighboring South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki was questioning whether HIV causes AIDS, Mogae allocated money and resources toward fighting the epidemic.

In the early days of Mogae’s administration, roughly 40 percent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers also ended up infected with the virus.

Toomey, at the CDC, says the government set out to stop this.

“They aggressively addressed that through the treatment of mothers, treatment of babies, and brought the rates of mother-to-child transmission down to rates that we see in the industrialized world,” she says. “Stunning achievement.”

A Treatment Program That’s Saving Lives

Botswana has had advantages in addressing HIV that many other countries haven’t.

It’s a small nation of only 2 million people. It’s richer than most in Africa because of large diamond deposits.

It also got help from international donors and research institutions. The U.S. government was involved through both the CDC and PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was launched by President George W. Bush.

But over the course of the epidemic, Botswana has steadily increased its own spending on HIV. The Botswana government now spends more on health care per capita than any other country in Africa.

Farmer Johane Setlhare started taking the drugs in 2007.

“I would have been dead nowadays if I hadn’t taken the treatment,” Setlhare says.

Just two years after going on the drugs, Setlhare built a new house for himself with his own hands.

“I was surprised seeing myself going on top of the roof of the house and making some bricks for the house,” he says.

Setlhare gets his anti-AIDS drugs every month from the public health clinic in the center of the village. He credits the Botswana government AIDS treatment program with giving him back his strength and his life.

*Culled from


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