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.
About Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. inspires the world and shapes the future with transformative ideas and technologies. The company is redefining the worlds of TVs, smartphones, wearable devices, tablets, cameras, digital appliances, medical equipment, network systems, and semiconductor and LED solutions.
We need to sit down as a continent and build reasoned, African based solutions to our problems, says Prophet Bushiri
In just two years, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri Founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), says his Ministry has registered over 300,000 new members. But why is the ECG such a crowd puller in so short a time? Blending the spiritual needs of his followers, with skills to navigate daily challenges with success seems to be the winning recipe.
“We do not just preach, in words and deeds, the gospel of the living Jesus Christ. We also teach and empower people on how to face daily economic challenges of their lives through entrepreneurship programmes and also skills development,” says Prophet Bushiri.
With headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa, Prophet Bushiri says in addition to his spiritual work, he has the vision to seek African solutions to African problems.
While many may be familiar with the religious side of Prophet Bushiri, the man of God has a rapidly growing business empire with the Shepherd Bushiri Investments. From aviation to real estate, farming, financial, education and IT services, Prophet Bushiri is slowly but steadily carving a niche for himself in the African business landscape.
‘At the ECG, We Don’t Attract Billionaires, We Produce Billionaires,’ says Prophet Bushiri of the sustained efforts to also boost the entrepreneurial skills of his followers.
Mr Shepherd Bushiri, thanks for accepting to grant this interview could you start by introducing yourself, who is Prophet Shepherd Bushiri the man of God, and Entrepreneur?
Thank you for affording me this opportunity to speak with you. I truly appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for this.
I am a Malawian born Man of God currently based in Pretoria, South Africa. I am married to Prophetess Mary Bushiri and we have two beautiful daughters.
I am the founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) and its headquarters is in Pretoria South Africa.
In just two years in South Africa, the church has achieved over 300 000 registered members just in South Africa.
Further, we have branches in Africa, Europe, Australia and North and South America.
Prophet Bushiri with his family, his wife plays a leading role in running SBI
I often get asked: Why is your ministry growing fast? Simply put, it is because we do not just preach, in words and deeds, the gospel of the living Jesus Christ. We also teach and empower people on how to face daily economic challenges of their lives through entrepreneurship programmes and also skills development. People are able not just to read and hear about the word of God; they also see, live and experience it.
You are President of Shepherd Bushiri Investments (SBI), can you tell us about your group, and how it has evolved over the years to what it is today?
We started with a vision of creating structures and systems that could empower young Africans with skills development and employment. This vision has turned into a reality.
Today, we own and manage a number of business entities under Shepherd Bushiri Investments (SBI). We are in Travel and Aviation for VIP’s and Presidents, through SBI Airways, where we have four jets that allow for comfortable air travel at affordable rates. We are in financial services where our Trading and Stock Exchange Services industry specialists provide comprehensive, integrated solutions to the Banking & Securities, Insurance, and Investment Management sectors.
We are also in Real estate where our industry practice providing world-class standards of differentiated residential and commercial property services and delivery. Hospitality Services. Currently, we own Sparkling Waters Hotel and Spa, situated in the heart of South Africa’s Magaliesburg Mountains, it is a luxurious three-star hotel, the ideal holiday or conference venue. Further, we are also in Mobile Telecommunications Services through one of SBI’s largest group of specialists providing cutting-edge mobile services specifically designed for PSB Network members.
SBI Airways, has four jets that allow for comfortable air travel at affordable rates
Other entities include: SB University, SB Mining, SB Mobile Network, SB Trading Exchange Platform, SB Media, SB Real Estates and SB Agriculture.
How did you get the seed money or capital and at what point did the big break come for the SBI Group?
After I began my ministry in Malawi, I realised that for a ministry to go far, I needed more money. Besides that, I am a father, a husband and a family man. I needed money to take care of my family. Using my small savings from personal endeavours, family assistance and well-wishers I ventured into farming. I was growing and selling maize on a family land—by the way, maize is Malawi’s staple food. I started saving and investing every fortune I got from my maize sales. With days, my investments began to grow. These profits afforded me the opportunity to be where I am today.
The key word is ‘saving’ and ‘investing wisely.’
There are definitely other business ventures of yours that we are not aware, is Prophet Shepherd Bushiri willing to share them with us?
SBI businesses are the ones stated above.
What ties do you have with your home country of Malawi and any projects you have carried out there?
I am a proud and patriotic Malawian. I go to Malawi often on philanthropic work. We distribute relief maize to the poor, we go to prisons, we reach out to the sick, the orphans and the elderly.
Malawi is a beautiful and friendly nation. It is my home.
What are some of the challenges you faced growing the group, and how will you describe the business climate in Africa, atleast in countries where you currently do business in?
Well, challenges of doing business—ranging from corruption, dwindling consumer buying power and soaring taxes—will always be there. SBI, however, is turning them into success by advancing a business and investment culture that puts the clients first. Africa is a great continent with great potential. Opportunities are many and I think they will always be there.
What I envision, of course, is an Africa with African solutions—be it politics, economics and social life. We need to sit down as a continent and build reasoned, African based solutions to our problems.
How does Prophet Bushiri balance his pastoral duties with the corporal responsibilities he has at the SBI?
Time management is essential for all works that one does but most importantly is having a strong team. Fortunately, our team is excellent.
Any biblical precedent for this blend of spiritual duties and corporate interests which seems to be working for you?
If you read the Bible, you will note that men of God were rich including Abraham says Prophet Bushiri in response to the vilification of men of God “blessed with fortune”
I need to emphasise here that there is a tradition of vilifying Men of God whom have been blessed them with a fortune. There is this perception that Men of God are not supposed to be involved in business, to get rich, for instance. I don’t know where this perception comes from, but, if you read the Bible, you will note that men of God were rich including Abraham. It really sets a good example but then you do not just get rich. You must be a great worker—something which I am.
What is the reaction of your Church members to the business successes of their leader and for those who will want to register the same what message do you have for them?
My congregants are heavily encouraged with my success in business. They see me as a source of hope and also the definition of succeeding in doing business even when you are a Christian.
With the motto ‘At ECG, We Don’t Attract Billionaires, We Produce Billionaires’, I aim to transfer knowledge and skills of doing business in my congregants through the Monday Evening Service called the Diplomatic Service. During this weekly service, I train my congregant on how to begin, grow and manage a business using Godly ways.
I am telling you we are making unprecedented progress!
Africa has witnessed a proliferation of churches, and the opulence in which the Pastors or owners of some of the mega churches live is at odds with the everyday toil and pain of their follows, how do your own followers feel about your wealth, how do you feel when in all the wealth you have followers who live in misery, and what is your response to criticisms that religious leaders like you exploit followers for selfish ends?
At ECG, We Don’t Attract Billionaires, We Produce Billionaires,’ says Bushiri
Wealth comes from God—it’s a blessing, a gift that we are all born with. What matters is to listen to God for He is the one who has the keys to unlock it for us. The key thing is PRAYER and hard work.
I have never been involved in exploiting my church members. What they contribute to ECG is for the growth of the ministry—not my personal life. This is the reason I started venturing in business so that I do not meet my needs using money from church.
From your take Prophet Bushiri, how can Africans make the distinction between real and fake prophets, genuine men of God and adventurers?
I am a Man of God, heavenly ordained. I cannot speak for others. I feel it’s the sole responsibility of God to make that distinction.
We end with business which was the main thrust of the interview, what projects will the SBI Group be working on in the years ahead?
We are interested in growing our entities and expanding to almost every country in Africa. We also want to support more especially—the elderly, orphans and youth.
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.
Photo: GCIS Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Pretoria — The 2017 Mining Charter has increased the level of black ownership in mining companies from 26% to 30%.
“Holders who have maintained a 30% black shareholding will not be required to restructure their shareholding,” Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said.
Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday, Minister Zwane said the 30% ownership requirement also applies to holders who claim historical Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) transactions.
“A historical BEE transaction is recognised for the reporting period but such holders are required to top up their shareholding to the minimum requirement of black shareholding within 12 months of the charter coming into force.
“With regards to the transfer of rights, a holder who sells their mining assets must give black owned companies preferential option to purchase,” he said.
Minister Zwane said the charter requires the holder of a mining right to pay 1% of its annual turnover to the 30% black persons shareholding prior to and over and above any distributions made by a holder to its shareholders.
“This 1% payment is meant to ensure real economic value in the hands of black persons, but is always subject to the solvency and liquidity test, as provided in the Companies Act,” he said.
The revised charter further requires that a new prospecting right must have a minimum of 50% plus 1 black person shareholding, which must include voting rights.
The Department of Mineral Resources embarked on a process to review and amend the Mining Charter to strengthen and refine its effectiveness in driving economic transformation and competitiveness in the mining sector. That process has now been concluded.
“In order to achieve economic transformation, we need to produce a new era of industrialisation, driven by young economic champions. Procurement can play a profound role in providing genuine economic opportunities, particularly to new entrants and the youth,” Minister Zwane said.
The charter requires 70% procurement of mining goods and 80% procurement of services from BEE entities.
“On Employment Equity, the charter aims to ensure that black representation at the various levels of employment is representative of the demographics of the country,” Minister Zwane said.
The requirements are at board level a minimum of 50% black representation, 25% of which must be black females; at an executive/top management level, a minimum of 50% black representation, 25% of which must be female black representation, and at senior management level, a minimum of 60% representation, 30% of which must be female black representation.
The requirement at middle management level is a minimum of 75% black representation, 38% of which must be female black representation and at junior management level, a minimum of 88% black representation, 44% of which must be female black representation.
“On the Human Resource Development element, a holder must invest 5% of the leviable amount on essential skills development.
“We cannot ignore the fact that effective implementation of this charter is key if we are to see meaningful change.
“As the custodian of the nation’s minerals, government, through the Department of Mineral Resources, has a duty to ensure that it stewards the country’s minerals in a manner that benefits all South Africans,” Minister Zwane said.
“Our review process is that we go to those countries that bid for those competitions.” Chiyangwa said that the change at Caf was driven by a sense of unfairness in the manner tournaments were awarded to hosts under its former president Issa Hayatou. “Our contestation on Hayatou to continue in office was the unfair awarding of tournaments to one region,” he said. “Other regions were suffering, if you look at the background of the Issa Hayatou fall, it arises out of the fact that most of the competitions were being awarded to West Africa, not North Africa, not even Central Africa and not even Southern Africa,” he added. “So the chance you have – should in our investigations a decision be arrived at to nullify the other competitions – you as Zambia, if you are ready, you may have an opportunity that arises in 2021.”
Phillip Chiyangwa, vice president of the Confederation of African Football’s (Caf) Africa Cup of Nations committee, says Zambia may yet be given an opportunity to bid to host the 2021 Nations Cup.
Chiyangwa said Caf was reviewing the manner in which the 2019, 2021 and 2023 Africa Cup of Nations tournaments were awarded to West Africa by the previous Caf administration.
Chiyangwa, who is also head of the Cosafa region (Council of Southern African FA’s) spoke of his concerns in April and wants the tournaments to be more widespread.
“I am the giver and taker of competitions,” Phillip Chiyangwa said during a tour of Zambia last week.
As things currently stand, the 2019 edition will be held in Cameroon while Ivory Coast is set to stage the 2021 tournament and Guinea will be hosts in 2023.
That means the west of the continent would have staged Africa’s showpiece event for five consecutive tournaments, from 2015 – when Equatorial Guinea stepped in for Morocco – to 2023.
“I am currently reviewing what happened in the past, there may be possibilities in 2021 going forward, but the reason why I want to be ready with my region is to know which country wants what.
“If an opportunity arises there is no need for me to do last minute searches,” Chiyangwa said.
“Our review process is that we go to those countries that bid for those competitions.”
Chiyangwa said that the change at Caf was driven by a sense of unfairness in the manner tournaments were awarded to hosts under its former president Issa Hayatou.
Zambia FA president Andrew Kamanga and Caf’s Phillip Chiyangwa meeting in Zambia last week
“Our contestation on Hayatou to continue in office was the unfair awarding of tournaments to one region,” he said.
“Other regions were suffering, if you look at the background of the Issa Hayatou fall, it arises out of the fact that most of the competitions were being awarded to West Africa, not North Africa, not even Central Africa and not even Southern Africa,” he added.
“So the chance you have – should in our investigations a decision be arrived at to nullify the other competitions – you as Zambia, if you are ready, you may have an opportunity that arises in 2021.”
Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru join hands in a bid to win the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe.
For the past two decades, the phenomenon of the opposition coalition has gained growing traction and interest across Africa.
In 2000, a group of opposition parties in Senegal joined forces as the Sopi (or “Change”) alliance. Together, they defeated the incumbent president and ended 40 years of one-party dominance.
In 2002, Kenya’s opposition repeated the trick. In the 1992 and 1997 elections, losing parties had cumulatively gained over 60% of the vote. But this time around, they grouped together as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). This united opposition swept to power, removing the party that had governed Kenya since 1963.
Since then, pre-electoral coalitions have changed governments again in Senegal, as well as in Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Nigeria and The Gambia.
When elections are held in 2018, Zimbabwe hopes to join this growing list.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP) have agreed – in principle – to team up. A host of other opposition parties have also provisionally joined, including: Welshman Ncube’s MDC, Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD), Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Elton Mangoma’s Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ).
This would be a broad and impressive coalition, bringing together many well-known faces and politicians who have electoral support outside of traditional opposition strongholds. But for every successful opposition alliance Africa has seen, there have been several more that have crumbled after early optimism or fallen flat at the ballot box.
Why do coalitions sometimes become more than the sum of their parts and generate a huge surge of support? Why do they often fragment and collapse?
Fighting each other vs. fighting together
One crucial indicator of whether an opposition coalition will succeed is how polarised the political landscape is. This can determine the degree to which parties are able to join forces coherently and without undermining their own reputation and principles.
According to political scientist Nicolas Van de Walle, opposition coalitions only work when they appear capable of winning and thus prompt members of the ruling party to defect. These defectors not only bolster the ranks of the opposition, but can bring supporters with them and sway undecided voters.
Ahead of Nigeria’s 2015 elections, for example, the All Progressives Congress was significantly strengthened by mass defections from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Similarly, in Zambia in 2016, dozens of defectors from the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) drastically improved the electoral fortunes of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
However, this strategy is not straightforward. To begin with, it can be difficult to encourage members of the ruling party to cross the aisle. And when they do, it can be tough to persuade opposition supporters to vote for someone who was, until recently, part of the government.
The more deeply polarised the political landscape, the harder this is.
Uganda, for example, is at the other end of the spectrum to Nigeria or Zambia where defections are not particularly costly. In Uganda, the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has long defined itself in stark contrast to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). It emphasises the persecution it has experienced at the hands of the ruling party, which it characterises as illegitimate and unjust.
This makes it hard for the FDC to encourage defections from the NRM, which it consistently attacks in no uncertain terms. Moreover, when figures within the ruling party do defect, it can be risky for the FDC to bring them into the fold without undermining its own image.
In 2016, the FDC faced a dilemma when the opposition alliance it was part of voted for the recently-expelled former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi to be its flag-bearer. The FDC was confronted with the prospect of backing a former insider in the very government it had long denounced. Afraid of alienating its base and diluting its anti-regime brand, the FDC decided to leave the coalition.
When it comes to Zimbabwe, the environment looks similarly polarised, especially between the main opposition MDC-T and the ruling ZANU-PF. The MDC-T claims to be the democratic saviour to the ZANU-PF’s illegitimate authoritarianism; ZANU-PF presents itself as the liberator hero to the MDC-T’s foreign subservience.
But unlike the FDC in Uganda, the MDC-T seems to be – at least in principle – less averse to allying with the long-standing government insider, Joice Mujuru. Nevertheless, the fundamental irreconcilability between the images of the MDC-T and ZANU-PF brings a certain riskiness to this decision. What does it say about the vociferous opposition party that it now says it is prepared to stand alongside a former ZANU-PF stalwart and vice-president? How will its supporters react?
In Zimbabwe, however, there are added complications arising from the fact that the hostile political climate also stretches to relations between some opposition parties. The MDC-T, for example, has used polarising rhetoric not just to condemn the ruling party, but also to criticise the opposition groups that emerged from a split in 2005. Tsvangirai’s faction branded this MDC breakaway as “sell outs” and “traitors”.
This rhetoric made attempts at a rapprochement in 2008 and 2013 more difficult. It will also make joining forces trickier ahead of 2018, especially given that many opposition groups have splintered even further since then. The PDP, for example, is the result another split in the MDC-T from when Tendai Biti walked out in 2014. And the ZRD is the result of fissure in the PDP.
It can be difficult to build stable and effective structures when so many bridges have been burned.
Who will lead the coalition?
The main hurdle at which most opposition coalitions fall is in picking its leader. This contest is often keenly fought, particularly since the benefits of the presidency are so great in most African countries.
The decision of who should be the figurehead is least contentious when there are recent and reliable indicators of party strength, such as the results of parliamentary by-elections. With this data, it is more straightforward to work out which candidate has the most recognition and support.
However, this kind of information doesn’t guarantee an easy process. In Zambia, for example, the opposition UPND won a series of unexpected by-elections victories between 2011 and 2016. Its candidate Hakainde Hichilema also garnered 46.7% of the vote in the 2015 presidential by-election, losing by just 27 000 votes.
Nevertheless in 2016, when the UPND tried to form a coalition with opposition leader Edith Nawakwi – who got 0.9% in 2015 – Nawakwi insisted that she should lead the alliance. She said that she had supported Hichilema in a 2006 coalition and that now it was his turn to support her. The parties went their separate ways.
In Uganda 2016, the choice of who should head up the coalition was also a source of disagreement and ended up breaking apart the alliance. In this instance, the uncertainty over the relative popularity of the two potential candidates made it harder to judge who would be the best-placed candidate.
The FDC’s Kizza Besigye had the broadest national reach and most organised structures, but had not surpassed 37% in three previous presidential runs. Meanwhile, former PM Mbabazi was an unknown quantity as an opposition figure, but was well-known nationally and had insider knowledge about the ruling party’s election strategies. When Mbabazi was chosen, the FDC refused to back him and left, leading to the breakdown of the coalition.
Zimbabwe’s nascent coalition is now in a similar situation. Tsvangirai is a veteran opposition figure with a proven track record of mobilising supporters, while Mujuru is an untested but well-known former ruling party insider with support in ruling party strongholds and close contacts in the intelligence services and police. It is uncertain which figure would draw the most voters and which will prevail in the contest to lead the coalition.
In terms of measuring the MDC-T’s support, the series of splits and a three-year electoral boycott make it difficult to judge. But the 2017 Afrobarometer survey suggests that the opposition has lost ground since the 2013 elections, when Tsvangirai got just 34% of the vote. According to the study, the opposition is trusted by just 32% of the population, compared to 65% who trust the president and 56% the ruling party.
This may give more ammunition to those who’d prefer to see Mujuru as the flag-bearer. But it remains to be seen if the MDC-T would accept this outcome, or make the same decision as the FDC in Uganda.
Keeping the lower ranks happy
However, it is not just the leader of the coalition that matters. Political parties are comprised of hundreds of functionaries with their own ambitions and goals, and alliances frequently collapse as a result of vested interests at lower party echelons.
Ahead of Zambia’s 2011 elections, for example, a pact between the two largest opposition parties at the time – the UPND and the Patriotic Front (PF) – was apparently scuppered by PF Secretary-General Wynter Kabimba. Kabimba had his own presidential ambitions and knew that he would be pushed down the pecking order under a coalition.
A similar thing happened in Zimbabwe in 2013. In that situation, two of Tsvangirai’s inner circle that reportedly opposed a coalition with the breakaway MDC due to fears of losing their own positions in the hierarchy.
These concerns also arise around parliamentary races. Opposition parties that typically compete for the same seats face much more internal resistance to coalitions than those with different, complimentary constituencies.
In Kenya, for example, coalitions are frequently formed between relatively geographically contained, ethnic-based parties. Because the parties within these groupings – such as the recently formed National Super Alliance – rarely compete for the same seats, coalitions in Kenya face relatively little resistance from the lower ranks.
By contrast, negotiations between the two MDC factions in Zimbabwe in 2007 ultimately failed, partly because the MDC-T insisted on contesting two seats held by the other party in the opposition’s shared stronghold in Matabeleland. Both sides refused to back down.
Ahead of 2018, Zimbabwe’s opposition groups will face these discussions once again. But it is possible that they will be easier this time around. Because of repeated fragmentation, many of the resulting parties looking to form a coalition are smaller and newer.
This may mean that they are less able to make strong demands. It may also mean that negotiations are more about bringing party leaders on board than appeasing each grouping’s structures. Because of this, the talks may bypass complex internal party dynamics and side-step vested interests lower down the party chain.
Zimbabwe 2018: Can a coalition win?
While 45% of Zimbabweans polled by Afrobarometer expressed support for the idea of an opposition coalition, there are still many answered questions and tricky challenges facing the nascent coalition in the run up to 2018.
Can the animosity between different factions be put aside? Will opposition supporters accept the inclusion of Mujuru, a decades-long ZANU-PF insider?
How will the presidential candidate be picked, based on what calculations and agreements? And how will those less pleased by the choice react?
Will a coalition deal involve running joint candidates in each constituency? And if so, how will those asked to shelve their ambitions respond?
These are tricky questions. But in many ways, they are just the start. Even once these dilemmas are resolved, there is still the ultimate question of whether even a perfectly-coherent and functional opposition coalition has much chance of winning. Bringing together a range of opposition parties is the first step in defeating the ruling party, not the final blow.
On this front, the prospects for the opposition in Zimbabwe do not look particularly rosy.
Trust in the opposition is low. Old methods of party mobilisation using organised labour are no longer an option given skyrocketing unemployment and informal livelihoods. And the impact of new social movements – such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka – is likely limited given that they are predominantly urban-based.
Meanwhile, ZANU-PF has shifted into election mode, doling out urban land in an effort to shore up support and turning the screws on vocal opponents. The ruling party may be riven with internal factionalism, but it’s unclear if the opposition can turn this to their advantage.
The MDC-T remains the most organised opposition party with the largest organisational reach. If it could make it work, a broad coalition would bolster its ranks and could give it further appeal. But there remain serious concerns in the opposition including poor strategic thinking, complacency, a tendency towards authoritarianism and internal fractionalisation.
Even if the 2018 vote is a straightforward contest between a ruling party and a truly united opposition, the election is still likely to be one of fairly poor choices.
Sweden through the Swedish Embassy in Harare is collaborating with a number of partners to create a green economy and transition Zimbabwe to a society built on sustainable environmental solutions.
A green economy is defined as an economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment.
According to a publication titled:Innovation-the Swedish way by Eva Krutmeijer, some of the world’s most successful innovators are from Sweden.
The same publication says that Sweden excels at environmental technology and sustainable solutions, as international rankings show.It is reported that many Swedish innovations have become highly successful exports.It is also reported that often, they address complex global challenges such as poverty alleviation and climate change.
For a country like Zimbabwe faced with economic challenges including numerous environmental problems such as land degradation, excessive littering, urban streambank agriculture, massive pollution and wetlands destruction, just to mention a few and which impact on a green economy, the Swedish interventions could not have come at a better time.
Sofia Calltorp, Ambassador for the Embassy of Sweden in Harare said that her government had just signed a new five year strategy for development cooperation with Zimbabwe.
“We are seeking new partnerships in Zimbabwe, especially in the area of climate change and environment,” she said.
Also recently, Calltorp signed on behalf of her government a $1,35 million agreement to support Zimbabwe’s Culture Fund three year programme named Culture Actions to reduce gender based violence, combat child marriages and promote environmental awareness through transformative arts.
The agreement aims to promote environmental awareness by harnessing the power of the transformative arts.
“We want to start a discussion around environmental issues and climate change,” Calltorp said.
Also at the Culture Fund, Culture Actions agreement signing ceremony, Maria Selin, Swedish Embassy in Harare, Head of Development Cooperation said that the Swedish Embassy was seeking local partnerships with organisations in Zimbabwe to create a new green society.
Selin said particular areas of focus include environment, climate and Renewable Energy.
She said that these partnerships seek to create new jobs and business opportunities.
Selin added that particular focus will be on women and children who mostly bear the brunt of climate change impacts.
Also the Swedish embassy in Harare has introduced its Swedish Open Forum 3 series focusing on the green society.
According to MartinBuch Larsen, Communication and Promotion Officer for the Embassy of Sweden in Harare, the recent forum was the first in 2017.The 2015 one was called the open society, the 2016 one was the innovative society and this year it was called the green society.
The recent open forum attended by various stakeholders in Harare sought to unpack what it would take to green Zimbabwe through open and interactive dialogue.
The forum also explored challenges, benefits and risks in transitioning to a society built on sustainable environmental solutions. Other issues focused on how the public and private sector can join hands to create green jobs for the youths.
Green jobs are decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.
At the Swedish Open Forum three recently held at the Ambassador’s residency, Ms Lova Nilsson representing SWECO, a Swedish organisation made remarks on the Swedish green economy experience.
Nilsson has experience in strategic planning, environmental assessment and environmental management. Her green experience covers environmental management systems, procurement, green house gas emission reduction and sustainable transport and city planning.
Nilsson said to create a green economy, it is necessary to have an enabling environment. She said that there is need introduce lower taxation systems for renewable energy initiatives and come up with innovative ideas.
She also said that there is need to take business on board and commercialise opportunities. She emphasised the need for public awareness on the issues and engagement of communities to spearhead change.
“We also need conscious consumers who are aware of the needs of buying green to create a green economy,” Nilsson said.
She said that the public or citizens should be able to put pressure on the leadership to push for green economies. Nilsson also emphasised the need for sustained dialogue on the green economy.
She added that in Sweden, there was ongoing dialogue between suppliers and procurers of commodities for a 50% procurement threshold focusing on organic foods.
TawandaMuzamwese, Executive Director of the Business Council for Sustainable Development Zimbabwe (BCSDZ)said at the same forum that private sector in Zimbabwe was still facing challenges on greening initiatives but there were promising initiatives the organisation was working on.
Working with at least 60 companies in the private sector in Zimbabwe, BCSDZ is promoting the mainstreaming of sustainable development initiatives for local business.
“We are encouraging our member organisations and companies to adopt renewable energy for productive use for example through solar lighting and solar irrigation initiatives,” Muzamwese said.
He added that his organisation is also promoting industrial energy efficiency and environmental sound management of chemicals.Other initiatives include promoting the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) environmental management systems for companies to adopt. The organisation has also working on a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) initiative supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) called the Green Industry Initiative to replace absolete technology of the 1950s in some of Zimbabwe’s companies. The idea is to establish new green industries also focusing on recycling initiatives.
Ronny Mbaisa, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Sunshine Group which collaborates with environmentally conscious youths and has pioneered a number of community projects in the area of waste management said that his organisation was working on lobbying the government of Zimbabwe to formalise the recycling industry. They also plan to replicate the Swedish model of recycling drop-off centres and the Malmor waste to energy transfer centre following his recent exchange sharing visit to the country.
Ashok Chakravarti, Zimbabwe Country Coach, Ease of Doing Business programme, Office of the President and Cabinet said that there was a strong need for a favourable, enabling policy environment with proper regulations, taxes and incentives to create a green economy in Zimbabwe. He said that there was need to change some laws and regulations in the country to promote a green economy.Chakravarti said that the current economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation, (ZIMASSET) being pursued by government and is coming to an end lacks green economy and sustainable development aspects and needs to be revisited.
Zambeef’s Zampalm plantation in Muchinga Province in Zambia has
started commercial production of palm oil and its quality is already
impressing buyers such as Global Industries, according to a
It is reported that the production and processing of crude palm oil
is expected to drastically reduce the country’s dependence on crude
palm oil and edible oil imports.
Zambia’s current imports stand at over $70 million every year, a
costly exercise for the country which consumes around 120,000 tonnes
of cooking oil but only produces 30 to 50% of the total supply.
More than half of Zambia’s edible oil consumption is imported from
the Far East, East Africa and South Africa.
“We are very excited about the opportunities and possibilities the
venture presents for both the company and the country,” said Zambeef
Board Chairman Dr Jacob Mwanza.
He said that for the first time the country will have quality palm
oil being produced, refined and sold locally. “This is a huge step
towards industrialisation and raising the country’s agro-processing
It is added that once fully operational, the plantation will
contribute to substituting 70,000 tonnes of cooking oil imported into
Zambia, saving the country around $70 million (K511 million) in
foreign exchange outflows every year.
Zampalm will also, at a later stage, look at branching out into the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) market, targeting
countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola,
which are also massive importers of the crude palm oil.
“We are very happy to be working with Zambeef to bring Zambian palm
oil to the market. Their quality of oil is outstanding and the
initiative will allow us to move away from crude palm oil imports and
thus be able to be more competitive in terms of our finished
products,” said Malolan Sampath, CEO of Global Industries Ltd
Palm oil is the world’s most used and versatile vegetable oil.
addition to cooking oil, its derivatives are found in foods such as
margarines and ice cream and is also used as a thickener, preservative
and antioxidant; in personal care products such as shampoo, and
cosmetics, industrial products such as lubricants paints and inks, and
as a renewable fuel.
The palm plant is the most efficient oil producing plant and can be
harvested for 25 years and as long as the tree continues to yield a
The Zampalm project was launched in 2009 and currently has some
409,506 palms planted over an area of 2,873 hectares in the main
plantation, with another 39,000 seedlings in the main and pre-nursery.
In 2015 Zampalm commissioned its first US$1 million crushing mill
plant with a crushing capacity of two to three tonnes of fresh palm
fruit per hour, producing a yield of around 18 per cent of crude palm
oil. At current prices and at an average production of 3 to 3.5 tonnes
per hectare Zampalm could generate more than $170 million in revenue
over the next decade.
Zampalm plans to further work with small-scale farmers in the area to
set up an outgrower scheme to feed palm fruit into the Zampalm mill.
This will allow local farmers in the area to participate and
contribute towards edible oil production in the country.
“We expect to see an increase in demand for palm oil in Zambia as the
country further develops and new industries and markets are created,”
said Dr Mwanza.
A new African Arguments investigation has found that politically-exposed African nationals hold Canadian real estate worth several millions of dollars.
The study, conducted in partnership with the Journal de Montréal and Le Monde Afrique, reveals over a dozen individuals who have invested nearly $26 million in Canadian real estate, often without a mortgage.
The source of the funds used to buy these properties could be legitimate. But the sales should have raised red flags because of the public positions of the individuals involved or because of their association with deals that have raised suspicion.
Buying bricks and mortar abroad has long been a strategy of the rich to diversify their assets.
Typically, the likes of France, US and UK have been the go-to places to buy up expensive property. Not all of it uses clean money. In 2016, a UK parliamentary committee estimated that a shocking $150 billion is laundered in London’s real estate market every year. But in recent years, luxurious flats owned by families of African leaders have been seized in each of these countries.
This seems to have led some to look further afield.
“They will diversify their investments according to only one criteria, which is the legal security offered by specific territories,” says William Bourdon, lawyer for Sherpa.
Sherpa is the NGO behind the “ill-gotten gains” case in France in which the rulers of Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea stand accused of laundering money in luxurious French properties.
According to Marc Guéniat, a researcher at the Swiss NGO Public Eye, France has historically been the favoured location for investment amongst the rulers of francophone Africa, but incidences such as the “ill-gotten gains” case have changed this.
“Logically, these rulers look for other destinations,” he says. “As a francophone region, Québec is an interesting alternative.”
In Québec, the origins of funds invested in real estate don’t seem to raise too many questions. A recent Transparency International report highlighted the country’s weak anti-money laundering regulations in the real estate sector.
In theory, both real estate brokers and financial entities such as banks are responsible for detecting money laundering in Canada. They are meant to notify suspicious transactions to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) that can, in turn, inform the police.
But between 2003 and 2013, in which there were over 5 million real estate sales, FINTRAC received just 279 suspicious transactions warnings. This rate increased slightly following educational efforts by FINTRAC, although it remains relatively low.
Moreover, in the dozen administrative penalties that FINTRAC has levied against brokers who failed to properly identify clients since 2008, the fines have averaged under $6,900. This pales in comparison to sales sometimes worth millions of dollars.
Brokers that fail to meet their legal responsibilities also face criminal sanctions, but it is not clear how many such cases have been investigated and brought to justice. The Canadian royal police did not reply to our questions.
Below is an interactive map showing the value and approximate area of the properties owned by politically-exposed African nationals that our investigation uncovered. The dots are within a kilometer of the properties to give a sense of the broader neighbourhood, but they do not represent their exact locations.
Below the map is information about the individuals in question.
Wilfrid Nguesso is the nephew of Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the president of Congo-Brazzaville who has held an often violent grip on power for a total of 32 years. Over the past decade, Wilfrid has been trying to migrate to Montreal, but the Canadian authorities have forbidden him entry on the grounds that he allegedly belongs to a “criminal organisation” that has embezzled Congo’s public funds.
Wilfrid and his wife bought a house in Montreal worth over $730,000 without a mortgage in 2007. He did not reply to our calls for comments.
Voltaire Brice Etou Obami is an accountant and businessman close to the Nguesso family. He is named in a note by the French anti-laundering agency, Tracfin, due to his business deals with Catherine Ignanga. Ignanga used to be President Sassou-Nguesso’s sister-in-law and is being investigated by Tracfin. Obami is not under investigation and told us that he does not know about Ignanga’s dealings that are being scrutinised.
In 2014, Obami invested over $410,000 in two Montreal hotel rooms. His children study in Canada and he says he has applied for an immigration visa. According to him, the funds for the rooms came from his wife, who he says made profits from the real estate industry in Africa.
Jean Jacques Bouya is a member of Congo’s presidential family. He is being investigated by Tracfin. In Congo, he oversees millions of dollars in public funds as the Minister of Spatial Planning and Major Projects. He was previously chief of the agency in charge of large public works, the DGGT (Délégation générale des grands travaux).
According to a document from the French financial fraud police that we procured, the DGGT under Bouya made several transfers to bank accounts in San Marino between 2007 and 2013. All these accounts were held by Philippe Chironi, a close associate of Congo’s ruling family. The transfers came to a total of close to $75 million “whose origin could be illicit”, according to the document. These funds were transferred to accounts held by several people, including Bouya and Catherine Ignanga.
In 2008 and 2009, Bouya bought two buildings in Québec for a total of close to $1.3 million without a mortgage. He did not return our calls for comment.
Tite Kaba is a Congolese civil servant. He was in charge of land titles until 2016 when he was accused of producing a false deed for the benefit of an individual close to the Nguesso family.
Kaba and his wife, Rachida Kaba, have invested over $4.2 million in Quebec’s real estate since 2008 (in several cases, with a mortgage). They refused to reply to our questions regarding the origin of the funds.
Ibrahim Hissein Bourma is married to the sister of Hinda Déby. Hinda is the wife of Idriss Déby, Chad’s president since 1990. The main client of Bourma’s profitable import-export company, Oum-Alkheri General Trading, is the Chadian government.
In 2013, Bourma was stopped in Egypt with over $200,000 hidden in a secret compartment of his suitcase. He was later acquitted on a technicality after an intervention from the Chadian embassy. His lawyer told us he was acquitted in 2015 and that the affair was an unfortunate “imbroglio”.
In Canada, Bourma bought properties worth over $4.9 million without a mortgage between 2012 and 2016 through his company Investissement Siham Canada Inc. He told us: “I come from a family of businessmen, so I can only succeed.” On why he likes to invest in Québec, he said: “In Dubai, you can buy flats and the price drops very fast. In Montreal, it has been stable for years…If you see the number of apartments that I bought, it’s clearly for investment.”
Bourma’s brother, Mahamat Zene Isseine Bourma, is married to President Déby’s daughter. He bought a flat in Montreal for about $490,000 in 2013 without a mortgage. The previous year, he was appointed Chad’s paymaster general by Déby and tasked with overseeing all government spending. At this time, his company won large public contracts such as supplying ambulances to the Ministry of Health. In 2016, he was fired from the job after accusations of embezzlement. He told us these allegations were without basis. “The story was proven wrong…they’ve invented quite a few things,” he said.
The sister of the two Bourmas, Amina Hissein Bourma and her husband, Mahamat Kasser Younous, bought a flat worth $340,000 in Québec in 2012. The following year, they purchased a villa worth $840,000, both without a mortgage. At the time of the purchases, Younous was director of Chad’s national oil company. They did not return our calls.
Jacques Ndjamba Mbeleck is a consultant who founded the Cameroonian accounting company, CAC, which is very active in Chad’s oil sector. He also told us he is good friends with Mahamat Bourma.
In 2011, Mbeleck’s firm was advising Chad’s government. In this time, it received a $7.4 million bonus payment directly from the oil company Griffiths Energy International. An independent auditor looking into Chad’s extractive revenues described this transaction as “against best practice”. Griffiths had just won oil rights in Chad. A couple of years later, this deal raised controversy as Griffiths admitted to bribing Chad’s ambassador to Canada and his deputy to obtain the permits. No accusations of corruption have been levied against CAC. Ndjamba Mbeleck told us that the $7.4 million payment was above board.
In 2012, Mbeleck bought a flat in Montreal worth around $420,000, with a mortgage. He bought another property worth $580,000 the following year, without a mortgage.
Zéphyrin Rayita is a senator who has held high-ranking positions in Gabon’s telecommunications sector. Lin Mombo is a civil servant who has worked in the same industry. Mombo is also the partner of Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo (aka “3M”), the powerful president of Gabon’s constitutional court, which ruled in favour of President Ali Bongo after the controversial elections last year. In March, RFI and the Canard Enchainé revealed that Mborantsuo is under an investigation by French authorities for allegedly embezzling public funds and money laundering.
In 2003, Rayita and Mombo bought a two-story building in Montreal for $2.2 million with a mortgage covering half the amount. They sold it four years later. Reached over the phone, Mborantsuo said “you think that’s how you’ll be able to ask me questions? Do you think it’s really normal that you call to tell me you’ll ask me questions?” She then hung up and didn’t reply to our subsequent messages.
We did not manage to reach Rayita. Mombo told us that state officials in Gabon are well paid and that he decided to invest his salary in real estate.
Joël Bernard Ogouma is the Inspector General of Taxation in Gabon, a country whose ruling family is targeted by the ill-gotten gains case in France. Ogouma himself has not been accused of corruption as far as we know. In Québec, Ogouma bought a flat for over $510,000 in 2014, without a mortgage. He did not respond to our calls for comment.
Mamadou Pouye is a close associate of Karim Wade. Karim is the son of Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s president from 2000 to 2012. Under his father’s government, Karim held a number of high-level positions and gained the nickname “Mr 15%” in reference to the personal cut he allegedly took from public tenders. During that period, Pouye set up companies abroad, including in Panama, as was revealed in the Panama Papers leak.
After his father lost power, Karim Wade was arrested together with Pouye. Karim was sentenced to six years in jail for embezzlement, but released by a presidential pardon in 2016 after serving just three.
In the case, the prosecution alleged that Pouye had “helped or assisted” Karim “in the preparation, facilitation or undertaking of illicit enrichment”. Pouye was convicted in 2015 and released on bail the following year. France and the United Nations criticised the trial’s fairness. Pouye’s lawyer claimed to us that his client is innocent.
In Montreal, Pouye bought a flat in 2012 for over $460,000 via a company registered in Canada named 9259-7087 QUÉBEC INC.
Madiké Niang was Karim Wade’s lawyer during his trial. Previously, he occupied key ministerial positions in Adboulaye Wade’s government. He was also reportedly targeted in the investigation into Wade and Pouye but was never formally accused.
In 2006, Niang bought a flat in Montréal for about $225,000 and another one in 2008 for about $270,000 with a mortgage. He did not return our calls.
Réda Bedjaoui is the brother of Farid Bedjaoui. Farid has been accused of channelling millions of dollars in bribes for an Algerian oil deal and is on Interpol’s wanted list. Over the years, Farid has given Réda at least several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Réda is not under investigation as far as we know.
Réda Bedjaoui has bought two properties worth a total of $4.7 million in Montreal and several others with his ex-wife. He did not respond to our requests for comment.
A third brother, Ryad Bedjaoui, has bought land worth $3.6 million in Montréal with a company whose majority shareholder was Farid Bedjaoui. He sold the land four years later. His lawyer told us that Ryad has “no financial relation with his brothers”.
*Culled from African Arguments.Emmanuel Freudenthal is a freelance investigative journalist. Hugo Joncas is an investigative journalist for the Journal de Montréal.