Hi, Q-MHI Africa readers!
France has had a long centuries-long relationship with Africa and in particular with the countries that it colonized until the early 1960s. Those countries, mainly in West and Central Africa, but also in North Africa as well, are home to over 120 million people.
Unlike Britain, the other major colonizer of Africa, France’s post-colonial ties have remained firm, through major upheaval and economic change. But in recent years those ties had started to fray around the edges, with the increasingly tense debate around the CFA, the two common currencies of West and Central Africa, which are still guaranteed by the French treasury.
A divisive decision by an activist to set a CFA note on fire in Senegal has reignited a debate on the common currency and the influence France still holds over francophone Africa.
Kemy Seba set fire to a 5,000 CFA note (equivalent to $9.20) on Aug. 19, in protest over “Francafrique”—France’s continued political and economic influence over its former African colonies. Seba was arrested after a complaint by the Central Bank of West African States, which prints the notes. The West African CFA is the currency of Senegal and seven of other nations.
The currency remains pegged to the euro and governed by treaties with France. The currency is managed by two regional bodies, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). The Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), manages the Central African CFA for currencies of oil producers like Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and three other central African nations. In the Comoros, the CFA is known as the Comorian Franc.
Enter president Emmanuel Macron. At 39, he became the youngest-ever president of the French republic, he’s widely credited with revitalizing France and elements of French self-belief. As the first president born after the majority of Francophone Africa gained independence, he’s made clear time and again he believes African countries can find their own way without paternalistic European leadership, though he’s also had missteps in getting that point across.
Of course what Emmanuel Macron said was racist.
At a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg, on July 8 he was asked about a “Marshall Plan for Africa.” The president gave a disquisition on Africa’s “real” problems – among them, in his view, demographics. The continent’s true challenge was “civilizational,” including failed states, shaky democracies, trafficking, extremism, and population growth. Later in his reply—the effect was compounded in a spliced video that circulated widely—he pointed again to demographics. Where there are “7 or 8 children per woman,” he said, spending billions is pointless.
It wasn’t the first time. On June 1, in a conversation in Brittany about fishing boats, kwassa-kwassa came up; these are vessels used in the Comoros islands, including by migrants seeking to reach Mayotte, a French overseas possession—that is, a colony. “But kwassa-kwassas don’t fish much, they deliver Comorians,” the president joked, using a turn of phrase (ils amènent du comorien) that implied goods, not people.
The French president also leans into a “make France great again” philosophy. He’s determined for France to be seen as a modern country, leading on the 21st century global stage, particularly when it comes to business and trade.
Macron has visited Africa seven times, touching down in nine countries since becoming president last May. He sees Africa playing an important role in bolstering France, its business and a Francophone-first philosophy. Not all African Francophone thinkers agree with that philosophy.
His stated interested in Africa was clear to see at the, Vivatech technology show this year, where he toured the packed exhibition hall in Paris and made a point of visiting the Africa stands with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, taking selfies with African entrepreneurs.”African startups have energy but the big providers of development aid and financiers have not adapted to that. We ourselves are too slow, too hesitant,” Macron, a passionate tech advocate, told the fair, which was attended by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
On the main stage Macron said the French development agency (AFD) will be backing a new digital $76 million (€65 million) digital project which will offer funding for African startups. “African startups have energy but the big providers of development aid and financiers have not adapted to that. We ourselves are too slow, too hesitant,” said Macron speaking on stage switching between French and English, the language of Silicon Valley.
He said the fund would work “to fill the gaps in the support with small sums ranging from €30,000 to €50,000, which is what startups need.”
— Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor
STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
Zimbabwe is conflicted between economics and morality when it comes to marijuana.
After introducing plans to license cannabis growers for medical and research purposes, Zimbabwe’s government reversed its position and shelved the plans last week. Tawanda Karombo in Harare finds a country tussling with a way to increase revenue for its struggling economy while responding to moral concerns about drug abuse.
“The policing of the legal use of mbanje could be problematic as many may use it for recreational purposes,” said Pastor Blessing Makwara of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, using another local term for marijuana. “We are witnessing an escalation of drug abuse and addiction at an unparalleled scale.”
But the economic argument for Zimbabwe to legalize marijuana is seen as compelling with potentially lucrative earnings—the global pricing structure of the substance is between $170 and $375 per ounce. It remains unclear if Zimbabwe will do anywhere as well as it has done from tobacco earnings.
Others say “the hemp (a variety of cannabis) industry is a boon” for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy. “It is not wise to take such a valuable resource for granted any longer,” said Dr Zorodzai Maroveke who heads the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust.
Meanwhile, the government’s April announcement had already been taken to mean Zimbabwe had legalized marijuana smoking and local dancehall artists penned songs praising president Emerson Mnangagwa for the move and saying mbanje was “healthy”.
Lesotho became the first African country to legalize marijuana farming last year. Its decision to view marijuana as a source of national revenue rather than petty crime marks a shift in a region where marijuana is widely used and regularly exported across borders.
South Africans are among the hardest workers in the world.
Nearly 12% of South Africa’s workforce spends more than 60 hours a week on the job, found an OECD survey. Those working hours aren’t in line with the country’s labor laws, which prohibits more than 45 hours a week and no more than 10 hours in overtime.
South Africa’s hardest workers are black men younger than 45 in a semi-skilled occupation and lucky enough to have a permanent job in a country with high unemployment, according to a study from Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Economic Research.South African women without a housekeeper spend 183 minutes per day on housework, as opposed to 75 minutes for men. Women living with children also spent an average of 87 minutes per day taking care of them, compared to men, who spent seven minutes.Current working hours studies also excluded domestic labor like fetching water, which added 44 to 71 minutes per day of work, depending on the distance to the main water source. Black households in former bantustans or rural areas were most likely to be affected. Once again, it was mainly women who bore the burden of this unpaid work, starting in childhood.
Why establishing a sustainable automotive industry is key to powering Africa’s economy.
As African economies grow, so does the appetite for personal consumption, the desire for freedom of mobility, and the demand for personal cars. In this excerpt from his book Motoring Africa, Edward Hightower argues for sustainably industrializing automobile production as a way to boost overall innovation and growth.In director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium,Dr. Tyson’s view, funding NASA to execute a project as big as going to Mars “will stoke a pipeline of scientists and engineers as never before, and stimulate and entire nation to dream about tomorrow.”
African nations can leapfrog other basic and light manufacturing sectors and stretch themselves to build industrial capabilities and capacity in the auto manufacturing sector, which will result in a similar level of motivation, innovation, discovery, and transformation. Few products are as complex as the motor vehicle. No other consumer product is as complex. It is a big idea, and it is a big deal! On the road to automotive industrialization, many off ramps, rest stops and scenic views will be created.
Why Sierra Leone appointed its first chief innovation officer.
In a bid to put scientific research and innovation at the core of his office, president Julius Maada Bio appointed Moinina David Sengeh as Sierra Leone’s first chief innovation officer. Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu looked into the 31-year-old Harvard and MIT graduate’s life and how his commitment to science elevated him to this position.
Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 179th on the UN’s Human Development Index. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 and 2016 set back the marginal progress that had been made after the war and his expertise will be handy as the country rebuilds especially its health system. So, while this will not transform Sierra Leone into an innovation fortress overnight, it is a crucial step forward which should be emulated by others.
China doesn’t want racist facial recognition software so it’s expanding its database to Africa.
Zimbabwe’s government signed a strategic partnership with a Chinese company to begin a large-scale facial recognition program to use in security and law enforcement. Lynsey Chutel writes on the valuable data Chinese AI technologists stand to harness once the program rolls out.
“The Zimbabwean government did not come to Guangzhou purely for AI or facial ID technology, rather it had a comprehensive package plan for such areas as infrastructure, technology and biology,” CloudWalk CEO Yao Zhiqiang told China’s Global Times.
“I watched with envy as Chinese people were able to pay for meals with their lovely faces,” said Shingi Magada, a Zimbabwean consultant on the partnership, told Global Times. “So I can’t wait until this comes to the beautiful people of Zimbabwe.”Zimbabwe may be giving away valuable data as Chinese AI technologists stand to benefit from access to a database of millions of Zimbabwean faces Harare will share with CloudWalk.
“The differences between technologies tailored to an Asian face and those to a black one are relatively large, not only in terms of color, but also facial bones and features,” Yao said. The machine learning needed to expand the technology’s capability would require sufficient data, the CEO explained.
The best wisdom from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Harvard speech.
The Nigerian author addressed the Harvard Class of 2018, in a talk that combined both personal experiences and universal truth. Key among the messages she urged graduates to uphold was to respect the importance of intent using the mispronunciation of African names as an example.
Backstage, the presenter had studiously practiced saying Adichie’s name, writing it phonetically on a cue card, which she gripped tightly before going on stage. But after a flattering introduction, the author the English woman nervously introduced wasn’t Chimamanda. It was Chimichanga.
Adichie found no malice in the mispronunciation—after all, her name, Chimamanda, is Igbo for “my personal spirit will not be broken,” she explained.
And for graduates develop a “fantastic bullshit detector”.Adichie described her deep mortification at the mistake she made speaking to the male writer, and how, after the matter, she developed admiration for the “fantastic bullshit detector” of the writer’s wife. She told the graduates, “So have a good bullshit detector. If you don’t have it now, work on it.”o that end, Adichie implored the crowd of new graduates to throw out the false-modest euphemism, “I went to school in Cambridge.” “Please, class of 2018,” she urged. “When you’re asked where you went to college, just say ‘Harvard.’”
CHART OF THE WEEK
Piracy off Somalia’s coast made a strong comeback in 2017.
After a steep decline in the last few years, Somali pirates undertook a record number of attacks and kidnappings in 2017. Abdi Latif Dahir explains why piracy is making a return, its cost to shipping businesses, and the geopolitical wrangling in the Horn of Africa that is complicating maritime security.
The new spate of attacks has also increased as frustrated Somali fishermen continue to struggle against foreign trawlers that outfish them and destroy their equipment during expeditions. Somalia has mainland Africa’s longest coastline, yet fishing remains an underdeveloped sector due to lack of skills, regulatory frameworks, and efficient tools and fishing gears. And given the high unemployment levels, observers expect many young people will continue seeking economic opportunities in criminality.
OBP says there’s need for a wide-ranging maritime security approach to deal with the threats of piracy in the region. This is crucial given how important the Gulf of Aden is to global trade, with thousands of ships crossing it every year heading to and from the Suez Canal in Egypt. The war in Yemen and the geopolitical wrangling that involves several states is also complicating the maritime security picture in the region.But a comprehensive safety approach will only work if Somalia is fully stable and with a strong government that can deal with offshore problems onshore.
“Piracy is just one issue in a complex web affecting maritime security,” says Larry Sampler, One Earth Future’s president. “Where there is good governance, seas are safer, coastal communities are healthier, and the blue economies grow stronger.”
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED
The multimillion-dollar theft that cost Malawi’s Joyce Banda the presidency.
In 2014, the “cashgate” scandal in Malawi involved widespread theft of public money by civil servants who bought homes and stuffed hundreds of thousands of dollars in their cars. In Medium, Shaun Raviv delves into the scandal, uncovering a mystery that roped in a son, a housemaid, public officials, and the presidency.
Many centuries before Paul Mphwiyo was shot in the face, there was a hill in East Africa settled by a clan searching for edible roots. One group from the clan slept at the bottom of the hill and one group slept at the top. The people who slept at the top of the hill, the Phiri, were known for their political power.
The people who slept at the bottom of the hill, the Banda, were known for their ability to make rain. Once they had been a single clan, but the hill turned them into two. Years later, those two clans would help establish the country of Malawi.
Matthew C. Stephenson, a professor at Harvard Law School who runs the Global Anticorruption Blog. Unlike grayer forms of corruption that might have some positive benefits — like paying a bribe to see a doctor — he called Cashgate a straightforward case. “Governments need to spend money on things like public health, especially in very poor developing countries,” he said. “And when that money is stolen, that means that money is not available to spend on any number of public services or other things that are really important to alleviating poverty and promoting development.”
Richard Record, a World Bank economist based in Lilongwe, told About Cashgate, and especially the pulling of donor money that resulted from it, instigated a breakdown in public financial management. The government wasn’t equipped to react quickly to such a large deficit and still had to cover the basics, like salaries and electricity bills. So they borrowed domestically, which sped up inflation and prices for everything increased. “The country got stuck in this vicious circle of large deficits, high borrowing,” Record said. “The whole system kind of fell apart from the shock.”
Before the scandals, before the shootings, before presidents tried to kill and arrest each other, before the ugliness of Cashgate and perhaps before cash, period, there was the hill. One clan slept at the bottom of the hill and one slept at the top. The clan that slept at the top of the hill, the Phiri — whose descendants include Anaphiri, the housemaid — were known for their political power. The clan that slept at the bottom of the hill, the Banda, were known for their ability to make rain.
Within a 4,000-page manuscript by the youngest son of Chief Molin Tengani is a myth about the Banda and Phiri clans, the ancestors of modern Malawi. The two clans split, but continued to intermarry and share customs and even a chief. They were separate only in elevation, in the thickness of the air they enjoyed. And whenever the group at the top lost sight of the group at the bottom, they would set the hills alight. The hills of Malawi could one day burn again.
The rebel plot that helped free The Gambia.
During his 22-year reign of the West African nation, Yahya Jammeh ruled with an iron fist, cracking down on dissent and promising to rule for “a billion years.” In The Guardian, Philip Róin and Mikkel Danielsen outlinethe story of the unlikely rebels in and out of the country and the 25-page document that helped them end Jammeh’s rule last year.
Shortly after he took control, Jammeh ordered the executions of about a dozen high-ranking soldiers whom he considered threats. He was aware that the first period of a dictator’s rule is the most uncertain. According to The Dictator’s Handbook, by political scientists Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University, a dictator has a 50-50 chance of surviving the first six months in power. For Jammeh, those odds looked pretty good. As the son of a semi-professional wrestler and a street vendor, few people would have put money on his ascent to the presidency.
Jammeh was not always regarded with suspicion and fear. But throughout his reign, he became increasingly eccentric and high-handed, and his citizens began to believe he had lost the plot. Fatou Jatta, who encountered Jammeh for the first time in 2007, was one of the first Gambians to publicly disclose that she was HIV positive, had been instructed to come to the presidential residence in Banjul. She and a group of eight other HIV-positive men and women were to begin a course of treatment devised by the president. He wore a flowing white gown, and asked politely for her to take off her clothes and lie down. “It wasn’t a good massage,” Jatta remembered. “He wasn’t a good masseur. But then again, his day job was president.”
Each submitted to Jammeh’s massage and then gathered on the grandiose porch to take their medicine: a glass of green fluid, which he administered in person. Jatta never discovered what it contained. The first time they drank it, everyone vomited, but they learned to keep it down – under the stern glare of rifle-bearing soldiers.
The patients returned for their treatment every morning for nine months. The treatment was the invention of the president himself, and he paraded his medical breakthrough to the international press, while insisting that his recipe remain a secret, “like Coca-Cola”, he said.
An estimated 9,000 HIV-positive Gambians were forced to abandon conventional medicine in favour of Jammeh’s homemade recipe, according to the US-based NGO Aids-Free World. Not only did Jammeh insist he could cure HIV, he also appeared to believe he was immortal. He kept lions as pets and buried the bodies of his enemies in his backyard. He also drained the country’s economy.It would be difficult to say that Jammeh’s economic plan failed: there never seems to have been an actual plan. The economy has floundered under his rule; the economist Nyang Njie estimates that inflation has run at between 20 and 25% in the past five years.
How coastal erosion is endangering Senegal’s legendary fishing hub.
The island of Saint-Louis is a United Nations world heritage site, a sandy peninsula with preserved colonial architecture that is home to a traditional fishing community. In the New York Times, Aurelien Breeden writes on how eroding shorelines are threatening a centuries-old way of life.
KEEP AN EYE ON
US to send experimental Ebola treatment to DR Congo.
As the central African nation continues to battle the outbreak and spread of the Ebola virus, health officials in the US said they would send a treatment called mAb114 that was made from the antibodies of an Ebola survivor in the Congo in 1995.Scientists in Fauci’s vaccine research center had just begun a first-in-man trial of the treatment last week when Fauci said he received a request from the health ministry in Congo asking that the treatment be used in a clinical trial there.
More than 7,500 doses of the vaccine have been sent to the DRC, the vaccine alliance Gavi said in a statement. Vaccination will be carried out in the same way doctors eradicate smallpox, with the ring method. Researchers are racing to identify the contacts of those infected, and the contacts of those contacts to “form a buffer of immune individuals to prevent the spread of the disease.”
Health workers and other frontline responders will be among the first to be vaccinated, following the death of a nurse over the weekend. The vaccine is still in the investigational phase and has not been licensed. Still, in a major trial involving 5,387 people in Guinea toward the end of the West Africa outbreak, researchers found the vaccine to be “highly protective against the deadly virus,” according to results published in December. Immunized health workers from the Guinea trial will also be flown in to lend their expertise.
The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was created by re-engineering the vesicular stomatitis virus, which mainly affects horses and cattle, to carry a particularly deadly strain of Ebola first identified in the then Zaire (now DRC), and is also the strain that caused the West Africa outbreak. Produced by pharmaceutical company Merck, the vaccine has been sent to the DRC “for compassionate use,” while it awaits final commercial approval.
Kenya corruption arrests.
Officials are reviewing evidence and statements about mega corruption scandals that saw over $107 million stolen from both the cereal board and the National Youth Service.DPP Noordin Haji and DCI boss George Kinoti yesterday met to review statements recorded by 40 individuals suspected to have been involved in the latest NYS scandal.
The two officers met at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters along Kiambu Road where they scrutinised evidence gathered by detectives.Sources said arrests could be made as soon as next week. The scrutiny of statements and evidence is expected to continue today.Also present was state prosecutor Duncan Ondimu.
“We have decided to do a prosecution-led investigation where all loopholes are detected and sealed in good time,” said a source who requested anonymity. Among the suspects under probe are PS Lilian Mbogo and NYS director general Richard Ndumbai. Both Mbogo and Ndubai have since stepped aside to pay way for the probe.The decision to change strategy was prompted by release of 23 suspects in the Sh791 million NYS scandal of 2015.
The court said there was inadequate evidence. The suspects were charged with economic crimes in which the government lost Sh47 million at the National Youth Service.The DPP has appealed the release of the suspects following a public outcry.