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Hi, Q-MHI Africa readers!

SWEET GIG

The Estonian company which has grown to become Uber’s biggest rival in Africa is pursuing an expansion strategy that’s focused on not only operating in major cities across Africa, like Uber does. Taxify has also been expanding to smaller cities and now operates in more African cities than Uber.

In Nigeria, in addition to Lagos and Abuja, the only two cities where Uber currently operates, Taxify has launched operations in Ibadan, Nigeria’s largest city by land size, and Owerri, a bustling commercial center in the southeast. While neither city matches Lagos or Abuja as urban centers, they have sizable business districts and populations of over 1 million people each.  In Tanzania, while Uber has stuck only to Dar es Salaam, Taxify operates there as well as in Dodoma, the nation’s capital and in Mwanza, a tourism hotbed on the shore on Lake Victoria.

One of my favorite anecdotes from a few years back, shared here before, is of the Nairobi Uber driver who on learning I had just arrived from New York, asked: “Do they have Uber in the US?” Since then I’ve encountered many drivers from Lagos to Cape Town and noted how quickly ride-sharing has spread in some of the big African cities,  It’s been exactly five years this month since Uber launched in Johannesburg, South Africa, marking its first entry into the African continent.

Since then, the ride-hailing service has disrupted Africa’s fragmented transport market, garnered 1.3 million riders in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and grown its footprint to 15 cities in 8 countries including North Africa. But the journey has also been a bumpy one, marked by violent protests, price wars, regulatory challenges, and accusations of growing into a monopoly, although, not without its challenges.

Some Uber drivers in Lagos have been using a fake GPS itinerary app to illicitly bump up fares for local riders. Initially created for developers to “test geofencing-based apps,” Lockito, an Android app that lets your phone follow a fake GPS itinerary, is being used by Uber drivers in Lagos to inflate the cost of their trips.

In some cases, inflated trips can cost riders more than double the rate they should be paying. “It’s more like a parasite,” says Mohammed, a driver for both Uber and Taxify in Lagos. “It sets the false GPS movement while allowing the phone also to keep track of its actual movement. The Uber app can’t tell the difference between both so it just calculates both.”Perhaps most surprisingly, drivers accuse Uber of not only knowing about app, but purposely not doing anything about it because they still want to maximize their profits.Despite issues with the base fare, Uber’s brand stays strong in Nigeria and drivers want the company to remain, but only if the system changes. This is important as competition increases from newcomers including local e-hailing apps like Motionplus and Alpha One, some of which are offering to pay fuel for drivers.

It’s also been interesting to see the rapid rise of Airbnb as a much needed alternative in some of Africa’s largest cities which have a shortage of affordable international standard hotels.

Since launching on the continent, the travel startup has notched up over 130,000 listings which have seen over 3.5 million guest arrivals. However, around half of those guests arrived in the past year alone. Airbnb’s growth on the continent is highlighted by one stat: Nigeria, Ghana and Mozambique are all among Airbnb’s eight fastest growing markets globally. The startup’s growing popularity is also reflected across the continent with seven countries all recording over 100% increase in guest arrivals over the past year.

Over the coming decade, affluent Africans—and visitors to the continent—will have a lot more hotel options to choose from. That’s because some of the world’s largest hotel chains are betting big on expansion plans in Africa.

AccorHotels, the largest hotel operator in Africa with brands like Sofitel, Novotel and Ibis, set the pace back in July with an ambitious partnership with Qatar-based Katara Hospitality for a $1 billion fundto drive expansion in sub-Saharan Africa’s hotel market. AccorHotels currently operates over 100 hotels on the continent.

Uber and Airbnb are a big part of discussions about the short-term, freelance work “gig economy“, but in real terms they’re actually a small section of it.

For many African countries, the gig economy could just be called “the economy”. For example, just 17% of Kenyan employment is formal. Many of the economies are driven by the informal nature of the gainful employment that exists. The Center for Global Development addresses this in a paper this month which notes digital platforms help African freelance workers and budding enterprises on the path to formalization. But while this isn’t unique to Africa, it points out the degree to which these services are needed in Africa is what is unique. “Most entrepreneurs have never worked in the formal sector, nor do they have mentors who have created larger businesses.”

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CGD’s research found people in African cities tend to like this type of flexible work, be it ride-share drivers, e-commerce sellers or home stay hosts. CGD identifies another category of African e-worker called “digital translators”. In this context it means like when Kenya’s Safaricom employs 5,400 people formally, but has 130,000 mobile money outlets, which typically employ one or two people. Or e-commerce leader, Jumia, which employs 3,000 people across Africa, but has another 100,000 commission-based affiliates who help customers make orders.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing with gig work in Africa—just like with operating in more advanced economies. Disruption has raised tensions in certain traditional sectors where high unemployment means the stakes are even higher. There are also the same questions of whether gig workers will get a fair share of profits.

There does seem a better opportunity for African governments to raise much needed taxes in the medium to long-term, but for now CGD suggests the best option to make gig work better might be to “recognize it for what it is, neither formal employment not self-employment, and not as one job but a portfolio of different gigs.”

— Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor

STORIES FROM THIS WEEK

The homegrown brand taking Ethiopia’s artisan-roasted coffee shops to China.

Ethiopia is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of coffee and is Africa’s top grower of the plant. As China embraces global coffee drinking culture, an Ethiopian company is tapping into that by opening 100 café stores there by 2022, By embracing traditional Ethiopian roasting methods and taking them globally, Alemu says she hopes to shape the “fourth wave” that is defining coffee’s evolution. The first wave involved the mass drinking of the brew, the second grew with the rise of a coffee culture through brands like Starbucks, while the third focused on artisanal coffee making.

The fourth wave now focuses less on commercialization, more on long-term sustainability, besides promoting and preserving local ways of farming. Placing Ethiopian coffee at the heart of this movement is only pragmatic, argues Alemu. But it is also a judicious growth strategy: because of demand, Garden of Coffee is set to increase its hand-roasting artisans to 300 by 2021. reports Abdi Latif Dahir.


China’s search for sand is destroying Mozambique’s pristine beaches.

“We watched the house being dragged by the water,” said one villager who lost his home after a Chinese firm began mining nearby. Lynsey Chutel looks at how a construction boom in China is driving unchecked mining along the Mozambican coastline.

The community of 1,329 residents was already vulnerable. A village of 236 huts built on a dune between Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean and a lagoon by the same name, Nagonha lacked basic services like running water and electricity. This is not uncommon in Mozambique, a country still trying to rebuild from nearly two decades of civil war that ended in 1992.

These conditions, however, have made the community vulnerable to the country’s eagerness to take advantage of Chinese investment. In the last decade or so, Mozambique’s government has encouraged mining as a form of economic growth, granting concessions to international players.

Haiyu Mining Company was registered in China’s Hainan province in 2010 and incorporated in Mozambique in 2011, as a joint mining venture with the Maputo-based Africa Great Wall Mining Development. The company is a subsidiary of the Jinan Yuxiao Group, now China’s biggest uhligite producer, a mineral found in sand.The minerals found in sand are key ingredient cement, mortar, tile, brick, glass, adhesives, and ceramics. With rapidly developing cities, China has become the worl’d largest consumer of concrete, and sand as a raw material.

After the initial report, the Mozambican government suspended mining in the region. When Amnesty International returned to the region a few weeks ago, the mining had resumed, the organization’s Robert Shivambu told Quartz. The government’s response has been to move those who are willing to relocate. A few have remained behind and are trying to mount a David-versus-Goliath challenge to unethical mining practices.


An artist’s “remixing” of apartheid-era images is raising questions about appropriation and free speech.

A reinterpretation of iconic apartheid struggle photographs by African American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas has sparked controversy. It has forced South Africans to reckon with who has the rights to images of the country’s painful past.The incident threatened to overshadow the three-day art fair and continues to fuel a debate around appropriation, free speech and the power dynamics at play in the creative spaces between South Africa and the United States.

Those “remixed” images, however, depict a particularly painful part of South Africa’s history and their repurposing evokes a public pain for black South Africans, Magubane’s daughter explained to CBS. In South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution, human dignity trumps freedom of speech, a value Americans hold dear.

Thomas says his work examines photography, history and the connectedness of political movements. Whether he is in fact guilty of copyright infringement is a legal issue, he told CBS. The photographers on the other hand are reportedly pursuing a possible lawsuit, even after Willis reached out to them.

In one work, titled The People Shall Govern, Thomas uses the colors and symbols associated with the African National Congress while the title is reminiscent of the party’s founding principles. In another, An injury to one is an injury to all, Willis draws on the flag of the trade union federation Cosatu. An installation Freedom in our lifetime makes use of traditional Ndebele patterns, while another is inspired by the flag of the militant Afrikaner rightwing movement the AWB.

Thomas’ other work has explored similar archives and symbols of the African American experience. Still, his use of African imagery and symbols evokes uncomfortable questions about the power dynamic between African and African American artists, similar to when rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music video for his Black Panther hit “All The Stars” allegedly borrowed from British Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor, without her permission resulting in a lawsuit.

While Thomas has easier access to the international art economy, one can’t assume that there are “given and known power relations” between and African American contemporary artist and an apartheid-era black South African photographer—it’s important to look at this debate in context says art history scholar and writer Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi. The ensuing controversy should force South African artists and photographers to ask if they’re doing enough to protect their own visual archive, rather than allowing it to become an unexamined, potentially forgotten monolith. The original photographs were themselves acts of free speech during apartheid. That rich trove of imagery could be fertile ground for international players with selfish intentions, he warns.


The harrowing, step-by-step migrant journey to get to Europe.

Tens of thousands of African migrants have risked their lives in recent years to get to Europe on illegal journeys via the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Yomi Kazeem documents the vivid, detailed account of one young Nigerian’s long and peril-filled journey through neighboring Niger’s migrant middlemen, the slave markets of Libya and risky attempts to cross the Mediterranean to get to Italy.

The culture of “traveling abroad to find work” is so ingrained in Edo, in some cases parents encourage their children to make the dangerous trip despite the known risks. Despite several campaigns to discourage them, for many struggling youths it’s often a binary choice: continued frustration in Nigeria or the prospect, however slim, of a better life in Europe.

For its part, the Nigerian government formally began attempting to stem the flow of trafficked migrants as far back as 2003 when it passed an anti-trafficking law and set up a national anti-trafficking agency. But with the national government unable to permanently end the decades-old trend, local hands are trying to tackle the problem too: universities and local religious bodies have carried out sustained awareness campaigns about the risks of human trafficking and illegal migration.

The Edo state government has also picked up the mantle. Last year, it set up the Edo Task Force Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT). Beyond the goal of curbing trafficking, the high-powered task force headed by the state attorney general also aims to prosecute and convict traffickers. The state has already passed a law with stiffer punishments (compared to the national trafficking agency) of lengthy jail terms without the option of fines. It has also pushed advocacy campaigns in rural areas traffickers often recruit from and in high schools to correct the prevailing mindset which has made illegal migration pervasive in the state.

But the state isn’t solely sticking to conventional methods to combat trafficking. In March, Oba Ewuare II, the powerful traditional ruler in Edo, placed a curse on traffickers. Given local reverence for the monarch rooted in the culture of the ancient Benin kingdom, his backing for the cause is seen to be as crucial as state laws. And it has had an effect as traffickers have renounced the practice out of fear of the repercussions of the king’s curse.


I was recruited from Nigeria to be a computer technician—then forced into prostitution in Italy.

More than 11,000 women arrived in Italy in 2016 and many of them were forced into some form of sexual slavery. In an excerpt from her book, Roadmap to Hell, Italian journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau recounts the story of Blessing Okoedion and how she took on Italian authorities to get out.

Many sex trafficking victims are tied to their fate in Italy in two ways. They believe they are bound to their madams through participating in the “Juju curse”—a religious ceremony performed by a witch doctor in their home countries that promises to curse them if they do not pay back their debts in full—and integration with the rest of the girls on the streets who often affirm each other’s fears of leaving. Blessing is somewhat of an anomaly among sex trafficked women because she was not bound to sexual slavery in either of these ways. Her story is one of the few with relatively happy endings in this horrific racket, but she still struggles with what she has been through.

Blessing now works as a cultural mediator with Nigerian migrants who arrive in Italy by boat, but it is far too dangerous for her to return to the area where she was working to try to convince young women that they can leave. While neither her madam nor Alice were ever arrested for what they put her through, the fact that she has denounced them has earned a price on her head, and she knows it. “Women die out there all the time,” she tells me. “They just get rid of the bodies and no one looks back. There is no one there to protect the women, and the longer they stay, the more fear sets into their bones.”


Africa’s richest company is putting aside $300 million to back local tech companies and startups.

Cape Town-based Naspers, was transformed from a traditional newspaper company on the back of one of the best deals of the recent digital era as an early investor in China’s Tencent. It has since invested in other tech companies in India and elsewhere but never really focused that much on Africa.

A new $314 million fund will change that. in South Africa over the next three years. Of that amount, around $92 million will be committed to Naspers Foundry, a startup fund for tech businesses. The fund, Naspers says, “aims to fund and support South African technology start-ups seeking to address big societal needs.” Naspers will spend the remainder on startups it has already invested in, including OLX, delivery service Mr D Food and e-commerce firm, Takealot.

CHART OF THE WEEK

Kenya is working on plans to build its own mobile phone.

Recognizing the crucial role the mobile phone now has in its economy, the Kenyan government has set up a fund to support local startups working in the mobile software and hardware space. The big challenge for such plans is that any new phone would have to overcome widely available and affordable Chinese-made phones designed for African markets.

Despite this, developing phones locally and making them attractive to consumers will be a difficult task. Chinese handset maker Transsion Holdings will also prove a serious challenge for any Kenyan brand: using its research centers in Kenya and Nigeria and factories in Ethiopia, the Shenzhen-based company produces phones in and for the continent, some as cheap as $10. And as the company gears up to provide more features in affordable prices in the coming years, it is expected to drive both smartphone and feature phone uptake—proving that Kenya’s dream project will be easier said than done.

OTHER THINGS WE LIKED

How African governments pay for World Bank’s Mauritius miracle.

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Mauritius has long been the tax haven of choice for large African businesses. For Foreign Policy, Matt Kennard and Claire Provost findthe questionable means of siphoning tax dollars from poor countries and into the pockets of the global elite is being indirectly supported by the World Bank. Despite the IFC’s poverty-reducing mandate and its requirement that projects benefit the local economy, the institution, and the World Bank as a whole, has been criticized for years for investing in commercial projects with dubious impacts on poor communities , including five-star hotels, upmarket shopping malls, and even agribusiness projects that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

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On its website, the IFC explains how potential investments are reviewed, with proposals that are supposed to contain information such as the company’s finances and expected profits. IFC teams assess whether projects will comply with environmental and social performance standards, which cover issues such as labor conditions, land acquisition, and biodiversity—but not taxation, let alone tax justice.

The IFC’s disclosure explains that Malawi Mangoes is majority-owned by BXR Group, a private investment group in Amsterdam, and that the second-largest shareholder is “well-known fund manager and philanthropist” Stewart Newton. The project’s environmental and social review says Malawi Mangoes (Mauritius) Limited is “a holding company that runs an operation in Malawi.” No explanation is provided in the disclosure, however, as to why a company structured like this was deemed a suitable investment for the IFC, or why the entity receiving IFC money would be based on the Indian Ocean island.

Because this company is registered in Mauritius, where such information is not disclosed, we could not determine its annual revenues, profits, or how much tax it pays. However, it was reported locally in Malawi earlier this year that the company had secured 1,700 hectares of farmland near its existing plantations to expand its operations, and that its mango exports so far have already been worth more than $1.4 million.

The IFC’s disclosures also hint at possible problems on the ground in Malawi. In 2014, it said Malawi Mangoes had more than 600 employees, with the lowest-paid workers making just $35 a month. Though this is described as 20 percent higher than Malawi’s minimum wage, the company has also subsidized maize purchases for its workers during periods of the year when they could not afford it. And while the company does buy fruit from small-scale farmers through so-called outgrower schemes, it does not appear that local farmers or the Malawian economy are the main beneficiaries of the company’s activities.


We should look to Africa to really advance artificial intelligence.

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With the vast majority of AI experts being in North America, Europe and Asia, Africa is barely represented. Google AI Research Lab, Accra’s Moustapha Cissé warns in Nature such a lack of diversity “can entrench unintended algorithmic biases and build discrimination into AI products.”

Finally, African governments must create a standard legal framework and a set of values that will help to ensure that AI in Africa serves the good of humanity. There is a growing fear around the world about nefarious uses of AI. Fortunately, initiatives to prevent such uses are emerging. In the public sector, the European Commission this April outlined an approach to setting ethical guidelines for AI. In the private sector, Google published a set of standards this June to govern its AI research and product development.


Refugees from Anglophone Cameroon defy odds to start new lives in Nigeria.

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Over the past two years, peaceful protests in Cameroon’s Anglophone northwest and southwest regions for more inclusion in a French-led national government have escalated into violence and fears of a civil war. For PopulaOluwatosin Adeshokan reports onthe travails—and some joys—of Cameroonian refugees that have been forced to flee into neighboring Nigeria.

The current conflict began in 2016, after a consortium of Anglophone teachers and lawyers began protesting their marginalization in Cameroonian society and government, complaining that the government imposes the French language on their schools and courts to marginalize the Anglophone region of the country, the part of the country that had been called “Southern Cameroons” by the British when it was their colonial possession (about 20% of the country, by population).

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Officially, Cameroon is unified, and has been since that first Unification Day, in 1960; officially, the country has two official languages, French and English. But despite constitutional bilingualism, official documents are often only published in French, excluding those with limited French proficiency from government jobs and appointments. And when a consortium of lawyers, activists, and others protested their marginalization—calling for the government to return to the autonomy granted to Southern Cameroon in 1971—the leaders of the consortium were arrested and the crowd tear-gassed. The Cameroonian government declared war on the Cameroonians it tagged as separationists, but the situation only escalated; by December, the courts and schools in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon went on strike.And as the conflict in Southern Cameroon seems poised to devolve into civil war, many have fled.

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Over the years, step by step, the foundations of the 1961 federalism have been chipped away; in 1972, President Ahidjo declared that the Federal Republic of Cameroon was now a unitary state and in 1984, the United Republic of Cameroon officially became La République du Cameroun. In 1996, the constitution was changed to remove any reference to what had been officially called the British Southern Cameroons or any reference to official autonomy it had previously enjoyed.

(When I asked why Southern Cameroon had gone with La Republique, Pa Assam explained that “The Igbos maltreated us when we were administered with Nigeria by the British. They dominated our markets and did not practice fair trade with them. We were not interested in more problems after independence.”)

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Protests began specifically against Anglophone common law courts run by Francophone civil law judges—judges who barely understood English much less the customs of the local people—as well as against exclusion from the civil service, where there are far fewer Anglophones (who earn significantly lesser than their Francophone counterparts). But over the years, the quality of life in Southern Cameroon has declined drastically. For all the petroleum found in Southern Cameroon, the actual petrol that people use to power cars and generators had to be smuggled over the river and through the forests from Nigeria, because it was cheaper than the petrol sold in the country. “When you go to Yaounde,” as a thirty-one-year old pastor from South Cameroon named Valerie Ayamba told me, “things like petrol, electricity, and mobile phone credits cost different from in Beau.”


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*This brief was produced while listening to Tswaka by Hip Hop Pantsula (South Africa). Rest in peace, Jabba.

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