Hi, Q-MHI Africa readers!
The focus on tackling the electricity supply deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa has been on renewable energy over the last decade. In particular, the potential of solar and wind energy has been most loudly heralded as the solutions for the hundreds of millions of Africans without access to any electricity. The ability to use innovative, off-grid delivery systems with better energy storage technology without the need for fossil fuels, has been an almost irresistible narrative for most of us.
And yet, it’s never been that simple. There are still limitations to renewable energy today if we’re hoping or expecting African countries to urbanize and industrialize at scale.
An article in the latest edition of Issues in Science and Technology argues nuclear energy should be given serious consideration by African governments and points out that at least 11 African countries already do. South Africa is the only one that already operates a commercial nuclear plant, but others including Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are at different stages of preparation.
While most of these programs have some involvement of Russia’s nuclear power company Rosatom or China (Kenya is working with South Korea), the authors argue the United States’ private nuclear energy companies could play a vital role in bringing some of these programs to fruition. It would need the US government to allow this to happen though.
So why nuclear? The case is often made of its energy density which, even in small quantities, can supply power to millions of people and industry. Also, once a plant is built it can supply “cheap, reliable electricity for 40 to 60 years.”
But yes, of course security and safety are right at the top of everyone’s long list of concerns when it comes to nuclear power in developing countries especially since they have few resources and limited technical expertise.The recent story of the panic by US authorities to remove highly enriched uranium from a research reactor in Nigeria, shows how edgy the world would be without proper checks in place.
Still, like with renewable energy, there has been much innovation with nuclear over the last decade. There are smaller, safer, more efficient, and, in some cases, much more affordable nuclear reactors available today if the African governments were to explore this option. The traditional large-scale light-water reactors will often be too expensive for most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s worth noting even advocates of nuclear power rarely suggest it should be the primary source of electricity but a viable, stable option to consider alongside others.
— Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor
STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
Nollywood’s growing international reach signals the broadening definition of the Nigerian film.
Over the past decade, Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry has enjoyed rapid growth, with bigger wins at local cinemas, recognition at international films festivals and partnerships with Netflix. And with more movies being made abroad, funded by foreign investors or directed by Africans in the diaspora, Chidinma Irene Nwoye finds the definition of a Nollywood film is also evolving.
“Nollywood isn’t looking into getting into Hollywood. They’re more interested in their work getting beyond the shores of Nigeria…and to get some monies back for the industry,” explains Shaibu Husseini, a Nigerian Nollywood film critic and jury member of the African Movie Academy Awards.
Contrary to other film critics who see the emergence of high-quality cinema from Nigeria as a deviation from an old “stigmatized”Nollywood or the rise of a “new Nollywood,” Husseini asserts it is simply an inevitable evolution with the times as the idea of Nollywood grows into an umbrella term for films produced by Nigerians.
Husseini says an entirely Nollywood film is a movie by a Nigeria-based filmmaker, produced and shot on the continent with a relatable narrative, predominantly Nigerian cast and local/industry-driven funding.
Nonetheless, films like Nigerian Prince by diaspora-based Nigerians will still get due recognition back home. Africa-based awards like AMAA have special categories for diaspora films and storytellers. This addresses any concerns from domestic filmmakers regarding competing with non-local players in the industry on an uneven playing field.
Ride-hailing apps want to bring order to Nairobi’s chaotic bus system—and get more women driving.
As colorful and cool as matatus are, their unreliability and crude price surges have drawn ire over the years. Abdi Latif Dahir reports on the slew of app-based ride-hailing services, both local and global, that want to make the buses safer and with better standards.
Heeding previous government proposals to phase out 14-seater matatus, which has faced growing protest from matatu owners, Little and Swvl are using 23- and 26-seater buses in their public pilots respectively and hope to fully launch by late January or early February.
“There’s a lot of chaos in this space,” says Little’s head Kamal Budhabhatti. But in looking for ways to sign more riders “we thought there’s an opportunity for us to get into the bus space and gain some experience.”Last month, Uber launched its first bus service globally in Egypt. (The tech giant previously expressed interest in the Kenyan market but now says it isn’t “launching in Kenya, or across Sub-Saharan Africa at this time.”) Its Dubai-based competitor Careem also launched a bus service in Egypt, while Kenya’s Safiri Express is currently piloting a bus shuttle that mostly avoids the central business district. Both Tanzania and Rwanda have also experimented with smart transportation options to ensure convenience and end long passenger queues at bus stops.
Matatu owners are also all part of what’s known as savings and credit cooperative organizations or SACCOs who lobby hard against government directives and have opposed previous efforts at reforming public transportation. With time, shuttle services could also face the same problems that have dogged ride-hailing services including tussle over poor pay and rising fuel prices. But while the introduction of e-hailing options into their buses could threaten their business models, it could also mean more income for the owners in the long run.
Meanwhile, Osman Mohamed Osman met the female founder of a new ride-hailing app in Nairobi which has been built for only women drivers serving only female passengers.Mehnaz Sarwar, 33, to launch An-Nisa Taxi, an e-taxi app launched last September exclusively for women and children passengers in Nairobi. Sarwar, a Muslim woman who wears a full length niqab when in public, had previously run a family restaurant business.
Her concerns about riding with a male driver pushed her to look into developing a female-focused app. With $10,000 from her previous business and other funds from family she started work on what became An-Nisa, which means “women” in Arabic.“My experiences motivated me to start this app. I always feared, as a Muslim woman, and I wanted to be driven by a fellow woman which was rare to find,” says Sarwar, founder of An-Nisa, which launched in September 2018. Many women, Sarwar says, feel much safer and comfortable when driven by a fellow lady.
Startups are yet to unlock the funding pool closest to home in Africa’s biggest economy.
The steady growth of Nigeria’s tech ecosystem over the past decade has not proven enough to loosen the purse strings of some of Africa’s richest people who still rarely invest in or champion startups.
In fact, the steady growth of the local tech ecosystem—drawing millions of investment dollars and winning validation from global tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg—has not proven enough to loosen the purse strings of local HNIs on a scale similar to their contemporaries in more developed ecosystems.
As Yomi Kazeem finds, that reticence is rooted in a lack of understanding of startup investment as an asset class,says Tayo Oviosu, founder of Paga. That attitude, Oviosu says, “contrasts heavily” with wealthy persons in more advanced economies who are active in startup investment.
As Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria is home to some of the continent’s richest people including industrialist Aliko Dangote and oil tycoons like Folorunsho Alakija and Femi Otedola. There are also hundreds of low-profile millionaires who are largely used to investing and dealing in traditional asset classes like the oil industry, real estate and commodities. While some might be privately backing startups or Africa-focused venture funds, Nigeria’s super-wealthy are rarely public or vocal with their support for local startups. Victor Asemota, Africa partner at Alta Global Ventures, a US-based VC firm, also suggests these HNIs are more comfortable investing in foreign private equity funds “because the risks of devaluation and loss of investment due to unfavorable policy are lower.”Tomi Davies, co-founder of Lagos Angel Network (LAN), a group of active local angel investors and a tech industry veteran, says changing that reality is his life’s work. Part of Davies’ focus includes leading masterclasses sharing his knowledge with prospective angel investors and also working with founders to fine-tune their pitches through initiatives and resources.
The daunting odds of becoming Nigeria’s president as a “third party” candidate.
As many as 73 aspirants will be contesting for Nigeria’s presidency on Feb. 16. But the dominance of the two major political parties means anti-establishment candidates hoping to pull off an upset at the polls will face an uphill battle.
Across the field, candidates are hoping to take advantage of citizens’ growing frustration with underwhelming leadership from the two major parties. After ruling for 16 years, PDP was voted out in a historic election four years ago, a testament to a more expressive and determined electorate. And given APC’s unconvincing tenure, the growing sentiment is there’s a chance for another major shift in Nigerian politics.
Despite attempts to play up the supposed lack of a defining ideology between PDP and APC—evidenced by the regular decamping by their members, no independent candidate is considered strong enough to pull off an upset next month. One statistic highlights just how difficult the task is: during Nigeria’s presidential election in 2015, there were more cancelled votes than the total votes cast for all the alternative parties.
Cameroon’s plan for a Francophone-led tech hub isn’t being welcomed in its Anglophone region.
“Cameroon Silicon River,” a government-backed plan for a technology hub in Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé, is the latest twist in tensions between the country’s Francophone and Anglophone regions. With a thriving tech ecosystem already existing in Anglophone southwest, Amindeh Blaise Atabong reports the new hub is viewed as the latest in moves to marginalize the minority English-speaking regions.
Modern Cameroon was formed from part of a former British colony and a much larger French colony, which makes up about 80% of the country’s population. But over the last year, those initially peaceful protests by Anglophone professionals, including lawyers and teachers, have turned into violent clashes with government security forces.
There has also been an information battle conducted mainly online. The government has taken to shutting down the internet for monthsin the English-speaking regions, ostensibly to prevent anti-government activists organizing.
Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations is a vital step for a people reclaiming their history.
The past couple of years have seen a growing chorus of calls for the great museums of Europe to return art taken from Africa before and during colonial times. Typically those calls have been met with concerns African countries do not have the facilities needed to maintain the valuable artifacts. Ciku Kimeria visited Senegal’s newly opened Museum of Black Civilizations, which hopes to allay any such worries.
CHART OF THE WEEK
Chad Republic has blocked social media for over 300 days and counting.
Across Africa, social media cut-offs have become increasingly frequent with countries including Sudan government is looking to the internet as one way to quell swelling protests all over the country.
For over a week now, protesters in major cities have demonstrated against rising bread prices besides soaring inflation and shortages in fuel. To remedy the dire economic and political situation, marchers have called on president Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled over the nation for almost three decades, to resign.
At least 19 people have so far been killed and 200 others injured in the clashes, according to officials, while Amnesty International put the number of dead demonstrators at 37
and Zimbabwe blocking WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter in January alone. But none has done so as long as the landlocked nation of Chad, which already has high internet prices and low penetration.
More than 600 people were arrested this week as police armed with AK-47 rifles rounded up protestors, according to the Associated Press. At least six people were killed when the military was deployed to quell protests against high fuel prices on Monday. Amnesty International reported eight deaths, while the Association of Doctors for Human Rights reported treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and more than 100 other cases of assaults. A tense calm returned on Thursday.
Zimbabweans were protesting a fuel hike that would see the price of petrol and diesel rise by 150%in a country that already had fuel shortages. Amid the violent crackdown on protestors, Zimbabweans were also cut off from the internet and social media in a blackout meant to stop demonstrators from organizing. It also means that the true extent of the crisis is difficult to ascertain as Zimbabwe remains cut off from the world. In 2017, WhatsApp alone accounted for nearly half of all internet traffic in Zimbabwe, and is instrumental in evading state control.
Shutting down Econet’s internet has more significant impact than the other two combined. Of Zimbabwe’s more than 14 million active subscribers, Econet controls 53.1% of the market, while NetOne and Telecel have 35.2% and 11.7% respectively, according to a 2017 report by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights took all three telcos to court on January 16, in an urgent application over access to the internet. The matter has yet to be heard, says lawyer Danford Halimani. “I would not want to pass judgment on what would be a tricky situation,” said Halimani about the companies’ compliance with the blackout. “It’s a very difficult situation dealing with a government like ours that is not really democratic.”
Without irony, Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa, currently on a state visit to Moscow, used Facebook and Twitter to call for calm over the protests.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED
The two faces of Kenyan citizenship.
Ever since independence, Somalis in Kenya have been treated as outsiders, denied documents, with successive regimes committing massacres against them. Reflecting on the hardships of acquiring a Kenyan identity card, Mariam Bishar writes in Popula about what it means to be a Kenyan of Somali origin.
After the oil boom: Luanda faces stark inequality.
Despite a shrinking economy and a currency shortage, Angola’s capital, Luanda, continues to expand, widening the gap between the rich and poor. As part of the Guardian’s Next 15 Megacities series, photographer Sean Smith captures the extremes of life in Luanda.
Investigating the “toxic” Swiss cigarettes sold in Africa.
Every year, Switzerland exports more tobacco than chocolate, with countries including Morocco and South Africa among the top export destinations. Marie Maurisse probes the content of those cigarettes and how those sold in Africa have much stronger, more addictive and more toxic substances than those sold in Switzerland or France.
Training African health workers.
Through partnerships with organizations in the UK and Ireland, the Africa Grants Program helps institutions strengthen their healthcare workforce. (Feb. 28)
Supporting computer professional development.
The Google-endorsed program provides schools, research institutions, and universities up to $20,000 to improve educators’ effectiveness in teaching computer science. (Mar. 9)