Lamido Sanusi on China in Africa

Photo source: ThisDayLive.com

Africa must recognise that China – like the US, Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest – is in Africa not for African interests but its own. The romance must be replaced by hard-nosed economic thinking.

Engagement must be on terms that allow the Chinese to make money while developing the continent, such as incentives to set up manufacturing on African soil and policies to ensure employment of Africans.

Being my father’s son [Sanusi’s father was once Nigeria’s ambassador to China], I cannot recommend a divorce. However, a review of the exploitative elements in this marital contract is long overdue. Every romance begins with partners blind to each other’s flaws before the scales fall away and we see the partner, warts and all.

We may remain together – but at least there are no illusions.

Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, writing in the Financial Times Newspaper.

Advertisements

Beautiful Zambia

I came across this blog by a gentleman called Nathan Kanema. Thought I’d share some of his amazing photos.

It goes without saying . . . Zambia is beautiful. It’s a country greatly blessed with huge swathes of beautiful, unspoilt scenery. Makes me want to explore it even more! And as a Christian, seeing these images makes me even more in awe of God the Creator.

Glorious.

Thanks for sharing Nathan.

Grow now, clean up later?

uncatd
African countries must avoid a ‘grow now, clean up later’ approach to development. Check out this conversation between Janvier Nkurunziza, Economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development‘s Division on Africa,  and David Williams of ABN Digital as they discuss the importance of environmentally sustainable development.

Akaliza Gara: Thinking Outside The Box

Akaliza has proven herself to be an inspiring young woman and a leader of now. In 2010, she launched her multimedia business, Shaking Sun, which is based in Kigali  Rwanda. It offers a wide variety of services including website development, graphic design, video editing and animation.

A Multimedia Technology & Design graduate from the University of Kent in Canterbury England, she is one of countless other young Africans stepping out and taking the initiative to use their gifts and talents as entrepreneurs. With admirable creative flair, Akaliza personifies her company’s “Thinking Outside The Box” slogan. 

Here, we find out more about her, the journey so far and her hopes for the future.

The early years

Born in Uganda in 1986 to Rwandese parents, Akaliza had quite an unusual childhood in that her and her family moved to a new country regularly because of her father’s jobs. The varied cross-cultural experiences she has had as a result have undoubtedly come to shape her exceptionally creative and unconventional mind. She has lived in 9 countries spanning 5 continents.

From quite early on, Akaliza showed a passion for art and technology. She loved painting, sketching and computers even before she was taught about computers at school. She would play around on the one her parents owned trying out new and different things. She describes this fascination:

“Back when you started it up you got a black screen and you had to type in very specific commands to access any program. I loved it – I used to try out different commands to see what would happen.”

Opportunity knocks

Fast-forward some years and this fascination with the creative arts and technology led her to study Multimedia Technology and Design at university. But at what point did this love for art and technology transform into a desire to start her own business? She tells me,

“Like most graduates, I wanted to get hired into an established company. My dream was to get a position as a computer animator at Pixar. When I didn’t get a positive response from them, I decided that one day I would start my own successful animation company. I had done the research and saw that the equipment and software I would need was quite expensive, so I made it a long-term goal. During a holiday in Uganda, a few months after my graduation, I started to hear about all the opportunities in Rwanda and how there was a lot of support for youth, women and IT professionals.”

Shaking Sun was officially born after Akaliza had spent 3 years working in a multimedia consultancy role for various government institutions. The first of these short contracts was offered to her after a week-long trip to Kigali advertising her services to various businesses and organisations.

The demand for web and general technological work is testament to the growing desire of businesses and IT entrepreneurs across the continent, not just in Rwanda, to be efficiently connected with a global audience and to express their talents more widely. Akaliza says the market for IT products and services in Rwanda is very much young and hungry. Through the Private Sector Federation, she has been able to meet like-minded entrepreneurs. She has been able to share and listen to ideas which she has found inspiring and encouraging. Akaliza also praises the government’s commitment to encouraging upcoming entrepreneurs, particularly within her sector, as well as its zero-tolerance stance to corruption. 

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the country has been heralded as one of Africa’s gems, a trend-setter on the continent in the areas of economic management and support for entrepreneurs. According to Professor Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice President at the African Development Bank (AfDB),

“Rwanda is among the top performers growth-wise (expected to hit 7.7% this year) because it’s a well-run economy and with very focused macroeconomic policies. [It]  is doing all the right things that I think will sustain growth this year and going forward.”

Shaking Sun

Similar to many other entrepreneurs, Akaliza chose to save her own money to fund and establish her business for its first year. But what differentiates Shaking Sun in the market? Akaliza points to her unique approach to prices:

“Most of my competitors give quotes after meeting the client. I have a clear price list which I send to all my potential clients. I don’t want anyone to feel like they got a higher quote based on what I assume they can afford. Some people say that this means my competitors can undercut me. However, the majority of our clients choose us because we have been recommended to them by a previous client or because they have seen our work, not because of our prices.”

Through the contacts she has made over the last few years, she has grown her client base to include government institutions and a range of businesses, particularly start-ups.

But what about the challenges? Akaliza says one of her biggest challenges so far has been understanding the tax system. She says,

“Recently, I found out that I had miscalculated some of my taxes and paid more than was necessary this year. I will get refunded but that won’t be until 2013. However, I would advise anyone starting up a business to educate themselves about taxes. Mistakes like this can be very expensive!”

Social Impact

Akaliza values the opportunities she was given to work whilst at university. This can be seen by her desire to give other young people the chance to use and develop their skills and gain experience. When putting her team together, she organised a 2 week internship for 9 students of varying backgrounds. In the end, she employed the top 3 interns as Web Developers. Two of them have since graduated from university but one is still studying. The fifth member of her team was an accounting student when she was hired but has since graduated and now works as the Office Manager.

Speaking about the social impact of IT on the lives of ordinary Rwandese, Akaliza tells of her continual amazement at the big impact small businesses can have on communities:

“I met a university student who started a business recently with her fellow students – one of the first projects they worked on was an app to allow anyone with a mobile phone (not just smart phones) to make a booking at the local hospital. She hasn’t even finished school and already she’s doing something that could impact the entire city. Stories like that are not uncommon here. I can’t help but be excited about our nation and our continent’s future if it is producing entrepreneurs like this.”

The future

Akaliza is hopeful that Shaking Sun will go global one day. She also still holds to the dream of being part of an African animation industry, producing films and cartoons specifically targeting children across the continent.

Akaliza ends with some advice for budding entrepreneurs,

“Expect to mess things up – big time and on a regular basis – that is perfectly normal so don’t beat yourself up. See it as a learning opportunity. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Wow – I won’t do that again!” So don’t worry if you screw up – most of the time, we’ve all been there, and we survived.”

It’s been fantastic and inspiring to hear about Akaliza and her work. We wish her and the team at Shaking Sun the very best.

Thank you!

The fuller picture

Photo source: AfricaNews.com

In his 2001 speech to the Labour Party conference, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a concerted global effort to supporting Africa; a commitment that aimed to end poverty and political tyranny on the continent. He said,

“The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, but if the world focused on it, we could heal it.”

His was a bold and ambitious vision. If the world sought agreement on ending poverty in Africa, the world would be able to do it. He encouraged more aid to the continent as well as the cancellation of debts and untied trade and investment. From the Africans, he requested no more excuses for dictatorships, abuses of human rights and bad governance. True democracy was a key component to this healing process.

An all-too-familiar story

There was plenty of virtue and goodwill in Mr Blair’s words, no doubt. However, one cannot get away from the ‘lecturer speaking to his students’ kind of style adopted by the former Prime Minister. It is interesting to note that as Britain and other Western nations drafted lesson plans for Africa to follow, China on the other hand continued to grow its ties with the continent through a plethora of deft business deals and political gestures. From 2001 onwards, the Chinese presence in countries such as Sudan, Angola and Zambia would continue to flourish. The involvement of China in industries such as mining, infrastructure, energy, agriculture and manufacturing would grow exponentially.

Now, I don’t mean to attack Mr Blair’s words for the sake of it. There are countless examples of poverty-reducing, human development-enhancing initiatives that have gone to positively affect the lives of numerous people in different countries on the continent. I can think of work carried out by development agencies such as the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation, President George W. Bush’s Malaria Initiative and several more.

However, Mr Blair’s words are interesting because they add to a long tradition of presenting the African continent as the prime example of desperate poverty, darkness and despair in our world today. That, for a long time, has been the global Africa narrative: a continent full of potential and overflowing with valuable resources yet ravaged by self-inflicted civil wars and unable to fulfil its potential. As the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie put it,

“If I had not grown up in Nigeria and if all I knew about Africa was from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves.”

Issues relating to lack of food security and access to healthcare do plague many households on the continent yet that has never been the full story. On the macro level, these two issues affect the continent significantly more than any other region of the world. And that is the reality. Urban slum dwellers often have to cram themselves into overpopulated areas where the sanitation is poor and epidemics are not far off. My bone of contention is however with the fact that one facet of the broader African story has over the last few decades become the unquestioned global Africa narrative.

It’s a bone of contention for me because it demeans large sections of the continent’s population who are striving and thriving on their talent and initiative. It’s a bone of contention for me more significantly because it simply is a half truth and doesn’t present the full picture.

Telling the fuller story

This desire to present the fuller picture as well as a love for business, particularly social enterprise, forms the foundation of this project. During the next few months, I will be profiling five young people from different African countries. They will give the readers of this blog a glimpse into the ways they are seizing opportunities to do business in their respective countries, using their initiative, gifts and talents.

It’s important to remember that approximately a billion people live on the continent across 55 different countries – countries that are often very different culturally, ethnically, historically and economically – so we should be mindful of not speaking about the continent in generic terms as if it were one big country.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), six out of ten of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is exciting because economic growth can translate into poverty-reduction. But not automatically. And this is where electorates and their governments need to formulate clear, robust and achievable country-specific development solutions that will benefit the majority. Impressive economic growth rates of 6 or 7% of GDP per annum need to translate into a significant change in human development and poverty reduction. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Africa Human Development Report 2012,

“Sustaining high growth rates was important in Asia, but it was not enough. The character of growth, not just its rate, matters for lowering the poverty rate. In Sub-Saharan Africa, even for the same rate of growth, there is historical evidence that growth has not been converted into poverty reduction as effectively as in other developing regions.”

So the single Africa narrative that we’ve become accustomed to has got to be challenged. And even though positive steps are being made in certain areas, plenty more work needs to be done to ensure that the economic growth the continent is currently enjoying translates into poverty reduction and the enhancement of lives.

I hope you will enjoy reading about each of the five young people. I am. Keep your eyes peeled.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on doing business in Africa

“[Africa] is a continent of many countries, not one country. If we are down to three or four conflicts, it means that there are plenty of opportunities to invest in stable, growing, exciting economies where there’s plenty of opportunity.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian Finance Minister and former World Bank Vice President, speaks at this TED conference in 2007 on doing business in Africa.