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Africa’s Top 10 Stories

September 2021


Zambians took to the polls in early August in a tightly contested race which ultimately saw former incumbent Edgar Lungu unseated by long-time rival Hakainde Hichilema. A pro-market reformer, Hichilema counts among his allies other liberals from the region including Zimbabwe’s Nelson Chamisa, and South Africa’s former opposition leader, Mmusi Maimane. Should his first term prove successful, it could pave the way for others seeking to guide their countries past the populist, anti-market legacies which have hindered development in more recent years. One of the key points that Hichilema is looking to tackle in the coming months is, moving ahead with structural reform programmes necessary to access debt relief from the International Monetary Fund. If this is achieved, the President’s next port of call will be recovering the trust of the copper mining sector, which the country depends on for a significant portion of government revenue, and which became increasingly beleaguered under the populist policies of former President Edgar Lungo.

Sources: Bloomberg, News24, Good Governance Africa, Institute for Security Studies; 2021

A Rooibos farm in the Clanwilliam region of South Africa. The indigenous crop has become an international staple in developed countries where it’s lauded for its health benefits. Image courtesy: Robert Bosch/Flickr/MediaClub

The month of August saw South African rooibos (Red bush) tea at last secure regional status under the European Union (EU) trade regime which will provide an immense boost for the crop. ‘Regional status’ refers to products that historically hail from that region and are given a monopoly to sell that product to the EU. Examples of this in practice include French champagne or Irish whisky, which can legally only be referred to as such if the product hails from those geographies. The status assists to safeguard cultural heritage from being undercut by international competition and can provide producers with a significant lead in their income-generation potential.  Similar benefits are expected for struggling South African rooibos farmers who produce the crop in drought-prone regions, including the Western and Northern Cape provinces. Over half of the produced crop is exported to developed markets like Japan and the Netherlands, where it is lauded for its apparent health benefits.

The Tanzanian government completed the purchase of 42 trains from Korean company Hyundai Rotem trains during August as part of an overall strategy to modernise its railway network. The development forms part of a broader modernisation strategy, which also includes the construction of a 550 km standard gauge railway (SGR). In 2017, the Tanzanian government noted plans to spend US$14.2 billion over a five-year period to build 2,561 km of the new railway. The country’s strategic location makes it an ideal avenue for East African Community markets to access international trade routes. Tanzania is also set to benefit from the exit terminus of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline from Uganda and already plays a vital role as the final exporter of rare earth elements and other minerals from the Great Lakes region. Like other African countries, however, its transport network is dependent on trucking which adds unnecessary time and cost and renders it internationally uncompetitive.

The East African manufacturing sector has received several capital injections in the agro-processing space over the course of August. Early in the month, it was announced that the Unga Group, a Kenyan-based holding company with investments in flour milling and manufacturing of human nutrition products and animal feeds, had signed an investment agreement with Nutreco International B.V, a Dutch animal nutrition, and aquafeed company. The latest partnership is one in a long series by the two firms as part of the Dutch government’s public-private investment partnership programme for the continent known as FoodTechAfrica (FTA). Meanwhile, Pura Organic Agro Tech, an agro-processing company focused on the cassava value chain in Uganda, has received over US$2 million from Pearl Capitals, an investment firm specialising in East African agricultural SMEs, aimed at supporting cassava processing in Uganda. The continued investments carrying on after the post covid downturn highlight the region’s economic robustness and long-term potential in agriculture and adjacent industries.

Cassava harvesting and processing in Tanzania. Investing into industrialised processing of this vital East African staple food will have a transformative effect on the region’s agriculture. Image courtesy: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture/Flickr

August was a busy month for several new digital payments and insurtech start-ups looking to make growth headway in both funding and service offerings. Pesapal, a payment gateway enabling customers to use credit cards, banks, and mobile networks to settle bills from one portal to another, has received the regulatory nod to begin operating in both Tanzania and Kenya: the incumbent innovation hubs in the African mobile money space. On the insurtech front, MTN’s Ivorian subsidiary has partnered with local microinsurance fintech aYo to offer local customers digitally based insurance. In parallel South Africa insurtech start-up, Naked has raised over US$11 million through a Series A funding round led by Naspers in boosting growth potential. The African continent has long been one of the last frontiers where insurance services have yet to penetrate, but the popularity of mobile devices now allows companies the ability to overcome spatial boundaries that have existed in previous years.

Sources: Deloitte, McKinsey, AXA, Allianz, Santam, Old Mutual; 2020-2021

Opay, an Africa-focused payments app, has announced this month that it secured a US$2 billion valuation during its stage 2 investment round hosted by Softbank – the most recent round has led the start-up to gain an additional US$400 million in funding. Opay aims to be a universal payments solution in the African market, allowing customers to handle payments and arrange grocery deliveries and transport among other niche products and services. Notable investors in the initiative include Softbank Ventures Asia and a variety of other Chinese VC funds, highlighting the growing international interest in the African mobile payments market. The start-up has grown at an exponential rate in Nigeria and a highly competitive market in the African fintech space. During 2020, Africa had more than 160 million active mobile money users generating some US$495 billion in transaction value, however many of its citizens remain unbanked given technological and internet access constraints.

August was an important month for the integration of Regional Power Pools (RPP) in Africa. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has made provision for grants totalling some US$2.5 million to two of the continent’s biggest blocs; the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), to facilitate the harmonisation of electricity trade regulation. This would allow for the two blocks to begin trading electricity with one another, helping speed up development and electrification across both and even adjacent markets. The grants will help establish collective electricity regulation principles, streamline tariffs and develop a centralised database and management system for energy utilities in both blocks. The new regulations would also assist in helping drive the development of the African energy sector, which suffers from a chronic shortage of transmission infrastructure despite having some of the largest renewable potentials on earth.

Sources: ESI Africa, International Energy Agency; 2020-2021

Checkers, one of South Africa’s biggest retail chains, has begun to experiment with cashier-less tellers in one of its premises in the country. The trial project is still fairly limited in scope, operating within the company’s offices in Cape Town and offers around 40 products for the moment. The pilot store provides items such as snacks and sandwiches and will initially only be available to employees but has significant potential for scalability in the company’s home market given increasing digitalisation. The development occurred under the auspices of Shoprite X, the digital business unit of Checkers Holdings company which is driving the company’s digital innovation efforts. If successful, Checkers could see this setup expand across the country and potentially beyond and provide new gains in efficiency. It will need to manage employment concerns, however, particularly in some of the region’s less digitalised economies.

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