Movemeback Pulse

Actionable African insight delivered to you on pulse


Pulse #25 - Patience is a virtue: Could Biden revive hopes of Africa’s first WTO head, Sudan steps towards peace, Ethiopia urged to avoid civil war

The Data Room

With digital literacy widely considered as the fourth pillar of education (alongside reading, writing and maths), experts fear that many Africans are not learning the skills they need for 21st-century jobs. Across sub-Saharan African countries, there are significant differences in the prevalence of different types of digital skills. Additionally, countries with the most diversified digital skill sets also have higher overall digital skills penetration. As African countries consider their approach to digital skills development, they might consider focusing on the specific skills deficit experienced at home.

Numbers in the Spotlight
($1.5bn) is the size of Afreximbank’s collaborative Covid-19 Pandemic Response Facility

($67mn) is the cost of Malawi’s new solar plant, supported by a ‘Regional Liquidity Support Facility’

($40mn) is how much the UK’s development finance institution, CDC, has newly invested in Africa’s biggest provider of data centre services, Liquid Telecom

1,870,348 cases
of COVID-19 confirmed in Africa (as of last week)

40 front-line workers
in Kenya have joined the clinical trial of Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate

10 border entry points
will be opened between Sudan and South Sudan, as part of their peace and military cooperation agreement
Effective internal and regional security, and foreign policy

Ethiopia’s PM Abiy, says its air force bombed arms depots around the Tigray region, accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking federal troops based there. Tensions have been mounting since Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region held regional elections in September, defying the federal government and warning that any intervention would be a “declaration of war”. Having won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending Ethiopia’s 20-year border conflict with Eritrea, following conflict that cost almost 100,000 lives, there are growing fears that Abiy is starting a civil war in Africa’s second-most populous country, that will also destabilise neighbouring countries.

Intra-continental connectivity, collaboration & trade

Sudan and South Sudan have signed a joint military cooperation agreement, aimed at providing armed training, peace and development. Joined together until South Sudan’s independence in 2011 following decades of civil war, much of the 2,000km border between the countries has been closed. The deal will see 10 entry points open along the border, and the launch of a free trade zone in Sudan. It raises hopes for South Sudan’s oil sector, as the landlocked country’s oil exports rely almost exclusively on a pipeline running through Sudan. With Africa’s 3rd largest oil reserve, much of South Sudan’s oil infrastructure was damaged during the conflict, leading to oil production standing at half its pre-war level of up to 400,000 bpd

Access to financial services and products

Afreximbank is launching a $1.5bn collaborative Covid-19 Pandemic Response Facility (COPREFA), with funds accessible to eligible central banks, commercial banks and businesses. It aims at supporting African countries to overcome the economic challenges of Covid-19, including commodity price shocks, drops in tourism and export manufacturing, and supply chain disruptions. Whilst a sizable fund, it is still a drop in the ocean given Africa’s estimated $115bn loss of output this year. A coordinated African effort to propose a restructuring of global finance to allow it to access more international financing at sustainable risk premiums is needed. 

Proportional representation in politics, business and community leadership

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as first African director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could be back on the cards following the confirmation of Joe Biden as the next president of the USA. The Trump Administration blocked her appointment, backing South Korea's Trade Minister Ms. Yoo Myung-hee, saying the WTO “must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field”. Although the body usually chooses its new leader by consensus, America has just one vote, meaning that they should not (in theory) be able to wield disproportionate influence. If her appointment can be blocked by one country, will the interests of African nations really be better represented by her appointment (as is hoped by many)? 

Baseline healthcare & disease protection

Kenya has joined Britain, South Africa and Brazil in the global clinical trial of Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate (in partnership with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca) - 40 mostly front-line health workers have volunteered to participate. Meanwhile, Africa’s largest drug company, South African firm Aspen, has signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine once clinical trials are completed. However, with genetic diversity in Africa greater than in any other region in the world, plus billions of vaccines already reserved by high- and middle- income countries, increased trial participation by Africans and new approaches to financing vaccine procurement may be needed.

Scaleable energy access

Johannesburg and Cape Town plan to diversify away from the electricity produced mainly from coal by state-owned Eskom Holdings, to more sustainable sources such as solar and power generated from landfill gas. It comes as the energy ministry approved letting the cities reduce dependency on Eskom, that has subjected them to outages for the past 13 years, at a cost of up to 120bn rand ($8bn) to South Africa’s economy in 2019 alone. The move will hopefully not only reduce South Africa’s green-house emissions (Eskom accounts for ~40% of South Africa’s total), but also support the country in taking control of its economy.

Home-grown digital infrastructure & platforms

Africa’s biggest provider of data centre services, Liquid Telecom (owned by South African Econet), has received a $40mn investment from the UK’s development finance institution, CDC. With increased adoption of cloud services (as opposed to inhouse servers) by companies, and rising internet penetration, localised data storage is increasingly important for data sovereignty, value capture (keeping web hosting revenue in Africa), and connection speeds. However Africa accounts for less than 1% of global data centre capacity (as of March 2020). The deal marks a continuation of the trend of both international and African cloud companies rushing to develop data centres in Africa in recent years.

High value skills development and talent repatriation

Nigeria’s CcHub (a co-working space for technology innovation) has acquired Kenyan edtech startup, eLimu for an undisclosed amount. eLimu currently benefits over 500,000 learners each year through literacy products for primary school children at home and school. The acquisition will enable product expansion into science education at secondary level across East Africa and Nigeria. With digital literacy considered as the fourth pillar of education (alongside reading, writing and maths), addressing issues of connectivity and device costs will be key to ensuring mass benefits of such progress.

End-to-end value chain capture

African agribusiness is suffering from reduced demand for produce. In Uganda, sugar stockpiles have grown to $45m due to the closure of export markets such as Kenya and Tanzania and a decline in local consumption. Meanwhile Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, is struggling to sell its produce as multinational chocolate makers have large stocks due to drop in demand. Export contracts since October are ~30% of what they were for the same period in previous seasons. With half of Ivory Coast’s population depending on agriculture for their livelihood, but the sector only contributing to 1.2% of GDP growth, this is a reminder of the need for economic diversity towards higher value-added activities.

Essential infrastructure, personal living-space & utilities

Malawi’s power sector will experience a face lift, via a new $67mn solar plant, supported by a ‘Regional Liquidity Support Facility’ (RLSF). The facility is designed to support renewable energy projects in member countries, by guaranteeing Independent Power Producers against the risk of late payment by publicly-owned power utilities. With electricity access at just 11%, Malawi, a landlocked country, currently relies on hydropower for ~90% of its power, making it vulnerable to power cuts in times of drought. The project is Malawi’s first competitive tender in the power sector, and may serve as a case study for a new model of private investment into Africa’s solar market.

Exporting culture & identity

Comic Relief, the UK based charity tackling global poverty, will stop using images of starving children and sending celebrities to Africa after criticism about "white saviours". With its biennial ‘Red Nose Day’ telethon event, Comic Relief has raised over $1.4bn since its inception. Whilst their fundraising efforts are applauded, many criticise the sending of stars, which are mostly white, to Africa as perpetuating a distorted, colonial image of The Continent. Some stars have hit back at the criticism saying they are raising awareness - but a better balance can be struck, that goes beyond the African victim narrative.
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