Pulse #34 - In Transition: $12bn for vaccines, #BLM for Nobel Peace Prize, Wakanda TV series, reversing Trump’s insulting Africa policies
In this week's Pulse...
From vaccine shortages to $12bn World Bank support, Black Panther to Wakanda TV series, exporting hides to making own leather brands, Trump ‘insulting’ Africa policies to Africa “on the front burner”, counterfeit to genuine products, general facial recognition tech to custom-built for Africa, and more
The Data Room
Covid-19 vaccine hoarding keeping Africa behind in the inoculation race. While Western countries aggressively stockpile Covid-19 vaccines, African countries remain far behind. Compared to Western countries that have purchased doses sufficient to vaccinate their populations more than once, African countries only have enough to inoculate 33% of their residents. Of 68 countries that were already inoculating their populations by February 3, only four African nations featured - Seychelles, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.
Numbers in the Spotlight
(USD12bn) provided by the World Bank for vaccinations in Africa
(USD1.3bn) made by the Black Panther superhero movie, with a new TV series coming to Disney+
(GBP30mn) is the gap between how much West African political elites spend on their children's education in UK, and what they can legitimately afford
of Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful, contributing to the movement’s nomination for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize
in electricity output can be achieved by covering just 1% of Africa’s hydropower reservoirs with floating solar panels
is how long it took Dutch court to order Shell to pay Nigerian farmers over oil spills
is how much longer it takes pregnant women to reach a Lagos hospital than online maps suggest, due to traffic
On The Continent This Week
Access to financial services and products
With $12bn, the World Bank covers Africa’s vaccine bill. For months, leaders of poorer African countries have looked on as wealthier nations, especially in the global north, hoarded Covid-19 vaccines in a manner the UN termed “morally unconscionable”. Fortunately for the 1.3bn people in Africa, the World Bank has availed $12bn for vaccinations, largely on grant or highly concessional terms. That amount is more than the estimated $7-10bn needed to secure the 1.5bn vaccine doses required to reach 60% of Africa’s population. Africa will, however, need more than money. While the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine must be cooled at minus 70 degrees Celsius, many African countries have insufficient cooling systems. Some will also need to be convinced they’re not being used as guinea pigs, after a French TV host insinuated that the Continent was ideal for trials.
Effective internal and regional security, and foreign policy
Reversing Trump’s ‘insulting’ Africa policy. ‘Insulting’, ‘malign neglect’, ‘pawn in a great power game’ - these are some of the phrases used by analysts to describe Donald Trump’s approach to Africa. Now Gregory Meeks, the first Black legislator to chair the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, has vowed to put sub-Saharan Africa “on the front burner” of US foreign policy. Having met fewer African leaders than his predecessors, made racist remarks, cut crucial health aid, and restricted immigration from African countries, Trump strained US-Africa relations. While President Joe Biden has reversed some of Trump’s encumbrances on Africa, it remains unclear if he will prioritise Africa amid other challenges such as Covid-19, domestic divisions, climate change, relations with NATO allies, Iran, etc.
Proportional representation in politics, business and community leadership
Black Lives Matter movement nominated for Nobel peace prize. In appreciation of their efforts in fighting racism and police brutality against Black people, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The movement was co-founded by three black American women in 2013, but it earned wider recognition after the global protests against the killing of George Floyd. While BLM has received some criticism from right-wing voices over violence, more than 93% of their demonstrations were peaceful. A few days ago, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation was awarded Sweden's Olof Palme human rights prize for 2020, which came with a $100,000 prize. These recognitions of efforts against racial injustice come at a time when an internal audit revealed deep-rooted racial bias against blacks within the UN.
Exporting culture & identity
Inspiring black children: Wakanda TV series can pick up where Black Panther left off. The Black Panther film is celebrated for its role in assisting in a resurgence of African and black pride, by giving black children superheroes they could identify with. With continuous representation important for the development of children, they can now expect to see more superheroes that share their identity for the next few years, after Black Panther director Ryan Coogler struck a deal with Walt Disney to develop a streaming television series set in the movie’s fictional futuristic kingdom of Wakanda. The film gives Disney a chance for redemption after previously being criticised for lightening the skin of their first black princess, Tiana, for the movie Wreck-It Ralph 2. Black Panther made $1bn within four weeks, making it one of the highest grossing films of all time.
Can Africa eradicate counterfeit products? Looking at the crowds donning designer brands on many African streets in awe, a first-time visitor could be forgiven for thinking that everyone on the Continent has plenty of money to spend on luxury. They would probably be disappointed to quickly realise that it’s largely fake. This may be coming to an end following plans to rid the Continent of counterfeit products. The world’s largest free-trade area, AfCFTA, has struck a deal with Swiss tech company OriginAll S.A that will see the latter develop digital platforms for businesses, governments and consumers to identify and verify the authenticity and conformity of any product sold within the AfCFTA. If successful, it would stop the unfashionable haemorrhaging of tax revenue. For instance, the East African Community loses over $500mn in unpaid annual taxes to counterfeiting. But the initiative needs to have realistic targets as governments lack capabilities to achieve total compliance.
Baseline healthcare & disease protection
Traffic in African cities creating “life or death” situations for patients trying to reach hospital. Distance and time miscalculations by mapping apps reflect the “life and death implications” of traffic for people trying to reach hospitals in big African cities, according to a new report. For example, the study conducted by researchers from top London universities found out that pregnant women trying to reach a Lagos hospital “faced a journey of up to four times longer than computers and satellites suggest.” While the WHO recommends that people live within two hours to the nearest hospital, in Africa a mere 29% of the population and 28% of women of childbearing age live within that threshold. Of 48 countries studied in sub-Saharan Africa, only 16 achieved 80% coverage in access to a hospital within two hours - Africa urgently needs to decongest roads and build more hospitals.
End-to-end value chain capture
African fashion designers tapping into rising consumer consciousness to build own leather brands. As a growing number of environmentally-conscious consumers are turning away from leather, African companies are beginning to produce their own ‘Made in Africa’ brand leather products for this budding market niche. Through under-farming, African companies are alleviating the problems of animal cruelty, waste water and use of harsh chemicals in the tanning process. But designers could do with more marketing to change the perception of African leather and promote it to a broader market. Governments also need to protect the nascent industry from dumping. In 2012, Africa received a paltry $4bn out of $120bn global earnings in the leather sector, despite commanding 14% global raw hides and skins market, according to UNCTAD.
Home-grown digital infrastructure & platforms
Facial recognition tech by Africans for Africans. Are you black? If so, you’re more likely to be misidentified by the dominant facial-recognition products currently on the market than a white person. A false match of your face could mean you are more susceptible to fraud, a missed flight, lengthy police interrogation and false arrest. Charlette N’Guessan Desiree, an Ivorian software engineer and entrepreneur, has risen to this race-related challenge by developing facial recognition technology more adept at identifying and verifying African faces. The technology could help online businesses verify customers remotely and prevent cyber theft. But Desiree, the first female recipient of Royal Academy of Engineering's Africa Prize for innovation, ought to ensure that her technology doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, lest it facilitate privacy violations, discrimination or persistent surveillance on a large scale.
Essential infrastructure, personal living-space & utilities
Justice for Nigerian farmers, but did the Dutch court Shell ruling come too late? A 13-year wait for justice in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region has come to an end after a Dutch court ordered Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary to pay farmers compensation over oil spills. In 2008, four Nigerian farmers dragged Shell to a Dutch Court seeking compensation, and a clean-up of pollution caused. The compensation to the affected villages is yet to be decided. Farmers and analysts say the ruling sets a precedent that could incentivise victims of oils spills in poor countries to seek justice. But for the affected villages in the Niger Delta, the ruling could have come a little too late and offered too little help as ecosystems have been destroyed, livelihoods shattered, residents displaced, tourism ruined and quality of life lowered. About 40mn litres of oil reportedly spilled across the region every year.
Scaleable energy access
Diversifying Africa’s energy sources. By blanketing just 1% of the surface area on 146 of its largest hydropower reservoirs with floating solar panels, Africa could double installed capacity and ramp up electricity output by 58%, according to a new study. The report noted that whilst Africa is characterised by a high solar potential, frequent droughts severely impact hydropower generation. The generation of solar energy through what is technically regarded as floating photovoltaics (FPV) would make up for hydropower production dips in dry periods and reduce evaporation losses. Thus, annually, these reservoirs could crucially save 743mn cubic meters of water and increase hydroelectricity generation by 170.64 GWh. But this is a nascent energy tech that still presents several technical and environmental challenges. Despite its rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, Africa has the lowest electricity access rate in the world (54%).
High value skills development and talent repatriation
Is the UK education sector facilitating corruption by recruiting children of West African elites? Many West African political elites are educating their children in UK universities and boarding schools using unexplained wealth, warns a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The report, which largely flagged Nigeria and Ghana, estimated the overall value of this flow of finances at over £30mn annually. For instance, most past and serving senior Nigerian politicians that have held office since 1999 were found to have sent one or more of their children to study in the UK - with many of them expected to have used unexplained wealth. While the report highlights West Africa, the situation is likely to be the same across Africa. Failing to tackle this illicit financial flow could exacerbate existing corruption challenges, especially the development-financing gap. The Continent loses $88.6bn per year, equivalent to 3.7% of Africa’s GDP, in illicit capital flight.
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