Movemeback Pulse

Actionable African insight delivered to you on pulse

Pulse #63 - Pioneering: Central bank crypto systems, Francophone Africa’s first unicorn, Zanzibar's new tourist tower, African data centre expansion

In this week’s Pulse:
Cheaper cross-border transactions through central bank cryptos, Francophone fintech unicorn Wave gets Africa’s largest-ever Series A investment, Zanzibar’s 70-floor skyscraper to boost tourism, Africa's largest data centre expansion plan, battery-powered incubator could cut neonatal deaths, Zimbabwe gold exchange can curb smuggling, Africa’s first digital high voltage substation, Uganda threatens to withdraw Somalia peacekeepers, and the fallout from Guinea’s coup
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The Data Room

Foreign direct investment (FDI) to Africa declined by 16% in 2020 to $40bn, from $47bn in 2019 due to Covid-19. Greenfield project announcements dropped 62%, international project finance (relevant for infrastructure) plummeted 74%, and FDI outflows fell by 67%. Regionally, Southern Africa experienced the steepest decline in FDI outflows as South African multinationals repatriated capital. Some countries bucked this trend. Togo registered the highest outflows at $931mn by investing in other African countries and launching cross-border operations. Ghana ($542mn) and Morocco ($492mn) also accounted for significant outflows with the latter’s investments equally stretching to France. With the Continent’s projected GDP growth in 2021 (3.8%) lower than the global average (5.8%), and a slow vaccination roll-out, investment recovery is likely to lag the rest of the world.

Numbers in the Spotlight

 (USD1.7bn) valuation for fintech company Wave - Francophone Africa’s first unicorn

 (USD1.5bn) worth of gold smuggled out of Zimbabwe every year

 (USD1.3bn) is the cost of building SSA’s tallest skyscraper in Zanzibar

 (USD1bn) is the value of NBA Africa

 (USD500mn) to be spent on 10 new hyperscale data centres in 10 countries by Africa Data Centres

50,000,000 monthly users
 (50mn) reached by Kenya’s MPesa mobile money service

6,000 troops
are being threatened for withdrawal by Uganda from the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia

On The Continent This Week

Home-grown digital infrastructure & platforms

Wave becomes Francophone Africa’s first unicorn. Senegal-based fintech company Wave has raised $200mn in the largest-ever Series A investment on the Continent, lifting the startup’s valuation to $1.7bn. Wave brings competition to a mobile money ecosystem that has been dominated by telecom operators and banks. While many telecom operators charge for deposits, withdrawals, transfers and payment of utility bills, Wave users can make free deposits and withdrawals and are subjected to a 1% fee for sending money. This makes the Wave 70% cheaper than telecom-led mobile money, according to the company. With more than half the population in SSA expected to subscribe to mobile services by 2025 (~634mn), increased competition could help facilitate rapid growth in financial inclusion.

Access to financial services and products

South Africa pioneers central bank digital currencies. South Africa has partnered with Australia, Singapore and Malaysia to trial a cross-border payments platform that uses different central bank digital currencies (CBDC), in a bid to establish a more efficient international settlement system. If adopted, CBDCs (digital forms of existing currencies) would allow financial institutions to transact directly with one another – helping to eradicate the need for intermediaries and slash the time and cost of transactions. African merchants face costs as high as 20% of transaction value to send and receive money, and payment processing can take up to a week. Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Mauritius, ESwatini, Rwanda, Egypt and Madagascar are also exploring the use of CBDCs.

Effective internal and regional security, and foreign policy

AU suspends Guinea after coup. The African Union has suspended Guinea in disapproval of last week’s coup, in which President Alpha Condé (Guinea’s first freely elected President) was ousted by Special Forces. Many Guineans including from the country’s opposition have welcomed the coup, but it has drawn international condemnation from the US, the UN, and African regional bodies. It’s the latest in a chain of events sparking fears of democratic reversal across the region, where military strongmen are increasingly re-asserting dominance. In the last year, there have been two military takeovers in Mali, one in Chad and a failed attempt in Niger. Guinea is endowed with natural resources - including bauxite used for making aluminium - but continued instability will ensure this doesn’t translate to widespread prosperity. 

End-to-end value chain capture

Agreement with UAE could see a gold market established in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Stock Exchange has struck a deal with the Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange - potentially paving the way for establishing a gold market in the Southern African country. Creating a local exchange would be a gamechanger for the domestic gold industry by helping to reduce smuggling, and enabling Zimbabwean miners sell directly to buyers on the metal market rather than through middlemen. Miners are pushed towards middlemen by a law that compels them to sell their gold to the Central Bank, which pays 30% of the price in local currency at a rate well below black-market rates. More than $1.5bn worth of gold is smuggled out of Zimbabwe every year, largely to Dubai. Formalising much of domestic gold sales could expand Zimbabwe’s tax base as the country emerges from a 2-year recession.

Essential infrastructure, personal living-space & utilities

$500mn for Africa's largest-ever data centre expansion. Africa Data Centres, the Continent’s largest network of interconnected data centre facilities, will spend $500mn to build 10 hyperscale data centres (HDCs) in 10 countries over the next two years. The additional HDCs will exponentially expand Africa’s ability to store and process its data locally rather than overseas, and enable the Continent to meet surging domestic demand for data centre services, particularly from financial services and medical organisations, the public sector, cloud and content providers, and e-commerce companies. While Africa currently accounts for less than 1% of total available global data centre space, capacity has doubled in the past three years. The African Data Centres Association (ADCA) estimates that the rest of the Continent will need 700 data centres to reach the current level of South Africa - denoting massive room for investment.

​​Baseline healthcare & disease protection

Power cut-resilient incubator could save millions of lives. Swiss architect Fabien Roy has designed a battery-powered incubator that functions through power cuts, targeted to health facilities in SSA.  Named Robust Nest, the machine can keep babies warm for up to four hours when unplugged from power - feeding hopes to save the lives of premature babies that die in incubators during regular power cuts across Africa. The equipment will undergo trials in Kenya in early November and is expected to be ready for wider adoption in 2022. Hypothermia - a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to cold - is a major contributor to the 1.1mn annual neonatal deaths in SSA. Such tech-based solutions can complement the skin-to-skin contact method for protecting babies against hypothermia.

Exporting culture and identity

Zanzibar to build SSA’s tallest tower. Tanzanian insurance company AICL Group has partnered with Scotland-based investment firm Crowland Management to build a 70-floor tower in Zanzibar – making it the tallest in SSA. To be built on an artificial island rising from the Indian Ocean, the $1.3bn project will comprise residences, a six-star hotel and resorts – becoming a tourist hotspot by offering entertainment, culture and conference services. The birthplace of Rock icon Freddie Mercury, Zanzibar is famous for fusing numerous cultures, spices, a World Heritage site and stunning scenery. It is increasingly betting on large infrastructure projects to claw more from the $1.1trn global tourism market (as of 2020). Notable is the on-going 3,756-acre Blue Amber Resort project that will host East Africa’s first Signature golf course and deep water marina, and five international hotels. Tourism accounts for 30% of the island’s GDP and ~65,000 jobs (2021, World Bank). 

High value skills development and talent repatriation 

Inaugural FIBA Africa Youth Camp starts. The first training camp organised by the International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) for players in Africa aged under 18 years, runs from September 6 to 19 in Kenya, Senegal and Ivory Coast. The elite camp, which has drawn dozens of players and coaches from 26 African countries, is being facilitated by experts from FIBA and the NBA. It aims to combine basketball training with life skills by emphasising character and leadership development, and health and wellness education. Such programmes can provide a structured route for transitioning to professional basketball, whilst slowing the exodus of talent overseas due to lack of training, facilities and mentorship. Basketball on the Continent has immense potential for growth with the recently formed NBA Africa already valued at $1bn.

Scaleable energy

Africa gets first digital high voltage substation. General Electric has commissioned the first-ever fully-digital high voltage power substation in Africa near Senegal’s capital Dakar. By enabling remote operation, maintenance and upgrades, the substation ushers in efficiency and reliability in electricity transmission in the West African country’s grid. Additionally, by replacing copper cables with fibre-optic cables (which do not conduct electricity), digital substations are safer for workers. This is an example of tech-based solutions to challenges of electricity distribution in Africa, which still largely relies on dated and manual transmission infrastructure. The Continent’s obsolete infrastructure partly contributes to electricity outages that annually cost Nigeria and South Africa $29bn and $8.3bn respectively.

Intra-continental connectivity, collaboration & trade

Uganda threatens to pull troops out of Somalia. Uganda’s President Museveni has threatened to withdraw the country’s troops from the AU’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia, following incessant squabbles between political actors. He argues that endless disputes between Somali leaders are hampering efforts to reach a political solution to the 30-year conflict. Recent days have seen an escalation of a row between Somalia’s President and Prime Minister. Uganda withdrawing its 6,000 troops from the 22,000-strong AU force could leave the country vulnerable to attacks from Al Shabaab militants, whom security experts warn may try to emulate the Taliban in Somalia. Somalia's leaders may have to put aside their differences and focus on strengthening the state to fend off threats to peace-keeping efforts.

Upgrade Your Life


Our selection of online content, courses, tools and offers to help you build your personal repertoire.

  1. Guinea coup leader: Who is Col Mamady Doumbouya?
  2. 6 of Zanzibar's best islands: Luxury retreats and underwater adventures - CNN Travel list
  3. How to stop languishing and start finding flow - TEDTalk
  4. Introduction to the travel & tourism industry - Free online course
  5. Case of missing spy aggravates tensions among fractious Somali leadership 
  6. Should your company implement a vaccination mandate?
  7. World Suicide Prevention Day: Here's how to help in 2021 - CNN Health

History Class

What's next for Guinea after the coup?  (Al Jazeera’s) Inside Story
Zanzibar: Spices, slaves and the spirit of independence - (Al Jazeera’s) Street Food

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