Africa’s Mergers and Acquisitions gain momentum during COVID19

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On the 10th of July 2020, Helios Holdings Limited announced a merger with Fairfax Africa Holdings Corporation to form Helios Fairfax Partners Corporation – a pan Africa focused alternative investment manager. On the same day, Eversend, an African fintech startup also announced over a $1M raise through crowdfunding. Prior to that Helios announced a $100M investment from the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) into their fund IV. On the 1st of July 2020, our portfolio company, HoltelOnline announced the acquisition of two travel tech companies. On 30th June 2020, MSF Africa announced the acquisition of fellow fintech Beyonic based in Tanzania. On 23rd June, 2020 Acumen announced their exit from KopaGas of Tanzania as part of the $25M acquisition by Circle Gas. Then on 22nd January 2020, Paga announced the acquisition of Apposit an Ethiopian software company as the entry strategy into the market. These recent deals have created undeniable momentum in mergers and acquisitions in Africa – with majority in tech — setting an unexpected tone for more positive developments in the second half of 2020 during this COVID crisis.

Whilst Covid19 has brought unimaginable devastation to the world and stoked racial revolt in America, which is now spilling over to Europe, in Africa, our fast adaptation to the new normal spared us not only mass casualties and pain, but the lockdowns triggered an unintended consequence of speeding up the digital economy. This resulted in investments in the second quarter like our portfolio company Zulzi closing $2.5M and AMP Global Technologies closing a $2M prior to COVID19 setting the stage for our Africa original content format and series launching this quarter @ www.takebackthemic.com. Then on 24th June 2020, Ingressive Capital closed their maiden $10M seed fund to invest in tech companies across Africa. On the same day, the Africa Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (AVCA) published their VC in Africa report for 2014 to 2019 showing a total of 613 deals totaling $3.9B with 2019 recording $1.4B of those transactions. Majority of those deals happened in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt. South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana are four of the KINGS countries (excluding Ivory Coast) that I had postulated back in 2013 would be leading the digital economy in Africa. Ivory Coast was replaced on the list by Egypt partly because of the civil war of 2011 that ousted incumbent president Gbagbo and set back the country’s development tremendously.

A lot of these deals were surely in the pipeline before COVID-19 but the fact that they still materialized is a function of resilience and the positive unintended consequence of the lockdowns across the continent. This momentum we are seeing in tech M&A is the result of the Capital, Capacity and Community building that has gone into the sector over the years which was accelerated by the COVID-19 lockdowns making online the new normal across Africa.

Off course some deals did not materialize, and we have seen some funds shut down due to the harsh environment. We have also seen African innovators launch innovations that are tackling the virus head-on and some of them could be big winners in the not too distant future. Some of these entrepreneurs have had to adapt and pivot under unusual conditions to launch these new ventures and also keep their boats sailing. The ingenuity of African entrepreneurs and tech ventures were put to great test under COVID-19 and some like HotelOnline a travel tech venture, which was severely impacted, pivoted towards a new business model. By the end of March, revenues had gone down to 20% and Endre Opdal the CEO was under intense pressure. His first move was to trim down the operations and staff which the board approved. The second step was evaluating the existing business to find the right pivot.

As investors and board members we rolled our sleeves and engaged with him to review things systematically – it was in that process that he came up with a new business line. The new line was always there in our blind spot but when necessity kicked in, we were able to spot it. We did not need to do any heavy lifting except to implement it right away with some minor tweaks. The new business line fetched $20K revenue in April increasing to $30K in May to make the business profitable again. This spoke to the speed of execution of the management team from loss-making in March to profitability in May. A second business line is now being implemented and yet to show results but a parallel process to make acquisitions of companies that were struggling under the crisis also gained momentum in April. On July 1st Hotelonline announced the acquisition of AfricaBookings and Cloud9two travel tech companies that were going under.

Cloud9 has had an existing working relationship with HotelOnline through our senior management team and that working relationship has been in place. They grew very fast and in 2019 merged with Heartbeat Venture. Cloud9 is one of the portfolio companies of the Mesozi Group whose other company is Marketforce which raised $350K from Viktoria Business Angel Network in May 2020. Whiles their Marketforce venture is doing well under the crisis Cloud9 got severely hit so instead of shutting it down they agreed to an acquisition which now gives them shares in Hotelonline. Africabookings was started by Bruce Tappings and had Kanak Puri as one of their investors who was also an investor in HotelOnline. In May, Endre saw that they were shutting down due to the crisis so he reached out and by the end of June they consummated another share swap that allows HotelOnline to leverage their existing customer base across Africa.

Whiles a lot of the current transactions have been in the pipeline prior to Covid, the acceleration to digital models has increased investment activity to support organic growth as well as expansion through acquisition and consolidation opportunities. This should continue to grow in H2 as existing portfolios are stabilized in the new normal. Suggesting that the continent’s resilience to the virus has far reaching implication on the business front. As the continent begins to re-open in the second half of the year, we are most likely going to see more of such deals that would propel Africa’s 21st century agenda.

Africa’s COVID19 platform for the new normal

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President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel once said “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. It provides the opportunity to do things that were not possible to do before”. When the COVID-19 crisis hit the global north the fear was that it would be most devastating in Africa with Bill Gates predicting that ten million lives would be wiped out by the virus. But he was wrong because African leaders did what was not possible before – they locked down their countries and instituted adherence to the protocols of social distancing and washing of hands. These preventive measures and the sudden change of behavior slowed down the virus’s serious impact in Africa. According to Harvard Health preventing the spread of the virus is rooted in behavioral change. Starting up new behavior in the new normal was what the US and Europe could not do but Africa was able to – in record time and so was Asia. Latin America is facing the consequence of not starting up the new normal.

After a successful digital industry response to COVID-19 project in South Africa, Andile Ngcaba requested an online meeting with a group of African technology entrepreneurs and software engineers to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the African continent. During this online meeting we discussed ways in which we could leverage technology to solve the pandemic across the continent. Andile muted that he is building of an Ubuntu driven Cloud Native Platform that will be host to African Tech Volunteers. The platform will showcase COVID-19 innovations by African entrepreneurs. After this meeting Andile got a group of software engineers together and began building Combat COVID-19 Africa. The platform allows for Africans to combat the pandemic through sharing, collaboration and resource allocation. We continued to have these meetings discussing different functions the platform should have and how it can be adopted all over the continent. The Cloud Native platform uses Kurbenetes as an orchestrator and Tensorflow for the Machine Learning Framework.

The CombatCovid19 Africa (CCA) startup was born through an open participatory process and was later described by the ATU Secretary General Mr. John OMO as a “platform of platforms”. Andile charged the team “we would be flying this aircraft whiles building it” and they launched unto it – working twenty hours a day from March 15th and by the end of April they had a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for use. According to Andile “this is a cloud native platform built on Open Source principles and systems”. It is the birth of Africa’s indigenous knowledge and digital platform with cloud resources, virtual machines and deep learning frameworks. He has emphasized the need for a large open source community in Africa to help drive innovation around the continent. Today the platform is widely adopted with 44 countries and 263 cities on it so we would soon be showcasing Africa’s ingenuity and innovation – celebrating the entrepreneurs and engineers who made this possible in record time. It is an African platform built by African that has gone global virally with no markeing spend or advertising.

Some of the platforms running on the platform are; Covi-ID – a privacy-preserving, open-source platform that uses QR codes to share health credentials from South Africa. Existing track and trace solutions to fight COVID-19 depend critically on widespread adoption of smartphone usage, but 55% of users in Africa do not own a smartphone. Alternative methods to obtain geo-location data, including cell tower triangulation are imprecise and likely to be ineffective so QR codes are one way to go.
AfrikanCreate is a free online volunteer platform for African creatives to share ideas and collaborate on relief projects aimed at addressing COVID-19 challenges. These creative works by volunteers on the platform is used in campaigns to provide messages of hope to affected communities. Echoing messages of encouragement to the people that are working in the front lines of the pandemic. Of course, other people may not be as expressive but do want to share their creative perspective on what is happening around them, this is the platform for that, as long as it raises awareness or education about the pandemic to make the situation bearable.
OurEC is a food donation and volunteer platform for people living in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The platform connects individuals who wish to donate food, medication and clothing with underprivileged communities around the province. It does this through what it describes as District Committees (DCs), who are groups of volunteers that represent the different districts in the province. Angolan entrepreneurs led by Julio Chilela of Angola Cables have designed an artificial intelligence application that helps the government track potential COVID-19 cases. They were able to predict close to 85% of new cases in Angola.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) one of the solutions developed is www.stopcoronavirus.cd aimed at raising awareness about COVID-19 in the country. A second application developed by some of our platform volunteers from the DRC is a smartphone application called STOP Coronavirus that offers users tips on how to prevent the virus. In Botswana some of our volunteers were involved in helping build a COVID-19 dashboard for the government, they also built a digital platform for applying for movement permits in the country.

According to Andile, Africans are future proofing the continent from pandemics and other tougher challenges ahead. His vision of an open source driven Africa is clear when one looks at how this platform is actively enabling open source solutions. Another initiatives on the platform is Open Source Africa, a platform aimed at developing the open source ecosystem on the continent. This initiative will help with knowledge sharing, whilst also reducing costs for companies that wish to adopt open source around the continent. The open source initiative will also allow entrepreneurs deploying open source solutions to be more flexible and agile when developing. This initiative will lead to the increased use of OpenStack around the continent for cloud computing. Andile also believes that advocating for more open source projects around the continent will reduce the barriers to entry for young entrepreneurs looking to deploy solutions by using community version of open source technology online. Lastly, Andile believes that open source allows companies to attract more talent, this is because professionals in the technology space can see that is where the industry is headed, so they are embracing it.

Other startups have risen to the occasion, like the online COVID-19 self-assessment chatbot developed by the Nyaho Medical Centre in Ghana in collaboration with ClearSpace Labs on their Serenity health platform. It basically allows you to take a self-assessment at home and also get virtual care so that you only go the hospital if necessary – reducing the pressure on the limited medical facilities to take care of COVID-19 patients.

Given the numerous innovations we were seeing, on May 27th, 2020, Andile and I partnered with Teresa Clarke of www.africa.com to host the first Africa online pitch competition under the auspices of “Brilliant African Innovations Against COVID-19”. Through the Angel Fair Africa platform, Africa.com shortlisted six leading African innovations from the KINGS countries to pitch in a virtual environment. Laud Basing of Incas Diagnostics from Ghana who has built a rapid COVID-19 diagnostics kit won the first prize followed by a tie of Mary Mwangi from Data Integrated, Kenya who has built a passenger app for public transport to ensure social distancing, online ticket purchasing, etc. and Dr. Wale Adeosun from Wellvis, Nigeria who built a COVID-19 self-assessment platform with a link to patient care. The other three innovations in the competition were, AfrikanCreate by Aya Dlova from South Africa, Maisoin by Dede Tounkara from Cote d’Ivoire and Epione Health by Jessica Chivinge from South Africa.

All these platforms and applications are being built by young Africans who have taken to digital. It is important to emphasize that Africa has more digital native than any other continent or put differently Africa’s young people present the largest digital demographic dividend of the 21st century. Responding to Rahm Emanuel, they are not wasting the pandemic haven taken the opportunity to do things that were not possible before. Who would have thought that African entrepreneurs whom the odds were stuck against would be starting up the new normal? But as Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it is done”.

Africa’s four MEGA TRENDS that are overcoming COVID19

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Africa appears to have narrowly escaped the level of devastation that COVID19 is wrecking in the global north with China as its entry. As if the virus followed the global supply chain to destroy it. The global supply chain links China to the global north before connecting to Africa so by the time the virus got here African leaders shut the boarders – that is the saving grace despite the doom’s day prophecies of Bill Gates. Africa got it right this time around without the help of the western saviors which begs George Ayittey’s famous quote “Africa is poor because she is not free”.

According to the IMF and WorldBank, Africa would experience her first recession in 25 years, but it would not be as severe as the global north. Her recovery in my view could be fast tracked by four MEGA TRENDS that are already in motion before COVID19 ever invaded the continent. The first of these trends has actually gained speed on the back of the virus – digitization. With the lockdowns in Africa many went online (in my previous post I alluded to how we are seeing this in our portfolio companies). Virtualized services are doing very well, while mobility businesses are struggling to keep up. Semi-mobilized businesses that qualify as essential services like food and grocery delivery are going strong. The World Economic Forum has said “Diverse sourcing and digitization will be the key to building stronger, smarter supply chains and ensuring a lasting recovery“.

Digital Innovation
Digital innovative ventures that are software-based (and, in some cases hardware-based) businesses leveraging mobile web technology to solve pain points, fix bottlenecks and address market gaps that make financial returns and, in some cases, impact. The huge investment in telecom infrastructure like submarine and terrestrial fiber cables, satellite stations and mobile/wireless networks all over the continent, has enabled the leveraging of these new technologies. The private sector has predominantly led these investments, while in some cases, public private partnerships (PPPs) have charted the course.

These innovations are permeating all sectors of the economy like financial services, education, agriculture, health and energy creating “new” sectors like Fintech, Edtech, Agtech, Healthtech and Cleantech just to mention a few which make up the digital economy.
• Fintechs are startups using mobile web and internet technology to disrupt the financial services industry, enabling and deepening financial inclusion with mobile money as the basis for electronic transactions like Zeepay, Finaccess, Hubtel, etc;
• Cleantechs are the fusion of off-grid renewable energy generation and mobile web tools which produce a “mobile-sun” disruption that drive means of supplying power like Mkopa Solar, SolarLight, Freedom Won etc;
• Edtechs are online platforms that make learning available, interactive and fun, breaking down traditional barriers and transforming education like eCampus, Eneza, Imano etc;
• Healthtechs are scaleups developing technologies that make access and delivery of health services available through teleconsulting and telemedicine technologies like CombatCovid-19 Africa, Serenity Health, Talamus, Helium Health etc; and
• Agtechs go beyond access to weather information and market prices provided by startups like Farmerline to those that disrupt and create value within the agriculture ecosystem like Complete Farmer, etc.
For a long time, Africa has arguably leapfrogged the west in terms of telecom infrastructure. Building on this, we can leapfrog our counterparts abroad in terms of business models that make both fiscal and impact returns. Hubtel is an example of such business that is profitable with demand going through the roof and Zulzi who just raised $2.6M in the midst of the pandemic have become a moment to treasure. Africa’s digitizing economy can make real the concept of People, Planet and Profit rising together interdependently. Below is a picture of global tech giants who have visited Africa because of the digital innovation – before the lockdown began, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said he planned to come live in Africa for three months in 2020.

Courtesy of MAX CUVELLIER

Entrepreneurial Youth
These entrepreneurial ventures arise out of Africa’s youthful brain trust. Just a generation ago, starting a business in Africa was not the “in” thing, but we are now in the midst of a paradigm shift – it is cool to be a tech entrepreneur. This is the result of the world’s youngest population expressing itself through the availability of mobile web technology. Most of these young entrepreneurs believe in themselves and their ability to create the next Facebook or Google out of Africa. They argue that if Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates can do it without college degrees, they are no less. This phenomenon of self-discovery, identification with web technology and expression through entrepreneurship is powering the digital renaissance that is changing the narrative led by the youthful population of Africa.

Almost 60% of Africa’s population in 2019 is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. According to the UN’s demographic projections, the median age in Africa is going to be 19.8 in 2020. And Africa’s population is going to double by 2050. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation titled their 2019 report “Africa’s first challenge in this regard is the youth bulge currently stuck in ‘waithood’. I come from the school of thought that whiles some are waiting, the others are busy building entrepreneurial ventures. In my view that is the only way out because those ventures would in turn hire the rest of the youth who are not entrepreneurial. Therefore, African policy makers need to wake up to the realization that they must create an environment that cultivates more entrepreneurial ventures. That would in turn solve the unemployment predicament we have on the continent. The way to solve unemployment is to enable new businesses that would scale by employing more hands. There is arguably no continent more entrepreneurial than Africa, where we have had to innovate solutions to overcome the export of our resources elsewhere. By making Africa a digital technology powerhouse, we will re-center our resources, and talent here, so that our tide of innovation can raise all boats.

Common Market
The common market came into effect last year when the 54 African states signed the protocol after many years of discussion – this could not be more timely. The IMF estimate puts the common market in Africa at four trillion dollars, so this is a big enough market for these entrepreneurial ventures according to the WEF. The first generation of these ventures have started scaling into multiple markets so are already leveraging the common market that has been created. These ventures are actually acting as the proof point for the common market phenomenon in Africa. As the continent opens up more and more, African multinational businesses would be created through intra-Africa trade and development.

The doubling of Africa’s population by 2050 would most likely double the four trillion dollar common market. This means that more global businesses would be coming into Africa to leverage the market. They would create jobs and add value to raw materials because labor is cheaper and available in Africa. The youthful population would be supplying that needed labor in all sectors — especially technology. This means that we need to be creating the educational opportunities that the youth need to enhance their skills. Guess what – that can now be done online. Harvard is offering fifty-seven free online courses during the pandemic. Many local and international educational institutions are moving their classrooms online, so distance is no longer a barrier to education. eCampus is experiencing exponential growth due to the demand.

Returning Diaspora
The phenomenal success of Ghana’s Year of Return initiative is a result of succeeding initiatives like Panafest, Joseph Project, etc., which were all aimed at getting people of African descent to return home. December 2019 was the climax of this movement which saw 1.5 million people of African descent from the US, Europe and Asia coming to Accra. Racial injustice in the US has led to movements like #BlackLivesMatter resulting in more and more African Americans relocating to Africa. Ghana has actually become the preferred destination because of — among other reasons — the setup of the Diaspora African Forum (DAF). DAF is recognized by the African Union and has worked with the Ghana government to secure citizenship for a lot of the returning diaspora.

Marcus Garvey in 1914 started pushing people of color to connect to their roots – he envisioned an African nation through the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Garvey is known for saying “Our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa.” Bob Marley who was inspired by Garvey pushed the message in his songs. He personally came to Africa first to visit Ethiopia and Kenya then again in 1980 to visit Gabon by way of his love affair with Pascaline Bongo and then played at the Independence Day of Zimbabwe – paying his own way for the trip. Rita Marley later moved the entire Marley family to Ghana in 2000 making their abode in the mountains of Aburi overlooking Accra. W.E.B DuBois moved to Ghana in 1961 at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah, where we lived until his death – that history resonates deeply with many African Americans seeking a society that embraces them, rather than treating them as second-class citizens.

Rabbi Kohain Halevi, owner of Mabel’s table guesthouse and restaurant, has lived in Ghana for 25 years. “I was 33 years old in 1987 when I fell in love with Ghana,” said Halevi, 65. “It took me seven years and 13 trips before I could finally move to Ghana and make this my home.” Dr. Marcus Manns moved to Ghana in June 2000 to start his chiropractic and wellness center which is now a successful business and in the process met his wife – they now live between Accra and the US with their five kids. Muhammida el-Muhajir says as an African American in the US, she felt she could ‘never win’ so she relocated to Ghana to setup her business WaxPrint Media which is thriving. Voltaire Xodus moved to Ghana without first visiting to launch his startup, WeUp, because according to him it is peaceful. His sister Ramona, who is a co-founder, has since joined him in Accra. 28-year-old Deijha Gordon left her family in Brooklyn, New York to start a food truck business in Ghana after visiting for the year of return. Ingrid LaFleur who ones run for the mayor of Detroit could not return after her “Year of Return” visit. She has gone on to launch The Afrofuture Strategies Institute (TASI) with a triangulated location in Accra, Kigali and Johannesburg. Derrick Ashong and Lucia Brawley, co-founders of Amp Global Technologies, moved from Los Angeles to Mauritius to launch The Mic: Africa, the first multi-platform TV format created in Africa to be exported around the world, all powered by their Take Back The Mic (TBTM) app.

In conclusion, COVID19 has generated an unintended consequence of speeding up the digital innovation in Africa led by the youthful population with the common market as their reach and the returning diaspora as the icing on the cake – welcome to the new normal.

COVID-19 is SPEEDING up the digital economy in Africa

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Introduction
When I postulated the digital economy in Africa in 2013 as a precursor to becoming a fulltime angel investor and subsequently writing about its KINGS in 2016, it never crossed my mind that in 2020 COVID-19 would be the SPEEDING agent. Who could have predicted COVID-19 except Bill Gates who alluded to a viral outbreak in his 2015 TED talk whiles George Bush and Barack Obama were more accurate in prospecting 2020 as the year? However, none of them envisaged the extent of this epidemic which has pretty much collapsed the capital markets and slowed down the economies of many countries with many of us at home – literally trying to survive the pandemic.

Policy action
African leaders took the major decision to declare a lockdown and, in some cases, daily curfews for fear of the virus spreading and overwhelming the (in some cases non-existent) healthcare systems. While those decisions have being contested in some cases on the basis that the informal sectors of our economies (that earn a daily wage) are going to suffer the most, the bright side of that decision is the need to go online while in self quarantine. The need to go online was helped by the rapid adoption of smart phones in Africa as a result of the reduction in price and supply of handsets some of which are being locally assembled and manufactured by the like of Mara Phones, etc.

Bandwidth
My friend Ben Roberts, Chief Technology and Information Office (CTIO) of Liquid Telecom asked in his article last week “Did corona just kickstart the digital economy in Africa?” – my answer is NO because the digital economy has been in Africa but YES, it is being speeded up in ways that no one would have thought off before. The premise of Ben’s article is the sudden growth in bandwidth that he can see on their network from March 15th, 2020 when these lockdowns came into effect. People are home so off course they would have to commute virtually and so suddenly they would have to purchase more bandwidth. This is helped by the reduction in bandwidth price as a result of the huge investments made by the fiber and satellite providers (FSPs), mobile network operators (MNOs) and internet service providers (ISPs) over the last decade. Some of these operators recently moved to uncapping the provision of broadband and in some cases removing the expiration of prepaid broadband purchase. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that the operators got the lockdown memo… – maybe Kenya greenlighting Google loom for 4G was it?

Digital Media
Around the world we’ve seen an overnight spike in Digital Media consumption, which offers a variety of opportunities in the African context. One of our portfolio companies, AMP Global Technologies, is leveraging an original interactive TV series, called The Mic: Africa, as a gateway to the internet for African youth. They are partnering with telcos and other brands to reward audiences by subsidizing discounted smart phones, zero-rating content, and offering data packages to the most active fans. With improved affordability of 4G mobile connectivity , young Africans can better access established platforms like Facebook, and Google, while also leveraging homegrown technology solutions to gain computer literacy, financial literacy, creative resources and critical public health information. In response to the crisis, the company has shifted the season finale of The Mic: Africa to make it a fundraiser for UN-designated public health organizations offering on-the-ground relief for the Covid-19 crisis.

Mobile Money
In late 2007/8 I was in Kenya working with some colleagues to launch The East African Marine System (TEAMS) when in December the election violence pushed us to the curb but like now one of the unintended consequences of that outbreak was the rapid adoption of Mpesa – a mobile money (MOMO) service that was introduced by Safaricom an MNO. Suddenly everyone in Kenya was transacting using Mpesa because not only was cash not available but mobility was restricted. Fast forward to COVID-19 in 2020 we are all on lockdown so access to cash is limited since mobility is restricted so guess what’s happening on the mobile operator’s networks – a surge in MOMO adoption and use.

Evidence
My personal experience happened yesterday, I needed to get some groceries from the convenience store in my neighborhood and for the first time I was able to pay with MOMO. Two years ago, the same store demanded that I go withdraw the money from a MOMO agent and come pay with cash for my groceries. While time may account for the change in mindset, coupled with the current situation where people have limited access to cash, the store has no choice than to accept MOMO. I noted in my exchanges with the store owner last night that they even take visa and master card on the point of sale (POS) they have installed – suddenly my local convenience store has gone digital and so is the case in other parts of the continent.

E-commerce
The next step for them is to get their inventory online so I can go online order and have them deliver it to my home (which in this case is walking distance) – that makes them a full fledge e-commerce business. Of course I recommended Hubtel to them to use for their online store because it is one of our portfolio companies and their demand is going through the roof due to COVID-19.

With bandwidth and digital payment sorted, lots of small businesses are going online enabling an escalation of e-commence in ways that were not envisaged before. Even though Jumia’s shares are plummeting with the hit taken by the capital markets, grocery delivery companies like Zulzi are experiencing an escalation of demand for their services to the extent that last week they employed one hundred new shoppers and delivery agents in South Africa. Companies like Sokowatch who just raised $14M and COPIA Global who raised $26M last year are all seeing demand on their network.

Online learning
On Tuesday March 17th 2020 Ghana’s Minister of Education announced at a press conference that students who are home can use online learning platforms like eCampus – a portfolio company – their traffic went through the roof. Since then the use of the platform has being on the rise necessitating a ramp up in resources and investment for a startup that has struggled to gain traction. Earlier in the year, we partnered with the African Business Centre for Developing Education (ABCDE) led by former Minister of Education, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah supported by Vivo Energy Ghana to commence a nationwide e-learning programme aimed at encouraging students in second cycle institutions to explore e-learning options to augment the traditional classroom and textbook learning. As if we knew COVID-19 would necessitate an adoption of our platform nationwide as is the case with other platforms worldwide.

Online Assessment
Nyaho Medical Centre the leading private hospital in Ghana (on whose board I serve) moved quickly to establish protocols to screen patients who visit the facility for COVID-19 so they can isolate, test and treat them before local transmission kicks in. While that has been very successful, the on-going fear has been the facility being overwhelmed by imported cases even if we could curb local transmission. Our two year partnership with Clear Space Labs to build Serenity – our digital health platform came in handy as our team launched the Serenity COVID-19 online self-assessment chatbot that allows one to take an assessment from home before proceeding to a medical facility if necessary. The uptake has been overwhelming and so is the momentum of the community of African entrepreneurs and technologist who are building a collaboration platform to Combat Covid-19 in Africa.

Is increased disruption a positive consequence?
This morning I jumped on a catch-up call with my friend and fellow investor Ravinder Sikand of Energy Access Ventures and we discussed some of the elements above and then we came to the crucial question “what do you think is going to change post the epidemic?” In addition to the increased digitization discussed above, he is of the view increased disruption of production would also pickup. This has been seen with the delivery of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as increased recognition for home grown innovation and cooperation. Some examples include, Kenyan university designed ventilator for local conditions or the Safe Hands program launched by a number of Kenyan corporates. To continue riding this wave, policy is needed to increase competitiveness coupled with more recent technology developments like 3D printing and distributed energy will impact the way we develop and implement outcomes that are less susceptible to supply chain shocks. The three trillion common market in Africa created by the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) could not be more timely for the distribution of these disruptions.

Going from shortage to abundance – strategies to target Africa’s broadband consumers

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2011 is the year that broadband will finally come into its own for Africa’s long-starved Internet users. Operators will need to have a complete mind-shift if they are to come out on top of the new market and it offers interesting opportunities for insurgent challengers. Russell Southwood looks at what operators will need to do to succeed in a changing market.

In almost every country connected to an international fibre connection in Africa in 2010, the speed of the connection increased and prices fell. Our own personal experiences from travelling extensively across the continent confirm what we know from the data that comes to us from other sources. Ookla’s latest Net Index statistics which shows which ISPs in South Africa give the best broadband speeds gives the clearest sense of this shift. According to the results from 184,442 Speedtest.net tests between 14 November 2010 and 13 December 2010, Cell C is the best service provider with an average download speed of 4.62 Mbps. Web Africa is second with 2.81 Mbps and Telkom third with 2.54 Mbps. Mybroadband.co.za has published a table with the top ISPs. To access it click here 2-4 mbps download speeds? Who would have believed that five years ago?

Almost as interestingly, Main One has been running a test site offering free, high capacity bandwidth in the Palms Shopping Mall in Lagos’ Lekki district which is operational until 9 January. According to a blog by Olunyi Ajao who went to try it:” I was more excited with the potential speed, than it being a freebie. You see, Main One is a submarine cable system that carries gigabytes of data from Europe to West Africa and so, I expected their connectivity (without going through MTN or another ISPs that use them) to be an extreme experience. In plain English, Main One is an ISP’s ISP. So, I went to the mall with very high expectations”.

“The speed met my expectations. I commenced downloading all the stuff I had always differed…. I was able to download content at a steady speed of 2 MB/s (with two other downloads in progress) on Main One’s wi-fi but the maximum (unsteady) speed I can get downloading via MTN’s 3.5G service is about 0.48 MB/s”.

“Just to be triple sure, I initiated a video call to a friend in Malaysia via Skype. Though we could not talk much due to the noise around me, he confirmed the video was very smooth. Youtube videos (including HD versions) streamed smoothly for me today”.

His main irritation?:”My Blackberry and (later) my Nokia 5800 XM could not detect MainOne’s wi-fi signal. Consequently, I could not experience the broadband on my smartphones. I was initially able to download some a podcast on the 5800 XM but that started failing after I upgraded the Operating System on the smartphone.The connection went off every hour or there about, and I had to always reconnect via my browser. I reckon this was their lame method of enforcing their “2 hour limit”.

Nevertheless, he concluded “the speed was worth the trouble”. And his not too startling conclusion?:”The ISPs necessarily need to invest in better last mile technologies or improve their existing networks so consumers can enjoy the real broadband that is possible via MainOne. I know of Mobitel‘s 4G and Swift‘s WiMax but both have limited coverage”. For the full blog click here

So now the moment has arrived for broadband Internet in Africa, all operators need to get focused on selling it to individual consumers. For if they don’t, there will be an awful lot of unsold international bandwidth on their balance sheets for years to come.

Currently, there are three broad types of operators who are in this market: firstly, Africa’s traditional independent ISPs who have lived largely on corporate subscribers and a small number of wealthy individual; the mobile operators who have come in and expanded the market with mobile Internet; and alternative insurgent challengers like Wananchi with its Zuku brand. The African consumer broadband market is still just being born so no-one has yet got a full grip on the market. Consumers are fickle and go where price and bandwidth seem most advantageous.

In the interests of creating a strong and vibrant African broadband consumer market, here are our seven tips on making this market work:

1. Be honest and straightforward

When it’s not price wars (which are easy to understand), Africa’s operators seem to offer a baffling array of different tactical marketing offers. Using the techniques pioneered in selling voice, mobile operators offer their customers short-term, tactical financial advantage. The result? Customers game the system about as thoroughly as consumers anywhere in the world. If it’s cheaper at 3pm in the morning, they’ll be awake and using it. Privately, most operators will admit that this is no way to change their market share but seem obsessed by the monthly percentage changes tactical marketing brings.

Operators have also sought to “slice-and-dice” the sale of their bandwidth capacity in so many different ways that it’s hard to know what you’re buying. How many Internet consumers know what a 4 Mb download capacity means? How do you know what you’re getting during a hour’s worth of Internet? What does unlimited subject to a “fair use” clause actually mean? Cyber-café and WiFi hot-spot operators continue to dilute bandwidth even though a great deal more is available at cheaper prices: old habits die hard. Take your profit while you can seems to be the unspoken mantra.

The operator that is consistently honest and straightforward has every chance of winning this game. If you say to your customers, you have two choices, price and bandwidth speed: which do you want? For those budget customers, set a much higher provisioning (2 mbps as a minimum) but clearly indicate that this speed may be considerably less during busy periods. For those who need higher speeds, charge more and give them a demonstrably better service (perhaps 8 mbps as a minimum). Set up bandwidth speed comparison tests internally first and then allow your customers to use them. Use the information gathered to drive out bottlenecks at the national and local level.

For the alternative insurgent challenger, there’s the perfect opportunity to arrive as “Honest John” amongst those who seem to speak less than straightforwardly. The challenger can be clear about what it’s offering and that it’s seeking to get all of its customers the best deal possible.

2. Service – Making things work

The mass broadband market in Africa needs to work on a “plug-and-play” basis. The household consumer needs to be able to open the box, plug in a limited number of cables and then follow the on-screen prompts to get things working. Household broadband needs to be cheap, well-supported and reliable equipment so that CPE costs are kept as low as possible.

When things do go wrong, companies need to have service back-up that can deal quickly and efficiently with complaints. Companies need to analyse where breakdowns and other complaints occur and figure out ways of dealing with them as quickly as possible. They need to encourage user forums where customers can compare notes and find ways of overcoming some of the issues themselves.

Two contradictory things are in play: firstly, in order to deliver the best broadband service at the cheapest price, it has to “get-up-and-go” at the cheapest possibly cost; secondly, consumers will become more demanding as speeds and performance increase. On the second, the absence of bandwidth suddenly seems like a “life-and-death” issue, not some minor irritation to be taken with the usual African patience when almost anything doesn’t work. So how to resolve these contradictory pressures? Educate users to pay for service contracts. At the bottom end, the amount charged will be very small but at the top end it will be much larger and contain time-based response clauses. Within this framework, be absolutely rigorous about providing friendly and response service.

3. Branding, character and use

When they took off, African mobile operators were selling aspiration. If you had a phone, you were somebody. Back then, it was all new but now there’s not an African city that doesn’t have billboards showing desirable young models smirking their way through conversations on mobile phones. With the introduction of mobile Internet, these same aspirational images have been simply transferred over. Can you tell the difference between the images used? OK, so the colours and the name are different but what else?

Africa’s broadband Internet brands desperately need some “character”, something that will mark them out and make their customers smile and remember them. They need to be able to convey a different version of the aspiration message. There won’t be necessarily the same level of Internet users so the aspiration message has to be more finely honed.

All the soft, aspirational branding constructs have to translate into “uses”. 99% of potential African broadband customers will not care about the technical attributes of the service, only what it can do for them. The young professional will want to put his social life together on Facebook. The parent will want to know that he or she can get education materials that will help their children in school. Grandmas will want to know how to access family photos on Flikr and use Skype to talk to their children. The taxi driver will want access to maps showing street locations, and so on. Too little broadband marketing translates into both selling these uses and identifying new uses to sell.

4. Encouraging maximum use by offering maximum capacity

The African operator that thinks it’s really smart starts by offering a broadband service at the highest price it can get away with and then slowly cascades the price down to a much level. The problem with this approach is that it fails to grasp that the overall market objective must be to create the largest possible “critical mass” of Internet users as quickly as possible.

Unlike voice, where everyone wants to have access, selling broadband Internet is a much harder sell. It relies on getting the mass of current users (the young, educated) to persuade others (the old, educated; staff like child-minders and drivers) to use it as a primary means of communication.

The strongest way to promote the largest “critical mass” is not by dealing it out in “penny packets” but by offering the maximum available capacity at prices that will encourage young and old to do the kind of things on the Internet that people do the world over: things like social media (Facebook, Facebook and Facebook), Twitter and You Tube are giving some idea of where things can go. If there were 1.7 million Nigerian Facebook users in August 2010, imagine how many more there will be in a year’s time.

5. Expanding the potential market

SMS is really just e-mail in budget clothes, the only difference is the character count and the ease of tee-ing up the browser. SMS-to-e-mail workarounds from companies like ForgetMeNot Africa show the potential for transition to full e-mail. And those that currently use SMS with some facility are all potentially on an upward escalator to a wider range of Internet services.

If you imagine the current handset market as a pyramid, the broad base of the pyramid is made up of extremely basic handsets with very little functionality. At the top of the pyramid is a tiny sharp point representing smartphones and the next band down is feature-rich phones. In most markets, these will be barely 5% of the overall market.

To expand the potential market, you need to expand the number of devices that can handle interesting Internet applications. You need to be offering ever-cheaper smartphones with the prize going to the first to offer one for US$50. You need to offer even cheaper feature-rich phones (with a i-Phone-style interface from someone like Snaptu) to the less well-off at below this price point. In this way, the existing basic phones in the market will shrink and the number of customers with Internet access will increase.

6. Building the device pyramid

The mobile is Africa’s tech device of choice and the one that reaches the maximum number of customers. But building an African broadband market requires operators to understand another pyramid.

This second pyramid is about all the tech devices an African broadband consumer might own. The broad base of this pyramid is composed of feature-rich phones, followed further up by smart-phones. Then there are net-books, followed by tablets (like iPad) and at the top of the pyramid lap-tops and PCs.

The challenge with this device ownership pyramid is the same as for the handset pyramid. Mobile phones that can access the Internet are a great thing but they have their limitations. Therefore how do you get all those people who might have access to a PC at work and/or have a feature rich phone to get some sort of wider PC usability? (The main barrier to greater use is size and use of keyboard functions but there are other issues.) Somewhere around the netbook/tablet area is a device that long-term may cost between US$75-100 that will broaden this part of the pyramid and give PC-like abilities to a much wider number of broadband users.

For the ambition must be to create a world in which there is the ability to do things using broadband almost wherever you are: the bar, the home, the hotel and the school.

7. Spreading everyday usage

The lesson of the success of Facebook is obvious in hindsight. The average African professional organizing his or her social life on a Friday afternoon is the “human equivalent of Facebook”. So the insight is really a very obvious one for operators. They need to introduce apps and services that drive everyday use. These might come from elsewhere but in time there will be local variants. In places like India and Brazil, the local variants stamped out their own ground by not being in English. Watch for local variants and see whether they can be marketed successfully to create new, local social media.

Think about the insights from something like M-Pesa, again so clear in hindsight but not when they were struggling to gain traction. It took something that was a major barrier (carrying and pay most things in cash) and challenged engrained habits. So look at other potential areas. What about finding your way round Africa’s cities? How many times have I witnessed the giving of directions that are of the “go past the third flower seller on the right” variety? Of course, there’s Google but how many people will use it? So somewhere between the “human Google” (phoning a friend or fellow taxi driver) and Google sits a much simpler app to help people find where they’re going.

Operators need to keep coming up with ways to weave the Internet into everyday use so that it becomes as natural as….well, picking up your mobile to make a call.

For more insights on the new Internet market, go to Balancing Act’s Web TV channel:click here

Clips include:

* Jessica Verrilli on Twitter’s African strategy.
* Sean d’Arcy, Opera Software on the use of its mobile browser in Africa.
* Reg Sawrt, Fundamo on M-Money Services
* Herman Heunis on social networking with MXit
* Jeremy George, COO, ForgetMeNot Africa on its SMS to e-mail service.

There are 49 clips in both English and French that contain news and information that does not appear in our e-letter or on our web site.

Broadband and Economic Growth in Africa

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Introduction

In the Ghanaian capital Accra, a government minister takes questions from citizens via Facebook. A journalist in Kenya uses his smart phone to e-mail breaking news instantly from a corporate press conference; the announcements move shares on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Technology is rapidly changing Africa and at the forefront of the impact of that change is access to broadband Internet. Broadband would be to an economy in the 21st century what electricity was in the 19th century. Empirical evidence has established a correlation between broadband and gross domestic product (GDP) and the growth effects of telecommunications.

In 2009, the World Bank released its Information and Communications for Development report that showed access to broadband boosts economic growth in all countries, but most especially in developing ones. The study showed that in developing countries, for every 10 percentage points of broadband penetration, their economies grew by 1.38 percent. The report, conducted in 120 countries between 1980 to 2006, developed countries’ economies grew by 1.21 percent. Broadband access is key for economic growth and even more vital in developing countries.[1]. Africans are seizing the opportunity that it offers to move their economies forward.

Definition

Broadband is usually defined as any always-on, high-speed connection to the Internet, whether from a computer, television, cellphone or other mobile technology. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) specifies a download speed of 256 kilobits per second or higher as constituting broadband. But recent studies have redefined broadband as an “ecosystem” that ranges from the networks, to the services the networks carry to the applications they deliver and the users.[2]

GDP Growth

Africa has sustained economic growth above 5 percent since the beginning of the 21st century with a peak in 2007 at 6.1percent. Growth declined slightly in 2008 and 2009 due to the global financial and economic crisis.[3]

Overall investment with private involvement represented an average 1.3 percent of Africa’s GDP between 2004 and 2007. In absolute terms, in 2004-2007 Africa attracted on average $11.5 billion, behind OECD and Central Asia with $19 billion and Latin America and the Caribbean with $13.3 billion, and slightly ahead of South Asia with $10.8 billion. East Asia and Pacific countries lagged behind with $5.3 billion.[4]

Telecommunications and GDP

McKinsey & Company estimates that “a 10 percent increase in broadband household penetration delivers a boost to a country’s GDP that ranges from 0.1 to 1.4 percent.”[5] Booz & Company also found out that “10 percent higher broadband penetration in a specific year is correlated to 1.5 percent greater labor productivity growth over the following five years.”[6]

Tunisia’s Ministry of Communication Technologies show that the ICT sector has grown by 17.8 percent in 2008. Its contribution to the country’s GDP reached 10 percent that year, against just 3.9 percent in 2001. The ministry projects growth will reach 13 percent by 2011.[7]

Source: IC4D 2009: Extending Reach and Making Impact

A World Bank report showed that between 1998 and 2008, mobile phone subscribers in Africa soared from two million voice users to 400 million with $56 billion in investment. A total of 65 percent of the African population gets mobile phone coverage, but that only covers 30 percent of the continent’s territory. And mobile phone companies make more money off African subscribers: average revenue per user is $12 each month, compared to $6 in India.[8]

There may be more people using mobile phones than have broadband access, but the table above shows broadband has a much stronger direct correlation to economic growth than access to a cellphone, landline or other Internet platforms. More broadband means faster economic growth.

Investing in broadband is an investment in economic growth and an indirect investment in development.[9] If broadband is made accessible and affordable, it would have a direct impact on health, education and standard of living; the three main indicators in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI).


[1] http://web.si.umich.edu/tprc/papers/2005/450/L%20Waverman-%20Telecoms%20Growth%20in%20Dev.%20Countries.pdf

[2] World Bank, Building Broadband: Strategies and policies for the developing world

[3] AfDB, AU, UNECA, African Statistical Year Book 2009

[4] Telecommunications Investments with Private Participation (PPI) in Africa, World Bank PPI Database, 2007

[5] McKinsey & Company, Mobile broadband for the masses, February 2009

[6] Booz & Company, Digital Highways: The Role of Government In 21st-Century Infrastructure, 2009, p.5

[7] http://www.tunisiaonlinenews.com/2009/05/15/tunisia-ict-sector-contributes-10-of-countrys-gdp/

[8] World Bank, Opportunities and Challenges for Connecting Africa by Philippe Dongier

[9] http://ipcommunications.tmcnet.com/news/2009/06/17/4231817.htm

ICT Policy and Technology Innovation in Africa

1

In this presentation that i made to the Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group (http://www.africagrantmakers.organd Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media  http://gfem.org), I will seek to describe how the African continent has been able to become connected to the Internet in a relatively short period of time, tracing some of the successes as well as obstacles to more robust connectivity. I will highlight some of the current efforts to further connect the Continent to itself and the world.  It is my belief that there are a number of these “homegrown” African efforts using mobile and Internet technology that should not be overlooked as resources by those concerned with African development and investment.

 

The deregulation of the telecommunications sector in the early 1990’s under the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program led to (a) the general de-monopolization of the industry and (b) the creation of Second National Operators (SNOs). Significantly, most of these SNO’s failed due to the lack of an effective regulator.

 

These developments led to:

·      the establishment of national-level regulatory institutions like the National Communications Authority in Ghana.

·      the liberalization of the air waves and the move beyond government-run media to the establishment of private radio, television, and newspapers

·      the creation of the Internet sector in the form of value-added service providers

·      the establishment of Mobile Operators in early the late nineties

 

Mobile penetration is currently about 30% across the continent, and Web is 5%.

 

The growth of mobile has been due to unique policy and market factors:

·      the general lack of landlines and the challenge to get them even if “available” from the incumbents

·      some regulators’ ability to establish interconnection between them, which was already a national policy in some countries

·      mobiles are cheaper to buy and use – and mobility is just cool!

·      some of the biggest mobile companies have come out of Africa, like Celtel/Zain and MTN, each in over 21 African countries

 

Mobile is now the platform on which the most dynamic innovations are taking place:

·     M-Pesa  – air time as money for transfer and purchasing

·     Ushahidi  – combination of sms and web for inditification of “troubled areas” during the Kenyan elections  (David Kobia will expand more on this)

·     Tradenet – combination of sms and web for farmers and market information exchange

·     African Election Portal – combination of sms and web for election information and certified results

 

Broadband, or high speed Internet access is mainly delivered through wireless connectivity using mobile, licensed frequency and wifi. While it is Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) that have taken the lead in broadband provisioning, mobile phone operators with GPRS, EDGE, 3G and other technologies are joining in speedily.

 

Africa pays 40 times what the developed world pays for broadband. This is due to some factors, which are being addressed by the African Internet Service Providers Association (AfrISPA) and other institutions:

·      Most prominent is the fact that Africans communicate with each other through 3rd parties, which cost a “capital flight” of about $500m USD, according to 2002 estimates.

·      AfrISPA has being working with countries to establish Internet eXchange Points (IXP’s), which ensure local communication is kept local. There are 22 IXP’s on the continent now.

·      Under AfrISPA’s African Internet eXchange System (AXIS), we seek to build an IXP in every country and to also connect the countries through cross-border terrestrial connectivity.

 

Much of Africa’s international connectivity has being through satellite (VSAT), which is very expensive.  For example, a 2MB connection costs between $5000 and $7000 per month.

There is a lot of effort underway to build terrestrial fiber connections, which are incredibly robust delivery systems for Broadband – in some cases converting existing fiber on the power pylons (the large vertical steel towers supporting high-tension power lines). This is going to have a significant impact on Broadband connectivity and cost.

 

Currently, there are about a dozen undersea cables for Broadband delivery that are proposed to be built, apart from SAT3 on the West and Southern coast of Africa. There are five of these that I am confident will happen:

1.     The East African Marine Systems (TEAMS) which is planned, fully funded and due to come online by June 2009 to cover East Africa and now has TEAMS 2 going down to South Africa.

2.     Sea Communication (SEACOM) also planned, fully funded and due to come online by June 2009 to cover South, East and North Africa.

3.     East Africa Submarine System (EASSy), which was supposed to be the first rolled out, but due to a change in model, it is now set to come online in 2010 to cover East and Southern Africa. Also fully funded.

4.     GLO -1, which is an undersea cable, built by Globacom, the largest mobile operator in Nigeria. It is being built from London to Nigeria and countries it has operations in like Benin and Ghana. Part of the cable is built and there is a planned extension to the US from London.

5.     MainOne, which is also planned and about to close the financing, is due to go from Portugal to Nigeria and Ghana where they have a license and landing rights. It is also planned to go down south, providing competition to SAT3, which has rather increased the cost of broadband in that part of the world instead of reducing.

 

As mentioned, currently broadband costs are very high in Africa – a 2MB connection costs between $5000 and $7000 per month.

 

At a recent meeting in Malawi we tried to get the cable operators to give us an idea of their actual cost to market:

       TEAMS is proposing 2MB at $500 per month.

       The other cable companies are indicating their ability to compete at that level and even get cheaper, so we do expect Broadband to get significantly cheaper in Africa over the next 3 years.

 

With broadband getting cheaper due to the developments above and growth in PC access due to the lowering of PC prices combined with entry of low end laptops like the “One Laptop per child, EeePC, etc, there is going to be an exponential growth in Internet subscribers over the next three to five years.

 

This would combine with the innovation in digital technology, which is gaining root very quickly in Africa as indicated above. There would be mushrooming of new business, which would grow to become SMEs and eventually become the enterprises of tomorrow.

 

The uptake in technology clusters like Ghana Cyber City, a 36 acre planned technology park to be build in Accra, would set the stage for the creation of an ecosystem of interaction among these SMEs and also herald the advent of major outsourcing into the continent. The interaction between the homegrown SMEs and the outsourced business in the technology park would create a high level of output on both sides. 

A HEROE worth his TIME

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“A NATION that does not honour her HEROES, is not WORTH dying for” – the key words are “NATION, HEROES and WORTH”.

The NATION of Kenya honoured her HEROES and one of them is Brian Longwe, a GENERAL in his own RIGHT in the African ICT Fraternity.

Please join me in CONGRATULATING a Living Saint @ http://www.ictvillage.com/icthof_BrianLo…

Berkman Conversation on Africa’s Internet Infrastructure

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Tuesday, April 10, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room
23 Everett Street, Second Floor, Cambridge, MA

Guest: Eric Osiakwan and Ethan Zuckerman
Topic: “Africa’s Internet Infrastructure”

Following up from their Luncheon Series talk from last September, Eric and Ethan will discuss current developments in Africa’s Internet and communications infrastructure. We’ll learn about exciting possibilities and innovations, as well as challenges, in connecting African communities to each other and to the global web.

Eric Osiakwan is the Executive Secretary both of the African Internet Service Providers Association (AfrISPA) and the Ghana Internet Service Providers Association (GISPA). He is also a Visiting Fellow and Scholar at the Stanford University and Reuters Foundation Digital Vision Program, and a Berkman Center affiliate. During the past four years, he has been involved in several information and communication technology (ICT) related projects and initiatives in the US, Europe and Africa for a number of Governments, companies, NGOs, and international agencies.

Ethan Zuckerman is a Berkman Center fellow, focusing on the impact of technology on the developing world. His current projects include a study of global media attention, research on the use of weblogs and other social software in the developing world, and work on a clearinghouse for software for international development. Ethan is also a co-founder of the Berkman-sponsored popular international citizen journalism project Global Voices.

AfrISPA: http://www.afrispa.org
GISPA: http://www.gispa.org.gh
Ethan’s blog: http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog
Last September’s Luncheon Series talk: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkma…

This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. For information about our event webcasts and remote participation, see http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/webcas…. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman, at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkma…. Lunch is provided to those who RSVP.

Kenyans in multistakeholder owenership of national fiber network

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Folks, below is exactly what i have being chanting as a way forward in the ownership of the infrastructure;
” The Kenya Government will have a 40 per cent holding in the project, Etisalat 20% and the remaining 40% will go to investors in the East African region. The Government has said it will organise an IPO on the Kenyan Stock Exchange. Several Kenyan companies have expressed interest and one said that the Government had told them it would “guarantee their loan”. The details of the finance package have not yet been settled but it is unclear where the Kenyan Government will raise its 40% from. Will the World Bank simply shift a portion of its EASSy funding to the new project as many think likely?”
NB; From this week’s Balancing Act, full story below for your pleasure courtesy of Russell Southwood.

Thank God the Kenyans are experimenting with this approach where government owns part, private sector owns part, educational institutions should also own part, CSO owns part through IPO on the stock market.

The Kenyan government can actually raise the 40% from government bonds and am not an expert on the stock market discipline of shares or bonds but this is where the financial experts need to come out with innovative solutions that can help raise much of this money locally – it is possible.

You Kenyans are showing the way and even it it does not work you would be know for showing us how this model is not workable and then we can try another. We Africans must try new ways of doing these things and make our own mistakes and find our own solutions to our problems but learn to avoid the mistakes of the Americans, Europeans and Asians. Thank God for this BOLD move, it is commendable.

I dont mean to make my blog Kenya praise church but it is about time that we applaude bold initiatives and sing the praise of those who are making an attempt at leadership in these times.

TOP STORY: KENYA BEGINS THE COUNTDOWN TO CHEAP INTERNATIONAL FIBRE
_____________________________________________________________________

It’s like waiting for a matatu. You wait for ages and none come along. But just when you’re about to give up hope, three come along at the same time, all trying to come to a screaming halt in front of you. Kenya now has three (or more) potential international fibre projects that could be complete within 12 months. Each one is loudly proclaiming that it will
deliver cheap international bandwidth. Russell Southwood took the temperature in the market last week about what the impact of this bandwidth will be upon the market.

The Kenya Government has signed an MOU to build a fibre link to Fujairah in the UAE currently costed at Ksh5.7 billion. The construction and supply contract will be awarded early next year and the project, dubbed The East African Marine System (Teams), will be ready by November, according to a joint statement issued by both parties from Dubai. Many
in the sector believe that it will be more like 19 months or more before completion.

The Kenya Government will have a 40 per cent holding in the project, Etisalat 20% and the remaining 40% will go to investors in the East African region. The Government has said it will organise an IPO on the Kenyan Stock Exchange. Several Kenyan companies have expressed interest and one said that the Government had told them it would “guarantee their loan”. The details of the finance package have not yet been settled but it is unclear where the Kenyan Government will raise its 40% from. Will the World Bank simply shift a portion of its EASSy funding to the new
project as many think likely?

The Government’s commitment to a 12 month schedule is a bold move but one that must lay them open to a certain amount of scepticism. The tender for expressions of interest was only issued 2 weeks ago and Government timetabling is notoriously slow compared to the private sector. Apparently the Private Secretary has been telling interested
parties that the Government wants prices comparable to those to be found in India in 12 months time. This benchmark has been set in order that Kenya will be able to compete in the international outsourcing market.

Apparently a number of interested parties said that they would put up all the money to build it if they could have a monopoly and he sent them away disappointed. But more worryingly one interested party told us that it could only get involved if it also allowed Telkom Kenya to be a shareholder.

The next international fibre project is KDN’s and it has now signed its contract with Flag Telecom. Its link from Mombasa will terminate in an undersea junction in international waters off of the Yemen. It says the link will be fully operational in the first quarter of 2008, just 15 months away. The company believes that it will come to market with capacity at $500 per mbps pm but that the price of bandwidth will go up to those wanting to invest as time passes. In other words, for those who commit early prices will be lowest and for those who come in late, prices will go higher. It also stresses that its landing station at Mombasa will allow other carriers to co-locate there charging only electricity and services at cost.

So this leaves the third project EASSy looking as if it will be the third runner. NEPAD appears to have made little more progress on persuading more African Governments to sign its political protocol. And whilst the members of the EASSy consortium (that still includes KDN and Telkom Kenya) are still moving things forward, there remains a disconnect between the political and commercial ends of the project. If both of the above projects go ahead, there is clearly much less need to build the Mombasa-Djibouti section of the route and it has to be said that both of the above projects have better international connection points.

As if three were not enough, Ethiopia’s ETC has now had its international fibre connection working effectively for two months via Port Sudan and Saudi Arabia. But because it is landlocked and it had endless fruitless arguments with Djibouti Telecom over control of a possible fibre link, it wants to find a second international fibre connection. Therefore it is in serious conversations with both of Kenya’s fibre network operators about connecting to the Mombasa links when they are ready. If this goes ahead, both it and Kenya will then have two international fibre links.

Because the process of getting the international fibre to Kenya has been both confusing and “on-off”, everyone in the market (including customers) have understandably not really grasped the impact of its arrival on their businesses. Until now ISPs and satellite resellers have largely been in the businesses of living on the margin they make
between buying and selling bandwidth.

These margins have been kept high as they have concentrated on selling to comparatively few customers. Ironically it has been a high-price, low volume business where their primary commodity – bandwidth – has always been in short supply, not least because some of them increased their margin by contending it as much as possible. This has meant that bandwidth quality is often variable at best for those not paying “top dollar” for a premium service.

If you argue that international fibre prices should be low price, high volume, then the national business model changes: what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Bandwidth becomes cheap and plentiful at a sub $1000 threshold. The margins that can then be charged make it difficult for those who are not operating at volume to stay in business.

However it does now open up opportunities for new services, content and applications that can be sold to customers who should now be paying European prices for real broadband connections (1-2 meg upwards) rather than the paltry 64 kbps they are currently receiving. There are at least 500,000 households in Kenya that are at an income level that make them potential targets for broadband. It would take only half of those households to sign up for there to be the beginnings of a very different market.

The real sign that the market has not “got it” is that some key ISPs are not passing on the information about these soon-to-be cheap prices but are seeking to protect their high margins by telling customers higher prices. A heads-up, guys. The sector is a village and news will get round quickly and we’ll encourage the circulation of this price information. The market’s about to change, get ready to change with it.

At the national level, there is now a third source of fibre capacity. Jamii Telecommunications has signed an agreement with the Kenya Light and Power Company (KPLC) to sell an STM1’s worth of its fibre capacity in Nairobi and Mombasa, with KPLC saying that it will triple its capacity shortly. Two other companies – CTN and Cable Vision – have been granted a licence to sell KPLC’s capacity and it is telling (in terms of the argument above) that both are in the video download and pay-TV business. Not so far afield, Tanzanian power utility TANESCO is currently building out fibre capacity and has invited bids to sell this capacity. Again KDN is poised to make a fibre connection to Tanzania.

However a recent ping on the Kampala-Nairobi route shows that neither KDN nor Telkom Kenya has got its fibre route operational. KDN is promising it will be operational by the end of first quarter 2007 and that prices will be 20% cheaper.

Elsewhere in the market, the new VoIP operators are finding it difficult to get interconnection agreements and to get proper service from interconnect service providers. Telkom Kenya is charging absurdly high prices but has at least reached interconnect agreements. Nevertheless the new fixed wireless operators – Flashcom and Popote – are having
difficulties: customers are unable to receive or make calls to certain countries. Apparently anyone who calls a customer number of these fixed wireless operators from Germany gets a number unobtainable.

Access Kenya’s Yello VoIP service has been aimed at corporates and has attracted 250 customers who generate 120,000 minutes a month. But it has had difficulty getting interconnection agreements with the mobile operators. It made a complaint to regulator CCK in April and became so frustrated that it said it would run an advertisement publicising the
position. Safaricom came back to the table but Celtel refuses to enter discussions, saying that it will do so in its own time.

Kenyan ISPs are under heavy pressure from all the new operators. Flashcom and Popote are taking more money from data than voice at the moment as customers are primarily signing up for cheaper Internet access. Also the introduction of EDGE services by Safaricom is eating into their high-end customers: one ISP’s CEO admitted privately that he
was losing hundreds of customers a month to these new competitors. The challenge for everyone in the market will be whether they can take the soon-to-arrive cheaper international bandwidth and use it to transform the market.