No. 47 – 3AMReads: Akon Going Public | Robots Mess Up Development Formula | Don’t Sleep on Halal Tourism

Bloomberg: Star Rapper Akon Mulls IPO of Chinese-Funded African Solar Unit

I was surprised to see this news. Akon’s Lighting Africa project has gotten a good bit of media attention over the past several years. Perhaps, as time goes by, more information about the company’s financials will come out. I think a lot of people are curious to see them.

Axios: Robots could hobble developing countries

I’ve mentioned a few times my nervousness about the technological advancements society is making right now. I fear a sort of point-of-no-return where artificial intelligence, in particular, puts a wide gap between the developed and developing world. So, when I see pieces like this, my chest gets tight.

Perhaps alternatives to low-cost manufacturing serving as the path to development will emerge. The work startups like Andela are doing, for example, is quite interesting – developing technical talent and prepping them to work for global companies. The cost of hiring software engineers trained by Andela is much lower than hiring one in Silicon Valley. The problem is that as technology continues to advance, you need fewer and fewer engineers to reach scale with products. Andela just launched in its second country, Uganda, a few weeks ago. So, they are very much a wait and see case study.

How do you think African countries should navigate technological advancements like robots and artificial intelligence?

Quartz: The new growth industry in Africa is Muslim tourism

Several years ago, I traveled to a number of African countries with a group of Muslim entrepreneurs. It was a fascinating experience. The level of attention they paid to whether things were halal, making time for prayer, and other considerations was informative to be part of, and I could see how the tourism industry catering to Muslims could be lucrative.

 

No. 46 – 3AMReads: MTN Shareholders Aren’t Happy With Exec Pay | Nigeria Has Its Own Data Centers | Cape Town Has Virtually No Water

Kudos to Kenya on launching its new passenger rail connecting Nairobi to Mombasa earlier today. Would be nice to have something like this connecting Atlanta and Savannah!

Tech Central: MTN Slammed Over Bosses’ Millions

A significant portion of MTN’s shareholders expressed their displeasure with the telecom giant’s executive pay packages in light of the company’s declining performance. The only executive receiving a bonus is Executive Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko who returned to the company after a long career at the company when the CEO who succeeded him abruptly resigned.

One of the big sighs of relief for the company was Nhleko leading the company through reducing a massive $5B fine the Nigerian government levied against the company to $1.7B for failing to disconnect well over 5 million people who weren’t subscribed to the company. Former US Attorney General Eric Holder negotiated the deal, which is interesting to write about today, as later today he will be delivering a report to Uber’s board of directors on the spate of sexual harassment allegations the company has been dealing with.

Anyway, Nhleko was the only executive to receive a bonus – nearly $3M, in addition to his $2M salary. I think that is well deserved even if he was being rated just for reducing the company’s fine.

IT News Africa: Rack Centre MD Believes in Nigeria’s Growth Potential

Last week, I wrote about Microsoft announcing that it was constructing two data centers in South Africa. Here’s a nice interview with Ayotunde Coker, Managing Director of Rack Centre, a Nigeria-based data center company that sounds like it’s pulling its weight in the cloud space. Let’s see how they compete with Microsoft Azure!

Engineering News: Cape Town Mayor Warns of ‘Catastrophic Crisis’ if Water Runs Out

Earlier today, Patricia de Lille, Cape Town’s Mayor spoke before the City Council providing a clear picture of how little water the city has available to use. What’s frustrating about this situation is the number of companies that have tried to find solutions to the water challenge in Cape Town and other parts of South Africa, in particular, using desalination techniques. The city has been dealing with low water levels for over a decade. Let’s hope the city figures out a solution sooner than later. It would be great to see desalination companies be able to scale in the country. I wonder how much engagement city has had with Israel and the U.A.E.

No. 45 – 3AMReads: African Leaders Spend Time with Trump 

Towards the end of last week’s G7 meetings, participating countries joined a session focused on how to invest in Africa’s development in order to stem the wave of immigration from North Africa to Europe, often through extremely dangerous leans that prove fatal. 

At that meeting, the African leaders in attendance took the top photo with President Trump, and African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina captioned them with optimistic words.  

Some friends have written pieces about the opportunities that could rise for Africa, particularly in the white space available to create an Africa strategy for the Trump Administration. Let’s hope that’s the case and that the right people step in to fill that white space. 
 

No. 44 – 3AMReads: Concerned about Cote d’Ivoire | US National Security Interests in Africa | Step Your Outfit Game Up

Cote d’Ivoire’s Military Situation Continues to Concern 

We continue to hear more and more about the cracks widening within Cote d’Ivoire’s Military. The military is a combination of trained career soldiers and rebel fighters who helped President Alassane Outtara oust Laurent Gbagbo when he refused to relinquish the presidency back in 2010/2011. Since that time there have been at least three mutinies, the latest occuring just a couple weeks ago. 

Elections are coming up in a few years and I really hope the government figures out a solution to this problem well in advance. Further, investors have maintained relative excitement about the country with its high growth rates driven by economic reforms. You can’t expect that to continue should this military issue continue. 

Former Obama Official Weighs in On US National Security Interests in Africa 
Karen Attiah, the Global Opinions Editor at the Washington Post, did a nice interview with Grant Harris, former senior director for African Affairs in the Obama administration. 

The main theme is that the US has to invest resources into the continent in order to maintain its engagement with countries as it keeps a pulse on threats around the world. Harris wrote a report on the topic and I look forward to checking it out. 

UBA Group Enjoyed Africa Day
Yesterday was Africa Day and Nigeria’s UBA Group put on a royal affair where everyone wore their best traditional attire to work. Check out who won best-dressed for the men. Per usual, Nigerians never carry last.

No. 43 – 3AMReads: Tastemakers Africa 10-Year Plan | Safaricom Invests Nearly $2M in R&D Lab | Nigeria’s Petrol Corporation Moves Digital

Tastemakers Africa CEO Cherae Robinson Gives Us A Sneak Peak On Her 10-Year Plan and I’m Here For It

Marketplaces are powerful and have a track record of disrupting industries and building. See eBay and Airbnb. Look out for what Safaricom could build on its Mpesa platform if regulators don’t make the two break up.

Anyway, I’m really excited about what Cherae Robinson is building at Tastemakers Africa. She’s got a really cool vision for building a global experience marketplace driven by cultures around the world.

Cherae’s got the juice to make it happen and I’m excited about her changing the travel game around the world. I need to get my coins together so I can get on that cap table!

Safaricom Invests Nearly $2M in R&D Lab – Oil and Gas Players Should Take Notes

The prospect of Safaricom moving beyond importing telecom technologies and equipment to developing it’s own is really exciting! More of this sort of investment will create opportunities for innovation and connecting corporations with startups.

I mentioned in my blurb (3rd link) about Ighe Sanomi how I think oil and gas players should make these sorts of investments. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation Receives Dozens of Bids to Digitize Records

The NNPC has been hounded for years by corruption claims. Billions of dollars have just gone missing upon hitting it’s coffers. Former Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi lost his job in efforts to uncover these missing billions (He became the Emir of Kano afterwards, and posts some boss Instagram photos).

Digitizing the Corporation’s record should go a long way in improving its accounting records – hopefully. Maybe. We’ll see. SMH. Further, I think this could be really helpful for R&D efforts (I’m going to keep bringing this up, FYI.)

No. 42 – 3AMReads: What Will Ford’s New CEO Do About Africa?

Apologies for missing yesterday’s post. My body is making it clear I need to sleep more.

The big market news yesterday was Ford CEO Mark Fields retiring, making room for Jim Hackett to take over at the home of America’s best selling vehicle. The news was surprising because Fields had done a pretty good job at Ford. Large profit margins. Revamping the technology behind vehicles like the Ford F-150. Further, he had only been there three years – not very long.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford cited the company’s need for a transformational leader as the reason for the change in leadership in light of the rapidly changing technology landscape as the specter of autonomous vehicles comes into clearer view. So far, it appears Ford has been behind the curve on that. Fields acknowledged himself that he didn’t move as quickly as he needed to. Jim Hackett oversaw Ford’s Smart Mobility division and has a reputation for moving quickly and as a blunt-talking visionary.

One could argue that Bill Ford should have seen the need for this transformational leader before giving Mark Fields the job. Ford gave a TED talk on the vision he had for the future of vehicle transportation well before hiring Fields. Regardless, Hackett is the man now. What does that mean for the company’s business in Africa?

I should start with the reality that Ford’s Africa business is tiny. Across the Middle East and Africa, Ford employs 3,000, compared to the 96,000 in the US alone. The company’s MEA business struggled last, though the company pins that on distribution issues in the Middle East.

Considering the amount of work Ford has to do to catch up in the mobility race, I don’t know that one could make the business case for investing resources in the company’s Africa business.

Further, Hackett doesn’t have the international purview Mark Fields did. Fields spent decades leading Ford’s business around the world. As CEO, Fields oversaw the  creation of Ford’s MEA business unit in order to dedicate resources to the region in 2014. A year later, Ford announced that it would assemble Ford Rangers in Nigeria.  Then the company announced a $170M investment in its South Africa business last year.  As far as I can tell, Hackett’s entire career has been in the Midwest – Steelcase, University of Michigan, Ford, etc. So, who knows how much attention Hackett would pay to a small operation like what Ford has in Africa.

So, take this context, combine it with last week’s news of GM selling its South Africa business, take a couple leaps in logic and you arrive at my concern that Ford could pull out its Africa bu

No. 41 – 3AMReads: Azure in Africa |Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic | Volvo Takes to Kenya

Microsoft Announces First Public Cloud in Africa

Microsoft announced today that it was going to stand up two data centers in South Africa, the first public data centers on the continent. Let that sit with you for a bit. Hopefully, this is the beginning of public clouds proliferating across the continent. The benefits of this reach from public sector revenue generation to auto mobility technologies I was fretting over yesterday. GM, come back, maybe?

Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic in Uganda

I missed the news earlier this year that Uganda was investing $170M in a fiber optic project in Uganda. East Africa landing $270M in fiber optic investments over the past couple months, including Google investing $100M in Csquared, is definitely a good look. Keep it coming!

Volvo Expanding Truck-Building to Kenya

Volvo announced yesterday that it was opening its third truck assembly plant on the African continent, this time in Kenya. I look forward to seeing how this operation performs considering the work the East African Community has done to ensure cross border trade is as strong as possible.