No. 60: W.E.B. Du Bois |5G Rollout |Oil’s Future

W.E.B. Du Bois and the American Soul

This is a compilation of three beautiful set of conversations on W.E.B Du Bois’ life and impact on society during and after his life. I first understood that a black American living in Africa was an option when I learned that he finished his life in Ghana.

I had a fantastic conversation with friends that covered a range of topics, including the stories black people tell ourselves about where we come from and the impact of those stories on how we live our day-to-day. I’ve long been of the mind that black folks need to connect with our African story. A friend pointed out the importance of learning the complexity of our story here in the U.S. and wherever else in the Diaspora our people have been.

I look forward to spending more time on that, particularly in thinking about my mother’s family history. I learned details about my grandmother and how she grew up just a few months ago and look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of my heritage on that side of the family.

The 5G revolution is coming to Africa

There has been much conversation about the impact 5G technology will have on the ability for applications of self-driving technology, augmented reality and more due to increased speeds. We’ll have to wait a few years for proof of this and I’m curious to see what 5G deployment looks like across Africa. Will carriers like MTN and Vodacom choose to install a bunch of cell sites across a city or put a bunch more antennas on their existing towers? Helios Towers announced it was building 1,000 towers in South Africa to prepare for 5G, so I imagine they anticipate carriers are going for the latter.

I’d be interested in how carriers who plan to deploy dense networks across cities engage with local governments to plan that type of work out. My understanding of these ultra-dense heterogeneous networks is that you essentially have a bunch of pizza box-sized cells that bring the cellular base stations signal closer to users. A constraint of 5G is that the signal doesn’t travel that far and struggles to get through buildings. This kind of network is supposed to improve that. That requires a lot of planning for right-of-way, where in the city is demand greatest, how do you protect the cells, and more. Apparently, more carriers will be rolling out the technology over the next couple years. We’ll see how they deploy the technology and whether African markets serve as a laboratory for innovations in 5G deployment.

Norway Is Walking Away From Billions of Barrels of Oil

When Ghana learned that it had lots of oil off of its coast, officials pointed to Norway as the model for how they would manage the resource. They would avoid the challenges the resource has brought to other African countries that had grown dependent on the cash cow. Nigerian governments have talked for years about how the country needs to diversify its economy to depend on more than oil to drive the economy.

I wonder how African oil officials are responding to this news that the government is choosing not to explore an area that could have significant oil reserves. In addition to this, the Norway’s sovereign wealth fund announced not too long ago that it was selling off its stakes in oil exploration stocks. I don’t know that this is the path for African oil countries right now, but I’m sure it could be a proxy for laying out hard questions about an economy’s relationship to oil:

  1. When is enough enough?
  2. How do we sequence pulling resources away from oil to invest other sectors?
  3. Whose voice will be most important in making the decision on how long we rely on oil?

These sort of questions are probably a generation away. Let’s see how the conversation plays out if it happens.

No. 39 – 3AMReads: Yaba Looks to Remain Lagos’ Startup Epicenter | $100M for Fiber Optic Company | Giant Nigerian Oil Trader Tells Origin Story

CcHub Pushes to Keep Yaba’s Startups Clustered Together
I struggled to parse out whether there’s really cause for concern for Yaba’s future as Lagos’ tech hub, or whether this piece was a veiled branding for CcHub. Perhaps, it was some of both. All the same, it’s cool to see CcHub making plans for the long-term in creating an environment for startups to thrive in a central location. 

I’m definitely on board with Bosun and other stakeholders trying to take advantage of economies of scale on pushing for broadband and better power supply. While Andela is a big fish in Lagos’ startup scene, I think their leaving the neighborhood is more something to pay attention to, while stakeholders continue thinking long term in creating the right environment to keep these type startups. Yaba isn’t fighting to maintain relevancy after two startups leave. 

Fiber-Optic Company Csquared Secures $100M Investment
Not that long ago, the big news for broadband across the continent were the undersea cables bringing broadband to Africa’s shores. The big question then was how to ensure the terrestrial reach of this newfound connectivity. 

A number of companies have been working on this, including global players like Google. Csquared, a spin-out of Google’s Project Link, landing this $100M is huge and I look forward to seeing more of this type deal activity. I’m sure iRoko CEO Jason Njoku would appreciate Csquared rolling out some fiber in Lagos to get his data costs down!

Commodities Trader Ighe Sanomi Tells Taleveras’ Origin Story
Oil traders in Nigeria make big bucks, and Ighe Sanomi is near the top of that list. This is an interesting piece that maps out Sanomi’s beginnings in the oil industry all the way to now where he is restructuring the companyafter a couple challenging years for his company.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about how commodity dependent countries like Nigeria can diversify their economies while taking advantage of their core competencies. Oil is that for Nigeria and I think traders like Sanomi would do well to allocate some of their balance sheets to investing in R&D in various parts of the oil and gas value chain – new models for swaps contracts, oil exploration technologies, etc. 

I could just be naive since oil is definitely not my core competency, but I think there could be discoveries there that could lead to new revenue streams in the long term. 

No. 22: 3 Tuesday PM Reads – Power Struggle | Renewables Rescue the Day |Startups for Demographics

  1. Jacqueline Musiitwa shares personal anecdotes on the struggle of working in Lusaka when the power is out. Lights off is a situation Africans across the continent experience, and it impacts education, bottom lines, and general quality of life – for women, especially. Jacqueline points to initiatives like the Power Africa initiative as important in alleviating unreliable power supply across the continent.

  2. Speaking of power, Jake Cusack and other players in the renewable energy space recently shared insights on the possibilities for renewable energy and power provision now that renewable energy costs are competitive with fossil fuels. Some highlights from the piece – global subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas totaling $550b compared to $120b for renewables; 10k customers in African countries signing up for renewable energy; and global investments in renewable energy growing from $40b in 2004 to $320b in 2011.

  3. Ablorde Ashigbi wrote a really solid analysis of the prospects for venture-backed firms seeking to serve a particular demographic. He uses Walker & Company and its first brand Bevel, a shaving system targeting black men (whenever I get out of Sampson mode and shave my beard, I look forward to using the product) as a case study.

 

Mother Ghana is Struggling

My neck hurts after shaking my head while reading this Economist piece on Ghana’s economic woes. Some highlights:

  • Public debt could reach 70 percent this year
  • The Ghana Cedi has lost over 99 percent of its value to the dollar (Keep in mind Ghana switched from the New Cedi to the Ghana Cedi)
  • Since 1966, Ghana has sought IMF help 16 times

Elections are coming up next year, so we will probably see more spending. President Mahama has a lot of work on his hands in the lead-up. I imagine he will cite progress made on addressing power issues and the exploding budget, and that he should be re-elected to continue righting the ship.

Elections are a lot of work. Perhaps, the better move would be to not seek re-election, double down and get reforms right over the next 18 months, and hand off an improving situation to his successor.

No. 40: Three Things in African Markets You Need to Know This Week – October 14

Oil Discovered Off Senegal’s Coast – link

The wave of West African countries discovering oil continues with Cairn Energy, a Scottish Oil Company, striking oil about 100km off the coast of Senegal. The company is not yet sure about the size of the discovery – a first for Senegal. When Ghana discovered oil in 2010, many looked to the country to debunk the resource curse theory. While Ghana has avoided the security issues parts of Nigeria have dealt with for the past 50 years, it has faced serious fiscal challenges since the oil discovery. Perhaps Senegal will be the leading country to show that African countries can manage their resources effectively. I’ll be watching how Senegal markets its oil in the coming years, in the wake of Nigeria not exporting oil to the U.S. for the month of July – the first time that has happened since rcords were kept in 1973.

Abraaj Takes Majority Stake in Libstar – link

The Abraaj Group, one of the more prominent private equity firms focused on developing markets, announced a majority stake it took in Liberty Star Consumer Holdings (Libstar), a company previously owned by Métier, another private equity firm. The company is a leader in the private-label and own-branded fast moving consumer goods spaces supplying customers like KFC, Pick n Pay, and Tiger Brands. The company’s latest annual revenue as reported on Metier’s website was about $405M.

Equatorial Guinea’s Second Vice President Agrees to Relinquish $30M in Assets – link

The United States Governent and Equatorial Guinea’s Second Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue reached an agreement for Second Vice President Mangue to relinquish $30M in assets in wake of charges that he used his influence to embezzle funds from the Equatoguinean people. As part of the agreement, $20M will go to a charitable organization in the benefit of the Equatoguinean people, and another $10M will go to the U.S. Government, which will also use the money for the benefit of the country’s people. This agreement came in the lead up to Equatorial Guinea’s Independence Day, which was this past Sunday. The U.S. Government originally sought $70M from Second Vice President Nguema.

No. 36: The Fight Continues for Governance and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Independence

Key Points

1. The saga around the suspended Central Bank of Nigeria governor continues;
2. The Central Bank governor is handily backing up his reputation;
3. President Jonathan could get a black eye from this fight; and
4. The independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria is in the balance.

The Saga

The February 20 suspension of Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for “financial recklessness and misconduct” drew many a side-eye. Two months prior to the suspension announcement, Governor Sanusi made claims that Nigeria’s National Petroleum Company had failed to repatriate 49.8 billion USD to the government, before reducing the claim to 20 billion USD.

Governor Sanusi challenged his suspension on the grounds that it is illegal for the President to suspend the Central Bank Governor under the Central Bank of Nigeria Act. This past Thursday, Nigeria’s High Court declined to rule on Governor Sanusi’s challenge. Check out Governor Sanusi’s response.

The suspension is not the only issue Governor Sanusi is dealing with. The Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria is pushing to investigate his use of 1 billion USD while CBN Governor. Nigeria’s High Court has struck down to-date and Governor Sanusi has provided a detailed response.

Dueling Reputations

Governor Sanusi points to the stability of the Central Bank of Nigeria and its effectiveness in fixing the country’s banking system, controlling inflation, and stabilizing currency as wins. The global investing community has taken note and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Governor Sanusi advising other central banks on their activities when the dust settles – unless the forensic audit of the NNPC proves the company’s financials to be in good shape.

President Jonathan, on the other hand, could be licking his wounds from this fight and the continued threat of Boko Haram in parts of the country. The results forensic audit of the NNPCs financials will serve as vindication for one or the other.

Central Bank Independence

The bottom line is that this situation has big implications for the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Will future governors have Governor Sanusi’s fate on their minds when making decisions? If so, we could very well see the slow unwinding of the governance structure Governor Sanusi helped develop.