Bra Hugh Masekela, Nigeria’s bobsled stars, Cape Town’s dry wine

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

An informed pathway

In the first 11 months of 2017, 81 South African miners died in the line of duty. The previous year, 73 people lost their lives, then the lowest number in nine years.

But, of course, whether it was 81 or 73 these are still too many people to lose their lives while working, given all the technological advances made in our current age. Both the South African mining industry and the government think the same.

South Africa has some of the world deepest mines, some go over two miles deep below the surface. It is easy to imagine that accidents will happen—but here they have deadly consequences. Now, imagine a mining industry where robot miners with driverless buggies could dig down those depths and even deeper, with more advanced tools and even more precise methods of uncovering minerals. 

That’d be a good thing, right? It’d great to know there won’t be another 70 families grieving. It’d likely be great for more profitable and efficient mining in the long run. But it’d be terrible for many of the near 500,000 people employed in the mining industry as jobs would be lost and hurt the communities they support.

These are the kinds of scenarios policy makers, investors and entrepreneurs have to consider as they turn to technological innovation as the most promising route to jumpstarting or accelerating development. 

As with the example given, the biggest question of all is around jobs. It’s the same question in developed countries. But while some of the debates in advanced economies take place in a political context (take coal miners in the US), for poorer countries the issue is more of an existential one. When talk of robots and artificial intelligence come up in countries with a 50% youth unemployment rate, Africa’s youth demographic dividend can feel all too much like the impending nightmare some predict.

While research has been done on the impact of technology in advanced economies, less has been done in Africa.  The Gates Foundation is trying to change that with a $5 million study managed by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School. The idea of Pathways for Prosperity is to examine how developing countries can leverage technology to improve governance and service delivery.

It’s important. Having solid research and data could make a major difference in aiding governments take the best policy decisions to engender innovation in the most productive way. Technological innovation is going to keep coming whether African governments or citizens want it or not. Being better informed about how you make your decisions will be crucial.

Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

Stories from this week

Nigeria’s bobsled team is winning even before they arrive at the Winter Olympics. At the Winter Olympics next month, three Nigerian women will be the first Africans to compete in the sport of bobsled. Even before they compete, the team is receiving massive support from global brands like Visa and Beats Headphones as well as stars like Serena Williams and Ellen Degeneres.

How South Africa’s legendary trumpeter reinvented the sound of jazz. Trumpeter and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela died this week after a battle with prostate cancer. Lynsey Chutel expounds on how by collaborating with musicians around the world, the “Father of South African Jazz” kept his music fresh.

The controversial Silicon Valley-funded project to educate the world’s poorest kids. Funded by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Bridge International Academies aims to bring affordable, quality education to some of the poorest students in the world. In this deep dive, after Quartz visits to schools in Liberia, Kenya and Nigeria, Jenny Anderson examines the teaching methods and management model that sparked the intense debate about private education in Africa.

The Pan-African fund that will boost tech start-ups in Francophone Africa. The San Francisco-based venture capital firm Partech has raised $70 million out of a target of $100 million to invest in start-ups across Africa. Yomi Kazeem explains how the Dakar-based fund plans to expand support to budding ecosystems beyond Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. 

Ethiopia could be sitting on one of the world’s great untapped gold deposits. The Asosa zone in Ethiopia is dotted with archaeological sites that shed light on the region’s complex past dating thousands of years. But new geological research shows it has enough gold to make Ethiopia one of the world’s top five gold-producing nations.

Cape Town’s water shortage is threatening South Africa’s wine harvest. After a multi-year drought, Cape Town is expected to be the first major city in the world to run out of water by April. Brian Browdie reports on how this catastrophic shortage is already undermining the output of the world’s seventh-largest producer of wine.

Chart of the Week

South Africa’s rand is up against the dollar—the first time in three years. On Jan. 24, the rand pushed passed the psychological 12-rand barrier versus the dollar for the first time since 2015, an important turning point after years of volatility. The promising turnaround was strengthened by speculative reports president Jacob Zuma would leave even before his term in office was due.

Other Things We Liked

What does the “stability doctrine” in Africa mean for the rest of the world? During the 2017 Kenyan polls, Western emissaries kept urging “stability” even as the opposition and the supreme court contested the election results. In African Arguments, Nanjala Nyabola asks, in Africa whom this type of engagement benefits in the long run?

The vanishing fortunes of Tunisia’s legendary bookbinders. In the Old City sector of the Tunisian capital Tunis, one man sits in a store crowded with ancient books and manuscripts, meticulously studying their covers and cracks. For Al Jazeera English, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours documents the 62-year-old man believed to be the north African city’s last bookbinder.

Rwanda wants its people to drink more of their own coffee. As in many African countries, coffee has historically been a cash crop, not a drink in Rwanda. Reporting for the Guardian, Lauren Gambino writes about a government plan to increase domestic consumption of coffee.

Keep an eye on

30th African Union Summit (Jan. 30-31). African presidents will convene in Addis Ababa to attend the 30th African Union Summit on governance. The theme this year is “Winning the fight against corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s transformation.”

Kenyan opposition leader ‘swearing in’ ceremony (Jan. 30). Kenya’s opposition National Super Alliance coalition said it will swear its leader Raila Odinga as the “people’s president” and create an alternative government. The group doesn’t acknowledge president Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected in a free and fair manner.

France’s president Macron at education financing conference in Dakar (Feb. 1-2). The two-day conference in Dakar, Senegal will bring together global leaders who invest in education. French president Emmanuel Macron and former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard will be in attendance.

*This brief was produced while listening to Stimela by Hugh Masekela (Live in Lugano, Switzerland).

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, Nigerian bobsled team mementos and Ethiopian gold bars to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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