Ethiopia rising, Ghana’s bauxite, Africa’s old but new mobile tech

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

Ethiopia rising

The news Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed is looking to loosen the country’s tight grip on strategic assets like its fast-growing airline and its long-term telecom monopoly has already sparked interest from international investors and regional corporates. It’s easy to see why, Ethiopia, with a population of 100 million people, has had one of the world’s fastest growing economies for the last decade. It’s also had a successful top-down implementation of various infrastructure initiatives like transport and construction, so has been one to watch for a while.

But Ethiopia’s also been called a “sleeping giant” because of its closed market. Even decades after its socialist government it still has a heavily regulated business environment. Yet, things were changing, even before Abiy’s appointment, and even while the country’s tense political period led to a state of emergency after ethnic-led protests and fatal clashes, in some cases, with security forces.

At this year’s Afrobytes tech conference in Paris, an Ethiopian delegation of 12 local startups attended to show off some of the not often seen initiatives from Addis Ababa in particular. Zekarias Amsalu, founder of investment advisory firm Ibex Frontier, who led the startups, says he coined the moniker, “Sheba Valley” to describe one of the city’s main startup hubs. Amsalu has long been a champion for Ethiopia’s potential. It’s not about “emotion, but logic” he says. The accountant, who splits his time between London, Washington DC and Addis, explains: “We just want our story to be told. We have 250,000 university graduates every year, about 70% of them are in STEM subjects, there’s so much potential.” Sheba Valley is now recognized as a leading hub for AI technology on the continent.

The Ethiopian tech community seems to be optimistic about Abiy fully delivering on his promise. Pazion Cherinet, chief executive of Orbit Health, a startup which was instigated by the weaknesses of Ethiopia’s health system, met with Abiy while he was minister of science and technology, two years ago. He says he’s always been open-minded. But Cherinet, who is also part of the diaspora, sharing his time between Seattle and Addis, is realistic about what needs to change. “There is a slow way of doing things, for example it takes three months to register a business. That’s even before you write a single line of code.” But ultimately, like others, he’s incredibly optimistic that Ethiopia isn’t going back to being closed. “Transition won’t be that easy, but it’ll happen.”

Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

Stories from this week

China’s growing global military footprint is coming to Africa. Chinese officials confirmed the first China-Africa defense forum in late June to improve security cooperation and capabilities. As Abdi Latif Dahir reports, the move is seen as China’s way to fortify both its investments and strategic interests across Africa.

How a 20-year old mobile technology protocol is revolutionizing Africa. The Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, or USSD, was invented in 1997 to make cellphones better communicate with mobile network operator’s computers before the smartphone era. But as Wiza Jalakasi finds, the protocol’s convergence with the internet is making it easy for African developers to make life-changing applications even while their users still use basic feature phones. 

The environmental risks of a $10 billion China deal to mine bauxite in Ghana. Ghana’s government wants to mine bauxite at the Atewa Forest Reserve, home to a major water reserve, rare flora, besides endangered species. From Accra, Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu documents the efforts of advocacy groups to stop the plan and highlight its environmental consequences. 

The photo op that could be a turning point for gay rights in Rwanda. TV host Ellen DeGeneres and her partner Portia de Rossi recently met president Paul Kagame during a trip to support Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. In a conservative society where gay relations are still frowned upon, Lynsey Chutel explains the significance of the strongman’s meeting with the lesbian celebrity couple.

How offshore companies and accounts are being used to strip cash out of West Africa. Illicit financial flows are bad news for any government, let alone developing nations in Africa. But as a new global investigation shows, that hasn’t stopped West Africa’s most powerful politicians and corporate moguls from operating secretive companies abroad to avoid taxes and keep money out of sight from authorities.

The world’s first TEDx event in a refugee camp took place in Kenya. Almost 200,000 people who have fled war and disaster in South Sudan, Somalia, and beyond have called Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya a home for over a quarter century. This weekend, some of the camp’s former and current refugees took the stage to share stories of hope, creativity, and resilience.

Chart of the Week

Farm murders are declining in South Africa—even as activists warn of white “genocide.” Isolated and believed to be wealthy, South African farmers have historically been the targets of attacks. But as white activist groups like AfriForum claim racial targeting and the onset of “genocide,” new data from the agricultural industry association shows otherwise.

Other Things We Liked

The future is African—and the United States is not prepared.  By 2050, one in every four people on earth will be African. Yet, “instead of preparing to build a relationship that can grow with the continent, based upon diplomatic cooperation” the US is “doubling down” on military and security engagement in Africa, write ($) Salih Booker and Ari Rickman of the Center for International Policy.

Unveiling Eritrea’s scripted reality. Eritrea is a reclusive state, led by one man since independence, and has been described as “Africa’s North Korea.” In Africa as a Country, Abraham T. Zere gives us a glimpse into life in the authoritarian state, and how the government uses outright denial and fear to control the narrative and its image abroad.

A young Ugandan photographer documents the experiences of her nation’s teenagers. Half of Uganda’s population are under the age of 16, who have never seen any president other than Yoweri Museveni. The New York Times’ Lens blog showcases the work of Esther Mbabazi, a 23-year-old documentary photographer whose photos capture the energy and diversity of being young in the East Africa nation.

Keep an eye on

Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (June 13). The coveted award ceremony will take place in Nairobi where four finalists out of 16 entrepreneurs will showcase their innovations to a selected audience and judging panel in a bid to win $33,500. 

World Cup begins (Jun.14), Morocco for 2026? (Jun. 13). Five African countries: Senegal, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia will take part in the soccer spectacle in Russia. Morocco will also be on the ballot when the international football federation votes on June 13 on who will host the 2026 World Cup. 

Social Media Week Nairobi (Jun. 12-15). Now in its third year, the event will bring companies, experts, and entrepreneurs to explore the latest trends in digital innovation.

*This brief was produced while thinking of Anthony Bourdain’s unique ability to bring his storytelling skills to African cities while both learning and teaching us about ourselves. RIP.

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions,  legit offshore accounts and environmentally-friendly Ghanaian bauxite to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day. This newsletter was compiled by Abdi Latif Dahir and edited by Yinka Adegoke.

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