Africa in 2018: innovation, freer movement, integration, connectivity

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

Africa in 2018

As ever, covering Africa with our self-proclaimed bias towards stories of innovation and new ideas was fascinating in 2018. The challenge for our team is often deciding which stories will have the most impact for readers even when the issues aren’t necessarily about innovation.

This year we took some time to look into the nuts and bolts of African migration through the eyes of a migrant who made the perilous journey from southern Nigeria across the Sahara, through a militia war zone and finally across the Mediterranean. The journey can often be worse for women. We looked at why legal migration is on the rise with middle classes even those from seemingly promising fields.

Since we started Quartz Africa, our China in Africa coverage has been an obsession for us even while it’s been a niche area for most other global publications. That changed this year as China’s role in Africa went mainstream especially for those outside Africa. Chinese influence everywhere from Kenya and Uganda to Mozambique and Zambia was suddenly of great interest as geopolitical watchers connected the dots with some of the more troubling outcomes in Asia. Trump’s White House initially grumbled, then raised alarm over its trade rival’s supposed intentions. China will now feature heavily in all future discussions around rising Africa debt as we move forward.

Two of the big corporate stories this year were from South Africa and Ethiopia. Africa’s most valuable company Naspers, which generates much of its value outside the continent, made a concerted effort to return to its roots by investing in African startups and technology.

Meanwhile, government-owned Ethiopian Airlines had a breakout year as a corporate, reflecting the new found confidence seen in its home country over the last year. It plans to almost singlehandedly revive Africa’s intra-continental air routes and has been in talks to partner or take over defunct and struggling airlines in a few countries as a way to grow its own overall traffic. It comes as Addis Ababa takes over from Dubai as the No. 1 route into Africa.

Finding and presenting accessible data to help explain and accurately tell Africa’s many stories is another one of our unofficial obsessions. That’s why our reporting visit to Central African Republic focused on the lack of data in one of the world’s poorest countries and why we see attempts to control data by some governments as harmful to development.

But as ever we were most excited about innovation. Preparing and presenting this year’s Africa Innovators list was as exhilarating and fulfilling as ever and we’re always grateful for the support it gets from readers and the likes of Bill Gates. There were promising ideas across the continent including the Nigerian schoolgirls who won a Silicon Valley prize for an app to discover fake drugs or the 24-year old Ugandan engineer whose bloodless malaria test won Africa’s top engineering prize .

Our Quartz Africa Innovator alum kept doing big things. Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, opened her 22nd SoleRebels shoe store in Hamburg with plans for more and later revealed her plans for 100 artisanal coffee shops in China. Meanwhile, Wanuri Kahui’s movie Rafiki won international accolades despite a ban at home in Kenya.

Thank you for your support and reading through the year. Best wishes for 2019.

— Yinka AdegokeQuartz Africa editor

Stories from this year

African states inched closer to establishing the world’s largest free trade area in 2018. As Brexit looms and Trump’s America takes a bilateral trade approach, African countries took the opposite direction this year. Abdi Latif Dahir looks at the opportunities inherent in the African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest free trade deal since the World Trade Organization.

Big political changes in Africa this year weren’t quite as transformative as we hoped. Key elections and democratic waves swept nations from Cameroon and Zimbabwe to Ethiopia and South Africa in 2018. Yet the outcomes of these “change” events only showcased how political shortcomings are entrenched in contemporary African states.

The key tech and innovation trends in Africa for 2018. From the continued rise of mobile money, uncertainties around e-commerce, smartphone and internet penetration, increased investment in African startups to crypto-currency regulation, Yomi Kazeem outlines the biggest stories in Africa’s tech and innovation circles this year.

Improving visa and air travel policies pushed Africa towards better integration in 2018. The establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market saw African countries take a major step towards opening the continent’s skies. Improvements in visa openness policies also meant traveling across the continent was slightly easier for Africans this year than ever before.

As smartphones and internet connections rose in Africa, so did entertainment streaming. 2018 saw global streaming companies make a play for audiences here. Netflix, Spotify and local players all made their presence felt, but international streaming trends will face enduring African obstacles.

This was the year Africa’s pop culture truly inspired the world. Yet,this celebration of African culture could not avoid the unequal nature of collaboration between Africa and the West, even when the intention was empowerment. In 2019, as Lynsey Chutel writes, the globe’s love affair with African culture must find a way to benefit Africans.

Quartz‘s favorite 2018 Africa books. Tackling issues ranging from immigration, family, and the intersection of technology and politics, these books meditate with rare clarity on some of the major issues facing our continent and beyond.

Chart of the year

More African households are online than ever before. Most of the stories we covered in 2018 were impacted by the trajectory of the line chart below. It shows the rapid rise of African households with internet access. The role of internet connectivity could be seen in our stories about the contentious politics and conflict in countries like Cameroon, Sudan and Ethiopia which have seen internet shutdowns or the introduction of social media taxes in Uganda. The rise in the number of Africans online is changing finance and business faster than we often realize. It’s also reshaping the way we consume and share entertainment.

Who we lost in 2018

Africans who left indelible legacies. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general and Nobel peace prize winner, died leaving a mixed legacy as the continent’s foremost “rockstar” diplomat. Even in death, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela courted controversy, but South African women reclaimed her legacy from the critics. Also in South Africa, legendary trumpeter and anti-apartheid activist, Hugh Masekela died, leaving behind decades of revolutionary music. Others, like Morgan Tsvangirai, left behind a legacy they were never able to fulfill. He died just months after his former nemesis Robert Mugabe resigned. Former Ethiopian president Girma Woldegiorgis died soon after Ethiopia and Eritrea’s historic reconciliation, a dream to which he contributed.

Keep an eye on 2019

Nigerians go to the polls in February. Nigeria’s elections on Feb. 16 will see incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari go up against former ally turned rival Atiku Abubakar. Buhari is expected to campaign mainly on his anti-corruption message while Atiku has focused his campaign on fixing Nigeria’s stagnant economy and creating jobs.

South Africans vote in May. South Africa’s national and provincial elections are being touted as a chance for president Cyril Ramaphosa to legitimize his power and cement his anti-corruption drive through the popular vote. Opposition parties Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters see this as a chance to take advantage of the disillusionment with the ruling ANC, but they too have been sullied by scandal.

Afrobytes goes global in 2019. The annual conference dedicated to Africa’s tech industry will be held in New York (Jan. 22) and Nairobi (Mar. 15) before returning to its home city of Paris on May 15.

*Our Weekly Briefs were produced this year while listening to some of the songs on the Quartz Africa 2018 playlist (YouTube). Listen to the Spotify playlist here.

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled year ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, 2019 best wishes to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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