Congolese comics, African selfies, camel milk’s rise, 400 years in America

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!


Much has been written in (English language) publications like this one about the economic potential of the Francophone Africa market of over 120 million people in 15 countries especially when it comes to a tech and innovation ecosystem. But what has often seemed lacking has been venture funding.

Some very big institutional players have been trying to solve this most fundamental challenge, including the French government which has backed a number of initiatives. One of these includes Digital Africa, which is run by former Quartz Africa Innovator nominee Karim Sy, who has been running digital businesses on the continent for over a decade including his Jokko Labs hub in Dakar, Senegal.”There’s something interesting happening with all these grassroots initiatives,” says Sy. “There’s a kind of coalition coming where our hubs are working together.”

What’s changed he says is that investors are finally getting behind local entrepreneurs with Dakar emerging as the key hub for French-speaking African entrepreneurs and attracting startups from other neighboring countries.

The World Bank’s L’Afrique Excelle program played a major role in bringing 10 startups to Paris to get them to engage with more diverse range of investors who might be interested in emerging markets but won’t be able to make it out to five or six different African cities at a time. The program offers equity-free acceleration for startups seeking Series A funding from $250,00 to $5 million.

Investors including Partech Ventures and the VC arm of French telecom giant Orange, Orange Digital Ventures have opened up in Dakar.”The market is huge, one monetary system, similar legal systems and language,” notes Grégoire de Padirac, an investment manager of ODV.

But it’s not as straightforward as just investing in French-speaking startups simply because you’d like to. ODV’s first startups investments in Africa were in English-speaking countries Kenya and South Africa in part because the majority of Francophone Africa’s startups were at an earlier stage of development than the VC was set-up to fund. It has got round this by adopting a fund of funds model and plans to re-adjust its strategy in other ways to help support the early stage pipeline of startups.

Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

Stories from this week

The Congolese storyteller drawing on African mythology and spirituality for his comic books. After growing up imagining a world in which only Japanese anime and American comic characters existed, Congolese artist Kiyindou Yamakasi tells Ciku Kimeria he is tapping into Yoruba mythology in a bid to have some of Africa’s legends, heroes and heroines come alive in comics series.

The continent’s top handset maker won out by designing phones that take better selfies of Africans. The Chinese manufacturer Transsion has dominated Africa’s smartphone market by making phones localized to African consumers. One key feature that distinguishes its devices is making cameras calibrated to better capture darker skin tones.

A battle with TB inspired his smart medicine dispenser—now it’s won Africa’s top engineering prize. South African Neo Hutiri, 31 won this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa prize for innovation. He came up with the idea for Pelebox, a smart medicine dispenser, after waiting in lines for medication at a Johannesburg hospital during a bout of tuberculosis .

Camel milk could be the next big superfood—thanks to East Africa. With over 22 million camels, East African nations like Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia have some of the world’s largest camel populations. Given the camel milk’s medicinal and nutritional value, Abdi Latif Dahir reports on rising group of entrepreneurs who want to standardize and package the “white gold” for export to a global market seeking new healthy foods..

The 1619 anniversary of Africans in the United States is significant but not the whole story.  The year 1619 is historically marked to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of Africans to the English colonies and the commencement of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in North America. But, as Lekan Oguntoyinbo explains, there’s a rarely told history of Africans in North American about 100 years before then.

Liberia blocked social media after anti-government protests. Liberians might have been expecting a lot of things under the presidency of George Weah, the former soccer star, but in many ways things have not changed much for the better. The expected June 7 protests took place to protest the country’s economic slide even as funds disappear and the ensuing political uncertainty. In response all key social media was blocked on some networks.

Chart of the Week

Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to manage debt for their Chinese-built railways. The two East African countries are home to major Chinese-funded billion-dollar railway lines but a combination of social and economic factors mean both rail projects are struggling to show demonstrable success which could reduce the prospect of further loan finance from China. Yunnan Chen looks most closely at Ethiopia’s challenges.

Other Things We Liked

The role of music in Sudan’s latest revolution. Protests in Sudan over the past few months resulted in a landmark event in April: the ouster of long-time leader, Omar Al-Bashir. For The Nation, Isma’il Kushkush investigates how anthems have created a sense of solidarity among crowds and invigorated the protests.

How China’s value propositions gradually surpassed those of the United States. For decades, nations across the world saw the US as a nation offering an ambitious global vision for progress and development. But as Howard French argues in World Politics Review, there’s been a scarcity of “both energy and imagination” to critically engage the world from recent US administrations—giving Beijing ample time and space to flip the dynamics in its favor.


Stanford Seed Transformation Program 2020. Founders or chief executives can receive financial aid to attend the year-long intensive program aimed at improving management training, coaching, and networking support. (June 15)

Afropop Worldwide needs help protecting and consolidating its 30+ year archive. Afropop Worldwide is crowdsourcing for its plans to protect archives of over 800 hours of Afropop music shows. (June 30).

MIT Solve Challenge. Start-ups who are engaged in the circular economy, community-driven innovation, early childhood development, and healthy cities can apply to access over $1.5 million in funding. (July 1)

The Rhodes Scholarships for East Africa. Citizens of Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Burundi can apply for a fully-funded, one-year graduate study at the University of Oxford. (Aug. 31)

Keep an eye on

Tech in Ghana conference (June 10). The fifth edition of the Tech in Ghana conference will be held as an official part of London Tech Week bringing together startup founders, government officials, and investors from both Ghana and the UK. Also in London will be the Africa Tech Summit (June 11). 

Mest Africa Summit (June 10-12). Tech leaders from around the world will gather in Nairobi to explore the latest innovations and rising stars in the continent’s tech and startup scene.

Rights Con Summit (June 11-14). The world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age is coming to an African city for the first time, hosting more than 2,500 participants from 700 companies, organizations, and governments, representing 130 nations in Tunis.

African Development Bank Group annual meeting (June 11-14). This year’s theme is “Regional integration for Africa’s economic prosperity” and brings together 3,000 delegates from governments, businesses, civil society, think tanks, academia in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

*This brief was produced while listening to 400 Years by The Wailers (Jamaica).

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, Congolese comics and African-focused camera phones to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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