Africa Innovators 2019, Andela’s layoffs, lending app pains in Kenya, Tanzania

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

Change makers

This week we published the 5th annual Quartz Africa Innovators list. As with previous editions we had a collection of 30 Africans who have dedicated vast amounts of their energies to improving their local communities and countries–and ultimately the wider continent–by focusing on solving one or more problems.

The biggest task ahead for the continent is the probability that many African economies will be incapable of supporting and enabling enough businesses to employ the burgeoning numbers of youth.

It’s a challenge likely to be so huge, countries across Europe are worried about it because governments believe their borders will be even more overwhelmed by young, desperate Africans taking life-threatening journeys to flee their countries and reach a perceived promised land.

If you combine the long-running economic inadequacies of many African countries with the youth bulge, and then take into account the likelihood of a disproportionate negative impact of climate change on the continent, then you get some sense of the true scale of the challenge.

The question is, how large a role will innovators play in helping to fix these problems?

“I often think about innovation through the lens of access, value creation, and value distribution,” says Efosa Ojomo, a senior researcher at Harvard Business School’s Christensen Institute. “For example, efficiency innovations—the ones that cut jobs—are often targeted at existing consumers, and so they reduce cost and increase cash flow for shareholders. These tend to have a devastating impact on the economy.”

But given the economic scenario and outlook, most African innovators can’t afford to think about innovation that way.

Iyin Aboyeji, a Quartz Africa Innovator from our 2016 list and co-founder of Flutterwave and Andela, makes clear he thinks there’s little separation between doing what he does as a tech entrepreneur/investor and trying to improve his country or the continent: “I don’t want entrepreneurship as it’s currently used today to be a tool for further impoverishing the poor.”

Ojomo says what is needed and should be supported are “market-creating innovations” like we’ve seen with mobile phones. “They’re different because they target non-consumers, they necessitate the creation of an entirely new value network,” he said. “Africa as a whole is in the market creation phase. It’s why big private equity funds can’t find deals. We haven’t created the markets yet.”

Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

Link to this essay here.

Quartz Africa Innovators


Ghirmay Abraham • Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou • Olugbenga Agboola • Joël Andrianomearisoa • Getnet Assefa • Selassie Atadika • Fatoumata Bâ • Taleb Brahim • Aziza Chaouni • Sarah Diouf • Given Edward • Touria El Glaoui • Abasi Ene-Obong • Odunayo Eweniyi • Spencer Horne • Mariam Kamara • Hermann Kamte • Mostafa Kandil • Agnes Kiragga • Elizabeth Kperrun • Wale Lawal • Yannick Lefang • Priscilla Kolibea Mante • Letsweletse Motshidiemang • Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun • Ken Njoroge • Anne Rweyora • El Seed • Caster Semenya • Samba Yonga

Read the full Africa Innovators list here.

Stories from this week

South Africa’s township foods are being remade as gourmet dishes by a new generation of chefs

. Despite facing barriers to entry including a lack of financial resources and cultural capital, young chefs in South Africa are flipping the script. As

Nikita Singh highlights

, a new generation of chefs are trying to bridge the gap between historically suppressed food culture and the modern interpretation of fine dining.

Protectionism and trade wars could shave $800 billion off China’s Belt and Road plan. Since 2013, Beijing has embarked on a multi-billion dollar transcontinental developmental program that’s been described as the 21st Century’s Silk Road. But if the scheme is to succeed, governments, private capital, and multilateral development banks will have to collaborate with Beijing not compete against it.

Andela laid off over 400 developers: what it mean for Africa’s tech ecosystems. Training and outsourcing company, Andela announced plans to lay off up to 400 junior developers in three of its African markets amid a shift in strategy. Yomi Kazeem explains the consequences for local ecosystems, the now unemployed developers and the perception of Andela’s brand.

Measles is killing more people in DR Congo than Ebola. In July 2019, the WHO declared the current Ebola outbreak in DRC a public health emergency of international concern. But the central African country has a more devastating problem receiving little attention as measles has been ravaging the country

Chinese firms are driving the rise of AI surveillance across Africa. A new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace finds more countries than ever are using AI surveillance tools to track their citizens. The research shows Chinese companies are penetrating African markets rapidly, offering soft loans for governments to purchase equipment led by Huawei in countries from Kenya and Nigeria to Zimbabwe and South Africa.

A small African library in a Sicilian city is countering a far-right narrative on migration. As hundreds of migrants, mostly from Africa have arrived on the shores of Italian cities the country’s far-right parties have gained hold of the political narrative about refugees. Stefanie D’Ingoti visited Piccola Biblioteca d’Africa in Catania to find a mix of African authors, migrants and local residents keen to learn more about each other.

Chart of the Week

Mobile loan apps are coming under scrutiny in East Africa for predatory lending practices.

Micro-lending applications have been rising in Kenya and Tanzania, allowing users to pay for basic necessities and borrow to grow their businesses. But as

Abdi Latif Dahir reports from Nairobi

, the applications are been criticized for profiteering, increasing indebtedness & encroaching on users’ privacy.

The Dealmaker

Eighteen months after backtracking during its first attempt, Helios Towers is planning an initial public offering on the London Exchange. The company which leases towers to Africa’s largest telecoms operators will create a holding company in London and look to raise around $125 million...FairMoney, the France-based lending startup with operations in Nigeria, is the latest fintech company to notch big-ticket investment: it raised $11 million in a Series A round led by Flourish, a subsidiary of Omidyar Group. Since launching in 2017, the lending app has garnered over 200,000 Nigerian users.

Other Things We Liked

Using mobile data to shed light on the scale of South Sudan’s conflict. The civil war that has engulfed South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has taken almost 400,000 lives and pushed nearly 2.5 million refugees into neighboring nations. In this interactive project for Al Jazeera English, Carolyn Thompson, Kristen van Schie, and Lagu Joseph Jackson blend ground reporting with mobile phone surveys and satellite imagery to measure the true impact of the war. 

How a Chinese investor took the reins of an African kingdom’s biggest export. Wool and mohair are Lesotho’s main agricultural exports and key contributors to its economy. But as Antony Sguazzin and Mathabiso Ralengau detail in Bloomberg, problems have ensued since the government awarded a monopoly on the sector to a Chinese businessman. 

The beauty and burden of being a Nigerian bride. The artistic photography of Lakin Ogunbanwo is the subject of this piece by Yemisi Aribisala for The New Yorker which explores the glitz, glamor and deep contradictions of Nigerian weddings. “Finances allowing, Nigerian weddings are densely peopled affairs spanning days or weeks, uncompromising in their opulence.”


The 2020 Lindau meeting on economic sciences. Young African scientists in the field of economics can apply to attend the gathering in Lindau, Germany to interact and exchange ideas with Nobel Laureates from all over the world. (Sept. 24)

The Mandela Washington fellowship 2020. The program recruits up to 700 African leaders between 25-35 years old for an executive-style program that allows them to study and meet with US civic, business, and government leaders. (Oct. 9)

Keep Your Eye On

Forum on internet freedom in Africa (Sep. 23-26). Stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa will gather in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to improve gaps and harness opportunities related to the free flow of information online. 

United Nations General Assembly (Sep. 24-28). African leaders will join world leaders to attend the 74th session of the global body’s debate which this year is being presided over by Nigeria’s Tijjani Muhammad-Bande. South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa will, however, skip the meeting this year following weeks of xenophobic attacks and rising violence against women

*This brief was produced while listening to Assa by Balla et ses Balladins (Guinea). [Spotify]

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, South African township gourmet dishes and anti-surveillance tools to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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