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Keep it on 2020
Last month, when most people were busy with their holiday shopping and generally winding down from a busy 2019, that rarest of things (these days) happened in the United States Congress, a bipartisan supported resolution was introduced.
It was a resolution calling on African governments to protect and promote human rights through internet freedom and digital integration for all African citizens. It was introduced on Dec. 17 by representative Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, who is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa. She was co-sponsored by Republicans Christopher Smith from New Jersey and Ron Wright from Texas.
“Blocking or restricting access to the internet violates freedom of speech, limits economic opportunities, and suppresses political participation,” said Bass in her statement. “Increasingly, many African governments describe content on the internet as ‘fake news’ as the basis for blocking the information during disasters, terrorist attacks, and social unrest.”
Bass is right, of course. If you’ve been reading Quartz Africa for the last few years it might even feel a bit late but it’s one of those issues that needs as much coverage and discussion as possible to discourage authorities with misguided or more nefarious intentions.
The resolution highlights some of the recent more egregious examples including Sudan, Cameroon, Chad and Uganda.
A closer look features the expected US government concerns about China’s role in Africa. “Through the desire to build a “digital Silk Road”, [China] has increased cyber activity in Africa through telecommunications contracts and fiber optic networks which can expose individuals to greater monitoring and surveillance, and has exported technology and training to authoritarian officials that have made it easier to restrict internet access in many African countries.”
There’s nothing to say an American or French company couldn’t do this. But there’s a particular concern when it comes to China’s influence and the long-term economic interest of African countries. Last year shutdowns are estimated to have cost African countries $2 billion.
“By providing them with tools and equipment and trainers to lock up their cyberspace, governments like China’s have unlimited access to the personal data of citizens as well as the economic and strategic data of governments in Africa,” says Julie Owono, executive director of Internet Sans Frontieres.
It would be nice to confidently predict there’d be fewer internet shutdowns or social media blocks this year, but given the correlation of shutdowns with elections in Africa—there are 10 presidential and nine parliamentary African elections this year—we’d simple advise to keep fingers crossed and watch this space.
— Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor
Five stories from this week
The UK’s Africa summit offered lofty promises of commitment but not enough substance. As its exit from the European Union looms, the United Kingdom can learn from China about fine-tuning its economic relationship with African countries as it seeks to boost trade ties, writes Hannah Ryder from Beijing. Yet, given a lack of consistency in approach and rhetoric, the UK-Africa investment summit this week did not fully convince that Britain’s promises will yield significant substance, Dominic Dudley reports.from London.
A Chinese super app is facing claims of predatory consumer lending in Africa. Opera-owned digital lending apps, OPesa and OKash, have come under scrutiny for their operations in Kenya, Nigeria and India with a US stock short seller claiming the Chinese-owned tech firm flouts Google’s repayment period policy for loan apps. The claims of predatory lending come amid growing evidence that access to quick, digital loans is leading to a spike in personal debt among African users.
African countries are trying to work together to stop a borderless fake drug problem. The first step towards ridding African cities of fake medicines was recently taken in Lomé, Togo. As Amindeh Blaise Atabong finds, with Africa accounting for 42% of globally detected cases of substandard and fake medical products, seven African leaders met in the West African country to sign off a cross-border initiative to ramp up criminal penalties for trafficking in fake medicine.
Trump’s controversial travel ban is set to add more African countries—including Nigeria. After already hitting some African countries with visa restrictions and visa application price hikes, more Africans might soon find obtaining a US visa more difficult. Three years after first issuing a controversial travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, the Trump administration is set to expand the ban to include four more African countries, learns Yomi Kazeem.
These are the “Nigerian English” words added to the Oxford Dictionary. Words and phrases that have been used by Nigerians for decades as part of the country’s local lexicon have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. From “next tomorrow”, “K-leg” and “Tokunbo,” the 29 Nigerian English words now included in the dictionary were recognized as unique and distinctive contributions to English language.
Quartz and 36 other news organizations led by ICIJ dug through more than 700,000 files using our investigative AI studio to expose how Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars in public money out of Angola under her father’s presidency, and into a labyrinth of more than 450 companies, many based in tax havens. Max de Haldevang writes that the files reveal how western companies, including PwC, Boston Consulting, and Accenture, helped legitimize her empire. She moved money into Europe with the help of Portuguese banks she part-owned and once there enjoyed luxury European real estate and was lauded as a “Queen” by Dolce & Gabbana. After Luanda Leaks published, dos Santos hired a US lobbying firm with close ties to the Trump administration. Angola formally charged dos Santos with embezzlement and then one of her private bankers was found dead at his Lisbon home.
Nigerian fintech company Flutterwave raised $35 million in a Series B round co-led by Greycroft and eVentures with additional participation from CRE Venture Capital, FIS, Visa, and Green Visor. Flutterwave is now seeking expansion into Francophone and North Africa…CDC Group, UK’s development finance institution made a $15 million commitment to the TIDE Africa Fund managed by Africa-focused VC firm TLcom Capital. The fund invests between $500,000 and $10 million in early-stage and high-growth startups…South African software provider Skynamo raised $30 million in a Series A round from US venture firm Five Elms Capital. Founded in 2012, the field sales app and management platform now serves users in South Africa, the US and the UK.
A third of the world plays video games. About 60% of Americans say they play them daily. And as the global gaming industry grows, it’s influencing much more than how we spend our free time. From entertainment to government to health care, industries are trying to distill and deploy gaming’s immersive power. In this week’s field guide, contributor Mary Pilon covers everything you need to know about the state of gaming and its impact on our lives.
Other things we liked
This art was looted 123 Years ago. Will it ever be returned? “You can find Benin bronzes in many of the West’s great museums, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They’re in smaller museums, too. The Lehman, Rockefeller, Ford and de Rothschild families have owned some. So did Pablo Picasso.” For the New York Times, Alex Marshall tells the story of two men leading a campaign to return Benin bronzes looted in 1897.
Tech startups will weather the worst of South Africa’s economic uncertainty. Local venture capitalists are confident that despite the 2020 economic outlook for South Africa being revised downwards, the tech community will be able to get through it. For Ventureburn, Stephen Timm notes that VCs believe tech companies are often “ideally suited” to such downturns.
VW and Nissan are targeting a new-car market for Africans. More than 70% of the cars sold in a country like Ghana are second-hand, many imported from the United States and across Europe—this is common across many countries in Sub Saharan Africa. Volkswagen and Nissan see an opportunity to build a market for new cars, writes Yinka Ibukun for Bloomberg. But the biggest challenge will be enabling a viable consumer credit sector.
Ignite Africa Challenge 2020. A competition seeking young Africans to solve pressing challenges in education and healthcare for a chance to win $100,000 in seed capital. (Jan. 31)
Go Global Africa 2020. The International Tech Hub Network’s Go Global Africa invites innovative startups working in fintech, agritech, health and clean energy from across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa to join in-country masterclasses as well as a UK program. (Feb. 3)
Keep an eye on
StartEgypt Forum 2020, Cairo (Jan. 29). This program targets and supports Egyptian entrepreneurs and social impact organizations. The second annual forum will showcase 45 startups incubated in Cairo, Assiut and Alexandria.
*This brief was produced while listening to Ugali by The Tony Benson Sextet (Nigeria).
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