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China waives debt for 17 African countries

China, Africa’s largest bilateral lender, waived debt owed by 17 countries in the continent for 23 interest-free loans that were due in 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jingping (C) with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) and Senegalese President Macky Sall (L)
Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images
This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
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Hi Quartz Africa readers,

China provided some financial relief to 17 African countries this week by waiving debt on 23 interest-free loans that were due in 2021.

China is Africa’s second biggest lender. The debt decision signals the Asian power’s intention to remain Africa’s preferred long-term development partner, especially “in the face of the various forms of hegemonic and bullying practices,” as Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said in what may have been a veiled reference to the recent contentious visit by US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

The relief was announced on Aug. 18 in an address to Chinese and African diplomats at a meeting meant to follow up on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held last November in Senegal. At the time, China reduced its financial pledge to Africa by 33%, which was interpreted as a sign of concern for Africa’s indebtedness at a time of slowing Chinese economic growth.

While specific details of the debt relief were not disclosed, China’s top diplomat appeared to criticize the US and Europe’s sanctions against Russia in its ongoing war in Ukraine. Yi said Africa wants “a favorable and amicable cooperation environment, not the zero-sum Cold War mentality…mutually beneficial cooperation for the greater well-being of the people, not major-country rivalry for geopolitical gains.”

Some African leaders, especially in those francophone countries demanding an end to France’s influence in the region, will likely have found themselves nodding along Yi’s words. —Alexander Onukwue, west Africa correspondent


Stories this week

Africa’s first e-currency is struggling to win hearts. With an average of 1.35 transactions per active wallet, the eNaira has yet to convince its skeptics, Alexander Onukwue writes.

MTN switched on 5G in Nigeria. The telecom giant became the first to make 5G available in Nigeria following the beginning of a pilot in seven cities, including Lagos and Abuja. Alexander Onukwue asked the company what the coverage will look like when the service is fully launched.

Japan is changing its approach to Africa. To counter Chinese, EU and US influence in Africa, Japan is shifting its focus from aid to foreign direct investment (FDI), Faustine Ngila reports.

The new scramble for Africa is happening on the cloud. Faustine Ngila details how data is the new oil in Africa, with US companies exploiting it to their benefits, and African companies mostly missing out.

Togo is taking charge of securing Africa’s cyberspace. Faustine Ngila explains why Togo was the chosen location for the new UN cybersecurity center to counter cyber attacks in Africa.

Was Kenya’s presidential vote hacked? Presidential candidate Raila Oginga’s running mate Martha Karua and anti-corruption crusader John Githongo allege that hackers gained unauthorized access to the voting IT system.

Wanuri Kahiu’s Hollywood debut is a success. The groundbreaking Kenyan female director best known for Rafiki—a lesbian lovestory—has taken hollywood by storm with her first directorial debut on Netflix.


Benin thrills crowds with historic artifacts

Anthropomorphic statues representing Kings Glélé and Béhanzin, icons of the Dahomey Kingdom
Image copyright: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
Anthropomorphic statues representing Kings Glélé and Béhanzin, icons of the Dahomey Kingdom

Nearly 130 years after French soldiers entered the palace in Abomey in southern Benin and seized royal property as a sign of colonial conquest, month-long exhibitions in the west African country have honored the return of 26 artifacts, providing an opportunity to showcase a vibrant contemporary art tradition. Alexander Onukwue shows how the state-sponsored exhibitions, which have drawn over 200,000 people in a few months, are connecting a nation to a royal history it had been forcefully separated from.


Is Africa ready for the metaverse?

A group of people with VR glasses on
Image copyright: REUTERS/ TINGSHU WANG
“It’s good for the future but we’re not there yet, economically we’re struggling. People hardly understand the concept of the metaverse. If you tweet about the metaverse in Africa people get curious but are confused. Those who understand it don’t know how to merge it with their businesses” Egline Samoei, founder of Nairobi-based social media analytics startup Brand Moran.

Meta wants to spread the metaverse hype in 16 African countries, and has announced a series of programs under its global extended reality (XR) fund to grow metaverse talent.

But for many Africans, the concept of the metaverse is still too theoretical, with few seeing how it can enhance their livelihoods or businesses. Coupled with the restrictively high costs of VR headsets, slow internet speeds, and high costs of data on the continent, Fausting Ngila forecasts a bumpy ride for metaverse adoption.


Spotlight on a Quartz Africa 2021 Innovator

A stylized image of Kalista Sy

Kalista Sy is the creative force behind one of the most watched African shows on YouTube—Maitresse d’un homme marié (The mistress of a married man). The show is produced by Marodi TV—Senegal’s first private TV channel which started in 2003—and has racked up millions of views.

Marodi TV is considered one of the best platforms for broadcasting Senegalese and French-speaking content in Africa. During the lockdown, it often trended on French Twitter, as a large Francophone community discovered its series and became hooked.

“In my work, the place of women is rehabilitated, she is no longer confined to a secondary role or submissive woman, she is an actor of her destiny,” Sy tells Quartz Africa, adding that her characters are often strong and financially independent. “It is important that women are at the origin of the scenarios, that they have a central place in the production,” she adds. “This will help to empower and create role models of strong women to help little girls grow up and aspire to.”

Check out Quartz Africa’s Innovators 2021 list, which showcases the pioneering work being done by Sy and other female African innovators.


Dealmaker

SubsBase, an Egyptian startup for businesses to manage subscriptions, raised $2.4 million in a seed round led by Global Ventures. HALA Ventures, Plug and Play, Ingressive Capital, and Camel Ventures. SubsBase says it has grown 200% month over month since 2021 and will devote its new financing to growth in the Middle East and north Africa region, where it is based.


Quartz Gems

THE BATTLE OF THE PREQUEL

HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon debuted to millions of subscribers over the weekend, and the streaming service even saw some outages as demand swelled. The show aired just 11 days before the release of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Even before Dragon dropped, it was drawing more enthusiasm. Google Trends data on the two series over the last 30 days shows that Dragon garnered far more interest from potential viewers than the tale based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s sword and sorcery source material. Searches for the two shows were nearly identical until July, when the first trailers for both shows were released.

Quartz graphic showing google trends of both films from May to August

It’s clear Amazon is still finding its original content studio legs, and could learn a thing or two from the way HBO kept its budget in check and promoted the series (the High Valyrian language on Duolingo was a nice touch).


Other things we liked

How Nigeria’s unique instant payments work. For Decode Fintech, Tochukwu Ironsi peels back the layers to show how Nigeria processes real-time payments at a rate that only five other countries in the world are able to match.

Monetization hasn’t come easy for African podcasts. For TechCabal, Daniel Adeyemi explores the landscape of podcasts in Africa, showing how issues like cost of internet data and advertiser expectations affect the chances of podcasts becoming profitable.

Google opens its Wallet in South Africa. Techcrunch’s Annie Njanja reports how the new payment service works, as the country moves to a more cashless society after Apple Pay launched last year.

Uganda pushes for affordable internet. The East African’s Jonathan Kamoga reports that a plan to reduce internet costs by half is geared towards achieving financial inclusion.

Angola’s incumbent president will remain in power. For Bloomberg, Henrique Almeida and Candido Mendes detail how president João Lourenço was reelected in the country’s most tightly contested vote in history.


ICYMI

Up to €50,000 grants for filmmakers. Can you use film to tell African stories that tackle human rights issues? Movies that Matter is offering up to €50,000 ($49,972) in grant funding to support projects that drive a conversation on human rights in Africa. (Sept. 4)

$50,000 for fintech innovators. The Ecobank Fintech Challenge is open for all African fintech innovators where the ultimate winner will pocket a cash prize of $50,000. All finalists will be inducted into the Ecobank Fintech Fellowship. (Sept. 15)


🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Soo dadaal” by Mursal Muuse ft Hodan Abdirahman (Somalia)


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Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, returned artifacts, and affordable VR equipment to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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