Why Special Economic Zones matter for Africa

Plus: The rise of buy now pay later in Egypt
Why Special Economic Zones matter for Africa

Dear Quartz Africa readers,

This past week I served as the moderator at the Africa Economic Zones Organization (AEZO) annual meeting & the African Union Commission (AUC) symposium on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Abuja, Nigeria.

Special Economic Zones are areas in which the business and trade laws are different from the rest of the country. On the continent, they are considered one of the main instruments to stimulate economic reforms, promote foreign direct investment (FDI) and accelerate industrialization. Most of them offer tax incentives and other attractive terms to draw in investors and businesses.

In his opening statement, secretary general of AEZO Ahmed Bennis, hailed the development of SEZs on the continent as drivers of economic development. “Over the past five years, 60 million jobs have been created in agro-processing, industrial fields, and services and more than $2.6 billion has been invested in the development of SEZ projects in the continent,” he said.

As per the African Economic Zones Outlook report, there are 203 operational SEZs in Africa and 73 projects have been announced for completion in 47 of the 54 countries. In the era of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) the role of SEZs is even more important. Though 17% of the world’s population is in Africa, the continent only accounts for 2.5% of global trade.

Quartz Africa readers will know how low levels of industrialization, logistical challenges, and other infrastructure gaps contribute to a situation where the continent is a net exporter of valuable raw materials and an importer of finished goods.

In a recorded statement for the event, the president of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, argued SEZ can help change that. “The role of SEZs is to accelerate sustainable industrial value chain development,” he said.

—Ciku Kimeria, Africa editor

What to watch for in the Quartz Africa Member Brief

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Bobby Kolade was born in Sudan to a German father and a Nigerian mother, and grew up in Uganda before moving to Berlin to study fashion design at the Weissensee Academy of Art.

Upon returning to Kampala, Kolade quickly realized it wasn’t possible to set up a local brand using sustainably grown Ugandan cotton.

Uganda, like many other African markets, was once home to a vibrant local textile industry. Today, the industry is a shadow of its former self.

In 2021, Kolade began working behind the scenes on Buzigahill, a brand named after a mountain near Kampala that is home to many of the city’s creatives, which makes unique upcycled garments from used clothing imports. By creating local jobs, albeit on a small scale for now, and treating the used clothing as raw material to be processed locally, Buzigahill is on a mission to reignite Uganda’s textile industry and bring it back to its peak levels of the 1970s.

Learn more about Buzigahill, a Ugandan fashion startup in this past week’s edition of the Quartz Africa Member Brief.

Stories this week

Ghana hopes to tame rampant inflation by early 2023. Faustine Ngila explores why an IMF intervention may not be enough to reduce inflation that hit a high of 40.4% in October, and how the government plans to act.

Images of doctors kneeling before Uganda’s president angered east Africans. Despite low pay and poor working conditions, one doctor led others in Kampala to praise Yoweri Museveni as a transformational leader, begging him to run for president in 2026. Faustine Ngila explains why east Africans are outraged by the move.

Buy-now-pay-later plans are cushioning Egyptians against inflation. Samar Medhat describes how recent economic reforms, regulations, smartphone penetration, and internet accessibility have produced a rise in the number of companies offering customers the opportunity of buying goods or accessing services to pay in installments.

Electricity has been restored in Tigray. After a two-year blackout, power is back in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern region following the signing of a peace deal. As Faustine Ngila writes, it might take a while longer for life to get back to normal in the region.


Zeraki, a Kenyan edtech startup that creates digital learning and school data analytics platforms, raised $1.8 million in a seed funding round led by Acumen Fund. Zeraki plans to use the funds to introduce more administrative software for schools, scale the business, and offer parents fee loans.

OneOrder, an Egyptian startup that provides supply chain solutions to restaurants, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Nclude, with participation from A15 and Delivery Hero Ventures. The latest funding brings the total capital raised by the startup to $10.5 million, including $6.5 million from financial institutions.

Quartz gems

What’s fueling India’s remittance record?

This year, India will become the first country to see $100 billion in remittance payments. Countries like Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt have seen their remittance volume climb over the past 15-plus years too, but not to the same extent.

What’s behind the increase? Wage hikes and a strong US labor market have helped India’s diaspora—comprising 18 million people—send more money back to the country. A depreciated rupee has also helped: It’s made money transfers from places like South Africa and Thailand up to 26% and 17% cheaper, respectively.

A chart showing the growth of remittances in the top 5 countries from 2005 to 2022
Graphic: Mimansa Verma

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Other things we liked

EU imposes sanctions over DRC violence. A Belgian gold trader, rebel chiefs and Congolese army and political figures are among those facing sanctions from the EU over violence in eastern Congo that has resulted in deaths and other human rights abuses, Al Jazeera reports.

Ghana blocked millions of unregistered sim cards. The BBC’s Thomas Naadi explores what it means for eight million mobile subscribers whose lines were switched off for failure to register.

Malawi’s anti-corruption head was detained. For the Voice of America, Lameck Masina writes that director general of the country’s Anti Corruption Bureau Martha Chizuma was finally arrested over an audio recording that leaked in January.

Uganda received Ebola trial vaccines. The Daily Monitor reports that at least 1,200 doses received from the WHO—the first batch of one of the three candidate vaccines against the Sudan Ebola virus—will undergo clinical trials.

Drought forced thousands of Somalis to cross over to Kenya. Africanews explains that Somali families are looking for food and water as the Horn of Africa region faces its worst drought in 40 years.


Apply for up to €100,000 in grant money. Are you a Kenyan or Tanzanian innovator? Applications are now open at develoPPP Ventures, which supports young companies with a scalable and innovative business model that addresses challenges. (Dec. 30)

Apply for $50,000 to support your business. Stanbic Bank and United States African Development Foundation are inviting Kenyan business owners, producer groups, and cooperatives to apply for grant financing. (Dec. 21)

🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Xale Bi” by Youssou N’Dour (Senegal).

This week’s brief took you to 🇳🇬, 🇰🇪, 🇪🇬, 🇺🇬, 🇬🇭, 🇪🇹, 🇲🇼, 🇨🇩, 🇸🇴, 🇹🇿 and 🇸🇳

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

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