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How SAT scores equalize opportunity for African students

MIT’s decision to reinstate SAT requirements is actually a positive move for students on the continent.

South African DJ Black Coffee raises his Grammy award
This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
  • Ciku Kimeria
By Ciku Kimeria

I tell African stories

Published

Hi Quartz Africa readers,

As a Kenyan alumnus of MIT, I look back on my years there fondly: I had the benefit of a full scholarship for my undergraduate study, and was surrounded by a brilliant and supportive community that included other African and international students.

In the recent past, MIT and several other academic institutions dropped SAT requirements for undergraduate applicants in a bid to increase diversity, a move that was hastened by the pandemic as it became harder for students to safely take the test. The decision was heralded by those who argue that standardized testing excludes economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities, especially Blacks and Latinos, in favor of affluent whites who have more resources to prepare for testing.

But when MIT last week reinstated the SAT requirement, the school implied the opposite, noting that “not having SATs/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education.”

To be clear: Any efforts to increase diversity in academic institutions are laudable, and also inevitably nuanced. But for African students in particular, MIT’s reversal is actually a positive move. As imperfect and expensive as the SATs are, they are standard, which helps obviate some of the differences between American and international students on things like core curriculum, extracurriculars, teacher recommendations, personal essays, and even humility. Without such tests, the application process gives people coming from a public school background on the continent fewer opportunities to shine. —Ciku Kimeria, Africa editor

By the digits

5,000: Abandoned containers at Nigeria’s ports in 2021

9 million: 20-ft.-container capacity at Morocco’s Tanger Med port

132 million: Tons of cargo to be transported through Africa by 2030

4%: Africa’s share of global container traffic in 2020

A chart showing container traffic through ports in various global regions.

👆 That’s a preview of our latest Quartz Africa Member Brief, which looks at how startups are reshaping logistics on the continent—and hopefully tackling Lagos’s infamously congested Apapa port. To get the Africa Member Brief directly in your inbox, sign up for a free trial of Quartz Africa membership.

Stories this week

How Somalia changed the face of money transfer. With Hormuud, Somalia’s leading mobile money provider, having recently received GSMA Mobile Money Certification, Tom Collins reports on the years of innovation by Somalis in the global money-transfer market.

Africa’s fragmented digital payments. Carlos Mureithi speaks to the CEO of Cellulantone of the oldest and largest digital payment companies in Africa—about fragmentation, the regulatory environment, emerging opportunities, and the future of digital payments.

Thomas Sankara gets delayed justice. A military tribunal in Burkina Faso sentenced three people to life in prison for killing the revolutionary in 1987, Alexander Onukwue reports. One of the three was Sankara’s successor Blaise Compaoré, currently in exile in Côte d’Ivoire.

South Africa’s eighth Grammy was unique. The country’s famous producer and DJ, Black Coffee, won a Grammy for best dance/electronic album, succeeding in a category that shows the range of music made by Africans in Africa, Alexander Onukwue explains.

How Afrobeats is changing the US music industry. Although Afrobeats artists have only racked up Grammy nominations for the past three years, Sarah Todd examines the monumental influence of the genre in the US.

One big number

Two men perform the traditional Swahili dance Kirumbizi-Kirumbizi in Lamu, Kenya.
Two men perform the traditional Swahili dance Kirumbizi-Kirumbizi in Lamu, Kenya.

200 million: That’s how many Swahili speakers there are in Africa, making it the continent’s most recognized language. Once an obscure island dialect, John Mugane looks at how Swahili spread over two millennia thanks to immigrants, traders, settlers, and even occupiers.

Quartz announcement
Quartz announcement
Keep obsessing with us. Remember a time when collaborating on a document meant sending a file back and forth? Ever wonder why Hollywood makes sequels almost compulsively? Why disco is still stayin’ alive? Binge all of Season 2 of the Quartz Obsession podcast and find out.

Sponsored by Alumni Ventures
Listen now

Spotlight on a Quartz Africa innovator

Nanjala Nyabola runs the Kiswahili Digital Rights Project, an initiative to translate and popularize key terms in digital rights and technology into the most spoken African language.

“English has a huge linguistic advantage in the digital age, and non-English-first communities are basically playing catch up,” says Nyabola, who realized early-on that translation gaps were making it difficult for digital rights activists to articulate digital matters to non-English speakers. “Any effort to give communities a tool they can use to speak up for their own rights is important.” Today, Nyabola’s initiative is funded by the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab Fellowship.

Check out Quartz Africa’s full list of 2021 Innovators.

Dealmaker

ZirooPay, a provider of point-of-sale card payment devices in Nigeria, raised $11.4 million in a series A round led by Zrosk Investment Management, a Nigerian firm. ZirooPay says 15,000 vendors use its devices and have processed $500 million across 10 million transactions. Other investors in the round include Inventure, Fedha Capital, and Exotix Advisory.

ImaliPay, a startup that lends to gig workers in Nigeria, raised $3 million in a debt and equity round that featured a number of investors, including Ten 13, Uncovered Fund, MyAsia VC, Jedar Capital, Logos Ventures, and Plug N Play Ventures. The startup received money from Google’s Black Founders Fund last year, and raised $800,000 in 2020.

Quartz gems

Are sanctions not working? Barely a month after the West imposed heavy sanctions on Russia, the ruble has bounded back up against the US dollar, to levels last seen before the invasion of Ukraine. So why isn’t the ruble feeling the pain?

A line graph show the Russian ruble to the US dollar. It was about $0.014 before Russia invaded Ukraine, then it dipped to $0.007 in early March, and increased to $0.012 in April.

A 🎧 interlude

Season 2 of the Quartz Obsession podcast may be over, but it’s never too late to catch up on what you might have missed.

🍅  Movie sequels. Are there good reasons to keep making them?

🦿  Prosthetics. We’re now augmenting able bodies.

🕺🏿  Disco. They tried to kill it, but it’ll never die.

🐟  Fish sticks. The ocean’s little problem-solvers.

🥻  Indian weddings. Bollywood dreams come to life.

☁️  Google Docs. The tool that’s revolutionized the way we work.

🥚  Egg freezing. Parenting beyond biological bounds.

🧥  Puffer jackets. Does “puffiness” automatically equal warmth?

🎧  Listen to the full season on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or Stitcher. And stay tuned for season 3, dropping April 19.

Other things we liked

Calendly’s Nigerian-born founder has a story to tell. Tope Awotona is one of only two Black tech billionaires in the US. Amy Feldman writes for Forbes about his unlikely and sometimes rocky path to creating a $3 billion business.

Zambia and Nigeria crack down on phone scammers. Zambia disconnected 2 million SIM cards owned by people with more than 10 cards registered to their name, while Nigeria said it will block calls from roughly 72 million SIMs that aren’t linked to a national ID number. TechCabal’s Timi Odueso reports on why.

West Africa’s worsening food crisis. The number of people needing emergency food assistance in the region will hit 27 million this year, quadrupling from 2015. The Associated Press looks at what’s contributing to the crisis.

Betting on “dark stores” in Egypt. For TechCabal, Abraham Augustine explores an Egyptian startup’s approach to resolving difficulties with offline warehousing, in an attempt to build a sustainable online grocery shopping business.

Tanzania is evicting petty traders. Priya Sippy reports in Al Jazeera on the effects of a Tanzania eviction policy targeted at petty traders on the streets, part of a broader effort to gentrify the country’s capital.

ICYMI

US education funds for Nigerians. The US embassy in Nigeria is looking for academically qualified, low-income students to support with academic scholarships (Apr. 30).

Future of PE and VC in Africa. In partnership with Invest Africa, the Africa Venture Capital Association (AVCA) annual conference will be held in Dakar, with a focus on the future of private equity and venture capital in Africa (Apr. 25-29).

🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “In common” by Alicia Keys and remixed by Black Coffee (US and South Africa). 🎵

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

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