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Rethinking Africa’s literary journey

Nigeria’s own fashion industry is also having a moment of reckoning and catching on to the fact that it cannot ignore a market that accounts for close to a fifth of the country’s projected $4.7 billion fashion market.

Image from the museum exhibition of Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound. It shows the artist in front of a board with his alphabet and children around him, learning.
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,

In 2014, I moved to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire for two months to learn French. The spirit there is full of joie de vivre and vibrancy, but when I went back to Nairobi, my French instructor was not impressed by my progress. Phrases such as “Mon frere, on dit quoi?”(”Brother, how goes it?”), he said, were too colloquial.

But I thank Abidjan for introducing me to its version of French, which seemed very familiar and African to me in meanings, gesticulations, and vocalizations. To this day, I understand most French accents from different African countries, but struggle to follow Parisians if they speak quickly.

“I don’t see French as a colonial language,” says my friend and fellow writer, Edwige-Renée Dro in a recent Zoom panel discussion on the work of Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, the first Ivorian artist to have his work showcased in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Bouabré’s legacy is that he used drawing as the basis for inventing a writing system.

“Me and my people [Ivorians] have taken French and appropriated it for ourselves. We can speak French in front of French people and they will not understand what we are saying,” Dro says.

Language and the written word is something that dominates African literary discourse. The continent’s complicated relationship with the various lingua franca in wide use has been a rich source of artistic and political inspiration.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Kenya’s world-renowned author, shuns writing in English to instead focus on writing in Kikuyu then has that translated. Ousmane Sembène—the godfather of African cinema—chose to focus on films rather than novels to reach the illiterate masses, because he understood that the written word in Senegal at the time was the preserve of the few who had gotten a colonial education.

Reflecting on Dro’s words and Bouabré’s work, it is indeed powerful how millions on the continent have taken the languages laden with colonial baggage and made them fully theirs. But, it’s perhaps even more interesting when we rethink our own biases on the continent’s literary journey. —Ciku Kimeria, Africa editor


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By the digits

$122.5 million: Funding raised by African e-health startups in 2021

5.7%: Portion of all Africa funding that went to e-health startups in 2021

55: Number of African e-health startups that raised money in 2021

19%: Increase in funding to African e-health startups from 2020 to 2021

$2.2 million: The average raised by each African e-health startup in 2021

A chart on funding for health-tech startups in Africa from 2015 to 2021.

👆 This is a preview of our latest Quartz Africa Member Brief. 

In case you missed it—we’re lifting our paywall, making the vast majority of our journalism free for everyone to read! It’s all part of our mission to make business better. Members will get to take advantage of our premium emails, like the Quartz Africa Member Brief. Become a member—use code MAKEBIZBETTER to take 50% off.


Stories this week

Flutterwave’s confusing reaction. The African fintech company finally responded to allegations of financial and personal misconduct leveled against its CEO, Alexander Onukwue reports.

Rise in funding for female-led startups in Africa. Conrad Onyango explores the sevenfold increase in funding for African startups led by women and the caveats around interpreting this news with too much optimism.

Tapping into Nigeria’s $1 billion plus-size market. The exclusion of plus-size individuals from global beauty standards is just true in Nigeria as in the west. Elvis Kachi looks at the different industry players who are fighting for inclusivity.

Africa’s creatives battle against climate change. During the pandemic, businesses that have been able to keep production local and strengthen local supply chains have been most likely to survive. Meron Demisse reports on African creatives leading this change in building design, fashion, and visual arts.


Mapping Y Combinator’s seven African stars

A chart showing the seven most valuable Y combinator African startups. It shows the names, sectors and valuation.

Accelerator programs run by companies like Y Combinator help African startups with business readiness, access to investor networks, and global prestige. Twice every year, there’s a buzz to see what African startups made it into the famed program that helped propel such icons as Airbnb, Stripe, and Coinbase.

The US startup accelerator has invested in more than 70 companies in Africa since 2016. Alexander Onukwue spotlights the seven most valuable startups in YC’s portfolio.


Spotlight on Quartz Africa 2021 Innovators

A stylized image of Quartz Africa 2021 Innovators, Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka.

Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka run Book Bunk, a social impact trust based in Nairobi.

Book Bunk is restoring some of the city’s public libraries, motivated by the belief that public libraries can be more than just repositories of literature, but also sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership, and information exchange.

In 2018, the trust entered a partnership with Nairobi’s administration to drive restoration efforts and resource mobilization for three libraries. Book Bunk sources and manages fiscal support, oversees architectural restoration, manages the libraries, and designs and delivers programming. It takes four approaches in restoring the facilities: experiential, social, architectural, and digital, where it introduces technology to library aspects such as access control, collections management, creating online catalogs, and digital skills training for librarians and library users.

​​Book Bunk has digitized about 21,840 items identified as some of the rarest and most endangered at the McMillan Memorial Library. Now available as a public access archive, these include gazettes, ordinances, and photographs that date back to the late 1800s and highlight significant moments during Kenya’s colonial and postcolonial era. It has also launched an online public access archive of this material.

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


Dealmaker

Etap, a Nigerian car insurance provider, raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round. It was led by Mobility 54, a venture capital vehicle jointly owned by Toyota Tsusho and CFAO Group. Etap says it can process verified claims in three minutes, and its website lists automobile manufacturers Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki among its partners.

The Food Lab, an Egyptian cloud kitchens company, raised $4.5 million in a pre-seed round led by Nuwa Capital, Shorooq Partners, and 4DX Ventures. Other investors in the round include Al Faisaliah Group, and Samurai Incubate. The Food Lab launched in 2020 and claims to serve about 50 restaurants in Egypt.


Quartz Gems

An Ele.me delivery worker hands a bag to a resident behind barriers in Shanghai.
Image copyright: Reuters/Aly Song

Buying food in Shanghai, The alarm goes off, and you grab your phone to place a food order—carrots, chicken, greens, anything—using a delivery app. Within minutes, you get a message that all the day’s slots are booked. So you open another app and start again. And again. This is life in 2022 in China’s most sophisticated city. Our latest Weekend Brief, available only to members, takes a look at the difficulties of living in a city like Shanghai during a lockdown.


Now, that we are discussing tricky meals….what about a home-cooked meal-worm?

Edible insects obsession image
Image copyright: Eric Helgas, styling by Alex Citrin-Safadi

For many people, the idea of eating bugs is simply gross. Crickets may be a nice soundtrack on a summer night, but that’s it. Except! Two billion people around the world do make a habit of eating bugs, and their ranks are growing. 🎧  Learn more about the future of edible insects with this week’s episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher


Other things we liked

Tanzania’s first female president embraces change. As the only standing female president in Africa, Samia Suluhu Hassan, understands the major significance of her presidency. Abdi Latif Dahir reports for the New York Times on the new course she has for her country, including “bringing her nation in from the cold.”

Meta has friends in southern Nigeria. In the Guardian, Emmanuel Akinwotu reports on the fiber optic cable network being laid by Meta in Edo, a state in southern Nigeria, and how it benefits the company’s core product, Facebook.

Floods expose South Africa’s housing crisis. For the New York Times, John Eligon, Zanele Mji, and Lynsey Chutel explore the connection between an unsolved, decade-old housing crisis in South Africa and the country’s deadly flood last week.


ICYMI

Accelerator program for startups in Nigeria. Applications are open for The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA) program for Nigerian startups or startups looking to expand into Nigeria. (May 13)


🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Bu Ka Bali Nada” by Soraia Ramos  (Cape Verde)


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

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