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The price of progress
Regardless of battered commodity prices and forex troubles and other macroeconomic maladies, more Africans will be joining the middle class every year. In the same way, despite concerns about overcrowded cities with insufficient infrastructure, more Africans will be leaving rural regions and moving to urban areas.
With a growing middle class population experiencing faster, urban lives there’ll be an increase in the need for convenience—in particular convenient food. That usually translates as processed foods that are easier to store and prepare than the food of rural lifestyles. African countries spend billions of dollars importing plenty of such foods from cooking oil to tinned tomatoes, but more of them are likely to be processed closer to home in the near future.
International food companies like the Swiss giant Nestlé have had a long history on the continent but other big players are coming. Last year, US company Kellogg’s signed a $450 million agreement to take a 50% stake in a Nigerian food distribution company. This week, Japan’s Ajinomoto, best known for its MSG and asapartame sweetner products, inked a $532 million deal for a third of Promasidor, which markets food products in nearly half the countries on the continent.
A notable rise in the consumption of processed foods comes with new unfamiliar health risks in emerging markets. For example, last year Indian regulators pulled up Nestlé for high levels of MSG and traces of lead in its instant noodles.
In the meantime, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer are rising rapidly across the continent. Many African countries’ health systems have spent decades focusing on tooling for communicable diseases from malaria to HIV and are are ill-equipped to cope with ‘rich’ diseases.
In the interim, while (hopefully) local health systems are getting equipped, regulators, like in India, can step up and help without getting in the way of progress.
As diets and lifestyles change, health awareness and education will be more important. It’d be good to get ahead of an inevitable challenge rather than react to the next crisis.
Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor
Stories from this week
It’s a winter wonderland inside South African malls. It’s Christmas season, and inside South Africa’s malls, decorations of giant baubles and prancing reindeers are all over. As Jackie Bischof and Lynsey Chutel write, the decorations pose a vexing question for retailers: how to get South Africans to dip into their wallets and shop more.
Apple will now charge customers using naira. As Nigeria’s economy has shrunk over the last year restrictions have been placed on foreign exchange movement via local debit cards making a purchase in dollars, for example. Fortunately, some of the world’s big tech companies including Apple and Facebook, are throwing Nigerian customers a lifeline by charging in local currency, writes Yomi Kazeem.
African journalists have advice for their American counterparts dealing with a press-hating president. Since Donald Trump was elected, American journalists and media outlets have voiced their apprehension about press freedom under his leadership. As Mohamed Keita writes, US journalists could draw from the experiences of journalists working in hostile environments across Africa.
Building Africa’s first homegrown smartphone. Low-cost smartphones and affordable subscription models have been the key to Africa’s digital revolution. Building on this success, Johannesburg-based Onyx Connect has inked a deal with Google to make $30 Android smartphones for the African market, writes Jacques Coetzee.
Uganda is worried about Chinese men marrying local women. Chinese investors, petty traders and contractors have been pouring into Uganda. But as Lily Kuo finds out, Ugandan immigration officials are now worried about the increasing number of Chinese men marrying Ugandan women to gain residency and to continue carrying their business interests in the country.
The university even Boko Haram couldn’t shut. The terror group Boko Haram has attacked dozens of educational institutions in Nigeria’s northeast and been responsible for many more shuttering as a preemptive measure. But when Amindeh Blaise Atabong visited the region’s highest institution of learning, he found it was the one place the terrorists couldn’t shut.
CHART OF THE WEEK
Environmental change is displacing more Africans than ever. Internal displacement across Africa is almost always attributed to civil strife or full-blown wars. But a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center shows that a record 1.1 million in 33 African countries were forced from their homes in 2015 by natural hazards like floods and droughts.
Other Things We Liked
The forgotten shipwreck in the Mediterranean. On April 9, around 500 Africans died when a boat capsized off the coast of Egypt—the largest loss of life in the Mediterranean in 2016. As Stephen Grey and Amina Ismail write in a new Reuters investigation, the tragedy shows how authorities in Europe and elsewhere routinely allow those behind migrant behind deaths to get away with it.
The child laborers fueling Madagascar’s booming vanilla industry. Roughly 80% of the vanilla sold on the global market comes from Madagascar. But the heavy workload involved in growing vanilla and the poor price that farmers receive for their pods mean child labor is often a necessity, Peter Lykke Lind writes in the Guardian.
Keep an eye on
African Women in Tech conference (Dec. 15–17). The second African Women in Tech conference will take place in Accra, Ghana. The conference will involve participants in a series of deep-dive tech workshops, information sharing and panel discussions about technology. The key vision of the conference is to encourage and mentor young girls to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Fallout from The Gambia elections. Now that president Yahya Jammeh has rejected the results of the elections he conceded last week, it will be interesting to watch how the winning coalition and other countries in the region will respond to the situation. On Saturday (Dec. 10), Gambian authorities reportedly denied entry to president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is also the chair of the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Our best wishes for a productive week ahead. Please send any news, comments, Ugandan brides and African smartphones to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.
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