January 8

Kyle Poplin / Scott Anderson / James Militzer

Weekly Roundup: Starting SDGs, Africa’s IT Meritocracy, Safaricom’s Setback

Getting started on the SDGs

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially took effect on Jan. 1, with the stated goals of freeing “the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet” over the next 15 years. Whew. Talk about a tall order.

Where to start? That’s the question Afrobarometer asks, then attempts to answer, using data from 47,941 interviews completed in 32 African countries. The survey asks Africans what they’re worried about. The results, in order, are unemployment, health, education and infrastructure. (For a more detailed, customized analysis, use their handy online data analysis tool.) The poorest citizens rank health and water supply at the top – but even they ranked unemployment ahead of education.

A common refrain in the development world is that the SDGs will be reachable only if private players are involved in the process from the get-go. This survey, which refreshingly orients problems among actual people and places, helps brings that point into clearer focus. Unemployment is the biggest problem facing Africans overall and a huge issue even at the BoP. Market-based solutions are not just part of the fix to that problem, they are, by definition, the only hope.

It will be interesting to watch over the next year – and the next 15 years – as that reality plays out.

– Kyle Poplin


Building Africa’s Next Generation Digerati

“Brilliance and talent are evenly distributed, opportunity is not,” Jeremy Johnson and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji write in their recent essay in The Wall Street Journal (paywall).

The two founders of Lagos-based Andela are fond of that phrase, having mentioned it in videos and media reports. But it seems to be more than a social enterprise marketing pitch. In the WSJ piece, Johnson and Aboyeji ponder what would have happened if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had been born in Africa instead of New York.

Andela, which launched in 2014, hopes to be a magnet for that next digital superhero – one who, like Zuckerberg, might still wear a hoodie, but most likely won’t stroll a Harvard dorm. Students who are accepted by Andela report to a coding bootcamp for six months, after which they can begin working on a variety of outsourced projects for Fortune 500 companies, among other clients, according to the company. Andela reportedly undercuts most coding developers on price, but their lower fees still provide the students a livable wage during the program, which is four years in all. This mix of client experience and deeply immersive education, which could be considered a variant of impact sourcing, is catching on. So much so that Andela says it can only accept roughly 1 percent of the 12,000 students who applied. The firm, backed by many high profile tech investors, plans to expand to Kenya and South Africa, where youth unemployment continues to grow.

“Nigeria is projected to have more than 750 million people by 2100. It’s time to stop viewing this as simply a youth bulge—it is a talent bulge.” the founders write in the WSJ. “If the digital revolution began in dorm rooms and Silicon Valley, its future will be written in Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg.”

– Scott Anderson


A Tough Week for Safaricom = A Good Week for Competition

It’s widely recognized that Safaricom owes its dominance of Kenya’s mobile money market, at least in part, to the country’s permissive regulations. Without this, Safaricom (Kenya’s leading mobile network operator) could never have made such a successful incursion into the financial services sector. And many analysts see this regulatory approach as something other countries should emulate if they want their mobile money markets to be as robust as Kenya’s.

But ironically, now that it dominates the market, Safaricom has come to favor the opposite approach – at least when it comes to its emerging competitors. The company engaged in a long-running but ultimately unsuccessful strategy to use regulatory roadblocks to prevent Equity Bank’s competing mobile money service from coming to market. More recently it has blocked Bitpesa, a bitcoin remittance startup, from using its M-Pesa mobile money network, on the basis that BitPesa’s use of bitcoin hasn’t passed regulatory muster.

The effectiveness of these efforts was called into question twice this week. First, BitPesa announced that – while it waits for courts to rule on its long-term access to M-Pesa – it has partnered with mobile money heavyweights (and Safaricom competitors) MTN and Airtel Money, allowing it to resume operations in Kenya and across the continent. Then, the country’s High Court dismissed a case brought by a consumer group widely seen as allied with Safaricom, which challenged Equity Bank’s mobile network operations on the grounds that it had obtained its license in an irregular manner. The case was the main remaining legal obstacle to Equity’s mobile money plans. So it appears that competition will remain on the march in Kenya – a fact that Safaricom will soon be forced to accept.

– James Militzer


Above photo: Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (right), cofounder of Andela, is interviewed by Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a correspondent for HBO’s VICE, during the the World Bank/IMF annual meeting in 2015. Image credit: Flickr.

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