Some Highlights From The Africa Attractiveness Survey 2013


Original post on Developed Africa

It’s always an exciting time of the year when the Ernst & Young Attractiveness Survey for Africa comes out as it offers some fascinating narratives about how Africa might be going forwards and how it might be going backwards. That being said, it is pretty long and number filled so I thought I’d do a brief highlight reel for the lazy busy people out there.

Seriously though, do read it if you get the chance – here’s the link.

The 2012 edition of the Survey focused on the huge jump in foreign direct investments (FDIs) in Africa – up 27% from the original survey in 2010 – and stressed that, despite the criticisms, the narrative surrounding the continent’s rise should be told “more confidently and consistently”. The new edition continues this bullishness, it’s Executive Summary titled, “Africa’s rise is real”. Ernst & Young focus on economic facts and dismiss any scepticism out of hand – this growth is consistent, it is diverse and it should be celebrated.

The story is not totally one-sided, however, as FDIs have decreased in the last year despite the ongoing rise in global esteem that the continent seems to be going through. Greenfield FDI projects were down 12% from 2012 – although, that is in a global context where all such projects were down 15%. There are other issues, too, such as the perception of conducting business in Africa. Again, despite Africa’s rise, many foreign investors remain unwilling to do business there. As it states on page 5,

However, the big take away for us from this year’s survey is the stark and enduring perception gap between those respondents who are already doing business in Africa versus those that have not yet invested in the continent… those with no business presence in Africa are far more negative about Africa’s progress and prospects. Only 47% of these respondents believe Africa’s attractiveness  will improve over the next three years, and they rank Africa as the least attractive investment destination in the world.

As Developed Africa recently highlighted, the potential of African business is being severely limited by the lack of proper communication about how much commercial potential there is. Developed Africa seeks to directly combat that so do check out our homepage for more.

The good news is that the percieved attractiveness of various sectors in Africa has improved allowing for more diverse business models. As stated on page 41,

There has been a marked shift in perceived sector attractiveness; resources remain top of the list, but not by far, with infrastructure and some of the service sectors gaining considerably in prominence

Previously unheralded sectors like Education, ICT or Financial Services have become hugely more attractive, complimenting the long standing interest in commodities and energy related projects in the region. This is a terrific opportunity for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike to move into new and exciting ventures.

The survey ends with a section focused on how Africa can continue to grow in the next year. The first point this section makes is to stress the vital importance of FDIs to the region. These act as catalysts for intra-continental trade, improvements in infrastructure and job creation. Africa has the largest employable population in the world and will continue to grow with or without foreign investors. However, it will grow faster and more effectively with the injection of funds and the creation of international commercial partnerships.

The conclusion on page 64 puts it neatly,

Business has to be viewed as an essential partner in driving the growth and development agenda.


I threw in that Eric Hersman talk as it fits E&Y’s bullish narrative and who doesn’t need an excuse to watch it again?

No Child Left Offline

Originally posted on Developed Africa

In his successful run for the presidency of Kenya earlier this year, Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to deliver one laptop per child to those attending primary schools from January 2014. This scheme has been met with some scepticism, not least for the potential cost as this article from one of Kenya’s largest daily newspapers put it,

However, given the cost implications, the ministry has proposed to roll out the project in three phases. According to the estimates tabled by [Education Secretary] Kaimenyi, each laptop will cost Sh28,000, a sum that may be out of reach of many parents in public schools whose children are covered by the project.

There are other criticisms out there. A recent excellent blog post by Will Mutua (co-founder for Nairobi’s Open Academy) summed up the main areas of concern for such a scheme very succinctly,

Lack of Supporting Infrastructure: Many schools in rural areas have no access to electricity, some have dilapidated classrooms and other amenities, not to mention some extreme cases where learning does not even happen inside a classroom. What’s the point of giving these students laptops? Their schools have other more pressing needs.

Lack of Capacity: There are teachers who are computer-illiterate. What happens when computers break down, who will have the technical skills to troubleshoot these laptops?

Timing: It’s just not the right time for such an initiative. There are other pressing matters that can be dealt with instead of ‘throwing away’ money in an impractical project. How about jobs, healthcare etc.? And even if it is a matter of enhancing education – why not first hire more teachers, there’s clearly a shortage of them, or pay teachers better?

It is interesting that such problems have been highlighted for a government project – if you didn’t know what they were about you would be forgiven for guessing that Mutua was criticising a poorly planned charitable project. It lacks sustainability, it lacks a proper appreciation of local context, and seems to seek headlines more than anything else. These are all classic complaints of donor-driven development models.

Promoting computer literacy is a great project, particularly for Kenya as it looks to become the tech hub of Africa. Giving a laptop to every child is something that has been attempted before (see Mutua’s article for some good examples of similar schemes in East Africa in recent years) but often falls on the tertiary aspects of promoting computer literacy – you can’t just give the equipment, you have to support that equipment and its users as well. Governments and NGOs can start projects like this but it is through commercial partnerships that African nations can really build a lasting, economically functioning tech sector. The talent is there, schemes something like Kenyatta’s one laptop per child can open up the opportunity – now it is up to business investors to bring those things together.

Digital Media Worse Than Traditional On Talking About Africa

A fascinating set of highlights over a recent report ‘Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter’. Perhaps the brave new world of online media isn’t quite as fair and international as we might like to think.

Other than that revealed in the tweet that lured me in, there’s a bunch of very interesting info on how to get proper geographical data from Twitter. Where people tweet from, apparently, has little influence on, well, their online influence (square brackets my own):

Kalet et al. [the authors] also carried out a comprehensive analysis of geo-tagged retweets. They find that “geography plays little role in the location of influential users, with the volume of retweets instead simply being a factor of the total population of tweets originating from that city.” They also calculated that the average geographical distance between two Twitter users “connected” by retweets (RTs) and who geotag their tweets is about 750 miles or 1,200 kilometers. When a Twitter user references another (@), the average geographical distance between the two is 744 miles. This means that RTs and @’s cannot be used for geo-referencing Twitter data, even when coupling this information with time zone data.

Read the full report here

Two Criticisms of Human Rights Organisations

Written for Generation C Magazine

I have seen a couple of very different criticisms of Western human rights organisations online recently. First, I read this article by The Independent Editor-in-Chief (and, full disclosure, my former boss). Here is a telling extract [HT @DAWNSDigest]:

Two governments in contemporary Africa have been very successful at an autonomous state building and economic reconstruction project – Rwanda under Paul Kagame and Ethiopia under the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They have equally been victims of a near-jihad by the human rights police claiming to represent the real interests of their citizens.  Two other countries have been unable to engineer an autonomous project of state and economic reconstruction.  They have instead remained under management by the United Nations – Liberia and Sierra Leone. These are the darlings of the human rights community.

Why are Africa’s most successful governments at state and economic reconstruction vilified while those managed by donors are praised and presented as model examples? The answer is that their leaders take orders from London, Paris and Washington DC. Perhaps I am overstating the case. However, there is reason to believe that some elements in Western society would like to create an Africa that in their own image. Anything that is not a reproduction of Western society is not only seen as abnormal but also a danger to be fought and annihilated.

Notwithstanding the criticism levelled at Mwenda for his seemingly one-eyed defence of the Kagame regime, there are some points in this article that deserve attention. It is an oft-repeated argument that human rights is a distraction, rather than a focus, for developing countries. Here, Mwenda goes further than that, arguing that ‘single issue’ rights groups actively fight against the sovereignty of African governments by launching ‘jihad’ against leaders like Kagame because of relatively small abuses – one general, one opposition politician is arrested while 10 million others receive the benefits of this otherwise enlightened regime. Furthermore, the attacks on a country’s leader damages its image, reducing tourism, trade and ultimately, the lives of the majority who would benefit from such economic advance. Worse, these rights defenders aren’t elected. Worse still, they’re foreigners working in Paris,Washington and London.

Single-issue seems to be the operative term. I am going to breeze past the obvious inaccuracies – Rwandans have very much suffered for speaking out against Kagame, not just ‘Westerners’. Let’s get on to Mwenda’s essentially economic outlook, he is very much a believer in the power of free-markets and their use in Africa. He argues, eloquently and not unjustly, for African institutions to replace the international organisations that dominate the landscape:

…when you visit Africa today, our public policies are designed by the IMF and World Bank, the hungry are fed by World Food Program, the ill are treated by Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, refugees are cared for by UNHCR, those in conflict are “protected” by UN peacekeepers, our Malaria is fought by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our story is told by The New York Times, our poverty is fought by Jeffrey Sachs and Bono, our crimes are tried by the ICC, our public serves are financed by a generous international aid community, our debts are cancelled, our press freedom is defended by Reporters without Borders and CPJ, our human rights are promoted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This is a call for institutional growth, ultimately, which presumably comes from economic growth and stability. These are things that several East African governments have already: Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda look fairly set on all fronts. So what’s the hold up? Some, Mwenda included, might argue that aid dependency holds these countries back. This might be partially true. But can it be the whole story?

The is an extract from an article about a speech on poverty given by Lant Prtichett. This speech also focuses on the importance of institutions and the possible negative effects of Western interventions to those institutions:

The typical unskilled laborer in Haiti makes about 80 cents an hour. If that same person moves to the United States, studies show they will earn about $8.50 an hour. So why are Haitians poor? It is not because they are lazy or uneducated, Pritchett said. Haitians are poor because they live in a society that cannot make productive use of their labor.

Pritchett outlined four aspects of society that are different in developed countries. These well-off countries have a productive economy, a government that is responsive to the citizens, a capable bureaucracy, and the rule of law. Digging wells in Haiti might provide a bit of relief to that country’s poor, but it isn’t going to change any of these four things, Pritchett said. In fact, many kinds of humanitarian aid may short-circuit the development, he said. Until a country develops institutions that make productive work possible, its people will remain poor, he added.

It seems to me that the similar worlds of aid, development, humanitarianism and human rights have become overly conflated. What attracted me to human rights work was a number of things: the desire to help the most unfortunate, people like IDP who have been mistreated by the institutions that are meant to protect them; the importance of speaking truth to power (something, amusingly, that made me want seek out work for Andrew Mwenda and The Independent before the more recent criticisms became obvious); and, most importantly, the idea that the power of rights based programming is that it seeks to establish a foundation on which more complex developments can be built. If a government can act with impunity, collecting bribes or mistreating their opposition, they are very unlikely to benefit their population. It is interesting to me that Mwenda would choose to use the word ‘tyranny’ in his title. Tyranny is just what human rights seek to abolish, to undermine for good; this is a historical movement born from WWII, after all.

There is a threat to human rights organisations, which leads me to the second criticism I have seen recently. Please watch the following video [HT @c_hargreaves]:

Here, Chris Hedges warns of the very real danger facing the human rights industry – it has become too popular. Previously, unmentioned in the MDGs, human rights have become huge business and, as such, other parts of the broad church of ‘international affairs workers’ – which I mean to encompass not only development but business, military and politics too – are moving to use the tag of ‘human rights’ to sugar an unpleasant pill – the post-colonial imperialism that Mwenda warns of.

What is very interesting to note is how Hedges identifies this mission drift: it is the mark of “corrosive neo-liberal ideology”. It is this very same ideology that Kagame’s development project is founded on and one that Mwenda, at least in my reading, also embraces. For me, this is another mark of hypocrisy from a man once renowned as a fearless critic of corrupt and dangerous leaders. Conflict of interest and mission creep is something that human rights organisations must be increasingly vigilant against in the post MDG landscape. These two arguments are a useful precursor to this challenge.

Hedges warns of what human rights must not become; Mwenda is an example of the consequences of ignoring that warning.

How To Write About Writing About Africa

Originally written for Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. With thanks to Tom Murphy .

Satire is the highest form of mockery which, as we all know, is the sincerest form of flattery. People might not realise that you’re doing them a favour with your aggresive attack on their work and opinions. Don’t let that put you off.

Don’t let yourself finish five hundred words without making a snarky reference to foreign correspondents. Find ways to refer to Europe like Europeans refer to Africa. Reference how many languages there might be are in continental Africa (choose a very specific number between two and three thousand). Impress on your readers that journalists in ‘Africa’ are doomed to fail unless they cooperate with local press. Breeze over how many problems this is likely to entail.

Mock the use of meaningless, fashionable buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’. Deride the use of meaningful, fashionable buzzwords like ‘middle class’, ‘technology’ or ‘investment’. Laugh endlessly at anyone’s foolish use of geographical place names in the continent of Africa – everybody knows that if you’re talking about the ‘Nile’ or ‘Africa’ you’re basically an ignorant racist.

Write in short sentences. It’s punchy and to the point. Reading your essay is like a boxing match. Except there’s only one combatant. The staccato is arresting but needs to be mixed up. The occasional longer sentence will grab the reader and their lazy stereotypes before you pummel those stereotypes with some hardcore perspective. Go back to short sentences. It makes all your opinions look more like facts.

Always attack sweeping generalisations. This is by far the most important rule for writing about writing about Africa, regardless of the specific context you are tackling. The next most important rule is to make as many sweeping generalisations as possible. All readers respond well to both hyperbole and hypocritical rhetoric.

Repeat conventional style and structure. This is a format that people know and love, why on earth would you want to change that? That Wainaina essay in Granta was amazing and so popular, just copy that. Sure, the style was original and unusual but that isn’t why it was so widely read. It was because it told people to do things. You could tell them to not be as idiotic as they were. If you keep writing these, someday everyone will be almost as smart as you. Almost.

Choose some easy targets like Bob Geldof and Bono. Who doesn’t hate those guys? Accuse them of ruining aid, development, trade, charity, music. Whatever. They’re made out of glue: basically anything you throw at them will stick. Before people think you’re being too obvious or zeitgeisty switch up your attack to someone like Tony Blair or Paul Kagame. This shows you have an awareness of both popular and political culture discourse. This will reinforce the reader’s suspicion that you are better than them in every way. Readers like to feel useless and stupid.

Now you’ve gotten started there are so many other actors to call out. Aid workers, peacekeepers, doctors without borders, engineers, human rights workers – especially human rights workers, the pie-in-the-sky lunatics – none of them deserve any of the approbations they get. Highlight the bad, ignore the good. Draw strict parallels between worst practices and the entire industry you’re attacking. There are no shades of grey when it comes to your fury. There isn’t even black and white, there is only catastrophe.

Swing your lens towards analysts. Accuse every other commentator of myopic viewpoints. Point out obvious limitations of the ‘Western’ view of Africa without defining what that means. Scream ‘why isn’t anyone else saying this!?’ at the heavens. Ignore anyone else saying anything.

End your essay with your lip-curled with contempt. You wish you could take everyone’s misconceptions away forever but you know it’ll never be. Continue fighting the good fight, regardless of reward. Hope to hell you don’t get asked to come up with any solutions to the issues you’ve highlighted.

Distractions, Choices, Questions

Source: birgerking (via flickr)

I’ve started a couple of posts in the last week only to find myself half way through with no obvious end point. I’ll have an idea but no follow through. My thought process goes something like this:

I should do a post about the triumphalist langauge used for Africa at the moment and compare it to similar American writing in the 19th century. Then I can say that this is an indicator of the 21st century being the ‘African’ century. But, no, wait, this is the Chinese century isn’t it? Ok, so maybe the 22nd century will be, but, then again, it would be a pretty ridiculous thing to try to say in less than 1000 words. Hmmm.

So I end up with a bunch of Walt Whitman quotes, vague notes and a missed deadline. Now, this happens to everyone and normally it passes by itself. I always find that reading something new and interesting, relevant or otherwise, can help me focus again. With this in mind, I headed down to the local Nakumatt (large chain supermarket) in search of a book. I didn’t want to go looking for one on my list, I wanted one to jump out at me and pique my interest.

Almost all of them did but for the wrong reason.

My local Nakumatt is a particularly big one. It fills three floors and offers practically everything: from food and drink to solar panels and industrial catering equipment. Next to the magazines and within sight of the music section, there are two rotating book stands – like something you’d get sunglasses on. There are probably more than 150 books there. When I looked, not a single one was by a non-Western writer, let alone a Kenyan author.

There were two auto-biographies of English cricketers on there. Two.

Most of the books were pulp thrillers and crime fiction, like a similar stand in an English supermarket. Exactly like that, in fact, filled with the same authors.

A couple of hours later I read a great post on Kariobangi about ‘African Readers’. It references a great article by Zimbabwean writer Tendai Huchu who writes about the issues facing African writers,

The truth is that western readers are crucial for any African writer who is looking for success today, and it is inevitable that the west will continue to determine the value and worth of literature from the African continent.

If a Kenyan company as large and successful as Nakumatt offers books in its stores it is not for charity. This must be a product worth carrying, something that benefits them to sell. Do they choose to sell Western writers to African audiences because African writing doesn’t sell? Does the auto-biography of Geoffrey Boycott genuinely make them more profit than, say, the recently released Binyavanga Wainaina memoir?

I should say that these are not the sum of books offered by my local Nakumatt – the second floor has a wider bookstore – but they are the most visible and accessible books, in prime location by the checkout counters. These were featured products.

I hope it was oversight, not business acumen, that filled those book stands.

Seeing them gave me another idea for a blog post but, once again, I find myself with no end result, just questions. Why were these decisions made? What do they mean? Does the source of available culture necessarily do any harm? Maybe Kenyan shoppers should be offered the latest Danielle Steel, not expected to embrace Kenyan writers because of their nationality?

But they are, at least, interesting questions I’d like to hear some response to. And that’ll do for now.

Business First, Human Rights Later – Why the disconnect?

I know that the answer is 'the egg'. I'm just trying to illustrate a point alright, give me a break a break.

Source: 24expo via Stephanie on Pinterest

I have recently been writing reports on the state of freedom of expression in four countries in the Horn of Africa: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. As you can probably guess, things aren’t amazing there. The GDPs are low, the governments are stupendously powerful, corruption is high and the whole region seems to be on a knife edge in terms of both food security and the ever present threat of invasion (from within and without). Things like the right to free speech or free assembly are pretty much on the back burner.

Many people would argue that human rights necessarily need to be ignored for development to occur. They can come later, once things are established and the economy is moving – then we can worry about voters’ rights and other silly things like that. Harvard professor Calestous Juma is a high profile proponent of the ‘infrastructure first, human rights later‘ model, arguing that concerning oneself with human rights before the infrastructure necessary for economic success was in place is, at best, a needless distraction; at worst, willful neglect. A few weeks ago, an English man in a Nairobi bar, on hearing that I worked for a human rights organisation, jabbed his finger at my chest and declared that I was “the fucking devil”. Obviously, a rights-based approach has its detractors.

Some people would suggest a less hardline position: while sometimes useful, rights based programming can be counter productive when applied to certain field situations. A recent post by Weh Yeoh of – ‘When talking about human rights is irrelevant’ – outlined an example where he felt this to be the case. He was working in China and felt that his colleagues were too culturally and educationally disconnected from the whole notion of rights based programming for it to be useful. The situation, the context, didn’t fit the solution – how often have we heard that complaint regarding a ‘international development’ intervention?

These are fair points, particularly in a strictly not-for-profit, development paradigm. But few people would argue that such a model seems likely to be the story of Africa this century. It is booming. Of the 10 fastest growing economies of the next five years, 7 are predicted to be African. The title of the Ernst & Young Africa attractiveness report of 2011 was ‘It’s time for Africa‘. China and India have long since moved in, Brazil and Russia are looking to do so. Everyone is.

Now look at that Ernst & Young report again – turn to page 23 – and check out the list of factors that dissuade potential investors from pouring capital into Africa. Lack of infrastructure is on there with 17% of responders (large potential investors from all over the world) choosing it. However, above infrastructure concerns come corruption, 22%, and unstable political environment, by far the most concerning factor at 41%. The link between the latter and a promotion of human rights is well documented – liberal democracies have fewer wars and less famine, cases argued very famously by smarter people than me. But what about corruption?

A quick look at Corruption Perception Index 2011 – a ranking of how corrupt a variety of stakeholders perceive countries to be, very much related to the chances of foreign investment – shows that 9 out 10 of the worst countries are also ranked ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House’s Press Freedom 2011 report. There’s a reason people protect the free media and the right to free speech. Acting as watchdogs, as whistleblowers against the excesses of government is a vital role. Without it, countries not only become worse in terms of standard of living, they also become less attractive to investment. This is no moral issue: huge corruption makes the costs of investment larger because of all that unavoidable greasing of palms involved in working in very corrupt countries. At a certain point, corporations don’t stand to gain so much from such deals and take their business elsewhere. Why wouldn’t they?

Of course, corruption can be fought, effectively, by non rights-based policymaking. I hear you, detractors, I hear you shouting ‘Rwanda’ or ‘China’ for places attracting investment without human rights underpinning their performances. Cursorily, I’d reply that both are too early in their respective booms to have reached the ceiling where it starts to hurt them. Failing that, essentially, I would argue that, if you can combat corruption by promoting human rights and thereby improve people’s individual liberties, why wouldn’t you?

You have growth, you have improvements in people’s lives, you have freedom. It is at this point that I lose the plot a little: is the desire to create the most powerful economy so great that you would willingly choose to emulate China (regardless that it is probably not possible in most places) and all the abuses against your own citizens that that entails?

Human rights and business don’t have to be incompatible. It seems to me that a dogged pursuit of the latter at the expense of the former is ideological, a decision that ends in people suffering despite profits increasing rather than being able to enjoy their prosperity. Why choose that?