Category: Business

Shopping malls: Signs of Angola’s rising middle-class

A view of Luanda's Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)
A view of Luanda’s Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)

During almost 30 years of civil war, “we’ve never had a supermarket like this – it’s a undeniable gain, and another sign of Angola‘s development,” he said, combing the aisles of Kero, a local hypermarket chain.

Supermarkets and shopping malls are signs of Angola‘s rising middle class as the southwest African nation’s economy has grown rapidly in the last decade thanks to its large oil resources.

Retailer Kero has jumped on the burgeoning prosperity, opening a dozen branches in the past four years with two more set to open soon, bolstering a local workforce of 5 000.

Domestic products make up 30 percent of total sales, creating more local jobs, according to a recent study by consultancy firm Deloitte.

Not far from the polished floors and well-lit aisles of the supermarket, at the far end of the parking lot, a group of women sit back in plastic chairs under a tree.

They are selling cellphone airtime, vegetables and exchanging dollars for Angolan kwanza.

“We set up here after the supermarket opened,”  says Maria. “It’s a great location. There are a lot of pedestrians so there are lots of opportunities to make a sale.”

This coexistence of formal and informal economies is reflected across Angola, a nation where extreme poverty and newfound wealth live cheek by jowl.

A woman and child sit in front of their stall in Sambizanga informal settlement outside the capital Luanda August on 28 2012. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman and child sit in front of her stall in Sambizanga informal settlement outside the capital Luanda August on 28 2012. (Pic: Reuters)

Changing lifestyles
After the devastation of a violent civil war between 1975 and 2002, oil has fuelled the country’s economy, which has grown by 3.9 percent this year and is expected to expand by 5.9 percent in 2015, according to the IMF.

While many complain that the oil wealth has mainly lined the pockets of the elite, the sprouting of big shopping centres is a sign of more people in the middle class, currently about a fifth of the population.

“In the last 10 years, we have witnessed the growth of a middle class both in Luanda and the rest of the country,” said Feizal Esmail, who is helping build a mall with 240 stores in Luanda.

He’s already planning a shuttle service for shoppers from more remote provinces.

Economics professor Justino Pinto de Andrade says increasing wealth is also changing lifestyles and social mores.

“A section of the population has seen its purchasing power increase and, because they work during the week, they concentrate their shopping on the weekend,” he said.

“At the big malls they can buy everything they need at once,” he added.

“And there’s more evidence for this social dynamic: more small cars, high-rise real estate projects, and the spreading use of credit cards.”

In this regard Angola reflects a growing trend across the continent.

A third of Africans – about 370 million people – now belong to the middle class, according to an African Development Bank study published in late October.

By African standards, these individuals spend between $2 and $20 a day, and have access to water, electricity, cars and a number of household goods like televisions and refrigerators.

Street trading
But the middle class is still far from a dominant group in Angola, said sociologist Joao Nzatuzola.

An August study by economists from South Africa’s Standard Bank put Angola‘s middle class at 21 percent of the population. By 2030, they estimate the country will have an extra one million middle class households.

But 54 percent of the population still live on less than $2 a day.

For many, street trading or traditional markets remain their sole source of revenue.

“The multiplication of supermarkets has not overtaken street trading, which is still flourishing,” said Nzatuzola.

Nelson Pestana, professor at the Catholic University of Angola, sees the emergence of supermarkets as a test for small traders, but not an insuperable one.

“The arrival of supermarkets poses a challenge to small businesses, but the informal sector is more resilient because it has advantages not offered by the malls, like selling used goods or negotiating prices,” said Pestana.

A bigger threat could ultimately be the Angolan government’s plans to regulate informal trade, organising a network of traditional markets in licensed premises.

Estelle Maussion for AFP

We’re falling into Ebola’s trap because we didn’t learn from the Aids epidemic

A medical worker checks his protective clothing  at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)
A medical worker checks his protective clothing at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)

I can’t help but notice the similarities of the world’s reaction to Ebola today and to Aids 30 years ago.

When Aids first appeared in the early 1980s, scientists explained that the disease was transmitted primarily by sex, blood transfusions and shared needles.

But, in fear of the deadly disease, many were quick to blame gay men, sex workers, Haitians and Africans. Some suggested that Aids was God’s punishment for sinful sexual behaviours.

In the first decade of Aids, we let ignorance, indifference, hate, stigma and discrimination guide us. We missed the point. World action started late, and we lost millions of people to Aids.

Finally, in the 1990s, it became obvious that HIV and Aids could affect married couples, pastors, sport stars, hemophiliacs, rape survivors and children. Children like me.

I belong to the first ever generation of children born with HIV. As a child, I was very thin and my classmates called me names, like “skeleton” and “Aids”. I would go home and tell my dad. He would comfort me, saying: “You can’t have Aids, it’s for older people, you are just a kid, you are my little queen.” He would kiss me and hug me and make me forget the bullying.

Blame and shame
I became an activist when I was 18 years old. I didn’t and still don’t like the Aids image in people’s minds. Some quickly ask: “How did you get it?” When I say I was born with HIV, they keep asking: “Who brought HIV into your family?” and often jump to conclusions, like “Men are unfaithful”, suggesting my dad was a bad guy.

My dad wasn’t a bad guy! He was infected and affected by HIV and the world didn’t assist him much. Instead they judged him and called him names. As I look back, I realise all he went through, raising me as a single father when my mum died, burdened with guilt and guided by love, convincing me to take medication and answering my questions. He died painfully from Aids 17 years ago and I still miss him.

One day, at an Aids conference in Rwanda, I met a distant aunt. She started describing my dad as an evil man who had infected my mum and me with HIV. With tears in my eyes, I refused to listen.

It hurts when people fail to understand the pain my dad went through and to acknowledge that he raised me lovingly and gave me everything I have now, from my name to my education.

With Ebola, some are acting like my aunt, stigmatising Ebola sufferers, survivors and caregivers.

We can’t fight an epidemic by ostracising affected communities. We can only win if we let science and compassion guide our interventions.

The Ebola epidemic is proving that the world hasn’t changed much. We are quick to stigmatise, discriminate and criminalise affected communities.

African boys are bullied and called Ebola at American schools, a volunteer saving lives in West Africa is unreasonably quarantined in the USA, and visa and travel bans punish citizens from Ebola-affected countries. Do people really think they can create a safe haven by shutting out others?

An MSF medical worker feeds a child at an MSF facility in Kailahun on August 15 2014. Kailahun along with Kenama district is at the epicentre of the world's worst Ebola outbreak. (Pic: AFP)
An MSF medical worker feeds a child at a facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone on August 15 2014. Kailahun along with Kenama district is at the epicentre of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak. (Pic: AFP)

Stigma, discrimination, travel bans and prejudice won’t solve Ebola.

Instead, we should unite against the HIV and Ebola viruses. We can do more, and better.

“The AIDS disease is caused by the HIV virus but the Aids epidemic is caused by HIV and Aids- related hate, indifference, stigma and discrimination and criminalisation,” said singer Elton John.

The same applies to Ebola. Let’s not fall into Ebola’s trap. We can’t afford to lose more people by ignoring science and conceding to bigotry and stigma.

Claire Gasamagera is an HIV activist from Rwanda, with a degree in food technology and a passion for defending the rights, health and dignity of young people living with HIV. She is the founder of Kigali Hope Association, which later became Rwanda Young Positives. 

Quail farming: The new ‘side hustle’ in Kenya

While Kenyans went about their daily lives, a flock of birds, hidden in plain view, fluttered onto our dinner plates and captured a nation’s imagination.

Social media pundits describe them as a pyramid scheme. Skeptics sneer at this idea. Locals in the markets, at chama meetings and around their dinner tables never tire of discussing them. You see, these little wild things are at the epicentre of a health revolution in this nyama choma country. They should be. We Kenyans take ourselves too seriously and build too many castles in the air to notice nature’s solutions all around us. This time it has come in the form of a bird the size of a small fist.

A helping of two quail eggs a day is said to be the answer to multiple problems. One of its benefits is a rather well-known secret on the streets. Every witchdoctor’s cut-and-paste poster that hug school walls, lamp posts and every nook available, emphasises an endemic problem. “We cure male weaknesses!” is their tagline. Well, a simple quail’s egg is said to improve blood circulation as it strengthens the heart muscles, increasing the male libido and stamina.  Packed with protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, a quail egg is not only considered a superfood, but an aphrodisiac too. Don’t overdo it though. A poor chap from Nairobi’s Komarock suburb gulped – on a friend’s advice – 30 raw quail eggs during a sleep-over at his girlfriend’s house. He woke up on the other side of town where people rest in peace.

The nutritional value of quail eggs is said to be about three times greater than chicken eggs. (Pic: Flickr / ilya)
The nutritional value of quail eggs is said to be about three times higher than that of chicken eggs. (Pic: Flickr / ilya)

Like everyone else, we dread poverty and aspire to the good life. We have to. The ugly face of poverty tends to relentlessly peep into our living room windows, its ugly grin announcing the fate that awaits anyone who slips. From local politicians, office workers, informal workers, public administrators, and even the jobless, every Kenyan is a hustler. The broke sod in the pub has to run errands, wash cars and wipe tables to earn just a cigarette or drinks.

Now quail farming is the new side hustle. It has attracted thousands of would-be entrepreneurs who have been bitten by the famous ‘wildebeest migration’ bug. Here’s how it works: One person tells his friends that his half-acre strawberry farm brings in a million bob every three months. The next thing you know, his friends have taken up strawberry farming and it becomes the in thing.

A quail farmer was featured in the local newspaper last year. His quail business was minting a fortune and incurring negligible expenses. You see, a quail bird is low-maintenance: it gobbles 20 grams of feed a day, unlike a chicken that consumes 120 grams. Within a few weeks, there were small banners on shop fronts, walls, and, street light pillars proclaiming the magical powers of this brown-freckled bird. Enterprising Kenyans quickly did their research and sent off their applications to the Kenya Wildlife Service to become… quail farmers.

Quail farming is a million-shilling business with the promise of boosting many incomes in a country where the masses are constantly chasing the elusive shilling. To qualify to be a quail farmer, one completes an application form from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a government agency in charge of the country’s wildlife. Their officers then come around to inspect the cages for housing the birds. They need to be kept in a warm and dry place in well-ventilated cages that are far from modern pollutants. After their applications have been approved, farmers pay a fee of R150. Permit holders are also subject to impromptu inspections and any violations of the permit’s conditions can result in the licence being revoked.  Last year the government handed out more than 5 000 licences, and thousands more are still pending.

The opportunities are boundless if one can capture the still young Kenyan market. However, KWS say the market is becoming saturated, so many farmers are now eyeing the more lucrative Chinese market. There are over 172 000 Google search results about quails from Kenya. The quail farming business has also taken off online – you can now purchase chicks or eggs from a number of sources.

In December 2013, a single tiny quail egg was retailing at slightly more than a dollar in Kenya. Considering a chicken egg costs 8 US cents, quail farmers were making a killing. A day-old quail chick was retailing at an average of R45. The problem with the wildebeest migration bug is that now the lucrative quail market is flooded by too many entrepreneurs and we are experiencing a glut. Like a gift from the skies, now the common man can enjoy the benefits of this bird which was previously only affordable to the middle class. Now, you can purchase a day-old chick for R15 while a quail egg costs between R2 and R3.

The gist of the matter is that this quail business is not only about money. As any health and nutrition buff will tell you, natural food is best! Lately our country is experiencing a surge in lifestyle diseases as western corporates scramble to satiate our rising appetite for junk food. The rich AND poor are dying in droves from cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart-related ailments. Our government has actually banned the importing and selling of GMO food products.

The reality is that cheap processed food is available everywhere, and is easier on the pocket, but the Kenyan middle-class is awakening to the fact that money is not true wealth, health is. Going green and eating healthy is the new rave. And consuming quail meat and eggs promises a plethora of health benefits. It’s said to be a detoxifying agent, an immune booster and stress reliever. It helps with digestive tract disorders, stomach ulcers, anemia, tuberculosis, heart problems, bronchial illnesses and diabetes. It can alleviate migraines and give you healthier hair, while keeping hypertension, digestive disturbance, gastric ulcer, liver problems and blood pressure under control. A quail egg a day may indeed keep the doctor away.

With all these ‘super natural’ powers, I suggest government should fund two quail eggs a day for each child in public school instead of wrestling with a costly laptop project that’s way beyond their depth. The quail phenomenon is a healthy socio-political, economic, and spiritual answer to Kenyans’ problems. Right now, I’m off to have my own dish of fried aluru (quail) accompanied by wild vegetable herbs and brown ugali (a cake made from corn).

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer based in Nairobi.

African business leaders step up to create $28.5m Ebola Fund

A woman passes a sign posted in an awareness campaign against the spread of Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman passes a sign posted in an awareness campaign against the spread of Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Pic: Reuters)

Saturday, November 8, was a landmark day for Africa’s battle against Ebola. African business leaders from a range of sectors joined the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank in Addis Ababa for a round table meeting to discuss what the private sector could contribute towards fighting Ebola. AU chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that this was the beginning of many consultations the African Union was prepared to have with business leaders. “We do not want to think that we have called you here only because we are in trouble, but we hope that this a conversation that we can carry forward on everything else that is happening on this continent,” she said in her opening remarks.

The  Ebola outbreak was first reported in Guinea late last year but was ignored by many until it spiralled out of control. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 13 000 people across eight countries have been infected,  and nearly 5000 have died. For months now, the outbreak has been making headlines around the world and regional organisations like the AU have come under fire for their perceived failure to effectively address the crisis.

The weekend’s meeting was a case of better late than never, but it was a productive one: a $28.5 million emergency fund to respond to the Ebola epidemic was set up. This first wave of contributions will go towards logistical support of healthworkers who are caring for those infected with Ebola, and to strengthening the capacity of local health services in affected West African countries.

The money pledged will be managed by the African Development Bank. This is the first time in history that the African Union and the African Development Bank will be handling money from private entities.

Before the meeting, a target of $30 million was set. Strive Masiyiwa, executive chair of Econet Wireless, pledged $2.5million. Kevin Balogun, Coca Cola Head of  East, West and North Africa pledged $1million on behalf of the company. South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe from Africa Rainbow Minerals pledged $1 million as a family contribution. Nigerian business magnate Aliko Dangote, through his representative, pledged 10% of the set target of $30 million. The biggest pledge came from the MTN Group, which offered $10 million.

Many other companies gave logistical support: Deloitte Africa pledged to work hand in hand with the African Development Bank pro-bono as a financial advisory to the fund. There was also consensus that the African Centre for Disease Control project be hastened because Africa needs to stand tall with regard to research and medicine. The renowned Professor Calestous Juma, representing academica, pledged to link African researchers with MIT and Harvard University. Representatives from telecom companies in Africa pledged to create an SMS short code that will enable anyone to contribute to the fund from as little as $1. The facility will be available from December 1.

There was a sense of solidarity at the meeting and an acknowledgement that urgent action is needed. It was a relief  to see Africans actively doing something about the epidemic rather than relying on ‘outside help’. As Carlos Lope, from the UN Economic Commission for Africa said: “Africa needs to arrest the infection of perception with the same resolve it deals with the infection of the virus.”

Ruth Aine is a Ugandan blogger and social media trainer. She blogs at

Côte d’Ivoire, where money does grow on (cashew) trees

Forty years ago, Henri Kouakou was struggling to support his family farming a small plot outside Bondoukou, a dusty town in northeastern Côte d’Ivoire, when he first learned that money did, in fact, grow on trees – cashew trees.

“I was raising yams back then and wasn’t earning enough. I heard people talking about a new tree you could make money growing,” he said, strolling through his plantation beneath a canopy of cashew tree branches.

By his own reckoning, Kouakou, among the earliest pioneers of the Ivorian cashew sector, is nearly 100 years old. He has seen the nuts, initially planted in the 1970s to combat desertification, emerge as an important cash crop for the West African nation’s impoverished north.

And with output growing by over 10 percent annually – attracting the attention of a government desperate to jump-start its economy after a decade of war and political chaos – he will likely live to see his country dominate the world market.

Henri Kouakou at his cashew plantation in Bondoukou. (Pic: Reuters)
Henri Kouakou at his cashew plantation in Bondoukou. (Pic: Reuters)

Even a decade ago, Côte d’Ivoire was a middling producer, growing around 80 000 tonnes of raw cashews per year. By last season, however, as demand for the nuts has grown, output had jumped to around a half million tonnes, making it the world’s top exporter and second to India in overall production.

Astounding growth
In the north of the country, cotton and cashews are the only cash crops, so as some cashew growers have started to do well, others have piled in. Output has increased because new plantations planted in recent years are coming into production.

“The growth is more than impressive. It’s astounding,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, a cashew expert. “We’ve never seen a country grow its production in the way Côte d’Ivoire has over the past decade.”

This season, for the first time, the government set a guaranteed minimum price for cashew farmers, fixing it at 250 CFA francs ($0.48) per kilo of raw nuts. According to Malamine Sanogo, managing director of the sector’s marketing board, the Cotton and Cashew Council (CCA), Côte d’Ivoire has hardly scratched the surface of the enormous potential.

Ninety-five percent of Ivorian output is exported raw to India and Vietnam for processing. Sanogo says that work should be done in Côte d’Ivoire by Ivorian workers.

“We think that with processing we will create many jobs and we will create lots of added value for the country,” he said.

Within the next five years, the CCA wants 35 percent of Côte d’Ivoire’s raw cashew output processed locally. Sanogo said bringing processors closer to producers will allow Côte d’Ivoire to cut out some of the intermediaries in the supply chain, boost prices for farmers, and above all create jobs.

Having doubled production over the past decade, Africa’s two million cashew farmers produce nearly half of the world’s supply of raw nuts, according to the African Cashew Alliance. Many, including growers in top African producers Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Mozambique, are watching closely Côte d’Ivoire’s efforts to become a major player in a global market valued at up to $7.8 billion.

War and revival
In 2002, a failed coup attempt plunged Côte d’Ivoire into a civil war that split the world’s top cocoa producer in two. Once a model of stability and prosperity in a troubled region,Côte d’Ivoire would remain divided between rebels in the north and southern government loyalists for almost a decade.

Having emerged as the country’s new president following a civil war in 2011, Alassane Ouattara, a former senior International Monetary Fund official, has ushered in economic growth of over 9 percent in past two years.

But little of that growth – fuelled largely by billion-dollar investments in large infrastructure projects – has trickled down to the nearly half of Ivorians living on less than $2 per day. That’s where the government hopes cashews can help.

Some 600 000 farmers already grow the nuts, according to the CCA. But the creation of a domestic processing industry would mean more jobs in the sector.

Workers handle cashew nuts at a processing plant in Bouake. (Pic: Reuters)
Workers handle cashew nuts at a processing plant in Bouake. (Pic: Reuters)

Advocates of the plan point to the giant cottage industry in India where a typical unit processes around 10 tonnes of cashews a day with a workforce of 1 000.

According to a study carried out by the CCA, every 100 000 tonnes of processing capacity Côte d’Ivoire develops will create 12 300 factory jobs and another 10 000 elsewhere in the sector.

On the spotless campus of the large processing factory run by Singapore-based soft commodities trader Olam International in the central city of Bouake, uniformed employees queue up every morning for work.

The plant and a second, smaller facility, employ around 3 500 workers with capacity to process 40 000 tonnes.

“You can imagine if we can process 10 times this number how much employment can be created. And that is only direct employment,” Issa Konate, Olam’s head of procurement for the facilities, told Reuters.

Panacea for unemployment
If it can pull it off, Côte d’Ivoire would be the first African nation to build a large-scale cashew nut processing sector as a panacea for unemployment, a problem plaguing countries across the continent.

The African Cashew Alliance estimates that a 25 percent increase in raw cashew nut processing in Africa would generate more than $100 million in household income.

But Ouattara’s government has an additional, even more pressing, concern: creating gainful employment for the 74,000 ex-combatants it is seeking to demobilise in the coming year.

“That’s what happened in Vietnam,” Yao Appia Koffi, vice-president of Côte d’Ivoire’s Cashew Exporters Association. “When they were emerging from their war in the 1980s they developed that industry and it allowed a lot of ex-fighters to find work.”

The broken nut conundrum
Not everyone is so starry-eyed, however. “Processing? I’m not sure what the government can do … It’s foolishness,” one Côte d’Ivoire-based cashew exporter said, asking not to be named. Côte d’Ivoire indeed faces some daunting obstacles.

In addition to competing with processing sectors in India and Vietnam, it must convince private sector partners that political stability will last. It also needs major investments in machinery and must train tens of thousands of new workers.

But its biggest challenge will be what to do about nuts damaged in processing – what the industry calls brokens – which typically constitute 30 to 40 percent of output.

In India, the world’s largest cashew producer and also the biggest consumer, brokens are absorbed by the domestic market. The same is true in Brazil, the number three processor. Vietnam has traditionally sold much of its brokens in India and has another big market for damaged nuts, China, next door.

Côte d’Ivoire, with only infinitesimal domestic consumption, has none of these options, and its less skilled workforce means that the portion of brokens is even higher there.

Promoting cashew consumption in Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries is one possibility. But even supporters of this strategy admit it will take time with no guarantee of success.

Côte d’Ivoire’s cashew sector may just have come of age at the perfect time. Experts say investors, worried by the dominance of India and Vietnam, are showing interest in diversifying supply and Africa is a logical choice for new processing facilities.

From just 35 000 tonnes in 2006, Africa processed a total of 114 600 tonnes of raw cashew nuts in 2012.

At the same time, manufacturers say technological advances in processing equipment will reduce the number of brokens to between 10 and 20 percent. Even the definition of what constitutes an exportable nut appears to be changing.

Only last year, the difference in the price of a pound of export quality, whole kernel cashews and large brokens was around $2. That difference is now less than a dollar.

“If that trend persists it will create a big change in the economics of processing,” said Fitzpatrick, who works with the African Cashew Initiative, United Nations, European governments and private investors to develop cashew processing in Africa.

Demand for edible nuts is growing, but the supply of pristine nuts is not. So it appears that buyers are willing to buy more, and pay more for, brokens.

Back in Bondoukou, Henri Kouakou is cautiously optimistic. He’s long been at the mercy of volatile, unregulated prices. Not far from his plantation stands a sprawling compound he started building for his family but has never been able to finish.

“If the government could raise the price to 400 or 450 CFA francs I would retire right now. I would be at home with enough money to eat and feed my entire family.” (1 US dollar = 517.9300 CFA franc)