No. 231 – On Resilience

It’s not fear that grips him. Only a heightened sense of things.

Narrator from 300

In the scene embedded above, a young Leonidas is out surviving in the wilderness as part of his training to be a Spartan soldier. The scene above tells the story of him crossing paths with a wolf looking for a meal. In the scene, we see the boy turn away from the wolf and walk towards a small crevice in a mountain. The wolf gives chase and gets stuck as the boy dives backwards. Then the narrator says the above quote.

That scene has come to mind a good bit as I’ve considered how I try to continue making progress towards my goals in a world upended by this virus. Early in the days of social distancing in the US, I was really energized about locking in and getting a ton done with the extra hours of not having a commute to deal with. Then, I wondered why my brain felt like it was on a treadmill, reminding me that I had slipped a bit in using my tools to maintain my mental health. Today, I’m doing my best to take steady steps towards my goals and exercising the resilience I’ve built over the years going through tough times.

Hard times never last, tough people they do.

Ace Hood

Parallel Experience

While I love this quote, it’s been challenging to watch is the parallel experience black folks are going through in the U.S. On one hand, the creativity we’re seeing from the musicians among us has been magical. DJ DNice kicked the energy off with his Homeschool sessions, and Timbaland and Swizz Beatz have carried the energy forward with the battles they’re organizing. I already love dancing by myself, and they’ve taken my solo dancing to another level.

At the same time, black folks are most likely getting hit harder by COVID-19 than other ethnic groups. New York, New Orleans, Detroit and more hot spots for the virus in the US have large black populations. It’s hard to see 40% of the deaths in Michigan coming from the black community when we only make up 14% of that state’s population.

Heightened Awareness

My ears perked up last week when I heard Chamath Palihapitiya tell Kara Swisher that he sees something similar to the Patriot Act happening as we emerge from this pandemic. People will most likely want to know that the people around them are healthy and may be willing to give up more of their information in order to know who around them is healthy.

Telecom operators in South Africa are already working with the government to help track the movements of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and identifying the people with whom they come into contact with. Here in the US, there are calls for immunity certifications to identify people who could go back to work, provide healthcare, and more.

Should Chamath prove to be right and immunity certifications become a thing, my mind goes back to black folks disproportionally dying from coronavirus in Michigan. We’ve already seen the impact of label “Chinese virus.” How do we ensure black folks aren’t labeled as somehow deficient as opposed to existing in a system that has made it quite difficult to remain healthy? A lot of black folks made it through tough times over the more than 400 years we’ve been in the U.S. Yet, a lot of black folks didn’t.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don’t know right now, but I’ve been encouraged by the many virtual gatherings of black folks to put our heads together in efforts to figure out how we support each other, exercising resilience. I’m grateful to get to support friends’ and acquaintances’ businesses, particularly the ones who are setting aside some of the revenue to support efforts to keep folks fed and healthy, investing in resilience. As I get a sense of the next right thing to do, I will do that.

No. 165: 3AMReads: Moody’s Downgrades Eskom | DRC Asks for Joint Bid | Ghana President Wants More Parliament

Moody’s downgrades South Africa’s power utility Eskom

South Africa continues to face challenges as bad news continues to emerge from week to week. On Monday, Eskom’s chairman resigned. On Tuesday, Moody’s downgrades the power utility’s credit rating.

The question in my mind is what is the path forward for South Africa. President Zuma, who has played a central role much of these recent issues, will be stepping down as leader of the ANC next year, hopefully. He is then to step down as President in 2019. Who will fill that void?

The ANC is still pretty firmly in Zuma’s control, evinced by the ANC voting not to remove him from the presidency a few weeks ago. Who within the ANC could step up? The party’s Youth League has put its weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but she is also backed by President Zuma. Who outside the ANC could step up? One of the most high profile political leaders in the country, Helen Zille, just apologized for a problematic tweet about colonialism being good for Africa. I think it’s pretty safe to bet she won’t be getting a ton of votes.

South Africa needs leadership to right the ship over the next several years and it’s not apparent that folks are in position to take on that mantle. Hopefully, someone emerges over these next couple years.

Congo tells consortia to form joint bid for Inga 3 hydro project

The Inga 3 dam has been under development for what seems like forever, something like 14 or 15 years. The Democratic Republic of Congo just asked two massive companies from China and Spain to work together on a joint bid, and it seems like a pretty strange request. Let’s see what more information comes out about this.

Ghana Leader Favors Constitutional Change to Boost Finances

President Nana Akufo-Addo wants parliament to have more oversight of the country’s public finances, which would require constitutional changes. Ghana already has a central audit agency structure. I think a nice addition would be to create an agency similar to the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that works for Congress and investigates how the government spends public dollars. GAO has already done with staff at Ghana Internal Audit Agency, and I’m sure would be more than happy to help establish a similar organization that works for Ghana’s parliamentary structure.

No. 163: 3AMReads: $1B Cobalt project | South Africa’s Radical Economic Transformation | What is US-Africa Policy?

Bloomberg: Owner of $1 Billion Cobalt Project Says Rally Is Far From Over

Eurasian Resources Group has a pretty massive cobalt mining project in the works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company stands to realize a nice return on investment at the rate cobalt prices are skyrocketing. They jumped 71% last year and are expected to increase by 60% this year. Rising demand for electric vehicles and limited cobalt supply is driving these prices.

What concerns me about this project is the supply chain.  Cobalt mining has come under scrutiny due to the health hazards associated with extracting the mineral. Even more concerning is the reality that evidence has been found of children participating in cobalt mining in DRC. Take a look through ERG’s website, and you’ll see it is fairly light on sustainable development and occupational safety.

Chinese cobalt miners have caught the spotlight in terms of not managing their cobalt sourcing well. ERG should get the same level of attention to be sure it keeps things on the up and up.

Fin24: Recession shock knocks volatile rand

Radical economic transformation. Debate over what this means for South Africa reached fever pitch after President Zuma sacked Pravin Gordhan, probably the most respected high-ranking government official at the time. The midnight firing led to two credit agencies giving South Africa junk bond status. Yesterday, the country went into recession. Radical economic transformation. SMH.

Video: Senator Chris Coons Speaks at Council on Foreign Relations

Senator Chris Coons spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, discussing US policy in Africa. Best line from the conversation, “On some level, I don’t want it to be a higher priority for the Trump administration.” Agreed.

No. 152: 3AMReads: Upside in African Financial Services | Lonmin Moves Ops to Marikana | China Pledges $100B

Investor Highlights African Financial Services Opportunity Despite Headwinds

Kurt Davis surveys the financial services industry across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cote d’Ivoire as ones where investors will find an upside though the current state of the industry isn’t the prettiest to look at. His projection of Cote d’Ivoire becoming the centerpiece of regional financial services action in West Africa is a really interesting that makes sense given the countries growth trajectory so far. Before that happens, I’m going to need the military to improve its operations, find money to pay soldiers, and decrease the specter of mutiny.

Lonmin Moves to Marikana

My mind immediately went to the Marikana Massacre a few years ago when I saw the news that Lonmin was moving it’s Johannesburg office to Marikana where dozens of Lonmin workers were killed by South African police during a wildcat strike. A couple years after that, the company along with the rest of South Africa’s platinum miners went through a very long strike that really put a dent in South Africa’s already struggling growth rate. Lonmin CEO Ben Magara got his start working in the mines and says that he wants to be closer to the company’s operation. Relations between the company and its employees aren’t getting any better with workers protesting last week. Hopefully this move helps improve relations.

China Pledges $100B to Finance Projects Globally

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted several global leaders for China’s One Belt, One Road Forum. A year or so ago, China launched this effort as part of its aims to connect 60+ countries through a vast transport and logistics network to drive trade. Kenya and Ethiopia’s presidents were in attendance, and both have already seen hundreds of millions of dollars in investment as part of this effort. China’s trade with African countries is already sizeable at $39B for Q1 2017, and we can expect that number to grow significantly in the coming years if China is able to execute the projects it targets and gets paid back. If not, there could be a lot of debt floating around the world. African countries, particularly the ones that have issued large bonds in recent years, would do well to really ensure they have revenue streams to cover more debt should they pursue it.

No. 148: Three AM Reads: MTN Keeps Eye on Iran | Senegal’s Got Gas| Taxing Entertainers and Athletes

MTN Signs Non-Binding Agreement to Invest in Iranian Net

South Africa-based MTN Group continues to set its sights on participating in Iran’s fast growing telecoms industry, with this preliminary move to place nearl $40M in Iranian Net for a 49.5% stake in the company. MTN has growing stakes in Iran, with its minority ownership of Irancell, though MTN had slowed its expansion efforts in Iran due to US sanctions preventing the company from repatriating around $1B in revenue from its stake in Iran’s telecoms space. Now that those sanctions have lifted, we can expect to see more such deals in Iran.

BP and Kosmos Discover Large Gas Well Off Coast of Senegal

BP must feel good about committing $1B to exploring for gas off the coasts of Senegal and Mauritania. The two companies found a well estimated to contain around 15 trillion cubic square feet of gas. Needless to say, the two companies will keep looking for more gas.

Deloitte Outlines Nigeria’s Tax Policy for Entertainers and Athletes 

I’m sure non-resident Nigerians who go back to Nigeria to perform were not happy to hear about this case Deloitte makes for Nigeria to figure out its taxation policy for non-resident Nigerians in order to take advantage of another potential revenue stream for the country.

No. 146 – Three AM Reads: South Africa’s Junk Status a Quick Fix? | Another Innovators List | Chevy Volt Designer Goes Home to Nigeria

South Africa Central Bank Governor Says Junk Status Can be Addressed Quickly

During the World Economic Forum held in Durban this week, South African Central Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago said that South African can quickly deal with the concerns ratings agencies have raised in cutting the country’s credit rating to junk status or putting its rating on review for a downgrade. I’m curious what path he sees for that to happen. The ratings cuts happened after President Zuma flipped his entire cabinet in the wee hours of the night last month. The political uncertainty driven by the President is the primary issue and I don’t see how that changes unless he’s no longer in office.

Quartz Releases 2017 Africa Innovators List

Yesterday, I highlighted a list of women innovators across Africa. Today, Quartz released its list of innovators across the continent, and it’s a good one as well. Kudos to Karim Sy for making the list!

Chevy Volt Designer Leading Development of Nigeria’s Automotive Industry

So, I definitely missed this in the news cycle several weeks ago. Jelani Aliyu, the designer of the Chevy Volt, has been tapped to lead Nigeria’s National Automotive Design and Development Council. That’s really cool. More vim to him in contributing to the country building up industries outside of the energy space.

No. 142: Three AM Reads: Cars45 gets $5m | Ethos Makes a Sugar Play | Ghana’s Illegal Mining Problem

Cars45 Gets $5M to Streamline Nigerian Used Auto Sales

Jake Bright reports that Cars45 raised a nice Series A round from Frontier Car Group that has backing from some serious names in the venture capital space – Balderton Capital, EchoVC, TPG Growth, and Maryland-based NEA. Seeing that Cars45 raised its round from this one group got me curious. Two of Frontier Car Group’s directors are on the founding team of Cars45. What is more interesting is that the Spring, Texas-registered Frontier Car Group has raised nearly $22M from 28 investors. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest a quarter of your fund in one company. Perhaps the group is raising a larger fund? Late last year, the Group filed that it had raised $18M. The $22M size of the fund was filed as an amendment in mid-April. Very interesting. Look out for more here.

Ethos Takes Controlling Stake in South African Beverage Company

According to Africa Capital Digest, Ethos Private Equity has taken a controlling stake in Little Green Beverages, a South African beverage company. This is interesting timing for the close of this deal considering South Africa’s sugar tax is slated for implementation at some point this year.  We’ll see what Michael Benjamin, former General Manager at SABMiller, can do to navigate that while improving the company’s products.

Illegal Mining a Sore Spot for Ghana-China Relations

Ghana has been trying to figure out what to do about illegal gold mining for quite some time now, but apparently hasn’t made much headway. This Financial Times piece outlines the issue as the Akufo-Addo Administration tries to take a broad stance against illegal mining, while others point the finger directly at Chinese driving of illegal mining. China’s response has been to remind Ghanaian officials of all the money China could pull out of Ghana if it doesn’t get it’s media to be “objective” about its coverage of illegal mining in the country. Illegal mining is going to continue to be a thorn in Ghana’s side with its terrible child labor issues and environmental impact, on top of navigating relations with a world power. Nonetheless, Ghana must keep trying to pull the thorn out.

No. 99: 3 Tuesday AM Views

1. After highlighting how problematic it is being labeled the first black woman head of South Africa’s Insurance Institute, Delphine Maidu, CEO of Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty for Africa, discussed women leadership styles, what the insurance industry could do to better serve customers, and the low insured rates in South Africa. 

2. Ushahidi executive director Juliana Rotich highlights the importance of building an ecosystem for entrepreneurs across Africa to get traction with their innovations. 

3. Tryphosa Ramano, CFO of PPC (South Africa’s largest cement company) gave her insights on the importance of women landing board seats and pushing for policies that support the development of women leadership in South Africa’s corporate world. 

I’m constantly looking for black women leaders I can reference as my daughter gets older. Leave names of others who come to mind in the comment section below. 

No. 42: Nigerian Fashion Makes a Statement: This Week in African Markets

From LinkedIn.

ECONOMIC PAIN CONTINUES – Moody’s downgraded South Africa’s five largest banks, nine of its municipalities, its two development finance institutions, following the firm’s downgrading of the government’s debt ratingand Eskom’s bond rating last week. While the outlook remains stable for the banks and one of the development institutions – the Industrial Development Corporation – the South African government continues to take hits. COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) voted to expel NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) over the weekend, potentially further weakening the African National Congress as elections loom and the party continues to experience fissures. Labor strikes have hit the mining industry and broader economy hard over the past year. What will it take for South Africa to hit an upward swing? Thegovernment expects its GDP to rise 1.4 percent, revised down from the already low 2.4 percent. Send any interesting articles my way covering what the country needs to do to get out of this rut.


FIGHT NIGHT – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Finance Minister and Industry Minister almost lost their jobs Monday. Members of parliament came close to losing a couple teeth. Sixty-three assembly members signed on to a motion for a vote of no confidence on both ministers, arguing that they are mismanaging the country. The motion did not succeed due to 18 MPs withdrawing their support. Here’s a placeholder for side-eye. Last year, Last year, Prime Minister Matata Ponyo survived a no-confidence vote with similar charges. Similarly, several MPs withdrew their support for the no-confidence vote. President Joseph Kabila, since winning a controversial election in 2011, has faced pretty heavy political pressure from opposition groups. Recently, there has been debate on whether he would try tochange the constitution and make another run for the presidency, and what impact recent events in Burkina Faso would have on his decision. I suppose we’ll know soon enough.


DOROBUCCI – The beautiful people came out in full force at Lagos Fashion & Design Week last week. Founded by @OmoyemiAkerele, the show was hosted by@GTBank and organized by Ms. Akerele’s Style House Files. The show was one of the higher profile events to take place in Lagos since the World Health Organization announced the end of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria, and highlighted the growing significance of Lagos as a global fashion destination. @DAdjaye, lead designer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, is designing a concept store for Reni Folayiwo’s Alara, which will house luxury designs from across Africa and the West. As Ms. Akerele and Ms. Folayiwo attract more attention to Nigeria’s fashion opportunity, the hope is that wealthy Nigerians will do more of their shopping at home, as opposed to shopping in Europe. The demand is certainly there.

Have insight on this week’s news, like President Jonathan officially announcing his candidacy for next year’s elections? Post them in the comments section.

No. 41: Three Things in African Markets You Need to Know This Week – October 28

President Zuma Skips Monday’s innovaBRICS & Beyond Conferencelink

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma cancelled his scheduled Monday appearance in London at the innovaBRICS conference, hosted by Deloitte. South African publication City Press reported that President Zuma cancelled his appearance due to not being able to secure a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, a claim the Presidency denies. Apparently, this is his second time canceling an appearance in London in the past year. I do not know how these things go in diplomatic circles, but I am sure a few folks involved in the planning for this let out a few curses. I also wonder if President Zuma’s inability to land a meeting with Prime Minister Cameron had some connection to South Africa’s refusal of the Dalai Lama’s visa application to the attend the Nobel Peace conference in Cape Town that was scheduled for October 13, but postponed due to protests from other Nobel laureates.

Nigerian Stock Exchange Keeps Moving On Up linkThe Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) announced this morning that it secured full membership to the World Federation of Exchanges. The NSE has been going through the process of securing membership for the past three years, pretty much the entire time that its CEO, Oscar Onyema, has been leading the company. Other notable members include Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and four other African exchanges – the Egyptian Exchange, Bourse de Casablanca, Stock Exchange of Mauritius, and Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This membership serves as another notch in the belt as the NSE strengthens its operations and positions itself as a ideal platform for global investors to place their funds.

East African Countries Continue Exploration of Geothermal Energylink

The 5th African Rift Geothermal Conference takes place this Wednesday through Friday in Tanzania. For the past several years East African countries have been working to tap into the region’s geothermal energy potential. Kenya plans to have geothermal energy make up about 5,000MW of its energy portfolio by 2030. The country currently has capacity of 210MW, according to KenInvest, the country’s investment promotion arm. The rest of the region is still in exploration mode, excluding Ethiopia which has about 7MW of capacity.