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Egyptian-Japanese missed opportunities

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CAIRO – 6 August 2019: Lots of missed opportunities need to be reconsidered for further cooperation between Egypt and Japan in the near future. The two countries still have a lot of potential for joint coordination in several aspects.

Taking a closer look on Japan would make you re-think of it as more than just a technologically sophisticated country, and for Egypt, as more than a North African developing, and economically growing country.

Egypt, which is currently the head of the African Union, is looking for more discussions and solutions to several national and African issues, including the countries’ economic reform and growth as a priority.

Other issues including enhancing peace and security, countering terrorism, developing health, education and infrastructure are among the challenges that need a second look in Africa. That is in addition to poverty, forced displacement and illegal immigration.

What could Africa as a nation with all its particularchallenges and prioritiesbenefit from cooperating with Japan?

The policy of the “closed door” was forced in Japan for hundreds of years. Per this policy, very few things could have the opportunity to enter or leave the country. This affected the country’s trade, culture and military and led to the transformation of the country.

Many things happened during wars and conflicts, especially World War II,forwhich the country officially apologized. Years after all of this, Japan has become more than just atechnologically-advanced country;it is a country which is still seeking to learn, and communicate.

“Japan is an isolated country.It is far from Africa. It needs nearly a day of traveling so we can reach each other,” President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Shinichi Kitaoka said during a meeting that included ten journalists from different African countries, reviewing the Japanese-African relations and the aspects of ongoing cooperation.

During the meeting,Kitaoka said that Japan supports other countries to grow and be independent through providing ODA loans. “Loan is something to support being independent. Countries need to know how to utilize these loans and give themback after several years,” Kitaoka explained.

“We made mistakes in World War II, invaded other Asian countries, so we wanted to give back to these countries, and this is what we did during the past years. However, as the Asian countries have developed, we think that Africa has to be the main focus of Japan at the meantime,” Kitaoka added.

TICAD, as a start

In 1993, Japan and Africa started holding Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). TICAD was held for the first time in Tokyo on October 5 and 6, 1993, aiming to enhance dialogue between African-Japanese leaders, promote Africa’s development, peace and security, strengthen relations between the countries, and establish strong partnerships between Tokyo and Africa.

The international conference which has been held regularly since then is not just led by Japan, despite being a Japanese initiative. Several international partners shared the organization of TICAD, which is co-sponsored by the United Nations, along with the Japanese government. The partners include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the World Bank.

On August 28, TICAD7 is expected to be held inthe presence of all African leaders, including Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Many things were announced to be discussed.

During meeting with JICA and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) officials in Tokyo in July, Business Today knew several details about the awaited conference including the side eventsbeing held for the first time with an Egyptian start up participation among other African startups invited to the conference.

Under the theme “Africa and Yokohama, Sharing Passion for the Future,” several issues are going to be discussed during the conference. Technology and innovation wereannounced to be part ofall discussions this year.

But, as discussions have been ongoing between Africa and Japan extensively since 1993, what else could be done, so no opportunities would be missed, especially between Egypt and Japan?

Startups

Egypt is a rising market for startups. According to start-up platform MAGNiTT’s 2018 Mena Venture Investment Report, Egypt is the fastest growing startup ecosystem and the second largest after the UAE.

Egypt’s share of the total number of seed funding agreements grew by 7 percent y-o-y to $196.5 million, representing 22 percent of all MENA closes in 2018. “Egypt is seeing a second wave of entrepreneurs and investors that are more mature and experienced. The population is also starting to embrace technology for everyday activities,” Algebra Ventures Managing Partner ZiadMokhtar said.

Accordingly, Egypt’s entrepreneurs could not just see golden opportunities during TICAD7, but also for what a city like Kobe could offer to them.

Kobe is a Japanese city promoting itself as the young people and innovators’ first choice. During a presentation for Kobe officials at the city administrative headquarters, they focused on the city’s goal to become an environment where entrepreneurs can grow easily and create their new business.

The start-up visa for foreigners is among the very special things offered by Kobe city. Meeting with the city officials, they explained that they can offer a startup visa that allows foreign entrepreneurs to stay in Japan for one year maximum.

After getting the approval of the city officials, entrepreneurs will be able to start their business in Japan and enjoy a subsidy provided by the government “covering half of rent and communication cost, 2million ($1.8K) Yen personnel expenses for hi-tech engineersand a maximum of13 million ($120K) subsidies for 3years.”

However, after the first year of operating in Japan, startups need to meet the city’s demands to continue operating for further periods. The city’s criteriainclude the business has “a maximum of two fulltime staff or a capital exceeding 5million Yen”.

This Japanese city is offering a start-up visa for entrepreneurs even if they do not have an existing business at their own countries. The officials affirmed to Business Today that no legal consequences will be imposed onthe startups or the founders if they fail to meet the demands. They added that the Japanese perspective towards startups is different than the African one, and they believe that startups will have a fair chance in Japan to succeed and continue.

Age, health and society

The challenges in Japan and Egypt are severely different. Egypt deals with the high and rapidly growing population as a problem which is equally dangerous to terrorism, according to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s earlier statements. Japan is suffering from the rising number of elderly people and the reluctance of young people to marry and have children. According to statistics reviewed during a presentation at the National Hospital Organization, Nagasaki Medical Center, Japan in the future willsuffer population reduction.

Japan’s Ministry of Health is currently working to promote increasing the population, according to doctorAtsumasa Komori from Nagasaki Medical Center. “The increasing numberof elderly people in Japan is our biggest problem,” he said.

Enhancing communications between Japanese and African nations and increasing the cultural exchanging channels could offera solution for both countries.

“Egypt’s steadily growing population should be used as a privilege,”JICA’s Middle East division Director Masataka TAKESHITA said during an interview with Business Today at JICA’s headquarters’ in Tokyo. He assured that the country’s population is one of the positive sides that should be exploited in the best ways.

He pointed out that Egypt still needs to work on creating more job opportunitiesamid the government’s economic reforms.

Japan has many successful experiments on human development especially in Asia, according to Shigeru Ushio, director-general for African Affairs department and assistant minister offoreign affairs.

Egypt and Japan had a lot of meetings and discussions ahead of TICAD7, set to be held on August 28 in Yokohoma city, according to Ushio, who affirmed that both parties held a number of senior officials’ meetings.

He added that Japan has huge commitments with Egypt. “The Egyptian government always sends high level seniors to Japan to follow up on updates of our agreements and discussions and we respect their views and leadership,” Ushio added.

He pointed out during a limited press conference held in the attendance of the African media representatives that Egypt and Japan held a lot of discussions, especially regarding human development aspects where Japan has a number of successful experiences in cooperation with other countries.

“We believe development is the key to do anything, as we have done this with many countries, especially in Asia, and believe that the time has come to do it with Africa now,” Ushio stated

With Further discussions among officials in both countries, maybe Japan and Egypt can reach a solution for them both.

Agriculture

“I am interested in Delta. If there is a chance to conduct research and see what we can do in this area, we are certainly interested in it,” Yasuhiro Tsujimoto, a member of the Crop, Livestock, and Environment division at Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Science (JIRACAS) told Business Today during a presentation at JIRACAS headquarters in Tsukuba.

Tsujimoto was reviewing his pilot project implemented in Madagascar since 2001. He said that the final results of his project, which aims at improving rice production in Africa, cannot be officially announced yet. He added, however, that if JIRACAS found that any of its research results are suitable with Egypt’s agriculture conditions and climate, it will definitely share it.

He also explained that his project, entitled “FY VARY project”, aims at the improvement of rice yield production under law fertilizer input and poor soil fertility environment in SSA. It was mainly conducted as a pilot experiment in Madagascar, and is scheduled to continue until 2022.

Answering Business Today’s question about JIRACAS’ researches in North African countries, and especially Egypt, in order to raise the production rate and quality, Yasuhiro said the institute is not currently conducting research in North Africa, especially with the existence of a nearby universities and institutes interested in conducting researches on Egypt’s climate and agriculture conditions.

“We are not conducting current research in North Africa, as other universes are doing research. We are focusing more on doing what no one else has done before, especially in other African countries,” Yasuhiro said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a research on rice production in Africa titled, “Rice production in Africa, current situation and issues”. The study states that, “With the exception of a few countries that have attained self-sufficiency in rice production, rice demand exceeds production and large quantities of rice are imported to meet demand at a huge cost in hard currency.”

According to a FAO study, Africa consumes a total of 11.6 million tons of milled rice per year, of which 3.3 million tons (33.6 percent) areimported.

Egypt, in particular, has imposed restrictions on planting rice since the beginning of 2018 due to fears of water shortage. The government has decided to reduce the area of rice cultivation from 1 million feddans to 724,000feddans. Furthermore, planting rice was prohibited in certain governorates, including Aswan, Luxor, Qena, Sohag, Assiut, Minya, BeniSuef, Fayoum, New Valley, Giza, Cairo, Qaliubiya, Menoufia, MarsaMatrouh, North Sinai, South Sinai and Red Sea.

According to reports, Nigeria was named the largest producer of rice in Africa, replacing Egypt which was known of being on top of Africa’s production in this regard.

In March 2019, Egypt’s government has announced raising the allowed area of rice cultivation, to be once again 1 million feddans, in order to reduce the import expenses for rice.

Also Read Interview: African Energy Chamber Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk on Transforming Africa’s Energy Sector

Education

Egypt and Japan already have a “successful implemented experience” regarding educational cooperation, according to JICA’s Egypt Office Chief Representative, Yoshifumi Omura, during an interview with Business Today.

Nearly 100 schools are to be opened during the several coming years. Some 35 schools have already opened their doors and received Egyptian students for the academic year 2018/2019. Five more schools are expected to open during the next year.

The 100 schools will be based on “Tokkatsu”. As identified by Japanese Asakawa elementary school principal, Ms. Hiromi Shimizu, Tokkatsu is a kind of student activity which builds the students’ characters to make them more independent and positive. She said that studies have been conducted on students’ behavior before and after applying the Tokkatsu activities, and showed significant transformation in students’ behaviors. Students turn into more engaging and open individuals who are willing to participate in discussions without fear.

Many Egyptian teachers came to Japan to take the Tokkatsu training, according to Shimizu. She added that she met and trained some of them, and even became friends with them.

“We understand that we have an education system different from the one in Egypt, or any other country; however, Tokkatsu is not just about learning, it is also about building personalities,” Shimizu said.
By the end of the academic year, teachers will have to fill a form to check if all of the Tokkatsu goals have been achieved during the year. This is the only aspect through which they can check if Tokkatsu was successful or not.

“Tokkatsu can be applied anywhere around the world. Eventually, Tokkatsu is about changing people’s mind sets to be more motivated to participate in the society even more,” Shimizu said.

“Of course we expected to face some difficulties and problems in the beginning because the whole idea is new. But, so far, I can say that the experience is pretty much successful, despite everything that happened during setting up the process last year,” JICA’s Egypt Office Chief Representative, Yoshifumi Omura, said.

Japan is not a countrywithso many natural sources; however, they managed to create different sources to strengthen their economy. JICA’s Kitaoka reviewed during the meeting with the Africanjournalists that Japan focused after World War II on reforming the country’s economy. Several years later, Japan, a country which survived two atomic bombings, turned from an invading country during the war to a supporting country for its neighbors.

 

Credit: Aya Samir/ Egypt Today

Africa speaks

Exploring a new model for cooperation between business and society- Nonny Ugboma

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Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation (Image source: Nonny Ugboma)

The hand-me-down capitalism models Africa inherited from her colonial masters have failed to yield a prosperous continent despite its vast resources. Therefore, Africa is in desperate need of something different that takes into consideration its unique history, qualities, and context.

Experts have mostly seen the interdependence of businesses and society as transactional, with the society needing business for products and services, for jobs, for government taxes revenues. In turn, business needs the society for the market, sales and profits and public infrastructure, security and the rule of law! According to Amaeshi (2019) businesses, though sympathetic to societal challenges, are reluctant to act positively through their companies as they sometimes see such requests as irrelevant to their objectives.

However, due to the interdependency and interconnectedness of business and society, companies must work collaboratively with the government for a common purpose. That purpose is to build local resources.

There have been calls for western economies to rethink their capitalism model (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016). There have also been calls for Africa to develop its model of capitalism, with theorists and entrepreneurs exploring ideas like Africapitalism (Amaeshi, 2015). Africapitalism, coined by Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, focuses on the role of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs on the continent’s development to create economic prosperity and social wealth. It rests on the following four pillars: a sense of progress and prosperity; the sense of parity and inclusion; a sense of peace and harmony; and a sense of place and belongingness.

Africa does need its model. However, I would argue that this model should be spearheaded by the state in collaboration with willing stakeholders in the private sector and third sector, unlike Africapitalism. A government-led push is especially relevant now that a few 21st century economists are reassessing and rethinking capitalism in its present form. One of such critics is UCL’s Mazzucato (2018) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths who debunks the mainstream neo-classical narrative that the private sector alone drives innovation but takes the position that the state is the driver of innovation.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Approach (MOIA) could help address some of the identified gaps to ensure state and business work jointly to solve grand challenges, to co-create public value and co-shape a robust and sustainable society that it can bequeath to future generations.

There is, therefore, a need for an alternative model of collaboration for business, society and government. A suggested way forward for Nigeria, and indeed Africa, is to embrace a mission-oriented innovation approach. The concept of the mission-oriented approach that involves government co-creating and co-shaping the market with the private and third sectors has enormous potential for Africa. The four pillars of ROAR, developed by Mariana Mazzucato (2016), is a useful tool-set to anchor MOIA in Africa:

1. Routes and directions– Government and Public institutions and agencies to set
missions. Also, private sector leaders can nudge government agencies to agree to
work collaboratively on national priority areas.

2. Organisational Capacity– Building of dynamic Capabilities within the Public sector through advocacy, capacity building, conferences and training.

3. Assessment and evaluation– Agencies, academia and organisations to determine new
dynamic tools to assess public policies to create new models and markets.

4. Risks and rewards– Government and private organisations need to engage on the
best risks and rewards sharing formats from initiatives to ensure smart, inclusive and
sustainable growth.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

In conclusion, as Western Economies are reviewing and rethinking capitalism and their operating models, Africa must ensure she does the same. The reason is that the future of the development of the continent depends on the economic model that it chooses to adopt, in the future, especially with the growing youthful population.

Aurthor: Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation and has recently returned from one-year Sabbatical studying for a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of London Institute for innovation and Public Purpose.

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Economy

Leveraging Digitized Social Welfare Programs to Deepen Female Financial Inclusion in Africa

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(Image credit: jumo.world)

Global economies- from Nairobi to Beijing- are undergoing a rapid
transformation, with digital technologies changing the way people
communicate, work, bank, and access information.

Today, previously unbanked households in Nigeria, Kenya and other nations of Africa can now access instant credit over their mobile phones.

Rural households in Senegal are lighting their homes by linking their bank accounts to off-grid solar energy systems. Government officials in India are combining digital payment and ID technologies to deposit money directly into the accounts of citizens living in distant villages, increasing the transparency and efficiency of social welfare programs.

These and other digital innovations are creating opportunities for countries to build more inclusive, productive, and prosperous societies.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that widespread adoption and use of digital payments and financial services could increase the GDP of all emerging markets by $3.7 trillion by 2025. This additional GDP could create up to 95 million new jobs, raise overall productivity and investment levels, and make government spending more efficient.

Interestingly, no one stands to benefit more from this growth than women. It is a fact beyond argument that women and girls shoulder the global burden of poverty. Decades of research show that poverty deprives women of vital health, education, and socioeconomic opportunities throughout their lives. As a result, women earn less, own fewer assets, and are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making. This inequality means they experience fewer benefits from economic growth and suffer more of the challenges of life lived in poverty.

Also Read: Ava Airways CEO Olivier Arrindell On Envisioning An Airline Of The Future And Connecting Africa With The Caribbean

For women in low- and middle-income countries, digital savings, credit, and payments services can provide them with a critical link to the formal economy and a gateway to greater economic security and personal empowerment.

An emerging body of evidence shows this also pays dividends for their families in the form of better health and education. When women-headed households in Kenya adopted mobile money accounts, poverty dropped, savings rose, and 185,000 women left agricultural jobs for more reliable, higher paying positions in business or retail.

In Niger, distributing government benefit payments through a mobile
phone instead of cash helped give women who received the transfers
more decision-making power in their households.

Overall, strong progress has been made with financial inclusion in many (African) countries. And many of these countries have also experienced a sharp uptick in financial inclusion rates among women. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of women with their own account doubled in Kenya and Ghana and increased seven-fold in Senegal. And crucially, in several African countries, mobile money has emerged as an equalizing force, and can further help more and more (African) women towards financial inclusion.

However, digital financial exclusion is not merely an access problem. Although digital technologies hold vast potential to improve human welfare, they also pose considerable risks, from the establishment of digital monopolies to cyberattacks to digital fraud.

In light of that, as previously excluded women become first-time users of digital technologies, they are particularly exposed to these and other risks, such as new forms of gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment in digital contexts.

Our global challenge, therefore, is not merely to close the digital (financial) divide, but also to establish sound regulatory and supervisory frameworks to ensure that women and vulnerable citizens reap the benefits from digital technologies without suffering from their potential adverse effects.

Written By: Onyeka Akpaida, Founder at Rendra Foundation

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Economy

Thomas Pays, CEO of Ozow: SA’s economic revival depends on digital inclusion

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Thomas Pays, CEO and co-founder Ozow

Unless we ensure digital inclusion for all South Africans, any efforts to build a vibrant and growing economy will fall flat.

South African consumers and businesses need safe, convenient and accessible cash alternatives that simplify the payments process. As it stands, too many are excluded from online and other value-added services simply because they lack access to a bank card. While there are lower levels of banking services penetration in other African countries, 80% of South African citizens are banked, a commendable increase from only 46% in 2004. However, only one in eight adults have access to a credit card. For the rest, many online services remain inaccessible. The over-reliance on card payments to facilitate online and other transactions continues to exclude a large portion of the country’s consumer market. 

Cash still dominates the South African economy. Even though it is still growing change is sweeping through the ecosystem. Market-led payments companies are introducing new innovations that enable non-card users to transact safely and conveniently, greatly improving digital inclusion especially in underserved markets. Judging by recent developments, government is also searching for solutions that replace cash with more convenient and safer forms of electronic payment, and bring opportunities for underserved communities to access new payment and financial services options.

Digital inclusion a national priority

The South African government has set its sights on fostering greater digital inclusion, as is evident in the President’s State of the Nation address in February, which highlighted the need for improved digital literacy among the country’s citizens. The SA Reserve Bank’s Vision 2025 has also emerged as a roadmap to establishing a vibrant open banking ecosystem in the country.

In a bold step earlier this year, regulators instructed South Africa’s mobile operators to adjust their pricing in order to reduce inequality in digital inclusion. The Competition Commission found that lower-income mobile users were disproportionately disadvantaged by higher per-MB costs than larger data bundles for higher-income users. This will certainly aid greater adoption of online services and alternative payment types among the country’s large middle- to lower-income groups, who were previously unable to afford high ad-hoc data costs.

Solutions to low adoption of new payment types

In a 2019 global report, McKinsey identified cloud-based, API-driven architectures built on open banking principles as accelerators of innovation and competition in the payments industry. And that’s one vital role Thomas Pays believe companies such as Ozow fulfil in the African market: combining new technologies and new thinking to offer simplified payments to all. This is evident in how some of the main barriers – lack of data, low-end smartphones – are being overcome with innovative workarounds.

While South Africa’s smartphone penetration is currently over 80%, a lack of data means many consumers are often locked out of using online services and alternative payment methods such as QR code based payments. One solution is to zero-rate mobile data costs. In our experience, this helps ensure consumers can make electronic, mobile or app-based payments even when they have no data on their devices, and directly contributes to greater adoption and usage.

Also Read: Lindelwe Lesley Ndlovu, African Risk Capacity (ARC) CEO Shares Goals, Disaster Risk Solutions, COVID-19 and Future

Many of the smartphones used by lower-income consumers also lack sufficient space for the growing list of apps used to facilitate electronic payments. Here, offering the option of a progressive web app that can be accessed via a browser allows consumers to pay without having to permanently store a native app.

South Africa – and the rest of Africa – needs to put concerted effort into driving digital inclusion among the continent’s 1.3 billion citizens. I’d suggest starting with improving access to simple, safe payment options that remove the reliance on cash.

By: Thomas Pays, CEO and co-founder Ozow

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