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Recession looms in South Africa

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There is one in three chance of  South Africa’s economy skidding into recession this year, a Reuters poll of economists has indicated.

This is against the backdrop of the country’s economy  struggling  to gain traction in the second quarter after shrinking at the start of 2018,

Around 30 economists polled expect Africa’s second-largest economy to grow by 1.4 percent this year and by 1.9 percent next, slightly lower than the median view last month.

The South African Reserve Bank was even more pessimistic at its last monetary policy meeting, in July. It forecast that the economy would expand by just 1.2 percent in 2018, sharply down from a 1.7 percent projection in May.

For the second quarter, the consensus view sees just 0.6 percent growth on a quarterly basis. That would be a very feeble recovery from the 2.2 percent contraction recorded for January-March.

“The risk is that the services-driven sector, particularly financial services, fared poorly again in the second quarter, which could be the difference between whether South Africa avoids slipping into a recession or not,” said Jeffrey Schultz, economist at BNP Paribas.

The first quarter marked South Africa’s worst quarterly contraction in nine years, a reminder of the huge challenge faced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over from Jacob Zuma in February, in delivering robust long-term growth.

“A real year-on-year growth rate for the second quarter of around or below 0.8 percent would result in a negative seasonally-adjusted and annualized growth value,” said Frank Blackmore of EFConsult, adding: “That would be the second quarter in a row of negative growth, and technically a recession.”

The poll showed the Reserve Bank holding interest rates at 6.50 percent until at least end-2019 and then only hiking them by 25 basis points in 2020.

However, this remains a huge challenge for South Africa’s rand currency, which has suffered from a broad emerging market sell-off this year.

A separate Reuters poll showed emerging market currencies are unlikely to rebound from this year’s downturn until 2019, in part on rising trade tensions and the prospect of higher interest rates in major economies.

Inflation in South Africa is expected to remain within the central bank’s 3-6 percent target band, averaging 4.7 percent this year and 5.2 percent next year and in 2020.

Joblessness and social inequality are among the biggest problems facing Africa’s most industrialized nation.

Just over a quarter of the country’s labor force is unemployed. South Africa’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality by the World Bank, is 0.63, one of the most unequal societies in the world on a scale between 0-1. (NAN)

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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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Economy

Egypt, PRL sign train engines contracts worth $466.3M

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CAIRO – 16 November 2019: The Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA) signed with PRL (Progress Rail Automotives) a number of contracts worth $466.3 million after a meeting with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi that took place last week.

The American company will supply 50 train engines over 22 months, carry out long-term maintenance for 41 engines by June 30, and upgrade 50 others within 30 months since the conclusion of the deal. The company will also provide maintenance services and spare parts for those 141 train engines for 15 years. The value of contracts will be secured through soft loans, except for $27 million that will be paid by ERA’s treasury.

In July, ERA endorsed the technical specifications of two passenger railcars to be supplied by Transmashholding in September. Those are part of a contract to supply 1,300 railcars. One of the railcars will be tested in Hungary, so it will be granted the safety certification by the European Railway Agency. The other will be tested in Egypt. Afterwards, the first batch of railcars in the contract will be delivered in accordance with the timeline set by both parties.

The contract states that 650 railcars will be supplied from Hungary, 500 will be delivered by Russia, and 150 will be manufactured by Egypt under the supervision of Transmashholding. An Egyptian locomotive factory will be established as part of a plan to localize the locomotive industry in Egypt and transfer the know-how to workers, technicians, and engineers in the sector. The factory will produce the 150 railcars and also provide maintenance services.

The representatives of ERA and Transmashholding agreed to hold further visits and meetings to study the possibility of cooperation in rail infrastructure, mobile rail, workshops, new lines, and maintenance of existing railcars.

In the same month, an official source told Egypt Today that ERA needs 12 rail test machines to detect and repair defects in railroads revealing that contracts to purchase eight of those are being finalized.

Also Read: Meet Mariatheresa S. Kadushi, Founder of M-afya, A Mobile App Providing Health Information In Native Languages In Africa

ERA will receive four rail test machines worth €8.5 million by the end of 2020 supplied by an Austrian company with which a contract was signed a few months ago. The machines will enable the authority to better diagnose defects in the railroads which would increase the safety, and inhibit derailment accidents.

Egypt Today

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