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.
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.
The Impact on G7’s multi-billion dollar plan on Africa’s infrastructure gap
G7 Members (Photo: European Union)
In late June 2022, it was announced at the G7 Summit in Germany that a USD 600 billion lending initiative, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Initiative (PGII), would be launched to fund infrastructure projects in the developing world, with a particular focus on Africa. The G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) – explained the PGII would help address the infrastructure gap in developing countries.
The US has recently renewed its focus on impact-building and financing strategic, long-term infrastructure projects in Africa, with the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) supporting infrastructure development on the continent. According to a 2020 report by McKinsey and Company – Solving Africa’s infrastructure paradox – the US accounts for 38% of global investors who have an appetite for African investment, by far the most of any country. In 2021, the US launched a refreshed “Prosper Africa initiative”, focusing on improving reciprocal trade and investments that create jobs and build infrastructure between the two regions. In 2022, the US announced it would mobilise USD 200 billion over the next five years as part of the PGII, in the form of grants, financing and private sector investments. Some deals have already been announced, including, for example, a USD 2 billion solar energy project in Angola, and the building of multiple hospitals in Côte d’Ivoire.
In February 2022, the European Commission announced investment funding for Africa worth EUR 150 billion. The funding package is part of the EU Global Gateway Investment Scheme and is said to be in the form of EU combined member funds, member state investments and capital from investment banks.
In early 2020, the European Commission published its Comprehensive Strategy with Africa, outlining the region’s plans for its new, stronger relationship with the continent. The strategy document laid out five top priorities for the EU in Africa: the green transition and improving access to energy; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility.
The UK is also making a strong play for influence, investment and trade with Africa, post-Brexit. Further to key summits in 2020 and 2021, finance is being redirected into Africa from the UK. In 2022, UK development finance institution (DFI), British International Investment (formerly CDC Group), announced it had exceeded its pledge to invest GBP 2 billion in Africa over the last two years. The UK’s Global Infrastructure Programme helps partner countries (including in the African continent) to build capacity to develop major infrastructure projects, setting up infrastructure projects for success and paving the way for UK companies to support these projects.
Further, in November 2021, it was announced that the governments of South Africa, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, along with the European Union, were in negotiations to form a long-term Just Energy Transition Partnership. The partnership focuses on boosting the decarbonisation of the South African economy, with a commitment of USD 8.5 billion for first round financing. It is expected that 1-1.5 gigatonnes of emissions will be prevented over the next 20 years, assisting South Africa to accelerate its just transition. Discussions are also currently taking place to establish a similar partnership in Senegal.
The African Development Bank noted in early 2022 that Africa’s infrastructure investment gap is estimated at more than USD 100 billion per year.
DFIs are increasingly anchoring the infrastructure ecosystem in Africa – serving a critical function for project finance as investment facilitator and a check on capital. DFIs can shoulder political risk and access government protections in a way that others cannot, enter markets others cannot and are uniquely capable of facilitating long-term lending. The large amount of capital needed to fill the infrastructure gap, however, means that DFIs cannot bridge it alone. Private equity, local and regional banks, debt finance and specialist infrastructure funds are primed to enter the market, and multi-finance and blended solutions are expected to grow in popularity as a way to de-risk deals.
The African Union’s 55 member states have stated that their primary funding needs include support in terms of safety and security on the continent, as well help in implementing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the massive infrastructure investment it needs to be successful. The development of supporting infrastructure is key to boosting AfCFTA’s free trade potential, especially in terms of transportation, energy provision, internet access and data services, education and healthcare infrastructure projects.
Infrastructure projects in Africa now also have a heightened focus on improving Africa’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development, via, for example, clean energy, community healthcare and support, green transport, sustainable water, wildlife protection and low-carbon development projects. Funding such projects comes with responsibility – projects must not only be bankable and yield attractive returns, but must also be sustainable and provide tangible benefits to local economies and communities. All of Africa’s major partners have noted they will prioritise projects that commit to Environmental, Social and Governance principles, and access to capital for large infrastructure projects is likely to contain sustainability requirements.
That the focus of the PGII is on the sustainability and the social impact of these projects in Africa is further evidenced in the White House briefing room statement issued at the launch in June 2022, where it was stated that the PGII will “mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars and deliver quality, sustainable infrastructure that makes a difference in people’s lives around the world…”
By: Michael Foundethakis, Baker McKenzie’s Global Head of Projects and Trade & Export Finance, and Africa Steering Committee Chair
Shelter Afrique: Rising cost of land, materials, could adversely affect provision of affordable housing
Shelter Afrique Ag. CEO & Chief Finance Officer Mr. Kingsley Muwowo (right) explaining engaging with delegates at the 11th World Urban Forum held in the Polish city of Katowice. (Image: Shelter Afrique)
The high cost of land and the rising cost of building materials could derail efforts to speed up the development of affordable housing across the globe, pan African housing development financier, shelter Afrique has warned.
Speaking on Delivering Affordable Housing Across Continents at a special session of the 11th World Urban Forum held between June 26-30 in the Polish city of Katowice, Shelter Afrique’s Ag. Managing Director and Chief Finance Officer Mr. Kingsley Muwowo said there was an urgent need by governments to address the issues of rising costs of land and construction materials, which were hindering efforts to fast-track the provision of affordable housing globally.
“From market studies the cost of land should constitute between 10% and 15% of the total cost of a housing unit for it to be affordable, but this isn’t the case in many countries,” Mr. Muwowo said.
“In Kenya, for instance, the cost of land makes up between 40% and 60% of the total cost of a housing unit, like the case with Nairobi which is the most expensive in the entire continent of Africa. How do you deliver affordable housing when you’ve got the most expensive land? So if we don’t address the issues around land we will not be able to effectively tackle the issue of affordable housing.”
Mr. Muwowo also decried the rising construction cost – which he blamed on old building codes, punitive tax regimes, and high cost of financing such projects in various countries. He added that the Russian – Ukraine war had also resulted in the sharp increase in prices of critical construction materials. Russia is considered the fourth-largest steel exporter globally, serving over 150 countries and territories.
“In the built environment, the conflict has exacerbated and exposed the dangers of overreliance on importing building materials. Prices of building materials have increased and continue to do so, a burden that the homeowners will ultimately share,” Mr. Muwowo said.
The price of steel in Kenya, for instance, has significantly shot up over the past few months. The prices of steel bars and nails have risen by between 80 per cent to 90 per cent and 13 per cent to 43 per cent, respectively, in the past few months in the country. Additionally, the conflict has resulted in shortage of coal, which is a crucial source of energy in cement production through clinker manufacturing resulting in price hikes.
Speaking at the same event, European Investment Bank Vice President Prof. Teresa Czerwińska said the rising cost of housing in many cities across the world was a major concern for the Bank.
“We have managed to make education and healthcare relatively cheap and accessible by putting in place proper policy interventions. Housing is a fundamental human right and we can apply a similar framework in ensuring housing remains affordable and available,” Prof. Czerwińska said.
The World Urban Forum (WUF) is a global event on sustainable urbanization convened every two years by the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat). It was established in 2001 by the United Nations to examine rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. The first WUF was held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2002 and has been held around the world ever since.
This year’s event was convened under the theme: “Transforming our cities for a better urban future”.
Africa’s youth unemployment challenge needs a revolution in order to sustain global development
Opinion By Dr Dennis Rangi, Director General, Development at CABI based at its regional centre for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. (Africa’s youth Image credit: CABI).
It’s a startling statistic but by 2050 Africa’s population is expected to double to around 2.6 billion. This creates greater pressure to feed so many mouths amid the challenges of economic, political and societal instability let alone the impacts of climate change.
When one considers that almost 60% of Africa’s population in 2019 was under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent, it’s clear that Africa’s youth holds the key to the continent’s very survival and the burden to sustain wider global development
In 2019, more than a third of the population was aged between 15-34. By 2100, Africa’s youth population could be equivalent to twice Europe’s entire population.
According to the UN, the median age in Africa is 19.8 in 2020. On the continent, Mauritius is expected to have the highest median age, 37.4, and Niger is expected to have the lowest, 15.1.
However, in youthful Africa, just 56% of the population is of working age, which translates to about 1.3 people of working age supporting every dependent (mostly youth) – versus a global average of two workers to every dependent. This in essence is the ‘youth bulge’, and addressing it has never been more of an urgent task.
According to the World Bank, in 2020, 14.5% of 15 to 24-year olds in Sub-Saharan Africa were unemployed. This is among the lowest rates globally among young people in this age bracket. But the International Labor Organization says most of them work informally, are underemployed or stay in poverty because of low wages.
Quite simply, the growing youth unemployment and underemployment – especially in developing countries – is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
Agriculture has long been the dominant sector in much of Africa in terms of output, employment and export earnings. Indeed, agriculture is arguably the most important business opportunity for our young people to embrace. As such, any meaningful change in the continent’s future must involve agriculture.
A ‘revolution’ in agribusiness involving Africa’s youth is therefore required so they can capitalise on the sector’s contribution to around 25% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70% of its employment. They, with our support, need to meet these challenges head on so they can leave a lasting and sustainable legacy for their own children and their futures.
This is especially true when thinking of young people’s roles in agricultural value chains. We need to take a ‘two-pronged’ approach to enhancing their skills not only in producing safer foods free from crop pests and diseases but also in helping to involve them as village-based advisors – giving crucial information to help increase yields.
It may also be that they can combine both roles as part of a dual approach to the ever-increasing food crisis.
The time is ripe for Africa’s youth to lead the technological realisation of digital agriculture – recognising this a key driver for economic development within the agricultural sector.
This is particularly so in Kenya where digital innovations have eased trading barriers in certain value chains by providing trade platforms that directly connect farmers to traders enabling them to get competitive returns on their yields.
The African Centre for Women, Information and Communications Technology (ACWICT)-led Maudhui Digiti (Digital Content) project, for example, recently assessed the access and use of digital content.
This included evaluating opportunities for women and young people’s employment in the digital sphere for farmers, particularly the underserved agricultural communities and organizations in Laikipia County.
Youth play a pivotal role in agriculture and rural transformation. One of the findings in a book recently published by CABI titled ‘Youth and the Rural Economy in Africa,’ recommends a targeted technology promotion aimed at young people, most of whom are ‘digital natives’.
These youth can catalyse the realisation of digital agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa due to their innovativeness and fast adoption of new technologies.
One example where CABI has extensively supported agricultural production, especially amongst smallholder farmers including the youth in Africa and beyond, is the Good Seed Initiative.
This ran in East Africa from 2013 to 2016 and sought to promote good production of quality African Indigenous Vegetable (AIVs) seeds and vegetables so as to improve the income of seed producers.
It also aimed to contribute to food and nutritional security of smallholder farmers and other actors in the seed and vegetable value chains of seeds.
The project enabled women and youth in Uganda and Tanzania to engage in market-driven profitable value chains that required minimum capital, capital and other factors of production.
This was achieved by empowering women and youth with requisite skills for seed entrepreneurship of indigenous vegetables which continued to be in high demand.
In research conducted by CABI – which focussed on Zambia and Vietnam – we sought to understand the nature of youth participation and identify barriers and opportunities for youth engagement in agriculture and agribusiness in Lusaka, Zambia and Vinh Phuc, Hung Yen, Dak Lak and Tien Giang in Vietnam.
We found that while a majority of youth were engaged in agriculture – primarily production – few were involved in input supply, trading, transportation and the provision of advisory services.
For instance, the study in Zambia found that almost all the youth (99%) were engaged in farm production, producing crops and animals for home consumption and local markets – yet hardly any were involved in valuable extension services.
This is where initiatives such as the CABI-led PlantwisePlus global programme can engage youth in non-formal extension services and help fill in the missing linkages within the agricultural value chain.
CABI in partnership has trained – through the preceding Plantwise programme – millions of professionals in 34 countries over 10 years. This includes extension staff, agro-dealers, quarantine officers to provide improved quality services to farmers.
In Uganda, where 70% of those unemployed are youths, CABI partnered with Zirobwe Agaliawamu Agri-business Training Association (ZAABTA) in Luwero district. This was to skill youth to enable them to provide various services in major agricultural and profitable value chains in the country.
Implemented under PlantwisePlus, the training sought to increase the supply of safer food through enterprises driven by women and youth to meet the growing demand by consumers in rural, urban and peri-urban markets.
We believe helping to enable youth to provide services as ‘village-based advisers’ in this way will be an attractive option to our youth and call for it wholeheartedly – even if they wish to engage in this activity alongside regular farming activities.
We simply cannot rely upon young people to be only producers of food. They may also need to be involved in the safe production of it in the first place and be part of a ‘knowledge exchange.’
In terms of open access learning, CABI’s ‘plant doctor’ training modules have been adopted by various academic institutions across the world. Plant doctors work at ‘plant clinics’ held in communities to help farmers diagnose their plant health problems and suggest remedies so their crops can grow more successfully.
In Uganda, for example, CABI’s practical hands-on course on field diagnostics and plant clinic operation is giving good recommendations to farmers to students at various years of study.
The course was first introduced in Makerere University in 2013 and is now offered by Uganda Christian University, Bukalasa Agricultural College, Busitema University and Gulu University.
We need to build our capacities and strengths in partnership to help address the ‘youth bulge’, and also the growing demand for youth and their role in agriculture to feed the rising population.