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Stopping the brain drain, Africa’s economic prospects, and South Africa faces Israel in court. ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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thunderstorms Pretoria
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January 11, 2024


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Alexis Akwagyiram
Alexis Akwagyiram

Hello! Welcome to Semafor Africa, where we’re open to big ideas. We’re launching a new series showcasing thought provoking ideas on a broad range of subjects affecting Africa and its diaspora. Today’s edition features the first in our One Big Idea series which looks at ways to fix the continent’s brain drain. In his essay, Herbert Wigwe — the founder of Wigwe University who is better known for his day job as the head of one of Africa’s biggest banks — looks at why the continent risks failing to benefit from its demographic advantage. And he offers possible solutions on how to stop losing young adults to wealthy countries.

The problems that push many young Africans to leave home relate to an inability to pursue education, a lack of training and few job opportunities. And, as Martin reports in our main story, it’s time to add AI to that list of challenges. Fears of AI taking jobs has mostly been confined to Western nations, where a greater proportion of people work in white collar jobs. But, as Martin reports, the downturn in some of Africa’s biggest economies means companies are slashing their ad spending — and replacing humans with AI.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a global problem, and to some extent that’s true. But part of this is specific to African countries. Whereas, governments in other parts of the world — such as the U.S., the European Union and the U.K. — have discussed how to police the use of AI to protect their workforce, those debates are yet to take hold among policymakers on the continent. And without strong labor unions, it could be tough to protect African jobs in the future. It could even make workers more likely to leave for countries that have done a better job of protecting workers’ rights.

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Semafor Stat

How much more Kenyan taxpayers will pay to China in a January loan repayment due to a weakened shilling. Kenya will spend $536.9 million (84.8 billion Kenyan shillings) on the latest loan repayment for the Standard Gauge Railway built as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, according to World Bank data. That’s $87 million more than last year due to the country’s devalued shilling. The shilling fell by 21.5% against the dollar in 2023.

Martin K.N Siele

AI ads are sweeping across Africa



NAIROBI — African companies from Nairobi to Lagos are in a race to use artificial intelligence to cut their marketing and advertising budgets ahead of a difficult 2024 due to economic difficulties, fueling panic over potential job losses.

Businesses are increasingly using AI-generated images, models and voices for their advertising campaigns across TV and digital platforms, lowering their advertising budgets. Ad spending in sub-Saharan Africa fell by 11.6% in 2023, according to the World Advertising Research Centre (WARC), though a slight rebound this year is expected to be driven by a 6.1% increase in South Africa.

Safaricom, East Africa’s leading telecommunications company, unveiled what it claimed to be Africa’s first AI-generated TV ad in August. It has since rolled out other AI-driven campaigns on different platforms.

Other Kenyan companies that have rolled out AI in ads include private school group Pioneer, which ran AI-generated TV ads, and popular bread brand Supa Loaf which uses AI-generated images on its billboards. In Nigeria, Coca-Cola collaborated with local influencers in an AI-powered campaign over the Christmas period.

The surge in AI-use, propelled by the popularity of generative AI over the last year, has coincided with a downturn in many of Africa’s biggest economies. In Nigeria and Kenya, businesses are grappling with depressed earnings due to difficult macroeconomic conditions including weakening local currencies and high inflation.

“Notable multinationals are leaving Nigeria due to the volatile foreign exchange environment, causing most agencies to become more proactive with client budgets,” Chukwuduzie Ikwuegbu, creative director at DDB Lagos, an advertising agency in Nigeria’s commercial capital, told Semafor Africa.


As generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT and Midjourney become more mainstream, companies ranging from large corporations to small businesses will inevitably find ways to leverage the technologies to lower costs and make their processes more efficient.

Anthony Irari, a Nairobi-based marketing consultant, said the chance to save money and time by reducing human input was “a simple business decision” for Kenyan companies of all sizes.

“A shoot that would take weeks to plan and execute, you can use AI and have the billboard printed by the end of the day,” he added.

African countries aren’t working together to impose restrictions on the uses of AI, unlike governments elsewhere in the world. And industry insiders lack the strong trade unions that enabled members of the U.S. film and TV industry to secure a deal limiting the use of AI.

Many professionals in Kenya’s creative industries are justifiably worried about the long term impact of AI, particularly as corporate contracts are among the most important income streams for the likes of designers, models, photographers, copy writers and more. Irari predicted that many small ad agencies ‘would die’ as businesses moved their creative work in-house, supported by AI, and focused more on brand storytelling and partnerships with content creators.

“To survive, many people will have to add value in whatever they do to stand out, including by using AI, or pick up new skills,” photographer Brian Saina told Semafor Africa. “The companies can’t drop what is, for them, a cheaper option.”

Read on to find out how this is playing out in South Africa. →


Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2024, the World Bank said in a new report. Growth in the region slowed to 2.9% in 2023, from 3.7% and 4.4% in 2022 and 2021, respectively. All but two of the 48 economies in the region will experience positive growth this year. But the expectation for growth is tempered by the threat of rising political instability and more intense conflict in the Middle East, the report said. Niger is projected to experience the highest growth, at 12.8%. Dominik Peschel, a senior economist at the World Bank, told Semafor Africa the predicted rebound in Niger would depend on various factors including the lifting of sanctions against the junta that seized power last July, the return of international development financing, and large-scale oil production and exports.

Alexander Onukwue

Reuters/Thilo Schmuelgen

South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide at today’s opening of the International Court of Justice case it brought over the Gaza war.

Pretoria argues Israel is seeking to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza,” an accusation Israel vehemently denies, calling it a “blood libel.” Both sides have deployed high-profile attorneys, and each have a representative on an expanded, 17-member panel of judges.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, advocate of the High Court of South Africa, told the court Israel’s “genocidal intent” was evident from the way the military attack is being conducted. “The intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest level of state,” he said.

Israel responded by accusing South Africa of serving as the “legal arm” of militant group Hamas. A foreign ministry spokesman called Pretoria’s case “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history.”

Though the case could take years, the ICJ may issue provisional measures demanding Israel stop its assault in Gaza, which has left more than 23,000 people dead according to the enclave’s authorities who are governed by Hamas.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants in which Israeli officials said 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 were taken hostage back to Gaza. It has stated that it has waged war against Hamas and not Palestinian people.

The case carries huge symbolic weight. On one side, Israel’s founding came in the wake of the killing of six million Jews in the Holocaust. On the other, South Africa sees parallels between apartheid and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The legacy of apartheid also weighs heavily in another way. Palestinians supported South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) when it was a banned movement waging an armed struggle against the system of segregation under white minority rule, whereas Israel sold arms to the apartheid government. That close military alliance even included collaboration on nuclear weapons.

— Alexis

One Big Idea

How to fix Africa’s brain drain challenge at home

Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

If you want to see more economic opportunities across the world, you need to encourage the growth of a stable middle class, developing skills locally. That can only happen by investing in higher education across the developing world. However, as UNESCO recently reported in Africa, access to universities and colleges remains stubbornly low even as enrollment is rising. The system is starved of funding at a time when the population is rapidly growing.

Instead of growing our economies through higher education, we are losing some of our brightest prospects in large numbers — undermining both sides of this brain drain. The countries that are struggling with the politics of immigration are often the ones that exploit the skilled workforces of the developing world.

Boosting Africa’s economies, and improving global stability, does not necessarily require a large increase in international aid. But it does require a change in mindset. It is time to stop seeing Africa as a continent where resources and people can be exploited. After all, there is little difference between mining the natural resources of a continent and stealing away some of its best people. Neither extraction is replenished.

To better understand this point, and the paradigm shift required, we must scrutinize the current status quo. British institutions see African talent and cash as a growing source of low-cost expertise and profit. International students contributed an annual £41.9 billion ($53.4 billion) to the British economy after the pandemic, a rise of one third from the year preceding COVID-19. There are some 50,000 African nationals working in the UK’s National Health Service, most of them from countries in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s more than double the number of a decade ago.

Read on for Wigwe’s insights on keeping the brightest and best in Africa. →

Need to Know
Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

🇳🇬 Nigeria’s central bank sacked the boards of management of Union Bank of Nigeria, Keystone Bank, and Polaris Bank, on Wednesday. It said it took the step in response to alleged corporate governance failure and non-compliance with regulatory requirements. The regulator said depositors’ funds remained safe. Analysts said the sackings could be related to an investigation into the running of the central bank under former governor Godwin Emefiele who was suspended by President Bola Tinubu last year on allegations of fraud. The findings are yet to be made public.

🇨🇳 🌍 Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is set to visit four African countries in the next week. The visit will mark the continuation of a tradition in which Beijing’s foreign minister goes to Africa for their first overseas trip of the year. He will visit Egypt, Tunisia, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire from January 13 to 18. Wang’s visit to Egypt will follow that of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is set to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo for talks over the war between Israel and Hamas.

🇹🇳 Tunisian migration activists accused the government of flouting humanitarian laws and attacking migrants. They reported mass expulsions around Tunisia’s borders with Libya and Algeria, and around the country’s second most populous city Sfax. Tunisian authorities acknowledged pushing back a group of migrants but denied allegations of systemic abuse and expulsions. Tunisia entered into a $1.1 billion deal last July with Europe to help police borders and patrol the Mediterranean Sea as more migrants attempt to cross to Europe.

🇿🇦 South Africa’s minister of public enterprises is set to introduce a bill to create a government firm that will own and manage at least 13 state-owned companies. The National State Enterprises Bill would enable the transfer of state corporations to a holding company. Some of the firms targeted for transfer include power utility Eskom, rail and ports operator Transnet, and South African Airways. It comes as the country grapples with mismanagement of resources and large losses in its state-owned firms.

🇲🇦 Morocco won a vote on Wednesday to lead the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council after competition from South Africa. The Moroccan candidate, Ambassador Omar Zniber, received 30 votes against South African opponent, Ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi’s 17 votes in a secret ballot in Geneva. South Africa had argued that Rabat’s human rights record undermined the Council’s credibility, while Morocco accused South Africa and some other African states of undermining its efforts to hold the prestigious albeit symbolic position. Morocco has previously been accused of human rights violations against its opponents in Western Sahara, whose sovereignty it claims over, but has denied all allegations.

Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Image

More than 100 internationally acclaimed artists from Africa and Asia are set to exhibit their works during this year’s Singapore Art Week. The exhibition — presented by Singaporean non-profit The Institutum — will include paintings, photography, sculpture, textiles, video, and performance art. It is set to run between Jan. 18-24 across six venues. Organizers of the exhibition, titled “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics,” said they aim to celebrate ties between African and Asian diaspora cultures. “We seek to illuminate the threads that weave us together as people, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers,” exhibition curator Dr. Zoé Whitley said.

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— Yinka, Alexis, Alexander Onukwue, Martin Siele, and Muchira Gachenge