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Transsion’s rapid growth, $1 billion startup fund, protecting South Africa’s brand, and Nigerians in͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
thunderstorms Moroni
sunny Khartoum
cloudy Kigali
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January 18, 2024


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Yinka Adegoke
Yinka Adegoke

Hi! Greetings from Davos, Switzerland, where I’m trying to stay warm and beat the traffic to actually make it to all my meetings. While President Bola Tinubu didn’t attend this year’s World Economic Forum, he sent along the vice president and several key ministers including finance, digital economy, culture, and energy. In broad terms the ministers and agency heads have stayed on message, championing the idea that Nigeria is back as a major player on the global stage with a $1 trillion GDP target by 2030.

But it wasn’t just ministers, but also the heads of government agencies, staffers, and consultants I met who all seemed to be of the belief that Nigeria is about to ‘turn the corner.’ That remains to be seen, of course. But some of the approaches are worth noting, such as the plan to sell off stakes in some of the dozens of publicly-owned enterprises such as NNPC, the national oil company.

Armstrong Takang, head of the MOFI, a unit of the finance ministry, said the country needs to leverage what it already owns to create value and reduce the need for borrowing from the markets. He pointed to a potential $50 billion in public assets which could be exploited by improving their ownership structure and, in so doing, enable their viability for commercial markets. But he also acknowledged it wasn’t necessarily a straightforward or easy path. “We need to create an enabling environment,” he told me. “We need to ensure investors have a good experience and are able to get their returns.”

🟡 It was incredibly inspiring to meet so many readers here this week. I appreciated the kind words and thoughtful suggestions. I also met (I hope) many new readers who came up and spoke with me after hearing me speak on a panel, or while waiting in line in the snow to get into an event. As always, please share our sign-up link with friends and colleagues who follow Africa news.

🟡🟡 A quick shout out to the Africa Collective group who hosted me in their little corner of Davos all week.

Semafor Stat

The size of a debt raise completed by the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), described as one of the continent’s largest blended finance packages for infrastructure development. Financing was led by financial services giant Allianz Group, alongside Standard Bank and German state-owned development bank KfW. The fund said it would invest in infrastructure projects aligned with the energy transition, low-carbon economies, and energy-efficient smart cities. EAIF is part of the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), which mobilizes investment for infrastructure development in frontier markets.

Martin K.N Siele

Kenyan president’s war with judges emboldens his allies to defy courts

Donwilson Odhiambo/Getty Images


An onslaught on Kenya’s judiciary led by the country’s president and his allies has prompted fears that it could trigger constitutional crises and erode public trust in the legal system.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua had been expected to file a petition on Thursday seeking the removal of a high court judge who ordered the forfeiture of his funds amounting to $1.2 million in a graft case before his election. But he announced on the day that he would put the petition on hold to enter talks over the dispute. Gachagua has urged Kenyans who have had bad experiences with judges to file official complaints.

In January, Ruto vowed to defy court orders he claimed were imposed by corrupt judges who had accepted bribes to sabotage his administration. Kenya’s courts have prevented the implementation of some of Ruto’s most important policy decisions, including an affordable housing levy and the deployment of Kenyan police officers to Haiti.

Timothy Thondu, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, said the ongoing disputes with the judiciary would embolden regular citizens to disregard the rule of law. “Had the president restrained himself from attacking the judiciary, then he as a symbol of authority would also be able to prevail on his cronies to respect the rule of law,” he told Semafor Africa, asserting that the president had set a dangerous precedent.

Chief Justice Martha Koome in January said Ruto was “setting up the country for chaos and anarchy.”


Gachagua’s case is just the latest flashpoint. Oscar Sudi, a parliamentarian and ally of President William Ruto, on Wednesday led a demolition and eviction exercise in defiance of a court order protecting the occupants of a 20-acre piece of land. The politician, accompanied by youth carrying crude weapons, repeated allegations of judicial corruption that have been made by the president and members of his inner circle.


Many Kenyans share concerns on judicial corruption, according to a survey published in 2021 by polling company Afrobarometer. It found that 51% of Kenyans think at least some of the judges and magistrates in Kenya are corrupt, while 35% believe most or all of them are corrupt. The survey found that trust in the courts was weaker among “better-educated citizens and urban residents.”

Kenya’s judiciary faces an uphill task to strengthen public trust in Kenya’s court system. And opposition from political leaders looks likely to aggravate the situation. Ruto’s lieutenants will naturally take their cue from him when it comes to defying court orders. Many fear that his statements could fuel a sense of impunity among powerful individuals close to the current administration.

Find out how the judiciary has responded in this war of words. →


Transsion, the top smartphone seller in Africa, posted the highest annual growth in smartphone shipments in 2023 of the top five phone makers in the world.

The Chinese company, based in Shenzhen, shipped 95 million units of smartphones last year, 30.8% more than it did in 2022, according to technology research firm International Data Corporation. That was above Apple’s 3.7% growth, while Samsung, Xiaomi and OPPO each shipped fewer phones in 2023 than in the previous year.

Africa is Transsion’s largest market, accounting for 57% of its sales volume in the second quarter of 2023, according to Counterpoint, a research firm in Hong Kong. Africa was the main reason Transsion broke into the top five of the world’s phone makers for the first time last year, according to IDC. Transsion brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel accounted for the largest share of the 19.6 million smartphones shipped to Africa in the second quarter of 2023.

But while Africa dominates its total sales, Transsion has made inroads in other markets, growing 35% in Latin America, Eastern Europe, India and Southeast Asia in the second quarter of 2023, per Counterpoint.

Though it does its manufacturing in Shenzhen, Transsion remains largely unknown in China where Honor, another Shenzhen-based maker formerly owned by Huawei, is king.

Alexander Onukwue


Africa’s new $1 billion startup fund


DAVOS, Switzerland — The UN Development Program, in partnership with African governments, unveiled a $1 billion funding platform to help develop Africa’s startup sector.

The initiative, which was announced on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum gathering, is called ‘Timbuktoo Africa Innovation Fund’ and will take off with $3 million from Rwanda. Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s digital minister, told Semafor Africa that all participating countries would contribute around $10 million over time.

With a 10-year span to invest in 1,000 startups, Timbuktoo will be domiciled within the Kigali International Finance Centre. The project has designated eight cities as focus hubs for innovation in key sectors: Accra (agritech), Lagos (fintech), Dakar (tourism and education), Casablanca (smart cities), Cairo (e-commerce and logistics), Kigali (healthtech), Nairobi (clean energy), and Cape Town (creative economy).

Ingabire said early planning for the project had been in place for some time and institutional backers like the World Bank and others would help with raising the funding. But the $1 billion will be composed of $350 million of catalytic capital and $650 million of commercial capital, according to a description on the project’s website. Providers of catalytic capital are regarded as being more patient and risk-tolerant with a view to achieving social goals than commercial capital sources.

Timbuktoo’s designers say it will be the medium that connects African governments, corporations, and universities towards supporting the African startup ecosystem. It expects to facilitate startup-friendly legislation and company building, while de-risking investment into startups, said the UNDP’s administrator Achim Steiner who described Timbuktoo as “a new model of development.”

Yinka and Alexander

One Good Text

Sithembile MaNdaba is the acting chief executive of Brand South Africa, the country’s official marketing agency. The agency’s mandate is to build South Africa’s reputation overseas, which includes presenting the country as an attractive investment destination.

Need to Know
Olympia De Maismont/AFP via Getty Images

🇰🇲 The Comoros government declared a curfew on Wednesday after security forces clashed with protesters following the electoral commission’s declaration that incumbent President Azali Assoumani won Sunday’s election. It said Assoumani, the current African Union chairperson, secured 63% of the vote. Opposition candidates denounced the result, alleging there had been ballot stuffing in favor of the incumbent. Assoumani, 65, was able to stand for re-election after a controversial referendum removed presidential term limits in 2018.

🇬🇧 🇷🇼 Britain’s parliament on Wednesday voted to approve a bill to send asylum seekers arriving in the country to Rwanda. The Rwanda Safety Bill is meant to end legal challenges that have prevented Britain from sending refugees to Rwanda after the two countries struck a deal in 2022. Earlier, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said his government would consider returning the money paid by the U.K. as part of the deal if no asylum seekers go to the country due to the ongoing hurdles. The U.K. has so far paid £240 million ($305 million) to Rwanda.

🇳🇬 Access Bank will become the majority owner of Finance Trust Bank in Uganda after reaching a “definitive agreement” this week, the Nigeria-headquartered lender announced. Access will own 80% of the Ugandan bank and fund an increase of the latter’s capital base. The deal is expected to close before June, subject to the approvals of the central banks of Nigeria and Uganda. Access has acquired more than six banks in Kenya, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa since 2018.

🇸🇩 Sudan suspended its involvement in mediation efforts with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). On Tuesday it accused the East African regional bloc of violating its sovereignty. It came after the bloc added Sudan to the agenda for an extraordinary summit due to take place today and invited the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. IGAD has sought to broker talks between the Sudanese army and the RSF. The two sides have been fighting since last April in a war that has displaced more than seven million people.

🌍 African cell tower operator IHS Holding and its second largest shareholder, French financial investor Wendel, on Tuesday said they had reached an agreement in a corporate governance dispute. IHS Towers had a governance dispute with shareholders including mobile operator MTN Group over who ought to be able to nominate people for the board. Wendel, who together with MTN control nearly 45% of the business, had earlier filed a case with the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands to force a vote at IHS around governance proposals. 

Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen

The Basketball Africa League (BAL) has announced host cities, venues and dates for the 2024 season, which will be the first under the leadership of NBA Africa’s new CEO Clare Akamanzi. She was appointed in December to replace Victor Williams, the NBA Africa’s first chief executive. The upcoming fourth season of the BAL — the NBA’s only professional league outside the United States — will feature a record 48 games involving 12 teams from a dozen countries, and games in South Africa for the first time. Pretoria will host the opening game on March 9. Cairo, Kigali and Dakar will be among the other host cities. Akamanzi will be tasked with growing the league’s fanbase amid reports of sluggish growth and strained finances.

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