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Economic growth projections, Flutterwave’s CEO talks IPO, AfDB’s Adesina, and the future of flamingo͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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April 23, 2024


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Today’s Edition
  1. Investing in electricity
  2. Economic predictions
  3. China v US
  4. Flutterwave’s IPO push
  5. Resource-backed loans

Also, how climate change is affecting East Africa’s flamingos

First Word

Hello! Welcome to the 200th edition of Semafor Africa, where we’re reflecting on the green energy transition being at the intersection of so many stories. That much was clear from our World Economy Summit in Washington last week, where several guests referred to the shift to cleaner fuels in some way, be it as an economic opportunity or part of the world’s collective effort to combat climate change. It’s also clear in today’s edition, where it forms the basis of a battle on the continent that China is winning against the US and is highlighted in medium term predictions about economic growth.

A recently published IMF report lays out the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa (more details below). But it also stresses the need for economic diversification to make nations more resilient to shocks and says African nations with critical minerals can move to process locally, “thereby increasing value added, creating higher-skilled jobs, and fostering technological spillovers.” The authors argue that, in the medium term, policies that support innovation, skill development, and better logistics and connectivity are “key to achieving a structural transformation that makes the economy more competitive and resilient.”

Similar analysis has encouraged a shift in policy making approach by several African governments in the last few years. It’s also an important consideration for foreign powers hoping to gain access to those critical minerals. It’s a message Beijing has understood much quicker than Washington, which is the US is now playing catch up on the continent. It also puts Africa at the center of a broader battle between the world’s two biggest economies where the weapons include trade tariffs and infrastructure projects to woo governments.

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Increasing access to power

The number of people across Africa that could have access to electricity by 2030, following a partnership between the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The World Bank committed to connect 250 million people to electricity through renewable energy systems, while the AfDB will support a further 50 million people. The investment is estimated to cost $30 billion in public sector investment. The World Bank, which is set to provide $20 billion for the project, said that African governments will need to establish policies that attract private investment and reform their utilities.


The IMF’s fastest growing economies

Sub-Saharan Africa will see economic growth of 3.8% this year, and two-thirds of the countries in the region are forecast to have higher growth than in 2023, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report. Niger leads a lineup of seven countries expected to post at least 6% growth, mirroring projections from the World Bank in January that showed Niger’s economy growing by 12.8%. South Sudan is the only country that comes into the growth top 10 from a base of negative growth last year (-0.1%). But the rosy projections come with caveats, including the prevalence of political instability and climate shocks in many African countries, the IMF said. The 18 national elections that will be held this year across the continent may influence economic performance, while a difficult fundraising environment marked by higher interest rates could mean financing shortages for government spending and may dampen private sector investment.


China leads the US in Africa’s energy transition

Martin K.N Siele
Martin K.N Siele
Reinnier Kaze/AFP via Getty Images

China’s manufacturing “overcapacity,” fueled by government subsidies, is giving their companies an edge over the United States in Africa’s transition to green energy, analysts say.

W. Gyude Moore, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, told the Semafor World Economy Summit (WES) on Thursday that China’s reported overcapacity — whereby its production ability significantly exceeds domestic demand — enabled its companies to offer competitive prices for green energy technologies in low-income countries.

“If we’re going to switch over to clean energy, are we going to use solar panels produced in Canada that are more expensive or the ones from China?” he posed.

The debate comes amid a surge in China’s exports of green energy technologies globally, as well as their demand in Africa. China’s electric vehicle export volume in 2023 was seven times that of 2019, while its solar cell export volume was five times that of 2018 — an increase of 40% from 2022, according to a new Rhodium Group report.

South Africa quadrupled its solar panel imports from China in the first half of 2023 to 3.4 gigawatts as people looked to escape long-running power outages by state utility Eskom.

Zainab Usman, Africa program director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington D.C., told Semafor’s WES that China and the US were both adjusting their approach to reflect the desire by African countries to undertake greater local processing.

DRC, Namibia and Zimbabwe are among African countries that have passed legislation banning the export of unprocessed minerals, although waivers have been issued in some instances due to challenges including insufficient smelting capacity. “They (African countries) want to go up the value chain to ensure that they are doing some processing of these minerals domestically, some refining, and then eventually also participating in manufacturing components of clean energy and electric mobility hardware,” Usman said.

The US is hitting back with the Lobito Corridor →


Flutterwave CEO is preparing the company for an IPO

Semafor World Economy Summit 2024

Flutterwave, the Nigeria-based digital payments company has made changes to its corporate team as part of moves aimed at preparing for an initial public offering, its chief executive told Semafor Africa.

Olugbenga ‘GB’ Agboola, speaking at Semafor’s World Economy Summit in Washington D.C. on April 18, described Flutterwave’s hopes for a public offering as part of a broader future agenda. “Right now our goal is to be IPO-ready, ensuring we have the right corporate governance in place, making sure we are operating well,” Agboola said. “We want to be a long-term company in Africa, for Africa — and so the goal is building the right infrastructure to be here for the next ten-plus years.”

Flutterwave’s core product is processing online payments, enabling businesses to receive payments from consumers and businesses operating in Africa. It currently operates in more than 30 countries, according to Agboola. Key among the company’s milestones for being IPO-ready are recent hires, including a new board chair, two independent directors, and experienced executives to fill roles needed to “translate tech speak” for regulators, Agboola said.

The hires come on the back of a number of high-profile departures in recent months. An ex-American Express executive who was Flutterwave’s chief finance officer left after two years last November, while a chief operating officer who had been in her role for six years left in March. The exits raised doubts about the company’s readiness to go public, as have operational lapses like the loss of tens of millions of dollars through supposed unauthorized transactions allegedly carried out by vendors in Nigeria. A court permitted the company to contact the vendors to begin recovery of the money lost in October.

Yinka Adegoke and Alexander Onukwue

Yinka’s View: A Flutterwave IPO is about more than just Flutterwave →


AfDB president urges end to loans tied to natural resources

Semafor World Economy Summit 2024

The president of the African Development Bank has doubled down on criticism of resource-backed loans for African countries, calling them “asymmetrical” and “non-transparent.”

Akinwumi Adesina, speaking to Semafor Africa at the World Economy Summit on April 18, said the loans in which a country provides access to a natural source such as oil in exchange of value for a financial loan were effectively undermining the multilateral banking system.

Adesina’s criticism comes in the context of many African countries currently facing what the IMF has described as a “credit crunch” where some are unable to access new debt, even as their existing debt obligations escalate with rising interest rates.

African countries with limited access to credit and capital can see resource-backed loans as a way to raise funds for infrastructure and development projects. The risk, say critics like Adesina, is that without strong regulatory oversight, unfavorable terms and conditions can significantly impact a country’s future revenues and access to credit. “It may make sense if you actually use that money for the right things but in most cases, there are no policy conditionalities,” said Adesina.

As of 2020, up to $66 billion had been loaned to African countries in exchange for resources from Chinese and Russian state-owned institutions, but also private companies like mining giant Glencore, according to the Natural Resources Governance Institute. Overall, most resource-backed loans have been provided by the China Development Bank (CDB) and the China Exim Bank. Angola, for example, had received up to $21.5 billion in exchange from the CDB in exchange for oil.


Continental Briefing
Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images


🇹🇿 The World Bank suspended a $150 million tourism development project in southern Tanzania after a US-based rights group accused it of enabling killings, rape and forced evictions of the locals by Tanzanian rangers.

🇬🇭 Ghana’s finance minister on Sunday said that the government expected to reach a memorandum of understanding with the country’s bilateral creditors to restructure $5.4 billion in loans. Ghana is seeking debt relief after defaulting on its loans in Dec. 2022.

🇳🇬 Nigeria plans to borrow $2.25 billion from the World Bank, finance minister Wale Edun said. The loan, which Nigeria expects will be approved in June, will comprise $1.5 billion in development policy financing and $750 million in programme-for-results financing.

🇪🇹 The United Nations said about 29,000 people have been displaced after fighting over contested land broke out in the Tigray and Amhara regions in Ethiopia. Officials in Amhara have accused forces from Tigray of launching an invasion, but former rebels in Tigray deny the accusations.

🇳🇬 A trial against cryptocurrency exchange Binance and two of its executives will be held on May 17, a Nigerian court said on Friday. Binance has not been formally served with the charges, which include failure to register with Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service for tax remittance purposes.


🇳🇦 Namibia could soon begin oil production. Portuguese oil and gas company Galp Energia said it had found at least 10 billion barrels of oil in the country’s Mopane field.

🇰🇪 Kenya Power and Lighting Company, a state-owned utility, plans to invest 258 million Kenyan Shillings ($1.9 million) in buying electric vehicles and setting up charging stations within the next three years.


Aviation-images.com/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

🇳🇬 Nigeria said it plans to acquire 24 M-346 fighter jets from Italy’s Leonardo. The first six jets are expected to arrive in the country before the end of the year.

🇳🇪 🇺🇸 The US and Niger reached an agreement to withdraw American troops from the country. There are about 1,000 US troops in Niger, operating from two bases to curb jihadis groups.

🇷🇼 🇬🇧 The UK’s parliament passed a bill that will allow the government to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday promised to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks.


🇿🇦 Spatialedge, a South African provider of machine learning software, raised $3 million from the Hlayisani Growth Fund, a firm in South Africa.

🌍 TLcom Capital, an Africa-focused venture capital firm, raised $154 million for its second fund for investing in African startups.

🇰🇪 Base Resources, the Australian parent company of the Kenyan titanium mining company Base Titanium, is to be acquired by US company Energy Fuels for 31 billion Kenyan Shillings ($247.9 million).

Gomez David/Getty Images

The population of lesser flamingos in East African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia is declining, in part due to rising water levels in the “soda lakes” the birds call home, new research has found. The findings, published in the scientific journal Current Biology, revealed that rising water levels are destroying cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, which the flamingos feed on. That species of cyanobacteria only grows in the highly salty and alkaline conditions of soda lakes. But more water in the lakes, which have no outflowing rivers, has diluted them, reducing their salinity and limiting the growth of the food that the flamingos depend on. The researchers concluded that only half of the lakes that provided high-quality feeding habitats in 2000 were still suitable for flamingo diets in 2022.

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