• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

Airtel Uganda’s IPO, Nigeria’s unemployment, Ethiopia in BRICS͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm Libreville
sunny Harare
snowstorm Addis Ababa
rotating globe
August 30, 2023


Sign up for our free newsletters
Alexis Akwagyiram
Alexis Akwagyiram

Hi! Welcome to Semafor Africa where we dig into some of the biggest stories around the continent.

The image of African soldiers in military fatigues announcing a coup on state television has become an increasingly familiar sight since 2020. As we put the finishing touches on this newsletter, soldiers in Gabon became the latest to declare that they had seized control of their country. The officers appeared on Gabon 24 in the early hours of Wednesday, minutes after the Central African country’s electoral body announced that President Ali Bongo had won a contentious election, handing him a third term in power. It comes weeks after the military takeover in Niger, to the country’s north, which was West Africa’s seventh coup in the last three years.

There will be concerns that soldiers across West and Central Africa could be taking inspiration from coups in neighbors which have shown the relative ease with which regime change can be enforced — for example, Gabon’s putschists are holding Bongo under house arrest in much the same way that Niger’s military junta has held the elected president captive. However, the underlying frustrations are always local. In Gabon, the coup seems to be a reaction to the dynastic rule of the Bongo family — whose 56-year rule of the oil-rich nation hasn’t translated into wealth for most citizens. The opposition cried foul even before Bongo was announced as the winner of the election but the government blocked internet access in the wake of Saturday’s vote and provisionally banned three French broadcasters over their election coverage, which effectively stripped dissenters of a voice.

The situation in Gabon is a reminder that frustration grows when citizens feel unable to hold governments accountable for their policies and vote them out — a basic tenet of democracy. Bongo’s previous election victories were disputed as fraudulent by opponents and a change to voting papers just weeks before this year’s election prompted criticism.

Other African leaders should take note. In Zimbabwe — which, like Gabon, has been dominated by one ruling party for decades — Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner of the Aug. 23 presidential election after an electoral process that was widely criticized by international observers. But, as we’ve seen over the years, military regimes may talk about acting in the best interests of citizens but they tend to hold on to power rather than handing over to democratically elected figures with a mandate to rule.

🟡 Semafor Africa will be reporting on the situation as it develops. Check out our website and social media posts for news and analysis.

Need To Know

🌍 The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) signed a $400-million term loan facility with the China Development Bank (CDB) on Tuesday. Under the agreement, Afreximbank will support the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises across Africa. It follows a collaborative pact reached last week between the CDB and the South African government on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg to extend support for state-owned public enterprises like Eskom and Transnet.

🇳🇪 Algeria’s foreign minister has proposed a six-month transition to democratic rule in neighboring Niger to resolve the political crisis in the country following a coup last month. Ahmed Attaf discussed the proposal, which is in contrast to the three-year handover suggested by Niger’s military junta last week. Algeria has repeatedly stated its opposition to any military intervention by regional bloc Ecowas to remove the junta. Algeria, as part of its initiative, would seek a United Nations conference to restore constitutional order.

🇱🇷 Liberia’s elections commission has received 93% of its budget for conducting the upcoming general elections, chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah told the Senate on Tuesday. Liberians will vote on October 10 to elect the president and members of parliament. President George Weah, the former football star, is seeking a second term. Lansanah told lawmakers that the commission has received $49.7 million out of the $53 million approved by the finance ministry.


Nigeria’s unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2023 based on a new methodology by the state-run statistics agency. As of the fourth quarter of 2020, when figures were last published, Nigeria’s unemployment rate was 33%. Consultancy firm KPMG estimated earlier this year that the rate rose to 37% in 2022 and would cross 40% this year. But the National Bureau of Statistics now counts a person who has worked a minimum of one hour a week as employed rather than the previous minimum of 20 hours a week. It has also expanded the working age population to include Nigerians above 64 years. There is no new maximum age but the minimum remains those aged 15.

Adeyemi Adeniran, head of the statistics agency, said the changes were made to match criteria used in other African countries but critics including his immediate predecessor Yemi Kale (now chief economist at KPMG) questioned the use of a one-hour base for employment.


The worldwide supply chain disruption caused by the global pandemic from 2020 through 2021 forced major organizations to rethink what they now realize was an overreliance on tried and tested systems. Until then African countries had not been prioritized as a supply chain option other than as raw material supplier and recipient end users. This is the “opportunity” that the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) examines in a report this month called, The Potential of Africa to Capture Technology-Intensive Global Supply Chains.

As UNCTAD sees it, Africa could have a strong advantage in the energy, automotive, and electronics sectors because of “an abundant supply of raw materials” for those sectors (see chart). Key African countries like DR Congo, which dominates global cobalt supply, and South Africa, which leads globally in manganese, could help diversify and strengthen global supply chains “by offering a new regional market for businesses and industries.”

But all this only works with more equitable agreements between governments and investors — especially for critical minerals and metals — are used to develop domestic industries successfully and boost local firms capabilities to design and build inputs and other supply chain components.

Muchira Gachenge

African governments are clamping down on TikTok over ‘inappropriate content’



NAIROBI — More African governments are increasingly clamping down on the Chinese-owned video platform TikTok over concerns it is being used to spread and promote hateful messages, explicit content, and politically malicious material.

Last week, Kenya’s President William Ruto held a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew over concerns that explicit content had taken over the platform and was eroding cultural values. The presidency reported that Chew had “committed to ensuring that content is moderated to fit community standards.” It said he also agreed to set up a Kenyan office to coordinate its operations in the continent, adding that it would create more job opportunities for Kenyans.

Earlier this month, Senegal announced the app’s suspension, alleging that the platform was “preferred by ill-intentioned people to disseminate hateful and subversive messages threatening the stability of the country.” The statement came amid weeks-long anti-government protests that rocked the country following the imprisonment of an opposition figure.

Authorities in Somalia issued an order to shut down the video platform on Aug. 20 on security grounds, stating that “terrorists and immoral groups use it to spread horrific content and misinformation to the public.”


In a survey of news consumers by the Reuters Institute, Kenya had the third highest proportion of news consumers who use TikTok as a news service. The use of TikTok increased by 14% last year during the election season, with political actors using the app to target younger voters. The report said TikTok “has played a role in spreading both information and misinformation in recent elections in Kenya.”

TikTok’s director of government relations and public policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, said in a statement the company is “constantly evolving our policies in response to emerging trends” to address inappropriate content on the platform and protect user privacy.

The TikTok CEO faced a much more hostile U.S. Congress in March when there was much talk of banning the app in its most valuable market, but other than removing it from government phones, talk of an outright ban seems to have quietened down.

Read the full version of the story with Muchira’s View and the View from Nigeria here.

Tech Talk
Lokal_Profil/Creative Commons

Airtel Uganda will list 20% of its shares on the country’s stock market to raise around $216 million, at a valuation of $1.1 billion. South African bank ABSA will be the telco’s primary dealmaker having advised on Airtel Africa’s IPO on the London Stock Exchange (market capitalization: a little over $4 billion) and a similar public offer in Nigeria, both in 2019. After the 2010 acquisition of Celtel Uganda which set up the country’s first mobile network in 1995, Airtel Uganda has grown to 14 million customers or 47.3% of the subscriber share from which it has a 49% share in market revenues.

Nigeria’s new digital economy minister is seeking out the country’s top artificial intelligence researchers as part of a process of developing a national AI strategy. Bosun Tijani published an initial list of 100 people of Nigerian descent sourced from a search for researchers published in supposed international AI journals, and sifted for citation count and experience by machine learning algorithms. The move, which some have questioned for prioritizing academic researchers over private sector AI practitioners, is one of Tijani’s first acts since his appointment to oversee Nigeria’s technology sector.

LemFi, a fintech startup for African immigrants in the UK and Canada, raised $33 million in a funding round led by New York-based investor Left Lane Capital. Formerly called Lemonade Finance, users of the startup’s app can send money to nine countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. Rian Cochran, a LemFi co-founder, said the startup has used some of its funding to acquire needed licenses in the UK and Canada. “But we want to continue our expansion by launching in the U.S., mainland Europe, Australia and the Middle East,” Cochran told Semafor Africa.

One Good Text

Danladi Verheijen is the managing partner and co-founder of Verod Capital, a West African private equity firm established in 2008.


BRICS sets a new path for Ethiopia

Marco Longari/Pool via Reuters

With two new African members in Ethiopia and Egypt, the 15th edition of the BRICS, hosted by South Africa, has been seen in some quarters as a success for the African continent.

Africa could claim to have notable representation with three members of what will now be an 11-country membership alongside Brazil, Russia, India, China, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia.

In Ethiopia there was an air of hope and optimism after the unexpected news. It is seen as a big win for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, which has been struggling to revive its economy after a devastating two-year long civil war — and a new ongoing conflict in a key region. It is by far the smallest economy in the expanded group.

Ethiopian authorities believe joining BRICS will help them influence reform of the flawed global financial system, which tends to favor the Global North, particularly rich Western nations. In recent years, Ethiopia has started to align its national interests with nations such as China and Russia as opposed to Western countries that have been losing influence in the Horn of Africa nation. 

There’s been a long-held belief in Ethiopian government circles that Western financing comes with strings attached and a series of requirements that do not consider the status of developing countries like Ethiopia. Instead, there has been a preference for China’s once generous but at times risky loan arrangements that has been the hallmark of Beijing’s engagement within Africa. Ethiopia is the second-largest African holder of Chinese debt.

Given China’s own current economic uncertainty and a change in approach in recent years, it’s unlikely it will be doling out large low interest loans or grants anytime soon. But membership of BRICS will have benefits.

“The greatest upside for Ethiopia would come from a BRICS that moves aggressively and decisively to act as a cohesive unit”, Sam Rosmarin, an Addis Ababa based, American investment executive told Semafor Africa. “BRICS could facilitate internal trade through currency swaps and act as a counterweight to the prevailing US-EU economic order” he added.

— Samuel Getachew in Addis Ababa


South Africa’s oldest Quran is stored securely in a fire- and bullet-proof casing at the Auwal Mosque in Cape Town’s historic Bo Kaap district. The strict security, put in place a decade ago after three attempted robberies, reflects the care taken to preserve the handwritten text that dates back more than 200 years. It is believed to have been written from memory by an exiled imam who was shipped to Cape Town from Indonesia as punishment for opposing Dutch colonizers, explains the BBC. The unbound Quran was discovered in the 1980s by builders. Islamic scholars took three years to painstakingly place the unnumbered loose pages containing the Quran’s more than 6,000 verses in the correct order.

Hot on Semafor
  • The expansion of the BRICS group of countries will challenge Western positions on military, economic, and technology issues, according to current and former U.S. officials and international analysts.
  • Warner Bros. Discovery’s search for an outsider to run CNN has taken it to two high-profile veterans of the BBC.
  • A YouTuber’s attempt to bring together one person “from every country on Earth” for a competition is the latest viral moment to highlight the fraught political nature of maps in pop culture.

If you’re enjoying the Semafor Africa newsletter and finding it useful, please share with your family, friends, Nigerian AI researchers, and BRICS newcomers. We’d love to have them aboard, too.

Let’s make sure this email doesn’t end up in your junk folder by adding africa@semafor.com to your contacts. In Gmail you should drag this newsletter over to your ‘Primary’ tab.

You can reply to this email and send us your news tips, gossip, and good vibes.

— Yinka, Alexis, Alexander Onukwue, and Muchira Gachenge