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COP28, Uganda turns to China, Mozambique’s energy transition, why Somalia joined EAC͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
cloudy Kampala
sunny Nairobi
thunderstorms Pretoria
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November 28, 2023


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Alexis Akwagyiram
Alexis Akwagyiram

Hi! Welcome to Semafor Africa, where we’re looking ahead to COP28. There’s a sense of momentum and shared purpose going into the event, largely thanks to the Nairobi Declaration agreed at this year’s inaugural African Climate Summit. That event laid out the continent’s shared position on several issues, such as how best to fund the green energy transition, going into COP28 which kicks off on Thursday in Dubai.

Despite the sense of urgency and a shared position from African countries, the upcoming event is already shaping up to be controversial. There’s growing skepticism in some quarters over conflicts of interest between oil producers — such as the host nation United Arab Emirates — and the need to address climate change. Reports, based on leaked documents, have emerged that the UAE planned to use its role as host to strike oil and gas deals with various nations.

The fear is that the controversy surrounding COP28 could, as Manal Shehabi writes in Foreign Policy, “obstruct, or even cripple negotiations on matters of importance for the global south.” The hope is that this won’t be the case. The cornerstone of the Nairobi Declaration is a desire to set up systems, such as revised global tax regimes, to ensure African countries can fund the energy transition and climate change mitigation. Following through on these demands with tangible changes and agreements will help to determine whether or not the gathering is seen as a success for African countries. As our climate and energy editor Tim McDonell says in his texts to Yinka in this edition, it’s all about the money.

Need to Know
Sercan Ozkurnazli/ dia images via Getty Images

🌍 Burkina Faso and Somalia will be the first beneficiaries of grain donated by Russia after two ships each carrying 25,000 tons left Russian ports last Wednesday, Moscow’s agriculture minister said. He said supplies to six African countries will total 200,000 tons by year end. The donations follow a pledge to donate to those nations which was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg.

🇺🇬 Uganda is set to borrow $150 million from the Export Import Bank of China to expand its internet infrastructure, the finance ministry said on Monday. The decision to borrow from China follows a move by the World Bank — previously Uganda’s biggest development lender — to halt loans to the East African country after President Yoweri Museveni signed anti-gay legislation which hands out tough sentences including the death penalty for a range of homosexual activities.

🇰🇪 The Kenyan government is set to privatize 11 state-owned enterprises. The National Treasury, which on Monday announced the sale of stakes in companies including Kenya Pipeline and National Oil Corporation of Kenya, said the move was geared toward spurring economic development. The privatization process — part of reforms agreed with the IMF in 2021 — is aimed at raising revenue for the cash-strapped government, while reducing the reliance of loss-making entities on the National Treasury. Last week, President William Ruto announced his government would divest from 35 firms through the Nairobi Securities Exchange or outright sales.

🇲🇬 Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina secured a third term after the country’s electoral body announced results showing he had garnered 58.9% of the total vote cast. Rajoelina, 49, defeated his two closest rivals in the highly disputed election with a voter turnout of 46% — considered to be the lowest in the island country’s history after calls for a poll boycott by 10 presidential candidates. Opposition leaders have said they would not recognize the results of the Nov. 16 poll. The country’s top court is mandated to confirm the results announced on Saturday within a nine-day period.

Semafor Stat

The amount of investment Mozambique is targeting to raise for its new energy transition plan until 2050. The southern African country aims to boost renewable energy capacity, increase electricity availability and reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. President Filipe Nyusi is expected to present the initiative to international partners and potential donors on Dec. 2 during the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. Energy officials on Monday said initial plans set to be realized by 2030 will involve integrating 2,000 megawatts of new hydropower capacity, expanding the transmission grid to incorporate additional renewable energy sources, and switching to electric vehicles to reduce emissions from the transport sector.

Jan Bornman

South Africa hopes soldiers can crush illegal mining gangs

ER Lombard/Gallo Images via Getty Images


JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s government is betting on its deployment of 3,000 soldiers to crush illegal mining gangs and disrupt connected crime syndicates that, according to new World Bank research, cost the economy at least 10% of gross domestic product each year.

Illegal miners known locally as zama zamas — an isiZulu term loosely translated as “take a chance” — operate in disused and active mines across South Africa. The criminality around illegal mining sometimes spills over into local communities. High profile incidents include the alleged gang rapes last year of women by zama zamas, and a gas explosion at a disused mine in Welkom in May this year that killed 31 illegal miners.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, announcing the use of troops earlier this month, said the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would last until Apr. 28 as part of a wider effort to combat crimes of “economic sabotage.” The president said illegal mining was linked to serious offenses including money laundering, human trafficking, and organized crime.

Although reliable figures are hard to come by, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe told a parliamentary committee in September 2022 that the country lost 49 billion rand ($2.6 billion) to illegal mining in 2019.

In August the community of Riverlea, a low-income suburb near Soweto, protested over policing after at least 20 people were shot in clashes between rival zama zama gangs.

Charles van der Merwe, a member of the Riverlea Mining Forum, said residents feared leaving their homes at night because that was when rival zama zama gangs clashed. “People have been shot in the crossfire when these guys are fighting each other,” he told Semafor Africa. “We don’t trust that the police can do anything to protect us against these guys.”


Trust in law enforcement to deal effectively with the high levels of crime in South Africa has waned considerably in recent years according to the Human Sciences Research Council, a Pretoria based think-tank. That lack of trust explains communities such as Riverlea protesting over zama zama clashes and the phenomenon of vigilantism in many of South Africa’s poorer areas. People don’t feel the police can help them. It also explains the government’s decision to send in troops.

South Africa’s failure to bolster its crime intelligence services has long been explained as a reason for rising crime. Viewing it through the lens of South Africa’s recent apartheid history, the deployment of the military to police civil issues and crime should also never be encouraged. But, as the World Bank’s research shows, the government needs to do what it can to dismantle criminal networks because they’re a drain on the country’s economy. The Bank’s report states the importance of “tackling the rise in organized crime, which has thrived on the declining capacity of the police and justice institutions and has broad-based effects on economic activity.”

With a crucial election looming next year in which the ruling ANC is in danger of losing its majority for the first time since the end of apartheid, Ramaphosa’s government will be hoping that the troops can tackle the violent crime associated with zama zamas and cut off the supply of money that finances other criminal enterprises.

with additional reporting by Sam Mkokeli

Read on for Room for Disagreement and the View from a zama zama →

Saidu Bah/AFP via Getty Images

Sierra Leone’s president received a delegation from West Africa’s regional bloc Ecowas on Monday, a day after security forces foiled an attempt to break into a military barracks close to his official residence in the capital Freetown. The unrest prompted a daily curfew and international condemnation of anti-democratic plots in the West African nation.

Residents and journalists in Freetown reported hearing gunshots before 5am local time on Sunday in Wilberforce, a neighborhood that houses Sierra Leone’s main barracks. President Julius Maada Bio later tweeted that “a breach of security” had occurred but insisted his government had restored calm.

The United States, European Union, and Ecowas all issued strongly worded statements denouncing the latest sign of unrest in a sub-region that has been hit by a spate of coups in the last two years.

Alexander Onukwue

Read on for more the background and Alexander’s View →

Tech Talk

African investment firm EchoVC is floating a $2.5 million fund to invest in very early stage startups developing solutions in clean energy, agriculture, and mobility, with a view to spurring African innovation that tackles climate change.

EchoVC will aim for its ‘Eco Pilot Fund I’ to be the first investment firm backing the startups it targets and help those startups to raise subsequent rounds, managing partner Eghosa Omigui said in a statement. Startups in the firm’s portfolio of nearly 40 investments include Gro, a data service that tracks food security indicators in Africa and around the world based on thousands of data points analyzed using AI models. EchoVC will look to learn from its investments with this $2.5 million fund ahead of a larger Eco fund in 2024, Omoigui said.

The announcement comes towards the end of what has been a slow year for funding in African tech, but sets an auspicious outlook for the coming year especially in the climate sector. About 70 clean energy startups offering solar energy, solar home kits, and solar irrigation systems have emerged in Africa over the last decade, and have raised over $1.9 billion in disclosed funding since 2012, according to a tally by research firm Briter Bridges.

Omoigui says the new fund’s special focus on eco-friendly startups is warranted, given the extensive focus on fintechs in the last decade. “Africa’s needs, while diverse, will not be solved only by investments in fintech,” he said.


Why Somalia joined the East African Community

Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images

→ What’s happening? Somalia became the eighth and newest member of the East African Community (EAC) last Friday (Nov. 24) — 11 years after first applying to join. Leaders of the economic bloc approved the country’s entry during the heads of state summit in Arusha, Tanzania.

→ What does Somalia stand to gain? Somalia looks set to reap economic benefits including duty-free access to the East African market of over 300 million people. Businesses will be able to tap into the large Somali population spread across the region, including 3 million ethnic Somalis in Kenya alone. Somalia will also be included in regional infrastructure development plans.

→ How will the bloc benefit from Somalia’s entry? Somalia brings 3,000 kilometers of coastline to the EAC, the longest of any member state. EAC Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki said during negotiations with Somalia that its shoreline would provide linkages with the Arabian peninsula, boosting trade in the region.

Hormuud Telecom CEO Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf told Semafor Africa the coastline offered strategic positions to support subsea cable networks that could lower the cost of data across the subregion. Somalia’s 17.5 million population will also help grow the community’s market size.

→What about security? Joining the EAC notably hands the bloc the mandate to deploy a regional force to Somalia under the EAC Peace and Security Strategy, as it did in the eastern DR Congo last year. The move comes a year before an African Union-backed force fighting terror group Al-Shabaab in Somalia is scheduled to leave the country.

→Why are some analysts concerned? Several analysts argue that Somalia’s focus should be on boosting security and stability, while others highlight potential drawbacks, such as trade imbalances and the potential inability of Somalia’s government to provide subsidies for small businesses that may have to compete with large companies entering the market.

Martin K.N Siele

One Good Text

COP28 kicks off this week in Dubai from Nov. 30 till Dec.12. Tim McDonnell, Semafor’s climate and energy editor, who has reported from African cities including Cairo, Lagos, and Nairobi, will be there. Follow Semafor NetZero: Sign up here.

Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies Football Club, fresh from recent success, hopes football’s governing body FIFA will announce the creation of a women’s Club World Cup. The team is looking for a fresh challenge after reclaiming the CAF Women’s Champions League title earlier this month. The team defeated Sporting Club Casablanca in Côte d’Ivoire and set a record of lifting the title without conceding a single goal. The Sundowns Ladies have previously won South Africa’s top flight women’s league three times in a row. FIFA has said it plans to launch a women’s global club tournament contested by champions of the various confederations.

Hot on Semafor
  • A well-financed conservative group backed by Charles Koch is endorsing Nikki Haley for president as Ron DeSantis’s campaign fumes.
  • President Biden’s campaign is eagerly planning new attacks on Donald Trump over Obamacare.
  • Influential members of the largest journalist union in the U.S. are resisting calls to release a statement supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

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