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NBA Africa evolves, Kaunda suit controversy, challenges of hosting AFCON. ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Nairobi
cloudy Zanzibar
cloudy Abidjan
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December 3, 2023


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Yinka Adegoke
Yinka Adegoke

Hi from Semafor Africa Weekend, where we’ve been paying a lot more attention to the evolution of academic institutions on the continent. In particular, I’ve long been intrigued by the new models that are emerging to tackle the paucity of advanced education available to the teeming numbers of young Africans leaving school every year. Many of the conversations I’ve had with those in the business of academia and employers in Africa seem to agree that, regardless of the availability of resources, the current traditional higher education models are unlikely to suffice.

Fred Swaniker, founder of African Leadership University based in Rwanda and Mauritius, was one of the early movers in trying to take advantage of technology and a more flexible approach to produce high quality graduates at some sort of scale. In a conversation I had last month with Herbert Wigwe, the CEO of Nigerian bank group Access Holdings, he told me why he’s setting up a private university which will open next year on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, in southeast Nigeria. “We’re lacking in every field,” he said of the gaps in Africa’s graduate talent pool. “We need to have more people in good enough universities.”

That demand for elite universities capable of producing high quality African talent on the continent, so students don’t feel the need to study abroad, is a real one. And it is as much about demand as supply. Higher education institutions from Europe, North America, China and India are increasingly coming to African countries — not just to recruit students but to also establish faculties. It makes sense. If one in four people in the world will be African by 2050, universities will see that reality earlier than most places. Today’s main story by Martin Siele looks at an approach where Zanzibar (like Rwanda before it) is putting in place the right kind of incentives to attract universities, startups, entrepreneurs and students alike. Frankly, there must be worse places in the world to work and study.

Martin K.N Siele

Zanzibar’s bid to be a pan-African tech and education hub

Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


Zanzibar, the group of islands known for its sandy beaches and tourism resorts, has spent the last year making a concerted effort to reinvent itself as a global tech hub for African startups and digital natives.

But it also now looks like the archipelago could also become a hub of academic excellence as pan-African and international universities consider Zanzibar for the same reasons startups and others might find it an attractive prospect.

The African School of Economics (ASE) this week became the latest organization to set up shop in Zanzibar under the ‘Silicon Zanzibar’ initiative launched in September 2022. The pan-African university established in Benin in 2014 opened a new campus with a special focus on tech, aiming to incubate companies and develop tech talent in Zanzibar. It will collaborate with Princeton University and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras to offer STEM and social science courses.

Professor Leonard Wantchekon, founder and president of ASE, told Semafor Africa that the Silicon Zanzibar initiative played a ‘pivotal role’ in its decision as it explored expansion options. “While we have made inroads into West and South Africa, Zanzibar emerged as the preferred destination for our inaugural expansion into East Africa, due to its alignment with our vision, the huge support from the government, and the local business partnerships,” he said.


The Zanzibar Startups Association stated in October that 180 companies had expressed interest in investing in tech in Zanzibar. The most prominent company to have set up shop in Zanzibar under the Silicon Zanzibar initiative so far is B2B commerce startup Wasoko, ranked Africa’s fastest growing company in 2022 by the Financial Times. Others include Tanzanian e-procurement startup Ramani and Kenyan e-commerce platform Tushop.


Zanzibar is in the early stages of showing that the right incentives can lure tech investment and talent outside of the traditional big African markets. The dominance of markets such as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt will be challenged as more countries eye tech dollars. Countries with heavy tax burdens for startups could lose out as companies explore different options. Zanzibar is offering tax and immigration benefits — including exemption from corporate tax for 10 years and work visas for relocating tech workers.

And with its strong tourism offering, the semi-autonomous region may also prove to be a top destination for global digital nomads and remote tech workers looking for a mix of business and pleasure.

“Since the launch of the (Silicon Zanzibar) initiative, we’ve had over 100 companies and organizations reach out to express interest in setting up local operations,” Wasoko CEO Daniel Yu told Semafor Africa. “As a founding partner of Silicon Zanzibar, we’ve been able to engage productively with the Zanzibari government to provide direct input on implementing new policies to attract as many tech companies to the islands as possible.”

Notably, the entry of educational institutions including ASE and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras will help create a stronger talent pipeline to support growth of Zanzibar’s tech ecosystem. Wantchekon predicted that ASE’s presence will be a boost for African scientists and tech researchers and pointed out that his institute was also keen on increasing Africa’s contribution to global research.

Read on for the View from India and Room for Disagreement →

NBA Africa

As 2023 wraps up, NBA Africa is ramping up its activities across the continent. This is despite the imminent departure of its founding CEO Victor Williams at the end of December. Before he exits, NBA Africa will open two more NBA Stores in Cape Town and Durban in addition to one in Johannesburg. On Dec. 2, NBA Africa announced a new junior league in South Sudan slated to begin in early 2024. Days earlier, NBA Africa opened a new office in Nairobi (pictured), adding to offices in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo. Additionally, the organization launched a new basketball court in South Sudan and conducted a clinic in Kenya.

One Big Idea

Why the Kaunda ban has Kenyan designers worried

Kenya State House/X

NAIROBI — Kenya’s National Assembly members were last week effectively banned from wearing traditional African clothes, and emphatically, Kaunda suits, within the parliament’s precincts. It’s a move that has elicited fierce decolonization debates and pitted parliament leaders against fashionistas.

The Kaunda suit, named for the late founding father of Zambia, President Kenneth Kaunda, is an à la mode, single-breasted designed suit featuring three buttons; short sleeves and two zippered breast patch pockets on a safari jacket usually paired with a matching pair of trousers. From the early 1960s — when most African countries were gaining independence from European colonial powers — the Kaunda suit became popular as an Afro-centric design that marked a departure from conventional European suits and ties, hence a symbol of freedom and celebration of Africanness.

In Kenya, President William Ruto’s dress code has recently been characterized by colorful Kaunda suits since being spotted in one during his state visit to Djibouti in June. However, the pronouncement by the National Assembly speaker Moses Wetangula that appropriate parliamentary dress code “means a coat, a collar, a tie, long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, socks, shoes, or service uniform,” seems out of tune with Ruto’s advocacy on bootstrapping cottage industry players in the current tough-going economy. And local fashion designers are concerned about its impact.

Linda Karimi — a fashion designer and owner of Kamami Bliss, a business centered on designing and distributing African wear — is apprehensive as MPs have long been some of her highest spending customers. “When we post their photos wearing our designs, they inspire confidence in many potential buyers who look up to them,” she told Semafor Africa. Instead, she feels that there should be a return to ‘Fashion Fridays’, when civil servants were encouraged to wear locally made attire on Fridays to promote the local textile industry.

Verah Anjichi, founder of fashion firm African Inspired also in Nairobi, agreed that when elected leaders wear the custom-made Kenyan clothes, it is a source of inspiration for both the customers and sellers as ambassadors of locally made African wear. “This move [by parliament] may well harm our business,” she told Semafor Africa.

Muchira Gachenge

Weekend Reads
Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images

🇨🇮 Deepening economic uncertainties and political tussles are making it difficult for many African countries to host the African Cup of Nations, the continent’s premier football competition. In an essay in Africa Is a Country, Afolabi Adekaiyaoja reflects on the historical, geopolitical and regional dynamics that have influenced the Confederation of African Football’s decision on where to host the tournament as the continent prepares for the 2024 edition in Côte d’Ivoire.

🇺🇬 Young Ugandans are being used to train the artificial intelligence systems of tech giants including Google and Microsoft but critics say they are being exploited for cheap wages, writes Simone Schlindwein for Deutsche Welle. Through the outsourcing firm Sama, which opened its first headquarters in the country’s north in 2012, the tech giants have been accused of exploiting the unemployed youth in East African countries “where English is widely spoken, the internet is stable and the time difference to Europe is minimal.”

🌍 More Africa-based companies are turning their cost centers into long-term sources of revenue by serving a whole new set of clients in addition to their existing customers, explains Emeka Ajene in Afridigest. He cites South African video entertainment platform MultiChoice Group which is launching a pan-African payments platform called Moment to provide payment services. Similarly, Chipper Cash, which has about 5 million registered customers, recently launched a Chipper ID product suite that’s open to all businesses needing digital identification solutions across Africa.

🌍 European business schools are making a push to reach African students and entrepreneurs where they are: at home on the continent. The Financial Times looks at plans to offer “tailor-made” entrepreneurship programs which expand a presence “deeper into Africa.” In October, HEC Paris set up an entrepreneurship Masters program in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. Other examples have popped across the continent in the last decade, notes the FT. “While European business schools provide education, they also bring global networks and partnerships that can help African entrepreneurs to expand beyond national borders,” it reports.

Week Ahead

🗓️ Kenya’s President William Ruto will pay a three-day state visit to India. He will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and participate in a business and investment event in New Delhi. (Dec. 4-6)

🗓️ SuperReturn Africa, the continent’s largest private equity conference, will take place in Cape Town. It will gather a global audience of over 600 private capital leaders, and African infrastructure investors. (Dec. 4-6)

🗓️ Kenya’s central bank is expected to announce its latest lending rate decision. Its current benchmark rate was held at 10.5% from its last meeting in October. (Dec. 5)

🗓️ The 23rd edition of the annual East Africa Community MSMEs Trade Fair will be held in Bujumbura, Burundi. This year’s trade fair is expected to attract more than 1,000 artisans from all seven EAC countries. (Dec. 5-15)

🗓️ The African Union Congress of African Economists will gather in Lusaka, Zambia, to discuss the link between illicit financial flows, debt management, and development in Africa. (Dec. 6-8)

Hot on Semafor

  • COP28 opened with a big win — a new fund to provide climate reparations payments to low-income countries impacted by disasters. But it could still turn into a bust.
  • In the new U.S. House of Representatives, anyone can control the floor. Rogue members have found a way to use a once-rare procedure to constantly force votes.
  • Semafor’s business editor Liz Hoffman has had a series of scoops about 777 Partners, the mysterious financiers that own Everton F.C in the English Premier League. Her latest is about a U.S. Justice department investigation into the group.

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Happy 65th national day to the people of Central African Republic 🇨🇫!! (Dec. 1)

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