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Sickle cell breakthrough, DRC continues voting, and a big asset freeze. ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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December 21, 2023


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Alexis Akwagyiram
Alexis Akwagyiram

Hi! Welcome to Semafor Africa, where it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Ghana’s government is particularly happy about that because the country has successfully branded itself as the home of the global African diaspora and the festive period is the peak season for visitors. As Nana Oye Ankrah reports from Accra in our main story, authorities there hope visitors for the holiday season will prove to be a key asset as the country contends with an economic crisis.

Ghana’s burgeoning tourist scene may be a boon for bean counters but it also taps into a deeper issue of connecting people whom Yinka and I call “global Africans.” By that, we mean people from across Africa and its diaspora who connect through cultural taste, travel habits, employment, and education. They also have a shared interest in Africa’s history and its modern global impact. We’re constantly mindful of these connections, and the way in which they affect politics, business and culture. The annual gathering of African diaspora visitors in Ghana and Nigeria for parties and festivals, known as Detty December, is just one way in which this phenomenon manifests itself.

The relaxation of visa rules is also opening up nations to visitors from other African countries, and the diaspora. Last month Rwanda announced that it would allow Africans to travel visa-free to the country, joining Gambia, Benin and Seychelles as countries that have taken the same approach. Kenya has gone one step further by scrapping visas altogether.

These changes, along with the removal of most trade barriers in Africa as part of the world’s largest free trade area, are good for Africans — wherever they are in the world. They open up the possibility of more movement within the continent while strengthening ties with the diaspora.

Need to Know
Reuters/Stephen Eisenhammer

🇦🇴 Angola on Thursday announced its decision to leave the OPEC oil cartel, the country’s state-run news agency reported, citing Mineral Resources Minister Diamantino Azevedo. The decision was reportedly taken at a cabinet meeting and approved by President João Lourenço. This follows last month’s decision by the OPEC+ oil producer group to lower Angola’s oil output target to 1.11 million barrels per day (bpd) as part of an ongoing series of cuts led by Saudi Arabia to help prop up prices. Angola rejected the move. Angola planned to breach the quota and would instead pump 1.18 million bpd from January, its OPEC governor Estevao Pedro said in an interview last month.

🇪🇹 The African Development Bank (AfDB) said it was withdrawing all its international staff from Ethiopia, citing a recent breach of diplomatic protocol and assault by Ethiopian security forces on two of its staff members. The pair were detained for hours without charge and later physically assaulted on Oct. 31. They were released after the AfDB’s president contacted Ethiopia’s prime minister who intervened. The incident was allegedly sanctioned by a government official following a demand for accountability by the AfDB staff over disbursed funds. Semafor Africa previously reported that an email phishing scam led to the disappearance of over $5 million.

🇪🇬 🇪🇹 Egypt said on Tuesday that negotiations to end the long-standing dispute with Ethiopia and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) had hit a dead end. Cairo blamed the failed talks on Ethiopia’s rejection of the proposed technical and legal solutions, accusing Addis Ababa of wanting unregulated and absolute control of the Blue Nile. Egypt said it will “closely monitor” the filling and operation of the GERD and reserves its right “to defend its water and national security in the event of harm.” Ethiopia’s foreign ministry rejected the claims, saying Egypt had misrepresented its position.

🇸🇳 Senegalese authorities on Tuesday refused to reinstate opposition leader Ousmane Sonko onto the nation’s electoral roll, his lawyer said. Sonko’s representatives said they were denied access to the General Directorate of Elections when they tried to collect sponsorship forms necessary for Sonko’s candidacy in February’s presidential elections. Last Thursday, a Senegalese judge ordered Sonko’s reinstatement on the electoral roll. Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, has been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with the government since his conviction in absentia for “corrupting youth”. Presidential contenders have until Dec. 26 to submit their applications to the body responsible for validating candidacies.

Semafor Stat

The assets of Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s first female billionaire, that were frozen this week. She lost her fight in a London court against the asset freeze. Dos Santos is being sued by Angola’s state-run Unitel telecoms company which is seeking damages arising from financial decisions taken during her tenure as a director at the firm. Dos Santos, who had a $3.5 billion fortune and is the daughter of a former president who ruled Angola for 38 years, has been the subject of corruption charges since her father left office in 2017. Dos Santos, 50, denies the allegations and has said she is the target of a political vendetta.

Nana Oye Ankrah

Ghana bets on ‘Detty December’ tourists to boost revenue

Nana Oye Ankrah/Semafor


ACCRA, Ghana — Ghanaian officials are betting they can ramp up annual tourist receipts by around 60% by attracting more African diaspora holidaymakers in December — a key source of revenue as the country battles an economic crisis.

The West African country has become known for its vibrant Christmas season during which thousands of Black people from the United States, United Kingdom and Europe visit for a range of events and parties known by tourists as “Detty December.” The government — which has branded the festive period as “December in GH” — announced late last month that all visitors to Ghana could get a visa on arrival from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15.

Authorities hope that removing the need for a pre-travel visa for that 46-day period, along with events targeting people of African descent such as the Panafest and Emancipation arts festival and the Africa Basketball Festival, will help meet its target of generating $3.4 billion in tourism revenue. That aim is up from about $2 billion in 2022, Kofi Atta Kakra Kusi, deputy head of corporate affairs at the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), told Semafor Africa.

“We’ve worked so hard to market and promote a lot of activities,” said Kusi. “We’re working with the private sector, seeking partnership, and the president is even helping. We strongly believe we can accrue more,” he said.


Ghana has in recent years sought to attract visitors whose ancestors were taken from West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. The government launched the Year of Return initiative in 2019, which coincided with the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in the United States, to appeal for people of African descent to visit. Tourists have returned around the Christmas period since then.

Ghana is struggling with an economic crisis which forced it to seek a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund which was approved in May. The economic woes have increased the need for the government to increase domestic revenue. The tourism sector was the third highest contributor to the economy, said the GTA’s Kusi.


Ghana’s tourism sector has become an important part of the country’s economic vision. Positioning the West African country as a cultural hub — appealing in recent years to visitors wanting to trace their ancestral roots and festival goers drawn to music events like AfroFuture — was a masterstroke. But these efforts will be wasted without channeling more money into infrastructure redevelopment.

The country is targeting 1.2 million visitors this year, with the Ghana Tourism Authority having already recorded 800,000 by the end of the third quarter. The goal is 300,000 more than the 914,892 arrivals recorded in 2022.

Mohammed Awal, the minister of tourism, summed up the government’s plan in a speech at the Ghana Tourism Summit earlier this month. “What is important for us is to get people to come, spend more, stay longer and invest more,” he told delegates.

Ghana isn’t the only African country that sees the value in making it easier to visit. Kenya has gone further. Last week its president said visitors will no longer require a visa to enter the country from January. But making it easier to visit only benefits the country if the money generated is spent wisely. Tourists who want to see some of Ghana’s top attractions such as Cape Coast Castle, a former slave fort about 150 kilometers west of Accra, must endure bad roads that make the journey longer and more arduous than necessary.

Without channeling some of the revenue generated by tourism into much needed infrastructure upgrades, the country won’t fully realize the long-term benefits of attracting tourists. Ghana was considered a poster child of good governance and economic development until several instances of wayward public spending sullied its reputation. Making good use of tourism revenue would be a sign of progress.

Read on for Room for Disagreement and The View from Rwanda →


DRC’s election extension

Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo were extended into a second day after the national election commission (CENI) said some polling stations failed to open on Wednesday due to delays in conveying voting materials.

Five of the challengers vying to prevent President Felix Tshisekedi from securing a second five-year term rejected the decision to allow voting to continue on Thursday. The challengers who criticized the move included Nobel Peace laureate Dennis Mukwege and Martin Fayulu, runner-up to Tshisekedi in 2018. They demanded a rerun election by a “differently structured” electoral body, Reuters reported. The news agency also reported that Donatien Nshole, head of the observer group affiliated to Congo’s influential Catholic Church Conference of Bishops, criticized the voting extension. “It is important for the election to take place in one day to avoid fraud,” he said.

CENI chair Denis Kadima said the delay in voting would not compromise the credibility of the process and results.

An estimated 40 million voters in the central African country are registered to cast ballots to choose the country’s president and lawmakers. More than 100,000 candidates are participating in the elections.

The DRC, a nation of nearly 100 million people, is home to crucial minerals for energy. It has the world’s largest reserve of cobalt and seventh-largest reserve of copper. But wealth from those resources has mostly been plundered by the country’s elite, leaving vast swathes of the populace living in poverty. This week’s elections are taking place against the backdrop of deadly conflicts, particularly in the eastern region between Congolese soldiers and the M23 rebel group whom the U.S. and UK say are sponsored by the Rwandan government. Kigali has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Observer missions by the African Union, Southern African Development Community, and the Atlanta-based Carter Center present in the DRC for the elections are yet to publish analysis on the polls so far. The European Union canceled plans to send observers in November, citing security concerns.

Alexander Onukwue


New sickle cell treatments are here

Alfredo Zuniga/AFP via Getty Images

→ What’s happening? The world’s first commercial gene-editing treatment, Casgevy, is one of two new sickle cell treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month. It was also approved by the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency in November. Casgevy is based on CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that earned its inventors a Nobel Prize in 2020.

→ How does it work? Sickle cell is a genetic disorder that affects the shape of red blood cells in the body, blocking the flow of blood and causing pain, organ damage and stroke. Bone marrow transplants, which feature unwelcome side effects, have long been relied on as the primary long-term treatment for sickle cell disease. 

The new gene-editing treatments work by targeting the problematic gene in the bone marrow stem cells. Casgevy uses molecular scissors to trim faulty parts of genes which can be disabled, causing the body to effectively produce hemoglobin — the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen through the body. Lyfgenia, the other treatment approved by the FDA, inserts modified genes into the body through disabled viruses.

→ Why does it matter? Black people, particularly in Africa, are disproportionately affected by sickle cell. Out of over half a million babies born with sickle cell in 2021, more than three-quarters were in sub-Saharan Africa, according to research by the Lancet medical journal. Sickle cell prevalence is as high as 45% in parts of Uganda, and between 20-30% in Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.

→ Why are some African experts concerned? With gene therapies costing millions of dollars, some experts are concerned that the new treatments may not benefit those who need them the most, especially in Africa. Dr. Obiageli Nnodu, director of a sickle cell program at the University of Abuja in Nigeria, told the New York Times that the new treatment was “a moonshot away” for her patients.


Nigeria, South Africa, and Somalia account for under 2% of the 334 million videos TikTok said it has removed between January and September this year. The three are the only countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are part of the top 50 countries for the most TikTok video takedowns this year. The top 50 accounts for 90% of all video takedowns on the platform. Social media companies are under increasing scrutiny for their response to offensive content, including the use of their platforms for large scale misinformation and influence operations by potentially malicious actors. Nearly 40% of videos removed on TikTok are related to sexually sensitive content, drug and alcohol promotion, and themes bordering on harassment or hate speech. The company says it is stepping up the rate at which it removes videos before they gain views: for example, the removal rate in Nigeria before views was 58% in the first quarter of this year but 79% between July and September.

Tech Talk

Flutterwave’s remittances business

Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigerian payments company Flutterwave said this month it had received licenses from 13 U.S. states enabling customers to send money to Africa.

Remittance inflows to Africa have doubled in the last decade, reaching $100 billion in 2022 as Africans in the diaspora surpass foreign direct investors and development aid as the largest source of external money into the continent. Stephen Cheng, Flutterwave’s vice president for global expansion and payment partnerships, spoke to Semafor Africa about the company’s strategy in the remittances industry.

Why do your U.S. licenses cover some states and not the entire country?

We have licenses from 13 states directly. But we have a partnership with another licensed financial institution that gives us additional coverage for a total of 29 states. In certain states like Montana, there is no licensing regime. But we do have plans to extend our reach to the entire U.S. One of the complexities of the U.S. is that there are 50 different state requirements. We kind of wish that it were uniform, like in the European Union where it’s just one regulatory framework across different countries.

What advantage does a fintech startup have over established companies in offering remittances?

Technology is a starting point of our differentiator, using it to create different types of customer experiences for varying use cases. But one of our main advantages is the extensive local experience we have in Africa. PayPal started as a U.S. company but Flutterwave started as an African company.

It takes a lot of investment and commitment to develop a network of constituents within financial services to be able to remit one dollar to Africa. You need partnerships with credit card schemes, payment processors, sponsor and issuing banks, as well as local partners. All of that takes time and thankfully we’ve been around since 2016. It is also a huge advantage that we were already a payments business with local and foreign users.

What markets are opportunities for Flutterwave to grow its remittance business?

We are looking at certain regions in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. We’ve been working in the background to be as prepared as possible and hopefully in the near future, with 2024 coming up, we’ll be able to start expanding.

Alexander Onukwue

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Marine shells discovered in the Blombos Cave on South Africa’s coastline may have been used as personal ornaments 100,000 years ago, a new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution has found. The authors, from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the University of Bergen in Norway, said the study used archaeological and historical evidence to propose a trend that captures the evolution of the human practices to change the appearance of the physical body. “In Africa shell beads appeared between 140,000 and 75,000 years ago,” said Francesco d’Errico, one of the study authors. “They are followed by circular beads made of ostrich egg shells after 55,000 years ago, and multiple types of beads after 44,000 years ago.”

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