Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Africa

A trove of letters and wish cards accumulated for 50 years: Great documents for re-editing my autobiography

As mother passed away in January 2020, before the advent of Covid-19, though many elder parents died from acute pneumonia, in coma and in IUC, I started sorting out accumulated objects, clothes, papers, documents, letters that I sent and received, wishing cards…

I have been retrieving and sorting out hundreds upon hundreds of letters that my parents saved in the last 50 years.

It felt a chores and I thought of dumping everything into the waste bin.

In many cultures, people just gather everything and set up a bonfire.

After the initial feeling of a chore from perusing letters before dropping them in the waste been, I discovered that there are many interesting information and news that I totally forgot that I wrote about for my parents, sister and relatives… and what they wrote to me.

And then it dawn on me that these are actual documents, excellent to re-edit my autobiography that I posted 10 years ago “Not glamorous person”

Surprises, surprises.

Names that I totally forgot, names that I am unable to put a face on them, sort of these people will have to show me pictures of younger periods and recount to me details of events and locations we met and shared for me to recollect…

Surprises, surprises

Locations, so many places that I had visited and had no recollection of being there or with whom I visited.

Surprises, surprises

So many suggestions I told them and that they never acted upon

Surprises, surprises

Frequent transfer of money, mostly with people visiting my home country Lebanon, and checks… though I was mostly broke most of the periods and barely surviving. I remembered two transfers of money, but never in such a frequency. If I knew my parents were totally broke…I would have sent far more transfers and in higher amounts

I learned later on that mother had to sell all her jewelry in order for father to pay the “taxes” for the many militias parties during our 15 years of civil war., in order for their home Not to be occupied or rented…

Surprises, surprises

So many fictitious plans and projects that I had to create just to fill a letter and give the illusion that I am able to sustain myself and high on hope for my future.

Before I started publishing in wordpress.com I kept a diary of everyday events, trips, even the recurring routine activities…and filled many dozen of booknotes.

I blackened thousands of pages of articles and notes before I typed them on my computer. Restructuring the thoughts and re-editing, especially while walk returning home from the private library. Mother convinced herself that I had a part-time job at the library and didn’t resume her complaints.

Actually my first hard computer was assembled by my nephew William from scratch, every element of it. This computer served me well for 4 years.

And then I purchased a laptop that I could carry with me in my backpack and started typing directly and saving dozens of draft articles.

I had decided Not to overwhelm my readers with more than 2 articles a day, and I ended up with a hundred draft article, most of them ready to be published.

Yes, gold suggestions they failed to act upon.

I told my father to exchange his Lebanese pounds to British Sterling in 1980. He didn’t listen to me. a few years later, Lebanon pound (Lira) was devalued to almost nothing and my parents found themselves totally broke.

I told my parents to get out of Lebanon and re-start their life in Africa where they made their fortune and spent the best of their happy years. Mother would have jumped on this new adventure, but my sister was expecting her first child and mother had to remain. I guess father was no longer ready for any adventure without mother to support him and guide him. They missed 40 years for a new life and died totally broke.

I was touring Africa and Lebanese were still making “easy money”. A bakery for producing just bread generated a fortune for almost Not working personally.

A fact that is recurring in Lebanon: Any one who decides to settle back home inevitably goes into a coma of lethargy and imagination and end up wasting all his wealth.

Only the militia/mafia “leaders” and their assistants made fortunes by highway robbing the State budget and running and controlling the public institutions

Note: I say: Any childhood changes (locations, schools…) is a path life changing. Too many of these child a-changing leave you stuck in a maze.

Before colonial powers took over Africa: Africa history

Note 1: Repost of 2014 of “Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent”

Note 2: Maps were drawn upside down during the Arabic Empire and they skew the current traditional eurocentric point of direction.
Africa was called before the European colonization Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan meaning ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’
Frank Jacobs, November 12, 2014
Uitsny_suid_afrika

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans?

The Reconquista in Spain would have never happened.

If Spain and Portugal didn’t kickstart Europe’s colonization of other continents in the 16th century, this is what Africa might have looked like.

The map shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations.

All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography.

None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa.

By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass.

Only the Abyssinian Empire (modern-day Ethiopia) and Liberia (founded in 1847 as a haven for freed African-American slaves) remained independent.

This map is the result of an entirely different course of history. The continent depicted here isn’t even called Africa [1] but Alkebu-Lan, supposedly Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ [2].

That name is sometimes used by those who reject even the name ‘Africa’ as a European imposition.

It is therefore an ideal title for this thought experiment by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon.

Essentially, it formulates a cartographic answer to the question: What would Africa have looked like if Europe hadn’t become a colonizing power? 

To arrive at this map, Cyon constructed an alternative timeline. Its difference from our own starts in the mid-14th century.

The point of divergence: the deadliness of the Plague.

In our own timeline, over the course of the half dozen years from 1346 to 1353, the Black Death [3] wiped out between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population. It would take the continent more than a century to reach pre-Plague population levels. That was terrible enough.

But what if Europe had suffered an even more catastrophic extermination – one from which it could not recover?

Allohistorical Africa, seen from our North-up perspective. The continent’s superstates (at least size-wise): Al-Maghrib, Al-Misr, Songhai, Ethiopia, Kongo and Katanga.

European colonies in Africa in ‘our’ 1913.

Blue: France, pink: Britain, light green: Germany, dark green: Italy, light purple: Spain, dark purple: Portugal, yellow: Belgium, white: independent. Lines reflect current borders.

Cyon borrowed this counterfactual hypothesis from The Years of Rice and Salt, an alternate history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The book, first published in 2002, explores how the depopulation of Europe would have altered world history.

Robinson speculates that Europe would have been colonized by Muslims from the 14th century onwards, and that the 20th century would see a world war between a sprawling Muslim alliance on the one side, and the Chinese empire and the Indian and native American federations on the other.

Cyon focuses on Africa – or rather, Alkebu-Lan – which in his version of events doesn’t suffer the ignominy and injustice of the European slave trade and subsequent colonization.

In our timeline, Europe’s domination of Africa obscured the latter continent’s rich history and many cultural achievements.

On the map of Cyon’ s Africa, a many-splendored landscape of nations and empires, all native to the continent itself, gives the lie to the 19th- and 20th-century European presumption that Africa merely was a ‘dark continent’ to be enlightened, or a ‘blank page’ for someone else to write upon.

Basing himself on Unesco’s General History of Africa, Cyon built his map around historical empires, linguistic regions and natural boundaries.

His snapshot is taken in 1844 (or 1260 Anno Hegirae), also the date of a map of tribal and political units in Unesco’s multi-volume General History.

Al-Andalus, in this timeline still a dependency of Al-Maghrib; and the Emirate of Sicily to the left of the map.

Zooming in on the northern (bottom) part of the map, we see an ironic reversal of the present situation: in our timeline, Spain is still holding on to Ceuta, Melilla and other plazas de soberania in Northern Africa.

In Cyon’s world, most of the Iberian peninsula still called Al-Andalus, and is an overseas part of Al-Maghrib, a counterfactual Moroccan superstate covering a huge swathe of northwestern Africa.

Sicily, which we consider to be part of Europe, is colored in as African, and goes by the name of Siqilliyya Imārat (Emirate of Sicily).

The Arabic is no accident.

Absent the European imprint, Islam has left an even more visible mark on large swathes of North, West and East Africa than it has today.

Numerous states carry the nomenclature Sultānat, Khilāfat or Imārat. And what are the difference between a Caliphate, Sultanate and Emirate?

A Caliph claims supreme religious and political leadership as the successor (caliph) to Muhammad, ideally over all Muslims.

I spot two Caliphates on the map: Hafsid (centered on Tunis, but much larger than Tunisia), and Sokoto in West Africa (nowadays: northwest Nigeria).

Sokoto, Dahomey, Benin and other states in country-rich West Africa. 

A Sultan is an independent Islamic ruler who does not claim spiritual leadership.

Five states in the greater Somalia region are Sultanates, for example: Majerteen, Hiraab, Geledi, Adāl and Warsangele. Others include Az-Zarqa (in present-day Sudan), Misr (Egypt, but also virtually all of today’s Israel), and Tarābulus (capital: Tripoli, in our Libya).

An Emir is a prince or a governor of a province, implying some suzerainty to a higher power. There’s a cluster of them in West Africa: Trarza, Tagant, Brakna, all south of Al-Maghrib. But they are elsewhere too: Kano and Katsina, just north of Sokoto.

Islam of course did not originate in Africa, and some would claim that its dominance of large areas of Africa, at the expense of pre-existing belief systems, is as much an example of foreign cultural imperialism as the spread of Western religions and languages is in our day.

But that is material for another thought experiment. This one aims to filter out the European influence.

Neither European nor Arab influence is in evidence in the southern part of Africa – although some toponyms relate directly to states in our timeline: BaTswana is Botswana, Wene wa Kongo refers to the two countries bearing that name. Umoja wa Falme za Katanga is echoed in the name of the DR Congo’s giant inland province, Katanga.

Rundi, Banyarwanda and Buganda, squeezed in between the Great Lakes, are alternative versions of ‘our’ Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Some familiar-sounding names around the Great Lakes.

There is an interesting parallel to the Africa/Alkebu-Lan dichotomy in the toponymic ebb and flow of Congo and Zaïre as names for the former Belgian colony at the center of the continent.

Congo, denoting both the stream and the two countries on either of its lower banks [4], derives from 16th- and 17th-century Bantu kingdoms such as Esikongo, Manikongo and Kakongo near the mouth of the river.

The name was taken up by European cartographers and the territory it covered eventually reached deep inland.

But because of its long association with colonialism, and also to fix his own imprint on the country, Congo’ s dictator Mobutu in 1971 changed the name of the country and the stream to Zaïre.

The name-change was part of a campaign for local authenticity which also entailed the Africanisation of the names of persons and cities [5], and the introduction of the abacos [6] – a local alternative to European formal and business wear.

Curiously for a campaign trying to rid the country of European influences, the name Zaïre actually was a Portuguese corruption of Nzadi o Nzere, a local term meaning ‘River that Swallows Rivers’.

Zaïre was the Portuguese name for the Congo stream in the 16th and 17th centuries, but gradually lost ground to Congo before being picked up again by Mobutu.

After the ouster and death of Mobutu, the country reverted to its former name, but chose the predicate Democratic Republic to distinguish itself from the Republic of Congo across the eponymous river.

Kongo – a coastal superstate in the alternative timeline.

This particular tug of war is emblematic for the symbolism attached to place names, especially in Africa, where many either refer to a pre-colonial past (e.g. Ghana and Benin, named after ancient kingdoms), represent the vestiges of the colonial era (e.g. Lüderitz, in Namibia), or attempt to build a postcolonial consensus (e.g. Tanzania, a portmanteau name for Tanganyika and Zanzibar).

By taking the colonial trauma out of the equation, this map offers a uniquely a-colonial perspective on the continent, whether it is called Africa or Alkebu-Lan.

Map of Alkebu-Lan and excerpts thereof reproduced by kind permission of Nikolaj Cyon.

See it in full resolution on this page of his website. Map of Africa in 1913 by Eric Gaba (Wikimedia Commons User: Sting), found here on Wikimedia Commons.

_______________

Strange Maps #688

[1] A name popularized by the Romans. It is of uncertain origin, possibly meaning ‘sunny’, ‘dusty’ or ‘cave-y’.

[2] The origin and meaning of the toponym are disputed. The Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ would be Bilad as-Sudan, which is how the present-day country of Sudan got its name.

Other translations offered for Alkebu-Lan (also rendered as Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan) are ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’. Although supposedly of ancient origin, the term was popularized by the academic Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan (b. 1918).

The term is not a 20th-century invention, however. Its first traceable use is in La Iberiada (1813), an epic poem from 1813 by Ramón Valvidares y Longo. In the index, where the origin of ‘Africa’ is explained, it reads: “Han dado las naciones á este pais diversos nombres, llamándole Ephrikia los Turcos, Alkebulan los Arabes, Besecath los Indios, y los pueblos del territorio Iphrikia ó Aphrikia: los Griegos, en fin, le apellidaron Libia, y despues Africa, cuyo nombre han adoptado los Españoles, Italianos, Latinos, Ingleses y algunos otros pueblos de la Europa”.

[3] A.k.a. the Plague, a very contagious and highly deadly disease caused by Yersinia pestis. That bacterium infested the fleas that lived on the rats coming over from Crimea to Europe on Genoese merchant ships.

[4] In fact, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, capitals of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, are positioned across from each other on the banks of the Congo River – the only example in the world of two national capitals adjacent to each other.

[5] The ‘founder-president’ himself changed his name from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga. The capital Léopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, after an ancient village on the same site.

[6] Despite the African-sounding name, abacos is an acronym of à bas costumes, or: ‘Down with (Western) suits’.

Tidbits #1

in the modern age, there can be serious consequences to multitasking. Texting while driving can incapacitate drivers as much as alcohol. Even phone calls can pose a dangerous distraction. Most of us overestimate our multitasking ability, and people who multitask more often are generally worse at it.

Taking on the powerful climate deniers in Australia and USA who have the government in their grip. Right now, they’re flooding Australia with fake news to play down the link to climate change, but as deadly fires blaze through homes, businesses and schools, killing dozens and wrecking people’s lives, Australia’s leaders are under pressure like never before.

Racing cars regulations: New F1 regulations coming in 2021 aim to level the playing field, with new cars, reduced wind tunnel runs, and a $175 million spend cap per team for the season, but there are many loopholes and exemptions from the budget cap that might still put an elite few teams on top.

In 2017, Liberty Media purchases the Formula One franchise and commercial rights for $8 billion,

F1 cars reach top speeds of 230 mph and  can still burn up to 110 kg (243 lb) of fuel during a race, while FE (electric0 cars top out at 140 mph.

About time: rapidly changing accounting industry?  And forcing separation of auditing, accounting and counseling. The Big Four accounting firms now get the majority of their revenue from consulting, not their core auditing businesses. But can an auditor remain independent when it’s competing for lucrative consulting contracts?

The writings of Nietzsche and Seneca teach us about what we can and can’t control.

Lisa Frank began making art at age five. Born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan—one of the wealthiest towns in the US—she ”was totally a girly girl…. I loved to read, I loved to do artwork, I loved to do anything girly.

Sparkle sells: As a teen, Lisa Frank sold her artwork to Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler. She took her distinct vision to the University of Arizona (Frank was an abstract artist, but her colors were just as vibrant as her better-known unicorn folders), where she bought handmade jewelry and pottery from Native Americans, then sold them at a markup back home.

Nitrous oxide is nearly 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

How can we preserve smells?  Olfactory archivists say they’re an important part of our cultural heritage.

Our attention wavers to take stock of our surroundings 4 times a second, likely as an adaptation that allows us to focus while also remaining aware of potential threats and opportunities. More often than not, we are actually task switching than multitasking,

In just over two decades, China has become Africa’s largest trade partner, its largest infrastructure funder, and its fastest-growing source of foreign direct investment.

At least a unanimous concession: “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”Clifford Nass,

The term Multitasking has been around since 1970 and I never believed in it: probably we can do a routine physical task with a low level mental task, but we are basically switch among tasks that do Not need focusing and total attention.

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” MARTIN GILENS AND BENJAMIN PAGE,

On average, children ask 9 times for a given item before parents typically give in, according to Kid Food by Bettina Elias Siegel

The US Treasury resorted to 20-year bonds. 50- or 100-year bonds were also considered by officials, as the government tries to reduce deficits that are expected to eclipse the $1 trillion mark each year this decade. The new bond will be available within six months.

The fintech startup Plaid seamlessly connects your bank account to hot payment apps like Venmo and Square’s Cash App and just one year ago was valued at $2.65 billion.

Nike’s Vaporfly shoes are too fast. They may be banned from competition because runners are breaking so many records.

In Lebanon, on est garcon ou fille. Des codes differents regissent les deux genres. Les termes “garcon manque'” ou “fille manquee'” n’existent pas pour devenir cliche’.

How tribes “clean up” without water?

I watched a documentary on a tribe in Namibia (south west Africa).

The land is flat, dry, and no running river or source of water are available.

In the wet season, people have to dig 3 feet in the dirt to extract water, mainly for the cow cattle consumption and the goats, and for malaxing (amalgamating) the cow dunk to form mortar in order to cover their huts...

In the dry season, people have to go deep 10 meters in the ground for water. How the members of this tribe clean up since water is taboo as a cleaning source?

They heat incense and the fume disinfects their cloths and all their bodies, sort of dry sauna custom.

The members spread mud over their body to protect the skin from the sun and the flies…And they are surviving and thriving on milk and occasional goat meat , as long as their cattle are not stolen and reduced to famine.

The sacrificial goat is killed by suffocation so that the blood is Not wasted on the ground…

Islam allowed ablution with sand when lacking water: Mohammad and his followers were stuck with this problem in one of the trips.

Note: What could be done in a rocky arid land? Should we grind a rock to reduce it to sandy powder?

 

How Digital Platforms are Shaping Africa’s Informal Economy

A new digital generation of informal African entrepreneurs have adopted and adapted gig economy tools and digital platforms to meet their needs for a flexible and negotiable digital marketplace.

Apps that can drive demand and scale reach affordably are transforming African markets, opening up new opportunities for young Africans.

photo by Jeeva Rajgopal Wiego Informal Sector https://www.africancentreforcities.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Seminar-input-24-Aug-Final.pdf

With contribution from Niti Bhan

When people think about the informal economy, this is the picture that often comes to mind.

What is often forgotten, is that the next generation of informal economy actors – mama mbogas, boda boda okada riders, wakulima farmers, traders, taxi drivers, matatu touts, drivers et cetera in Kenya and East Africa will be vastly different from the women depicted here.

The coming generation of Africa’s informal economy are today’s millennial digital natives – hungry, educated, exposed to global trends, with all the tools available to them like everyone else anywhere in the world.

Only with No prospects of formal employment on the horizon.

‘Informal’ is no longer synonymous to the streets, associated with the roadside, automatically defaulting to the marginalized or vulnerable – it is not a disease to recover from. The informal economy is an equal opportunity, organized and commercial operating environment offering Africans the chance to achieve their aspirations.

Africa’s prosperous future will only be realized by embracing the informal. This is not a choice.

While my thoughts are presented in the context of East Africa, I believe it resonates with the broader, global ‘gig’ economy. So perhaps my 60,000 ft view from Nairobi, East Africa rings true for the rest of the world.

Allow me to paint a picture for you using one of the sectors of the informal economy – trade.

Informal 1.0 : The Origins of Africa’s Informal Economy

Close to 80% of Africa’s human capital works and earns in the informal economy contributing between 35% to as high as 60% of Africa’s economies.

Pick a country anywhere in Sub Saharan Africa and you’ll find this to be true, be it Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Zimbabwe, or Nigeria.

Despite this glaringly significant contribution, there is still a gulf between the mindset of people who play god in our economies and the informally employed.

The implicit biases of decision makers get amplified in the real economy at the expense of real people, hindering meaningful economic development for African people.

What do I mean by the informal economy?

One definition focuses on the enterprise, whereby the informal economy comprises economic activities which are beyond the purview of the state because they lie outside its framework of laws, regulations and protections.

A small proportion of these activities are illegal, but mostly they are activities which are simply not covered or partly covered by the state’s rules and regulations.

Another definition focuses on the nature of employment rather than characteristic of the enterprise.

The informal economy is seen as comprised of all forms of ‘informal employment’ – that is, employment without secure contracts, worker benefits, or social protection, both inside and outside informal enterprises, including self-employment in informal enterprises (small unregistered or unincorporated enterprises), and comprising of employers, own account operators, and unpaid family workers in informal enterprises.

Ravi Kanbur, a University Professor at Cornell University, attributes the current policy mindset on informality to two main historical sources —the academic and the administrative.

The academic theory  views informality as a symbol of under-development, a nuisance to be swept away and kept out of sight in the modernizing path of the national economy. The theory follows that as a modern economy grows, the size of the informal diminishes in favor of the formal.

The administrative mindset on the other hand traces its origins from the colonialist regimes that made a distinction between those activities that fell under the purview of colonial rules and regulations, and those activities that were beyond the legal and administrative reach of the colonial government.

Whenever you see Nairobi’s hawkers fleeing police and city council officials, it is these laws still in force today.

Both of these prevailing attitudes have meant that for a long time, the informal has been viewed as something to get rid of – frowned upon, pitied, viewed as native, perceived to be chaotic, disorganized, teeming with criminal elements. Informal employees were viewed as rejects who ended up in the informal economy for lack of choice.

Some of it is true.

In the past, as far back as the 80s, the people who ended up in the informal employment were the formally uneducated, who for one reason or another lacked school training and relevant skills or knowledge required for the formal economy.

Like my two dear Aunts from my father’s side now in their late 60s. They were not fortunate to study up to University level due to lack of means.

In the 80s and 90s they managed to carve out a place for themselves as biashara traders in the informal economy: Aunt Wangari in the mitumba (second hand clothes) trading sector while my aunt Njeri traded at Nairobi’s Marikiti: Kenya’s largest wholesale fresh produce market. It is what they did all their lives, and brought up 7 kids over that period until they retired.

But since my Aunts’ heydays, 30 years ago, the dynamics of the informal economy have changed and assumptions about people like my aunt and their operating environment have been unpacked. Niti Bhan Blog documents the changes over a decade.

As part of the  Borderland Biashara: Mapping the cross border, national and regional trade in the East African informal economy project, we discovered that a lot of prior academic work had, sadly, mischaracterized the informal economy. We found that

The lack of formal education was not a hindrance. You could start from scratch, learn and work your way up

There is a hidden class of informal sector workers that is not accurately captured by economic statisticians both in size and quality ( TED Talk )

Learning was through hands on practice, enabled by mentorship and apprenticeship. You learnt on the job

Contracts in the informal economy were built on trust and reputation

Marketing was by building strong relationships and word of mouth

Your social and trade networks was your greatest strength

The number of formally educated people was surprisingly high and on the rise

The sectors in the informal economy were innovative out of necessity to make up for gaps

There was no time or resources to waste. Every tool was thoroughly assessed for ROI

The impact of digital tools on these factors was magnitudinal

So the informal economy was not broken and did not require fixing.

Yet, old attitudes persist; the narratives that shape our media; policy recommendations by the McKinsey’s of this world; even the technologists are still in the mindset of the colonials. And, the unproductive friction between state agencies and the informal economy rages on.

Just look at some recent headlines from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria:

  • New City Hall team promises to restore sanity to Central Business District – Business Daily
  • How Zimbabwe’s Street Vendors Are Responding To Threats of Government Action – Ventures Africa
  • Ban on Street trading goes full throttle in Lagos – The Guardian

Informal Economy 2.0: How Mobile Phones Shaped the Informal Economy

A shift to a second generation of informal economy unfolded as East Africa’s rising literacy levels converged with the rise of telecommunication networks and sprawl of mobile phones, Aspirational, formally educated and able bodied men and women joined the informal economy.

Unlike their predecessors like my Aunt, they now had access to technology tools like the handy nokia 1110 for storing contacts, calls and SMSs coupled with the rise of Mpesa which introduced the ability to send and receive money remotely.

The image above is an illustration of Alice and her network, one of the many actors in this second generation enabled by the mobile phone.

Alice is a 43 year old informal cross border trade from Malaba – the borderland of Kenya and Uganda. She runs three lines of business: new leather shoes and bags, mitumba curtains, and school children’s accessories, operating out of a tiny physical store at Malaba. Her trade spans across Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

⇒On the demand side,

Alice mentors a network of traders including her sister who helps out at the store. She takes in both men and women looking for opportunities through referrals, mentors them on the trade, and incorporates them as retailers or sub-wholesalers under her wholesale business.

This network forms her sales and distribution network and she is able to manage everything by mobile phone since they are spread across the Western region of Kenya and other countries in Rwanda and Uganda.

⇒On the supply side

Alice is in touch with a supplier from Nairobi’s bustling Eastleigh area for her shoe business. She brings in raw leather material and outsources the stitching work to a cobbler in Malaba before stocking up her store.

For her curtains and mitumba (second hand clothes) business, she has a supplier from Kampala, Uganda. After meeting in person severally, they established a relationship that is now maintained by mobile phone. Sometimes she will take the trip to Kampala, sometimes she will delegate to her sister while the rest of the time they will communicate via mobile phone.

Like many other actors in the informal economy, a relationship with informal matatu, bus and boda boda system is necessary to handle the logistical nightmares.

Alice’s husband is a clearing and forwarding agent at the Kenya Uganda border cross at Malaba and helps out with the paperwork at the border crossing.

When she got started, Alice got the initial funding to kickstart her biashara from her parents and has since paid it back in full. She now sources financing from her chama savings group and Equity Bank and equally, supports her network with funding when necessary.

Her sister is gradually learning the ‘best practices’ of this informal sector from Alice and can now manage part of the biashara.

The second generation, like Alice, used all the tried and tested traditional offline methods of Biashara applied by my Aunts in the past: cultivating trust, building a network, establishing a rock solid reputation and spreading word of her business via word of mouth.

But, with an education and a bevy of tools available to her like mobile phones and mobile money Mpesa, they could amplify all the methods to scale across borders, no longer limited to her immediate physical environment.

In a lot of ways, Alice is a template of men and women in the informal economy. They could be in one of many trade and services in the informal economy and this description would still hold true, whether they sell vegetables, or mitumba bales or carpets imported from turkey; whether offline or online; whether in Kenya or Burundi.

What they are all looking to establish is multiple lines of business and move from retail to wholesale. These are the documented Biashara growth strategies we uncovered during our fieldwork at the borderland.

Informal 3.0: How Internet Platforms Are Shaping Africa’s Informal Economy

Ravi Kanbur attributes the persistence of informality in the face of economic growth in the last quarter century to fundamental trends in technology and trade which have smothered the employment intensity of growth in the formal sector.

Africa’s economies cannot generate enough formal jobs for all the young people born in the post 90s era. Less than 20% of East Africa’s human capital is employed in the formal sector. With not enough formal jobs to absorb the armies of youth churned out into the economy every year, the young men and women of Africa turn to opportunities in the informal economy.

Even the few employed in the formal sector either have gigs on the side and or are increasingly looking outwards for opportunities in the informal sector.

Simultaneously, in the last decade, the number of smartphones, prepaid mobile phone subscribers, mobile money and mobile internet users has dramatically escalated, converging with a global tide of web platforms. Young Africans have grown up in a post digital era where Mpesa, whatsapp and facebook are the norm.

Now, everything about Africa’s informal economy has been amplified by today’s electronic media.

Jane MitumbaThe 3rd generation informal traders are women like Mukami pictured here, who, while educated, could not find a job placement in the formal economy. She is one of many young Kenyans who fled to Bahrain and Middle East to scout opportunities. After a bad experience, Mukami returned home to set up shop.

Mukami is 33 years old, a mother of 2 kids and sells bales of mitumba out of her 5X5 square store on the ground floor of Tumani building in Gikomba.

Like Alice, she too is a cross border biashara seller with clients spanning Naivasha, Narok, Kitui, Mombasa, Kampala in Uganda, even as far south as Botswana.

Just like my Aunt in the late 80s and early 90s, she uses all the traditional methods of offline trust building, referrals reputation and word mouth. Just like Alice too, she has mobile phones and mpesa at her disposable for scaling.

But over and on top of my Aunts and Alice, the internet penetration and explosion of web platforms has opened up new opportunities to make use of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram to grow and scale her biashara networks unlike her predecessors.

⇒On the demand side

Mukami manages a facebook group of 198,000 people and 4,000 followers on instagram, mostly women from across Kenya and broader Africa.

Some followers are looking to become traders and she is happy to take them under her wing and nurture them as a mentor.  She teaches them all the tricks of identifying fashion trends and spot fake mitumba bales. As soon as they are ready, she furnishes them with full bales, that they can open and resell as single items on retail.

She will even recommend them on her group and let them sell to other members of the group.  This forms her sale and distribution network.

Once in awhile she will share pictures of models and mannequins draped in some of her clothes – this is how you match this trench coat with a pair of heels – generating engagement in form of comments from buyers from different countries.

Most of her leads will first interact with her online via comments, then facebook messages, followed by connecting on whatsapp and phone before eventually following up with a visit at her store in Gikomba. Other leads stem from referrals from satisfied clients. Every lead is nurtured, and a relationship cultivated via her platform pipeline.

Mukami attributes 80% of her new leads to her customized Facebook group.

Her supportive team includes her husband, who helps out with managing the facebook group as co-admin so that one of them is always available to quell customer anxiety. She also has employed two assistants, Alfred, a 23 year old who is taking the opportunity to learn the ropes, because he too, one day wants to join the trade and rise up the ranks. Wafula is the delivery guy and takes care of errands.

Across town, one of Mukami’s long time mentees, a 27 year old Wanjiku quit her formal job to get into selling mitumba handbags full time.

While working at a law firm, Wanjiku quietly dabbled in the mitumba trade as a side gig, sourcing designer handbags from Mukami, cleaning them up, taking pictures and sharing with her whatsapp, instagram and her facebook page. In the last 2 years, it has grown large enough that she is now ready to quit her formal office desk job, and join Mukami as a full time biashara trade.

This new generation of the informal economy is opting out of “formal” economy because it makes sense to do so.

Our research concludes that because this 3rd generation is educated and digitally native, they will leverage all the new emerging platforms to scale because the roadside is no longer restricted to next to the street; the street has been scaled to whatsapp and SMS and calls and facebook groups.

The long tail of industrialization and globalization

Today, in Kenya, you can open the business papers and immediately spot three stories of entrepreneurs who are involved in different types of manufacturing – charcoal briquettes; fortified flour; paper bags – at different scales of operation. Yet all three would tell you that the bulk of their business enquiries and sales come from online platforms and social media.

All are university educated and see themselves as micro-entrepreneurs and employers. That is, there’ s a whole new demographic of value creation taking place at the grassroots of the Kenyan economy that straddles the challenges of the real world in which they must make their goods and deliver them to customers; and the online world which is where they build a brand and promote their products, generating new business leads and sales.

These hidden value creators are the new generation of tech savvy, young, educated entrepreneurs who toil unseen to put food on the table, not only for their own families, but also for their entire networks of suppliers and service providers.

We can trace their supply chains stretching invisibly from the east coast of Africa all the way to the Pearl river delta of east Asia.

This network includes merchants, traders, wholesalers, retailers, transporters, and a host of intermediaries involved in lowering the barriers to the flows of value being exchanged along the line. Now, the entire supply chain can run on mPesa, as Safaricom – Kenya’s leading telcom giant – ties up with Chinese payment solutions, and with Western Union, to span the globe or Kenya’s Family Bank, which recently partnered with SimbaPay to launch instant transfers to China’s WeChat

This economic ecosystem may never resemble the conventional models of industrialization and globalization, nor the textbook diagrams of linear, hierarchical supply chains. But it is flexible, digital, decentralized, and responsive to rapid changes in consumer taste and market demands. This is the foundation of Informal 4.0, the recognizable reality of the transforming African economy harnessing the power of connectivity, communications, and commerce on the phone.

This essay was inspired by this twitter thread

Much thanks to Niti Bhan for her thoughts, contribution and 4 years of inspiration.

Recommended readings

Rethinking the informal economy  – Martha Alter Chen

Borderland Biashara: Mapping the cross border, national and regional trade in the East African informal economy – Emerging Futures Lab

The hidden opportunities of Africa’s informal economy  – Niti Bhan

It’s time to drop meaningless formal-informal economic model – David Ndii

Mindsets, Trends and the Informal Economy –  Ravi Kabur

In praise of Macro-finance in Africa?

In this talk, financier Sangu Delle questions whether microfinance — small loans to small entrepreneurs — is the best way to drive growth in developing countries.

“We seem to be fixated on this romanticized idea that every poor person in Africa is an entrepreneur,” he says. “Yet, my work has taught me that most people want jobs.”

Delle, a TED Fellow, makes the case for supporting large companies and factories — and clearing away the obstacles to pan-African trade.

Sangu Delle Investor. He is an entrepreneur and clean water activist. A TED Fellow who hails from Ghana, he sees incredible potential in the African economy. Full bio

Speech filmed in Oct. 2014

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

Traditional prescriptions for growth in Africa are not working very well. After one trillion dollars in African development-related aid in the last 60 years, real per capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s.

(Successive pre-emptive civil wars fomented by the colonial powers all over Africa insured the total reliance of Africa on the export trades of these countries and robbing the raw mineral at the lowest of prices)

Aid is not doing too well.

0:32 In response, the Bretton Woods institutions — the IMF and the World Bank — pushed for free trade not aid, yet the historical record shows little empirical evidence that free trade leads to economic growth.

The newly prescribed silver bullet is microcredit. We seem to be fixated on this romanticized idea that every poor peasant in Africa is an entrepreneur. (Laughter) Yet my work and travel in 40-plus countries across Africa have taught me that most people want jobs instead.

My solution: Forget micro-entrepreneurs.

Let’s invest in building pan-African titans like Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. Mo took a contrarian bet on Africa when he founded Celtel International in ’98 and built it into a mobile cellular provider with 24 million subscribers across 14 African countries by 2004.

The Mo model might be better than the everyman entrepreneur model, which prevents an effective means of diffusion and knowledge-sharing.

Perhaps we are not at a stage in Africa where many actors and small enterprises leads to growth through competition.

Consider these two alternative scenarios.

One: You loan 200 dollars to each of 500 banana farmers allowing them to dry their surplus bananas and fetch 15 percent more revenue at the local market. Or

Two: You give 100,000 dollars to one savvy entrepreneur and help her set up a factory that yields 40 percent additional income to all 500 banana farmers and creates 50 additional jobs.

We invested in the second scenario, and backed 26-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur Eric Muthomi to set up an agro-processing factory called Stawi to produce gluten-free banana-based flour and baby food.

Stawi is leveraging economies of scale and using modern manufacturing processes to create value for not only its owners but its workers, who have an ownership in the business.

Our dream is to take an Eric Muthomi and try to help him become a Mo Ibrahim, which requires skill, financing, local and global partnerships, and extraordinary perseverance.

But why pan-African? The scramble for Africa during the Berlin Conference of 1884 — where, quite frankly, we Africans were not exactly consulted —  resulted in massive fragmentation and many sovereign states with small populations: Liberia, four million; Cape Verde, 500,000.

Pan-Africa gives you one billion people, granted across 55 countries with trade barriers and other impediments, but our ancestors traded across the continent before Europeans drew lines around us.

The pan-African opportunities outweigh the challenges, and that’s why we’re expanding Stawi’s markets from just Kenya to Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, and anywhere else that will buy our food.

We hope to help solve food security, empower farmers, create jobs, develop the local economy, and we hope to become rich in the process. While it’s not the sexiest approach, and maybe it doesn’t achieve the same feel-good as giving a woman 100 dollars to buy a goat on kiva.org, perhaps supporting fewer, higher-impact entrepreneurs to build massive businesses that scale pan-Africa can help change this.

The political freedom for which our forebearers fought is meaningless without economic freedom. (They go hand in hand)

We hope to aid this fight for economic freedom by building world-class businesses, creating indigenous wealth, providing jobs that we so desperately need, and hopefully helping achieve this.

Africa shall rise.

Tom Rielly: Sangu, this is strong rhetoric. You’re making 100 percent contrast between microcredit and regular investment and growing regular investment. Do you think there is a role for microcredit at all?

5:22 Sangu Delle: I think there is a role. Microcredit has been a great, innovative way to expand financial access to the bottom of the pyramid. But for the problems we face in Africa, when we are looking at the Marshall Plan to revitalize war-torn Europe, it was not full of donations of sheep.

We need more than just microcredit. We need more than just give 200 dollars. We need to build big businesses, and we need jobs.

Current Islamist movements in Africa have One thousand years of precedents

The current Islamist movements in Africa, from Morocco, Senegal, the Sahara, Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria (Boko Haram), Cameroun…have a long history behind them.

Going back a thousand years.

The dozen of African empires were built by launching Jihad against the animists, whatever Christians lived in that continent, and rival Islamic sects.

They imposed Chari3a and built mosques and Madrassat and called themselves Khalif and the governors were named Emirs of the believers.

The trade by the caravans was mostly gold, slaves, salt, ivory…

Soundjata Keita (1190-1255) founded the Mali Empire that extended in Western Africa. Jis capital was Niani and vanquished his animist Sosso king.

Kankan Moussa (1312-1337) elevated the Mali Empire to its zenith. He became the richest man on earth, even at current standards.
He distributed gold all the way on his pilgrimage to Mecca and brought back scientists and architects who built the mosques and madrassats in Jingereber, Tombouctou (Tin Buqt, the far away place, his Capital) and Gao.

Mohammad Toure (1493-1528) founded the Islamic Askia dynasty of the Songhai empire. He proselytized for a pure Islamic chari3a practices.

His organized army was made up of slaves and war prisoners (like the Ottoman janissary). He failed to overcome the Mossi and transformed Tombouctou, Djenne and Gao into centers of Islamic teaching.

Idriss Alaoma (1573-1603) was a pious Islamic general who snatched the throne from the Kanem-Bornu empire. He governed with majliss composed of military and religious dignitaries. He controlled the trans-Sahara trade linking Lake Chad to Libya and vanquished the Sahara Berbers, the Haoussa of Kano (north Nigeria) and controlled the actual Niger (Kaouar)

Ousama dan Fodio created the Sokoto empire from 1809-1859 that was based on the purity of Islam.

The empire extended in western Africa to include Nigeria, Chad, and the Volta applied the Chari3a of Kitab al Fark.
This Islamic mujaddadi rule was meant to combat the animists and the Haoussa empire in northern Nigeria.

The ruler had the title of Khaliand the governores were Emirs of the Believers.
Once a year, all the governors converged to Sokono to pay the tribute they collected.
Agades (in Niger), Kano and Katsina in Nigeria were major regional metropolis

Note 1: The trade of slaves by the conquering African empires was very lucrative. The non-Moslem captives were sold to the kingdoms in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan and Egypt.

These kingdoms resold their surplus slaves to the Mamluk empire (in Egypt) and later on to the Ottoman Empires and to the European kingdoms. As Africa was colonized, the African empires sold slaves to the European and USA traders.

Note 2: There are many African empires and cultures such as: The Nok in actual Nigeria, Ghana (extending between the rivers Senegal and Niger), the Mali, the Yoruba city-states in Togo and Benin, the Benin empire in Nigeria, the Songhai empire, the Ashanti empire, the Sokoto empire, the Ethiopian empires, the Gondar, the Kanem-Bornou, the Zulu empire, the Zimbabwe empire, the Monomotapa empire, the Toucouleur empire


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

May 2020
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