Video conference of the participants of the Study Trips to Africa
September 8, 2020
On September 8, 2020 we continued our virtual journey on the African continent and our members came together for a video conference on the topic “Rwanda – an innovative pioneer on the African continent?”. Our guest speakers Renate Charlotte Lehner, First Secretary and Head of Administration and Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Kigali, and Sangwa Rwabuhihi, General Manager of the Westerwelle Startup House Kigali, provided us with extensive insights into the development of Rwanda and informed us about the start-up scene in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
According to Ms. Lehner, until the outbreak of the Corona pandemic little had changed in Rwanda over the last two years. Kigali presents itself as modern, safe and clean, and Rwanda is one of the favorite countries of international organizations and for donor-financed projects. It had been “the place to be on the African continent” during the past year and numerous international conferences, trips of (economic) delegations and ministerial visits had taken place there.
State-financed infrastructure projects in Rwanda are dominated by China, Turkey, Qatar and increasingly also by Israel. With 30 million euros in development cooperation, however, Germany is one of the largest donor countries. In addition, Germany has invested 10 million euros in the “Green City Program”, which supports Kigali in obtaining the ” Green City” status. This is in line with the new “Kigali Master Plan” that was adopted last week.
With regard to the Corona pandemic, Ms. Lehner describes Rwanda as a “state of order” that has imposed a strict curfew and therefore has such a low corona case rate. As soon as someone does not comply with the Corona measures, he or she will be punished by having to spend a night in a soccer stadium where they will be instructed about the Corona measures. But the government is also trying to actively help people with several initiatives during the corona crisis, for example, by delivering donated food to various regions of the country.
Last year there was a major change within the government and especially young people were appointed to key positions. In this way they try to send a signal that the government is opening up and becoming more responsive to criticism.
Given political disagreements between neighboring countries, Rwanda’s regional situation is unfavorable. Rwanda suffers from regular border closures, which lead to a severe backlog of goods and a lack of products throughout the country. The initiative “Made in Rwanda” is intended to counteract the shortage of goods, but according to Ms. Lehner this is only partially successful.
Rwanda’s innovative spirit
In Rwanda there are many innovative and young people who find a hearing, especially since the Corona pandemic. Ms. Lehner reports on portable hand washing facilities that enable contact-free hand washing, disinfection booths that simultaneously measure body temperature, sophisticated tracking tools that make infection chains quickly traceable, and a test method that allows several people to have their samples tested together. Rwanda’s healthcare sector also boasts the first intelligent robots that measure people’s temperatures at airports and health stations. With a scanning function, they also identify who is not wearing masks and remind them to wear them.
In addition, the “African Drone Forum” was held in Rwanda in February 2020, which was attended by a German delegation from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. In Rwanda, drones are mainly used for urgent blood supplies. However, during the Corona pandemic they also fly through the streets with loudspeakers and remind people to take precautions. Yet there is more to Rwanda’s spirit of innovation than its healthcare system. Since 2018 there has been a Rwandan satellite that was launched into space with Japanese help. Furthermore, the German Aerospace Center is considering helping to set up a new space agency in Rwanda to support Rwandan scientists in collecting ground data (e.g. for agricultural purposes), says Ms. Lehner.
The willingness for innovation and new technologies as well as the investment authority “Rwanda Development Board” make Rwanda to the ideal entry country and create excellent conditions to test novelties on the African continent.
Startups in Rwanda
The Westerwelle Foundation has been supporting entrepreneurship around the world since 2013 and opened a Westerwelle Startup House in Kigali two years ago. This is a contact point for founders to be supported in realizing their ideas. The Startup House provides them with a good infrastructure and network opportunities by offering coworking spaces, meeting rooms and internet, as well as networking events between startups, operators and investors. The General Manager of the House, Mr. Rwabuhihi, reports that since the foundation of the Westerwelle Startup House 52 startups have joined them, with more than 80 members in total, coming from 21 countries. In his opinion, Kigali is an excellent place to start a start-up. The Rwandan population is young and most of the official processes are digitalized and corruption-free. In addition, Kigali is a green and safe city, located in Central Africa, which hosts many conferences and therefore has good networking opportunities. Also, many pan-African universities come to Kigali and bring their best African students with them. The classic start-up founder is a university graduate who is between 25 and 35 years old and develops ideas in the fields of technology, financial services, renewable energies, tourism and fashion.
According to him, the greatest challenge for Rwandan entrepreneurs is capacity building. Since many of them need knowledge in business management and technical know-how, the Westerwelle Startup House has also put a focus on that. In addition, there is much potential for expansion in the regulatory and investment sectors in Rwanda. The relationship between start-ups and corporate regulation is still at a very early stage and there are no fixed strategies for cooperation with start-ups, explains Rwabuhihi.
May 7, 2020
„Please fasten your seatbelts and turn off your microphones. “
For the second time, the Global Bridges motto “We go there” was transformed into “We zoom there”. After the first video conference with participants of our previous Study Trips to Africa was a great success, all of the participants met online to zoom into an exciting discussion. This time, the destination was Accra, Ghana.
The discussion was complemented by personal reports from Samuel Boakye Opoku, Project Manager of the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Ghana (AHK), and Mubarak Sumaila, CEO and Co-Founder of BezoMoney, who informed about their current work in the economic sector in Ghana.
Claudia Winterstein opened the discussion with the current Corona figures from May 7, 2020 in Ghana. For this day, the number of people infected with Covid-19 is estimated to be 3091. About 303 persons have regenerated and 18 deaths are reported. According to Opoku, however, the estimated number of people infected with Covid-19 is significantly higher. The number of people suffering from Covid-19 is estimated at 100,000. Opoku mentions the limited testing facilities in Ghana as a reason for the low number of confirmed cases.
He further reports that the lockdown was lifted by the Ghanaian government on April 20, 2020. However, numerous restrictions remain in place, such as bans on public events. The measures in Ghana, namely social distancing, are particularly targeted at the informal sector, which leads to difficulties in the public sector such as markets and public transports.
Since approximately 50 percent of the gross domestic product is generated via the informal economic sector, the lockdown will cause difficulties for the overall economic situation in Ghana, Opoku says. However, Ghana is receiving numerous financial and material support from investors, countries and foundations, including MasterCard and the Chinese online portal Alibaba. In addition, the World Bank provided the country with 100 million US dollars just one day after the lockdown came into effect. With this money, the government is supporting the health care system and the informal sector with funding, among other things. Nevertheless, many companies are forced to close down during the pandemic. Some even have to shut down for good. A study by the AHK shows that 77 German, French and Ghanaian companies producing in Ghana are experiencing economic losses of 75 percent. This mainly affects companies in the start-up, logistics, construction and heavy industry sectors. According to the study, the majority of the companies hope that the situation will improve from September onwards and that staff reductions can be avoided. This will require government loans; the government has promised the companies 600 million US dollars.
With regard to German-Ghanaian relations, Opoku reports that the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Development (BMZ) is currently not providing any direct money. However, it has initiated the “#Smart Development Hackathon” instrument, which is intended to link companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ideas and solutions on the subject of Covid-19 and Ghana. Exact figures are expected to be announced on May 14 and 15.
BezoMoney: Save up, Save together
The start-up BezoMoney has developed a helpful approach for the informal sector. A digital saving platform has been created that supports individuals and groups to save money and take out loans based on their savings. The CEO and Co-Founder, Mubarak Sumaila, explains that Ghanaians have developed an informal system for saving money. Many of the people in Ghana cannot participate in the conventional banking system and therefore collect their money in groups. However, this principle poses the problem that the system is not transparent and no official information on personal savings is available. Without information about any assets, however, it is not possible to borrow from banks or other institutions, which leaves only the informal sector as a source of supply. BezoMoney works together with financial institutions, mobile money providers and payment processors and provides official savings opportunities for groups and individuals, helping people to achieve financial and social advancement.
On the occasion of a recent study by the University of Chicago, the conversation was concluded with a discussion about cocoa cultivation in Ghana. Cocoa production is one of the largest agricultural sectors in Ghana. However, this production is discredited for allowing dangerous child labor and exposing children to the use of toxic agrochemicals and tools that are not appropriate for children.
According to Opoku, conditions for children have improved with the renewal of the education system a few years ago. Children of cocoa farmers are offered the opportunity of free school education. In addition, the organization “Farmerline” offers cocoa farmers further training in the areas of pesticides, plants and sustainability and uses an app to disseminate knowledge about the correct cultivation of cocoa plants. Furthermore, verified cocoa cultivation under the Fair-Trade label has a positive impact on the cultivation and extraction of cocoa beans. The demand for fair trade beans is increasing and some companies only cooperate with certified farmers. This has an effect on the farmers’ attitude towards cultivation and work on the cocoa plantations. So, if we want to reward ourselves with a bittersweet piece of chocolate, it pays off best if we also look at the packaging (Fair Trade label).
April 8, 2020
On April 8, the Global Bridges motto “We go there” was temporarily changed to “We zoom there”. In an almost 90-minute online video conference, 15 participants of the last two Study Trips to the African continent discussed the current situation in Ethiopia as well as approaches to support the country in this situation.
After a month of social distancing, all participants were looking forward to the virtual meeting. Dr Claudia Winterstein opened the discussion with an overview of the current Corona situation in Africa: The first positive tested Corona case occurred in Egypt on February 14. Since then the development has been rapid. As of April 8, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) counted 10,000 confirmed infections and 500 fatal courses of the disease COVID-19 on the African continent. The catalogue of measures taken by individual countries ranges from imposing a national curfew (Rwanda) to releasing 4,000 prisoners and postponing parliamentary elections (Ethiopia).
Subsequently, our member Dr. Philipp Schuller, together with his guest Stephan Willms, presented the project “10,000 ventilators for Ethiopia“, which was started by their initiative Africa Enablers. The project is intended to respond to the chronic funding shortage and inadequate equipment of the Ethiopian health system. In particular, the subordinate access to ventilators in comparison to major international powers had to be countered by local production of a clinical ventilator for oxygen supply.
About 80 percent of the components are to be produced locally, about 10-15 percent are to be manufactured with 3D printers and only a small part is to be imported via international supply chains. This is possible because the product should be adapted to medical needs and the level of training of the staff. A team of 10 engineers is currently examining the user-specific requirements and testing the availability of comparable preliminary products on the Ethiopian market.
The project has already received much approval and support from official bodies such as ministries and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). For example, GIZ formed a special task force to enable decisions to be made within a few days. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to secure financing (talks are underway, i.e. with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)). Furthermore, in order to bypass bureaucratic hurdles, it would be an advantage to obtain the necessary certification of the product in Germany.
The fact that Ethiopia declared a national state of emergency on April 8 underlines the urgency of the situation. This means that far-reaching decisions, for example on more restrictions on public life, can be taken within 48 hours. The Ethiopian Government expects the pandemic to cause a severe economic slump, causing political unrest. The government estimates the consequences of the pandemic to be much more serious than the virus itself.
The long-term goal of the project is to help beyond the times of the Corona pandemic and to make sustainable investments in Africa. For this reason, the design of the ventilator and the production process will be made public – copying by third parties is explicitly desired. Earliest production start is at the end of May. At the same time a rollout in Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia is being considered. Expressions of interest have already been received.
Small tractors for smallholders
Global Bridges members Tobias Knoch and Elmar Stachels presented another interesting project with their initiative “Small tractors for African smallholders”. The visit to Ghana in autumn 2019 showed us that a farmer’s enthusiasm can only lead to limited success if there is a lack of mechanical equipment. An Ethiopian farmer cultivates on average between 1-3 hectares of land with the simplest tools.
There are two possible solutions: On the one hand, to provide high-quality tractors based on the model of a sharing service (such as via Hello Tractor). The disadvantage is that few tractors meet a high demand. Therefore, the second solution is considered to be more target-oriented: Equipment is produced and serviced locally and the whole thing has to be affordable for simple smallholders.
The feedback of the first video conference was very positive, so that the group of participants suggested to hold further calls in a time rhythm of about one month.