GHANAIANS VOTE IN GENERAL ELECTIONS


 

By: Paul Ndiho

Ghanaians are voting n neck-and-neck presidential and parliamentary elections. Two candidates dominate the race – President John Mahama, who is seeking a second term in office. And, his main rival, Nana Akufo-Addo, a veteran politician and businessman.

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High unemployment, and corruption scandals have beset mahama’s presidency, but he has urged Ghanaians to re-elect him.  But Akufo-Addo believes he has the business acumen to turn the economy around.  But for one small business owner in accra, the stakes could not be higher.

Incumbent President John Mahama is running for a second and final four-year term in office under a National Democratic Congress (NDC) ticket. He has made proposals to boost industry, energy, infrastructure, health and education.

His main opponent, Nana Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party criticizes Mahama for squandering the wealth the country has amassed since it began producing oil in 2010 and being out of touch with the people.

Akufo-Addo promises to give every constituency the equivalent of $1 million a year to alleviate poverty by installing basic services such as electricity, running water and sanitation.

Mabel Simpson is an accessories designer and entrepreneur working in Accra. She resigned her office job in 2010 to launch her own clothing label in mSimpson. Since then, she has created quite a buzz on the Ghanaian fashion scene.

“I feel like Ghana needs a leader who is going to fight corruption, who is going to bring jobs especially for young people and who is also going to make sure that the manufacturing industry in Ghana is doing very well.”

Simpson’s fascination with fashion- and love for raw African prints started when she was a young girl. She now competes with some of the biggest names in the African fashion industry.

Today, her design label – Msimps sells products in a store in Accra and online for clients making orders from all over the world.

“I feel like Ghana needs a leader who is going to fight corruption, who is going to bring jobs especially for the young people. It’s just not going to be, he is saying it but then he acts on it also. They would keep the promises they made to Ghanaians, so that people would be proud of Ghana.”

Ghana exports gold, oil and cocoa but has suffered from a slump in global commodity prices and macro-economic instability in the form of inflation that stood at 15.8 percent last month, an elevated budget deficit and high unemployment.

“We need to cut down on imports and rather concentrate more on exports so that we can grow the economy. So whichever leader that I feel is going to actually going to implement these policies. I think that leader is going to have my vote.”

She says she wants Ghana to invest more in manufacturing and export of “Made in Ghana” products and to provide more support for entrepreneurs as a way of dealing with unemployment and boosting the economy.

“I’m also looking for a leader who is going to make sure that young start-ups or entrepreneurs have some tax rebates so that we can grow the economy and employ more people.”

Fashion experts say the industry has tremendous potential to meet the growing demand for high-end products in the global market- including Africa’s growing middle class. Simpson says that young African designers can play a significant role on the continent through entrepreneurship.

As the mSimps label becomes more popular and expands, other young African designers are also looking forward to expressing their creativity in the marketplace.

NIGERIAN TECH FIRMS DRAWING INTERNATIONAL VENTURE CAPITALISTS


 

BY Paul Ndiho

Tech firms in Nigeria are rushing to get office space in Lagos’ Yaba district, a university town that has transformed itself into a vibrant technology hub.

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At first glance, Yaba is like many other parts of Nigeria’s sprawling commercial capital: a cacophony of car horns and shouting street vendors, mingling with exhaust fumes.    But in between the run-down buildings in this seemingly inauspicious part of Lagos, a city of around 21 million, tech start-ups are taking root and creating a buzz that is drawing international venture capitalists and more established digital firms.

Online retailer Jumia, dubbed the Amazon of Africa, has set up shop here…hoping it can propel the continent’s rising consumer middle class out of the street markets and onto its websites.  Nicholas Martin is the chief executive at Jumia.

“Lagos has the potential to become something that is relevant and on the map in the global scale.  It’s going to take time, it’s going to take support, it’s going to take a lot of infrastructure work because there is still a lot of work to be done. But the full amount of potential is here, the market is here, the appetite is here. We have started to also seeing a strong flow of repatriate talents coming here and irrigate that hub, so Lagos is actually very hot and that drives Yaba,”

Yaba draws on a pool of talent from the nearby University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology. African tech centers are a recent phenomenon that mix web business concepts borrowed from other parts of the world with start-ups focused on Africa-specific challenges in creating opportunities in areas such as mobile payments and e-commerce.

Yaba also has a growing number of established tech companies that hope the area, where rents are relatively cheap, might breed success.

Africa Internet Group, backed by Germany’s Rocket Internet, South African mobile phone giant MTN and Sweden’s Millicom, moved six of its tech firms, including Hellofood and Easy Taxi, to Yaba last December.

Guillaume Leblond, is the managing director of hellofoods.

“The presence of UNILAG (University of Lagos) as well is important for us because we recruit a lot of people. If you look at my staff behind me, probably sixty percent of them come from UNILAG so they know the area well, they have good network of friends that we recruit or that we hire for ambassadors,”

Investors have taken an interest in several Yaba-based start-ups. Nigerian hotel booking company hotels.ng got seed funding from the EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund and the Omidyar Network, created ed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The potential market size of Africa’s most populous nation makes Nigeria, with around 170 million people, an attractive location. Google and Microsoft ran coding workshops, while a deal between CCHub, the Lagos state government and local telecoms firm MainOne brought cheap high speed Internet via fibre optic cable.

“You won’t find warehousing space in Yaba, you won’t find warehousing space that is big enough to host a company like the size of Jumia. Jumia is by any measurement not only the biggest e-commerce and also the biggest retailer of the land and therefore we just need warehouse space and that ware house space, as long as I can keep it tight and tied together with the office space I will,”

Even though it is Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer, Nigeria’s Internet speeds and network coverage have lagged behind other countries such as Ghana and Kenya. But that in itself is an opportunity, with a 2013 report by consultancy McKinsey suggesting that only 1.5 percent of Nigeria’s nearly $500 billion economy took place online.

 

 

 


 

TOGOLESE FASHION DESIGNER TURNS HER PASSION INTO A BUSINESS

By Paul Ndiho

Togolese fashion designer Lenina Codjo has always been a fashion fanatic. Now, she is the founder and creative director of her boutique and brand “AdjoAsika.”  Her use of “African prints” has made her one of the Togo’s top designers, selling fashionable clothing, accessories, and home décor items. 20151108_150209

Lenina Codjo started doing jewelry and other accessories when she was a student in neighboring Ivory Coast.  Now, she has turned her passion into a business, launching her clothing label “AdjoAsika”, meaning casual wear in her local direct.  Since then, she has created quite a buzz on the global fashion scene.

“From the jewelry, I started making bags for women, for men. Then I started doing clothing to match with the bags. People were more and more interested and then I opened my boutique.”

Codjo has participated in several fashion shows, showcasing innovative, unique and cutting edge fashion designs. Recently, here in Washington D.C, she was part of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, a U.S. Department of State initiative that identifies and builds networks of women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa that are poised to transform their societies by owning and operating small and medium businesses. The program also promotes business growth to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“Here we learn a lot about how to improve our skills in business. In our country it’s critical, we need this kind of help to empower women. I have learned a lot about the US market too – how to integrate because now we want to tell our stories through our items, through our creativity so this is the way to have new customers, new people to talk to so that we can have more opportunities for our community.”

“My brand name is Adjoasika because I wanted this to be more serious to have a story to tell, so I designed this logo that inspires people.”

Codjo is part of the next generation of African entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference in their communities.

Codjo’s fascination with fashion- and love for raw African prints started when she was a young girl- and now she competes with some of the biggest names in the West African fashion industry. Linena Codjo attributes her accomplishment to her client’s, and supporters.

“My clients are local and people abroad, experts, people who love handcrafts, individuals who want to encourage handmade/African made… the name of my brand is casual wear so it can be clothing or an accessory that you can feel.”

Fashion analysts say AdjoAsika’s collections are known for their uniqueness.  Her hand-made accessories such as handbags, brooches, laptop bags, shoes and other accessories with African prints are transformed into stylish pieces.   Codjo’s creations have tremendous potential to meet the growing demand for high-end products in the global market — including Africa’s rising middle class.

Lenina Codjo says that young African designers — especially women, can play a significant role in business development on the continent through their entrepreneurship.

 

EMPOWERING THE YOUTH IN MALI


By Paul Ndiho

This summer, one thousand young African leaders came to study in the United States through U.S. President Barack Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship program. One of these young leaders was Alfousseni Sidibe, a native of Mali, whose mission is to empower Mali’s youth through the power of public speaking.

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After being rejected two years in a row, Alfousseni Sidibe was finally selected as one of the one-thousand participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Initiative. The fellows represent nearly 50 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2016, Sidibe founded “Live your Dream” a grassroots community development enterprise, inspired by Toastmasters International.  Alfousseni Sidibe is the founder.

“I needed to share with other people – especially because the foundation of any development is young people. So I said to myself, we need to start something and I said ‘ok, lets’ start with this organization “Live your Dream” I believe that each and every one of us has a dream and we are helping them to realize this dream.”

The 29-year-old Malian started this organization in his hometown, Bandiala, to focus on youth empowerment, entrepreneurship, public speaking, civic engagement — and business and mentoring programs.

“At some point in life, you have to define what makes you happy. My definition of happiness is when I can add value to other people, and I can only do that when I’m helping them to find their ways, what they want to become, what they want to do in the future. So once I see myself able to add value to another person, helping him to find his or her voices, helping them to find his way, this is what makes me happy.”

The African Union considers African youth as a unique resource that requires special attention, because they constitute up to 65 percent of the population. Sidibe says young people in Mali are a formidable, creative resource that can be harnessed for the countries socio-economic development.

“We say young people are the future of tomorrow, they are the future of a nation, but I say the future starts today. I believe that we Africans, we will make the change and this change starts from now, and I believe in each and every one of us. Do not sit and say ‘I don’t have something to do.’ There is always something to be done and let’s think out of the box.”

Finding opportunities for young people is a critical challenge for Mali, but Sidibe says that there are possibilities in farming and that young people should embrace going into agriculture as a profession.

“We have to value agriculture. It should start with the government providing incentive, taking measures to encourage production. For example, if you need the power to start your small business and you do not have it, it costs a lot for some people to start their farm because we have this mentality in mind that if you don’t use fertilizer. We need to sensitize people more about the easy way to do farming.”

Most exciting, perhaps, is that Alfousseni plans to continue empowering the youth with innovative programs on entrepreneurship, to tackle Mali’s high unemployment rate among youth ages 15 to 24.  Sidibe also has his sights set elsewhere in West Africa where he is already in talks with the administrators of other important youth initiatives to start “Live Your Dream satellite programs.

 

COMPANY BRANDING IN UGANDA


 

By Paul Ndiho

If you own a business in Uganda or elsewhere, and you’re thinking of re-branding your company?  Brand Momentum, a Ugandan-based startup is ready to fulfill your needs.

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Brand Momentum was created nearly five years ago with one goal in mind, to craft exciting brands for promising startups and companies on the rise, to help them make their mark in the world.  Brand Momentum is a full-service brand management firm headed by Diana Nsereko, the Chief Executive Officer.

“We started by targeting small and medium companies because we saw there were a gap and a need for innovative products.”

Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small.  Nsereko, a graphics designer by trade, says that having an effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets.

“What we do, we break down branding to brand identity, brand management, and brand building. Once we build brand identity, we develop a brand logo we have an attractive face that can attract its audience.”

Priscilla Namubiru leads the production teams. She says your brand is your promise to the customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors.

“So we come up with strategies and proposals for companies, we show which people we are going to see this month or year and what exactly are we going to sell to them. So we have some products we have segmented from the creative design to the product branding.”

Brand Momentum prides itself on having a 99 percent client retention rate and a team of talented and experienced graphic designers who strive to create brands that engage, entertain, and help boost interest in your business and vision. Web designer Brian Sentamu details some of the firm’s services.

. “We see what is trending in that period, and we can strategize something according to what they want to promote what they want to sell in their products. Websites, which could reach the outside market. What these sites do is to help people to go online and print business cards to get them delivered to you.

Brand Momentum employs more than ten full-time workers and has positioned itself among Kampala’s finest places to work.

 

Building an ecosystem for Innovation in Uganda


 

By Paul Ndiho

The East African nation Uganda is brimming with a rising new generation of bold, creative thinking innovators and entrepreneurs, who are inventing and developing new technologies that are simplifying their lifestyles and transforming their communities.

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According to Uganda’s population and census bureau, youth unemployment in the country is at all-time high. More than 40,000 young people graduate from Ugandan Universities each year, but the market can provide only 8,000 jobs annually.  But initiatives like Innovation Village — a top innovative space gives smart young developers a platform to work, incubate new ideas and learn how to make startups work with investment. Japheth Kawanguzi, founded the startup nearly four years ago.

“What I do with the Innovation Village is to put in place a framework that can leverage the dividend out of this young population and bring out that creativity to commercialize it.”

It’s early afternoon at innovation village, and techies are tapping away on laptops, and smartphones — creating new technologies and applications that are driving the country’s economic growth and turning Uganda into a tech hub.

“People come up with great ideas and they die off because the support framework is not existing of how we can take this excellent idea and bring it to fruition. So it’s amazing how many young people are out there doing great stuff with ideas they are coming up with.”

“Probably you realize that after school, you don’t have a job, and I have to start living life, and the question is what options do you have, the difficult circumstances, put you in a situation where it is survival of the fittest. And since you can’t find a job you must come up with an alternative of how you survive. So direct option, in this case, has been entrepreneurship, has been innovation and seeing many of them who have been rewarded I think also motivates others to come up with their ideas.”

Innovation centers in Uganda like innovation village are helping to nurture technopreneurs to launch their startups and access markets. Japheth Kawanguzi says helping emerging entrepreneurs is something he does because he believes it will spur development.

“Innovation Village is a destination of ideas our vision is to bring ideas to life, and we do this by investing skill and attracting capital for viable ventures. We are setting out on an extended mission to build 100 youth enterprises in the next decade.”

Tech analysts say some possible IPO-startups are growing in Africa.  They’re hoping you will see African-based tech companies with revenues large enough to support a public launch on a local exchange or even trade on NASDAQ.  Meanwhile, the IT industry has been on a significant upswing in the past few years, driven primarily by advances in mobile phone technology. And Ugandan officials are keen to capitalize on that technology too.

 

UGANDAN CHESS CHAMPION’S STORY BROUGHT TO LIFE IN A WALT DISNEY MOVIE “QUEEN OF KATWE”


 

By: Paul Ndiho

Phiona Mutesi is a Ugandan girl, who until recently was relatively unknown at home, and is now making international headlines. Her story is the subject of a new Disney movie dubbed ‘Queen of Katwe,’ a biopic chronicling her rise to Chess Master despite a lack of formal education.

The new uplifting drama “Queen of Katwe” starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo had its world premiere last weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film follows Phiona Mutesi who is living in poverty with her siblings and mother – played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o) in the Katwe slum until she stumbles across a chess class run by charity worker, Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo.

“It’s a life-affirming African story and as someone of African descent, we don’t see enough of that I believe in cinema, in the press as well, so I’m very proud to see a story like this made by Disney as well.”

Despite hardships, Phiona Mutesi’s ability to play chess is amazing– and her journey to international stardom is incredible. Her big break came when Sports Illustrated writer Tim Crothers wrote a book titled “The Queen of Katwe” describing Phiona’s life. Lupita Nyong’o shared the unique experience of playing the chess champion’s mother.

“I learned a lot about motherhood. I’m not a mother, and yet I had to play a mother, and I learned what it takes…. a bit about what it takes to provide for your family and to be concerned about so many people’s wellbeing. It’s almost like your heart is dislocated and running around and just feeling the fear, inhabiting the fear of a mother letting her chicks out every day to survive.”

Award-winning director Mira Nair explains her decision to take the project on:

“When I heard the story of Phiona and met her, it’s pretty inspiring. I thought of used it to use the locations I loved, the music, and seeing the country from within, feeling the dignity and the complete joy even during the best of struggles and it was to make a story without sentiment but with truth and truth is very funny and stylish and sassy in Katwe,”

In addition to all the accolades, Phiona has traveled the world and met her hero; chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov. Inspired by her example, Ugandan children are taking up chess like never before.

Paul Ndiho was one of the first international journalists to bring Phiona Mutesi’s story to light nearly four years ago.