Category Archives: Fair Trade

Watch smaller smart cities as they emerge in Africa

this survey by Andy Kozlov was first published on Smart City Africa site

“Creating decentralized strategies”

Some 75 % of global population live in urban settlements of fewer than 500,000 people. The figure will only get higher with time. Smaller cities, especially across Africa, are projected to double/triple in population over the next 15-25 years. Secondary cities vary considerably in size. In China, some have populations of over five million, while in Ethiopia they have fewer than 200,000.

“Job Opportunities”

Creating decentralized strategies to provide basic services to smaller “intermediate” cities and towns can facilitate the transition between rural and non-rural activities and take pressure off Africa’s megacities.


“Taking pressure off Africa’s megacities”

“This is where most investment and urban planning need to take place: equipping [Intermediate cities] with proper infrastructure, helping deliver basic services and enabling them for the generation of job opportunities,” argues Edgar Pieterse of the African Centre for Cities.
In West Africa, Ghana works to relieve pressure on Accra and Kumasi by building the capacity of local government, training planners and local councillors in smaller cities. On the other side of the continent, in Uganda, a partnership between Belgium-based Cities Alliance and the British Department for International Development focuses on 14 secondary cities, to boost the long-term planning capacities of local governments and assit slum dwellers.

“Rolling out broadband”

“In most African cities, planning is done short term, in five-year or maybe ten-year plans. It’s important for these cities to increase their planning horizons to 30 years,” explains Samuel Mabala of Cities Alliance.

Connect smaller cities to the world outside the national borders

Smart city analysts from across the Atlantic argue that broadband has become the great economic leveler of our time. Any small place that is home to an industrial or post-industrial economy, that is “robustly connected” can be a global competitor.

“Cities where  we live for the sake of the place”

If small cities in the middle of nowhere become hotbeds of company formation in the United States, can’t their African peers follow, follow fast? How significant is the number of places in Africa where people want to live for the sake of the place, not just a paycheck?

Create positive change by tapping into the land market

One thing is certain: land in Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat, can be cheaper for its population of 188,619 than in Nairobi, Kenya, home to some 3 million people. And all these African cities mentioned above have one enormous advantage over tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or New York.  Land is cheap.
Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat
Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat
As James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, puts it “‘Every calculation – the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward – is different when a nice family house costs a few hundred thousand dollars rather than a few million.” Again, in smaller African cities that family house can cost you well south of USD100,000.

“Cheaper rental prices, and a higher growth potential”

Take Koforidua, Eastern Region in south Ghana (some 130,000 people). An almost completed two-bedroom house with double garage and a large plot surrounding it trades in Koforidua for GH₵ 249,600 (Fixed USD price: $ 64,000).


By investing in smaller cities, real estate developers and industry professionals benefit from lower operating costs, greater space and scenery for construction, lower costs for resources and building materials. While bigger economic capitals have the advantage over smaller, lesser known cities — due to greater recognition around the world — cheaper rental prices, less competition, and a higher growth potential is enabling smaller emerging cities in Africa to rise to the challenge.

Coupled with reliable broadband and state-of-the-art medical services, smaller African cities — oftentimes a step away from breathtaking natural beauty — are to become your idea of a city of the 21st century.
University of Kikwit in DRC. Intermediary city of Kikwit  is home to some 400,000 people in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Source:
University of Kikwit in DRC. Intermediary city of Kikwit is home to some 400,000 people in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Source:

Get smart about attracting investors

The picture is not without pitfalls of course. Laura Mann, International Development department at London School of Economics (LSE), observes that on the national level African policy-makers should think much more strategically about how African nations can capture value within their economies through the proliferation of information technologies and the deepening of the digital economy.

“National policies that fund local R&D and training programmes”

Recent reports by institutions like UNECA, UNCTAD and UNIDO suggest that African governments need to be extremely strategic in their dealings with foreign companies; to make sure those investments and activities contribute to raising the skill level in African countries, providing outsourcing and procurement opportunities for local businesses and paying taxes that can fund local R&D and training programmes.

But it is a two-way road. National government in Kenya tried to promote Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) by subsidising the cost of bandwidth to all BPO companies that wanted to try to engage in the sector. Some unskilled local companies received that support, and harmed the overall reputation of Kenyan firms in the eyes of international clients.

“Making African economies more predictable”

As more African governments shift to e-governance and more city dwellers use mobiles, internet connections and smartcards, massive amounts of transactional data is generated. This makes African economies more predictable, smaller cities in Africa more visible to foreign investors. Back to LSE wisdom on smart cities in Africa:


Behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future.

Smaller African cities will have to be smart about opening markets and opportunities, a policy that should primarily contribute to development of their own communities — rather than large corporations or the local elites.

La Cite du Fleuve, in DR Congo is creating a series of overlapping sources of tension in Kinshasa including struggles around land ownership and issues of dispossession that begin to lay bare the rhetoric of smart urban developments across Africa.

There are two core problems with housing urban populations in smaller cities as they grow: land is not made available for new settlements and people aren’t able to afford the type of houses that are built.

Empower your city residents

Beyond the narrative that tends to put smart city Africa into the realm of technology, smaller African cities should guard against becoming exclusive enclaves or archipelagos of high technology. Smart African communities should prioritize people and avoid withdrawing from the wider city.

“Getting beyong exclusive enclaves and archipelagos of high technology”

Function and role – as opposed to population size – are now defining an intermediary city’s status within the global network of cities. In this context, talent attraction and retention become factors that differentiate Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia from Kikwit  (home to some 400,000 people)  in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia
Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia
Research and technology development are particularly important assets that help to differentiate city economies from each other, resulting in an emphasis on industrial specialization and the role of universities.


Smart specialization strategies promoted by the European Union are designed to encourage each region to identify transformation priorities that reflect and amplify existing local structures and competencies, and thus produce original and unique competitive advantages.


African Energy Mega Projects: financing options and study timeframes (1.1)

The “fastest sustained growth rates” in any power sector’s history came from industrialising Vietnam and China. 14 % a year.

“People liked what they saw because of the speed at which it was built,” says Moses Ikaria, the managing director of the Kenya Investment Authority, referring to the eight-lane highway put by the Chinese between Nairobi Kenyan industrial town of Thika. The 45 km asphalt job took less than four years to complete. “The perception here was that roads took a long time to build”

As the Financial Times observes,  in a speech at the official reception for the Japanese emperor’s birthday, Tatsushi Terada, ambassador to Kenya, said: “A Japanese project might cost more but the life cycle cost in the end is much better because it requires less maintenance.” Whereas Japanese investment is usually regarded as reliable and of excellent quality, China quickly catches up on quality and is known for its speed.

In 2015 government officials from 17 Francophone Africa countries pledged to monitor, evaluate and publicly report their public financial management progress on an annual basis. Starting from 2018.

Morocco flips the switch on the world's largest solar facility. When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. Source:
Morocco flips the switch on the world’s largest solar facility. When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. Source:

It’s a welcome action in line with the IMF urging full accrual-based recording of transactions to capture other economic flows in fiscal reports. “The international community must be ready to assist. This next decade will be pivotal,” stresses Alta Prinsloo, executive director, strategy, and chief operating officer at the International Federation of Accountants. “Enhanced public financial management, including increased transparency and accountability, is a first but fundamental step towards ensuring sustainable economic growth, better public services.”

Electrification rates are as low as 9 – 20% in many Sub-Saharan African countries. “Failure by governments to allow cost-reflective tariffs is the single most important reason for the lack of power development in sub-Saharan Africa,” argues David Humphrey, head of infrastructure and power at Standard Bank.

While utility-scale projects such as Morocco’s 510 MW solar project and Kenya’s 300 MW wind project have secured key financing to begin construction — the first 160 MW phase of Morocco’s project will begin operating later this year — nearly all of the capital was from public sector sources such as the World Bank and African Development Bank.


Côte d’Ivoire was one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to privatise its electricity sector and, today, independent producers play a significant role in the country’s electricity generation. The country is now willing to prioritise hydroelectric projects, in order to balance the energetic mix. Yet, as demand grows, the private sector still offers substantial potential for independent operators.

Foreign investment has been a feature of the Ivorian electricity market for a quarter of a century, starting with the privatisation that created the Compagnie Ivoirienne d’Electricité (CIE), the power supplier and distributor at the heart of the sector. Eranove, the company that now owns a majority stake in CIE, also owns Ciprel, one of the country’s independent power producers (IPPs). “One of the advantages here is the tradition of private investment in the electricity sector,” says Amadou Ba, managing director of Endeavor Energy, which plans to build a 375 MW power plant. “Even in the middle of the [2002-10 political] crisis the power continued to flow.”

Luc Ayé, managing director at Azito Energie, another IPP, says in a FT interview that a key to success is a defined set of rules for how CIE has to pay the independent power generators. This “waterfall” structure gives IPPs a relatively high place in the payments queue. “That allows transparency in the sector and all the operators know that we are going to get paid. It is the basis for everything that has made Côte d’Ivoire attractive for investment. It has never been called into question,” Mr Ayé says, adding: “There are very few countries that have such a clear organisation and structure.”

Endeavor Energy’s Amadou Ba says another advantage is that the country is “very good at structuring bankable power purchase agreements”. That makes it easier for IPPs to raise project finance.

Next part

Africa’s film markets and video content distribution trends (1/2)

by Andy Kozlov (@KozlovAndy)

It’s not a film unless it has a distribution plan.

How about a multi-decade distribution deal?

Distributors are in the game to profit from films that are easy to sell, not to nurture filmmakers. By this logic apparently, an independent film will languish on the shelf indefinitely if it is not marketable.

The same will be true for most of you aspiring TV producers.

Get into the habit of attending African content markets

So where do you look to make yourself marketable? Experience shows, attending content markets is a must. And every month you can be part of one or even a bunch of them, depending on the season.

As you do that, make sure you get to know your buyers’, co-producers’ needs, address their concerns in the bud. In a nutshell — be love-able.

Get both global and local in your narrative. Avoid contrived situations — they suck

Some TV format ideas can make you super famous  more than others. But the general trend is for your narrative to be both global and local at the same time. As Wangeci Murage, managing partner at Nairobi, Kenya-based Media Pros Africa, explains commenting on Russell Southwood’s Netflix in Africa – Three reasons why it will not conquer everything any time soon:

Netflix do acquire content but their main aim is to build their inventory through original productions. Their [January 2016] entry into the “world” market signals an upsurge in local content production, to which they will own full rights.

Content developers have also started shifting their mindset and have began producing content with global appeal and local relevance. This is true of the four African countries [mentioned by Mr Southwood in descending order they are Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya;] so they will find a market.

Russell Southwood is the CEO of Balancing Act, a consultancy and research company focused on telecoms, internet and broadcast in Africa. He is one of those people you can often run into at media markets across Africa.

Speaking of South African film industry, veteran producer Jeremy Nathan estimated in May 2012: we are making 25 to 30 films a year now which is really very impressive. Ten years ago we were only making five or six films a year.

And as Balancing Act points out:

There are currently some 136 VoD platforms in Africa, both local, regional and international.

Outside Africa, Thema TV was the first provider of ethnic TV channels in Europe, particularly in France, with the successful launch of “The African Bouquet“, “The German Bouquet” and the “Indian Ocean Bouquet”.

In Africa, take M-Net, the Naspers-owned terrestrial pay TV channel. In 2008, M-Net’s AfricaMagic, one of the leading channels on the DStv bouquet,  launched Africa Magic Plus the growth of which further prompted a flowering of additional channels that catered for culture and language-specific African communities, inclusive of Yoruba, Hausa and Swahili speaking groups.

In 2013, in Africa there were some 535 local TV channels, each responsible for the transmission of up to 1,000 hours of fresh programs annually.

So on the one hand, the distribution channels are expanding. But so does competition from other African content producers. Mind you, even Ukraine in Eastern Europe now shoots Nollywood films. However that also means that Zimbabwean film distributors get to network with their Slav peers at the likes of Kiev Media Week.

As of 2013, African content production ranged from 3-4,000 hours per year. During the 1990s, this figure was lower than 100.

For African content producers concerned about growing competition, Media Pros Africa’s Wangeci Murage paints a picture as bright as it can probably get in the world of unkown unkowns:

This is an age-old phenomenon that is much welcome in our industry. The likes of DSTV’s Showmax and Buni TV would not be in existence if it wasn’t for forward thinkers such as IROKO TV. They saw a gap and went out to fill it. There may be a few holes in the service delivery but nonetheless, they serve a majority of African and International markets in search of Nollywood content.

€3,000 to 30,000 checks handed directly to directors and producers at the Marché International du Cinéma Africain in Ouagadougou undoubtedly makes a good news story.

But this is where those of you who prefer to think long-term should ask themselves:

Is it worth giving away the exclusivity rights on any broadcast on the African continent for a quarter of a century ?

Whatever your decision is, you also want to avoid becoming totally dependent on the international festival circuit for the distribution of your content.

In Tanzania they say 70% of the population do not have access to TV.  If you feel passionate about reaching out to the rural folks who are underserved by cinemas, have limited mobile internet access (2G?); if you feel like you are called to bridge the gap between indigenous people, rural and urban Africans, consider going it alone. Well..not totally alone:

The global list of your outdoor movie partners is growing like never before

FilmAid International  is committed to a participatory approach, teaching skills and involving local communities with the media making process.

Open Air Cinema with its world’s premiere outdoor cinema systems and inflatable movie screens

Short & Sweet with its largest inflatable screen in South Africa

Sunshine Cinema is a mobile cinema that converts solar power to social impact. Through various short films, facilitated workshops and “how to” videos they address social and environmental challenges through community facilitated engagement.

Cine Vagabundo (The Wandering Cinema), a Colombian non-profit that has recognized the fact that with only 5% of cities and townships that have cinemas, the Latin American nation is not an exception, that something needs to be done to link content producers with their digitally divided audiences on a global scale. And locally — glocally.

The author can be reached on

The Euro-Ukrainian way: business planning for construction product/technology to be purchased from China

We continue our series of conversations with globe-trotting Oleksandr PietushkovChief International Officer at Ukrainian Union of Building Materials’ Manufacturers, to regularly take the pulse of Ukraine after The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. This time we travel south-east to China.

How did you find out about the ES Build Expo in Shanghai in the first place? Why was the Ukrainian Union of Manufacturers of Building Materials and Products attracted to it? It is quite far from Ukraine.

Well, we monitor the exhibitions in China from time to time: the technology develops there very rapidly and the cost of these new technologies is often much lower compared to, say, Europe. Besides, green construction, energy-efficiency and sustainability — which this exhibition was about — have become not only trends but also the reality that bites. We have to re-think the way we use energy and resources in construction and production of building materials in Ukraine.

Oleksandr Pietushkov, Chief International Officer at Ukrainian Union of Building Materials’ Manufacturers, (2nd from right) with Ukrainian construction material manufacturers in Shanghai, July 2015
Oleksandr Pietushkov, Chief International Officer at Ukrainian Union of Building Materials’ Manufacturers, (2nd from right) with Ukrainian construction material manufacturers in Shanghai, July 2015
Is it a typical situation in your line of work as the Chief International Officer to visit concrete products manufacturers in China like Xuelong plant in Shijiazhuang, Hebei? Or is it a sign of growing interest among Ukrainian companies to partner with Chinese colleagues in the construction material sector? What are the benefits of such partnerships for both parties?

Yes, it’s quite common for us to assist Ukrainian companies with establishing economic ties with Chinese companies. We work on different levels: help with business communication and try to provide some essential business planning on the product or technology to be purchased from China. Mostly we do this when we are dealing with acquiring of new technology or production line because the amount of investments is quite high so you need to think and plan thoroughly. And this is the case when expert advice is welcome! And as for benefits, there used to be a time when you considered German or Italian equipment as the only one reliable, though quite costly.  Not anymore — the Chinese have achieved a lot in production culture — and big European players are aware of that now. And at the same time the price for the production line can be 2-3 times cheaper than the one you might get from Germany, for instance. We also need to consider that in construction sector, technology is pretty simple. No doubt Ukrainian manufacturers should take a closer look at what China has to offer.

Was it a challenge to arrange such a visit to Xuelong plant remotely from Ukraine? Apparently the Chinese side was quite forthcoming!

It wasn’t a tough task. Our Chinese partners helped to arrange some travel issues and the potential partners from Xuelong Enterprise were really forthcoming: we felt very welcomed there! Besides China has been transforming stunningly fast. My last visit to this region was several years ago and this time I was pleasantly surprised by how tourist-friendly big Chinese cities have become. Although language still remains a big issue…

How did you find the issue of language? Is it imperative for Ukrainians to travel to China with their own Mandarin speaker as part of the delegation?

From my own experience, I would strongly advise to travel with your trusted interpreter (or have one in China) who knows about your business area and can do some basic business analysis in China. It’s not even a question of trust rather a question of professionalism and mentality. Sometimes you need to ask a Chinese person one question three times in a row but formulate it each time differently to get an answer! So it goes without saying that some communication difficulties and operational misunderstanding occur. But once you get used to it you will work out a system to do business with the Chinese smoothly.

Concrete products manufacturing line in Shandong province, China
Concrete products manufacturing line in Shandong province, China
Tell us more about the line in Shandong province and your overall impressions from the business visit?

Visiting an operating factory was an obligatory condition that we expressed to our Chinese partners. We wanted to see the production line in action. So they showed us the factory in Shandong province.

Concrete products manufacturing line in Shandong province, China.
Concrete products manufacturing line in Shandong province, China. “It is a rather new one and doesn’t run to full capacity yet,” shares Oleksandr Pietushkov, Chief International Officer at Ukrainian Union of Building Materials’ Manufacturers.

It is a rather new one and doesn’t run to full capacity yet. It was less than we expected. That underlined that you need to prepare your visits to China in an even more detailed way: studying technology, pictures, exchanging drawings and layouts. Because it’s still a long way to reach there, you’d better be well prepared to spend your time there in the most effective way.

How soon do you plan to be back in China with more business partnerships growing between the Middle Kingdom and Ukraine?

Actually we visit China quite often (exhibitions, company visits etc.) and this time around we also invited our Chinese could-be partners to visit Ukraine to see the production themselves and to develop an on-site-based offer for the production line. There’s a lot of work ahead…