“Let me clarify this, policy does not drive innovation. People drive innovation.” Strong opening words from Imad Mesdoua at the Africa Technology Business Forum’s Policy Panel in June. To most, innovation and entrepreneurship seems like a quintessential personal activity. An individual or a small group has an idea, spots a niche in the market and decides to set up a business. What does any of this have to do with Government?

Of course this has a lot to do with Government. Moderator Gosbert Chagula referred to Government as ‘the ever-present illusive force causing mischief in the background.’ Not only does Government set regulations and policy that can stifle or spur innovation, is responsible for putting in place basic infrastructure, it can also provide direct access to finance. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Programme (GEM) has found that almost one third of social enterprises rely directly on Government funding: “Governments are not equipped to solve all of the world’s problems — nor should they be — and are looking for innovative solutions from the private sector. Social entrepreneurs will play a vital role.”

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“Girls with dreams become women with vision.”

IMG_2548This was written on one of my birthday cards last year. I have a lot of dreams, from running my own company, getting a phd and finally writing a book about start-ups. Living in London, I am surrounded by ambitious women with equally bold dreams. However, the devil is in the detail and turning dreams into a vision whilst juggling all the competing demands of work, friends, family and life in general can be tough. Alex Hess, a partner at a private equity firm, philanthropist and mother said at a recent Eyedea event: “The desire to always want do more when there is never enough time is a trap that catches us all.”

What if we could just do more things a little bit better and a little bit faster? New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg, has attempted to solve this conundrum for us and compiled his lessons into eight neat chapters in his recent book: smarter, faster better. The Secrets of Being Productive. As can be expected from a Pulitzer price winning author, the book is a pleasure to read and provides inspiring tales of Jack Welsh’s turn around of General Electric to how Disney’s Frozen became a hit (and almost didn’t get made), alongside a set of practical recommendations from agile thinking to forecasting the future. I have road tested his tips this year and below is a summary of my personal highlights on how to do more things better.

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The first thing I noticed was the audience. There was something special about this particular crowd. A majority of women of all ages, colours and shapes – interspersed with some men. Apart from looks the audience was rapturous, you could feel the energy and the excitement reverberating in every single heart that night in London’s Southbank. It was all for her. She, who is a reluctant feminist. She, who says she is still unsure of what it means to be an icon. Nonetheless, she embraces it with all her smart vigour. She, that is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Shero of a generation of women who are looking for a voice and for the right words to articulate what we all feel and are rarely able to say. Not the way she does anyways.

It’s a Saturday night and Chimamanda is greeted like a rockstar when she enters the main auditorium to speak about what it means to be a woman today as part of the Women’s of the World Series.

She started off her talk with a profound statement from her new book, Dear Ijeawele. Dear Ijeawele, is a small booklet with 15 suggestions on how to raise a strong independent woman. The statement is quite simple, really, it says: I matter equally. Not ‘if only’, not ‘as long as’. I matter equally. Full stop.

This sets the scene and Chimamanda then explains how she became a feminist. She talks about how she was at carnival and had to go inside when the beautiful masks came out whereas her brothers were allowed to stay outside. She questioned the distribution of domestic chores, where she had to do the dishes – hating it – whilst her brother who actually enjoyed doing the dishes didn’t have to do it. She was told too that she must learn how to cook, whereas this was optional for her brothers. She said she asked a lot of questions and was never satisfied with the answers. Why aren’t roles assigned based on interest but based on gender? She talked about how girls and women from the early ages are taught to talk themselves down, make themselves less intelligent and how those constant sacrifices we make are in a perverse way rewarded by society. Like us being small is somehow beneficial for humankind.

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In 2015 Senegal’s central government blocked Dakar’s first municipal bond launch a pioneering transaction supported by the World Bank. This post first appeared on Medium

Transport for Dakar.

Nestled on the shores of the Atlantic, Senegal’s capital Dakar has been changing radically in the past decade with some large investments in roads and infrastructure. Yet, poverty and poor service delivery remain endemic especially in the ‘other Dakar’, informal settlements where 40 per cent of city dwellers live. As in many African cities, chronic shortage of jobs and affordable housing, poor transport services, flooding, erratic waste management and frequent power cuts hamper economic development. Running on a ticket for improving the city for all citizens, Khalifa Sall, member of the opposition party Parti Socialiste, was elected Mayor of Dakar, unseating an ally of Senegal’s long-time president Abdoulaye Wade.[1]

To realise his ambitious plans, the reformer Sall needed capital and technical support. He enlisted help from the donor community to strengthen the cities administrative capacity and fiscal management and attract financing to improve Dakar’s infrastructure. As a first step, the World Bank led Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF)’s Sub-national Technical Assistance Program (SNTA) reviewed the municipality’s financial management systems and potential for accessing loans and other external finance: the first African sub-national entity to be assessed under this programme. While the review highlighted deficiencies in Dakar’s financial management, SNTA proposed a number of reform to improve its financial management systems and increase revenue collection. These reforms produced rapid benefits in enabling Dakar to borrow on commercial terms to finance investments to develop municipal markets and road rehabilitation.

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IMG_4855From dusty Dodoma to cool Arusha and in Dar es Salaam’s sticky bars, guessing the presidents agenda is a new favourite past time for Tanzanians and visitors alike. 

John Magufuli’s recent moves to restrict work permits for foreigners, not only worries the expat crowd, but effects will be far reaching. An American business owner had to put the business she built over five years by herself in her husbands name and can only run it from her living room as spousal visas don’t allow for work permits. The American Chamber of Business is holding special info evenings to explain the planned regime to their members and struggle to mitigate the negative message the move sends to potential investors.

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Stone Crusher Stone crushers rattle for 12 hours. 6 days per week. A man is standing by its side feeding the machine shovel after shovel with gravel. A shawl covers his face against the stony dust.

Gold that will later decorate the necks of Indian brides, be displayed in a Turkish souk or stored in the vaults of central banks first has to be scrapped from the belly of the Earth, often in devastating conditions around the world.

Given the volatility of gold prices and the general depression of metal prices many large mining companies lack the spirit and financial muscle to engage in new gold ventures. Countries around the world feel the pinch and increasingly turn to their home grown artisanal mining sector to make up for the shortfall.  This could be a welcome shift from many countries obsession with mega projects back to their own mining force.

Oftentimes large mines operate as enclave industries with very weak links to the rest of the economy, although their environmental and social impact on the surrounding communities can be dramatic. Read More

Dhow in Dar es Salaam harbour

Dhow in Dar es Salaam harbour

Bowing to mounting political pressures it appears that Tanzania has halted its constitutional review process until after the General Elections in 2015.

President Kikwete and others have recognised that the time to accomplish the momentous task before he leaves office won’t be sufficient.

John Cheyo, chairman of the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD), announced the suspension after a meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete at Kilimani State Lodge on Monday afternoon, Mr Cheyo said those present agreed unanimously that the exercise be called off on the grounds that it was unlikely to deliver on the promise.

A suspension of the process and the meetings of the Constiutional Assembly would save taxpayers money given the fact that a new constitution can only be passed after October 2015. Thus far the assembly has not recognised this logic and proceeds with business as usual.

Starting in 2012 the review process gathered a broad range of views including those of the youth, civil society and for once even pastoralists, Masaai, Barbaig and others came together to present their views on democracy and the future of Tanzania.

Woman in Paje, Zanzibar

Woman in Paje, Zanzibar

Inefficiency, arguments and delays have characterised the process ever since. After all the new constitution was suppose to be announced at Tanzania’s 50th anniversary in April. The failure to deliver on his promise to give the country a new – modern – constitution will be a further blow to the outgoing President’s legacy.

Only time can tell whether the incumbent will steam ahead with the endeavour and pick up where Kikwete left off or whether Tanzania – once again – leaves the job half done.

“You my friend and all your kind are lazy,” he said. “When you rest your head on the pillow you don’t dream big. You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”

“That’s not a nice thing to say,” I protested.

He was implacable. “Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the African intellectuals? Are the African engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”

I held my breath..

This is quoted from an article by Field Ruwe, a US-based Zambian author narrating  a conversation he had with a white American on a flight to Boston. The article is titled

You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum! If you consider yourself smart, please read this

Thought provoking yes, but unfair for various reasons.

If you live in Africa you might agree to a certain extent. Potholed streets, power cuts, corruption, no health care and too many newborns dying is still the daily grind in most countries. So is the author right, has the African intelligentsia failed to innovate and come up with some sustainable solutions for their dilemmas. But can we blame the young and educated Afropolitans for Africa’s misery?

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“You have to be really well tempered to put up with the things that happen here. It’s not good men but supermen that are needed.”

“In reality, the thought of remaining in the Congo continued to haunt me long into the night, and perhaps I did not so much take the decision as become one fugitive more.”

Che Guevarra to Fidel Castro in 1965.

Streets of Kinshasa
Streets of Kinshasa

 2013 did not end well for Congo Kinshasa. A group of armed youth attacked the airport. They were quickly overpowered by the Congolese army, but the incident left a bitter taste in the country that otherwise had a relatively good year.

On November 5th Congo defeated the M23 rebel group, one of the main rebel groups in the East that murdered its way across the Kivus, drove 800,000 people from their homes and continued to destabilize the region. During my last visit in Congo the mood was upbeat.  

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After years of delays, Guinea’s first legislative elections since the 2008 coup have gone relatively smoothly. But the hardest task is yet to come. This Saturday, an estimated five million Guineans cast their ballots to choose a new parliament in the nation’s first legislative elections since a 2008 coup. There were reports of missing voting cards, shortages of indelible ink, and polling stations opening late. Many waited for hours to vote, but amidst high security, proceedings remained calm. The independent national electoral commission (CENI by its French acronym) congratulated Guineans for the peaceful conduct of the process, while the Economic Community of West African States observer mission said they believed the elections “were held in acceptable conditions of freedom and transparency”. Read More

The difficulties for SMEs in Africa and the rest of the world in accessing finance have been well documented. The causes are equally well known: First, traditional bank financing (secured or cash-flow based) is often not available due to the lack of adequate collateral or the opaque modus operandi of many SMEs as well as access barriers due to the often rural base of SMEs. Furthermore, African financial markets are not sufficiently well developed to facilitate traditional private equity (PE) financing of SMEs. If those constraints can be overcome, Private Equity can offer a much needed stimulus to SME finance. Private Equity targets established high-end small to medium sized companies and are believed to offer trickle down effects to a much larger sector of the economy and create employment.


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A long commute to work and a surgery that temporarily bound me to the couch have had the positive effect that I read several eye and mind-opening books in the past weeks. Three lessons stood out:

  • We live in the most peaceful of times
  • All is not lost in international peacebuilding and
  • Trust your guts when making a decision.

1. We live in the most peaceful times ever

Steven Pinker: The better angels of our nature. A history of violence and humanity.

Pinker - Better Angels of our Nature Image: www.BookDepository.co.uk

Pinker – Better Angels of our Nature Image: http://www.BookDepository.co.uk

In 1000 odd pages Steven Pinker has managed to answer every single question I ever had about violence and war. Would the world be more peaceful if it is ruled by women? Is the War on Terror justified? Were the dark ages really that dark?

First, Pinker  sets out to convince the reader of his main point: Violence is and has been in steady decline. The rest of the book is dedicated to identify, proof and refute several explanations for why that is. Homo universalis Pinker delves deep into history, politics, sociology, psychology and biology to seek explanations. We learn that through the Flynn-effect humankind becomes gradually more intelligent. The literary revolution and globalisation has brought us closer together and made us more empathetic and thus less inclined to hurt each other.

And more Americans condone violence to reach political goals than Pakistanis. His source base is a joy for every researcher: surveys, quantitative data sets, literature from Kant to Nabokov, secondary studies, archival documents and art.

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“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” . This was famously said by Theodore Roosevelt to his men on the verge of the American-Spanish civil war. More than a century later this statement also rings true for many who live in fragile and conflict affected states. Fragile states furthermore face an international community often gridlocked and clueless how to best intervene and assist in the transition to peace.

Therefore, the High-level forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan, South Korea, in December 2011 gave birth to the “New Deal for Engagement with Fragile States”(New Deal).  Driven by the G7+, a group of fragile states, the New Deal uses five peace-building and state-building goals, revenues and services, legitimate politics, security, justice and economic foundations as a guide for progress.


“It’s no easy task to re-build after a descent into conflict. Fragile and conflict affected states – stretching from Africa to the Pacific – pose daunting development challenges,” said President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim last month in an op-ed.

Last Friday ministers from fragile and conflict affected states, OECD countries and leaders of international institutions have united at the International Dialogue on State-building and Peace-building’s Third Global meeting to pledge support for the implementation of the ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’ and for its integration in the post-2015 development agenda.

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Ten years after Black Hawk Down and chaos, the world is once again set on ‘rescuing’ Somalia. 50 states supported last week’s Somalia conference in London. William Hague re-opened a British embassy. The U.S. has pumped more than $1.5 billion worth of assistance into the country since 2009, including the $40 million pledged on Tuesday. UNDP staff are waiting to follow its new country director on his way to Mogadishu and everyone hopes that aid will produce stability which will encourage security, as the country is still considered an international battleground in the fight against al-Qaeda.

The UNDP has captured these efforts in a beautiful promotion video tellingly under the name, “A new Somalia”.

Apparently, no one wants the old Somalia back. The infighting, the piracy, the terrorism and the hopelessness. Instead of American soliders the emphasis is now on country-led and country-owned solutions. Not only has Somalia endorsed the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, but its government is touring the world this year to drum up investment and support for its slow path to recovery. However, Somalia needs to handle its natural blessings wisely and not sell out to prying international investors. (Read more by Katrina Manson on oil in the FT). 

The cracks are visible. Somalia will need to deal with its violent and chaotic past to be able to advance. Whether this comes in the form of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission such as in Sierra Leone or in the re-making of the old colonial borders such as in Sudan. Radical and brave solutions must prevail to avoid the fate of the Congo, where an oblivious international community, weak politicians and a docile population have surrendered to the iron first of civil war. I dare speak hopefully and say, there is enough wisdom and potential to create another success story. But it needs to be led from within.

Therefore I will keep quiet and hand over to Mohamud Uluso, a Somalian journalist outspoken in his support for the current government and a united Somalia.

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Third High Level Meeting for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding 19 April 2013.  www.newdeal4peace.org

Third High Level Meeting for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding 19 April 2013.


Last year two distinctly divergent views emerged when Somalia established a permanent government ending 12 years of a chaotic transition period. Journalist Mohamud Uluso warned that “the future forebodes more pessimism and treachery than optimism and trustworthiness”, and yet, at the same time UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon heralded the new-found unity and pledged his support to a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Somalia, stating: “we committed to a new Somali-owned and led partnership, which will work towards a compact between the Somali authorities and the international community inspired by the principles outlined in the New Deal, agreed in Busan in November 2011.” Differing interpretations on the New Deal’s effect on Somalia were central to informing these conflicting opinions.

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We cannot choose who we love. True. Yet, we choose trust, stability, warmth, mutuality and respect. Not many would choose war. Or would we?

Last week I attended a discussion at The Frontline Club, a London club set up to honor those who died on the front in pursuit of journalism. It was a  discussion between Jake Wood and Charles Glass. Jake spoke about the battle he faced upon his return from Afganistan and Iraq when diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Charles Glass, whose latest book Deserter explores the widely untold stories of the British and American deserters in the Second World War.

Jake’s story, his personality, his shaking hands, the way he crumbled his speaking notes in his hands and the way he spoke openly about his condition captured the audience and me.

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Gender Equality? Reverse Reality. A mural at Davos 2013 by the Itinerant Museum of Art.

Gender Equality? Reverse Reality. A mural at Davos 2013 by the Itinerant Museum of Art.

A Warhol-style mural appeared in Davos just before the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January. There are four men among 18 women the reverse ratio of the real representation of Davos with only 17% of female delegates. Many of the companies subject to the quota simply send exactly four men, thus avoiding the need for a woman delegate, accused The Guardian. Only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions are filled by women. In politics the situation is a little better. The global proportion of female political representative is about 18.4% claims a 2007 Dfid report. But are quotas and women conferences really bringing the change we need?

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“My lord,

We all stand before history. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone.” 

This is an excerpt of Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa’s last statement before a Nigerian military-appointed tribunal executed him in November 1995 as one of the nine leaders of the struggle of the Ogoni people. It seems that not much has changed in the past twenty years.

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