South Africa


Infographic: How mobile money is faring in Africa | 

The story of mobile money in Africa is as much a one of success as it is one of failure. The rapid rise of M-PESA in Kenya and other competing ways to send money from cell phone to cell phone has been heralded for years. Today, nearly 70% of Kenyans who own a cell phone regularly send or receive money on their phones.

The growth has been staggering considering that M-PESA turned 7 years old this month. Estimates show that one-quarter of Kenya’s gross national product travels through mobile phones. As a result, it has helped to make it easier for people to send money home, pay for goods and services, and gain instant access to a savings account.

Due to the success in Kenya, the belief has been that mobile money can work elsewhere. Advocates are buoyed by the fact that the continent managed to leap past land-line phones for mobile technology. It means more people are connected by phones and as higher speed coverage expands, by the internet.

That is why USAID, the Gates Foundation and other funders have been making the bet to support the growth of mobile money elsewhere in the world. So, how are things faring in Africa?


It’s still early, but the results are not so great. As seen in the infographic of use across the continent, there is a steep decline from leading Kenya to Uganda to South Africa. There is reason for hope that mobile money will catch on elsewhere in the world, but it is evident that copying the success of Kenya is not enough. The trend also seems to be making its way north. T-Mobile is now letting its customers deposit checks in a mobile money account, which they can then access at ATMs.

“Some of the factors behind Kenya’s lead cannot be copied; but many of them can, which means it should eventually be possible for other countries to follow Kenya’s pioneering example,” said The Economist blog last year.

Five neglected stories that might be a bigger deal than Ukraine | 

A quick look at the top ten stories on Google News this morning maintains the stand-off in Ukraine high on the list, of course, along with the missing Malaysian airplane and, well something about Justin Bieber, Tiger Woods and Oscar Pistorius’ trial for murder. It’s good to see that at least a third of the top stories (according to Google anyway) are not about celebrities or sports.

But what’s not so good to see is that some fairly significant stories have been shoved off the media’s radar screen. Sure, it’s important to pay attention to what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine. But the idea that the conflict there is more important than conflicts in other parts of the world is highly debatable.

We are not entering a new Cold War, and the likelihood of Western intervention in Ukraine is nil. Such talk neglects the reality of today’s geopolitics. American politicians’ moral outrage at Russia seems odd outside of the U.S. given our own government’s extensive history of invading even distant sovereign countries (Iraq, Grenada, Vietnam, much of Latin America….) based on ‘national interests.’ At least Ukraine used to be part of Russia.

Here are five stories Humanosphere thinks are maybe as important as the Ukraine story:

South Africa’s government accuses Rwandan government of sending a hit squad

Syrian government is now starving its citizens to death

Honduras is still the ‘murder capital of the world’

Genocide brewing in Central African Republic

US is supporting Uganda’s military incursion in South Sudan

Slum it for a night in a South African Shanty town! | 

shantytown4big_1258You might have heard of glamour camping (aka glamping), but the latest fad for rich people to tour poverty is the Shanty town. That’s right. Move over slum tourism, where you only temporary look at poor people. Now you can live like one!

If you are looking for a spa and team building experience while sleeping in a corrugated metal home, then go to the Emoya Estate in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Visitors can shun the traditional over-the-top luxurious stay so they can use ‘long-drop effect toilets’ and ‘electricity.’ There are showers and wifi too!

Zachary Levenson blogged about it for Africa is a Country on Monday. He points out that the cost for slumming it for a night is nearly the same as the median monthly income of a South African domestic worker. While visitors get to play poor for a night, the living conditions are not quaint for the people that live in them day in and day out. Levenson notes that the inhabitants of such ‘shantys’ are not doing it because it is fun.

Most offensive of course is the naturalization of informal settlements as some sort of indigenous habitat. No one wants to live in a shack, not a single damn person. This is a housing type and spatial form that emerges from necessity, precisely because there’s a worsening housing crisis in South African cities – not because this is how some select ethno-cultural group chooses to live.

The Tuesday episode of the Colbert Report rightly mocked the whole thing. Watch below:

The Colbert Report
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Some pictures from the website: Continue reading

Seeing chicken as a bank rather than food | 

DSC_0121Visitors to the farm of Francis Ondier, 52, must wash their hands and shoes before coming onto the property.

“I don’t want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he says.

Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.

Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money.

“Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks. Continue reading

Drunk Continent: How much do Africans really drink? | 

Erik Hersman

Africa, it turns out, is the new frontier for the booze industry. Developing countries plus the right demographics make for the right market opportunity. The major beverage companies know it and they are making a move.

The thing is, reported Jessica Hatcher for TIME this month, that Africa has a drinking problem. Health systems are unable to cope with the increasing number of people affected by alcohol.

Chronic corruption means every new control measure is an opportunity for police to solicit bribes. While average per capita consumption figures (excluding South Africa) are very low, Africa has the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the world: 25% of those who drink drink too much, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Beverage companies dismiss that figure as poorly sourced, and certainly the problem is underresearched.

A closer look at the data reveals a more complicated story. Yes, the Africans that do drink have a high rate of alcohol abuse, but the overall drinking levels are right about on par with the rest of the world. That appears to be due to the fact that many Africans, particularly Muslims, do not drink at all. Continue reading

BRICS rapid growth slowing down, may have been unique | 

The main feature of the new issue of The Economist is on the emerging economies. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the group better known as the BRICS. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis the economies of the BRICS managed to roar onward and upward. Analysts thought this was a crucial moment for the countries and a sign that the Western standard bearers had some company that would change the global economic landscape.

Five years later the BRICS are not looking so great. All are growing, but things are leveling off for most. Economics correspondent Ryan Avent says (see video) that the booming growth may have been a unique set of circumstances as opposed to a new trend. He says that China took advantage of existing global trade to achieve massive growth. That was held back by high poverty levels and poor policies. Changes helped propel China forward in a way that benefited many other countries around the world.

Now that China has caught up so much to the world’s leading economies there is less room to continue growth at a rapid pace. That has impacts on fellow BRICS and other emerging economies. Most of all, what China did is not necessarily something that other nations can replicate. So that leaves us with wondering what will come next.

Emerging markets turn into a pumpkin for investors | 


When the global economy took a massive hit in late 2008 it was the emerging markets, countries like India, China and Brazil, that picked up the slack for the older Western powers. These countries managed to maintain strong growth and attack plenty of attention from investment and development experts.

Nearly five years later the same countries are showing continued growth while the United States, UK, France and more trudge along. One would suspect that investors would look to the strong growth of emerging markets for financial gains.

Turns out the opposite is happening. As the US begins to get back in order money is rushing out of emerging markets, reports the Wall Street Journal.

“It feels like the party is ending,” said Howard Wong, managing director at Doric Capital Corp. in Hong Kong.

Facing the loss of foreign capital, central banks in these emerging markets have attempted to prop up their home currencies. Continue reading