Burundi – Hope in the abyss

Unlike the borders of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the boundaries of Burundi were not drawn by European powers. Rather, they reflect a state that was developed by the Burundian monarchy. The country was originally populated by the Twa, a Pygmy hunter-gatherer population. But from the beginning of the Common Era, the vast majority of Burundi’s Hutu population appeared and sometime later in the 16th century the Tutsi entered the country and developed a monarchy which was founded, by Ntare Rushatsi. And ever since there has been political unrest between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority ethnic groups. Few real cultural differences are distinguishable between the two peoples, and both speak Rundi (Kirundi). Such linguistic homogeneity is rare in sub-Saharan Africa and emphasizes the historically close cultural and ethnic ties among the peoples in Burundi.

Geographically, Burundi is a country found in the Great Lakes region of Central and East Africa. It is a landlocked country that is small but densely populated. It is slightly smaller than the state of Hawaii, but with eight times the population with around 9.8 million people living in the country. To date, it is the 20th most densely populated country in the world, but sadly this has serious effects on the environment. With the country’s lands largely consisting of agricultural and pasture, overpopulation has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss with the three parks Kibira, Rusuzu, and Ruvubu National Parks filling the most detrimental effects from the growing population. Fundamentally Burundi is a developing country with poverty, weak infrastructure, corruption, poor access to education and healthcare, malnutrition, political instability, and unemployment that are the major problems facing Burundians. Most Burundians have no access to a mobile network while internet cafes are limited to towns and cities, in a country where 80% of the population lives in a rural setting. However, in January 2019, the Parliament of Burundi voted to move the capital city from Bujumbura to Gitega to promote urbanization and infrastructural development. So, in the current day if a Burundian sends you a WhatsApp it is due to internet access ability of 4.5% relative to 1.2% a decade ago. There is no wonder in the fact that in 2018, the World Happiness Report ranked the citizens of the country as the least happy in the world.

Burundi has one of the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low gross domestic product largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi’s natural resources. Some of Burundi’s main exports include coffee and sugar. Burundians love their cows, not only for the meat and milk but because cows are traditionally a show of wealth. Regardless of your economic status, if you have a cow, then you are a rich person in Burundi. The more cows you have, the better your social status.

On the Neil Economic scale, a can of coke costs 1,520 Burundian Franc (R 13,24) and the price of litre petrol is 2,300 Burundian Franc (R 20,03). The inflation rate for consumer prices in Burundi moved over the past 40 years between -2.8% and 36.5%. For 2019, an inflation rate of -0.7% was calculated. The inflation rate in Burundi was recorded at 7.70% in July of 2020.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the World, Burundi can boast with some champions on the world stage. Gustave The Gigantic Man-eating Crocodile Is from Burundi. Gustave reigns terror along the banks of the Ruzizi River and the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika where he is believed to have killed more than 300 people. He is believed to be the biggest crocodile in the world at over 18 feet and 2,000 pounds. Another being, 5000m runner Venuste Niyongabo who won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Ironically though, it has never won a regional title at the African Games.

“Ubumwe, Ibikorwa, Iterambere” means “Unity, Work, Progress” in Kirundi however, unity and progress have been elusive since independence in 1692. Burundi’s people are seeking hope in the abyss that will bring political change to the system that will protect their livelihood.

Benin – The diminutive opportunist

If you look geographically at Benin, it seems to be a country that has been squeezed in on the African continent on the last minute. Even more strange the country is known as the cradle of ‘voodoo’. The locals call it ‘Vodun’ which means ‘spirits’. And before you start imaging voodoo dolls and all the black magic stuff, I would like to stop you here. Coming back to the reality, Benin or officially the Republic of Benin and formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, by y the Bight of Benin to the south, by Nigeria to the east and by Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. In terms of area, Benin is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania and two-third the size of Portugal. The capital Porto Novo was developed as a port for the slave trade with the area nearby referred to as ‘Slave Coast’ from as early as the 17th century. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a large number of slaves were shipped to the New World. The last ship of slaves departed from Dahomey for Brazil in 1885. However, there is a lot to learn from this small country that still retains much of its authentic culture and tradition.

Benin is also one of the most politically stable countries in West Africa. However, compared to most other West African nations, Benin has enjoyed relative peace and stability with even its colours on the National flag representing courage, wealth and hope. The most characteristic sights of Benin are the petrol stations. The price of the original petrol is above the financial reach for the majority of people in this country. So, the people found new ways to sell petrol and one crazy but sufficient way was selling petrol in containers with even public transport like buses and taxis. If that was not unique enough for you to read, they refer to white people visiting the country as  “yovo”. Do not be surprised to find people and kids shouting this word behind you if you happen to visit the country. Most of the population is agrarian and lacks the basic requirements of modernity such as quality education, affordable quality healthcare with AIDS straining the health care system and modern economic means of livelihood. However, if you would like to see all these unusual events, you can visit the country by arriving at its only international airport which is located in Cotonou.

When it comes to the economy of Benin, it has grown consecutively for several years, but slowed down in 2017, as its closed trade links to Nigeria expose Benin to risks from volatile commodity prices. Benin’s economy is heavily reliant on the informal re-export and transit trade with Nigeria (estimated at approximately 20% of GDP), and on agriculture. Despite a recent downward trend, the poverty rate remains high, at 46.4% in 2018, with a poverty line of $1.90 a day in purchasing power parity. Like the eight countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Benin’s monetary policy is managed by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), which keeps the CFA franc pegged to the euro. In recent years, the government has tried to attract foreign investment by continuing its efforts to improve the business environment, ongoing civil unrest, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and infrastructure gaps have deterred most investors (Economic Freedom Index, 2020).

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost 487.50 CFA franc (R 14, 64) and the price of a litre of petrol is 505.50 CFA franc (R 15, 18). Though Nigeria inflation rate fluctuated substantially in recent years it tended to increase through 1999 – 2018 period ending at 12.1 % in 2018 with a 4.43% decline from 2017.

There are however a lot of positives to take out of a country like Benin. First, the country can build its future by taking greater advantage of its geographic proximity to Nigeria and its access to the ocean through the port of Cotonou. Secondly, it can create productive cities by starting to process its abundant agriculture resources. It can help enhance its infrastructure and human capital by addressing the issues of coastal erosion and tropical diseases. And lastly, the country can draw strength from the Marvel comic and 2018 film ‘The Black Panther’ that inspired the ‘Dora Milaje’ female warriors in the movie. The combination of these priorities allows us to visualize how Benin could transform itself in the future. If the government can improve the business environment and increase port efficiency, there is no reason that domestic, as well as Chinese or Indian investors, would not be attracted to Benin.

SIGNING OF AGREEMENT: IFG

STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT AND CEO OF INVESTMENT FUND AFRICA

The President and CEO, Mr Neil De Beer, of the Investment Fund Africa, today signed a historic agreement in an international merger of two organizations namely ACUSTER CAPITAL and IFA CAPITAL.

The Spanish based ACUSTER CAPITAL and Mauritian based IFA CAPITAL, are forming a new entity namely “IFG” or INVESTMENT FUND GLOBAL.

“ I am truly excited about this new partnership with ACUSTER and indeed to lead with its President, Mr Jaume Puig, this dynamic new team. We are creating innovative ideas on global funding, consulting services and implementation of infrastructure projects globally and no doubt will we give solutions to African and global challenges.”

-Neil De Beer, President IFA and Co-President IFG

“ We recognize that the world and business are changing and that post Covid19, we will have a need for new solutions to global questions. The world will need more infrastructure reform on all levels together with capital investments packaged in innovative solutions. I am excited about creating those solutions through our IFG group”

-Jaume Puig, President ACUSTER  and Co-President IFG

 

 

 

Togo – Time for change

Many decades ago, between the 16th and the 18th century Togo and its surrounding regions were known as “the slave coast” as Europeans would visit the region in search of slaves. Fast track through decades, Togo has been independent for about 60 years now since it gained independency on the April 27th, 1960. The Togolese Republic as it was formerly known as is a small West African country only 21,925 sq mi with an average density of 253 people per square mile. It extends south to the Bight of Benin and is bordered on the north by Burkina Faso, Benin to the east, and Ghana on the west. Contrasting the geography of the centre of the country, mostly hills, the north is mostly rolling savanna and the south is both savanna and woodland plateau. A more interesting fact is Togo is located very close to the equator and thus, experiences tropical hot and humid climate in the central regions and the south and dry, arid weather towards the north.

While many languages are spoken in Togo, mainly those of the Gbe family, French is its official language. People with indigenous beliefs make up the largest religious group, but Christians and Muslims also make up a significant minority. Greetings are elaborated in Togo with it being very important to say hello to everyone when coming and going. More so if you want to greet somebody in Togo, you should shake their hand a say a verbal “Hello” in French (Bonjour), Ewe (Woezo-lo!), Kabiye (Alafia-we) or another tribal language. When it comes to food, it is seen as rude to smell food that has been cooked for you for any reason. It is rude to ask what it is you are eating as well. Togo is much a starving country, and a meal cooked for you in the country is a big deal. So, you are to eat it without asking any questions and while you at if the meat is served, break the bones and suck the marrow. Not doing so is seen as wasteful to the Togolese. However, since independence, Togo has struggled to build a stable country and economy with the Eyadema family at the helm for decades. Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema succeeded his father, who died in 2005 after ruling the country with an iron fist for 38 years but in recent years hundreds have died that challenged his victories at the polls.

Togo’s economy is small and depends on subsistence and commercial agriculture. Phosphate mining used to be the primary industrial activity, but due to increased foreign competition, and the collapse of world phosphate prices, Togo has been relying more on the export of cement and clinker to nearby countries. Several setbacks in the early 1990’s such as strikes and political unrest hurt economic growth by shrinking the tax base and disrupting the economy to a point that education in Togo was compulsory only for six years mainly because of teacher shortages and poor infrastructure.

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost 1.69$ – CFA franc (R 0,50) and the price of litre petrol is 1. 25$ – CFA franc (R 0,38). The inflation rate for consumer prices in Togo moved over the past 40 years between -3.5% and 39.2%. For 2019, an inflation rate of 0.7% was calculated and was recorded at -0.40% in June of this year (2020).

Togo has received validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eliminated human African trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem, becoming the first country in Africa to reach this milestone. Togo’s achievement comes after more than two decades of sustained political commitment. The wish of the Togolese people is that the same sustained political commitment can be made to their election crisis. According to the 2019 corruption perceptions index, Togo is among the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 130 out of 180 with only North Korea’s ruling dynasty that has held executive power for longer. The overall feeling is that it is time for a change. But all the opposition parties can hope to oust this regime is a post-electoral crisis. And that, sadly, could lead to fresh bloodshed and more suffering for the Togolese people.

Liberia – The Path to Light

Liberia was perceived as an example of Africa’s ability at self-rule and self-determination and due to this known as the Black Zion. After overcoming two civil wars, the country still has an interesting historical, cultural and landmarks to flaunt. Few people knew that the country was found by freed slaves from the Americas hence the deep connections between the U.S. and Liberia. Its capital, Monrovia, is named after the fifth U.S. president, James Monroe, who served in the White House from 1817 to 1825. More interestingly the connection runs in billionaire media producer Oprah Winfrey NDA, who traced her ancestry to the Kpelle Tribe of Liberia. Speaking of female dominance, it is the only African country that had a female president in office, Lady Ellen Johnson Sirleaf known as Africa’s Iron Lady. Liberia in the current day is run by the “people’s president” George Weah, a footballing icon.

Better known as the Republic of Liberia is an African country located on the west coast of the African continent and one of the world’s oldest democracies having attained independence from the United States of America in 1847. According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has one of the youngest population with an average age of 17.9 years which can be correlated with the fact that women can get married at the age of 18, and men aged 21. Geographically Liberia is surrounded by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire on three sides, while the south coast borders the Atlantic Ocean and It serves as one of the biggest exporters of iron ore in Africa. The longest river in Liberia is named after a fish which is derived from the cavalla horse mackerel found at its mouth and the country is home to the endangered and mysterious pygmy hippopotamus. So, with these few marvels mentioned why are not many people visiting? Interestingly neither the World Bank nor the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), have figures for foreign arrivals. The country’s old infrastructure can be attributed to the civil war which lasted from 1989 to 1997 and the influence of the Cannibal Warlords. Power shortages in the country are common, facilities at tourist attractions rudimentary, the only proper hotels (in the Western sense) are clustered in Monrovia (the capital), and roads often little more than dirt tracks. Business and economy are constrained by a small domestic market, high transportation costs and poor trade links with neighbouring countries. To add to this, the country is struggling to recover fully from the effects of multiple shocks in recent years; namely, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, the collapse of commodity prices, UNMIL withdrawal and the perception of risk associated with the political transition in January 2018.

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost L$150 Liberian dollar (R 5,96) and the price of a litre petrol is L$1.12 Liberian dollar (R 0,94). Liberia’s economy is projected to contract by 1.4% in 2019, following the modest growth of 1.2% in 2018. Inflation reached 31.3% by August 2019, up from 26.1% the previous year (World Bank, 2019).

Despite all the issues covered, President Weah has made necessary efforts to diversify the economy by investing more in public infrastructure, agriculture and supporting small and micro enterprises with capital, but it will be sometime before these yield results. The government intends to build a highway along Liberia’s 350-mile coast as well as connecting roads into the interior. He also maintains popular support in the legislature. Both will be crucial as he attempts to implement reforms and pro-poor development programmes. With five years left to go, hope in the president remains high.