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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, made global headlines this week with his donation of essential medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s perhaps the most high profile example of how private businesses are utilizing their assets and funds for social good amid a devastating outbreak that has pretty much shut down the global economy. In France, luxury group LVMH is making hand sanitizers while China’s Foxconn, which assembles Apple’s iPhones, is making face masks.
In Nigeria, tech startups are beginning to step up too.
Lifebank, a health startup that finds and delivers blood to patients has turned its attention to seeking critical medical equipment for Covid-19 treatment and has created a national register to track hospitals with working ventilators and respirators. Hotel booking platform Hotels.ng has partnered with hotels to create isolation centers across Nigeria, an added buffer for the country’s limited quarantine facilities.
For its part, Jumia, the pan-African e-commerce giant, has donated face masks to Nigeria’s health ministry and has replicated the gesture in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Morocco. Jumia has also offered its logistics network to distribute health products for local authorities.
Some of the support has come in form of targeted funding too. One year-old genomics research startup 54gene has launched a $500,000 fund to boost local testing capacity for coronavirus. It’s a significant move especially given Nigeria’s alarmingly low number of tests: South Africa has tested 100 times more people than Nigeria. Ventures Platform, a local VC firm, has also partnered with the Lagos science and research agency to find and fund innovative tech-based solutions that tackle coronavirus-related issues.
The efforts add to the impact young tech companies are having in Africa’s most populous country—from facilitating financial inclusion and solving perennial electricity problems to plugging gaps in local healthcare—and show how innovative thinking can be applied to easing the burden of the pandemic on Africa’s largest economy and by extension other countries in Africa.
There’s also a tinge of irony with Nigerian authorities relying on support from a tech industry that has flourished in spite of the government’s broad lack of support.
Helping the government fight a damaging pandemic might be seen as a low-hanging PR opportunity for some of these startups but ultimately, their actions will impact ordinary Nigerians for whom aid might have been otherwise out of reach. But the startups’ actions will also inadvertently highlight Nigeria’s biggest healthcare shortcomings too: Lifebank’s national register of medical equipment has found fewer than 100 ventilator units across Nigeria.
— Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Lagos correspondent
CORONAVIRUS AND AFRICA
Despite coronavirus fears, Nigeria has taken no action to stop its pangolin trade. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, pangolins have been identified as potential vectors through which humans may have first gotten infected. But while China has closed down wildlife markets, Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu explains the lack of similar action in Nigeria, a major hub, means illicit global trade of the endangered mammals will likely continue.
The troubling data point behind Nigeria’s low number of coronavirus cases. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has confirmed surprisingly few coronavirus cases likely because authorities have tested an exceptionally low number of people to date. Nigeria’s limited capacity for testing means authorities can’t be too certain if the confirmed case numbers reflects reality.
South Africa’s poor face a health and safety quandary as the country goes into coronavirus lockdown. South Africa, Africa’s most advanced economy, has employed aggressive social distancing measures to tackle its fast growing number of coronavirus cases. But its lockdown measure leaves people in the country’s crowded informal settlements at a high risk of contracting and then transmitting the virus, Norma Young writes from Johannesburg.
A country with no coronavirus cases has declared a national disaster and shut schools, large gatherings. Large-scale measures to limit the spread of coronavirus have already been seen in some African countries with spiking number of cases. However, as Rabson Kondowe reports from Blantyre, Malawi, the country is trying to get ahead of the curve by employing strict measures on public gatherings and movement even before it reports an index coronavirus case.
The death of a young journalist from coronavirus is blamed on Zimbabwe’s weak health system. The shortcomings of Zimbabwean healthcare have come under the spotlight following the death of Zororo Makamba, a 30-year old star TV journalist, due to coronavirus. The southern African country, still reeling from an economic crisis, has only one isolation center for its 16 million citizens, Farai Shawn Matiashe reports from Mutare, Zimbabwe.
FIVE STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
The iconic Manu Dibango put African pop music on the global stage. The 86-year old Cameroonian Afro-jazz legend Manu Dibango died this week. As Amindeh Blaise Atabong highlights in a tribute, through Soul Makossa, a 1973 Afro-jazz/funk hit record, Dibango led the way for African pop sounds featuring in global music charts for the track which became one of the early staples of New York’s up and coming hip hop movement.
Chinese capital investments in Africa are smaller but more influential than UK or France. There’s been an overestimation of the size of Chinese state capital investments across Africa, it’s still less than some of the various sums spent by former colonial powers like the UK or France. But at the same time, as seen in commodity producers like Zambia, the nature of its investments mean its dollar investment goes much further.
Netflix makes its big Africa push with Queen Sono and plenty of Nollywood love.“This is Africans telling African stories and having the power to decide how we tell these stories,” says South African actress Pearl Thusi, star of Netflix’s first original series Queen Sono, in an interview with Ciku Kimeria. The series is part of a wider strategy which sees the company laying roots in Nollywood and building bridges to reach Africans at home and abroad.
Colonial-era Nile river treaties are to blame for the unresolved dispute over Ethiopia’s dam. There have been disputes going back and forth over the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River, with Egypt often on the other side of the argument. These disputes, which are threatening to undermine security in the region, date back to the Nile Water treaties signed with British colonialists.
Mobile money crossed a key milestone last year thanks to growth in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has remained the epicenter of mobile money growth globally as registered accounts crossed one billion-mark last year. Given the impact of the coronavirus outbreak across the continent, the continued adoption of low-contact mobile money services serves as an unintended boon for containing the pandemic, particularly in the cash-reliant, informal sectors.
Changing the pitch.Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley accelerator, was forced to move its recent demo day online. Like so many other things that coronavirus has affected, it could permanently change the way startups raise money. Startups already face numerous risks, but experiments like these could help it weather the storm.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED
How Dutch rose growers avoid Kenya’s taxes. In Kenya, the very lucrative flower market has long been dominated by Dutch growers with a reputation for environmental violations and poor employment conditions. But as this investigation for The Elephant learned the sector is also expertise at dodging local taxes even while proudly touting the “fair trade” badge.
African governments should look to homegrown think tanks to help shape the future of the continent
. African governments struggle to work with independent, empirically-informed organizations. And yet these think tanks have the capacity to unpack current and future issues at stake in African societies, writes Paul-Simon Handy for the Institute for Security Studies
Call for Code Global Challenge. The challenge is offering a $200,000 grand prize for sustainable solutions that mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and climate change using open source technology. (July 31)
Eni-Oxford Africa Scholarship. The fully funded program at the University of Oxford is seeking candidates from the 14 African countries Eni operates in. (Ongoing)
*This brief was produced while listening to Ou Lé by Toofan ft. Jacob Desvarieux & Kassav (Togo/Guadeloupe)
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