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‘Why Should We Tolerate Being Ill-Treated?’

For half a decade he has made award-winning music, controversial headlines and divided critics. Now, the self-proclaimed prince of hip hop and “misunderstood” college dropout wants to rule African rap and believes Nigerians have got it right.

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He is two hours late for the interview. As we contemplate calling it quits, he speeds in with his Volkswagen Scirocco. Dressed in black pants and camouflage coat, he dashes into the changing room to prepare for the photoshoot. King. Genius. Irritating. Self-obsessed. Arrogant. Jerk. All words that have been used to describe the self-proclaimed South African “prince” of hip hop, Kiernan Jordan Forbes, alternatively known as AKA.

“A publication wrote an article about me with a headline ‘SA’s crowned prince’ and I thought it has a nice ring to it. What I learned in this industry is that you are what you say you are. If you say something enough times, eventually people pick up on it. So I started calling myself the prince of hip hop and now a lot of people do too,” he says.

In July, he had just become a father; his eyes are slightly puffy from sleepless nights yet he shrugs it off for the shoot and interview. He doesn’t come across as the self-obsessed, arrogant jerk some fans make him out to be. Showing his humble side he adds that he doesn’t call himself the king of hip hop, out of respect for more experienced artists.

“Wait until I get another two albums and more wins under my belt, then I might start calling myself the King.”

“Competition dead and buried in the dust I’m like the legendary Brenda Fassie…” The lyrics to his hit All Eyes On Me is a salvo full of intent.

AKA has the confidence of a superstar and success to match. His personal life, just like every other celebrity, is daily bread for South African tabloid newspapers. The buzz is more than justified. He did not break the internet, but, five years into his career, he has awards from Channel O, Metro FM, MTV African Music Awards (MAMA) and South African Music Awards (SAMA); including a coveted Black Entertainment Television (BET) nomination for the Best International Act: Africa category, and many more.

“I don’t belong exclusively to South Africa anymore. I am making a transition to belonging to the continent. I was so excited about the BET nomination because we have been working hard. Yes, we have won the SAMAs, yes we have won Metro FM awards, yes, we have won the Channel O awards, but the one thing we hadn’t done was get a nomination for a BET. We have done a lot of good work on the continent and it was great to get recognition for it.”

The rapper has more than 777,000 followers on Twitter.

“We are excited about AKA’s growth prospects in Africa and beyond. His unique approach to producing hits sets him apart from the average rap artist; this is an artist with not only innovative creative sense but with the ambition for international stardom,” Zakes Bantwini, Executive Head of A&R for Sound African recordings, reportedly said when AKA signed the deal with Sony.

Born in Cape Town, he moved to Johannesburg when he was six. As a child, he developed a love for music while listening to records with his father, whom he says gave him a broad appreciation.

He started out in a teenage hip hop crew called Entity in 2002 which was nominated in 2005 for Best African Hip Hop in the KORA Awards. As Entity disbanded in 2006; AKA went off to study sound engineering only to drop out so he could brand himself as a legend. He ventured into a solo career with early hits like Mistakes, In My Walk and Do It; the latter making it to number one on the South African 5FM Top 40.

“I love AKA. He is the king of rap. His style is international, making it easy for him to collaborate with any international artist if he ever wishes to. His flaws are also massive but he has mega talent,” says South African fan, Mthokozisi Dumani.

Public relations company owner, Allegro Dinkwanyane, says, “AKA is a very talented artist that’s contributing to the growth of South African hip hop internationally. Personally, I think Kiernan is a much nicer person than AKA. I guess it’s a persona that works well for him as a rapper. Arrogance aside, I’d definitely rank him in my top three South African hip hop artists, but still an album or two away from being ‘the prince of South African hip hop’.”

“I like his music but I don’t understand the guy. His character is weird. Sometimes you would think he has some sort of disorder because he never lets things go. When something happens, he always wants to have a say. He needs to learn to be humble and let things go,” says Zimbabwean fan, Mercy Sibanda.

“I think AKA is the prince of African rap but his arrogance takes away from his talent. Yes, he’s good at what he does but he doesn’t need to constantly toot his own horn,” adds hip hop fan, Lebogang Mathebula.

Little has changed in his character. The 27-year-old says he has always been a show-off who speaks his mind. Fans scolded him for his Twitter rants and controversial views. At the coveted annual Durban July horse racing event, AKA kicked a fan off stage; on a separate occasion he said he will not take a photo with anyone who calls themselves a fan, yet don’t own his album; he does not open for international acts in South Africa and the list goes on.

“I don’t like it when people call it a rant. It’s not a rant, I am just expressing myself. If I wasn’t me and my personality wasn’t what it is, my music wouldn’t be what it is. You can’t separate my music from my personality. Without the personality my music wouldn’t exist,” he says.

He claims he has never tried to be controversial, as the truth is controversial enough.

“I have always been like this, before the fame and money; I have always been someone who speaks the truth. I told myself that when I make it, I will do things on my own terms. I try to be myself as much as possible. Most of the time it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t.”

“If you don’t own my album, how can you be a fan? You can afford a smartphone to take a photo with but you can’t afford R100 ($7.50) for my album? Real fans support the artists. If you come to me, you want a piece of me or my time, so why can’t you buy my album?” he says.

“The country has never seen anything like me; someone as expressive, as blunt, as honest and dedicated as I am. Everything with me is intense,” he says.

According to AKA, thinking success is easy can be dangerous.

“When you start out, you work hard and say you can’t wait for the day when you are successful. When you finally get there, you realize getting there is not hard, staying there is.”

African hip hop and Afrobeats are everywhere on the radio these days. Much of that is attributed to African artists touring the world and making their presence known. AKA has toured some parts of Europe and has worked with Nigerian stars Ice Prince and Burna Boy, from whom he has learned a thing or two.

“Nigerians work much harder than the average South African artist. They are much more unapologetic, that’s why sometimes I feel like I belong there. [In] Nigeria, artists are encouraged to be superstars, yet in South Africa being a superstar is frowned upon.”

“We love to be humble people, and there is nothing wrong with being humble. Humility is the greatest source of our strength, but also, the great source of our weakness. In Nigeria and the US they are told to be great and in South Africa we are told to be humble which makes us meek, subservient and easily taken advantage of,” he says.

Although he has opened for Kanye West, Snoop Lion, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar on tour, AKA swears he will never open for an international artist in South Africa.

“Promoters treat us differently from Kanye West and all these other artists. They get better sound, better money and better treatment, yet we would be performing in our own cities. Promoters say we should do it for exposure but exposure to whom? These are our people who know us, so why should we tolerate being ill-treated?”

According to AKA, South Africa needs to redress legacies of apartheid. He believes African artists should be respected like international artists.

“We still have that mentality of saying ‘how can AKA and Drake be on the same stage?’ We need to address our own self-worth. Apartheid left in us the idea that we are not worth more and we need to change that,” he says.

AKA is not a hugely sentimental man, but a glimpse of his softer side shines on social media when he talks of his daughter Kairo.

“It took a while for me to figure out how to change a nappy as Kiernan insisted on doing it himself all the time. He would wake up at night during our stay at the hospital and get up to change the baby’s nappy. I remember thinking that I really needed to learn, but it felt good knowing that he was so hands on,” says Kairo’s mother, DJ Zinhle, on her blog.

When Zinhle had her baby shower she says AKA “popped in to say hi to the ladies, he walked in carrying the most adorable Melissa and Doug Giraffe, with a big pink satin bow tied around her neck”.

Since the baby, AKA says he only sleeps for three to four hours a day; instead of six.

“There is no balance in my life. I still need to find it. I am mentally tired, physically tired, I need a holiday, I need a break but there is just no time. My life is exploding, I am having a baby; I’m on tour and have interviews.”

Although reluctant to share his net worth, the 27-year-old divulges that he makes more than R100,000 ($7,500) from performing each month. He also has income from TV shows, and various business ventures. He designed a range of headphones, Bluetooth speakers and clothing items which are sold nationwide.

“I want to make sure my future is secure. By the time I hang the mic I should be able to provide a great life for my children and their children and children’s children.”

As the saying goes, “the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones”. You could argue AKA is doing this. You can also argue he has had more than his fair share of stones thrown at him. No matter, AKA wants to be the king of African hip hop.

Entrepreneurs

Bill Gates Gets Why People Are Doubting Billionaires—And He Has A Defense (Even For Mark Zuckerberg)

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The once and future richest person in the world (once the Bezos divorce finalizes), Bill Gates will happily apply the dispassionate, sharp-elbowed logic that made him one of the most fearsome business minds of the past century—even when the subject, abstractly, is him, as well as the other, suddenly unpopular members of the Three Comma Club.

“I think it’s fascinating that for the first time in my life people are saying, ‘Okay, should you have billionaires?’ ‘Should you have a wealth tax?’ I think it’s a fine discussion.”

It’s a discussion that took place yesterday just a block from Trump Tower, home of America’s first-ever billionaire president. “My opinion is that there should be an estate tax and maybe even higher than we have today. Among The Forbes 400, I don’t think we’d get a majority—Warren [Buffett] and I are sort of against interest on that,” says Gates. “So I think there’s plenty of debate about how capital should be taxed, how estates should be taxed.”

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Says National Enquirer Owner Tried To Blackmail Him

But as for the kind of disincentivizing economics lamented by the Beatles in “Taxman” and increasingly championed by America’s far left, Gates remains clear: “The idea that there shouldn’t be billionaires—I’m afraid if you really implemented something like that, that the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

In looking at how Gates now deploys tens of billions philanthropically—both the money he and his wife Melinda put into their eponymous foundation, the world’s largest, and that given and pledged by Buffett—it’s critical to understand that perspective.

Just as Gates views, correctly, that a tax system moving from progressive to confiscatory creates less wealth and innovation overall, he and Melinda examine issues systemically.

“It’s more evocative to say you’re saving one life than to say you’re saving a million,” he says. “It’s a weird thing.”

That worldview comes through in the 2019 edition of the Gateses’ annual letter, released this morning. Ostensibly, this year’s letter, which lays out their philanthropic observations and priorities, focuses on nine surprises that have inspired the Gateses to take action. In reality, it’s a valentine to the power of philanthropic investment—the idea of giving not to salve problems, but to solve them.

“I think it’s fascinating that for the first time in my life people are saying, ‘Okay, should you have billionaires?’”

The Gateses write about Becoming A Man (BAM), a group counseling program that helps teenage boys stay in school by channeling their anger. (Bill Gates says he had a “touching experience” sitting in on a group, and even took his turn to vent—about learning that global polio cases were going up.)

And their “toilet fair” in Beijing, designed to inspire a next-gen toilet that can alleviate sanitation issues. Their fixation on Africa, whose young population promises to transform the global labor force.

All of these initiatives tell a similar story. They’re about “picking novel ideas” or “off-the-wall theories,” as Gates says, and then proving that the concepts work. “Once you find a solution and want to scale that up, it’s usually government money.”

That’s a sticking point when dysfunctional Washington can’t enact even the most obvious forward-thinking policies. Take foreign aid, less than 1% of the U.S. budget and an expenditure that, since the Marshall Plan, has consistently generated positive ROI, in terms of creating stability and vital trading markets and stemming deadly diseases.

While Congress rejected President Trump’s proposed foreign aid cuts, Gates remains worried. “It just can’t be ignored, given the intensity of political debate over domestic issues—and if you have one party saying, ‘Hey, helping foreign countries, that’s kind of a sucker’s deal, does it even benefit us?’”

This shortsighted nationalist streak is a global issue. “We’re very worried that if Brexit goes poorly, at least for a time, [the U.K.] might not see [foreign aid] as a priority at all,” he says. “If the French domestic stuff gets too painful, will they stay generous?”

In education, Gates has faced similar headwinds. “You get into political policy things in terms of what you’re trying to achieve. It’s tricky.” The most obvious example here: his previous battle for the Common Core education standards, which critics like Diane Ravitch undermined by terming such efforts a “billionaire boys club.”

READ MORE |Facebook Profits Defy Critics – Zuckerberg Vows Company Has Changed

“The attack that ‘Why should you even have a say in setting the agenda?’—that has a certain resonance to it,” admits Gates.

So why should billionaires get to choose what problems we’re solving?

“Philanthropy is there because the government is not very innovative, doesn’t try risky things and particularly people with a private-sector background—in terms of measurement, picking great teams of people to try out new approaches,” says Gates. “Philanthropy does that.”

Philanthropy, as practiced by the Gateses, also takes risks in the existential terrain political leaders would rather bury their heads in. Bill Gates still worries about nuclear proliferation, an area his partner-in-crime Buffett has championed. He’s been the global leader on the risks around pandemics and also, to a lesser degree, climate change, where his $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund makes big bets.

Artificial intelligence looms on the horizon as the newest threat brought on by innovation. “In the long run,” says Gates, “AI is a tough problem.”

Notably, Gates does not feel that way about social media. Last century’s boy wonder, who faced scrutiny for what the federal government saw as Microsoft’s monopolistic tactics, clearly has empathy for this century’s boy wonder, Mark Zuckerberg, now a lightning rod for Facebook’s role in the erosion of democracy, as most recently outlined by Facebook investor Roger McNamee.

“I think what Roger [McNamee] has said is completely unfair and kind of outrageous,” says Gates. “They’re blaming Mark for everything. I mean, Trump was not elected because of Facebook. They say ‘filter bubble.’ All these polarization things. … Well, be clear. I get to read whatever I want to read, I get to listen to right-wing radio, I get to listen to Fox News. You kill Facebook and I can still live in my filter bubble. But filter bubble is not just my Facebook feed, so acting like, ‘Hey Mark, wake up someday and solve the filter bubble problem.’ No, Roger McNamee has no practical solution to the filter bubble thing.”

“They’re blaming Mark for everything. I mean, Trump was not elected because of Facebook.”

(“It’s hard when you’re in this vortex,” adds Gates. “I was in such a vortex once upon a time. A little bit different because mine was more of a court-related thing than the broad view of whether the software was good or not.”)

Ultimately, Gates, whose net worth, even after large donations to the foundation, approaches $100 billion, views philanthropy as a vital force for good. And he thinks that potential critics—even a loony potential British prime minister—will come around to that view.

“When I met with Jeremy Corbyn for the first time, does he view me as the billionaire guy who collected more money than he thinks anybody is supposed to collect?” recalls Gates.

“Or does he view me as the philanthropist who’s helping improve Africa and hopefully learn about education? Fortunately he was very nice, he viewed me as the second. But I’m sure he had to hesitate: ‘This guy is one of those people that maybe there should be none of’.”

-Randall Lane, Forbes Staff

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Current Affairs

The Coffee Farmers Betting On Blockchain To Boost Business

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 On a bustling street near the shiny new international airport in Ethiopia’s capital is a small coffee roastery with big dreams. 

Nearly 40 Ethiopians – a third of them women – sift, roast and package prized Arabica beans for export to Europe under the Moyee brand, founded by a Dutch social entrepreneur.

The roastery, together with the innovative use of blockchain technology to ensure the supply chain is transparent, represents an attempt to keep as much of the profits as possible in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“It’s the world’s favorite drink. We drink over 2 billion cups a day,” said Killian Stokes, who set up the Irish branch of Moyee.

“The industry’s worth $100 billion and yet 90 percent of coffee farmers in Ethiopia live on less than $2 a day.”

That is partly because most exporters process the beans elsewhere, but also down to price fluctuations and other factors that make coffee growing a precarious business.

READ MORE | Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores

To make things fairer, Moyee has created unique digital identities for the 350 farmers it currently works with – meaning buyers can see exactly how much each individual grower is paid, with prices set at 20 percent above the market rate.

Now the brand, whose slogan is “radically good coffee”, wants to use blockchain to take that to the next level – allowing buyers to tip farmers, or fund projects such as a new planting program, through a mobile app.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a recent report that blockchain had huge potential to address challenges smallholder farmers faced by “reducing uncertainty and enabling trust among market players”.

The technology, used to underpin cyber-currencies like Bitcoin, allows shared access to data that is maintained by a network of computers and can quickly trace the hundreds of parties involved in the production and distribution of food.

Once entered, any information cannot be altered or tampered with.

‘BIGGER THAN THE INTERNET’

Siobhan Kelly, an advisor to the Food Systems Programme at the FAO, said blockchain would ultimately be “much bigger than the internet”. 

“Within 10 years – it’ll take probably 10 years – it’s going to be a major revolution, for everything,” said Kelly.

Fruit farmers in Caribbean nations are also looking at using blockchain to attract better-paying customers, bring traceability and build a credit trail. 

“It’s an innovation that is poised to empower local farmers in the Caribbean region,” said Pamela Thomas, executive director of the Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI), a regional network of nearly 100,000 farmers.

AACARI’s project has two components: auditing by accredited professionals to ensure farmers adhere to the Global GAP (good agricultural practices) standards, and a digital marketplace where buyers can find detailed information about the produce. 

Global GAP is a voluntary standard required by many European and U.S. supermarket chains.

Vijay Kandy, whose company is building the blockchain platform, said the auditing process would allow farmers to deal directly with buyers – bypassing the middlemen that many currently rely on – and make access to credit easier.

“One reason why buyers from faraway places or different countries go through middlemen is because they rely on them to make sure farmers are following these good practices,” he said.

One such buyer is London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. 

The company sources its coffee directly from growers’ cooperatives to ensure higher quality, pays farmers more than minimum price set by the global Fairtrade organization, and works with more than 40 producer groups in 14 countries.

“We currently undertake direct interviews to verify farmers have been paid, but it’s very time- and labor-intensive to do that and to record all that data,” said Steven Macatonia, who co-founded Union in 2001.

“So to have a much more simple system where we can get a confirmation that payment has been received and how much that is, that could be hugely beneficial,” he said.

Price fluctuations and the impact of climate change make coffee a particularly challenging crop to grow.

“Large companies’ profits usually increase when prices are low, but the profit for farmers does not, and in some cases it may cost them money to produce coffee,” said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. 

Davis’s latest research shows climate change and deforestation are putting more than half of the world’s wild coffee species at risk of extinction.

Ethiopia – the birthplace of Arabica, the world’s most popular coffee – is of particular concern. Up to 60 percent of the land used to grow coffee could become unsuitable by the end of the century, Davis found. 

“The more a farmer is paid, the more resources he will be able to devote to climate resilience,” he said.   

Both Davis and the FAO’s Kelly however cautioned that blockchain technology was not going to be a “quick fix”, with farmers around the world facing multiple challenges.

“Farmers need access to affordable seeds, to affordable finance and credit when they need it … and these things are not going to be given by blockchain,” said Kelly. -Reuters

-Thin Lei Win @thinink

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Entrepreneurs

What Will It Take To Close The Funding Gap For Black Female Founders?

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If you’ve heard the statistics once, you’ve probably heard them a thousand times: Of the nearly $100 billion in venture funding that goes to entrepreneurs in America, less than 3% goes to female founders and just 0.2% goes to black female founders. 

There’s a growing consensus that venture capital’s race problem needs to be fixed.What’s less clear is precisely how to start closing the massive gulf. And at the inaugural Black Women Raise conference in Manhattan on Friday, a gathering of some 80 black female founders, a series of candid conversations laid bare the frustrations around the lack of an obvious path forward. In several raw moments of interchange, however, some answers started to emerge.

Investors “could ask different questions,” Charles Hudson, founder and managing partner of Precursor Ventures, said during a panel conversation with BBG’s Susan Lyne, First Round Capital’s Hayley Barna, and Female Founder’s Fund Sutian Dong. “There are all these questions—‘Well, do you think she can recruit? Do you think she can hire?’—I know what’s behind that question.

It’s ‘Do you think she can get people to work for her because she’s a black woman?’ And people ask these, what on the surface sound like innocent enough legitimate questions about investments, but they’re not innocent. They’re loaded. And you learn a lot by the questions people ask.”

Despite the existence (and, arguably, preponderance) of these loaded questions, Hudson and the others cautioned the entrepreneurs in the room against becoming disillusioned with the traditional venture capital community. Instead, they said, minority founders should prioritize investors who have a track record of investing in entrepreneurs who look like them.

“Vet investors up front. Don’t let them waste your time only to give you a half-ass answer after you spend an hour with them or even two weeks later,” said Barna, who started her venture capital career after successfully cofounding e-commerce darling Birch Box. “Just ask, ‘Is this in your sweet spot?’”

Dong noted that investors should be self-monitoring for where they’re over- and under-indexing, too. “We’ve said we don’t like the ratio of founders in our portfolio. About half are nonwhite, but only two are African-American. So we asked our network who we should be talking to,” she said.

It can be hard, in an open and on-the-record forum, to ask the hard questions about investing in underrepresented founders—much less to receive forthright answers to those questions—but to the credit of the Black Women Raise attendees, no one shied away from speaking about the reality of her experience as a founder of color.

“Everyone talks about the ‘friends and family round.’ I raised $63,000; I am the friends and family round,” quipped Star Cunningham, founder and CEO of health management platform 4D Healthware. But underpinning her self-funding, Cunningham continued, was a lack of capital access. “I have debt, because I had to get it, because no one wanted to give me any money. So what are you, as investors, going to do to look at our companies differently?”

Barna’s reply: Don’t be afraid to talk about your distance traveled. “The same stories about people getting straight A’s from Ivy League schools isn’t what gets us fired up; it’s instead hearing about how someone put themselves through med school from driving an ambulance,” she said. “You might think that you’re not supposed to talk about your life story, but I think it’s an important data point in helping [investors] make the right decision.”

This isn’t to say that a little bit of information and clever storytelling will fix the funding gap for founders of color. Viola Llewellyn, cofounder of African fintech platform Ovamba, pointed out as much, saying that many of the investors she’s come across don’t seem interested in asking the questions that lead to the sorts of decisions Barna is referencing. 

“Here’s the problem: No one gets punished intellectually, emotionally, or financially for saying no to black women or to Africans. You will instead be congratulated if you don’t make the ‘foolish mistake’ of investing in something that doesn’t fit into the preconceived ideas of what success is,” Llewellyn said to Hudson, Lyne, Barna and Dong. 

“At what point do we find a way to tell the story of the fool that said no?” she continued, to applause from the room.

Hudson waited a beat, and responded with empathy.

“There’s a million reasons [for investors] to say no, but until we have more success stories, I think there’s always an easy out for people to say, ‘No one has proven to me that investing in this way and this type of person works out.’ It’s intellectually lazy and it’s wrong,” he said. “You have every right to be angry.”

Angry, yes, but also motivated. Among the clearest takeaways from the conversation is that one of the best ways to change the system is to start from within. In Silicon Valley and Arlan Hamilton parlance, fight pattern-matching with pattern-matching.

“More black women need to control capital, in whatever form that may be,” Dong said. “More black women need to be controlling capital to put that into companies run by black female founders.”

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