With six months to go before South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), goes to its elective conference, incumbent president Jacob Zuma looks set to get another term. And with that, a renewed focus on continental politics, for which his critics have chided him.
Zuma’s opponent, Julius Malema, the party’s rebellious youth league president, is not contesting the ANC presidency but is the spokesperson of a disparate group united in wanting the 70-year-old former political prisoner and intelligence operative removed from power. Their campaign though, has been dealt a huge blow.
Malema is facing several disciplinary charges and the party’s internal disciplinary committee has found him guilty on some, meaning that whatever the outcome, the young man looks set for the political rubbish dump. Unless a worthy challenger emerges between now and the December conference and goes on to defeat Zuma, he is set to remain at the helm of the 100-year-old political party and the head of Africa’s most powerful economy.
Among Malema’s most stinging criticisms of Zuma’s reign was that he had failed spectacularly where his predecessor Thabo Mbeki had done extremely well—in pursuing the African agenda. It was a criticism, and a comparison, that hurt Zuma and one that he has since looked eager to correct.
So, on March 20, when Zuma walked into the Sandton studios of pan-African television channel CNBC Africa for a live hour-long interview, with some of the continent’s CEOs and board chairpersons in the audience, he knew he had a mission to accomplish, or as his aides would have probably preferred to put it, he had a myth or two to debunk.
Sitting opposite CNBC Africa’s chief editor Godfrey Mutizwa, and occasionally fielding questions during crossings to CEOs in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, Zuma showed composure for someone who has countenanced perhaps harsher criticism than any post-apartheid president.
While some of the condemnation prior to his election had a lot to do with his indiscretions, which in turn led to sexual assault charges against him, others were in subtle ways questioning whether a man with only a primary-school education, would be able to fill the shoes of his Sussex-educated predecessor and intellectual, Mbeki. Was he best suited to preside over an ambitious country that not only likes to punch above its weight, and which likes to be loved, but is also the most sophisticated African economy?
The more Zuma sold his optimistic disposition of the continent to the CNBC viewers and the studio audience, the more friends he seemed to be making among the attendant captains of industry, many of whom wasted no time in praising him for his “insightful comments” and for “answering questions”.
One of the continent’s biggest “strides”, he said, was the formation of the African Union. “For the first time, we could define ourselves as one, as Africans and not as former British, Belgian, French colonies.”
The AU has been credited with bringing about continental political stability through promoting the culture of democratic elections as well as the principle of non-recognition of people who grab political power through coups d’état.
Zuma shared with his audience how the AU had advanced in getting member states to commit to investor friendliness, infrastructure development, better and responsible management of natural resources, environmental sustainability, education, and had now started talks about the integration of the continent’s five regional economic blocks. Asked to give timelines for the “practical implication” of the integration process, he replied: “It took two world wars before Europe could come together. Africa should be given a chance.”
A welcome sign of confidence in Africa’s future, Zuma added, was the inclusion of South Africa in BRICS, the increasingly influential group of emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China. “Africa is now part of countries that are going to determine (the world’s economic) direction,” he said.
“I don’t see a crisis. I see prosperity in Africa,” he told the audience, and with a great deal of satisfaction, not to mention his trademark coy chuckle that usually signals cynicism. “Other people speak positively about Africa. Sometimes it’s Africans themselves who are negative; who feel Africa is in trouble.”
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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