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A Welcome Woman’s Touch At The Helm

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The death of president Bingu wa Mutharika, in early April, was sudden; but it was welcomed by the majority of Malawians. Malawi’s economy under Mutharika was on the verge of oblivion—the result of poor governance and incoherent macroeconomic policies.

Malawi’s growth plummeted from an annual average of 8.3% between 2007 and 2010 to a mere 4.5% in 2011. The economy—choked by a lethal dose of chronic fuel and foreign exchange shortages, as well as persistent power outages—had nearly seized to function. The lack of social cohesion and an exodus of donors added to the crisis.

Some members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) unsuccessfully tried to prevent the vice president, Joyce Banda, from assuming office as stated in the constitution, in the event of the president being incapacitated. Fortunately enough, a couple of days later, Banda was sworn in as the Republic’s fourth head of state and its first female president.

Despite the fact that Malawians would have welcomed anyone as the next president, I believe it was particularly important that it was a woman; and a woman who, castigated by the Mutharika regime, had felt first-hand the plight of ordinary Malawians.

A huge part of Malawi’s social and economic ills were likely driven by pure male ego. The late president failed to heed any advice—political, economic or otherwise—contrary to his views. Such was his arrogance that Malawi veered off course the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) program provided for by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This disengagement with the IMF led international donors to withdraw their aid commitments to the detriment of Malawi’s economy. Donations make up 40% of Malawi’s development budget.

Donor withdrawal led to the introduction of a disastrous zero deficit budget. The ambitious budget aimed to finance all recurrent expenditure through meager domestic resources. This was in the name of ‘nationalism and pan-Africanism’ and Mutharika’s way of defying the West and proving that Malawi was self-sufficient.

Since Banda assumed office, she has had the unenviable task of rebuilding the economy. A recovery program has been billed at $1 billion: an astronomical figure in these economic times. The president’s government has re-engaged the IMF and negotiated a new three-year ECF program worth $157 million. The IMF facility will ensure a return of prudent macroeconomic policies to promote price stability and growth. The international lender has also written letters of assurance to the country’s donors to release funds in support of Malawi’s recovery plan and to curtail the dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

In addition, donors and investors alike will be further assured of good governance following the repealing of several restrictive laws including the repressive media and anti-gay legislations. Other restrictive laws, enacted under the Mutharika regime, are expected to be repealed in due course. This is likely to rebuild the social cohesion which was destroyed.

Banda has also introduced a sense of accountability among public servants which had all but evaporated. Since Mutharika’s death, several revelations of looting, by him and other public officials, have surfaced. Furthermore, it has emerged that key government institutions, the Ministry of Finance and the Malawi Revenue Authority, flouted public finance regulations in a bid to cover up the deteriorating economy.

In my humble opinion, in the three months that Banda has been in office, she has steered Malawi back on course. However, it’s by no means out of the woods. Along with saving the economy, Banda has demonstrated true leadership qualities, which the country so desperately needed. She has said she’s not a ruler but a leader, which is in stark contrast to her predecessor.

Banda’s banishment from the DPP is her greatest asset. She has seen first-hand how autocratic rule can destroy a nation. With this in mind, she will probably desist from any dictatorial tendencies and maintain her consultative and pragmatic approach to leadership. This is likely to be the case at least until 2014 given the state of the economy and, more importantly, the fact that her party has no seats in parliament.

The true test will be whether she can maintain this standard beyond the 2014 election which, as the incumbent, she is likely to win.

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Economy

Cryptocurrency for Africans

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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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Investment Guide

King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance

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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.

(more…)

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Economy

Offering The American Dream

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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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