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Are ICOs Relevant In Africa?

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Initial coin offerings (ICOs) see companies create their own digital tokens and sell them to the public.

They are like initial public offerings (IPOs), but investors take no equity in the business, and rather invest in the potential value of the token.

They are proving attractive to firms and investors alike, with over 230 companies raising almost $4 billion in such a way in 2017.

“Initial coin offerings allow companies an easy way to raise capital while bypassing many of the regulations and requirements associated with initial public offerings. ICOs also allow companies to tap into the hype around cryptocurrencies and crowd-sourcing,” says George Etheredge, Research Analyst in the Digital Transformation Practice at Frost & Sullivan Africa.

But are ICOs relevant in the African context? It’s early days, but a number of startups have recently given them a whirl. Nigerian remittances platform SureRemit netted $7 million, while South African company and property investment portal ProsperiProp secured $200,000.
ProsperiProp founder Llew Morkel says ICOs offer entrepreneurs an opportunity to dip into a global source of capital without having to go through formal channels like banks or venture capitalists.

READ MORE: Why it’s in everybody’s interests to regulate cryptocurrencies

“Investor institutions require the entrepreneur to commit to a period of exclusivity while the funder conducts their due diligence. In the event where the application is rejected, the entrepreneur has to start over, often costing valuable time to market. This cycle is discouraging,” he says.

The lack of regulation in this space makes it easier to fund starved African businesses. But it’s also the main drawback of ICOs.

“It’s far easier for groups to set up ‘fake’ ICOs. The general hype around the crypto space may cause investors to be insufficiently diligent,” says Etheredge.
This is likely to mean the space becomes the focus of more regulation as time passes.
“One factor here will be those parties that currently make money from the way things are done at the moment will have powerful incentives to lobby for regulation. This is a pattern in most disruptive industries, just look at Uber,” says Etheredge.
Getting the legal ducks in a row was one of the challenges for ProsperiProp.

“It’s important for an ICO to move inside the guidelines of each country’s legal framework. The country’s framework not only protects the ICO investor but also the entrepreneur,” says Morkel.

READ MORE: Forbes’ First List Of Cryptocurrency’s Richest People: Meet The Secretive Freaks, Geeks And Visionaries

With all the noise around ICOs, and awareness of potential scams, marketing is key. Wala CEO Tricia Martinez says trust, transparency and community are key elements.

“We quickly recognized that in order to gain trust you must be transparent. And the only way to build a community is by being transparent. Once we gained the trust of the individual and were transparent our community began to grow,” she says.

Africa’s foray into the world of ICOs have been tentative thus far, but those that have made the jump expect more to follow. SureRemit co-founder Adeoye Ojo says they are about more than just capital.

“There needs to be a real utility for the underlying token being distributed. Many businesses are rushing to tokenise without a proper plan to sustain the new economy they are creating. This isn’t unique to Africa,” he says.

Martinez agrees.

“ICOs shouldn’t be used as a funding mechanism. Only if there is a real use case to build a token economy should an entrepreneur look at this as a potential channel,” she said.

Yet the potential for token sales to provide access to funding cannot be ignored.

“The good thing is that barring countries that have some strict financial regulations about ICOs, almost anybody can participate. This allows projects, including African ones, to have exposure to a diverse audience who can both back and be first users of the product,” says Ojo.

Eugene Mutai, bitcoin ‘miner’ and software developer, uses the LBRY web site at his home in Nairobi, Kenya. Photographer: Luis Tato/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This diversity, however, also means the usage of ICOs by African companies will depend on how these strategies perform globally.

“They are attractive in an African context as they can, for now, get past regulatory and bureaucratic red tape. However, Africa is some distance behind wealthier areas with respect to crypto adoption,” says Etheredge.

Yet all the signs are that crypto, in Africa and globally, is on the rise. Much of the future of ICOs in Africa may hang on the level of success experienced by first movers like SureRemit, Wala and ProsperiProp. For now, it’s a question of riding the wave and seeing where it goes.

– By Tom Jackson

Economy

Save Jobs Or Save Energy? The Dilemma Of Going Green

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The High Court case, in Pretoria on March 27, saw the full gamut of human emotions: anger; frustration and folly, followed by joy.

The latter emotion came from the long-suffering 27 independent power producers who won the case against an interdict to pave the way for the signing of the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the Department of Energy – the 20-year agreements that give them a chance to claw back $3.8 billion in investment.

The deal will add 2,300MW of green power to the estimated 40,000MW in installed capacity. Despite this, green power will make up 5% of South Africa’s power.

Outside the court, the thwarted National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members and pressure group Transform SA weighed in with the anger and frustration coupled with a threat to block the streets in protest. As the union licked its wounds, the court poured on salt by ordering it to pay costs as it stuck the application from the roll.

“We got it from Eskom that if they introduce these renewables, they’ve done calculations on power station by power station on how many jobs will be lost. When we did this study last year it was found that 30,000 to 40,000 jobs are likely to be lost and there seems to be no interest about that,” says Numsa Secretary Irvin Jim.

“We are prepared to block the streets to achieve this.”

This claim despite the fact that Eskom will have to close down a number of its ageing and crumbling coal-fired power stations.

READ MORE: On The Road To A Green Future

“The South African population is being taken for a ride. Our fiscus is being looted because these companies, IPPs are only producing 5% power and taking 30% of Eskom’s profits,” says Transform SA’s Adil Chabeleng outside the court.

The mighty National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – the biggest union in Africa with more than 300,000 members – agrees with Numsa that the unions don’t want private money generating the people’s electricity. They also feel that capitalists have benefited from public money ploughed into kick-starting green energy with preferential tariffs.

“We view this capitalist IPPs deal as a backdoor privatization of Eskom. The plan is to privatize 42% of Eskom by 2030 masquerading as the implementation of clean energy,” the NUM said in an angry statement.

“We are going to mobilize all our members and society to revolt against this planned madness called IPPs.”

Days after this fire and fury, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe shocked many by putting pen-to-paper for the PPAs to end the years of waiting.

The big problem now is to revive the dormant green power industry in South Africa.

“We have to resuscitate the industry to generate this power. Supply chains have to be rebuilt and manufacturing restarted. The whole supply chain has lain dormant for nearly three years,” says Brenda Martin, a board member of the South African Renewable Energy Council that represents most of the 27 IPPS.

Martin also refutes one of the claims of the unions that green power will see billions leaving South Africa and into the pockets of foreign investors. Numsa’s legal counsel Advocate Nazeer Cassim had argued in court that the signing of the IPPs could be viewed as a form of economic looting.

“Only 25% of this deal is owned by foreign investors and the rules of the game is that most of the money must stay in the country.”

Whatever the fall-out over the signing of the PPAs, just weeks before, this unsteady progress was a pipe dream after many months of dithering and a court case.

Picture this: multi-millionaire, suited and booted, investors leave air-conditioned airport lounges to fly thousands of miles to Africa to accept a government invitation to finally sign up for a return on their investment; only to arrive to, amid confusion, a court case, disappointment and a union that they’d never heard of, threatening to block the streets in protest against the deal. Confused? Most of them were.

“Excuse me,” a fresh-off-the-plane Italian investor, who looked like a clown lost in a circus, at the Department of Energy, asked one of the many young journalists at the press briefing, in Pretoria, on March 13.

“What is happening?”

The confused man from Milan was one of a number of foreign investors, from Spain to the United States, who flew in to sign PPA contracts. Investors expect it will take them a decade to claw back their money.

There was chaos before the investors landed that morning. Overnight, the militant Numsa – a union that appears to have forgotten that the Berlin wall came down – claimed it had won a late-night court interdict against the signing.

When it came to the signing later that day, in Pretoria, Energy Minister Radebe told investors that the courts had in fact not issued an interdict, as Numsa had claimed; it rather postponed the next hearing until March 27. You can understand the confusion of the man from Milan.

“It’s a banana republic,” chirped one of the South African investors in the wake of a day to forget in the course of renewable energy.

READ MORE: Shedding Light On Renewable Energy

More inexplicable for investors was how these IPP contracts raised the ire of the unions almost overnight; there was hardly a peep from them in the years of government foot-dragging over signing them that has left many of the green power producers; at least 14 of the 27, according to industry, sources – on the brink of bankruptcy.

The coal-fired power stations of South Africa, built in the 1970s, are ramshackle and inefficient. Last year, the government said it was going to shut down the 3,000MW Kriel, 1,000MW Komati, 2,000MW Hendrina and the 1,600MW Camden power stations, all in Mpumalanga, anyway.

In any case, renewable energy generates a mere 5% of South Africa’s total power so the chances of green energy elbowing out coal, which produces nearly 80%, are unlikely in the extreme. It is more likely that South Africa’s coal-fired power stations will perish under the weight of repair bills and the cost of compliance with environmental regulations on account of the vast amount of acrid black smoke they belch into the African sky every year.

Other energy experts put down the government lethargy over signing the PPAs to ill-advised complacency. Low growth leading to low demand for electricity, plus a 500% increase in cost since 2007, has seen a cessation of power cuts in South Africa, for the time being.

Under the current energy scenario, South Africa will have more than 60GW of capacity by 2022, against a flagging demand of below 30GW, Ted Blom, a partner at Mining & Energy Advisory, said.
All in all, South Africa, which once dreamed of building the continent’s leading green power industry, creating thousands of jobs, has done quite a lot to destroy that dream. As well as the near three-year delay over signing the IPP contracts – the government has been penny-pinching, that is, trying to negotiate down tariffs with the argument that the country doesn’t really need energy right now.

What it means is that South African renewable energy producers are now looking across the continent for projects in favour of trusting the backed-up process in their own country. One of the unintended consequences of this whole controversy is likely to be that a score of African nations – who once lagged behind in renewable energy – could find themselves at the cutting edge of the industry thanks to South African technology and knowhow fostered by South African tax money and exported thanks to foot-dragging over contracts in Pretoria. Now, for hard-pressed South African taxpayers, that is an issue worth blocking the streets over.

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Loud And Lonely On The Streets – The Life of A Lagos Hawker

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On a rainy Tuesday morning in Lekki, Lagos in Nigeria, 12-year old Ezinne Ibrahim runs frantically after a moving bus balancing a heavy load of bottled groundnuts on a tray on her head with one hand and a bottle in the other hand.

As she gets closer to the bus’s open window, a passenger hurriedly reaches out to snatch the bottle from her and tosses N500 ($1) on the ground before the bus speeds off. Ibrahim bends to pick up the drenched note, narrowly avoiding being hit by a truck from the opposite side of the road. She quickly scans the oncoming traffic for potential customers before crossing the road to get cover from the heavy downpour.

“I am here from six in the morning until 10PM with my mother,” says Ibrahim. Her mother, 45-year-old Sade, expertly weaves between traffic lanes, sells two bottles of groundnuts before joining us under the shed.

“I have been selling on the streets for the past eight years now and that is how I earn a living to feed my family. We used to sell in Victoria Island last year but we changed locations because this area has a lot more traffic and that means more money. I know it is dangerous for Ezinne and I never wanted her to do this but I cannot afford to put her into school,” says Sade.

On a good day, they make roughly N20,000 ($55). If life is already hard, it has gotten a lot harder for the pair over the past couple of years.

READ MORE: Successes Amid The Squatters

Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), Lagos state’s environment law enforcement unit established in 2003 by the government to enforce environmental law in the state, is a constant threat to street hawkers.

“We get harassed several times a week by the task force. They arrest us and detain us for hours before releasing us if we pay them something,” says Bayo Adesina, a gum and sweets seller.

“We have a look at who calls whenever KAI is coming and we all stop selling and run. They cannot stop us from trading because this is the only way we know to survive,” says Sade.

In July 2016, in an attempt to escape the tight leash of the law, a street hawker was run over by a bus, leading to widespread violence and destruction by a mob. The incident led to even tighter regulations being enforced by Lagos State governor Akinwumi Ambode who declared a fine of N90, 000 ($250) or a six-month jail term.

“Things have really gotten a lot tougher for us because you never know when the task force will detain you. We move about a lot so they do not find us and take away what little money we have,” says Adesina.

However, Lagos State says the clampdown on street hawkers is necessary as it causes traffic jams and puts their own lives at risk.

Yakubu Mohammed, 25, sells watches on a busy intersection in Ladipo.

“Competition is tough here because there are so many of us. I make about N35,000 ($100) a month which I use to feed my wife and child,” he says.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), over 55% of Africa’s GDP comes from the informal sector, accounting for about 80% of the labour force. Many of those are street vendors like Mohammed who have traded in everything from windscreen wipers to mobile phone chargers in the past year alone.

“You sell what you can get your hands on. Sometimes there is a lot of supply of certain types of products and they are easy to get your hands on so you get them and start selling,” says Mohammed.

That supply is driven by an insatiable demand by customers who prefer the convenience of picking up items on their way to their various destinations.

A street vendor hawks tubers of yam in a wheel-barrow in Ketu district of Lagos. Photograph supplied.

The constant ruckus between government enforcement agencies and street hawkers has led to a debate about tighter regulation of the informal sector in Nigeria.

READ MORE: Nigeria: To Invest Or Not To Invest? That Is The Question

According to a Reuters report, unemployment in Africa’s most populous economy is at 14% and climbing. Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims: “By 2035, sub-Saharan Africa will have more working-age people than the rest of the world’s regions combined. This growing workforce will have to be met with jobs.”

“Unless the government gets a firm grip on these critical macro economic issues, the potential of the informal sector can never be realized. A lot of the stress of unemployment has been taken up by the informal sector who pay no taxes but contribute significantly to the country’s wealth,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives Company in Lagos.

According to the IMF report, most entrepreneurs in the informal sector reported doing what they were doing out of necessity and given the chance would rather work in the formal sector.

Bashiru Amusha dreamed of becoming a doctor but his parents could not afford to send him to school. He now owns a kiosk selling airtime vouchers in Victoria Island.

“I try to make do with what I have. I used to be a security man for a company sometime ago but things didn’t work out and I had to leave. I am hoping someone can help me get a car so I can turn it into a taxi and pay him back with interest,” he says.

In view of the economy, the informal sector presents both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it is a great representation of entrepreneurship development and growth in the number of start-ups on the streets.

However, this growth is negligible when you weigh up the low productivity and the poorly-skilled workers prevalent in the informal sector.

“This is actually detrimental to the Nigerian economy because the informal sector accounts for about 50 to 65 percent of GDP and that represents reduced growth for the economy. So it is actually important to provide skilled training to improve productivity and regulate the informal sector through taxation,” says Rewane.

As Africa’s largest economy struggles to come to grips with growing unemployment rates and barriers to entry, the informal sector is the only way out for thousands of unemployed Nigerians whose only need is to somehow make ends meet.

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The South African Horse Industry: A Potential Billion Rand Market

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The gentle sea breeze, the glint of classic cars, swaying sugarcane plantations, and horses trotting around – while this might seem like the description of a picture postcard, this is the everyday life of Viju Gowreesunkur, an entrepreneur in the island nation of Mauritius.

This sugarcane planter, who has a vintage car collection that is the pride of the island, also knows a thing or two about horses. He grew up with them, and today, even owns a few.

Mauritius occupies a significant place in Africa’s horse industry. The country boasts an average racing population of 450 horses, and has an important equestrian link with South Africa. All of the nation’s racehorse imports – 150 every year – come from South Africa.

“A lot of South African jockeys ride in Mauritius. The traveling time to Mauritius is only three hours by air. The horses adapt well with our climate. A lot of South Africans are immigrating to Mauritius, and horse racing can be a main social activity for the expatriates,” sums up Gowreesunkur.

READ MORE: Racing Into History

In South Africa, the horseracing industry contributes R2.71 billion ($226 million) annually to its GDP. Efforts are on to ramp up those numbers.

And as with the expatriates taking to horse racing in Mauritius, here too, it’s no longer the pastime of only the privileged few.

“These days, horse racing is no longer the domain of royalty, and with this shift came the glorious possibility that anything is possible and that the richest races could be won just as easily by a working man as by a multi-millionaire,” says Adrian Todd, Managing Director of SA Equine Health and Protocols NPC, in South Africa.

Mick Goss, the CEO of Summerhill Stud in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, says while owning racehorses can be an aspirational endeavor, it can also arise from a deep-seated connectivity with animals in general, or horses in particular.

“The result is that racehorses are owned by people from across the social and economic spectra, from the wealthy to the determined,” says Goss. In its 40th year, Summerhill Stud is one of the country’s top horse breeders, and it has produced several champion racehorses.

Approximate annual cost to maintain a horse on a styud farm in South Africa: $5,000. Photo supplied.

Goss had humble beginnings starting the stud farm. He came from a family of generations of horsemen and was previously a lawyer, when after 17 years, he gave up law to start out with nothing in the horse business but “a deep-seated will to make it work”.

“I inherited the horse ‘disease’, for which there is no known vaccine,” he jests.

Today, his farm runs a school of management excellence in equine studies, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, he says, and the results have been “extraordinary”.

Goss says South Africa is set for a record year.

“2018 will be a game-changing year,” he says, with respect to the efforts now being made to rejig the racing and breeding industries “with substantial investments towards the normalization of export protocols with international trading partners”.

There is significant demand for South Africa-based horses in the international market for their quality and affordability. A case in point being that in the past, at the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the richest day in international thoroughbred racing held in March every year, South African-trained horses have won at many levels.

“We have produced winners at the highest level in almost all of the major racing jurisdictions of the world. It is little surprise that our horses are as sought -after as they are internationally, more so as they cost a fraction of their counterparts from other major racehorse-producing countries,” says Goss.

But there are challenges, including strict export restrictions, quarantine controls and prevalence of the African Horse Sickness (AHS).

“The current onerous export restrictions make it difficult for the racing and breeding industry to expand and very hard for our horses to travel and compete internationally,” says Todd.

The country has been severely curtailed in its ability to export horses due to AHS.

South African horses have to endure a quarantine of up to six months before they reach their country of destination.

“Compare this with the delivery of 30 days of horses acquired in countries like Australia and New Zealand, destined for South Africa,” says Goss. “From this, you can deduce the obstacles South African horse people face in the export of their products.”

AHS is a vector-borne viral disease, and has affected South African horse exports since the 1960s.

Goss says he has only suffered one loss to AHS in 40 years on his farm, but says, if properly managed, the losses can be avoided.

“Proliferation of game farms around the country has meant concentrations of zebra in close proximity to horse farms, which has exacerbated the problem,” says Goss.

“The reason is many zebras are carriers of the virus, though they have an inbuilt immunity against it, and while the disease itself is not contagious, it can be carried from one animal to another by a vector.”

Thankfully, there have been breakthroughs in its detection.

“The latest technologies mean that we are able to detect AHS within a matter of hours nowadays and with the quarantine protocols we now have in place, we can guarantee we are unlikely ever to export infected horses,” says Goss.

READ: Love The Mountain Hate The Horse

“With new scientific developments and a new Polymerase Chain Reaction test to detect AHS within hours, South Africa is busy working towards a much shorter period of quarantine of possibly 16 days. This will obviously open the door to the world market and allow the entire horse industry to grow to its full potential,” says Todd.

This test has been developed by Professor Alan Guthrie and colleagues at the Faculty of Veterinary Science’s Equine Research Centre in the University of Pretoria, which has improved the lab diagnosis of AHS by increasing the sensitivity of detection and shortening the time required for the diagnosis.

Equine experts like Todd are optimistic the strides taken by the industry will make this year more successful for the horse industry.

Currently, horses are exported from Cape Town’s Kenilworth Racecourse, which serves as a quarantine, transit and export station. The horses are required to serve a three-month quarantine period in Mauritius on top of the three weeks already spent in quarantine in Cape Town, before going on to their final destination.

“The opening of export protocols will allow the industry to unlock a potential billion rand market. This in turn will lead to an expansion of the industry and a significant increase in rural employment…,” says Todd.

The platforms and opportunities are plenty.

In December, FORBES AFRICA visited the Turffontein Racecourse in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg for the glitzy Gauteng Sansui Summer Cup. Dating back 128 years, and along with the Durban July and the Sun Met in Cape Town, it’s one of the big three races on the South African horse racing calendar, with a prize money of R1.25 million ($104,373) up for grabs.

In South Africa, horse-lovers come from all walks of life.

“From rural communities who use horses for transport, to families who buy ponies for their children to ride for fun, to show jumpers and wealthy [South African] businessmen like Dr Richard Maponya who loves horseracing,” elaborates Peter Gibson, the CEO of Racing South Africa.

Prices range greatly depending on the breed and what it will be used for, but buying a thoroughbred racehorse could set you back by an average of over R300,000 ($25,000).

Furthermore, it takes R50,000 ($4,000) to R60,000 ($5,000) a year to maintain a horse on a stud farm.

“Thoroughbred studs are cash guzzlers, and you need to surround yourself with people that are capable of contributing towards the capital needs of the business by way of their support as clients, as well as developing strong relationships with the financial institutions that support you,” says Goss.

“The horse breeding and racing industries by their very nature are among the most labor-intensive activities in South Africa, and according to a recent audit of the industry by Grant Thornton, it employs in excess of 100,000 people, either directly or in those businesses that provide services to racing and breeding.”

Hopefully, in the years to come, the “cash guzzlers” will repay the favor, in leaps and bounds.

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