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#30Under30: Creatives Category 2019

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This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.


The list is in no particular order:

Karabo Poppy Moletsane, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

1. Karabo Poppy Moletsane, 27, South Africa

Creative Illustrator, Street Artist and Graphic Designer

Not only is Karabo Poppy Moletsane an artist aiming for the skies, but you can see some of her work from there too.

In the Zoo Lake public park in Johannesburg, two basketball courts are adorned with her creativity.

From a bird’s eye-view, you can see one in blue with a crocodile on it and another in turquoise with a cheetah on it.

Together with another local artist, they designed the courts in collaboration with Nike.

Moletsane is also responsible for tagging the famous landmark in Soweto,  the Soweto Towers, which can be seen miles away and has become a source of kasi (township) pride.

Moletsane’s goal has been to put black female illustrators on the map.

In 2015, she turned her passion for art into a business and founded Mother Tongue-Creative House which is now trading under her own name, Karabo Poppy.

“This was a five-year journey that started with me only having one month of work experience, living with family and friends, and chartering my own course without scripts for success,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

She has won three Loerie Awards over the course of her career, and her work has been recognized as part of a Grammy-nominated music video Makeba, by French singer and artist, Jain.

Poppy was also the first black female artist to paint the Art Wall in the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California.

For international woman’s day in March 2018, she was also the artist behind the sequential Google doodle.

Her contribution to the world has been contemporary African aesthetics and she continues to do so.

Rophnan Nuri, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

2. Rophnan Nuri, 29, Ethiopia

Electronic Dance Music Artist

At the age of 10, Rophnan Nuri released his first mixtape, singing and playing the drums with his classmates, and he has not stopped moving to his own beat since.

He self-funded his career with the money he made as a club DJ and over the years, he learned the technical side of music and produced his own distinct sound.

“I was always fascinated by the fusion of different instruments and voices, and created a unique niche for myself by amalgamating traditional Ethiopian sounds from the past with futurist electronic music,” he says.

Nuri’s talent also saw him being one of the three African DJs chosen by South African DJ, Black Coffee, to perform in Ibiza Spain in 2017.

In 2018, he received awards in three categories at the 2018 Leza Awards in Ethiopia.

In the same year, he featured on a song titled Get To Work by Major Lazer, a popular American electronic dance music trio.

Despite his global impact, Nuri says he will always stay true to his Ethiopian roots, one of the reasons why he is most loved by his fellow Ethiopians.

“Getting recognition and support in my home country is unparalleled. My ability to engineer traditional instruments and merge them with popular sounds has earned me incredible support in the form of sold-out performances,” he says,

He continues to share his love for music through the Ethiopian DJ Association, nurturing up-and-coming talent.

Henry Amponsah, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

3. Henry Amponsah, 27, Ghana

Designer, Founder and CEO: 101 Clothing

Henry Amponsah knew he was going to be a designer from a young age.

“I remember when I told my mum I wanted to be a designer in the future, she angrily said, ‘what will be the use of gaining education only to be sitting in a container sewing clothes for chicken change?’ That got me laughing out loud and I said to myself ‘I will prove this lady wrong in the future’,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

And Amponsah did just that.

While in high school, he and four friends had a photoshoot with outfits that cost $150 and they posted the photos on social media.

“The collection went viral and clients started talking to me,” Amponsah says.

The recognition pushed him to officially start his business, 101 Clothing, in 2014, and the rest was a stitch in time.

Today, Amponsah has dressed Samira Bawumia, the wife of Ghana’s Vice President. He also runs a foundation that helps with basic school equipment and workshops.

To date, he has received over 10 local and international awards and featured in many magazines including British Vogue magazine.

In the end, Amponsah managed to fulfil his dream and that of his mom’s; he built his fashion house and his now gunning for a PhD.

Austin Malema, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

4. Austin Malema, 28, South Africa

Photographer and CEO: Pixel Kollective

While some opt to invest in shares or property, Austin Malema opted to invest in memories and everything clicked into place.

Instead of celebrating his 21st birthday with a party, he used the money to buy his first camera, which cost R18,000 ($1,200).

He began shooting at events, which led to more bookings and he realized that the lens gave him  greater access to musicians, actors and prominent people.

Since then, Malema has photographed for many brands globally and for events such as the South African Music Awards, the South African Film and Television Awards and the Global Citizen Festival.

His work has also led to him photographing popular musicians such as Drake, Joey BadA$$, AKA, Casper Nyovest, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

In 2018, when FORBES AFRICA 2018 30 Under 30 alumni, Thuso Mbedu, was nominated for an International Emmy, he was her official photographer in New York.

Apart from his exposure, Malema has turned his passion for photography into a business.

Last year, he founded his first company, Pixel Kollective, with his two partners, Kelly Leuuw and Sivuyile Matsiliza.

“My biggest dream is for the company to represent young black photographers around South Africa,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Harmony Katulondi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

5. Harmony Katulondi, 29, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Presenter, Model, Actor and Voice Over Artist

Harmony Katulondi is a jack of all trades, and definitely a name to remember.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo-born presenter first fell in love with acting and presenting when he moved to South Africa as a toddler.

“I remember going over lines with my parents and stepping into new worlds every time I got on to the stage. I loved the smiles, joy and awe it brought into people’s eyes when they saw me,” he says.

However, when he was in university, it was nothing close to that feeling.

One day, while studying, a friend told him of a casting gig where they needed tall people.

He applied and it turned out to be  African Fashion International.

“I got there, walked, and they loved it, but I needed an agent. They told me to go upstairs and I signed with my current agency and so the casting life began. Commercial here, fashion week and catalogues there. That lead to TV shows, stints on Generations: The Legacy, and Skeem Saam,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

However, there was one goal he aimed to achieve; being a Top Billing presenter. Katulondi auditioned for the Top Billing presenter search three times and didn’t make it.

Disappointed, this prompted him to start his own company in 2016, Harmony Katulondi Pty Ltd, a creative consultancy company.

Two years later, the presenter search came around again but Katulondi was not eager until his friends pushed him to.

In the end, Katulondi got the part. His talent saw him doing voice-overs for the Black Panther movie campaign. He is also the founder of a non-profit called Just Love to help those in need by doing outreaches such as feeding schemes, fundraising, skills development and environmental clean-ups.

Kapasa Musonda, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

6. Kapasa Musonda, 29, Zambia

Fashion Designer

In 2011, Kapasa Musonda returned to a non-existent fashion industry in her home country, Zambia, after living in the US for six years.

She had just obtained her Associate of Arts Advanced Study degree with a Magna Cum Laude, but had nowhere to use it.

“I had no choice but to open my own design business if I was to survive and make a living at what I knew best,” she says.

This birthed her business and fashion house, Mangishi Doll, that same year.

It is a Zambian ‘Afro-Eclectic’ clothing brand inspired by bold prints and an artistic expression of design and style.

Along the way, Musonda has made enough money to hire two permanent tailors and train five women in advanced fashion design.

In 2017, her garments were retailing at a boutique in Los Angeles and that caught the eyes of many US celebrities.

Among them was iconic actor Angela Bassett, who wore her garments to the American Black Film Festival Honours in Hollywood.

“We were elated and honored and after Angela Bassett wore our piece, we had the biggest growth spurt we had ever experienced,” she says.

It was not long before the BET Awards 2018 invited her for an exclusive fashion event where she presented a 24-piece collection.

From a three-year-old armed with a sewing machine, to taking on the world with couture and elegance, Musonda continues to put African print on the map.

Richard Akuson, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

7. Richard Akuson, 26, Nigeria

Founder and Editor: A Nasty Boy

Richard Akuson’s activism for LGBTQ+ and challenging gender norms resulted in him being named one of the 40 most powerful people in Nigeria under the age of 40 in the 2017 YNaijaPower List.

He founded A Nasty Boy, a magazine that is a fashion platform celebrating alternative and creative ideas, forms of expression and lifestyles, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community.

It was named one of Vogue’s ‘What to Read This Fall’ in 2017.

“That’s pretty radical, given the political climate and culture there,” Vogue said. Akuson is a lawyer by profession, but dove into this creative activism after experiencing a brutal homophobic attack.

He sought asylum in the US and grew his platform into a global brand.

A Nasty Boy has since created a safe space to have meaningful conversations for people persecuted for being part of the LGBTQ+ community.

But Akuson plans to take it a step further. “Through collaborations with American institutions, I’d like to focus my time as a licensed American lawyer on pro-LGBTQ+ rights policy advocacy in Africa,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

He is currently writing a memoir about his journey to the US and co-producing as well as co-directing a documentary series about the lived experiences of African asylum-seekers in the US.

Menzi Mcunu, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

8. Menzi Mcunu, 22, South Africa

Founder: Afrocentric Gentlemvn

Menzi Mcunu is one of South Africa’s best-dressed young men, and he gets paid for it.

His notable look is a well-tailored suit, tie, top hat and a swag oozing elegance and grace.

Not bad for a 22-year-old.

He has graced the covers of, not one, but two magazines and his biggest highlight was being part of GQ South Africa’s Best Dressed Men for 2017.

Internationally, he has attended Milan Fashion Week in 2018 and has been featured on Vogue Italia, GQ Russia and GQ Australia.

It all started when he visited Mumbai, India, in 2013.

He was inspired by the Indian culture and its attention to detail in fashion.

As a result, he founded Afrocentric Gentlemvn, an African lifestyle brand that merges European aesthetics and African elegance with suit measurement and creative consultancy services.

“I knew nothing about the technical side or production side of selling garments but I wanted to depict suits differently. I didn’t want them to just be suits like the ones I saw at many retailers but I wanted them to represent a lifestyle,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Mcunu plans to grow his platform, Afrocentric Gentlemvn, globally.

He has also been interested in the development of African luxury and African fashion on the continent.

Trevor Stuurman, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

9. Trevor Stuurman, 26, South Africa

Photographer and Creative Director

CNN describes Trevor Stuurman as a cultural force, and indeed he has illustrated that.

Living up to these titles, he has had the opportunity to document former US President, Barack Obama, The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay Z) as well his mentor and someone he considers a sister, Naomi Campbell.

He was born and raised in the diamond city of Kimberley in South Africa’s Northern Cape.

After studying film, he was drawn to a different medium of visual arts – photography.

As a result, he became a self-taught photographer; in fact, one of South Africa’s most sought-after photographers.

“The more I leave home, the more I realize the power and currency that home has. And I think that it makes me a better story-teller because I am able to find pieces of home wherever I go and then create tangible products,” he says.

This essence of belonging inspired him to host his first solo exhibition titled Home, a love letter to the Himba women of Namibia, at the HAZARD Gallery in Johannesburg.

He has received recognition such as being on GQ South Africa’s Most Connected and Most Influential Man list 2018, Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans 2015, and Destiny Magazine’s Power of 40 List. Stuurman is also a contributor to British Vogue.

He plans to have his work live in museums and art galleries around the world and ultimately, to cultivate a space for more young story-tellers on the continent to share their lived African experiences through their own lenses.

Burna Boy, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

10. Burna Boy, 28, Nigeria

Musician

Early this year, Burna Boy took his Nigerian music fire to the US and ended up selling out the iconic Apollo Theatre in New York City where previous African legends like Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Black Coffee were once hosted.

He was also one of the major artists to perform this year at Coachella, one of the world’s biggest music and arts festival.

Born Damini Ogulu, he is undoubtedly one of the hottest African recording artists right now and a name to remember.

The Afro-fusion singer and songwriter rose to fame after his lead single Like to Party was released in 2012.

Since then, he has moved to his own beat, releasing hit after hit each year.

Some of the world’s favorites include Dangote, Ye, On the Low, Soke, and Hallelujah, each reaching over three million views on YouTube.

Of the many accolades, he has won Best Album of the Year, Best Pop Artist of the Year at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards in 2015, and recently received four awards at the Soundcity MVP Awards Festival.

His third studio album Outside was hailed by Pulse Nigeria and Nigerian Entertainment Today as the best Nigerian album of 2018.

Kim Jayde, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

11. Kim Jayde, 28, Zimbabwe

TV Presenter, Model and MC

It’s not every day that one gets to meet the world’s biggest names such as Charlize Theron, Naomi Campbell, Major Lazer, Ciara, Paris Hilton, Tyler Perry and Trevor Noah.

But Harare-born Kim Jayde has.

Since she moved to South Africa, she has been landing major gigs, making her undoubtedly one of Zimbabwe’s ‘it girls’ at the moment.

You may have seen her on your screens on MTV Base Africa as a presenter, but she has also worked with brands like Revlon, Coca-Cola, Ackermans, Accessorize (London) and more.

“My story of being discovered by MTV Africa on Instagram and then going on to become the face of the channel is proof that anything is possible, with hard work, dedication and passion,” she says.

Among the many awards was the Media Personality of The Year at the 2018 Zimbabwe Achievers Awards.

She was also listed as one of the 40 Under 30 class of Emerging Zimbabwe Leaders by Gumiguru and not to mention took home her first international award for Woman in Media at the fifth annual Zimbabwe International Women’s Awards.

However, when the cameras aren’t rolling, Jayde still uses her degree in social work contributing to the Home of Hope For Girls; something she has always been passionate about.

Petite Noir member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

12. Petite Noir, 28, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Singer, Songwriter and Producer

From the African soil to some of the world’s greatest stages, Petite Noir embodies a modern African renaissance through his music and art.

He once opened for American Grammy award-winning singer Solange Knowles while she was on her 2013 US tour and performed at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.

In the 70s, an Angolan woman and Congolese man fell in love.

But due to the political instability in both countries, they fled to Belgium in search of  a new start.

That new start birthed Yannick Ilunga, now popularly known as Petite Noir.

In 1993 they then moved to Cape Town where his love for music was awakened.

“I really started to fall in love with music at the age of 15. It was something that I automatically felt drawn to, so much so that I immersed myself in various music projects as much as I could,” Noir tells FORBES AFRICA.

In 2012, he released his first single Till We Ghosts, which caught the eye of a music manager in the UK and wasting no time, Noir moved there.

The next year was his big break.

He signed a £80,000 ($103,305) deal and embarked on his first world tour, which spanned Africa, the UK, Europe and America.

“I toured with Solange and Foals [British rock band]; I played at festivals with line-ups that included the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Angélique Kidjo and many more,” he says.

Since then, his career has been nothing short of greatness.

Together with his wife, Rochelle ‘RhaRha’ Nembhard, he has been working on a charity called the Noirwave foundation.

Noir is currently working on his own festival called ‘No Borders’, a celebration of the journey of immigrants through art and music.

Among some of his accolades is the South African Music Award 2016 for Best Alternative Album for La Vie Est Belle/Life is Beautiful.

The same year, he also received recognition for the album artwork and the video Best exhibited in the African art gallery at Harvard University.

With Solange inviting him to play in the US and American musician Mos Def being one of his advisors, Petite Noir is a name to remember and a wave to catch on to.

Aisha Baker, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

13. Aisha Baker, 29, South Africa

Businesswoman, Influencer and Style Icon

There are a few names that have become synonymous with South Africa’s authority in the digital beauty industry and Aisha Baker is one of them.

Baker founded BakedOnline in 2009 when the blogging trend was fledgling in South Africa.

“I loved fashion, since I was introduced to Vogue Pattern books by my seamstress grandmother; I also loved literature and writing. It was a natural progression for me,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

At the age of 20, she began monetizing it.

“I had accidentally formed a media company without knowing. Having one employee at the time, my photographer Tegan Smith, who worked only for petrol money and great images,” she says.

For one year, Baker worked a nine-to-five job at an embroidery factory to fund her business and would shoot content for her blog on weekends.

It was a stressful time.

“I got admitted to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. Turns out it was an ulcer caused by stress,” she says.

Ten years later, her brand has since stayed relevant and picked up some awards along the way.

She graced the cover of the 2018 influencer issue of Cosmopolitan South Africa.

She has worked with brands such as Estée Lauder, Mercedes-Benz, Cotton, Mac, Woolworths and Microsoft to name a few.

Most recently, she was awarded the E! Africa Social Media Award at their Pop of Culture awards.

Karun, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

14. Karun, 24, Kenya

Musician

You might know Karun from the pop trio Kenyan group Camp Mulla, nominated for a BET Award in the US in 2012.

But this alternative R&B pop artist is now taking on the world solo and is one of Kenya’s rising new wave artists.

Born Karungari Mungai, she started her music career at 14 and went on to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in the US.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to perform at live festivals and shows across the globe such as the SXSW 2015 (Austin TX) as part of the collective Cosmic Homies.

Karun also performed at the Madaraka Festival (Seattle), Blankets & Wine in Kenya and most recently, the Africa Nouveau Festival, Kenya’s most forward-thinking electric three-day music festival.

She has been covered by publications such as The Fader and OkayAfrica and local Kenyan publications such as The Daily Nation.

The young artist is currently working on a full-length project, and is in the process of planning a pan-African and northern hemisphere tour.

“The goal is to be the biggest female R&B act out of Africa. Watch this space,” she tells us.

Gilmore Moyo, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

15. Gilmore Moyo, 29, Zimbabwe

Creative Director, Fashion Facilitator, Former TV & Radio Host and Founder: Paper Bag Africa

Gilmore Moyo was named one of the 100 Most influential Zimbabweans Under 40 for 2018, alongside politician Nelson Chamisa and Minister of Sports, Arts and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry.

Moyo is known for his contribution to the Zimbabwean media and art scene.

He hosted and produced a radio show on Cliff Central, and also Thatha Wena, a conversational pan-African TV show.

Apart from his on-air talent, he also founded Paper Bag Africa, a content creation, public relations and management company.

His biggest highlight in the business was attaining a contract to manage the European Union Film Festival 2018 and 2019, which ran over five days and showcased 10 films.

“Being an entrepreneur in Zimbabwe is the most difficult thing one has to go through. Funding is not available for you to grow your business and opportunities to attain money aren’t easily visible,” he reflects.

Despite the challenges, he is optimistic about the future.

“Our ultimate goal is to become the ‘go to’ establishment for authentic African content,” he says.

Boitumelo ‘Boity’ Thulo, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

16. Boitumelo ‘Boity’ Thulo, 29, South Africa

TV Host, Entrepreneur and Musician

Boitumelo ‘Boity’ Thulo wanted to pursue a career in criminology and psychology, but instead, has become one of the most recognized stars in South Africa’s entertainment industry.

To think that her career started almost 10 years ago when she was cast in a lead role in an advert for an international restaurant chain, Thulo has since dabbled in various parts of the entertainment industry including TV hosting, acting, and music.

“There are so many highlights and standout moments in my career. But the one that always gives me goosebumps is my lead role on the Fergusons’ Rockville [in 2013]. That role is what paved the way to ‘Boity’ becoming a household name. I will forever be grateful to Connie and Shona Ferguson for believing in and trusting me with such a big role,” she says.

Today, she also wears the entrepreneurial hat after founding Boity Toning Support, a weight loss supplement.

Last year, Thulo recorded her debut single Wuz Dat featuring Nasty C, also a former FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list-maker.

The song was nominated for best collaboration at the SA Hip Hop awards.

Thulo stays right on script as she further pursues acting, music, as well as developing more health products and nutritional supplements. 

Hermann Kamte, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

17. Hermann Kamte, 27, Cameroon

Architect, Founder and CEO: Hermann Kamte & Associates

At 26, Hermann Kamte delivered a keynote speech alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, during the Africa 2018 Forum at Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt.

He was invited to speak about the future of African cities from the perspective of a creative architect.

This has been one of his biggest highlights to date and this is the only beginning.

Kamte is an award-winning Cameroonian architect with flair.

He founded Hermann Kamte & Associates, an architectural firm that provides design, landscape, education, research and development services.

One of his most notable works is the ‘Lagos’ Wooden Tower’ that won him the American Architecture Award as well as the World Architecture Festival and Awards’ inaugural WAFX Prize in 2017, known as the world’s most forward-looking concept.

“I think the desire to be an entrepreneur was very important alongside the fear to fail,” he says.

“Being able to offer a useful service to the community is the first thing that drives my passion for architecture. I have to be a model for younger generations; I want to create a safe and secure environment for people, with sustainable projects,” he adds.

Kamte is well on his way to building a better tomorrow.

Helen Chukwu, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

 18. Helen Chukwu, 25, Nigeria

Fashion Designer, Founder and CEO: Helen Couture

Helen Chukwu is cut from a different cloth and it is no surprise that her designs have featured on Vogue Arabia.   

She started dressing up dolls as a child, and now dresses up brides for a living.

At the age of 18, she became the founder and CEO of her design house, Helen Couture, which currently has operations in Nigeria, London and Dubai.

One of her memorable highlights was a private showcase in London and having her dress worn by Katie Cleary, America’s Next Top Model Cycle 1 contestant, at the 2013 Oscar Party. She is currently in the process of stocking her products in two stores each in the US, France and Italy.

She and her team have started drawing up plans to raise capital and build a 10,000 garment-production-per-day garment manufacturing factory in Nigeria by 2021.

Luis Munana, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

19. Luis Munana, 27, Namibia Creative Director, Model, TV

Host and Founder: Voigush Africa

You might remember his face from the ninth season of the reality television series Big Brother Africa, in 2014.

Since then, Luis Munana has been able to use his reality TV star status to good use.

Munana is a creative director of a children’s TV show he founded in 2017 called Waka Waka Moo.

The original animated cartoon and puppet program became one of the first in Namibia.

“I was baby-sitting my niece and nephew and I saw them recite every single word from cartoons created in the western world. So, I decided to create Namibia’s own cartoon and puppet show translated in all 11 Namibian languages. So, Waka Waka Moo was created,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

The animations educate children about Namibia’s history, culture and heritage.

He has managed to expand Waka Waka Moo from being on TV to a tour reaching 44 rural primary schools in the country. 

As for the hosting side of his career, Munana founded Voigush Africa, a lifestyle, fashion and entertainment TV show in 2014 inspired by the South African entertainment market.

“While studying in South Africa, I would go to auditions to shows like V Entertainment, Top Billing and MTV Base Africa but they would always tell me I am not South African. So, I came home and created my own show,” he says.

Voigush has since covered music, lifestyle and fashion events across Africa which Munana produces, directs, scripts and edits himself.

As a jack of all trades, Munana proves that one can be talented both on and off screen.

Upile Chisala, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

20. Upile Chisala, 24, Malawi

Author and Poet

Upile Chisala started writing at the age of four.

By the time she started primary school, there were piles of paper with little stories scattered around her house, in Zomba, Malawi, which was already chock-a-block with books. 

But it took her years to embrace her talent.

After moving to the US, she studied sociology and graduated in 2015 but struggled to find a steady job.

She turned to poetry for comfort and self-published her first book at the age of 21.

It was her first collection of poetry called Soft Magic.

She continued her studies and enrolled for an MSc in African studies at the University of Oxford.

She revisited her writing and published a book called Nectar in 2017.

This brought the opportunity to travel and do readings, but it was when she traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, that her talent was reaffirmed.

“The room was filled with over 200 people who didn’t mind that there were no seats left for them. They were happy to stand and listen to me read from both books,” she says.

Next, she received an email from two Folio Literary Management agents in New York City.

In no time, Chisala signed a three-book deal with Andrews McMeel Publishing worth ‘hundreds of thousands US dollars’.

Since then, she founded Khala Series, a monthly mentorship program for writers in Johannesburg.

All profits from this series are donated.

“Khala is my way of giving back to the community,” she says.

Joseph Awuah-Darko, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

21. Joseph Awuah-Darko, 22, Ghana

Contemporary Artist

In a dump site in Ghana near its capital Accra, Joseph Awuah-Darko stands holding a laptop in one hand and a face mask in another, like something out of an apocalypse movie.

He is dressed in orange overalls and there is e-waste as far as the eye can see; and the burning of the contents creates arid smoke in the background. 

Darko is a contemporary artist, art collector and dealer and co-founder of the NGO, Agbogblo.Shine Initiative. The organization, which started in 2017, encourages people working at the dump to turn waste into high-end furniture.

His aim was to highlight the importance of the, “circular economy in the face of electronic waste degradation”.

While enrolled at Ashesi University in Ghana, he began educating himself about the obscure art market.

His first major sale was a 3D-printed Ife Head he sold privately to a buyer for $11,000 in 2017. Since then, more clients kept coming, trading the value of trash wish cash and this resulted in him becoming the Managing Director of Africa Modern Art Fund at the young age of 22.

He presented a solo exhibition at Gallery1957; making him the youngest African contemporary artist to do so.

Prior to his contemporary art collector days, Darko was a musician under the alias ‘Okuntakinte’.

Darko is well on his way to getting a piece of the estimated $60 billion global contemporary art industry.

Joe ‘Human’ Nawaya, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

22. Joe ‘Human’ Nawaya, 25, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Graphic designer and Co-founder: Creative Mind Space

Joe ‘Human’ Nawaya was once enrolled for a degree in design at Pearson Institute in South Africa.

However, due to lack of finances, he had to drop out.

“At this point, I concluded that my life had stopped, I wasn’t going to be able to be anybody or make something of myself,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. However, this is not the design of his life as he was named Fast Company SA’s Top 20 Under 25 thanks to his passion and determination to pursue his first love, graphics and design.

His creative journey started when he was a child.

When his parents bought him a computer, the first application he used was paint.

Taking his passion to another level, he co-founded Creative Mind Space, together with his business partner Elliot Sithole.

It is an agency that focuses on creating content, designs, strategies, animation, and websites for brands.

Nawaya has been featured by Destiny Man as part of their Bold and Distinguished edition, positioning him as one of the most creative content creators in South Africa. Additionally, Nawaya went on to become a lifestyle ambassador for Bespoken Man, a gentleman grooming brand focused on lifestyle and experience.

While there, he worked with brands like Jameson Irish Whiskey, MINI Cooper and Savanna Dry.

Nawaya currently co-hosts #TheThreadedExchange with Siya Beyile, a former FORBES AFRICA 30 UNDER 30 list-maker, on CliffCentral.

He has also recently launched a podcast called Pioneers vs Pretenders on Lutcha, a digital podcasting company, which hosts a variety of podcasts online.

Thando Thabethe, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

23. Thando Thabethe, 29, South Africa

Actress, TV Presenter, and Radio DJ

Thando Thabethe is a jack of all trades.

She’s a prominent name in South Africa’s entertainment industry and has come to take it all.

Her acting career rose to prominence in early 2014 after her role on the South African soapie, Generations: The Legacy.

Her radio career dates back to the early days of 2008, having presented on the radio station of the University of Johannesburg.

But today, both her radio and acting careers have blossomed.

She currently has her own weekday radio show called The Thabooty Drive.

As for her acting, she moved from the small screen to the big screen, starring in the 2016 film Mrs Right Guy, the 2018 film Housekeepers and most recently, the lead role in 2019’s box office hit Love Lives Here.

This year, she was nominated for best TV host and best talk show for Thando Bares All, which aired on TLC, and she walked away with the award for Best Talk show.

 “Focus on your own focus. I think when you follow your heart and you follow your own passion, everything else follows and those that need recognize and follow it will,” she tells us.

Some of her achievements include being nominated for a SAFTA as the Best TV Presenter and for the Liberty Radio Awards as Best Drive Time presenter and for Best Drive Time Show.

Rich Fumani Mnisi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

24. Rich Fumani Mnisi, 27, South Africa

Fashion Designer

When Beyoncé Knowles-Carter came to South Africa for the Global Citizen Festival in December, she was spotted wearing items of clothing by local designer Rich Mnisi.

She was adorned in the custom RICH MNISI Rhundzu blouse and crocodile half-pleat skirt.

“Growing up, all I have always wanted to do was to design clothes that reflect my own energy and the love of coloring outside the lines. I have dreamed of my favorite icons wearing my clothes like any kid dreams of meeting their icons. Protect your dreams with all you have because they have the power to define your destiny,” he said in an Instagram post after celebrating the iconic musician wearing his clothes.

In the short amount of time that Mnisi has been in the fashion industry, he has turned heads in South Africa’s fashion industry and internationally, featuring in publications like Vogue Italia, GQ, Financial Times, Marie Claire, ELLE and Vogue Russia.

Mnisi is a graduate of LISOF (Leaders in the Science of Fashion) and was awarded the Africa Fashion International Young Designer of the Year 2014.

He also owns a furniture brand consisting of a chaise and a stool titled Nwa-Mulamula, after his late great-grandmother.

He is also the designer of the red Coca-Cola outfit worn by Karabo Poppy on the cover of the 2019 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list.

Kevin Njue, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

25. Kevin Njue 27, Kenya

Producer, Director, Writer and CEO: Rocque Pictures

At university, Kevin Njue and his partner used his student loan of $200 to direct and produce a short film that he had written in hostel. The film, Sticking Ribbons, was released in 2013 and Njue went on to win the award for Best East African Talent at the 2014 Zanzibar International Film Festival.

Njue used the monetary reward of $1,000 to invest in his next short film, Intellectual Scum, which went on to screen in 15 film festivals globally.

“I was proud to thought-provoke the audience on the unequal racial relationships in Africa’s cultural and political landscape,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

After gaining experience creating short films, Njue decided it was time to make bigger ones, a full-length feature film.

This ultimately led to him founding a business in 2016, Rocque Pictures.

With only enough money just to register the business, he knocked on doors while pitching his first feature film, 18 HOURS.

Of the $45,000 dollars needed, he managed to raise $13,000 from a university professor and an entrepreneur. In the end, the film was finished and launched in November 2017. It sold out at a cinema premiere in Nairobi.

In 2018, the film won the Best Overall Movie in Africa, Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, making history as the first Kenyan film to be nominated and win in the history of the awards.

 “As the CEO of Rocque Pictures, the goal is to set up a state-of-the-art film studio with a sound stage, backlot, a film park and an underwater film stage in Nairobi by 2030,” he says.

Sho Madjozi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

26. Sho Madjozi, 27, South Africa

Musician

Sho Majozi won the hearts of South Africans in the early days of 2017 and seemingly, everything she touches burst into a euphoric cornucopia of color in celebration her African heritage. 

She introduced herself to the world as a Tsonga rapper with hits like Gqi, Huku, Kona, Wakanda Forever, and recently Idhom, bringing the XiTsonga language into the mainstream.

“I can’t believe people tried to tell us we weren’t dope for so long, now they see…” she says.

She is an artist for the people and whenever she performs, her energy is infectious.

She has played at festivals such as Afropunk, opened for artists like Travis Scott and Jidenna, and not to mention one of her highlight performances at the Global Citizen Festival in South Africa late last year.

The rising star was born Maya Wegerif in the small village of Shirley, deep in the province of the Limpopo province of South Africa.

After living in Tanzania, Senegal, and the US, Madjozi is fluent in Kiswahili, French and almost every South African language, making her pretty much a true global citizen.

Apart for her talented vocals, she also has a sense of style to match.

Her inspiration comes from the traditional Tsonga culture.

She has also teamed up with local designers to bring her first line of merchandise to fans, awakening her entrepreneurial spirit.

Her goal is to bring her culture to the world, which she continues to do so, staying true to her roots.

She was nominated for a BET Awards for Best New International Act, and recently bagged the Newcomer Of The Year and female artist of the year at the South African Music Awards.

Sarah Owusu, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

27. Sarah Owusu, 28, Ghana

Artist and Painter

It all started in the summer of 2012 when living in London, and Sarah Owusu was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy which left the left side of her face paralyzed.

“During this very dark period of my life, I wouldn’t leave my house except for my hospital appointments, and a few weeks into my diagnosis, I got a sudden urge to paint although I hadn’t created anything for years,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

After gaining the courage to paint, she went to a cheap pound store and bought two blank canvases, cheap paint and brushes.

Owusu’s passion for art grew as she noticed the lack of black female artists in the industry.

One of the biggest highlights for the self-taught artist was last year when she was invited to present two of her paintings of the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, at the Africa Business Summit in London Business School.

“My future plans are to have my artwork exhibited across the African continent, starting from my place of origin, Ghana,” she says.

Abisola Akintunde, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

28. Abisola Akintunde, 28, Nigeria

Founder and Creative Director: MakeupbyAshabee and Beelashes

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but for Abisola Akntunde, beauty is also in the brush stroke and makeup palette.

For three weeks, she worked for a dental clinic before deciding to venture into makeup full-time.

In 2012, she worked with M-Net Africa Magic doing make-up on a TV set while trying to set up her two businesses, Makeupbyashabee and Beelashes.

Soon enough, she started receiving bookings outside of her job at M-Net and had to quit and focus full-time on her entrepreneurial journey.

“It was a very bold and scary step because I was afraid I was going to leave a steady income for something not certain but like they say, ‘don’t be afraid’,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

Akintunde took the bold step, bought her own car and set up her own studio and the rest has been a transformation for the better.

Since inception, MakeupbyAshabee has made up over 200 brides across Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, South Africa and Kenya.

While with Beelashes, she says she sells over 5,000 units of beauty lashes per quarter.

Akintunde has hired a staff of 20 and has trained over 50 interns between 2017 and now.

As part of her philanthropic efforts, she has partnered with the Archbishop Vining Anglican Church in Lagos to train young women in the art of makeup.

She has also partnered with AfribeautyHub to empower young women in Ibadan in Oyo State, Nigeria, on makeup.

“The next goal at MakeupbyAshabee is to learn permanent makeup, the art of micro-blading and ombré brows,” she says.

By doing this, she plans to bring something new to the table as micro-blading is an eyebrow embroidery procedure categorized under permanent makeup lasting for up to two years.

Yaa Bonsu, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Mombo Subira

29. Yaa Bonsu, 28, Kenya

Fashion stylist and Creative

In 2017, Yaa Bonsu met international model Naomi Campbell who told her to believe in herself, and then signed a copy of her Vogue magazine.

Bonsu took her advice and has been climbing the international ladder in fashion since.

“I remember flipping through Vogue magazines when I was 15 years old and being engrossed in this glossy world. After I watched the film, The Devil Wears Prada, I knew the fashion world belonged to me,” she says.

Today, she spends her days with runway models, designers and in the thick of fashion shoots for some of those glossy magazines.

In 2016, she relocated to Dubai where her career in the fashion industry took off.

She connected with industry powerhouses such as Naomi Campbell, Zeynab El-Helw and Shashi Menon.

She has had the opportunity to style an advertorial for the luxury brand Fendi, SS19, in April 2019.

The same year, she produced a fashion editorial for Revolution magazine that featured high-end jewelry – Dior, de GRISOGONO, Bvlgari and Piaget, an achievement she says she is most proud of.

She has set her goals on becoming an internationally-renowned fashion powerhouse joining the leagues of icons Victoria Beckham, Edward Enninful and Vanessa Kingori.

Paola Audrey Ndengue, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

30. Paola Audrey Ndengue, 29, Cote d’Ivoire

Host and Producer and Co-founder: FASHIZBLACK

Paola Audrey Ndengue is an entrepreneur and a creative with a higher calling.

Her mission has been to promote the French-speaking African creative scene to the world.

While studying in France, she became a fashion blogger and has since gained 10 years’ experience in digital media.

She is currently the co-founder and creative director of FASHIZBLACK, a magazine focused on black and African fashion, designers, beauty and lifestyle.

And her most recent venture is PANNELLE & Co, a PR creative marketing and content agency in 2013.

She has worked with several international clients and artists such as Kiff No Beat (Côte d’Ivoire), Stanley Enow (Cameroon), Boddhi Satva (Central African Republic) and Canabasse (Senegal).

Both businesses she is involved in led to her being recognized as a finalist at the CNBC Africa All Africa Business Leaders Awards for the Young Business Leader of The Year in West Africa 2014.

Her growth since has been phenomenal and she has featured in numerous publications including Teen Vogue, CNN Africa and Forbes Afrique.

She is currently working on Maybelline’s first pan-African campaign, including several celebrities and influencers from Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria.

She was recently appointed the marketing manager of the first MTV Shuga Côte d’Ivoire, an international show educating young viewers about HIV/AIDS, an opportunity that will enlarge Ndengue’s reach.

Cover Story

The People’s Banker: ‘Entrepreneurship Means Folding Up Your Sleeves And Working’

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James Mwangi; images by Paul Kariuki Munene for FORBES AFRICA IN Nairobi

In 1993, Dr James Mwangi walked away from a promising career at one of Kenya’s largest banks, to join the Equity Building Society. Three decades on, few could have predicted his entrepreneurial leadership would work to transform not just Equity but the financial services of the region. FORBES AFRICA meets the man behind East Africa’s billion-dollar banking empire.

Dr James Mwangi, Managing Director and CEO of Kenya’s Equity Group, is a captivating figure. His trademark smile and down-to-earth demeanour set him apart from the traditional banker. But Mwangi isn’t your run-of-the-mill chief executive. His journey to the C-suite has been fuelled by sheer resolve, belligerent bravado, and an uncanny concern for his customers.

It’s hard to believe that the force behind East Africa’s pioneering billion-dollar banking brand grew up in circumstances far removed in rural Nyagatugu, a tiny village flanking the Aberdare mountains in central Kenya.

“I am a product of my upbringing [and] it has [had] a significant influence on how I see things today… [but] my village of Nyagatugu was not enough to say that I conquered Africa,” declares Mwangi from his office at Equity’s corporate headquarters in Upperhill, Nairobi’s swanky business district, in an interview with FORBES AFRICA in July.

The banker describes his childhood as humble, dignified but fraught with difficulty. Born in 1962 to peasant farmers, Mwangi’s parents had no formal education and lived apart from what he calls the ‘monetary society’. As a boy, he had never met anyone who owned a bank account or even fathomed being served by any of the country’s banks which, at the time, only catered to a privileged few.

“It was a simple life. As boys, we grazed cows and goats… we hunted wild animals like rabbits. Growing up, we didn’t know [if] people were ‘well-off’ or [if] people were ‘poor’, we were all equals. [As a community], we built houses together, tilled the land together, and even socialized together at village dances,” he reminisces.

While it may seem contradictory, it was this deeply communal atmosphere that inspired the business that Mwangi built.

Founded in 1984, Equity did not start its commercial life as a bank but as a mutual society trading as the Equity Building Society (EBS). Back then, as Kenya was forging a new national identity, most banks were hesitant to provide its vast population with even the most basic financial services. As an answer, indigenous building societies took root. However, while buffeted by good intention, these fledgling financial institutions were poorly run, leading many to ruin.

“I realized that there is no wealth without work! Entrepreneurship means folding up your sleeves and working. Profit is the reward.”

In the 1970s, while these societies were emerging, life’s challenges had already begun to shape the young Mwangi. Shortly after his birth, his family had suffered a major tragedy with the untimely death of his father. His mother, Grace Wairimu, was not only widowed but was left with seven children to raise on a meager income.

Never having gone to school herself, Mwangi’s mother, who was an anchor throughout his life, was adamant that all her children, including her daughters, would study; a controversial decision at the time. And she was not prepared to compromise.

To achieve this dream, Wairimu imposed a strict code of discipline in her household whilst encouraging an entrepreneurial fervor in her children. The family sold milk, tea, charcoal, and fruits to stay afloat. It was an important training ground for the young Mwangi.

“We were vending to eke out a living, to pay school fees, and to feed the family. My instinct for commerce [came] from [there]… I realized that there is no wealth without work! Entrepreneurship means folding up your sleeves and working. Profit is the reward,” he explains.

Nyagatugu was where Mwangi really cut his teeth in business. Then, owing to his academic talent, he had the opportunity to study the theory that governed his early entrepreneurial experiences, on scholarship, at the University of Nairobi several years later.

“Taking milk to the village restaurant or selling fruits to the village middleman, who would take them to [the market] in Nairobi, introduced me to the concept of ‘supply chains’. I realized that I was the ‘primary producer’ with my mother, the ‘middleman’ dealt with logistics, and then an ‘aggregator’, who was our face in the marketplace, played on volume and made more money than everyone else. The owner of the shop received [goods] from the ‘aggregator’ and sold them to ‘consumers’, through the ‘brand’ of his shop. I [finally] understood how the value created [in the supply chain] was shared.”

After university, Mwangi began his career as an auditor with Ernst & Young in Nairobi. Four years later, he moved to the now-defunct Trade Bank Group. Then an innovative financial services firm, founded in 1985, it quickly gained prominence as Kenya’s first attempt at mass-market banking.

Over a brief career at the bank, he climbed the ranks from teller to Group Financial Controller.

However, just as things were looking up, a familiar face came calling. In 1993, the EBS was in trouble, with debt on its books. Founder and Chairman, Dr Peter Munga, had known Mwangi as a boy and was convinced that the young banker was his only hope. By then, Equity had been declared insolvent and was facing dissolution.

“We came from the same village where I had developed the reputation of a ‘brilliant boy’. I was the first boy [from Nyagatugu] to get a university degree. I was also a youth leader in the church. In Nairobi, I had risen up to be a director at Trade Bank by the age of 28 [where] I had a reputation for being a sharp young man who was good at analytics and bold decision-making. All of that combined to package me, in the eyes of Dr Munga (and other EBS executives), as a credible, reliable person,” he says.

Munga’s confidence was not misplaced. Eager to oblige, 31-year-old Mwangi left his job at Trade Bank to take on a role as Director of Strategy at the stagnating society.

“I had gone with [EBS executives] to Central Bank because they had been condemned with closure. Suddenly, the Governor looks at me, as I try to plead their case for more time, and he says [to me], ‘if it was you who was talking of turnaround, then I would give you the opportunity’. I was between a rock and a hard place; if I hadn’t made the sacrifice to join them, then they would [have had] to close,” recalls Mwangi.

“I had a singular mind to build a bank for my mother who [I saw] bury savings under her mattress.”

So, in a seemingly fool-hardy move, the young banker agreed to take on mounting debt, unpaid salaries, dwindling membership, and declining morale at Equity. He even remortgaged his own house to inject some desperately needed cash into the business, inextricably linking his fate, and hard-won reputation, with that of the beleaguered building society.

 Given a carte blanche to transform the business and with no option of turning back, Mwangi was determined to meet his mandate.

“I had made the decision from an emotional aspect [and] I didn’t want to fail them. But I hadn’t realized that Equity was in [such] a bad state. It had not done any [debt] reconciliation, it had not published accounts for three years, and it had not had a board meeting for [over] two years. With everything at stake, it was only my entrepreneurial skill that would [eventually] get us out of insolvency.”

Mwangi’s reforms were more an attempt at reinvention rather than resuscitation. He began by re-training the organization’s remaining staff in the ethos that would later come to define them – customer care.

“We didn’t have money… the currency that created Equity was a passion to please the customer. I had a very small staff, none of whom had gone beyond Form 4 [Grade 10]. They didn’t have the skills but they had enthusiasm. We didn’t [even] have a meaningful product so we had to give our clients an experience that they had never had anywhere else and that they were willing to pay for,” he continues.

According to a Lagos Business School case study, Mwangi ensured that, in this way, his 12,000 customers were accorded with the dignity they deserved, breathing new life into the institution. This had an impact on both sides of the counter. Customers felt valued and continued to patronize the building society. On their side, staff felt confident and empowered even whilst working long hours.

 In 1997, things looked promising. Equity had cleared its debts, encouraging staff and customers to begin purchasing shares in the company. This time around, Mwangi made sure that records were meticulously kept.

“We didn’t have money… the currency that created Equity was a passion to please the customer.”

According to its website, Equity’s client accounts had grown exponentially from 32,000, in 1997, to 482,000 by 2005. This exemplary track record allowed Mwangi to raise capital from the European Union (EU), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and other institutional lenders to introduce computing technology to the building society, paving way for his ambitious expansion plans.

“Transaction times dropped from 30 minutes to five, queues disappeared, the process, including signatures and so on, was automated. Equity was now on a rapid, but solid, growth path,” notes Mwangi in a 2012 interview to African Business.

Steady growth made the building society’s transition to Equity Bank, in August 2004, possible. Two years later, the bank listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). Bolstered by further investment, Equity made its first foray into the region, listing on the Uganda Securities Exchange, as EBL in 2009.

Within five years, the bank was operating subsidiaries in Rwanda, Tanzania, and was among the first to open branches in South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country. By 2019, the bank had transformed, yet again, becoming Equity Group Holdings, with customers across East Africa.

In 2020, three decades after Mwangi made his debut, the Equity Group boasted a market capitalization of KES128.1 billion (approx. $1.3 billion) making it the largest banking outfit in East Africa, out-rivalling its closest competitors.

Equity’s tremendous transformation is due, in large part, to what is now known as ‘The Mwangi Model’. Thanks to this ground-breaking framework, Mwangi has been able to introduce a bulk of East Africa’s low-income population to the financial services sector. It is a model of inclusion that thrives on high volumes, low margins, and mass-market appeal.

“I realized [after leaving Trade Bank] that it was not the bank of the common man. My mother would have never been able to [open] an account there. Nobody in my village would have qualified for an account either. In fact, not even [EBS Founder] Dr Peter Munga would have qualified. I had a singular mind to build a bank for my mother who [I saw] bury savings under her mattress,” reveals Mwangi.

At the time, this drive to serve the so-called ‘unbankable’ population had only been attempted once before at the Grameen Bank founded in 1984 by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. However, in Kenya, the model was risky, untested, and needed modifying.

“To be honest, [in 1993] I didn’t have a very good view of what Muhammad Yunus was doing. His [main product] was group lending, Equity started out with individual lending. I simply wanted to remove the barriers for people, like my mother, in opening bank accounts. We could do better than a mattress!”

This revolutionary perspective blew open the Kenyan banking sector. By eliminating monthly ledger fees, minimum balance requirements, and easing withdrawal limits, Equity ended up engineering a product that it could bank on.

By 2000, Mwangi says, Equity began signing on an average of 100 new clients per day. Going directly to its customers, initially, in weekly marketing campaigns in rural towns and villages, the bank eventually developed a network of third-party ‘banking agents’ to provide services across Kenya, even in the most far-flung corners.

Today, with mobile banking, Equity’s customers benefit from yet more convenience with access anywhere, any time, and at a minimal cost.

As a result, Mwangi’s entrepreneurial reward has extended far beyond profit. The ‘Mwangi Model’ has been recognized and analysed in case studies at some of the world’s most prestigious business schools including Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and the Lagos Business School.

He is also the holder of numerous honorary degrees and the winner of countless awards for his commercial prowess. The first, and most memorable, he says, was the ‘Global Vision Award’, which Mwangi won alongside fellow micro-finance trailblazer, Muhammad Yunus, at the 2007 G8 Summit.

In 2012, after clinching the title of FORBES AFRICA ‘Person of the Year’, the Kenyan banker triumphed over 58 global business leaders to become the first African ever to be crowned Ernst & Young’s ‘World Entrepreneur of the Year’ in Monaco.

Mwangi, as Founding Chairman of the Equity Group Foundation (EGF), is also a prolific philanthropist. In May this year, EGF, with the Mastercard Foundation, pledged KES1.1 billion ($10.3 million), to Kenya’s Covid-19 response and to provide personal protective equipment to frontline medical staff in public hospitals. A portion of the endowment, KES300 million ($2.8 million), was a personal donation from the Mwangi family. Since March, the banker has been a member of the Covid-19 Emergency Fund Committee, a 10-member board peopled by the country’s most accomplished private sector leaders, convened by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

A key feature of the ‘Mwangi Model’ is its resilience which the current pandemic is putting to the test. In June, Equity saw its acquisition plans, through the highly-anticipated Altas Mara deal, in Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, halted. Instead, Mwangi announced that the Group was doubling down and would take a more conservative approach to see through the crisis. In an unprecedented move, shareholder dividend payments were also delayed to safeguard liquidity reserves.

“Covid-19 has been a turning point. We have analysed over 1,200 years of data, starting with the bubonic plague, to understand this [Covid-19] pandemic. The only way we can survive this is if [our] business is agile and resilient enough to navigate these times.”

While much is still uncertain, the pandemic has had some positives for Mwangi, a proud husband and family man.

“I am not a very outgoing character so ‘working from home’ has been very exciting for me. I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, which is important for me,” he says.

On another high note, Mwangi jests that Covid-19’s most visible impact has not been on his balance sheet but his waistline.

“I have been making the best of this crisis. Instead of 30 minutes, I am now able to put in at least two and a half hours at the gym. When I look at myself [in the mirror], my body is looking much better!”

Despite the present tumult, Mwangi insists that the fundamentals remain unchanged and only the things that matter get him up, at 3AM, to start his day.

“Seeing a smile in people’s lives still makes me happy. I’ve lived a full life and it’s humbling to know that the child my mother raised has not changed and [with the values she taught me] I’m able to share what I have with others. Thirty years later, it’s been a journey of changing one life at a time.” 

James Mwangi’s 10 Tips For Entrepreneurs During Covid-19

1. Stick and focus on purpose, use essence to filter dos and don’ts.

2. Protect the public license. Society will never forget the side or position you took when you had the chance.

3. Support the supply and value chain and recover. Bend backwards to accommodate your business’ unusual circumstances.

4. Adopt a shared prosperity model using social and impact investing.

5. Adapt to ‘the new normal’. Be aware Covid-19 might have irreversibly changed your world in terms of resource reallocation, priorities, tastes and preferences.

6. Be part of the solution to our shared global challenges in humanity, health, and livelihoods. Don’t run away from the reality your customers are facing.

7. Focus on the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution like digitization, big data, technology and innovation.

8. Adopt an appropriate leadership style for these uncertain times. Provide visibility, hope and answers to concerns and when carrying your followers along with you.

9. Preserve cash, liquidity, and capital reserves for the long haul.

10. It is all about people: staff, customers, society and humanity.

– By Marie Shabaya

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Cover Story

Covid-19: Beyond The Lockdown: What Big Business Is Doing Now

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Corporate Africa has to urgently pandemic-proof itself with new ideas, innovations and emotions, to merely stay alive fighting a marauding virus.


The verdant vineyards of Stellenbosch, a charming wine town in South Africa’s Western Cape province, offer breath-taking, panoramic views of the rolling hills, valleys and mountain ranges fringing them.

Only that there are no tourists to marvel at them now – and perhaps will not be for a long time to come.

Like good wine, these views will stay but who will savor them? 

Like every other industry on the planet, South Africa’s wine industry too, which produces some of the finest wines and spirits globally and employs millions in its tourism collaterals, has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Even with the President Cyril Ramaphosa (whose leadership at this time was commended by world leaders and media) easing lockdown restrictions to Level 4 on May 1, liquor and wine sales are prohibited, and the big players say the local industry has taken a hit.

Michael Jordaan, Former banking CEO and wine entrepreneur

Former banking CEO and wine entrepreneur Michael Jordaan speaks about the effects the crisis has had on business.

“Local sales represent 50% of industry turnover,” says Jordaan. The export ban was lifted five weeks after the lockdown but by then, he feels “precious sales and rack space” in export markets were lost to foreign competitors. “Related wine businesses such as wine tourism or restaurants are suffering the most as income has gone to zero while many costs remain.”

The wine industry is already a high-cost, low-margin business, he adds, with industry surveys showing that only 28% of wine grape producers made a profit in 2019.

Most wineries were cash-strapped to start with, and the pandemic has left a bitter after-taste.

“It is inevitable that many of the 290,000 jobs in the industry will be lost…” he says.

Premium wine houses are now looking at offbeat ways to sell and deliver online.

Jordaan’s Bartinney Wines – in the Jordaan family since 1953 – is produced from a 28-hectare farm in Stellenbosch, and he says he has made it a priority to look after staff using savings and income from non-wine businesses.

“We’re also exploring new export markets but struggle as this usually requires trips to sellers which are obviously not possible,” he adds.

The wine-drinking wealthy across the continent are also not immune to the crisis. Some South African billionaires, listed by Forbes every year, made announcements to help fight Covid-19 even before the government announced the lockdown.

Billionaire Johann Rupert and family, worth $4.6 billion (as of mid-May according to Forbes), announced R1 billion ($54.73 million) through the Sukuma Relief Programme “consisting of grants and low-interest bearing loans with a 12-month repayment holiday, given to formal sole properties, closed corporations, companies and trusts”. On April 6, the program closed the application platform on account of the overwhelming response. Ben Bierman, administrator of the program, told CNBC Africa the relief program received applications in excess of R2.8 billion ($153 million). Nicky Oppenheimer and family, worth $7.5 billion (as of mid-May according to Forbes), made two contributions towards Covid-19 relief. The first made by Nicky and son Jonathan, pledging R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the South African Future Trust (SAFT). Following in her brother Nicky’s footsteps, the second pledge came from Mary Oppenheimer-Slack and her daughters who pledged R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the state’s Solidarity Fund, stating it’s “most aligned to our concerns about basic needs, food, medicine, general care and gender abuse”.

The Motsepe family pledged another R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the country’s coronavirus Solidarity Fund and said the pandemic has shifted the priorities of the Motsepe Foundation. The Founder and Chairman of the foundation, Patrice Motsepe, with a net worth of $1.5 billion (as of mid-May as per Forbes), said: “The Motsepe family and companies we are associated with, will continue to do everything possible to assist health workers, poor rural and urban communities and all South Africans to prevail over the current coronavirus pandemic.”

Other established South African businessmen such as Douw Steyn and family pledged R320 million ($17.5 million) through the Douw Steyn Family Trust. 

Globally, tech billionaires such as Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, worth $4.7 billion, announced on April 7 that he was moving $1 billion of his Square stock to support various causes including Covid-19 relief efforts. The tech billionaire didn’t specify how much of the $1 billion donation would be going towards the pandemic.

Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma donated protective equipment to all 54 countries in Africa through his Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation. The donation includes a total of 1.1 million test kits, six million masks and 60,000 protective suits.

Global tech billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda committed more than $250 million through their foundation. According to Forbes, much of it will be spent on vaccines, treatment and diagnostic development.


“Covid-19 has essentially become a catalyst for the shift which was bound to happen,”

– Sipho Maseko, CEO, Telkom Group

Whilst the big dollar signs bring hope, the numbers for Covid-19 continue to bring gloom as worldwide statistics rise.

At the time of going to press, the number of cases globally was over five million, with the death toll over 325,000. So far, almost two million worldwide have made recoveries. Africa has over 90,000 cases, with 2,900 deaths and over 35,000 recoveries.

But the big global bodies overseeing the crisis say the world’s youngest continent, Africa, may suffer heavily if the disease is not contained.

The World Health Organization said in a statement released early May that “83,000 to 190,000 people in Africa could die of Covid-19 and 29 million to 44 million could get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail” as per a new study based on prediction modeling, looking at 47 countries in the WHO African region with a total population of one billion.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “sub-Saharan Africa is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis that threatens to throw the region off its stride, reversing the development progress of recent years and slow the region’s growth prospects in the years to come”. It predicts the region’s GDP to contract by 1.6% this year, making it the worst forecast on record.

On its part, the African Development Bank (AfDB), led by president Akinwumi Adesina, is supporting the continent through the Covid-19 crisis with $26 million for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the procurement of critical medical supplies. The bank also launched a $3 billion ‘Fight Covid-19’ social bond, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. It also launched a $10 billion Crisis Response Facility to support Africa to address the pandemic.

Gary Booysen, Director and Portfolio Manager at Rand Swiss

Because Africa’s financial markets are less developed than many of its global counterparts, Gary Booysen, Director and Portfolio Manager at Rand Swiss based in Johannesburg, says: “They often struggle with liquidity. As the world grapples with the economic fallout of the lockdowns and Covid-19, risk appetite will almost certainly diminish. This will likely see money initially flowing out of more speculative frontier markets. This, in turn, could potentially result in undue pressure being placed on African financial assets.”

With these forecasts, what is the way forward? Corporate Africa is grappling with the hard reality and is in the process of re-strategizing itself. The only hope is if big businesses realize that they have to not just come up with forward-thinking views but also unlock much-needed solutions and even their balance sheets to help all in these times of uncertainty.

And technology and interconnectedness should be the forces driving these collaborations.

Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure, states on the bank’s website: “Governments, regulators and the telecom industry must do all it takes to deploy affordable, reliable, and safe digital technologies… to work together to achieve the promise of new technologies for all and keep the world connected.”

Shameel Joosub, chief executive officer of Vodacom Group Ltd., poses for a photograph following an interview at Vodacom World in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday, May 16, 2016. Vodacom, Africa’s largest wireless operator by market value, raised three-year targets for revenue and earnings as rising investment in its network delivers growth in South Africa and international markets. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On their part, telecom companies such as Vodacom have stepped up. Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group Limited, says it plans to donate 20,000 smartphones, 100 terabytes of data and 10 million voice call minutes to South Africa’s National Department of Health to collect and transmit data in real time for resource planning purposes as the government accelerates its Covid-19 testing campaign. Vodacom recently entered into a partnership with Discovery Health to offer free virtual consultations with doctors for the general public. The telecoms company has experienced a significant increase in fixed and mobile network traffic since the lockdown, attests Joosub. As a result, Vodacom has accelerated its investment spend.

Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom Group

“As the world becomes more online and more digital, it would make fiber and 4G-investment ready for that. This has always informed our investment strategy. Covid-19 has essentially become a catalyst for the shift which was bound to happen,” says Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom Group, to FORBES AFRICA. The telecom provider delivered a tracking and tracing system for Covid-19, “in record time”, working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa. Maseko believes that as big businesses face an economy and society that has been changed fundamentally by Covid-19, they will need to find innovative ways to adapt, deliver services, and drive growth in a challenging economic period.


“Tech innovators will find business opportunities in the difficulty,”

Darlene Menzies, CEO, Finfind

Megan Pydigadu, Group Chief Financial Officer of EOH

Megan Pydigadu, Group Chief Financial Officer of EOH, a technology services provider in Africa, believes the company is systemic to South Africa’s IT backbone, and as a result, creates significant responsibility for the company as an organization during the pandemic.

“We have implemented short and medium-term cash flow forecasting which pre-warns us of anything we need to deal with,” says Pydigadu. On potential opportunities and trends coming out of the industry, Pydigadu believes that EOH needs to develop product solutions that will last beyond the company’s current circumstances.

“The ‘new normal’ is here to stay and is going to change the ways of working. There will be an increased need for virtualization and the effective use of information, AI and data to reduce costs as we face an ongoing recession in the medium-term,” says Pydigadu. The CFO says the company is looking at opportunities to accelerate digital transformation for its clients.

As companies continue to look for solutions, one thing is crystal clear.

Corporate Africa is reiterating the need to future-proof businesses through new innovations – and they have to act now.

For years, the question of whether businesses are prepared for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has been posed. The pandemic has no doubt now answered that question. Perhaps what we need to ask is how quickly companies must now adapt to 4IR.

Darlene Menzies, CEO of Finfind

Darlene Menzies, CEO of Finfind, an online finance solution platform that brings together the providers and seekers of SME finance, believes online businesses will thrive as traditional forms of business grind to a halt.

“Tech innovators will find business opportunities in the difficulty, and we will see many new businesses birthed that provide solutions to address the gaps that this challenging time has presented,” says Menzies. She believes it’s important every business uses the lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure they are better prepared for any future disaster.

She reckons the world will see a lot of change with more firms deciding to move to a hybrid of virtual and physical work, and many transitioning to an entirely virtual operation. Menzies says the pandemic has also exposed the need to increase the accessibility of the digital economy to people at the base of the pyramid, in order to ensure that everyone can take full advantage of the benefits.

As the world finds itself at the mercy of the digital economy, perhaps more can be achieved through partnerships?

Kweku Bedu-Addo, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in South & Southern Africa

Kweku Bedu-Addo, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in South & Southern Africa, says the pivotal lesson during the pandemic has been the need for greater collaboration.

“It’s clear that we need better collaboration globally to be able to identify a developing crisis sooner, to enable the world to react faster to minimize the fallout,” says Bedu-Addo.

Speaking on digital technology, Bedu-Addo believes that many in the banking industry, and other industries, have had to quickly and safely expand access and capabilities in the area of technology.

“If it [digital technology] is fully integrated into a company’s strategy, it can benefit all employees and help businesses thrive in a time like this.” Standard Chartered has committed $1 billion of financing to support companies that provide goods and services to help in the fight against Covid-19. In addition, the bank has launched a $50 million global fund with donations from colleagues and the bank to provide assistance to communities affected by Covid-19.


“We have seen a 650% increase in alternate channelsin the last two weeks of March alone,”

– Robin Bairstow, CEO, I&M Bank Rwanda

Similar examples abound in the rest of the continent. In East Africa, more banks have responded to the pandemic.

Diane Karusisi, CEO, Bank of Kigali

The CEO of Rwanda’s largest commercial bank, Bank of Kigali, says the bank’s staff set up a fund to support the most vulnerable in Rwanda’s communities affected by the health crisis. “We have provided relief measures to our clients, waived various transaction fees as well as penalties for late payments. We have also designed loan products to support both retail and SME clients going through this difficult period,” Diane Karusisi tells FORBES AFRICA. The CEO’s forecasts for the medium-term are that economic growth will be significantly affected and all stakeholders will have to coordinate efforts to support speedy economic recovery.

“The Bank of Kigali’s excellent liquidity and capital position pre-Covid will allow us to weather the shock and remain a champion in financing the economy,” says Karusisi. On the opportunities she sees for the industry, she says that clients have had to shift their behavior toward digital channels, and cashless means of payment. For this reason, she believes digital transformation in the industry will be accelerated. Should the worst happen, Karusisi believes the bank’s most pessimistic stress tests show that it would withstand “a shock implying large business and retail defaults as a result of our strong capital position”. She adds: “Rwanda recovered from the war and the genocide against the Tutsi only 26 years ago. Our resilience has been tested and Bank of Kigali was the only bank to avail clients’ balances and savings after the tragic events…”

Robin Bairstow, CEO, I&M Bank Rwanda

Another bank in the country is I&M Bank Rwanda Limited. Robin Bairstow, the bank’s CEO, tells us its top priority during the pandemic is to maintain operations, protect the workforce, and keep customers safe and informed. Bairstow mentions the bank has anticipated changing customer needs, and has agreed to allow interest and principle deferrals for three months, and in some cases, longer for all affected customers. They have also reduced lending rates to provide support to clients. He believes that social distancing has given an opportunity for banks in terms of shifting customers to digital channels.

“We have seen a 650% increase in alternate channels in the last two weeks of March alone (when the lockdown began). If this trend continues, we would have changed behavior and the cost of serving customers will reduce in the industry and the momentum will continue due to the convenience of digital offerings,” says Bairstow.


“My team and I are trying to find or create new projectswhere we are able to work with people remotely,”

– DJ Fresh

In South Africa, internet group Naspers, one of the largest technology investors in the world, was one of the first, alongside the Ruperts and Oppenheimers, to announce funds for Covid-19 relief efforts. The company contributed R1.5 billion ($82 million) in emergency aid to the government’s response; of that, R500 million ($27.3 million) was allocated to the Solidarity Fund, and it’s buying R1 billion ($54.7 million) worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa

In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Naspers South Africa’s CEO, Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa, says: “We have a strong and liquid financial position to navigate uncertain times but we are not immune to the impact of Covid-19 and like all other businesses in the global economy.”

On the opportunities ahead, Mahanyele-Dabengwa believes in the longer term, Naspers’ payments and fintech business is expected to benefit across its markets from large sectoral trends, including more customers transacting online and more online transactions being executed through alternative forms of payment, instead of cash.

Moving to the travel and lifestyle sector, tourism has been hit the most. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that industry passenger revenues could plummet $252 billion or 44% below 2019’s figure for the world.

“Airlines need $200 billion in liquidity support simply to make it through. Some governments have already stepped forward, but many more need to follow suit,” says IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, in a web statement.

Marc Wachsberger, Managing Director of The Capital Hotels & Apartments

In South Africa, Marc Wachsberger, Managing Director of The Capital Hotels & Apartments, a luxury hotel and apartment room provider that also offers conference venues and meeting spaces, believes travel will change dramatically in the future.

“As social distancing becomes the norm, hotel groups that will survive will be sure to go the extra mile in cleaning and sanitation protocols, while giving guests the room they need to maintain sufficient physical distance.”

With approval to operate during lockdown, Wachsberger says the company helped a few businesses to remain open during this time. It pivoted its business and implemented steps to offer safe spaces for guests and their staff, through ‘self-isolation hotels’ for anyone needing to isolate for approximately 14 days, or until they have been cleared; and ‘sanitized sanctuaries’ for families and corporates who want to live and work freely during this time. The company has partnered with Discovery Health in operating The Capital Empire in Sandton in the heart of Johannesburg as a Covid-19 isolation recovery facility called ‘The Get Well Hotel’. He adds that occupancy is expected to increase as more industries return to work and need to isolate or quarantine. He reckons hotels that can offer contactless check-ins, room access, check-outs and payments will be the way forward.

Wachsberger believes the meetings, incentives conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is feeling the ripple effect of the virus and will continue to struggle as business travelers stay away. Many venues will flounder as large meetings and gatherings can only possibly convene again in Level 1 of South Africa’s ‘risk-adjusted strategy’. 

Gareth Taylor, Country Manager for Bolt in South Africa

Another company steering itself for the future is Bolt. The app, formerly known as Taxify, offers services from ride-hailing to food delivery. Gareth Taylor, Country Manager for Bolt in South Africa, says the company now offers free sanitization liquid refills at all its driver centers on a daily basis.

The ride-hailing company has launched several new services to provide alternative ways for drivers to continue to earn an income. One such is the ‘Bolt Isolated Car’, featuring a physical barrier between the front and back seats, limiting the risk of exposure between drivers and passengers. Taylor says there will be a bigger focus on businesses connecting and assisting one another through partnerships.

“Businesses that can collaborate the most effectively and to the greatest mutual benefit, will win,” says Taylor. On the future of the transport industry, he says it is likely to evolve as electric vehicles become more available. “Electric vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain than petrol or diesel vehicles, which could in turn make transport more affordable, particularly for the more cash-strapped.” Taylor reckons that as more people and businesses have become accustomed to a work-from-home labor force, it’s likely that car ownership will decrease.

With the cancellation of movie premieres, concerts and big ticket events, those in the entertainment industry are also feeling the heat. And this includes actors and celebrities.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 09: Gabrielle Union attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison /2020 Getty Images)

In a recent Instagram Live session (which seems to be the order of the day), Hollywood actress Gabrielle Union told her fans that a number of black entertainers are grappling to pay their bills as they are getting fewer gigs during this crisis, and that “this stoppage of work and money is impacting marginalized ‘celebrities’ the most”.

Over the last few months, people working in the entertainment industry have had to look for other alternatives of making money.

DJ Fresh

Closer home, as a DJ who travels for shows around the world, Thato Sikwane, known as DJ Fresh, realizes that DJing is one of the jobs that has definitely taken a knock.

The DJ says he’s fortunate to have work outside of his DJ career. “Radio being one of the biggest mediums and forms of entertainment and information providers, we are marked as essential support workers. I still have Fresh on 94.7, Monday to Friday,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Whilst the entertainment industry has been rattled by the lockdown and travel bans around the world, DJ Fresh says players in the music industry will need to carry on finding new windows of opportunities to keep generating personal incomes.

Furthermore, he states that they will need to have bold ambitions to change the way in which they previously applied their minds, in order to survive.

“I am working on new music and excited for it to be released. I have live streams every Sunday on my Facebook page where I work with Oskido and a few other industry mates to create sets called Legends Live. My team and I are trying to find or create new projects where we are able to work with people remotely and that will help some of the unemployed people.”

The South African DJ believes those that fail to fully utilize and exploit their digital presence during this period, will have wasted a crisis.

Through trial and error, big business and big names are re-evaluating, re-strategizing, and trying innovative ways to face the disruptive virus and rebuild themselves sustainably for the future, knowing only too well, that if they don’t adapt, they will surely die.

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Covid-19: The Ultimate Disruptor

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The coronavirus has rebooted every aspect of life as we know it. Across Africa, home-grown ideas and small-scale technological innovations are coming to the fore to help combat it.


It’s 8PM in Johannesburg on March 29, the first Sunday of the lockdown in South Africa, and a team from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is hard at work, not in the comfort of their homes, but at an innovation lab, designing the first two prototypes of a face shield.

Letlotlo Phohole and Moses Mogotlane, the two members of the team, are working on paper and transparent face shield models, with a Perspex headband, and they are doing all of this at a Transnet-sponsored innovation space hosted at Wits; together in thought, but apart in (social) distance.

Their work would use 3D-printers and a laser-cut solution, in coming up with the very first version of a face shield developed by Wits.

Reeling from the disastrous effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, just like any other part of the world, Africa is turning to home-grown solutions such as this to tackle a global problem.

“Design can save the world,” says Dr Randall Paton, one of the engineers in charge of coordinating this project. And for any innovation at this time, speed is paramount.

“I think that innovation, especially of the sort that leaves us with a legacy of new products or ideas, is essential in tackling an issue like the coronavirus crisis,” he adds.

The face shields were initially designed for health workers at Netcare Hospitals, made from a flat pack consisting of two pieces that can rapidly be assembled.

Now, they are producing the face shields in only 90 seconds using die-cutting (cutting chosen shapes from low-strength materials), as opposed to 3D-printing them which takes up to 90 minutes.

“We are also working with the Wits’ UK representative looking at possible collaborations with the University of Edinburg who responded similarly to Wits in the face shield provision to healthcare workers. We are sharing our stories with the aim of learning from their mass production process that we could emulate,” Phohole tells FORBES AFRICA.

This pandemic could very well see innovation going from Africa to the rest of the world.

Another example is Fablab Rwanda, a space for members to turn innovative ideas into products specifically in the hardware and electronics domain based in Kigali, that has produced 3,500 face shields so far as the entry point for personal protective equipment, especially for health workers, and is now working on producing low-cost ventilators in Rwanda.

A manufacturer of industrial robots, YASKAWA, in South Africa, for many years, has been looking into a crystal ball believing robots would come handy at such a time. “Future-oriented solutions won’t merely be an option, but an absolute necessity,” they say.

Robotics and automation technology are already playing a pivotal role in the health sector, from the use of automated laboratory tests to autonomous disinfectors utilized in hospitals, but they’re about to extend further into other industries faster than anyone could have anticipated.

The global Japanese manufacturer’s southern African branch has already installed over 2,500 robots in the automotive, manufacturing and packaging industries. Decades ago, YASKAWA proposed the innovative concept of an unmanned factory termed ‘Mechatronics’. Since then, the concept has evolved into ‘i³-Mechatronics’, featuring further advancements and implementation of automation through the management of digital data.

“The fast-moving consumer goods and food markets, however, should see an increase and acceptance in the usage of robots and automation technologies… And this is where robotics could come in to reduce contact and cross-contamination,” says Kurt Rosenberg, Managing Director of YASKAWA Southern Africa.

Covid-19 is birthing a new era of health-focused robots and tech to be used in all spheres of life.

Rosenberg believes a robot-powered workforce is the way to the future, both locally and internationally.

And there are more such examples of blue sky thinking.

In South Africa, construction company Profica has partnered with ‘temporary infrastructure specialists’ Chattels to construct temporary Covid-19 triage and testing facilities.

Chattels have already constructed new temporary Covid-19 triage and potential field hospitals at Tygerberg Hospital, Victoria Hospital and Paarl Hospital in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Meanwhile in South Africa’s North West province, in Mogwase, a company called Akim Holdings Pty Ltd has designed a walk-through sanitizing unit. With an engineering company, it has created a tunnel that is practical and adjustable to suit the specifications of clients.

“Covid-19 is an introduction to a world hygiene awareness program that many have not been practicing or have partially practiced. The sanitizer tunnel was created with health risks involved especially for hypersensitive individuals and to also accommodate the disabled and parents with prams, providing a ramp and sprayers that release 5-10ml of sanitizer per person,” says Thuli Mabebo, one of the directors of Akim.

Corona contact-tracing is also an area where technology and manpower meet.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland in the United States (US), contact-tracing is key to reopening the economy.

The world’s tech giants Apple and Google have joined forces to unveil plans to build contact-tracing technology with the potential to cover the vast majority of smartphones currently in use across the world. In a joint statement, the companies explained they will develop technology-enabling governments and public health agencies to develop apps to track the pandemic, “with user privacy and security central to the design”. They have decided to refer to it as “exposure notification”.

Closer home, one of the entrepreneurs working on a contact-tracing device app is 2020 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker, Olajumoke Oduwule, with her company KJK Africa in Nigeria. The ‘DISTANCING App’ ensures the user can observe a six-feet distance with others to control the spread of infectious diseases.

2018 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker Roger Boniface and his brother Dean, have been working alongside the Aurum Institute, architects, 3D-printers and branding specialists to build automated wash-bins called Shesha Geza. It is a cost-effective mobile wash-bin and sanitizing solution that can service large numbers of people. Boniface plans to install these in high-density areas such as taxi ranks and plans to “sanitize more than 100K hands a day”.

Communications solutions provider, Liquid Telecom, is also coming up with digital solutions for Africa during the pandemic. It has provided solutions for remote learning at Kibabii virtual school in Kenya, established Covid-19 toll-free helplines in Zimbabwe, and provided better connectivity across the East African Community.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is also pushing the boundaries of innovation, using an app developed for rhino poaching to tackle Covid-19. Cmore allows rangers to use their cellphones to track poaching incidents, sightings, carcass locations, or to track rangers out on patrol. Now, it is being used to record screening data and assist in tracking potential coronavirus cases. “Community health workers have to enter information on a cellphone and, when they press submit, the cellphone sends a location – not just to the person that has been screened – and that location pins itself on the screen at the CSIR, so we know where we have covered the country with our screens,” says Salim Abdool Karim, chairperson of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory group, during an event just before the lockdown at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

As cases spike in South Africa, Evolutio, an African company whose cloud solutions include BSS/OSS and CRM, has developed artificial intelligence (AI)-powered Covid-19 screening software that will allow the system to identify Covid-19, pneumonia and tuberculosis on chest x-rays, or a photo of the x-ray, in the absence or presence of pathological findings. “Our results from reading thousands of x-rays has showed that the system can achieve an accuracy comparable to radiologists, above 90% sensitivity and above 80% specificity across conditions,” says Evolutio’s co-founder Sunil Menon. However, he says the regulatory authorities have not responded to most Covid-19-related initiatives so they have faced challenges with any local traction.

This is an issue encountered by most innovative players in the fray. Some local manufacturers of Covid-19 test kits claim the regulatory authorities are stifling the distribution and export of kits despite massive demand globally. It will take a while before legislation can approve certain home-based innovations; as a result, it is global innovations that seem to be thriving in Africa.

An ad hoc team of engineers and doctors from the MIT Emergency Ventilator (E-Vent) Project, has developed a low-cost, open-source alternative of ventilators to assist hospitals across the world facing shortages. The goal of the project has been to find a way to automate resuscitator bags using mechanical paddles that continuously, precisely and gently squeeze the sides of the bag. Instead of relying on someone’s hands to manipulate the bag and deliver oxygen, the idea is that this device could do it automatically, and act as a long-term ventilator.

‘A Game Of Survival, Not Growth’

Small businesses all over the world are succumbing to the pandemic.


“90% of the small businesses went from trading on amonthly, weekly, or daily basis, to zero,”

– Mashudu Modau

Latest research from fintech group Yoco shows small business revenues in South Africa have plunged over 84% in the pandemic.

“This pandemic has been the ultimate disruptor,” says Mashudu Modau, an entrepreneurship enthusiast and founder of Founders Sauce. Formally working as the community and partnerships manager at Yoco, he was one of many retrenched globally in the pandemic.

“[Covid-19] reduced the number of small businesses that were trading by 90%,” says Modau. “This meant 90% of the small businesses went from trading on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis, to zero.”

Many small businesses operating in Africa already face challenges such as not being registered, lack of resources or lack of funding and as a result, the lockdown has crippled the SMME economy.

“Informal economy businesses were completely wiped out, where they could not trade at all and those that were left operating could not trade at a significant level,” he adds.

Only essential workers or businesses deemed essential services could operate during the lockdown in South Africa. As a result, many businesses are relying on digital platforms to survive if they can afford it, and if lucky, with a client base still consuming their products. Most have had to come up with new ideas. Like startup Granadilla which went from swimwear to grocery delivery in weeks. South African brand Tshepo Jeans, known for denim clothing, quickly pivoted to producing fashionable denim masks. Falke, a South African company once known as a sock manufacturing company, has now turned towards manufacturing face masks from its facility in Pretoria.

With hospitals around the world facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), businesses have stepped up. Nike, for example, has manufactured full face shields and powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) lenses to protect against the virus, while the Prada group has started the production of 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks to be allocated to healthcare personnel. Food and beverage company Nestlé is contributing masks and other PPE to frontline workers. It’s also donating medical equipment to hospitals in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal. Additionally, in Burkina Faso, it will donate three ventilators, for use in intensive care units.


“Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis knowing exactly that its healthcare system is dilapidated…The fact that there is limited supply of hospital equipment in our institutions, especially in this part of the globe, has had a negative effect on our motivation to report for work,”

– Dr Masimba Dean Ndoro

The lockdown regulations have also grounded the construction sector.

Siphelele Mngaza, the Founder and CEO of Hannah Properties in South Africa, had to curtail operations, resulting in many clients pulling out of contracts. However, this has made him rethink his building strategy, especially in crowded areas.

“Social distancing and self-quarantine is almost impossible because shacks can [heat] up to about 50 degrees in summer and be really cold in winter with no electricity and no water,” he says. The key then is how to build better cities suitable for everyone.

He emphasizes the importance of having smoother surfaces, greener buildings that incorporate plants, better ventilation and access to natural light. “[Post the pandemic] I envision healthier buildings that behave like plants,” says Mngaza.

On the other side of the spectrum, businesses operating in the digital space have seen a boom at this time. Twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur Cleo Johnson has taken full advantage of this. She is the founder of Nuecleo, a hospitality and marketing consultancy in South Africa. With clients based in Africa and overseas, she has been able to put together post-corona marketing plans remotely.

“The big thing is, ‘what is your business going to look like post corona?’ Because it is not going to be the same,” she tells FORBES AFRICA. She remains optimistic.

“As a business owner, taking care of yourself mentally is extremely important as it also gives you clarity on a way forward. There is time now to refine your business, your growth strategy and how you can scale your business.”

Those that grab the opportunities or gaps in this pandemic stand a better chance of surviving because if a small business does not receive any revenue within 30 days, it may die, says Modau.

“Right now, it’s a game of survival, not necessarily growth,” he adds.

Where Africa Stands In Healthcare

A medical staff member wearing protective equipment places a face mask on a mock patient at the Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare on March 11, 2020, as they demonstrate their state of preparedness to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus in the event the epidemic reaches Zimbabwe where five suspected cases have tested negative. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP) (Photo by JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images)

In Zimbabwe, Dr Masimba Dean Ndoro is a medical doctor on the frontline, working in the country’s Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. Wearing his white coat and stethoscope, every day, Ndoro prepares himself for the worst.

“Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis knowing exactly that its healthcare system is dilapidated,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. He says Zimbabwe was not ready for the devastation wreaked by Covid-19 on its economy and people. “The fact that there is limited supply of hospital equipment in our institutions, especially in this part of the globe, has had a negative effect on our motivation to report for work.”

March 20 marked the first confirmed case of the virus in Zimbabwe, when a 38-year-old man arrived at his home in Victoria Falls after a trip to Manchester in the UK.

By the end of April, there were 29 confirmed cases and four deaths, a small number compared to neighboring South Africa, but with huge repercussions nevertheless.

With Zimbabwe’s economy on its knees and socioeconomic problems lingering, healthcare in the country was already in dire straits. In an effort to curb the virus, the country was put on lockdown.

Coronavirus testing rolled out. But Ndoro believes this is not enough.

“There has been an outcry for the need to decentralize centers for testing so we reach containment faster. It’s so unfortunate relevant authorities are lagging behind,” he laments.

In Malawi too, efforts to curb the virus have been challenging. The nation is divided. Since the first case of the virus hit headlines in the country on April 2, it was met with skepticism by many in a nation not used to epidemics. For a country that recently nullified its 2020 elections, the public’s trust in the government also reportedly declined. Being told to stay at home and stop business because of an invisible opponent was the least of many citizens’ worries amidst the political instability.

By April 7, the country had recorded its first Covid-19 death. Panic ensued, and the president declared a national disaster. Part of the nation began practicing social distancing despite the Malawi High Court putting in an injunction against the notion of a 21-day lockdown.

On May 5, thousands in Malawi took to the streets in support of the opposition party alliance as they submitted their presidential candidate nomination in Blantyre. It was a sea of red.

“It’s like all they care about is to vote, then start the fight against Covid-19,” a Malawian citizen tells FORBES AFRICA. He watched the crowds chant and dance. “The pandemic is here, and it is real. But we Malawians, we are taking it for granted,” says another to us.

Amid all the chaos, one of the many at the helm in the fight against the virus in Malawi is Dr Titus Divala, a medical doctor and epidemiologist.

Operating from the southern part of the country in the city of Blantyre, he works for the University College of Medicine focusing on malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, but now, is also part of the national committee leading efforts surrounding the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One thing I have learned as a medical doctor and epidemiologist, I never thought I would come across something that consumes my every thought,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

“For countries like ours, where we are sort of struggling to get hold of every case, what will happen is the virus will spread widely to most of the population and then at some point, it may not be able to move forward because most of the population is already infected. This is a point we call ‘herd immunity’.”

However, there is one key advantage Malawi and other African countries may have over Covid-19 and that is a young population. It is quite possible the risk of death is slightly lower than that of an older European or American population. However, according to Divala, if a vaccine is found, it may take long to reach African countries due to political and economic challenges.

Further up the continent, in Nigeria, Dr Nneka Mobisson, provides healthcare support for her clients digitally.

“I realized that we as Africans were not willing to take ownership of fixing our healthcare systems. We all have a role to play in ensuring the health and happiness of Africa and I hope everyone is willing to take on that responsibility in the post-Covid world,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

She is the co-founder and CEO of mDoc, a social enterprise that integrates methodologies in quality improvement and behavioral science with web and mobile-based technology to optimize the end-to-end care experience for people living with chronic illnesses. At this time, her patients are most at risk.

In the first week of April, Mobisson lost an acquaintance to Covid-19. “She had been at the Yale School of Public Health when I was there for medical school and was my best friend’s close friend. She was such a champion for public health in the US, a 45-year-old mother of three, so it just hit too close to home,” says Mobisson, who also knows more friends who have tested positive for the disease. She and her team have been working 24/7 to combat the virus – digitally.

Very few healthcare entities have the ability to provide virtual care and at such a time, it puts Mobisson at an advantage.

“We have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable, and we have been knee-deep supporting our members, the general population and health workers with Covid-19 support. We have shut down all our in-person hubs but have ramped up all virtual care support,” she says.

They have built a center locator called Navihealth which helps to reduce the burden of overwhelmed and insufficient hospital systems in the country. Digitally, they have been able to reach thousands.

However, Mobisson says it has not been easy with funding and resources being limited.

“Most of our team is located in Lagos and electricity is not constant which makes the reality of providing 24/7 guidance to people challenging. We fortunately have a redundancy system when generators or fuel are not available but it certainly makes things very expensive.”

What About Other Diseases?

As governments, hospitals and organizations shift all focus to Covid-19, burdening existing healthcare systems, where does it leave patients with other conditions needing critical care?

“Other diseases are suffering now,” says Dr Herbert Longwe, a lab director at ICAP at Columbia University in Pretoria, South Africa.

Liam Klassen, a 19-year-old from South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, experienced this first-hand. After discovering that flesh-eating bacteria had entered a wound in his leg, he was admitted to a hospital 45km away from home. The staff, he says, were too preoccupied treating Covid-19 patients.

“It was very intense being in hospital, with nurses and doctors, and they really wanted me to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. And my wound was very severe,” he says. Anxiety levels remained high for the family as they were not allowed at the hospital due to regulations, what’s worse; they say they didn’t receive adequate communication about what was going on.

“What has happened is, many people are focused on Covid-19 now, and skilled people who were looking at HIV, are now focusing their attention on Covid-19 and the other diseases are being abandoned,” notes Longwe. His work involves doing surveys to measure the impact of HIV, the burden of the disease and the populations that have been affected. Longwe says that there has been a lack of further research and finances being put into other diseases, as a result, the coronavirus has triggered a funding crisis for NGOs when they are needed the most. “People are no longer paying more attention and putting their efforts in writing grants or research proposals on other diseases, for example, TB, HIV and malaria. The focus has dramatically shifted away from those diseases. But those diseases are still killing us. They are still a public health problem,” he adds.


“The initial genome sequencing was costly and time-consuming but efforts are underway to reduce this cost and get faster turnaround time. This will allow us to help those trying to trace the transmission of the disease in South Africa and the continent,”

– Peter van Heusden

But on the other hand, the pandemic will expand knowledge in the public health space and grow more human resources and skills. “We are going to draw a lot of knowledge in terms of public health on disease intervention, disease prevention and disease control,” says Longwe.

Hunt For A Vaccine

Vaccine vial dose flu shot drug needle syringe,medical concept vaccination hypodermic injection treatment disease care hospital prevention immunization illness disease baby background. stock photo

Billions of dollars are being spent globally to find a vaccine for Covid-19, but the big question is which is the most promising? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 70 vaccines in the works for Covid-19, but only four of them are already being tested.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the manufacturing of seven potential vaccines. But it is possible that one or two of these may be successful.

In South Africa, Peter Van Heusden, a bioinformatician focusing on pathogen genomics, is part of a team researching ways to understand the coronavirus. Simply put, he builds and uses software to make sense of genomic material from bacteria, parasites and viruses.

Together with Dr Mushal Allam, a graduate of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and other scientists, they immediately got to work researching the virus in January this year. “My role has been in sequence analysis, that is taking the data from the sequencing process and trying to clean it up and make sense of it, both for this single SARS-CoV-2 genome and to understand the genome in the context of other SARS-CoV-2 genomes worldwide (collected on the GISAID portal),” Van Heusden says.

This work is a breakthrough in understanding Covid-19 in South Africa in the context of the global pandemic. “The initial genome sequencing was costly and time-consuming but efforts are underway to reduce this cost and get faster turnaround time. This will allow us to help those trying to trace the transmission of the disease in South Africa and the continent,” he says. This research will also help in understanding the global diversity of Covid-19 and note any significant changes in the virus.

Madagascar has reportedly found a cure for Covid-19 in an artemisia-based tonic that’s subject to more trials.

Other options being explored globally to treat Covid-19 include new drugs specifically designed to target SARS-CoV-2, as well as repurposed drugs designed to treat a different disease.

One of the oldest treatments being tested, is convalescent plasma. This involves using blood plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 and infusing it into patients presenting the disease.

In Pakistan and India, it was reported that Covid-19 patients recovered through this method, although it’s contested.

In short, it’s all hands on deck as countries and corporates come together to find ways to alleviate the disease.

Rebuilding the world

It’s hard to imagine what the world may look like by the end of the year. From healthcare, to retail, media, travel and education, it will no longer be business as usual. Experts are already coming up with strategies to entirely rebuild nations.

“I hope that in the post-Covid or Covid world, we are willing to invest in primary care systems, non-siloed care that focuses on building awareness and health literacy and one that invests in educating, retaining and supporting our healthcare workers at all levels of the system,” says Mobisson.

Sanitizing, social distancing and mask-wearing are the expected new norms, along with remote working and e-learning. Van Heusden fears the worst in a post-corona society. “I fear there will be a lot of trauma. How we deal with that will define the post-Covid-19 world. We might turn inwards and focus on blame and recriminations. Or we might draw on new awareness of how interconnected we all are and draw strength from that,” he says. In a tweet, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says “the reality is that we are sailing in uncharted waters. There is still a great deal about the epidemiology of the virus that is unknown. It is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgement.”

We are living a textbook example of history as it’s being made, amid uncertainty that will likely not go away for long. The moot question is: will we all live to tell the tale of a pre-and-post Covid-19 world? Only science can answer that.

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