Monday, July 19, 2021

Policies & the African Start Up: How inconsistent policies are killing African startups and what governments should do

Musings mine. Not attributable to any organisations I am serving, working or affiliated with. 

It has taken many years for me to put pen to paper - in this form. Why? Well I focused and hoped ‘those’ who have the expertise, the skills to write etc, etc, etc would get round to doing this. But…the impactful change one seeks truly does begin with one. So here goes...

I write as I speak - painting pictures with words, sometimes rambling and stopping at bus stops to share an extra nugget, insight or to detour completely. And sometimes I will enter the rabbit hole of writing in formal academic language to address a specific issue.

You see, this ‘column’, my writing is not your typical treatise or intellectual exposition on the what, why and how of policy making in the digital economy. It's a peek into my perfectly imperfect policy wonk mind. A sharing of my thoughts in progress around shenanigans in this space - the good, bad and ugly. 

Musings.

My goal? Tripatrite (that means in three parts!). First is to let the words out of my head beyond when I take the ‘stage’ and speak to a select few who know; second is to normalize conversations on policy implications of all the innovations happening - and if just 0.1%, get more innovators thinking on this before and when they hit the market! Third, and for me the most important is to bring this discourse to you - the end user, the customer, the target of all these innovations. So you understand, get it - and use the power to influence in an informed way. You see that latter? Well You have the power to be the instigator of the change you want to see.

So here goes: this first piece is like a get to know you more, more information gathering before a possible first date (I hope we make it to the latter ;-))

_____

Before we go on though - what is Policy making? Again no assumptions made right?

See, Policy making is far from ‘sexzy’ work - except for wonks like me :-). It is typically a long and arduous ‘figuring out’, drafting, negotiations, convincing and consensus building. In plain english:  It takes a good amount of time to get close to having the right policy backed by law  - from development to influencing process to adoption, influencing, implementation and then impact tracking (and its measurement).

The policy making process

It can seem like it's overnight, that hardly the case - but it does happen. [For instance, the Murambatsvina policy and the ‘look East’ policy in Zimbabwe]. The thing you don't know, having not paid attention or invested time, resources or built a network, is that it's likely been brewing under the surface (think lava, volcano eruption; or an underlying like that catches you unawares). Or you have done all this yet still…

Let's make this practical…use our imaginations (for some reading this is a reality I know).

Imagine: You are a startup in some city or town in a tier 2 African country. You practice some solid frugal innovation and come up with a needed product and or service. You worked hard (alone or with a small team) and hit the market. You have a frugal marketing and reputation building strategy that harnesses the power of social media across jurisdictions. You begin to see a return on investment, just a trickle at first and then it steadily (or maybe not - dips are normal!) and then wham! The government ‘sees’ you.  

Jisoos!

Well that imagining is a reality lived by many businesses across our continent - in these times seemingly targeting Tech enabled StartUps. The world more than ever before is at terms with the fact that digitisation is important for the growth of the economy and society. For the economically disparate economies on our continent however it seems players are working in different directions - albeit looking to reach the same goal of a thriving digital economy, apart. With the Covid-enabled growth of the last 18 months these ‘high IQ toddler’ businesses have faced stiff regulatory actions and inconsistent policies, - regardless of the intentions behind them. This at a time when African startup ecosystem is garnering global recognition and investor confidence

Here are a few examples of shifts in policy based on laws (sometimes not!) across our continent in the last 18 months.

Fintech in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya

Nigeria’s technology sector was its second-fastest-growing sector from Q1 2018 to Q4 2019. A look at the well appraised Nigerian fintech sector  reveals the recently released regulatory directory of the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which states that “by the provisions of Sections 67-70 of the Investments and Securities Act (ISA), 2007 and Rules 414 & 415 of the SEC Rules and Regulations, only foreign securities listed on any Exchange registered in Nigeria may be issued, sold or offered for sale or subscription to the Nigerian public. Accordingly, CMOs who work in concert with the referenced online platforms are hereby notified of the Commission’s position and advised to desist henceforth.”  

The South African Reserve Bank’s (SARB) cautious attitude towards virtual currencies like Bitcoin, as stated in Article 5.1 in its Position Paper on Virtual Currencies NPS 02/2014  that  ‘the Bank does not oversee, supervise or regulate the VC (virtual currencies) landscape, systems or intermediaries for effectiveness, soundness, integrity or robustness. Consequently, any and all activities related to the acquisition, trading or use of VCs (particularly DCVCs) are performed at the end-user’s sole and independent risk and have no recourse to the Bank.’ 

In 2015 Central Bank of Kenya(CBK) with regard to the legal status of virtual currencies, issued a public notice cautioning the public that “Bitcoin and similar products are not legal tender nor are they regulated in Kenya. The public should therefore desist from transacting in Bitcoin and similar products”. On 18 December, 2015 the CBK again issued Banking Circular No 14 of 2015, which cautioned, ‘all financial institutions against dealing in virtual currencies or transacting with entities that are engaged in virtual currencies. Financial institutions are expressly advised not to open accounts for any person dealing in virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. Failure to comply with this directive would lead to appropriate remedial action from the Central Bank’.

Just like South Africa, Kenya also has no specific legal framework tailored specially for its Fintech sector. One therefore sees the fintech sphere being regulated by a variety of statutes and rules governing various financial products, services and market participants, as well as other provisions of more general application.

The lack of specifically tailored regulations to govern the fintech sector, seen in Kenya and South Africa, leaves regulators at each point, responding to issues that arise individually. This leaves a gap for potential conflicts in regulating fintech, and reveals a situation where the regulatory environment would keep lagging behind technology. 

The ban by the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) negatively impacted thousands of Nigerians who have lately been drawn by technology to investing in foreign securities. Untoward hardship to fintech platforms such as Bamboo, Trove, and Risevest who work with local and foreign brokerage firms in allowing Nigerians to invest and trade in stocks listed on the Nigerian and foreign stock exchanges.

Logistics policies in Nigeria

The Lagos State Government on 27 January 2020 enforced a regulatory ban which restricted the operation of commercial bikes and tricycles on major roads within the state, stating that “after consultations with stakeholders, the State Security Council, in compliance with the extant Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, has decided to commence enforcement of the law which bans the operation of Okada and Keke in six Local Government Areas and nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs)”. This ban forced unplanned pivots and total shutdowns of services for hitherto thriving local organisations like Gokada and ORide. The regulatory blizz also extended to the regulation of online ride-hailing companies like Uber and Bolt with the enforcement of the requirement for a service entity regulatory permit provisional application/renewal  - ₦10 million licence fee for service entities with 1,000 units of e-hailing taxi; ₦25 million for those with more than 1,000 units of e-hailing taxi; with the provisional license subject to an annual renewal with a renewable fee of ₦5 million for every 1000 and ₦10 million for every 1001 and above unit of e-hailing taxi. It also mandated that 10% of every transaction by the passenger to the ride-hailing operators must be paid to the state government. At the national level the new guideline for the regulation of logistics and courier companies which increased the license fees for logistics companies and courier services was also approved on July 23, 2020. The amount mandated as licensing and renewal fees is shocking, as it creates an impediment for most players in the sector, who are mostly struggling MSMEs without the economic wherewithal to afford the fees.


An immediate implication of the ban of commercial bikes and tricycles was the drastic unemployment it resulted in across a broad base of Lagos. Unemployment directly correlates to an upsurge in crimes and insecurity.

Data and Infrastructure in South Africa and Kenya

The draft National Policy on Data and Cloud which is generally aimed at “exploiting opportunities presented by the digital economy, through the development of policy frameworks that harness the economic and social potential of data and cloud computing” was recently released (April 1 2021) . 

The Draft Data Protection (General) Regulations 2021 of Kenya also introduces data localisation, while among other provisions, requiring countries or territories to which personal data is transferred, to have ratified the African Union Convention on CyberSecurity and Personal Data Protection. This provision apart from restricting the free flow of data needed for a digital economy to thrive, includes a requirement for ratification of a convention which Kenya itself is yet to ratify. 

Although the goal of the policies might be applauded, their restriction on cross-border transfer of data through local storage and processing of data is capable of affecting productivity and innovation, and ousting the countries’ startups.

 

Digital Tax policies in South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya

South Africa was the first, in 2014, to tax digital services by imposing a 14% value added tax (VAT) on digital imports. Several African countries have since followed its steps. 

The Nigerian Finance Act for instance imposes 5% VAT on online transactions.  

In Uganda 74% of businesses reported a reduction in earnings following the imposition of digital tax - excise duty on over-the-top services over the internet - in the country. This same proposal for digital tax was only shut down by the Benin Government after a peaceful protest was staged by its people.

In 2013, the National Treasury of Kenya introduced a 10% excise duty on money transfer services. 

Governments rightly claim taxing digital services helps to raise revenue for ailing economies - totally plausible IF funds raised were channeled into providing infrastructure and enabling more innovation. This has not been the case however -  digital tax policies and laws have mainly been used to restrict digital activity of citizens, infringing on their digital rights.

So why should YOU care, I hear you ask? This long story, we know all about it - it's not stopping bread from getting to my table. 

Question is: is it not?

From an increased cost in basic services you have come to take for granted - from hailing a bike by app, phone call or on the side of the road to the inability to afford to continue to feed your family with premium turkey or listen to your favourite artiste due to new Copyright rules that don’t support Fair Use principles. 

Why? Because hey you can no longer ride Uber at an affordable rate (Hi, Hackney permit), through to it getting harder to shop for that item from Senegal since the taxes on it are higher (that's if the customs barriers are surmounted by AfCFTA) and it becoming significantly harder (if at all possible) for you to get timely help by raising a social media cry for help.

So you see, it matters. It touches you. Not just the ‘big businesses’ or the start ups - You. Like we say - … o di kwa serious (?)!

Over the next few ‘musings’ I will ponder on what we should be prioritising and why. If the data allows and my brain strings the words I will project on the impact  - possibly speak to the future.

Till next time - keep musing ;-)




Serendipity

Serendipity

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tale 14: Of Teachers, Lecturers and Professors

I am assailed by memories,
Memories of those who taught me.
Etched in my mind's eye,
the cadence of their voices,
their stance as they taught,
the terror some wielded,
with their canes and predatory nature.
And then, those who nurtured,
who truly, really loved their roles.
Custodians of knowledge,
enabling the future by facilitating learning.
Dedicated practitioners often vilified,
truly under appreciated

The good, the bad, the Ugly.
The 'inspirers', those who excelled
All I say thank you too.

Tales of more I will tell on other platforms, but these I bring to light

Of Mr. Ogunde (St. Agnes Primary School) who had six pence and a notorious ‘pankere’
This his wielded from over the top of his six foot 3 frame
Choi! Mr. Ogunde - thank you.

Of Miss Olatunji famed for her pleated skirts and puffy sleeves
for her knowledge of Maths - and attempts to instill same in me

Of afro Mrs. Onuzo, graceful
for never ever giving up on French and I

Of.Mr. Gboyega, tall and atimes lost in his own world
for enabling the Ajala in me, My love of travel thrives on

Of Mrs. Aganga a test on the Heart and my subsequent success
an affirmation that indeed I can if I put my heart and mind to it

Of Mrs. Shoda and Dr. Mrs. Onyewadume for building on the literary foundation
and for the many ear pulls, twists and eyes when I skirted the lines

Of Mr. Uwasomba, Mr. Akande and Mr. Adeoti in OAU
For living your lives the way you have and fueling the characters in my imagination
so many tales it seems yet to be told

Of the late Prof. Ekundayo who taught my mum in the 70’s and then taught me in the 90’s
Yes, same notes - it was Linguistics stylistics - so what, pray tell think you might have changed?

Of Prof. Mrs.Kolawaole from whom I first heard the term ‘Womanism’
One that captured who and what I stand for than Feminism has ever been able to

Of Dr. Chima Anyadike who till tomorrow comes, holds a special teacher place in my heart
He stands tall in my history, a positive contributor more than most - for the many referral letters

And most highly placed
My Mum, Dr. Mrs. B.A. Akinsanmi
Of many nicknames none of which I dare ‘think’ of for fear of her wise long reaching eyes
Dedicated service for a score and half years
sowing in the lives of many and unwittingly laying pathways of favour for me.

Thank you for staying through to a profession that is under appreciated.
May God replenish you. Amen.


Ps: Believe it or not I wrote the draft of this tale a week ago
It refused to leave the comfort of my turquoise notebook till today - and O, how apt it is!
Happy Teachers Day all!
Tale 13: Of Latin, Libraries and Elections

Some tales hold on tight to one, Not coming through,
Teasing, holding off all else.
Permitting expression only to that which concerns it.
So is this tale of Latin, Libraries and Elections.

Dubito ergo Cogito, Cogito ergo sum!

Let’s start at the very beginning:

I grew up with a love of books.
Serious Bibliophilia.
A Love nurtured and grown by my parents.

A modest library we had at home
But what treasures lay within
Myriad places to explore and escape to.
Well read copies, others mint
Hard Back, Soft Copy
First Editions, New Prints
Papyrus paper, News print
Pages missing yet memory served up

Memories where i retold tales of masters
Bront√ęs Jane Eyre recalling her childhood fantasy through Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
Hardy’s Tess of the D'urbervilles possibly finding some solace in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities
Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and His Man Friday joining in Swift's’ Gulliver's Travels
O what adventures I had!

Aside: No I am not an only child, 5 of 6 but weirdly introverted
Then I found and truly knew the world as my stage.
Shakespear’s King Leah, his Romeo & Juliet, Othello
The Bard of Avons’ sonnets and his Much Ado about nothing.

My Bibliophilism though went far beyond these imperial reads.
It swept across our nation across Africa
Shall I tell of tales by candle light
My father playing out ‘Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole’ by D.O. Fagunwa?

Of Amos Tutuola’s ‘Palmwine Drinkard’ enriching my love of ‘broken english’ and pidgin
of Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘The Beautiful ones are not yet Born’
Of Ola Rotimi’s ‘Our Husband has gone mad again’

Which shall I recall of the Laureate’s many works read:
The Lion and the Jewel?
Death and the King’s Horseman,?
Madmen and Specialists?
and of Course Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (and they still are unfortunately!)

Ahh the smell of an ancient book, dust covered and dog eared
Musty and fragile (atishoo! always happens what with my super sensitive nose!)
And the sweet smell of a brand new book
Crispy, Virgin, Untouched.

So you see my love of books is deep.
I am an addicted Bibliophile.

Old almanacs, classics,
Poetry & Comics (think TinTin, Richie Rich, Papa Ajasco, Omooba, Dilbert)
African tales, academic papers
History books to romance novels
DIY’s to Reader’s Digest

So long a letter :-) Now you get the picture
I am addictively ‘in love’ with the written word.
[Yes, Yes most especially the unshakeable Word who was in the beginning and is!]

So it should hold no surprise that this tale of Thanks (yes that is what it still is despite my tangential writing!)
Is centered around my bibliophilism - such was its lure that into Politics i fell.
A love so strong it held me in for 2 years and 1 more.
For you see, I could hardly bear to see the English Arts Library
Remain unkempt and uncared for.
Books yes ancient, atimes archaic
Not breathe in the light of day.
My competition was tough o - she had the strength of a lecturer as her boyfriend behind her (a love of which I hold nothing against).

And so I campaigned, latin phrase borrowed from Philosophy 102
Dubito ergo Cogito, Cogito ergo sum!

Shivering in my Yaba railway shoes
Skinny frame rattling
all behind a look above their heads facade
As I confidently spoke through the debate - on why I deserve their votes
On the why and how I would revamp the library and make it more accessible

I won! AVLESS librarian - Yes o!

So I say a hearty thank you.
To all who voted for the skinny latin speaking semi confident bookworm
You all unknowingly helped me.
Helped me to face up and stand up to an innate shyness and reclusiveness!

Gratias tibi! Thank you!

Forever a Bibliophile and more tales to be told.


Tale 12: Of Adoption, Room’s and Burglary

Of Adoption
A hearty thank you, to the Oyedeji Family.

Thank you: for giving me a family away from home.
Mummy Oyedeji your amala with ila oni’ru remains locked in my taste memory
Daddy Prof. Oyedeji, your industriousness, titles and accolades aside, your humility
Your field of corn and dexterity killing a snake with a hoe.

Bro. Sola, Sis Foluke, Bro. Bayo, Adeola.

Thank you for opening up your heart and home to me.
For using your influence to ensure, for the first time in four years,
I had accommodation in the most beautiful campus.
E seun Seun!

Of Room’s

So I finally had my own room - Ope o! Not a corner, or bunk space.
Not sharing with at least 7other people.
Nope.
An exclusive end of corridor room just for two - and in my case a roomie (adeola) who spent more time in Quarters than in the room.
A room all to myself - and I went to ‘town’ doing its interior.

Cream and Brown
Frames and throw Pillows
Satin and Pure Cotton
Pictures on the roof - my goal an oasis from the chaos that Ife had become

A place to host - thank you to all that came
A private place to cry over unrequited love (again?)
A space to let my creative mind free,
To be, to sleep, to rest
To succeed.

And then…

Of Burglary

‘Se’ise wa! Se’ise wa!’

That never ending call walking corridors,
across fences when barred from entry
of young boys and girls, some orphans and victims of Modakeke and Ife war
Looking to make some small change
Washing dishes & clothes,
fetching and mending
Anything

‘Se’ise wa! Se’ise wa!’

And within those that masqueraded to case out and profile
To return as marauders

One or two of such made it into my room
an my funds they took
(Don’t ask me about bank accounts svp!)
I gave them work, and before them paid
they were like ones I had ‘adopted’ going beyond the work they did for me to know of them
They came, they took money and never returned
A word of thanks to the perpetrators then - I pray your life has more light on it.
Again thank you.

Tomorrow I tell of Latin, Libraries and Elections


Tale 11: Of Floating, Squatting and Sharing

Of my sojourn in Ife - which tales do I not tell?
Tales of horrifying living conditions in Mozambique hall?
Of walking dead of night for ‘kaskoliness’ sake?
Of skirting cultists, dabbling in Student politics?
Of SUG power by extension,
Of ‘love’ unrequited?

I continue in close vein to where the last tale left me,
A tale of homelessness, through almost all of my years in Ife.
Aides by corrupt officials, Abetted by greedy students.
The former it seemed (?) assigning rooms for favours,
The latter, reselling like local Lords at hiked prices
All contributing to a hard life for innocents.

As told, my first semester, I floated.
Meaning? I did not even have a floor space to call mine for sure from day to day,
None to lay my Vitafoam single mattress.
But at least due to Toyin’s generosity (she had a top bunk so no corner to share with me)
I had at mid-bad times, a table-top in between two bunks (otherwise used for reading and cooking
At worst, I waited till all had dropped off to sleep or gone off to ‘read’ and to ‘gbeshe’
Then dropped my mattress on the ground, in the what should be the walkway
Mini-tales of being trod on, as night revelers returned,
Of being stumbled on as midnight nature calls were answered
Of horror of all horrors, my sole nibbled on by rats for snack!
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I will never return to that place - Amin!

Of a second semester in same year 1
Post Olumide Akinsola introducing me to Tomi Olapoju nee Okediji
Finally having a place to squat - o what luxury!
Aside: You wonder at squatting? It’s the floor space ‘attached’ to a lower bunk occupying pride of place next to a door.

A place on the floor at night, to lay my head;
A more peaceful sleep than atop lockers or tables
A place to put my licker filled with my worldly University possessions
A place to feel somewhat at home - though bitten by terrific mosquitos!

Thank you Tomi!

And then my second year - away from Mozambique straight to Moremi
But no still had no room assigned (wetin I do OAU room assignors sef?)
Having met one I call my friend for life,
Mother to my only God son (so far o!)
Adeola Adenugba nee Oyedeji.

A place to share as she did more than offer me a squat.
For you see, she was a Quarters babe.
So I luxuriated in having a spring frame to support my mattress
And My locker in pride of place in the room!

Thank you ‘Deola!

And year three - a thank you to Seyi O… who through 4:5 took me in.

To Toyin, Tomi, Adeola and Seyi

I pray that you will never know homelessness
A place of Joy you will always have
to lay your head and that of your lineage

Thank you.
Tomorrow I tell a tale of adoption, burglary and roofs.

Nightie Night!


21st September 2015

A reminder...

To those might have forgotten

Or those only reading midway

A reminder on why...

These Tales are a thoughftul reflection on a few, of many points in my life

Where

help and support

Friendships and love

When

Acts of sabotage

attitudes of non-inclusion

Knowingly and unknowingly committed, has contributed to the place and life of Grace and favor I now live.

Again to all mentioned so far

Thank you!