By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Last October 2019, during the first Russia-Africa Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reaffirmed commitment to scale-up cooperation in various economic sectors and particularly expedite work on the special industrial zone and the construction of proposed four nuclear power plants, raising hopes for an increased power supply in Egypt.
Seated in a sizeable conference hall on October 23, Putin told the Egyptian delegation: “As for our bilateral relations, we continue to implement ambitious projects that have been coordinated by us, including a nuclear power plant and an industrial zone in Egypt. We are working very actively in these areas, and we are planning to invest $190 million in infrastructure development projects and to attract up to $7 billion.”
In his response, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warmly expressed gratitude for holding the first Russia-Africa Summit, added that relations have had a long history in many fields and spheres, starting with Russia’s support to the liberation movement, its contributions helped many African countries to attain practical results based on mutually beneficial cooperation in Africa.
“I would like to point out that we view Russia as a reliable partner of the African continent. We hope very much that Russia will be working in Africa in all spheres and fields, including in that of the development, as well as in the financing of infrastructure projects on the continent and in particular in energy and road construction,” the Egyptian leader told Putin.
Egypt attaches great importance in its relations with Russia. But what is particularly important for their bilateral relations, Abdel el-Sisi assertively reminded: “I would like to assure you of our high appreciation of our bilateral relations, which are developing in various formats, especially after we signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement. We sincerely hope that our relations will continue to develop in all fields and spheres.”
“As for the nuclear power plant, we set a high value on our bilateral cooperation. We strongly hope that all topics related to this project will be settled without delay so that we can start implementing the project in accordance with the signed contract. Mr President, we hope that the Russian side will provide support to nuclear energy facilities in Egypt so that we can work and act in accordance with the approved schedule,” he added, in conclusion.
Related Russian ministries, departments and agencies are, usually, tasked to coordinate and implement bilateral agreements. In the case of nuclear power, State Atomic Energy Corporation is the main player. According to the description made available on its website, State Atomiс Energy Corporation, popular referred to as Rosatom, is a global leader in nuclear technologies and nuclear energy. It is established 2007 [a non-profit entity type] and headquartered in Moscow.
In fact, Rosatom has shown business interest in Africa. Over the past two decades, at least, it has signed agreements that promised construction of nuclear energy plants and training of specialists for these countries. The Director General, Alexey Likhachev, emphasized these points at the Russia-Africa Summit that Rosatom has already been cooperating with more than 20 African countries, in particular, building the largest “El-Dabaa” NPP in Egypt with an installed capacity of 4.8 GW.
While still there in Sochi, Alexey Likhachev noted that more reliable, affordable and stable energy is the basic condition for achieving sustainable development goals. “We can make a qualitative breakthrough in Africa in terms of technological development and the use of nuclear technology in the next few years,” he said during one of the plenary sessions.
According to Reuters, the Egyptian Electricity and Renewable Energy Minister Mohamed Shaker said earlier at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ministerial conference that Russia had asked for $12 billion for the nuclear plants, a reliable solution for energy deficit. In this regard, the development of nuclear energy is important for Egypt.
“We made significant strides in the preparation of all strategic agreements [regarding the construction of a NPP in Egypt] with our strategic partner, Russia. We have also completed all technical, financial and legal aspects,” he said.
Shaker said that Egypt decided to build an NPP due to the need to redress the energy balance to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to save hydrocarbons which the country has earmarked for petrochemicals. “We have few traditional sources of electricity generation. The potential of hydro energy is gradually waning. Following the adoption of a special plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions we stopped using coal plants, however, energy consumption will grow,” according to the Minister.
It raises many questions about practical implementation of the several [paperwork] nuclear agreements that were signed with African countries. According to historical documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and information from published media reports, specifically about Egypt, the proposed Russian nuclear plants has a long history, at dating back to Soviet days.
Nuclear deals with Russia:
Egypt has been considering the use of nuclear energy for decades. The Nuclear Power Plants Authority [NPPA] was established in 1976, and in 1983 the El Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast was selected.
Egypt’s nuclear plans, however, were shelved after the Chernobyl accident. However, in 2006, Egypt announced it would revive its civilian nuclear power program, and build a 1,000 MW nuclear power station at El Dabaa. Its estimated cost, at the time, was $12.5 billion, and the plans were to do the construction with the help of foreign investors. In March 2008, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Early February 2015, President Putin and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed an agreement to set up a nuclear plant in Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast west of the port city of Alexandria, where a research reactor has stood for years. The deal was signed after a comprehensive bilateral discussion held and both expressed high hopes that Russia would help construct the country’s first nuclear facility.
Interfax news agency reported that Sergei Kiriyenko, the Head of the Rosatom state corporation, had presented to the authorities in Egypt, Russia’s proposals on construction of the first nuclear power plant in that country. The proposal is for construction of four power blocks, each with 1,200 megawatts of capacity.
Rosatom and Egypt’s Electricity and Energy Ministry signed the agreement on development of the nuclear plant construction project in February 2015. The project assumes that Russia will provide an intergovernmental loan to Egypt. Commercial contracts would be concluded once the intergovernmental agreements on construction of the facility and on the loan were signed.
In assertive remarks carried by local Russian news agencies, Kiriyenko said at that time that the technical and commercial details of the project were not finalized, but envisaged the new technology with strong safety measures taken into account. That included the lessons learned during the March 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, as well as a loan requested by the Egyptian government for the project construction.
Russia and Egypt Courtship
Interestingly, Egypt’s dreams of building nuclear plant has spanned several years, with agreement that was signed [as far back in March 2008] during an official visit to the Kremlin by the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and then through another former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi who discussed the same nuclear project with Putin in April 2013 in Sochi, southern Russia.
Mohammed Morsi had sought $4.8 billion loan from International Monetary Fund [IMF], and had also asked for an unspecified amount of loan from Russia to build the nuclear power plant. He hoped Russia would accelerate and expedite efforts, and provide financial backing for the project during his political administration.
The same year, following the revolutionary events and after a wave of mass anti-government actions, the army outsted the Moslem Brotherhood and their leader Mohammed Morsi, resulting in postponing or suspending the nuclear construction agreement. Since July 2013, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been in power after removing Morsi from office.
It is well-known fact that Egypt had long ties with the former Soviet Union. Those bilateral diplomatic ties resulted in several development projects in late 1950s including the building of the Aswan dam. During the Soviet times, many specialists were trained for Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, a former pilot, received training in what is now Kyrgyzstan, and further studied at the Soviet Military Academy in Moscow in the 1960s.
Egypt, first, began its nuclear program in 1954 and in 1961, acquired a 2-megawatt research reactor, built by the Soviet Union. Plans to expand the site have been decades in the making but repeatedly fell through. In 2010, that reactor suffered a breakdown, though no radiation was reported to have leaked out.
Renewable Energy Sources
Egypt is classified as having a high power system size [24,700 MW installed generation capacity in 2010 with more than 40 grid-connected plants]. As of 2010, 99% of the Egyptian population has access to electricity.
Since the early 2000s, power outage rates and durations, as well as distribution system losses, have trended downwards indicating that distribution companies have improved their overall customer service quality over the past decade; however, Egypt has seen a great weakening in its supply security. The power system’s generation reserve capacity declined from 20% in the early 2000s to 10% by the 2010s.
The weakening of Egypt’s supply security has caused widespread social issues in the 2010s. To deal with the extremely high demand for electricity, rolling blackouts and power cuts were implemented throughout the summer of 2012 causing great tension between the government and the people of Egypt.
Egypt has Renewable energy projects. The current energy strategy in Egypt [adopted by the Supreme Council of Energy in February 2008] is to increase renewable energy generation up to 20% of the total mix by 2020. The energy mix includes the use of hydropower, solar wind and nuclear.
Hydropower – The majority of Egypt’s electricity supply generated from thermal and hydropower stations. There are four main hydroelectric generating stations currently operating in Egypt. Experts have questioned why Egypt could not maximize the use of the river Nile that stretches 6.695 kilometers, especially for agricultural, industrial and generating energy for the region.
Solar – Egypt has a high solar availability as a result of hot desert climate.
Wind – Egypt has a high potential for wind energy, especially in the Red Sea coast area. As of 2006, 230 MW of wind energy was installed, and again 430 MW of wind power was installed in 2009.
In March 2015, British Petroleum [BP] signed a $12 billion deal to develop natural gas in Egypt intended for sale in the domestic market starting in 2017. Egypt is an important non-OPEC energy producer. It has the sixth largest proved oil reserves in Africa. Over half of these reserves are offshore reserves. Although Egypt is not a member of OPEC, it is a member of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Swinging for Nuclear Power
Nuclear experts have also shown some concern. Lack of electricity supply is a huge restraint on African economies and specifically for Egypt, nuclear power could be an excellent source of large-scale grid electricity. Nuclear is not expensive compared with other energy sources. But for African countries to develop nuclear power, the governments must first establish the necessary legal and regulatory framework.
The project must comply with all international standards and regulation on nuclear power. Africa has a shortage of skills for nuclear power. However, Africa has a shortage of skill for any energy technology, so developing nuclear power would necessarily mean increasing African skills, which is in itself a good thing.
Despite the long technical negotiation process, the current Egyptian leadership, indeed, shows high optimism toward adoption of nuclear power as an important and indispensable source of energy that will underpin sustainable growth of the economy in the country. The four blocks of the nuclear power plant will cost about $20 billion, according a website report of the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy.
Apparently, experts expect that such mega-projects would have thorough discussion in parliament, financing sources broadly identified and approved by the government. Egypt has yet to make an official announcement of the tender for the contract to build its nuclear plants. Media reports have also revealed that nuclear companies from China, the United States, France, South Korea and Japan seek to take part in international tender.
Egypt’s Economic Potentials
With over 100 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa, popular referred to as Maghreb region and part of the Arab World. Egypt is the third most populous country after Nigeria and Ethiopia in Africa. About half of Egypt’s residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centres of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities along the Nile Delta.
The economy has been transforming from one based upon agriculture to an economy with more emphasis on services sector, for example its fast-growing tourism and hospitality, and to some extent manufacturing. It has experienced a fall in Foreign Direct Investment [FDI] to the country.
Egypt’s economy mainly relies on sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal. Egypt has received United States foreign aid [an average of $2.2 billion per year], and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States.
Remittances, money earned by Egyptians [estimated 2.7 million] living abroad and sent home, reached a record $21 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank. Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Egypt’s economy. More than 15.8 million tourists  visited Egypt, providing revenues of nearly $11 billion. The tourism sector employs about 12% of Egypt’s workforce.
With one of the largest and most diversified economies in the Middle East, which is projected to become one of the largest in the world in the 21st century, Egypt has the third largest economy in Africa. Egypt is a founding member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.
Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS.
AFDI Okays $1.3m for Research to Empower Women
By Ahmed Rahma
The Africa Digital Financial Inclusion (ADFI) Facility has approved grants worth $1.3 million for two research efforts to enhance women’s digital access to loans and micro-insurance.
The grants of $1 million and $300,000 will be disbursed through the facility, a blended finance vehicle supported by the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), to two financial technology firms, Pula Advisors Kenya Ltd; and M-KOPA Kenya Ltd.
It was revealed that Pula Advisors, Kenya Ltd will use its share of the grant for research of social, cultural and economic factors that impact women farmers’ access to microinsurance in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.
Commenting on the research findings which will inform the design and implementation of gender-centric insurance products and will be undertaken over a 3-year time frame, Sheila Okiro, the Bank’s Coordinator for ADFI, “This grant funding will be used to leverage technology to develop innovative and responsive loan and insurance products that can spur productivity and inclusion, especially for our women smallholder farmers and traders.”
The three-year project will have three phases: product development; piloting; and scaling; the outcomes are expected to benefit 360,000 farmers, 50 per cent of them women, as well as boost farm yields by up to 30 per cent. This will also raise incomes and enhance household and national food security.
According to the statement, M-KOPA will use the $300,000 grant funding for research involving 250 women and 250 men in Kenya’s Kisumu, Eldoret and Machakos counties.
The company is expected to assess the barriers to and opportunities for women’s access to digital financial services and financial literacy programmes via smartphone, and use the research insights to design a financial services app that is relevant to small-scale women traders.
The project, approved by the bank on February 9, 2021, is also expected to benefit women with no or limited access to financial services that run small informal businesses.
Once developed, the mobile app will be used to pilot small loans to the women traders, it stated.
Both projects align with ADFI’s digital products and innovation and capacity building intervention pillars as well as its cross-cutting focus on gender inclusion, a thematic running across all its interventions.
The PULA grant approval meets African Development Bank strategic goals, including the 10-year strategy, two High-5 priority areas feed Africa and improve the quality of life for Africans and the financial inclusion strategies of Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.
While the M-KOPA project is aligned with the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program that seeks to increase access to finance for women.
ADFI is a pan-African initiative designed to accelerate digital financial inclusion throughout Africa, with the goal of ensuring that 332 million more Africans, 60 per cent of them women, gain access to the formal economy.
The facility was formally launched in June 2019 at the bank’s annual meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Current ADFI partners are the French Development Agency (AFD); the French Treasury’s Ministry of Economy and Finance; The Government of Luxembourg’s Ministry of Finance; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the African Development Bank, which also hosts the fund.
AfDB Plans $3bn Loans for African Women-led SMEs
By Ahmed Rahma
In celebration of International Women’s Day and to mark the rollout of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) Guarantee for Growth program, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Guarantee Fund are introducing the first beneficiaries of the AFAWA Guarantee for Growth program.
The AFAWA Guarantee for Growth program is an innovation aiming to unlock up to $3 billion in loans to women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
In a statement, it was disclosed that the beneficiaries will be participating in an online panel event on Monday, March 8, 2021.
The event which is to be held virtually is co-organized by AFAWA and the African Guarantee Fund under the title, “Women entrepreneurs: key drivers of economic growth.”
According to the organizers, the virtual session will concentrate on how the AFAWA Guarantee for Growth program works with financial institutions to address the financial and non-financial needs of African women entrepreneurs, by offering access to finance, providing technical assistance and create an enabling environment to promote policy changes and regulatory reforms.
“The African Development Bank has mobilized its resources, and the support of its global partners, in what is to date, our most ambitious effort ever to change the landscape on access to finance for African women entrepreneurs,” said Vanessa Moungar, the Bank’s Director for Women, Gender and Civil Society.
The first participants in the program include; Catherine Mumbua Wanjoya, the founder of a company manufacturing biodegradable and affordable sanitary towels, and waste incinerators; Terry Mungai, the CEO of a beauty and hair care franchise institution; Mbuaya Kalenga Mdhy, who heads a semi-industrial sewing company; and hotelier Bijour Esther Monga Ilunga Kazadi.
The initiative targets financial institutions to increase their appetite to lend to women who are known to be better payers, and who reinvest up to 90% of their income in the education, health and nutrition of their family and community.
It also de-risks women entrepreneurs and enhances financial institutions’ appetite for lending to SMEs.
Supported by the Group of Seven (G7) countries as well as the Netherlands and Sweden, the AFAWA Guarantee for Growth program is implemented in collaboration with the African Guarantee Fund, which works to facilitate access to finance for SMEs in Africa.
“We have realized when talking to financial institutions that they don’t see AFAWA as a favour that we are doing to women. It is a huge business opportunity to tap into a customer segment that has not been explored before,” said Jules Ngankam, CEO of the African Guarantee Fund.
Esther Dassanou, Manager of AFAWA said financial institutions in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are signing on to the program, and that the program could be a game-changer across the continent.
“The AFAWA Guarantee for Growth program is different and innovative from what is on the market, in the sense that it tackles all the major challenges that women entrepreneurs face in accessing financing and growing their business at the same time,” Dassanou added.
COVID-19 Vaccines Sales Thriving on Dark Web—Kaspersky
By Adedapo Adesanya
Cybersecurity giant, Kaspersky, has warned that scammers have started selling unverified COVID-19 vaccines on the dark market.
It noted that the entire globe is currently undergoing one of the largest and most complex vaccination campaigns in history and, not surprisingly, scammers and sellers have been eager to make a profit off the process.
Kaspersky researchers examined 15 different marketplaces on the Darknet and found advertisements for three major COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.
According to the report, the majority of sellers came from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (USA) and the prices per dose ranged from $250 to $1,200, with an average cost of about $500.
The cybersecurity outfit noted that communications are made via encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram, while payments are requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin.
Kaspersky warned that the majority of these underground sellers have made between 100-500 transactions, indicating that they’ve been completing sales but what exactly Darknet users are purchasing remains unclear.
The company noted, “With the information available to Kaspersky experts, it’s impossible to tell how many of the doses of the vaccine being advertised online are actual doses (many medical facilities have found themselves with leftover doses and how many advertisements are a scam.
“Even if you did receive something in the mail, most likely what you would receive would not be an effective, valid dose. More importantly, obtaining such doses is illegal.”
Speaking on this, Mr Dmitry Galov, a security expert at Kaspersky said, “You can find just about anything on the Darknet, so it’s not surprising sellers there would attempt to capitalise on the vaccination campaign. Over the past year, there have been a whole host of scams exploiting the COVID-19 topic, and many of them have been successful.
“Right now, not only are people selling vaccine doses, but they’re also selling vaccination records – pieces of paper that can help you travel freely.
“It’s important for users to be cautious of any “deal” related to the pandemic, and, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the Darknet,” he added.
Kaspersky offered that people stay safe from scammers at the time of COVID, noting that experts recommend: “Never buy products – including vaccine doses – on the Darknet.
“If you see an advertisement for something related to COVID, look carefully at the URLs of the sites that you visit. If just one letter looks out of place, or if the usual .com has been replaced with .com.tk or something along those lines, your gut should tell you it’s phishing. Never enter personal information on such a site.
“Pay attention to grammar and layout on both the sites you visits and the emails you receive. If something smells phishy, it probably is.”
Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise are constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe.
The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats.
Ghana, UK Sign $1.6bn Bilateral Trade Deal
By Adedapo Adesanya
Ghana and the United Kingdom have signed a trade agreement worth $1.6 billion in one of the latest bilateral deals since Britain exited the European Union (EU).
In an agreement signed yesterday, the terms will allow duty-free and quota-free access for Ghana to the UK market and preferential tariff reductions for UK exporters to the Ghanaian market.
It means Ghanian products such as bananas, tinned tuna and cocoa can be exported to Britain without tariffs.
Before the UK left the European trade bloc, Britain set up UK Economic Partnerships with 16 African countries so it could continue deals it already had while it was in the EU.
They are the same pacts as what the EU offers Africa, which is African countries do not pay tariffs or duties on exports to the UK.
However, Ghana was exempted from that list, subjecting Ghanian importers to heavy tariffs and extra paperwork.
The UK government said Ghana’s largest exports to Britain include mineral fuels and oil, preparations of fish, fruit, cocoa and cocoa preparations.
“The agreement will enter into effect following the completion of relevant internal procedures required in both Ghana and the UK,” both governments said in the statement.
The UK has said it sees Africa’s potential and showed this when British Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson skipped the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to host the UK-Africa investment summit in 2020 where deals worth almost $8 billion were announced.
The country showed its commitment by signing a trade deal with Egypt in December. The agreement will allow British businesses and consumers to benefit from continued preferential access to the market, which will help boost vital trade and investment.
In addition to securing trade, the UK noted that it will strengthen its relationship with Egypt and building co-operation on important issues including education, the environment and human rights.
The total trade on goods and services between the UK and Egypt was worth £3.5 billion in 2019, which the country says it will expand.
Critics have noted that despite this, the UK is likely to prioritise deals with the EU, United States, China, South Korea and Australia ahead of Africa.
UN Seeks $266m for East African Refugees
By Ahmed Rahma
The United Nations on Tuesday appealed for $266 million to help feed more than three million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, suffering extra hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint statement stated that lockdowns and other measures to contain the contagion have made it more difficult for refugees to get food or earn money.
“We’ve never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees,” said WFP’s regional director for East Africa, Mr Michael Dunford, adding that $266 million was needed for the next six months just to cover refugees’ minimum needs.
The UNHCR estimates almost three-quarters of some 4.7 million refugees living in the 11 countries where it works in the region do not have enough to eat.
“The pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but for refugees even more so,” said UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami. “Unless more funds are made available, thousands of refugees including children will not have enough to eat.”
She said refugees faced with food rationing and cash cuts are already turning to “negative coping strategies” including skipping meals, selling assets, child labour and increased domestic violence.
“There is often a desperation and a feeling of no alternative,” she said.
The funding shortfall has led the WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by more than half in Rwanda, and make big cuts in countries including Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan.
“We are deeply concerned that if cuts continue, (refugees) will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe,” Mr Dunford said.
Facebook Partners German Media on News Contents
By Adedapo Adesanya
Popular social media giant, Facebook, will start showing news contents from numerous German publishers and media outlets on a dedicated part of its site from May.
In an online news conference, Mr Jesper Doub, the Director for News Partnerships in Europe said, “We’re going to invest about a billion dollars in Facebook News worldwide over the next three years.”
“Facebook News in Germany is part of that,” he added.
Although he didn’t specify how much individual publishers will be paid, he noted that it was important for publishers to partner with Facebook so that they can be remunerated for content linked to on the site.
He, however, clarified that the content does not have to be produced especially for Facebook.
“What’s important here is that content itself doesn’t end up on Facebook, but we put links to the publishers’ offerings,” Mr Doub stressed.
According to Facebook, partners so far include Germany’s Spiegel news magazine, the Funke Media Group and Hamburg-based publishing house Gruner + Jahr, which belongs to the Bertelsmann Group.
Mr Doub described Facebook News as “a long-term collaboration”, adding that, “We believe it will take several years before the product is really good.”
Facebook News was launched in the United States in 2020 and was recently introduced in the United Kingdom.
In Australia, Facebook agreed last week to support publishers of its choice after a tough battle with the government there about paying for content.
The row had briefly prompted Facebook to ban news content from its platform.
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