Rwanda Embracing Solar Energy
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
ARC Power, a British Startup, is currently helping Rwanda, a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with Solar Business Parks alongside its roll-out of solar mini-grids – a collection of solar-powered commercial units – the latest energy initiative to light up Rwanda.
Rwanda is increasingly adopting solar energy due to its affordability and easy accessibility to electricity for use in both urban and rural community.
ARC Power designs, develops and installs large scale, off-grid AC power generation and distribution systems (ARCs) that become the hub of the community and empower families and small businesses to thrive.
ARC Power was set up in 2016 in recognition of the increasing demand for affordable, reliable and clean power across Rwanda’s distributed population. It is currently seeking new investment and sponsorship partners to support its growth and be part of the rapidly emerging mini-grid market in Africa.
In this interview, Karl Boyce, Chief Executive Officer of ARC Power, talks about the advantages using solar power and efforts toward providing solar equipment for generating electricity for residential and industrial buildings, and the possibility to expand such technical services to the southern African region.
Here are the interview excerpts:
How did you come about the unique idea to establish Arc Power to help with electricity in Rwanda? What were some of the motivational or driving factors?
I had been working in Rwanda for many years and had seen the country really progressing, but still being held back by lack of access to power. I spent a lot of time in rural communities and there are aspirational people there, but they are limited by what they can do in terms of economic development as power is such an important factor almost all of the time.
Since its establishment, what would you say are some of the marked achievements with the project (operations) in the country?
We have built a great team in Rwanda, made up of more than 95% local staff, and throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, we managed to keep every single one employed, despite not being able to install more mini-grids for a big part of 2020.
Our first pilot cluster of villages is Murama in Bugesera District. It had little in the way of commercial operations there and was predominantly households with subsistence farmers. Since we installed power there, we have seen new houses being built, new businesses opening and now, with our first Solar Business Park, we will see even more economic improvement in the community, which is great.
Do you focus on providing solar panel system for usage at both domestic and industry? Assessing the population, how many people have access to power now?
We are certainly providing power generation from our ARCs for both domestic and industrial users. We have designed them to accommodate both types of demand and are receiving more enquiries from industrial users, looking for standalone systems, which we will be providing in parallel to our community-based mini-grids.
Currently, just over 50% of the population in Rwanda has access to electricity, but only 15% if through off-grid and mainly from Solar Home system. The government has set aside 300,000 connections (households and businesses) to have access through mini-grids and currently only about 3,000 have been connected, so there is a long way to go yet.
Rwanda government is interested in nuclear plants for generating energy. Do you think the country is ready for that, in terms of finances and experts/specialists, left alone the risk and disposal of nuclear waste?
This will take many years and such a large amount of investment. Frankly speaking, I do not see it would be feasible. The country needs power now if it is to continue on the development trajectory. Rwanda has the opportunity to develop 100% energy access with decentralised power through solar mini-grids, harnessing the power from the nuclear reactor in the sky – the Sun. It is much safer, more environmental-friendly and cost-effective way to generate power than nuclear, hence why several countries in Europe are de-nuclearising.
What are your views about the investment opportunities for investors in Rwanda and its neighbouring southern Africa countries?
I have invested in Rwanda for almost 15 years now and am a strong advocate of the country in terms of the investment climate there, particularly with the zero tolerance to corruption which makes it much easier to do business and mitigate risk. I feel there are so many investment opportunities in this region as Africa is the final frontier market and has so many opportunities to become a world leader in terms of sustainable development.
The fact that it lacks traditional infrastructure such as national grids in many countries, actually provides an advantage as those countries can leapfrog the cumbersome infrastructures with rapidly deployed, decentralised power in the same way that the mobile markets in Africa leapfrogged traditional landline, which other developed countries already had.
What advice would you offer to potential investors who are considering pursuing business, say, in southern Africa?
I think the most important thing is ensuring that you understand the specific country well as each one is quite different in terms of company law, structure and general process of operating. I know how important it is to have strong relationships in any country, especially where one invests, both at local and central government level, in addition to potential collaborative partnerships in the private sector.
What challenges still remained to overcome in your company’s operations? Is doing business in the sphere of energy competitive there?
Our biggest challenge is always the timing of funding and regulatory processes with the government. We have built a very efficient team to roll out our ARCs and mini-grids rapidly now at a highly competitive cost per connection, but our frustrations are usually centred around delays as a result of funding timescales or approvals required to install in Rwanda, as this is a relatively new sector.
Entrepreneurship is very challenging. What keeps you personally motivated working for this Arc Power? What is your future vision for Arc Power?
Entrepreneurship is certainly challenging, but seeing a personal vision develop into something tangible and particularly, the impacts of our work on local communities, keeps me motivated personally. As a team, I think everyone in ARC Power shares the same vision and feels like we are all building something sustainable, to be proud of. The vision is to build the best pan-African clean utility business. We started in Rwanda but will be expanding to Malawi next year. We have plans to operate in, at least, four countries in East Africa by 2023.
Despite all you have said above, in what ways would you argue that the region is unique for business? Do you see the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as another factor that will attract more foreign investors to Africa?
I have always thought Africa provided the most unique and exciting investment opportunity if the resources can be managed and monetised properly, in a way which would actually benefit the population there, not just foreign owners.
In terms of our sector, Africa is perfectly located with some of the highest irradiation levels to be the global powerhouse of solar power generation. Despite the lack of infrastructure and historical lack of robust business environments in the various countries, this is improving and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area will open up even more opportunities for foreign investors. I think Africa is going to be one of the most exciting places to invest in over the next 5-10 years.
Cote d’Ivoire Abandons Import Substitution Policy, Goes For Russian Grains, Others
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire has abandoned its import substitution policy and other economic measures, including the budgetary allocation for modernizing local agriculture and support for boosting domestic agricultural production. It, however, boasts around 64.8 per cent of arable and agricultural land, which largely remains uncultivated.
Arguably, Côte d’Ivoire, located on the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean), could support its fishing industry by spending adequate funds on acquiring simple fishing equipment for local people and even start its own large-scale fish ponds but instead plans to increase fish imports into the country.
It was gathered that the West African country might spend an estimated $100 million on exports of Russian food and agricultural products this second quarter of 2023.
The Russian Agriculture Ministry’s Agroexport Center said it was ready to export such products to Côte d’Ivoire as its market is promising for exports, including grain, fish, sunflower and soybean oil, processed grain products and prepared meat products, among others.
Russian exports of agribusiness products to Côte d’Ivoire more than doubled to $41.6 million in 2021 from $18 million a year earlier, the report said. This included 96,100 tonnes of wheat worth $26.2 million, 12,900 tonnes of fish worth $8.7 million, 1,100 tonnes of sunflower oil worth $1.7 million and 400 tonnes of ice cream worth $0.5 million.
Statistics show that imports from the Côte d’Ivoire are far higher and grew to $237.5 million in 2021 from $223.7 million in 2020, although by the volume they dropped to 72,600 tonnes from 74,500 tonnes. These imports included 43,800 tonnes of cocoa beans worth $141.8 million, 18,100 tonnes of cocoa paste worth $69.3 million and 3,400 tonnes of cocoa powder worth $8.5 million.
“The decrease in Russian imports by volume was due to the reduction of purchases of cocoa beans and cocoa powder. At the same time, cocoa paste imports showed significant growth: 27% by volume and 37.2% by value,” the report said.
Around 7.5 million people made up the workforce. The workforce took a hit, especially in the private sector, with numerous economic crises since the 2000s. Decreasing job markets posed a huge issue as unemployment rates grew.
With rising unemployment, especially among the youth, experts suggested the government engage in economic diversification, focus on support for improving local production. Therefore, preliminary solutions proposed to decrease unemployment included diversifying the economy and increasing financial support in addressing domestic food security.
With an estimated population of 29 million, the economy of Côte d’Ivoire has grown faster than that of most other African countries since independence. One possible reason for this might be taxes on exported agriculture. It is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans. In 2021, cocoa-bean farmers earned $2.53 billion for cocoa exports. Generally, it is the fourth-largest exporter of general goods in sub-Saharan Africa (following South Africa, Nigeria, and Angola)
By geographical description, Côte d’Ivoire is a country in western sub-Saharan Africa. It borders Liberia and Guinea in the west, Mali and Burkina Faso in the north, Ghana in the east, and the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean).
Cote d’Ivoire Launches Startup Act to Support Ecosystem
By Adedapo Adesanya
Nigeria’s West African neighbour, Cote d’Ivoire, may be the latest country in the African continent to get a Startup Act as the Ivorian government unveiled the framework designed to support the country’s most talented start-ups.
The journey began in 2018, and after much deliberations, in August 2021, startup ecosystem players gathered in the capital Yamoussoukro to develop a local law fostering startups in the West African country.
Two years later, the bill was approved by the Ivorian Council of Ministers, the country’s top executive decision-making body.
The bill, among other things, establishes the terms of financing and support for digital startups under Ivorian law. Its special goal is to support the development and sustainability of these vulnerable enterprises’ creative activity until they reach maturity in order to maximise their contribution to the transformation of the national economy and the quality of life of the people.
To give more weight and visibility to young innovative companies, Côte d’Ivoire announced a new legal framework. The Ivorian Startup Act, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, should soon bring a wind of change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Speaking on this recently following a meeting with stakeholders from Tunisia, the first African country to pass a Startup Act, Florence Tahiri Fadika, who is a technical advisor in charge of innovation and change at the country’s Ministry of Communication and the Digital Economy, said, “A meeting with our Tunisian counterparts during a benchmarking study at the end of 2022 accelerated the process. Tunisia is one of the first countries in Africa to have implemented a Startup Act. Their model is inspiring because it is very operational. The benchmarking mission, organized by the NTF V project, enabled us to benefit from Tunisia’s experience and to identify good practices.”
Following Tunisia’s model, the Ivorian Startup Act is driven by a strong political will and intends to bring concrete results.
“While waiting for the law to be officially voted by our assemblies, we are already working to make the Startup Act a tangible reality. The idea is not to copy the Tunisian legislation but to adapt it to the reality of our economy. A mapping study is underway and should enable us to precisely target the needs of our ecosystem,” Fadika said.
“At the same time, we are developing construction projects for new technology parks and start-up campuses,” she said. “Under the Startup Act, eligible start-ups will be able to benefit from state-of-the-art infrastructure and numerous amenities in order to succeed both regionally and internationally.”
The beneficiary start-ups will be able to access new opportunities in terms of training, financing, promotion, and access to public contracts and international markets.
When it becomes a law, the country will join Tunisia (April 2018), Senegal (December 2019), and Nigeria (October 2022) as African countries with startups backing the legislation.
Africa is Against Economic Colonization—Mudenda
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Parliamentarians from Russia and Africa discussed issues of development of economic cooperation during the first day of their conference March 19 to 20, in Moscow.
The objectives of the conference are to strengthen parliamentary cooperation with African countries in the conditions of formation of a multipolar world, to develop relations and develop common approaches to legal regulation in the economy, science and education and security.
Round table discussions on the topic “Legislative Response to Economic Challenges” was held as part of the International Parliamentary Conference Russia-Africa events.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Alexander Zhukov, stressed that Africa “is a rapidly developing region with great prospects and that Russia is currently actively working to enhance cooperation with the countries of the African continent.”
“Unlike many Western countries, Russia does not have colonial experience, and the contribution of the Soviet Union to the liberation of African countries from colonial dependence is also well known to everyone,” he explained.
“An important part of the cooperation should be the exchange of legislative experience with African countries in key areas,” he said.
“Our mutual economic interests include investments, cooperation within production chains, cooperation in strategic infrastructure projects, energy, medicine, financial technologies, and that, of course, along with the traditional supply of grain and fertilizers,” said the First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma.
Africa stands for an equal partnership
Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe, stressed that there should be a “specific approach” to provide a legislative response to economic challenges.
“Africa has resources, including those that cannot be found in other countries, even in developed ones. That is why Africa is the best investment option,” he said.
“Africa is against economic colonization; Africa stands for equal partnership,” said Jacob Mudenda.
Speaking about legislative issues, he said that the continent needed infrastructure and its development, such as road improvements, rail and air transport.
“If there is no infrastructure, it will be impossible to trade even with developed countries such as Russia and with Africa,” said the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
He also noted the necessity to develop the energy sector for industry and sufficient water for agriculture.
The Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy, Pavel Zavalny, said that signing intergovernmental agreements was an important tool of political support for enhancing energy cooperation between Russia and African countries.
He emphasized that energy was one of the most promising areas of economic cooperation between Russia and African states. Economic growth and energy demand are shifting to Asia and Africa in global economic and geopolitical transformation conditions.
“One of the tools for intensifying economic cooperation is political support. Currently, there have been established economic cooperation with 14 countries of the continent at the state level, there were created high-level bilateral commissions, and signed intergovernmental agreements,” stressed Zavalny.
“The development and harmonization of energy legislation can play an important role in enhancing mutually beneficial energy cooperation between Russia and African countries. And that is the work that we should do in the interests of our nations,” concluded the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy.
Multipolar world instead of hegemony
Jean-François Buzonni, a deputy spokesman assistant for the Union of the Congolese Nation (Congo) political party, said he was very pleased that Russia had turned its attention to the African continent, “which for many years has been under the yoke of Western countries.”
“The world no longer lives under the hegemony of one country. We see the transformation processes of a multipolar world,” he stressed.
“I am glad that Russia is seeking to develop equal partnership relations with the countries of the region for the common benefit,” added Jean-François Buzonni.
Transition to national systems of settlement
According to Maxim Topilin, the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy, the sanctions and pressure that Russia is experiencing just prove that “any situation in which a country maintains its independent position can lead to the destruction of all economic ties.”
“That should be a lesson to us,” he added.
Topilin said that in relations between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to focus on national systems of settlement. “It is very important not to be based on those standard principles, use those currencies that we used in the framework of joint projects,” he said.
Topilin is convinced that for further cooperation between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to create new international organizations. “We should think about new supranational institutions for recognition, certification, and admission to the markets of certain goods. There is a lot of work that should be done,” said the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy.
Topilin also recalled that a draft law on Islamic banking was being prepared for the second reading, and members of the State Duma plan to adopt it during the spring session. “From the point of view of cooperation with Islamic countries, that definitely will be a very serious breakthrough in the financial strategy,” he added.
More than 40 parliamentary delegations from African countries arrived at the conference, which was also attended by members of the State Duma, senators of the Federation Council, and representatives of the educational and business community. The conference was held just a few months before the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned to be held in July 2023 in Saint Petersburg.
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