Over the years, the vacation rental industry became a huge business, with millions of tourists choosing fully furnished homes or apartments instead of a traditional hotel or motel experience.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak caused an enormous financial hit to the entire market, cutting down revenues of both the big players like Airbnb or Booking.com and smaller vacation rental owners and property managers.
According to data presented by Stock Apps, the revenue of the global vacation rental industry is expected to plunge by $35bn in 2020, a 42% drop year-over-year.
Airbnb, Booking.com, and Expedia Witnessed a 90% Plunge in Reservations
The vacation rental segment includes private holiday homes and houses and short-term rental of private rooms or flats through online marketplaces like Airbnb and Booking.com or in travel agencies.
In 2017, the entire industry generated $78.7bn in revenue, revealed the Statista data. In the next two years, this figure rose by 7% to almost $84bn.
However, vacation rental companies had a rough start to 2020. After a promising first few weeks of 2020, the initial wave of the COVID-19 caused massive cancellations of stays, with even the market’s biggest players witnessing colossal reservation drops.
In week 14 of 2020, short-term rental bookings on the Expedia platform saw a 94% drop year-over-year. Two other travel industry giants, Airbnb and Booking.com, followed with a 93% and 91% plunge, respectively. The strong negative trend continued between June and September after the coronavirus pandemic ruined what is typically a peak summer travel period.
As of week 35, there was a 62% YoY drop in short-term rental bookings on the Airbnb platform. However, Booking.com and Expedia witnessed even more significant losses, with their reservations plunging by 66% and 86% in this period.
Statista data show the global vacation rental industry is expected to witness a recovery in 2021, with revenues growing by 36.7% to $66.9bn, still $17bn under 2019 levels. In the next three years, this figure is forecast to rise to $88.4bn.
The average revenue per user in the vacation rental segment is forecast to amount to $111.1 in 2020, a slight increase in a year. By 2025, this figure is expected to rise to $117.
The Number of Users to Plunge by 42% to 445 Million
Although the initial wave of the COVID-19 caused massive reservations drops in the first months of 2020, statistics show the number of users is expected to stay deep below the last year’s levels.
In 2017, almost 750 million people chose vacation rentals instead of hotels and motels. Over the next two years, this figure rose to 777 million.
However, Statista estimates the number of users in the vacation rental segment to plunge by 42% YoY to 445 million in 2020 and remain under 2019 levels in the next three years.
In global comparison, the United States represents the world’s largest vacation rental market, expected to generate $9.5bn in revenue in 2020, a 45% plunge in a year.
To fight the spread of COVID-19, some US states placed restrictions on short-term rentals, which caused massive complaints from the companies operating in the market. In Florida, property owners and a vacation rental management company even filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of violating their constitutional rights.
The Chinese market, the second-largest globally, is forecast to witness a 43.5% drop YoY, with revenues falling to under $5.3bn. Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany follow, with $3.2bn, $2.6bn, and $2.5bn in revenue in 2020, respectively.
It’s been 20 years since the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was first held. Another summit is planned for September 2021 in Dakar, Senegal. Meanwhile, Chinese and African officials are reviewing and reflecting on their two-decade relationship.
China-Africa relations are mostly organised via government to government relations. But the perceptions and wellbeing of ordinary people also need to be better considered.
In 2016 the pan-African research institute Afrobarometer published its first study on what Africans think of their governments’ engagement with China.
The study found that 63% of citizens surveyed from 36 countries generally had positive feelings towards China’s assistance. Some things that stood out were China’s infrastructure, development, and investment projects in Africa. On the flip side, perceptions of the quality of Chinese products tarnished the country’s image.
In 2019/20, Afrobarometer conducted another wave of surveys. Data from 18 countries – gathered face-to-face from a randomly selected sample of people in the language of the respondent’s choice – was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey questions covered how Africans perceive Chinese loans, debt repayments, and Africa’s reliance on China for its development.
Preliminary findings show that the majority of Africans still prefer the US over China as a development model, that China’s influence is still largely considered as positive for Africa, and that Africans who are aware of Chinese loans feel that their countries have borrowed too much.
This is important because – as both African and Chinese leaders reflect on their engagement – these findings should allow them to build a forward-looking relationship that better reflects African citizens’ opinions and needs.
US vs China
The surveys found that Africans still prefer the American development model over the Chinese one. The Chinese development model hinges on state-led policy planning while the American model emphasises the importance of the free market.
Across the 18 countries surveyed, 32% preferred the American development model, while 23% preferred the Chinese model. Overall, this hasn’t changed much since 2014/15, but a few country-level shifts emerge.
In Lesotho and Namibia, the US has surpassed China as a preferred development partner. In Burkina Faso and Botswana, China is preferred. Angolans and Ethiopians, who were not included in the 2014/15 survey, are partial to the American model. However, 57% of Ethiopians and 43% of Angolans believe that China’s influence is having a positive impact on their countries.
Analysts have argued that the Chinese development model is dynamic and multifaceted. It has changed over time depending on the context and period. African governments need to decide what aspects of the Chinese model are best for their countries.
A closer look at responses from the 2014/15 and 2019/20 surveys shows that in countries where China has invested mainly in infrastructure, perceptions have held steady or become more positive. This includes Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
China’s popularity rises in the Sahel
Strategically, China has been deeply involved in security and development activities, infrastructure projects connected to the Belt and Road Initiative, and peace and security operations in the region.
In Burkina Faso, for example, the popularity of China’s development model has almost doubled, from 20% to 39%, in the five years since the previous survey.
In Guinea, where Chinese companies are mainly involved in mining projects, 80% of citizens perceive China’s economic and political influence as positive – four percentage points up from five years ago. Overall, China’s growing involvement in the Sahel region seems to have had a strong impact on citizens’ views.
Economic fortunes and debt repayment
A majority of African citizens say China’s economic activities have “some” or “a lot” of influence on their countries’ economies. But the perceived influence has declined from 71% in 2014/15 to 56% in 2019/20 across the 16 countries surveyed in both rounds.
And while six in 10 Africans see China’s influence on their country as positive, this perception has declined from 65% to 60% across 16 countries. Instead, regional African powers, regional and United Nations organisations, and Russia scored well in perceived positive influence. Russia was perceived well by 38%.
This could be a reflection of Russia’s growing political, economic, and security engagement with Africa, as well as the role of Russian media such as Russia Today and Sputnik. A recent study on digital media content in francophone West Africa revealed how the digital content these media houses produce quickly seeps into African media spaces.
The Afrobarometer survey revealed that less than half (48%) of African citizens are aware of Chinese loans or financial assistance to their country.
Among those who said they were aware of Chinese assistance, more than 77% were concerned about loan repayment. A majority (58%) thought their governments had borrowed too much money from China.
In countries which received the most Chinese loans, citizens expressed worry about indebtedness. This included Kenya, Angola and Ethiopia. In those countries, 87%, 75%, and 60% of citizens respectively were concerned about the debt burden.
The latest Afrobarometer data provides lessons both for analysts of Sino-African relations and African leaders.
First, there is no monopoly or duopoly of influence in Africa. Beyond the United States and China, there is a mosaic of actors, both African and non-African, that citizens consider to have political and economic influence on their countries and their futures. These actors include the United Nations, African regional powers and Russia.
Survey findings show that although Chinese influence remains strong and positive in citizens’ eyes, it is less than it was five years ago. This decline might also be linked to perceptions of loans and financial assistance, framed by the ‘debt-trap’ narrative and allegations of Chinese asset seizures.
Once fieldwork resumes, future Afrobarometer surveys in additional countries may shed light on ways in which the pandemic and China’s ‘corona diplomacy’, and media reports on the mistreatment of African citizens in Guangzhou, have affected the hearts and minds of African populations.
From the mid-2000s onwards, the digital revolution raised hopes of democratic transformation and strengthening in Africa. But it hasn’t quite turned out like that. Now, almost a decade after the “Arab Spring”, techno-optimism has given way to techno-pessimism.
African leaders have proved able to blunt the transformative potential of smart phones through censorship and internet shutdowns. When the internet is on, social media attracts more attention for spreading fake news than preventing election rigging.
What was once thought of as “liberation technology” has turned out to be remarkably compatible with the maintenance of the status quo. Or has it? Does this more pessimistic reading overlook genuine progress?
A new publication I co-edited with Lisa Garbe – Decoding #DigitalDemocracy in Africa – draws together the latest research on the extent to which digital technology has changed Africa … and the ways in which Africa is changing digital technology.
The articles show that we should not miss the wood for the trees: despite disappointment, digital technology has had profound impacts on African politics and society. But, they also highlight how much more needs to be known about digital technology on the continent.
Digital access and inclusion
A lot of recent analysis has focused on the digital divide in Africa, and the many people excluded from online access by poverty and lack of coverage.
Yet researchers have also found that closing this divide cannot be achieved by cheaper technology alone. Using digital technology to access information and resources is only possible when a set of political, legal, and economic conditions are in place.
For example, the content that citizens can access increasingly depends on giant tech companies, especially for poorer citizens. In his contribution on Facebook’s Free Basics - a service that provides basic online services without data charges - Toussaint Nothias explains that tech corporations’ dominant position enables them to shape how individuals use the internet under the pretence of making it more affordable.
This raises tough questions about whether multinational companies engage ethically in Africa. As Julie Owono’s contribution points out, Facebook has been accused of “dumping” products such as Free Basics, stymieing the production of local alternatives. This has raised concerns of a fresh “scramble for Africa”, with multinational companies expending more energy and resources in securing new users than tackling hate speech and misinformation.
Social media, democracy and accountability
Idayat Hassan and Jamie Hitchen’s analysis of WhatsApp and Facebook use ahead of elections in The Gambia shows that even in rural areas with limited connectivity, social media content contributes to offline political mobilisation.
It is important not to lose sight of this more positive impact amid the growing focus on fake news and hate speech.
Sadly, though, further problems are on the horizon. Azeb Madebo reveals how the Ethiopian diaspora has fuelled the polarisation between the Oromo community on the one hand, and the Ethiopian government and Ethiopian nationalists on the other.
Not all fake news is believed of course, but when stories play into widely held fears, prejudices and assumptions, they can exacerbate distrust and encourage a cycle of violence.
It is, therefore, significant that there is relatively little regulation of content moderation. Julie Owono shows that in part this can be attributed to the limited local capacity of content providers such as Facebook or Twitter. Neither has invested heavily in African experts capable of identifying fake news and hate speech circulated on their platforms.
In part, it is also rooted in the limited funding available for civil society groups, considerable linguistic diversity, and the volume of information being shared. As a result, organisations such as Africa Check highlight instances of fake news but cannot hope to cover all harmful content.
There are no easy answers to these problems though, because when governments do try and combat free speech, Ashwanee Budoo finds that misinformation is often abused as an excuse to clamp down on freedom of expression.
Free speech, censorship and Internet shutdowns
While growing internet coverage has enabled citizens to challenge authoritarian rule, non-democratic leaders have also manipulated or disrupted online access. According to Lisa Garbe, internet shutdowns have become the “new normal” in some authoritarian states. This is especially so during politically contested periods such as elections or major protests.
Moreover, while internet shutdowns are important, they are the thin end of the wedge. A number of steps have been taken to prevent citizens from being able to express themselves online. There is a growing use of spyware across the continent to snoop on government critics.
In Tanzania, restrictive laws about what can be said online go hand in hand with government pressure. A prominent lawyer was recently fired because of her “activism”.
Meanwhile, those who can afford internet access still face restrictions on governments information. Thus, Lisa-Marie Selvik argues that digital technology has done little to give many African citizens the right to basic government information.
What we know and what we don’t know
Some sixteen years on since the creation of Twitter, it is becoming clear what we do and don’t know about digital democracy in Africa. We know that digital technology is acting as a disruptive force that simultaneously has “liberating” and destructive potential.
The continent has yet to develop an effective way to stop the flow of fake news. And the full benefits of digital democracy are being thwarted by digital exclusion that is driven by the high cost of data, the strategies of authoritarian governments, and in some cases the approach of major tech companies themselves.
But, what we don’t know is just as important. We urgently need more research in a number of areas.
To what extent has social media exacerbated ethno-regional tensions? How much online content is actually produced by governments and the trolls that work for them? Who should be responsible for content moderation and how can ethno-linguistic diversity be accounted for? What are the political and socio-economy consequences of restricting internet access, and how can this be resisted? Does the finding that how an individual behaves online does not dramatically change their offline political activity in Uganda hold more broadly? And is social media reinforcing existing gender norms rather than challenging them?
These questions should inspire the research agendas of the future.
Idayat Hassan, Director of CDD-West Africa, contributed to the publication and is a co-author of this article.
UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2020 says stopping illicit capital flight could almost cut in half the annual financing gap of $200 billion that the continent faces to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Every year, an estimated $88.6 billion, equivalent to 3.7% of Africa’s GDP, leaves the continent as illicit capital flight, according to Economic Development in Africa Report 2020 [PDF] launched today.
Illicit financial flows (IFFs) are movements of money and assets across borders which are illegal in source, transfer or use, according to the report entitled “Tackling illicit financial flows for sustainable development in Africa.”
It shows that these outflows are nearly as much as the combined total annual inflows of official development assistance, valued at $48 billion, and yearly foreign direct investment, pegged at $54 billion, received by African countries – the average for 2013 to 2015.
“Illicit financial flows rob Africa and its people of their prospects, undermining transparency and accountability and eroding trust in African institutions,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
These outflows include illicit capital flight, tax and commercial practices like mis-invoicing of trade shipments and criminal activities such as illegal markets, corruption or theft.
From 2000 to 2015, the total illicit capital flight from Africa amounted to $836 billion. Compared to Africa’s total external debt stock of $770 billion in 2018, this makes Africa a “net creditor to the world”, the report says.
IFFs related to the export of extractive commodities ($40 billion in 2015) are the largest component of illicit capital flight from Africa. Although estimates of IFFs are large, they likely understate the problem and its impact.
IFFs undermine Africa’s potential to achieve the SDGs
IFFs represent a major drain on capital and revenues in Africa, undermining productive capacity and Africa’s prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For example, the report finds that, in African countries with high IFFs, governments spend 25% less than countries with low IFFs on health and 58% less on education. Since women and girls often have less access to health and education, they suffer most from the negative fiscal effects of IFFs.
Africa will not be able to bridge the large financing gap to achieve the SDGs, estimated at $200 billion per year, with existing government revenues and development assistance.
The report finds that tackling capital flight and IFFs represents a large potential source of capital to finance much-needed investments in, for example, infrastructure, education, health, and productive capacity.
For example, in Sierra Leone, which has one of the highest under-five mortality rates on the continent (105 per 1,000 live births in 2018), curbing capital flight and investing a constant share of revenues in public health could save an additional 2,322 of the 258,000 children born in the country annually.
In Africa, IFFs originate mainly from extractive industries and are therefore associated with poor environmental outcomes.
The report shows that curbing illicit capital flight could generate enough capital by 2030 to finance almost 50% of the $2.4 trillion needed by sub-Saharan African countries for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
IFFs are concentrated in high-value, low-weight commodities, especially gold
The report’s analysis also demonstrates that IFFs in Africa are not endemic to specific countries, but rather to certain high-value, low-weight commodities.
Of the estimated $40 billion of IFFs derived from extractive commodities in 2015, 77% were concentrated in the gold supply chain, followed by diamonds (12%) and platinum (6%).
This finding offers new insights for researchers and policymakers studying how to identify and curb IFFs and is relevant to all gold-exporting countries in Africa, for example, despite their differing local conditions.
The report aims to equip African governments with knowledge on how to identify and evaluate risks associated with IFFs, as well as solutions to curb IFFs and redirect the proceeds towards the achievement of national priorities and the SDGs.
It calls for global efforts to promote international cooperation to combat IFFs. It also advocates for strengthening good practices on the return of assets to foster sustainable development and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Need to collect better trade data to detect risks related to IFFs
Specific data limitations affected efforts to estimate IFFs. Only 41 out of 54 African countries provide data to the UN International Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade) in a continuous manner allowing trade statistics to be compared over time.
The report highlights the importance of collecting more and better trade data to detect risks related to IFFs, increase transparency in extractive industries and tax collection.
The UNCTAD Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), including its new module for mineral production and export, called MOSES (Mineral Output Statistical Evaluation System), are potential available solutions.
African countries also need to enter automatic exchange of tax information agreements to effectively tackle IFFs.
Africa should improve regional cooperation on IFFs and tax
Although IFFs are a major constraint to domestic resource mobilization in Africa, African governments are not yet sufficiently engaging in the reform of the international taxation system.
Transparency and cooperation between tax administrations globally and within the continent is key to the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance.
Regarding regional cooperation on taxation within the continent, the African Tax Administration Forum can provide a platform for regional cooperation among African countries.
Regional knowledge networks to enhance national capacities to tackle proceeds of money laundering and recover stolen assets, including within the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), are crucial in the fight against corruption and crime-related IFFs, the report says.
Tackling IFFs requires international action
Tax revenues lost to IFFs are especially costly for Africa, where public investments and spending on the SDGs are most lacking. In 2014, Africa lost an estimated $9.6 billion to tax havens, equivalent to 2.5% of total tax revenue.
Tax evasion is at the core of the world's shadow financial system. Commercial IFFs are often linked to tax avoidance or evasion strategies, designed to shift profits to lower-tax jurisdictions.
Due to the lack of domestic transfer pricing rules in most African countries, local judicial authorities lack the tools to challenge tax evasion by multinational enterprises.
But IFFs are not just a national concern in Africa. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said: “Illicit financial flows are multidimensional and transnational in character. Like the concept of migration, they have countries of origin and destination, and there are several transit locations. The whole process of mitigating illicit financial flows, therefore, cuts across several jurisdictions.”
Solutions to the problem must involve international tax cooperation and anti-corruption measures. The international community should devote more resources to tackle IFFs, including capacity-building for tax and customs authorities in developing countries.
African countries need to strengthen engagement in international taxation reform, make tax competition consistent with protocols of the AfCFTA and aim for more taxing rights.
Military officers overthrew Mali’s government in a coup d’état on August 18, 2020. Among the more worrying aspects of the coup is the fact that a number of the officers involved had received foreign training, most notably from the United States.
In fact, this was the second time in eight years that US-trained officers in Mali had launched a coup. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one civilian government to a coup launched by foreign-trained officers may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.
For many commentators with a strong sense of déjà vu, events in Mali reinforce suspicions of a link between US training and coups d'état.
But does US foreign military training provoke coups d’état? The short answer is we don’t know. Until we know more, we should be sceptical of the blanket claim that it does.
Initial evidence, much cited by journalists, suggests a link.
Researchers Jesse Dillon Savage and Jonathan Caverley find that US foreign military training roughly doubles coup risk in recipient states. They argue, plausibly, that foreign training grants recipients credibility and power within the officer corps, which they can then use to rally officers against shaky civilian governments.
What commentators seldom note, however, is that this analysis is confined to just two US training programmes. Yet the US has some 34 different foreign military training programmes involving partners in almost every country in the world.
Our research finds no relationship between US military training and coups, even when looking at “most similar” programmes to America’s International Military Education and Training programme. Researchers at the RAND Corporation, a US think tank, also analysed the link between US training and military coups in Africa. They too cast doubt on the link between the two.
And in a recent dissertation, post-doctoral fellow Renanah Miles Joyce finds that, on average, US training in Africa reduced military involvement in politics and human rights violations.
Training and coups
There are other reasons to be sceptical of the foreign-training-causes-coups hypothesis. First, it should come as no surprise that Mali’s coup plotters received US training. Between 1999 and 2016, US programmes involved 2.4 million trainees in programmes that cost over $20 billion.
Officers in many countries embark on the security equivalent of global training pilgrimages through a transnational circuit of academies, exercises and manoeuvres. This training is often the key to building a successful career.
Consider the curriculum vitae of Mali’s coup plotters. Early reports suggest that Assimi Goïta, who heads Mali’s junta, spent years training alongside US special forces, regularly participated in US Africa Command’s multinational Flintlock exercises, attended an 18-day seminar in Florida, and studied at the American-German Marshall Centre.
His colleagues, Colonel Malick Diaw and Colonel Sadio Camara, the coup’s purported architects, were allegedly training at the Higher Military College in Moscow before returning to Bamako in the days before the coup.
For their part, German officials admitted that several coup plotters had been trained in France and Germany.
This might, at first glance, suggest a connection between foreign training and coups. But, in our view, it simply points to the ubiquity of foreign training in many modern militaries. In addition, because training seeks to strengthen civil-military relations, it tends to occur in coup-prone countries like Mali. History suggests that coups tend to beget coups.
Foreign training may not have much of an effect at all. At one end of the spectrum, large-scale foreign training in Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan has met with failure and frustration. Jahara Matisek, an assistant professor in the Department of Military and Strategic Studies at the US Air Force Academy, has likened these foreign-trained forces to Fabergé eggs, “expensive and easily broken”.
At the other end, many activities are limited to a handful of soldiers and last all of a few days. This makes it hard to conclude that foreign training alone triggers major changes in civil-military relations in recipient countries.
If we cannot make a general claim about the training-coup link, perhaps a link can be found in certain situations. For example, the kinds of training that are undertaken, and how training intersects with local political conditions.
Some argue that training focuses too much on technical and tactical expertise to the detriment of democratic norms and military professionalism.
Yet, precisely because improving civilian control of the military is a key objective, these democratic norms feature prominently in curricula. The trouble seems to be that it is difficult to transplant norms, as the US and European Union are learning to their detriment, after years of effort and tens of millions of dollars trying to reform Mali’s security sector.
It’s also the case that norms of military professionalism are ambiguous and open to abuse. As Professor Risa Brooks argues, norms of professionalism in the US are not stopping American military personnel from involvement in politics. And Professor Sharan Grewal provides evidence that US officers’ increasing politicisation rubs off on their foreign trainees.
In the search for more effective security partners, the US and its allies have increasingly focused on elite units, including the special forces unit commanded by Mali’s Colonel Goïta. While this intensive, long-term training can transmit skills, it’s also at risk of encouraging the formation of praetorian guards that threaten democratically elected civilian governments.
Such training may indeed create a dangerous nucleus of discipline, competence and power at the centre of an otherwise dysfunctional state. In other cases, as in Mali’s neighbour Chad, foreign training of the authoritarian regime’s elite forces may help to help defend the regime against coups.
We have heard a lot about foreign trainees in coups. We need to know a lot more about training in the coups that do not happen.
Health crises are not new in Africa. The continent has grappled with infectious diseases on all levels, from local (such as malaria) to regional (Ebola) to global (COVID-19). The region has often carried a disproportionately high burden of global infectious outbreaks.
How cities are planned is critical for managing infectious diseases. Historically, many urban planning innovations emerged in response to health crises. The global cholera epidemic in the 1800s led to improved urban sanitation systems. Respiratory infections in overcrowded slums in Europe inspired modern housing regulations during the industrial era.
Urban planning in Africa during colonisation followed a similar pattern. In Anglophone Africa, cholera and bubonic plague outbreaks in Nairobi (Kenya) and Lagos (Nigeria) led to new urban planning strategies. These included slum clearance and urban infrastructure upgrades. Urban planning in French colonial Africa similarly focused on health and hygiene issues, but also safety and security.
Unfortunately regional experiences with cholera, malaria and even Ebola in African cities provide little evidence that they have triggered a new urban planning ethic that prioritises infectious outbreaks.
References are often made to historical successes of urban planning in Africa. But colonial use of planning for cultural and structural isolation, as well as for socio-economic and spatial segregation, limited its capacity to respond to health emergencies. With the widespread nature of COVID-19, is it reasonable to argue that it could possibly be the pandemic that inspires a new way of “doing” urban planning in Africa?
Our recent research paper discusses three areas that can transform urban planning in the continent to prepare for future infectious outbreaks, using lessons from COVID-19.
Integrating the informal
The first relates to the integration of the city’s informal sector into the formal planning process. This is reflected in two ways. The first is the non-inclusion of informal settlements (mostly slums) in urban planning practice. The second is the lack of planning focus on the informal economy that results in exclusion. Yet this is a sector that constitutes more than 80% of Africa’s urban economy.
In a time of COVID-19, slums and informality are critical due to the sector’s vulnerability to transmission. It is challenging to deploy testing and contact tracing , as well as adhering to social distancing rules. Many slum residents in African cities lack access to basic essential services such as water, sanitation, housing and healthcare.
And, given that the informal sector is characterised by unregulated economic activities including uncontrolled hawking and unplanned open markets, overcrowding is impeding social and physical distancing rules in African cities.
Change is needed. Perhaps COVID-19 will be the wake-up call to spur the consolidation of existing and formal structures to becoming more responsive to managing health crises in slums and the informal sector.
Geographic and economic imbalances
Second, there are geographical and economic imbalances in urban planning in Africa. Investment patterns and development mostly focus on the major cities with limited focus on its adjoining districts and regions. Yet what happens in cities does not stay in cities.
Infectious diseases often have cascading effects on adjoining districts and regions with functional relationships to major cities. COVID-19 has affected both cities and their adjoining regions. However, adjoining districts continue to receive limited investment in critical infrastructures such as health, housing and other essential social services.
Given the disruptions to the supply chain between major cities and the adjoining districts due to the pandemic, it’s about time that planning practitioners and educators learn to prioritise urban planning to reflect these imbalances. A poorly managed relationship between cities and adjoining regions can create inequality that may lead to unhealthy city-regional inter-dependencies, environmental damage and unmanaged waves of health crises. These can have ripple effects across the urban-rural spectrum.
Planning in Africa should ensure city-regions are more resilient by addressing imbalances to produce a more integrated city-regional planning around health, economies, transport networks and food production.
Third, public health matters should be considered in urban planning. Health outcomes traditionally do not drive urban planning practice in Africa. In our study, urban green spaces are used as an example because the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted their importance in managing emergencies. Literature evidence suggests that African cities are rapidly losing their green spaces. This is due to, among other things, poor urban planning.
A new approach should bring open spaces into the heart of how African cities are planned, and management systems for local green space must improve. Integrating larger open spaces within the urban fabric allows cities to implement emergency services and evacuation protocols during health crises.
What frequently seems to be effective in advancing responses to health crises is an urban planning approach that integrates a range of infrastructure. This includes grey (such as treatment facilities and sewers), green (trees, lawns and parks) and blue (wetlands, rivers and flood plains) systems.
Although COVID-19 has profoundly transformed urban life globally, this article provides cautious optimism of its potential in managing future health crises in Africa. Going forward, urban planning in Africa needs to reflect the aspirations of urban residents and address multiple spatial inequalities, including access to better spaces in times of a pandemic.
Patrick Brandful Cobbinah, Lecturer, University of Melbourne; Ellis Adjei Adams, Assistant professor, University of Notre Dame, and Michael Odei Erdiaw-Kwasie, Research fellow, University of Southern Queensland
Recent media reports claim that a covert Kenyan paramilitary team is responsible for the unconstitutional killing of terror suspects in nighttime raids. The reports are based on interviews with US and Kenyan diplomatic and intelligence officials.
The team was trained, armed and supported by US and British intelligence officers.
It has been reported that since 2004, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) programme has been operational in Kenya without public scrutiny. For its part, the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has played a key role in identifying, tracking and fixing the location of targets.
This has drawn renewed attention to the reality of widespread foreign security operations in Africa.
Several African governments are hosting foreign military bases. This is despite the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council’s ongoing concerns about the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent. The AU is also concerned about its inability to monitor the movement of weapons to and from these military bases. Regardless, a host of bilateral agreements between AU member states and foreign powers underlie the spread of foreign military forces across the continent.
At least 13 foreign powers have a substantial military presence on the continent. The US and France are at the forefront of conducting operations on African soil.
Moreover, private military groups are active in several conflict zones on African soil. Northern Mozambique is the most recent case.
These dynamics coincide with claims that Russian MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes have now conducted missions in Libya in support of Kremlin-backed private military forces to extend Moscow’s influence in Africa.
Military base mapping
Currently, the US has 7,000 military personnel on rotational deployment in Africa. These troops carry out joint operations with African forces against extremists or jihadists. They are hosted in military outposts across the continent, including Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition, 2,000 American soldiers are involved in training missions in 40 African countries. American special forces operate across east Africa in so-called forward operation locations in Kenya and Somalia.
Like the US, France has either deployed military forces or established bases in a number of African countries. The country has more than 7,500 military personnel currently serving on the continent. Its largest presence is in the Sahel, especially in the border zone linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The presence of foreign military forces in Africa is not limited to Western powers. China has been particularly active with its military presence in the Horn of Africa. It has become more engaged since 2008 when it participated in the multinational anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.
Since then China has maintained an anti-piracy naval presence in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. Between 2008 and 2018, the Chinese Navy deployed 26,000 military personnel in a variety of maritime security operations.
Lemonnier was established alongside French, Italian, Spanish, German and Japanese bases. China has developed a 36-hectare military facility to host several thousand Chinese troops and provide facilities for ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. These are counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden; intelligence collection on other countries; noncombat evacuation of Chinese citizens in East Africa; international peacekeeping operations where Chinese soldiers are deployed; and counter-terrorism operations.
India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. The country has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean to counter China’s rising military footprint in the region.
It also wants to protect its commercial sea lanes from piracy.
India has ongoing deployments that monitor developments in the Horn of Africa and Madagascar. The country also plans to establish 32 coastal radar surveillance stations with sites in the Seychelles, Mauritius, and other locations outside Africa.
When it comes to the Middle East, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two countries with a notable military presence in Africa.
Turkey joined the international counter-piracy task force off the Somali coast in 2009. In 2017, it opened a military base in Mogadishu, Somalia. The purpose is to train recruits for the Somali National Army. Turkey will also support the Somali navy and coastguard.
The UAE has had a military base in Eritrea since 2015. It comprises a military airfield with aircraft shelters and a deepwater naval port. The base has been used in operations against opposition forces in Yemen.
Foreign military motivations
It is clear that the Horn is the epicentre of foreign military activity in Africa. Foreign troops have been deployed there to counter threats to international peace, subdue terror groups and pirates, and support foreign security initiatives.
But there are other motivations to establish military bases in Africa. These include protection of commercial interests, aligning with friendly regimes, and expressing dominance on a continent that is the focus of rising global competition.
Of course, Africa is not the exception. The US, for example, also maintains a substantial military and security presence in the Gulf region. It has bases in countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE.
For some observers it might seem like foreign governments are imposing their militaries on Africa, but, in fact, many African governments are keen to host them.
Bilateral agreements with major powers generate income for African states. The opening of China’s military base in Djibouti is a case in point. Most of Djibouti’s economy relies on Chinese credit.
The presence of foreign military forces has also played a significant role in fighting terror groups. These include groups like al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali. This explains why several African countries are willing to turn to foreign governments for advice, intelligence and support.
But there is a downside to the presence of foreign forces on the continent. For instance, the African security landscape has become overcrowded by a multiplicity of foreign security and military activities. These activities often function at cross purposes.
The competition among some of the world’s powers has been heightened by the increasing presence of Asian powers. China’s expanding presence in Djibouti has caused concern.
Its influence in Africa and the Indian Ocean has ruffled feathers within Japanese and Indian political and security circles. A Chinese monopoly could impede their engagement with the continent.
Finally, African countries are not agreed on how to regulate foreign security and military activities. The approach so far has been disjointed.
Though Africa’s peacekeeping capacity has increased significantly, the AU is still highly dependent on external funding and resources for its peacekeeping operations. It does not have the freedom to take independent strategic, operational and even tactical decisions in its operations.
As long as these shortcomings exist in Africa’s response to armed conflict, foreign militaries and intelligence services will continue to operate on the continent.
These are matters that have to be addressed before African states can heed the AU Peace and Security Council’s concerns about extensive foreign military involvement on the continent.
There is no shortage of technological innovations designed to boost animal agriculture in Africa. These range from GPS tracking systems which identify and trace pastoralists’ herds to livestock vaccine SMS services that alert farmers to disease outbreaks.
But to unlock the economic potential of the sector as demand for meat and milk swells threefold towards 2050, countries must invest in the critical areas that will improve quality across the whole value chain. That is increasing productivity and quality from the breeding of the animal throughout the production process to the end product. This includes safe storage, handling and sale.
My native Uganda offers some useful lessons from its use of smart investments in technology and farmer organisation. These have made it the only East African country that is self-sufficient in milk.
In recent years, some private sector players in Uganda have invested in testing systems to detect aflatoxin in animal feeds. The goal is to prevent milk and meat contamination. Others have developed refrigeration units that are powered with biogas from manure. Both are among the innovations that improve the quality of the final product.
As highlighted by a new report from the Malabo Montpellier Panel on which I sit, the same can be achieved elsewhere. It can also benefit other livestock commodities, to give Africa food sovereignty across animal-sourced foods and greater access to international markets.
The report makes 11 recommendations for Africa’s livestock sector. These range from technological innovations and supportive policies to addressing trade barriers and challenges specific to each commodity.
African nations must be strategic in prioritising the infrastructure that will make the most difference to quality and productivity. The first priority is to increase consumer awareness around food safety, nutrition and sustainability to kickstart demand for better quality products.
Partly as a response to European consumer expectations around quality and safety, for example, Morocco developed a new system for animal identification and traceability in 2015.
Livestock can be identified using electronic tags that communicate with the national database via mobile phone networks. This increases transparency and traceability. It also promotes Moroccan animal products on international markets such as the European Union.
The second priority is then to direct technology towards opportunities to open up market access.
To unlock trade means investing in improved animal health, processing operations, storage and distribution. Meeting regional and international standards for food safety and quality is a vital goal. Africa currently contributes 2.8% of the global meat market, which translates to 14 million tons. The continent produces just over 10% of the world’s milk.
There are a number of barriers to increasing this production and gaining greater market share. They include limited availability of quality animal feed, access to affordable energy needed in producing and processing livestock, and limited infrastructure, particularly in the last mile.
With meat and milk being perishable goods, innovation in the cold chain and sustainable energy supplies will help strengthen the sector.
For example, an East African initiative which centralised milk quality testing and storage in chillers prior to sale increased yields sixfold within five years.
The volume of milk supplied to the 30km catchment area rose to three million litres a month. This increased income per smallholder household by more than 160% in Uganda, 120% in Kenya, and almost 65% in Rwanda.
The success of such projects in turn drives demand for continued innovation, such as solar-powered cold chains or interventions that protect other resources like water and grasslands.
Finally, countries also need to prioritise policies that support new technologies across the livestock sector.
To transform its milk production sector, Uganda privatised the state-owned processing company Dairy Corporation as well as creating a Dairy Development Authority.
The Dairy Industry Act of 1998 empowered the authority to enforce milk hygiene standards and quality controls. As a result, traders were licensed to meet public health and milk quality standards. This encouraged the modernisation of the sector through the expansion of pasteurisation plants and processing infrastructure as well as processing of high value products.
Certainly, the gains have trickled down to the farmers in better farm gate prices.
As the Malabo Montpellier Panel points out, many of the tools needed to tap into the potential of Africa’s livestock sector exist already. But with limited resources, they must be deployed smartly to improve the entire value chain.
Scaling up innovation at critical points will unlock new opportunities and help ensure animal agriculture keeps pace with a rising demand from a growing population.
Radisson Hotel Group announced the addition of six new hotels to its African portfolio, bringing the total to almost 100 hotels across 32 African markets.
The six new hotel deals include:
Radisson Collection Hotel Bamako, Mali
Scheduled to open within the next six months following a re-branding, the hotel introduces Radisson Hotel Group’s premium lifestyle brand to Africa, as the first Radisson Collection hotel to open in the continent.
The operational hotel is currently rated number one on TripAdvisor for its prime location in the heart of Bamako and proximity to the city’s diplomatic district and great accessibility. The 200-room affordable luxury hotel will offer exceptional dining experiences across its five food and beverage outlets, from an all-day dining restaurant and a specialty restaurant to a café, a bar and an executive lounge. The hotel also offers an expansive 1,200sqm meeting & events area consisting of a ballroom and seven conference rooms. For the ultimate contemporary living, guests can stay fit in the hotel’s fully equipped gym or unwind in a serene setting within the spa or alongside the pool.
With the introduction of Radisson Collection in the city, the existing Radisson Blu Hotel, Bamako is expected to commence a full renovation program towards year end.
Radisson Blu Hotel Abuja City Centre, Nigeria
The Radisson Blu Hotel Abuja City Centre, scheduled to open in 2024, is the Group’s first hotel in the city, complementing the existing nine hotels in operation and under development in Nigeria.
Located in the heart of the central business district of Nigeria’s Federal Capital, the 258-room hotel will boast five different food and beverage outlets from a specialty restaurant and all-day-dining restaurant to a Lobby Bar & Café, a picturesque pool terrace and a premium business class lounge. The leisure facilities will include a 555sqm wellness spa, a gym and a swimming pool to maintain guest’s wellness.
Radisson Hotel & Convention Centre Johannesburg, O.R. Tambo
Scheduled to open before year end, the hotel will introduce the Group’s upscale Radisson brand to Johannesburg. Located on a private estate in Bredell, Kempton Park, the hotel has easy access to major highways joining Johannesburg and Pretoria and is approximately 10 minutes’ drive away from O.R Tambo International Airport, Africa’s biggest and busiest airport, facilitating over 21 million passengers in 2018.
The newly built hotel will offer an array of dining options, including four restaurants, three bars an entertainment deck and an executive lounge.
The hotels 289 modern and timelessly designed rooms comprise of 248 which are newly built and 41 which have been converted from an existing hotel. In addition, it has a large MICE facility, which includes a significant conference centre with a 1,260-seater auditorium and five conference rooms. The leisure facilities will include a gym, spa & wellness centre as well as three outdoor pools.
Scheduled to open within the next six months following a re-branding, the hotel introduces Radisson Hotel Group’s premium lifestyle brand to Africa.
Radisson Hotel Addis Ababa
Radisson Hotel Group’s fifth hotel in Ethiopia, scheduled to open in 2021, is located just 4km from Ethiopia’s newly expanded Addis Ababa Bole International Airport terminal, now the biggest airport aviation hub in Africa, expected to accommodate 22 million passengers a year.
The 114-room hotel will boast a wide variety of food and drink outlets, the hotel will offer guests a truly local experience in a traditional Ethiopian specialty restaurant and bar and appease international taste buds in a bespoke all-day-dining restaurant which leads out into a pool bar. In addition, the hotel will also have a third bespoke panoramic bar.
Radisson Hotel & Apartments Accra, Ghana
The hotel, scheduled to open in 2023, is a full renovation of an existing 121 room hotel and construction of an additional tower which will offer 54 hotel apartments, creating a mixed-use development. The hotel is located on Tema Highway, Ghana’s largest port located to the East of Accra. Within a 3km radius of the hotel is the Kotoka International Airport, Accra Mall and the Airport City complex, a mixed-use development with several Grade AAA office towers and retail outlets.
From an all-day dining restaurant, lobby bar and rooftop restaurant, bar and pool terrace, every culinary preference will be catered for. The versatile meeting and events facilities are made up of 12 different venues with an area of 1,173sqm. The hotel will also include a gym, spa and swimming pool.
Park Inn by Radisson, Durban Intl. Airport, Dube, South Africa
The new-build hotel introduces the upper midscale Park Inn by Radisson brand to Durban and strengthens Radisson Hotel Group’s current portfolio of 15 hotels (3,007 rooms) in operation and under development in the country. It will also complement the national business circuit with a Park Inn by Radisson in each of the three major cities of South Africa (Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg).
Claiming its foremost milestone, it is the first hotel within Dube Trade Port Special Economic Zone, which forms the heart of the first purpose-planned aerotropolis in Africa, around King Shaka International Airport. The 168-room hotel scheduled to open in 2022, will have a lobby bar, rooftop all-day dining restaurant and rooftop pool terrace with eight different meeting & event venues.
This is a flashback. Just about a year ago, the tough speaking Ugandan President, Yuweri Museveni blamed the World Bank and the West as a whole for driving Africa into Chinese arms by their refusal to fund railways projects across Africa.
Hosting some Chinese officials then, President Museveni lashed at the World Bank for refusing to lend Uganda money to build a railway network,noting that the World Bank told off Uganda when it sought for funds, that countries that “build railways use own money.”
He said that such a statement from an economist purports to support Africa’s transformation through private-sector led growth shows that some actors are not serious. Museveni, who was in China for a four-day visit, told a meeting in Beijing that Uganda Railways tried to get money to fund railway construction from the World Bank but in vain.
“One of our engineers recently told me that the Uganda Railways tried in vain to get support from the World Bank until one official told them that countries that build railways do so with “their own money,” Museveni said.
“How will the private-sector grow if it is bedevilled with expensive transport costs, expensive electricity costs or no electricity at all, expensive cost of money, etc.? It is against that negativity, that China’s solidarity should be measured.”
“As we gather here, therefore, we cannot forget to salute the Communist parties of China, the USSR, Cuba and the other socialist countries that constituted the third factor in our emancipation,” he said.
Reality a Year After
A year after , Uganda appears to have fallen out with Beijing on railway financing. China was unwilling to commit such fund after the faltering experience of Kenya.
Kampala has eventually resorted to a mixture of private public sector funding of her railway revival. It has slowed down the SGR agenda and in turn opted for rehabilitation of the old guage lines.
Interestingly, the Ugandan government has engaged a western led consortium in the rehabilitation efforts. Just two or so weeks ago, the national government of the Republic of Uganda approved US$ 376M for the 215km Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment project.
An additional investment of over US$ 12M has also been approved to purchase eight locomotives for the line and more than US$ 2.5M for routine repairs across the network.
This was revealed by Charles Kateeba, the managing director of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) in a letter addressed to the parliamentary committee on matters of national economy.
According to Mr. Kateeba, the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment would not only bring to life cheaper means of transport but also help reduce the number of trucks on the roads which would consequently lead to the reduction of wear and tear effect on the East African country highway roads.
Furthermore, the government hopes that the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment will reduce cross-border road traffic and help to limit the transmission of any future pandemics such as COVID-19.
The ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project
The above-mentioned investment is part of the ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project which aims to improve freight connections particularly between the capital city of Uganda and the country’s eastern border with Kenya.
The project includes the redevelopment and reconstruction of the East African country’s dilapidated 1,266km, 1000mm-gauge network to standard gauge and extension of the network to approximately 1,724km.
All this will be done in four sections: Malaba – Kampala, Kampala – Mpondwe, Tororo – Gulu, and Bihanga – Mirama Hills.
The construction of the Tororo – Gulu section has already been contracted to Vinci Group subsidiaries namely Sogea Satom and the ETF.
The two companies will replace the entire section 375km meter-gauge railway with a standard gauge railway.
They will also be responsible for the production and installation of 200,000m3 of ballast and the replacement and repair of sleepers, rails, and fastenings.