Big Men: The Story Of Oil In Africa

A new documentary highlighting African oil corruption in the Niger Delta is set to open across the U.S. this week in theaters.  It was filmed by Rachel Boyton in late 2006 as she was trekking through the oil-rich Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria and tells her chronicle of the petroleum-fueled pursuit of wealth and status in Africa. Below is the trailer to the film.

The central narrative of the film is that it takes place in Ghana, some 200 miles to the west. Boynton somehow convinced Dallas oilman James Musselman and his British-born colleague Brian Maxted–the chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively, of a privately held exploration company called Kosmos Energy–to let her shadow them with cameras and microphones as they drilled their way through layers of Ghanaian politics and bureaucracy, and the white-hot core of Wall Street, in order to reap the financial rewards of an amazing discovery. Kosmos had raised $825 million in private equity investment from Warburg Pincus and the Blackstone Group and located the country’s first known oil reserves: a multi-billion barrel, deep-sea deposit, 40 miles off the Ghanaian coast in the Atlantic Ocean and dubbed the Jubilee Field.

As to why oil executives would have a documentary film maker follow them around, Musselman explains that “Rachel is very persuasive, She was passionate about the story. I thought it was a good story that just got better, frankly, as time went on. We don’t enjoy great reputations a lot of the time. I thought this was a good story to show how in Ghana, we could transform the lives of a whole lot of people for the better. And I thought her contrast back to Nigeria was really good. I’d seen some of her previous work and I thought she’s gonna do a good job. It wouldn’t be any kind of expose’ or anything bad. I trusted her.”

I look forward to seeing this film myself.

Germany’s security assistance in Mali

Since the military coup last year, Mali is considered one of the most dangerous states in Africa. For several months, Germany has been part of an EU-led mission to provide logistical support and training for Mali’s troops. Here’s video report on the mission

Rwanda’s health insurance as a model for Africa

Proper health and nutrition is key to good living no matter where you are in the world. That isn’t always the case though, especially throughout Africa but Rwanda is highlighting what can be done as a model throughout the continent in this video report.

Africa’s Cowboy Capitalists


Great documentary from VICE about the untapped potential of Africa, and individuals whom are making the journey throughout the continent to create their own success stories. Photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia followed around Ian and the guys he hired for this job. Cowboy Capitalists” documents their attempts to navigate the continent’s dangerous roads and bureaucratic chaos. Though some of their methods are unorthodox, none the less, they give great insight and understanding no matter how much or little you know about Africa.

Rwanda to build 4G network with South Korean’s Telecom KT Corporation

Rwanda’s government is to build high-speed 4G internet, to cover entire country with partnership of South Korea’s KT Corporation, within three years. KT Corp will spend about $140 million in the LTE broadband joint venture network, which will cover 95% of the country. Today only 8% of the country has internet access although 1,865 miles (3,000km) of fiber optic cable(s) have laid since ’09. A 95% rate of broadband penetration can possibly add 10%-13% to the country’s GDP.

Youth and ICT minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, said: “This agreement with KT marks a major milestone in Rwanda’s drive to become a modern, knowledge-based economy – and by expanding our information infrastructure, we will create jobs, support social progress and propel economic growth.”

Chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board Clare Akamanzi,, added: “Rwanda’s citizens and businesses must have access to the tools that will enable them to seize the opportunities of the digital age – and none is more important than fast, reliable and accessible broadband. “We are pleased to partner with KT in this unique initiative to make available high-speed broadband to all Rwandans.”.

This is welcome news, especially as a user of the internet, who has recently visited Rwanda where the internet speeds need improvement (According to Internet World Stats, Africa still has the world’s lowest internet penetration rate at 15.6%). President Paul Kagame is clearly moving the country in the right direction when it comes to technology and the importance that it brings to economic development. Although up to a dozen countries in Africa operate 4G networks, Rwanda’s 4G network will be the first that is truly built from the ground up with help from one of the world leaders in internet connectivity, South Korea.

Rwanda’s Healthcare Revolution

Rwanda has come a long way since the unfortunate genocide events of ’94. From economic, political, and social, the country is doing well but not as well when it comes to public health. 98% of Rwandans have access to low cost insurance, and the country provides free preventive care (mosquito nets,immunizations ). Famous public health doctor Paul Farmer writes in the British Medical Journal about the country’s accomplishments the New York Times reports:

In the less than two decades since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly a million Rwandans and displaced another two million, the country has become a spectacular public health success story and could provide a model for the rest of Africa, according to a new analysis by American health experts.

In an article published last month by the British journal BMJ, Dr. Paul E. Farmer, a founder of Partners in Health, which delivers medical services in Rwandaand Haiti, totaled up the successes the tiny country has managed. In 1994, 78 percent of the population lived below the poverty line; now 45 percent do. The gross domestic product has more than trebled. Almost 99 percent of primary-school-age children go to school.

With help from Western donors, the number of people getting treatment for AIDSrose to 108,000 from near zero a decade earlier.

Many doctors fled Rwanda before the genocide, and many were killed. Even now, the country has only about 625 doctors in public hospitals for a population of almost 11 million. But it also has more than 8,000 nurses, and a new corps of 45,000 health care workers, elected by their own villages, to do primary care for malaria, pneumonia,diarrhea, family planning, prenatal care and childhood shots.

Largely because of these workers, the country has high rates of success in curing tuberculosis and keeping people with AIDS on antiretroviral drugs.

Nearly 98 percent of all Rwandans have health insurance. Annual premiums are small and subsidized by donors, and subscribers pay 10 percent co-pays. But many aspects of preventive care, like mosquito nets and immunizations, are free. The country has a national system of computerized medical records and uses cellphone text messaging to get reports from village health workers.

Since 2000, the maternal mortality ratio has fallen by 60%; the likelihood that a child would die by age 5 has dropped by 70%.

If these gains can be sustained,” Dr. Farmer wrote, “Rwanda will be the only country in the region on track to meet each of the health-related Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”

There’s debate about whether Rwanda’s success is due to foreign aid or government competency with its decisions. What ever reason is the case, what Rwanda has done needs to be studied by fellow African nations, regardless.

The African Miracle

On every important measure, life throughout Africa is getting better

There has been a sustained surge in economic growth across Africa. There is a strong link between economic and political progress, and the two tend to be mutually reinforcing. For decades, bad economics and bad politics fed off each other in Africa. The continent appeared to be trapped in a vicious circle of decline. Now it looks to be in the early stages of a virtuous cycle as the institutional, political and security underpinnings of economic growth strengthen.

A foundation stone for the African renaissance has been greater security in a region that has been plagued by violence since wars of independence began in the middle of the last century.

Now the continent is becoming less bloody. In the 1990s, there were 328,000 fatalities in conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Conflict Data Program at Sweden’s Uppsala University. In the 2000s, fatalities were down by between a half and two-thirds.

Another indicator of the declining propensity to violence is the frequency with which political leaders are overthrown. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, there were 17 coups in the 1990s, but just six in the 2000s – the lowest for any decade since independence.

Fears that the sudden death last August of Ethiopia’s long-standing leader, Meles Zenawi, would unleash violent political turmoil have proved unfounded.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world, but it seems to be becoming less so. The bedding down of democracy in many countries is one reason for this.

Elections
Elections are held more frequently and in more countries. And those elections mean more. In the last century, only three African leaders walked away from power after losing elections. Since 2000, it has been very different. Since Abdou Diouf accepted his rejection by Senegalese voters in March 2000, peaceful transitions have become almost commonplace, at least in western and southern Africa. MaliGhanaBeninCameroon, and Nigeria have all enjoyed peaceful transitions, as have NamibiaSouth Africa,Botswana and Zambia in the south.

Elections mean little if the politicians who win them then misuse and abuse power but here again improvements are taking place. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, established by a Sudanese entrepreneur with a loathing of corruption (and on whose board Mary Robinson sits), measures the quality of governance in all African states. It finds that in a big majority of countries the state is serving citizens better now than when the foundation first started measuring such data in 2000.

One link between politics and economics is the middle classes. They have long been associated with political stability. When people have a stake in society, they are less inclined to want to tear everything down. Middle classes not only provide democracy’s ballast, they are the drivers of economic growth via their entrepreneurial dynamism. With more middle class households in Africa now than in India, the rise of Africa’s bourgeoisie augurs well for the future.

By almost every measure – of health, wealth and education – and for most of its people, life in Africa is getting better.

Just slightly over a decade ago, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared “The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world.” Times have changed since then. Africa is now the go-to continent. Africa is no longer gloom and doom. Africa today is alive with rising urbanization, ever expanding consumer-middle class, and foreign invest business deals.

Investment, growth in Africa is similar to that of China at the beginning of the 2000s. Like Asia, Africa was one of only two regions where GDP rose during 2009′s global recession. Inflation fell to an average of 8 percent in the 2000s after a decade during which it hovered at 22 percent. African countries have lowered trade barriers, cut taxes, privatized companies, and liberalized many sectors, including banking. Africa now has more than 100 domestic companies with revenue greater than $1 billion. Capital flows to the continent which were $15 billion in 2000, are now slightly over $100 billion in 2012. All this leads to Africa offering the highest rate of return on investment of any region in the world.

Revenues from natural resources, the old foundation of Africa’s economy, directly accounted for just 24 percent of growth during the last decade; the rest came from other booming sectors, such as finance, retail, agriculture, and telecommunications. The fastest-growing demand for these raw inputs comes from the world’s emerging economies, with which sub-Saharan Africa now conducts half its trade. Africa’s production of oil, gas, minerals, and other resources is projected to grow at 2 to 4 percent per year for the next 10 years. At current prices and depending on how commodity prices rise, value of resource production will be $540 billion by 2020 or higher. Not every country in Africa is resource rich, yet GDP growth accelerated almost everywhere. New data on Africa shows Sub-Saharan African countries continue to grow at a strong pace

Africa’s urbanization is also increasing demand for new roads, rail systems, clean water, power generation, and other infrastructure. In 1980, just 28 percent of Africans lived in cities. Today, 40 percent of the continent’s 1 billion do, a portion close to China’s, larger than India’s, and likely to keep growing in the coming years. The number of households with discretionary income is projected to grow 50 percent over the next 10 years to 128 million. Already, Africa’s household spending tops $860 billion a year, more than that of India or Russia. And consumer spending in Africa is growing two to three times faster than in the wealthy developed countries and could be worth $1.4 trillion in annual revenue within a decade. The African middle class stands over 300 million. Thats about the size of the Indian middle class.

Multinational companies have already shifted their mindsets, even if the political world is still used to thinking of Africa as a charity case. Telecom firms have signed up 316 million new African subscribers since 2000, more than the population of the United States. Walmart recently bid $4.6 billion for one of the region’s largest retailers, confirmation that global businesses think Africa holds commercial potential on a scale not seen since China opened up more than 20 years ago. Those prospects will only grow as Africa urbanizes; already, the continent is home to 52 cities with populations of at least 1 million, as many as in Western Europe today.

Contrary to the pessimistic predictions of French agronomist René Dumont in his 1962 book “False Start”, Africa, with its prime geopolitical position and access to raw materials, seems well on its way to becoming the future granary and workshop of the world, with one billion workers and consumers. The continent is home to 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land. So if farmers brought more of it into use, raised the yields on key crops to 80 percent of the world average, and shifted cultivation to higher-value crops, the continent’s farmers could increase the value of their annual agricultural output from $280 billion today to around $500 billion by 2020. Africa also has unique comparative advantages, which means considerable room for growth. It possesses half the unused arable land in the world, and its low yields, less than a metric ton (2,204 pounds) of cereal per hectare (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), mean that production growth could put an end to the food insecurity and malnutrition that currently affects one-third of all Africans.

The future looks bright for the African continent whether, it is political, economic or social. The best is yet to come. More people are being educated, adventuring around the world, meeting new people, trying-experimenting with new ideas, which only lead to better outcomes. This runs counter to the usual reporting in the news about famine, military coups, political instability and economic malaise, which is true to some parts, but does not paint the whole picture. With government reforms, greater political stability, improved macroeconomics, and a healthier business environment, it is hard to not feel a sense of optimism. Yes, challenges do remain but overall the continent and it’s people are doing better and future looks bright.