|From: Glenn Petersen||11/13/2017 9:20:47 PM|
|The largest basic income experiment in history just launched in Kenya|
November 13, 2017
- GiveDirectly, a charity focused on direct cash transfers, has launched its 12-year experiment on basic income.
- The charity will test whether giving people money, no strings attached, will help people and communities or leave them worse off.
- Other basic income experiments are popping up across the globe.
GiveDirectly, a charity that has been financing direct cash transfers to poor villages in East Africa since 2008, announced Monday that it has officially launched the largest universal basic income (UBI) experiment in history.
Beginning November 13, 40 villages (roughly 6,000 people) will receive roughly $22.50 per month, no strings attached, for 12 years. At the same time, 80 different villages will get the same amount for just two years, another 80 will get a lump sum equal to the two-year amount, and 100 villages will get no money.
The study will produce some of the most comprehensive data yet about what happens when people are given money for nothing. It'll help answer questions such as: Do people stop working? Do they start businesses? Are they more likely to spend money on drugs and alcohol — or education?
The study will also collect community-wide data to learn if the added financial security reduces negative aspects of poverty like violence and theft.
"The past 19 months since we announced our plans to test UBI have been remarkable," GiveDirectly CFO Joe Huston wrote on the organization's blog. "The debate over basic income continues to rage, from skeptics who call it 'a senseless act of preemptive self-sabotage' to optimists calling it 'to the 21st century what civil and political rights were to the 20th.'"
Basic income is so new that researchers have yet to collect good data about the system in the developed world. Other experiments have sprang up to address that gap.
In Oakland, California, the startup accelerator Y Combinator recently wrapped a pilot study in which several people received $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Y Combinator is preparing to launch a larger trial across two states sometime in 2018.
"Now it's time for us to do our jobs, and wait to learn," Huston wrote. "We expect to get the first round of results in within the next year or two, and then more than a decade of learning to follow as we track these communities."
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|From: Glenn Petersen||12/5/2017 11:26:17 PM|
|The Promise of Kenya’s Experiment With Universal Basic Income|
World Politics Review
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017
Informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, November 24, 2016 (dpa photo by Miro May via AP images).
Makanga is a village like many others in rural Kenya. Farmsteads with walls made of clay and roofs of corrugated iron sit on plots separated by bush. Dusty footpaths cross fields that bear signs of the latest drought to hit East Africa—the effects of which are especially dire in a region cut off from the electricity and water grids. From time to time, one comes across a skinny cow.
Until recently, the village’s inhabitants were themselves quite typical of the region, struggling to make ends meet by farming. Phoebe Abagi still tended to her maize field each day, despite suffering from advancing arthritis at 84 years old. With no pension and no safety net, she had no respite from daily labor.
Makanga is dominated by women. While some of them, like Abagi, are elderly, many are younger mothers caring for their children and those of close relatives. Most of the village’s men, along with a fair number of its young women, have moved to one of Kenya’s cities to look for work; from time to time, they send money home to make up for harvests lost due to climate change. These remittances generally fail to keep pace with the area’s need. Of the 45 percent of Kenya’s population that lives below the national poverty line, the majority can be found in rural places like Makanga.
Since October 2016, however, Abagi and the other 94 adults living in Makanga have become the beneficiaries of a unique experiment: Their village is the only one in all of Africa known to be receiving a monthly universal basic income, or UBI, stipend, which is intended to cover their living costs.
According to the terms of the experiment, each adult resident receives the equivalent of $22 per month and will continue to do so for at least 12 years. The organization behind it is an international nonprofit, GiveDirectly, which promotes the use of cash transfers to combat poverty. Payments are made electronically through recipients’ mobile phones. GiveDirectly hopes the experiment will shed light on the economic and social effects of a UBI.
UBIs are not exactly a new idea. One of their earliest proponents was Thomas Paine, the American activist and philosopher, who wrote about them in his pamphlet “Agrarian Justice,” published in 1795. Yet the concept has become increasingly fashionable in recent years, especially in industrialized nations, as technological advances in automation and artificial intelligence threaten to usher in a new age of mass unemployment.
For its part, GiveDirectly is interested in the potential for a UBI to be a cost-effective and quick way to lift people out of absolute poverty. And while UBIs have been the subject of trials and studies before, GiveDirectly describes its Kenyan experiment as the largest and most rigorous methodologically.
Not everyone is convinced the results will yield the answers GiveDirectly seeks, or that a UBI system makes sense for a developing country like Kenya. But even if the notion of a nationwide, permanent program seems like a pipe dream, the organization hopes its experience in Makanga, and the data it generates, will encourage countries with high levels of poverty to rethink their approach to social welfare and safety nets.
How the Experiment Works
To qualify as a true UBI, according to GiveDirectly and many experts, the basic income payment has to be universal, meaning it must be paid to all members of a community without precondition. It also has to be paid over a long period of time and cover at least the basic cost of living. GiveDirectly claims to fulfill these criteria.
Its 12-year experiment will ultimately expand to 26,000 participants. Some 6,000 Kenyans will receive the full UBI over all 12 years, including the inhabitants of Makanga. In addition, 10,000 Kenyans will receive the payment for two years, while an additional 10,000 will receive the equivalent of two years’ worth of UBI in a single, lump-sum payment. Researchers will also follow several thousand people who won’t receive any benefits, establishing a baseline against which GiveDirectly can measure the effects of the three other interventions.
Past programs and studies have fallen short on at least one of the aspects covered by GiveDirectly. Some early trials in the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, were neither universal nor long-term. Later studies in India and Namibia covered only a short span of time, while also lacking rigorous scientific evaluation and failing to provide sufficient funds to cover basic living costs.
Large-scale cash-transfer programs in medium-income countries—Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Mexico’s PROSPERA and China’s Dibao—have proven to be effective at lifting people out of poverty. But these cash transfers are targeted at specific segments of society, thus falling short of the universality inherent to true UBIs.
Of course, the GiveDirectly trial makes some compromises as well. While having 6,000 participants makes for a large sample, it is only a fraction of Kenya’s population of almost 50 million. That said, it is still a much larger sample size than Finland’s ongoing two-year UBI trial, which is targeting 2,000 recipients. And in contrast to Finland, GiveDirectly is distributing payments to entire communities instead of randomly selected unemployed people, and it has multiple control groups along with a longer trial duration.
As automation and artificial intelligence threaten to usher in a new age of mass unemployment, the concept of a universal basic income is becoming increasingly fashionable.GiveDirectly is also focusing on rural communities. Participating villages are chosen at random, but the project is only implemented where the potential recipients and local authorities are in favor of the experiment. Makanga was chosen as a pilot because it fit the profile and is situated in a region where GiveDirectly already had field operations. (At GiveDirectly’s request, the name of the village has been changed in this article to protect the privacy of village residents and ensure the village won’t be targeted by criminals.)
In total, GiveDirectly plans to spend $30 million over the duration of the trial, with almost all that money raised from individual donors, mostly in the United States. The project is almost completely financed, with $27.2 million having been raised by the end of September.
Despite the steps taken to make the experiment as sound and informative as possible, there is ample skepticism that it will accomplish what GiveDirectly hopes it will.
“This is a well-thought-out and well-designed trial, using the most advanced technologies in order to avoid some of the pitfalls of previous UBI experiments” says Yannick Vanderborght, a political scientist at Saint-Louis University in Brussels who researches UBIs. “However, I am very doubtful that it can inform us about the impact of a real unconditional and universal basic income.”
According to Vanderborght, all trials, by definition, lack the capability to model the effects that would be produced by countrywide implementation of a UBI, which would need to be funded by tax increases. As with other experiments, GiveDirectly can only look at behavior changes among UBI beneficiaries, not taxpayers. Yet it stands to reason that taxpayers, faced with higher marginal rates under a UBI system, might choose to work less.
“This question is left unanswered: What happens with those who will have to finance the system in the real world?” Vanderborght says.
GiveDirectly readily concedes that its trial in Kenya won’t answer all outstanding questions about the impact of a UBI. But the organization argues that it will still provide important insights into the potential benefits and drawbacks for people like Abagi—effects that, at present, experts can only speculate about.
Specifically, GiveDirectly’s experiment is designed to answer five main questions: Will monthly cash payments improve recipients’ capability to plan their economic decisions? How does the UBI affect saving behavior? How will recipients’ ability and willingness to take risks be affected? What is the impact of a UBI on gender relations, in particular women’s empowerment and domestic violence? And, lastly, how might a UBI change recipients’ outlook on life?
To answer these questions, researchers will follow up with all recipients roughly every three months, collecting quantitative and qualitative information via individual questionnaires and focus groups. While the first conclusive results will take a few years to materialize, the pilot program in Makanga is already delivering some revealing insights.
Where Does the Money Go?
It should come as no surprise that, in Makanga, recipients eagerly welcome the payments. Who wouldn’t? “People are happier,” says Mary Abagi, an elderly resident of the village who is of no relation to Phoebe Abagi. “They are more energetic and are thinking of new ideas to develop.”
In conversations with her and other villagers, a few spending priorities become clear. Most of the UBI payments are spent on short-term consumable goods like food, school fees and medicine. At the same time, many recipients save at least part of the UBI for larger purchases. And in a few cases, local entrepreneurs have used UBI payments to invest in new or existing businesses.
A herder drives his animals away after watering them at one of the few watering holes near the
drought-affected village of Bandarero, Kenya, March 3, 2017 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).
Aswan Abagi, the village chief and a stepson of Mary Abagi, says he uses his UBI money to offset the effects of the ongoing drought, especially the rise in market prices for maize, the local staple food. “There has been a drought in this area for more than eight months now,” he says. “So most of the money has been used on foodstuffs.”
The potential impact of UBI payments on nutrition is of particular interest to GiveDirectly, in light of the fact that 2.6 million Kenyans are experiencing “crisis levels of food insecurity,” according to Oxfam. Caroline Teti, GiveDirectly’s external communications director, says anecdotal reports indicate that nutrition in Makanga has improved across the board since the UBI was introduced.
Aswan Abagi agrees. Even if a UBI isn’t enough to cover all food purchases, the experiment has made it easier for consumers to get credit, as shop owners know that people have a reliable stream of income.
It would be hard to overstate the beneficial impact of eradicating malnourishment in recipient communities. According to one calculation, malnourishment’s effect on the global economy amounts to $500 per capita—about double what GiveDirectly spends per UBI recipient.
Those who have money left after covering essential expenses tend to save it. Even before the UBI was introduced, Makanga was home to a small saving group of six members, although not all of them could always afford their monthly contributions.
Now there are six such groups, with 10 members each. Each member contributes about $10 per month; every month, one member receives all of the contributions, a system that allows members to plan for larger purchases.
Jael Abeta’s experience is a great example of how being able to save can improve residents’ quality of life. She used her savings from the UBI to finish a new house she had started building with remittances from her children, who have moved to Kenya’s urban areas in search of work.
Her husband, Andrew, plans to buy two bulls once he has saved enough. “With the bulls, I will be saving money because I don’t have to rent a tractor to plow my fields” he says. “I can even plow for others and boost my income.”
A Job Creator
Like the Abetas, Samson Wandolo Adera also invests his UBI. The former government worker is considered the most affluent citizen of Makanga, though he insists this is merely a reflection of the poor local economic situation. “I’m leading an average life” he says, “not poor, not rich.”
Before the UBI was introduced, Adera tried to start a fish farm in nearby Lake Victoria, but he realized that he did not have enough capital to sustain it. “For a bank loan, the interest was too high,” he says, noting that he feared he would lose his initial investment.
“If you give me money, I know what I need better than somebody else.”The UBI revived the project, which he now runs along with other investors. He has hired several people for the farm, including those paid to keep an eye on the fish. “You cannot keep fish in the lake alone,” he explains. “They will be stolen.”
Adera is not the only one who has managed to create some local employment. Phoebe Abagi, the 84-year-old, used parts of her UBI to pay for casual laborers to help her with tending her fields and the harvest. Because of her arthritis, she lately hasn’t been able to do all this work herself. Thanks to the help, she says, her harvest for this year increased even with the drought.
Makanga’s residents make clear they prefer the UBI to other means of development aid, such as food donations. “You go for relief food and expect 3 kilograms,” one elderly woman says. “But you get 1 kilogram, or 2 kilograms, or 4 kilograms. It is very unpredictable what support you get.”
Abeta summarizes the general sentiment: “If you give me money, I know what I need better than somebody else.”
The UBI recipients also report that there has been a reduction in petty crime in the community. This seems to be connected to the increased money available for food, which has made stealing out of hunger unnecessary.
Does a UBI Make Long-Term Sense?
A cursory poll among the population of Makanga reveals broad support for an extension of the UBI across the whole of Kenya. But it will take a few years to get the first meaningful sets of data on longer-term impact and how the UBI compares to other development interventions.
So far, the UBI hasn’t featured prominently in Kenya’s debate about economic development. Touring the country prior to this year’s hotly contested general elections, nobody outside of Makanga’s immediate environment and GiveDirectly’s own staff had even heard of the trial.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta waves to his supporters as he arrives for his inauguration ceremony,
Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 28, 2017 (AP photo by Sayyid Abdul Azim).
The two main candidates for Kenya’s presidency, incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta—who ultimately prevailed—and his main challenger, opposition leader Raila Odinga, offered competing visions for economic development, but the UBI was not part of either one. While Kenyatta’s platform focused on large-scale infrastructure investments, Odinga promised greater social cohesion through reconciliation in a country still plagued by political violence; further devolution of resources and responsibilities from Nairobi to the counties; and more emphasis on social justice in general.
While Odinga’s vision may have sounded more conducive to the implementation of the UBI, Kenyatta’s administration is closely cooperating with GiveDirectly to make the trial possible. The government is also working on a universal pension scheme for those over the age of 70, building on a pilot program that provided $19 every two months to 200,000 households in three counties.
According to Teti, GiveDirectly’s UBI trial is not meant to function as the sole basis for radical policy change. Instead, she hopes it will strengthen arguments for cash-based benefit programs. Ideally, she says, the results of the trial will help convince Kenya and other developing nations to slowly but steadily transform their social safety nets, bringing them more in line with the philosophy behind a UBI, even if a UBI itself is not implemented.
“There is a lot of evidence that cash works,” Teti says. For example, programs involving lump-sum cash transfers to recipients in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as in other parts of the world, have been shown to reduce poverty and child labor while increasing the labor market participation of adults, among other things.
Even if GiveDirectly’s UBI trial in Kenya results in similarly positive outcomes, the broad implementation of a universal basic income in developing countries faces long odds.
Researchers hope the results of Kenya’s universal basic income trial will convince developing nations to slowly but steadily transform their social safety nets.Financing is one challenge. For Kenya, a UBI along the lines of the pilot program in Makanga would cost about $6.6 billion per year to roll out nationwide, slightly more than the $6.1 billion the government is currently spending on all economic development programs, including investments in new hospitals, roads and power stations.
Given that the UBI would not cover structural investments, the government would have to close a funding gap of several billion dollars to introduce a nationwide UBI. This could potentially be achieved by increasing the tax base—not an unthinkable solution, given that Kenya’s government spending is currently about 30 percent of GDP, less than many industrialized countries.
Resource-rich countries like Angola, or countries with stronger economies like South Africa or Senegal, could also conceivably shoulder the financial burden of a UBI designed to lift people out of abject poverty.
But for other, poorer countries like the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo, a UBI program could cost around 50 percent of GDP.
Kenya also has important structural advantages over other poor countries: its M-Pesa mobile money system, which reaches almost every adult in the country, as well as widespread access to biometric IDs. Both of these are essential tools for the deployment of a UBI, and few developing countries can match them.
Despite these myriad challenges, both GiveDirectly and the residents of Makanga are bullish on the concept of a universal basic income. Although the goals of the Kenya experiment are quite different from those of UBI studies carried out in wealthy countries, the data it generates will likely be useful for policymakers the world over, especially those curious about the choices workers make once they attain a guaranteed level of financial security.
Given the ambition, scale and audacity of the experiment, it is certainly one worth following. If, as Teti says, cash does indeed “work,” the data may tell researchers whether a universal basic income is the best way to distribute it.
Peter Dörrie is a freelance journalist and analyst specializing in resource politics and security in Africa. Follow him on Twitter @PeterDoerrie.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||1/14/2018 11:57:19 AM|
|Africa Is Sending Us Its Best and Brightest|
Simple economics explains why the U.S. can accept many more migrants from poorer countries.
by Tyler Cowen
January 12, 2018
Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images
President Donald Trump decried Thursday that the U.S. was not taking in enough immigrants from Norway, and accepting too many arrivals from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, combined with some flowery language I would prefer not to reproduce. There has been a vociferous emotional reaction to his charges, but I would like to take a more sober tack and consider what the data actually tell us, focusing for now on Africa and Norway.
One of the most striking facts about immigration to the U.S., unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. If we consider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in the U.S., 41.7 of them have a bachelor’s degree or more, according to 2009 data. For contrast, the native-born population has a bachelor’s degree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 percent in these estimates, and foreign-born adults as a whole have a college degree at the rate of 26.8 percent, both well below the African rate.
How about high school degrees? About one-third of immigrants overall lack this credential, but only 11.7 percent of African-born migrants don’t have a high school degree. That’s remarkably close to the rate for native-born Americans, estimated at 11.4 percent.
Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master’s degree.
In addition, about three-quarters of African migrants speak English, and they have higher than average rates of labor force participation. They are also much less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals born in the U.S.
That’s all good news of course, and it implies we could accept more African immigrants with mutual benefit. Subjectively, I would also note sub-Saharan Africa is the region where I encounter the least anti-American sentiment. That’s broadly consistent with these poll results.
As a resident of the Washington, D.C., area, I live alongside an especially high number and proportion of African immigrants. It is well known in this region that African immigration outcomes in terms of education, starting new businesses, safety, and assimilation are quite positive.
“They’re not sending us their best people” is a claim I hear from Trump in his speeches and news conferences. Yet that’s the opposite of the truth when it comes to Africa.
OK, so how about Norwegians? During America’s earlier age of mass migration, starting in the late 19th century, this country received many Norwegians. They were especially likely to come from low-skilled backgrounds, they had problems assimilating, and about 70 percent of them ended up returning to their home country. If we compare the sixteen immigrant groups from that time for which we have data, it is the Norwegians and Portuguese who did the worst in terms of wage gaps.
To be clear, I think this experiment with Norwegian migration has more than worked out all right, as Norwegian-Americans now have above average levels of income and have assimilated extremely well. But this is a cautionary tale, indicating that the groups you might think would succeed right away often face big struggles. Ole Edvart Rølvaag’s “Giants in the Earth,” the famous 1920s novel of Norwegian migration to the Dakotas in the 1870s, shows the enterprise was highly fraught and assimilation was a major issue. It is noteworthy that the novel was originally published in Norwegian, whereas the major Nigerian and Nigerian-American novels of today are typically written and first published in English.
It would be a mistake to look at these comparisons and conclude that somehow Africans are intrinsically superior to Norwegians. In fact, there is some pretty simple economic theory at work. The harder it is to get from one country to another, the more the immigration process selects for individuals who are especially ambitious and resourceful.
Economist Edward Lazear suggests a simple experiment. Consider immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. Although that’s counterintuitive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants.
In other words, Trump is not only being offensive, he is also quite wrong.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author of this story:
Tyler Cowen at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at firstname.lastname@example.org
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|To: TimF who wrote (1208)||3/27/2018 6:19:51 PM|
|And its not just malaria - |
Amazing' News About The Awful Guinea Worm
Scratch another Guinea worm hot spot off the list. One of the countries hardest hit with the parasite — South Sudan — has finally stopped transmission, the Carter Center announced Wednesday.
The country reported zero cases in 2017 and hasn't had a case in 15 months. There are also no signs Guinea worm is circulating in dogs in South Sudan, as it is in Chad and Mali.
"I come from an area that had the most Guinea worm," South Sudan's Minister of Health, Dr. Riek Gai Kok, said at a news conference. "I never thought — even one time — that the area would be free of Guinea worm, let alone all of South Sudan would be."
"But today that dream has come true," he added.
The international effort to eradicate Guinea worm has been a huge success. Back in the mid-'80s, more than 3 million people were catching the parasite each year. Now Guinea worm is circulating in only three countries: Ethiopia, Mali and Chad. Last year, there were only 30 human cases worldwide...
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|From: TimF||4/13/2018 9:09:42 PM|
|Elephants Are Very Scared of Bees. That Could Save Their Lives. |
By KAREN WEINTRAUB
JAN. 26, 2018
Elephants are afraid of bees. Let that sink in for a second. The largest animal on land is so terrified of a tiny insect that it will flap its ears, stir up dust and make noises when it hears the buzz of a beehive.Of course a bee’s stinger can’t penetrate the thick hide of an elephant. But when bees swarm — and African bees swarm aggressively — hundreds of bees might sting an elephant in its most sensitive areas, the trunk, mouth and eyes. And they hurt.
The threat of bees is so intensely felt by elephants that conservationists are using it to help prevent the kinds of conflict that put the behemoths at risk. The endangered animals have sometimes been shot by farmers trying to save their crops from elephants foraging at night for late-night snacks, or by poachers allowed access to help guard the fields.
Now there’s a weapon — and a mutually beneficial one — in the arsenal. In recent years, researchers and advocates have persuaded farmers to use the elephant’s fear of bees as a potential fence line to protect crops. By stringing beehives every 20 meters — alternating with fake hives — a team of researchers in Africa has shown that they can keep 80 percent of elephants away from farmland...
H/T Marginal Revolution
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|From: Glenn Petersen||5/27/2018 3:14:36 PM|
|Africa is now a favorite destination for Chinese tourists and tens of thousands of them are coming|
Written by Abdi Latif Dahir
May 21, 2018
Chinese tourists jump as they pose for photographs at the esplanade of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, October 6, 2016." title="">
Loving Morocco. (Reuters/Youssef Boudlal)
Chinese travelers are the world’s top tourism spenders, shelling out almost $260 billion in 2017 alone. A growing part of that spend is now happening in Africa, encouraged by relaxed visa rules, increased interested in the continent’s cultural and historical sites, and a initiatives that seek to appeal to Chinese tourists.
Last week, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China launched a joint loyalty program with Kenya’s Stanbic Bank, aiming to create incentives for travel, shopping, and leisure to tourists visiting the two nations. The “I Go Kenya—I Go China” scheme follows the bank’s similar program in South Africa last year, which rewarded its cardholders by offering a range of discounts and special offers from merchants across the travel, hospitality and lifestyle sectors. The state-owned financial behemoth is doing this as part of its plan to internationalize, and push its banking card product abroad.
Meanwhile, Africa is becoming increasingly attractive destination for Chinese tourists. A recent survey by the global travel platform Travelzoo found that the continent was the top destination of choice for Chinese tourists seeking more adventurous holidays in 2018, beating Japan and Australia. Visitors were especially drawn to Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, and Tanzania. This year, Kenya also launched a marketing campaign to target China, hoping to boost the over 53,000 Chinese visitors who already came to the country last year.
Part of the interest in these nations came following the introduction of relaxed visa rules for Chinese citizens. For instance, after the easing of visa requirements in Tunisia and Morocco, there has been a 240% and 378% year-over-year growth in Chinese arrivals respectively, according to the travel intelligence company ForwardKeys. As tourism packages diversify, and airline travel becomes easier and more affordable, Travelzoo says the continent will only continue “to grow in popularity” with many Chinese drawn to its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.
The boom in travel to Africa is another example of how China is redefining Africa’s economic landscape. The continent’s engagement with Beijing is primarily as a business partner, with Chinese companies getting lucrative contracts and experience overseas while host nations receive needed infrastructure, jobs, and eventually technology and skills. Yet increasingly, China is boosting its diplomatic and military presence in the continent, and is influencing young Africans through education and training. This is raising concern among American officials, even as the Trump administration has adopted isolationist policies that are deterring Chinese tourists from visiting the US.
African governments, businesses, and tour agencies are eager to tap into this sector and introduce localized tourism products. And indeed, tourism is a powerful vehicle for economic growth: As of 2014, tourism contributed to 8.5% of Africa’s gross domestic product, according to the United Nations trade arm, generating 7.1% of all jobs.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||6/17/2018 1:02:18 PM|
|AI Helps Africa Bypass the Grid|
Azuri’s HomeSmart adjusts power output based on prior solar battery use.
By Adam Popescu
June 10, 2018
Azuri customers in Kenya with a radio add-on.0
Source: Azuri Technologies
In sub-Saharan Africa, home electricity is a 50-50 prospect and bank accounts can be rare, but most people have some kind of cellphone. The phones provide information often tough to come by in rural areas—the latest commodity prices, for example. And even in places where pastoral tribesmen tend livestock in very old-school ways, they may also chat over WhatsApp and use money-transfer apps to settle debts. To charge the phones without access to an electrical grid, Africans spend more than $17 billion a year on such fuels as kerosene and firewood to power sometimes primitive generators. Simon Bransfield-Garth is pitching a cleaner and, he says, smarter alternative.
His company, Azuri Technologies Ltd., has brought what it calls smart solar power to 150,000 people in a dozen African nations, focusing on East Africa and Nigeria. While solar batteries often struggle to power homes through the night, Azuri’s yellow box—the size of a landline phone, it’s called HomeSmart—uses software with artificial intelligence to learn each home’s energy needs and adjust power output to keep things running. Those tweaks include automatically dimming lights and TV screens, lowering speaker volume, and slowing a fan’s motor.
Azuri agents deliver a home solar system.
Source: Azuri Technologies
“Instead of a system just powering as fast as it can for a certain amount of time and stopping, we provide customers with the amount of light they typically use on a day-to-day basis,” Bransfield-Garth says. His company runs on a lease-to-own model. Customers can make payments online monthly, weekly, or as they go. Most pay about $3 a week for 18 months to pay off the equipment costs, roughly half what they used to pay for kerosene.
The setup is simple: A roof-mounted, 5-watt solar panel connects to the battery, placed on a wall in the home. The basic system comes with two LED lightbulbs and a USB port for charging mobile devices. Add-ons such as radios and TVs cost more.
The Azuri system’s AI software distinguishes it from other solar startups in Africa, says Benjamin Attia, a solar analyst at researcher Wood Mackenzie Ltd. To make the most of the juice the solar panel gathers, the software sets internal targets for the exact amount of energy it thinks a customer will need overnight and refines those estimates based on use patterns. Unlike with kerosene, “I have no fears of burns and fumes,” says Lucia, an Azuri user in the Tanzanian village of Ngulyat.
Bransfield-Garth has raised $18 million in venture funding, led by the U.K.’s IP Group Plc. He says the company is profitable and revenue has doubled in two years but wouldn’t provide numbers. A Briton, he began researching AI neural networks in the 1980s before getting into semiconductors, consumer electronics, and eventually renewable energy. He spun Azuri out of his solar panel company, Eight19 Ltd., in 2012, after spending two years developing the storage cell and figuring out how sensors and panels could be used to better predict customers’ energy habits. Based on when the sun hits a panel, for example, the HomeSmart software can determine sunrise and sunset, latitude and longitude, and what time of year it is. The company installed its first units outside Nairobi.
“When people looked out of their homes at night and saw someone had light on at 10 p.m., two days later there was a queue around the block,” Bransfield-Garth recalls. “First there’s a sense of disbelief. Then people get excited, and it’s something of an event. And in six months, it all becomes fairly normal.” Six years ago, few homes used solar. Now, as many as half a million homes in East Africa plug in.
Azuri says sales volume allows it to offset costs and offer the incentives it does. The company has about 80 employees and 2,000 sales and marketing partners throughout Africa, mostly residents with relationships on the village level. Gratis installation and upkeep, the company says, helps secure loyalty and friendly word-of-mouth.
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