Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society
” was written by Anna Leach, for theguardian.com on Monday 18th August 2014 16.11 UTC

Will Zimbabwe be Africa’s first cashless society? Telecommunications company, and now mobile banking service, Econet Wireless predicts that in less than 12 months notes and coins will be long-gone from this southern African country. “We do not expect anyone to still be using paper money in a year’s time,” the company’s CEO Douglas Mboweni recently said. “It will be just like Europe or America, where you no longer see people carrying bundles of cash.”

The collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy in 2002 paved the way for Econet Wireless’s mobile payment system. “Hyperinflation had destroyed people’s confidence in financial institutions,” said the Zimbabwe company’s founder, Strive Masiyiwa, at the Mastercard Foundation Symposium on Financial Inclusion in July.

“The lowest denomination circulating was ,” Masiyiwa said. “If you want to buy a packet of sweets for your child, you can’t get change.” The company set up a mobile payment system that handles small amounts and allows people to save as little as . “Today 43% of the GDP moves through Econet Wireless,” he concludes.

Masiyiwa was born in Zimbabawe (then Rhodesia) in 1961. He and his parents fled the country in the turmoil after prime minister Ian Smith declared independence in 1965, settling in Zambia. His parents, who ran their own business, could afford to send Masiyiwa to school in Scotland when he was 12. After school he studied electronic engineering at the University of Wales and worked briefly for a computer company in Cambridge before returning to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

Econet Wireless was established in 1998, but not before a fight. Masiyiwa waged a five-year legal battle with the government for a licence to deliver telephone services. The company now operates in 17 countries including Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and New Zealand. In 2000, while the UN filed a civil suit against Mugabe, Masiyiwa moved his family and company headquarters to South Africa.

Econet Wireless first developed mobile payments to help NGOs transfer money to refugees after the war in Burundi ended in 2005. “Donor agencies were trying to find ways to make cash disbursements to refugees,” says Masiyiwa. “So we built the payment system initially not as a business but as a way to help humanitarians get money to people in rural areas who were trying to re-establish their lives.”

That model was extended and now mobile money transfers are central to Econet Wireless’s business. Like M-Pesa before it, the company blurs the lines between telecomms and banking. Masiyiwa is passionate about this latter part of his business. He believes that extending saving and credit services to the poorest people gives them “extraordinary dignity and a sense that they are in control of their own lives”.

His next challenge is to create a product that allows people who are informally employed, such as smallholder farmers and casual workers, to access credit. “In Africa 70% of people are informally employed,” he says. “The big frontier for us is to create platforms where those people can access credit.” He says there’s no risk that they will get into unmanageable debt because the banks won’t extend excessive credit, calling the system “self-regulating”.

But Masiyiwa says that offering people the ability to save is even more important than credit. “We’re trying to build up a savings culture where people are encouraged to save, even if they only have a dollar – for children’s school fees, for transport, for the doctor. A savings and credit infrastructure builds resilience.”

In his speech to microfinance experts at the symposium in Turin, Masiyiwa recounted a story about the judge in Zimbabwe who granted Econet Wireless’s licence in 1998, saying that 70% of people in the country had never heard a telephone ring. “Today, 75% of people [in Zimbabwe] have a cell phone,” he said “And I want 75% of the people in Africa to have a bank account … on a mobile phone.”

And Masiyiwa has even found a solution to the energy problem that could prevent him from realising his dream. “We have developed solar charging stations where people can go into a kiosk and plug in their phone for free. Because our money is not made from someone charging the phone. It’s made from someone using the phone.”

By way of lessons learnt, Masiyiwa says that in order to reach the unbanked, financial institutions – and telecommunications companies – must design services that are practical, simple and affordable. “I’ve got a customer who has a dollar in his pocket and has got to decide to have some lunch, call his cousin or go to the doctor. We have to develop services with sensitivity to the fact that in Africa our customers don’t have the same disposable income as in New Zealand, for example.”

But the billionaire businessman cautions that it’s a mistake assume the poorest behave differently to other customers. “Their behaviour and aspirations are no different from those who have higher incomes,” he says. “They want to use Facebook. They want to use WhatsApp. We have to find ways for them to access those things with their very low income.”

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Thokozile Masipa: the world awaits her verdict on Oscar Pistorius

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Thokozile Masipa: the world awaits her verdict on Oscar Pistorius” was written by Nastasya Tay, for The Observer on Saturday 9th August 2014 23.05 UTC

Once a tea girl, a nursing assistant and a journalist imprisoned for her beliefs, the woman who will pass judgment on Oscar Pistorius‘s fate has retired to consider her verdict. For 41 days, Judge Thokozile Masipa has presided over proceedings in Courtroom GD: the accused’s tears, verbal scraps between the two white Afrikaans attorneys trying to convince her of their arguments, calling everyone to quiet order. Everyone calls her “m’lady”.

Stern, but inscrutable, the 66-year-old has listened to reams of evidence, her head resting on an arthritic hand. Now she must decide if she believes the Paralympian shot and killed his girlfriend in a case of mistaken identity on Valentine’s morning last year of if, as the prosecution asserts, he’s guilty of premeditated murder. She will deliver her judgment on 11 September.

However, despite having become a recognisable figure in her red robe on the world’s television screens, Judge Masipa remains an intensely private woman. Suzette Naude, her soft-spoken court registrar, says the judge doesn’t even confide in her. “I don’t know what she thinks about the case. She hasn’t discussed any of her views with me at all,” she said. Asked about Masipa’s pronounced limp – she examined evidence in court on the supporting arm of an orderly – Naude shakes her head. “She once told me it was a broken femur, but others say it was childhood polio. No one really knows.”

The judge arrives in a Mercedes at Pretoria’s face-brick high court each morning as the winter sun is coming up, driven from her home in Midrand by her secretary because she doesn’t drive herself. By 6.30am, she is at her desk, poring over the day’s documents, more than two hours before any other judge.

Friends describe her as religious, health conscious and hard working. “Once you come in here and become a permanent judge, you begin to see that you spend most of your life here, instead of home,” Masipa once said.

Usually based in the Johannesburg high court, which has the highest case burden in the country, she jokes that even her four grandchildren need to make appointments to see her. Her husband, a tax consultant, does the cooking.

Susan Abro, a senior attorney who served with Masipa on South Africa’s electoral court for six years, says the judge is “very clever, very professional”, but, above all, warm and modest. “She comes from a human rights background, so that’s the point – you must allow people to feel like they’ve had their day in court, to feel as if they’ve been heard,” she told the Observer.

“She’s not one of the ones who makes a big splash about themselves, makes judgments so they’ll be reported,” she added. “And she has a wry sense of humour.”

Born on 16 October 1947, Masipa was the first of 10 children, and one of only three surviving – five died in childhood; another brother was stabbed to death in his 20s.

She grew up on a two-bedroom house in Orlando East, then a poor part of Soweto, sleeping in the dining room, or under the kitchen table if they had visitors. She’d keep a look out for the police while her grandmother brewed beer in the yard. Now, her childhood home is a creche for poor children, set up by her late mother. She helps pay the bills and also finances a nearby project that her sister runs for unemployed women.

Moving between schools in Soweto, the Alexandra township outside Johannesburg and Swaziland, she worked hard. “From a very young age, I wasn’t a great socialiser; I would be buried in my books,” she said in a 2008 interview for Courting Justice, a documentary about South African female judges. She became a social worker, inspired by her mother, who was a teacher.

Wanting to go to university, but lacking the money, Masipa spent years grappling with resentment, working as a clerk, then a messenger, then a tea girl, watching young white girls with high school diplomas doing the jobs she wanted. Eventually, she found her way to university, graduating with a BA in social work in 1974. The list of “funny” jobs continued, until she applied for a junior reporter’s position at the World newspaper, where she worked as a crime reporter until it was banned in 1977. Those were the days of growing unrest in Soweto: the death of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson in 1976; the assassination of activist Steve Biko in 1977; the riots.

As the women’s section editor at the Post where she moved, Masipa wrote about schools, education, the quality of textbooks, the conditions of labour for domestic workers. The promotion was a big step up. “No mean feat,” fellow journalist Pearl Luthuli recalled. “That position was for a white woman.”

“Sometimes the police would call up and say you are not supposed to write this and that. But Tilly [short for her European name Matilda] would stand her ground. She’s a really tough cookie,” former colleague Nomavenda Mathiane said of Masipa’s work.

Her strength found its way to Johannesburg’s streets when she was 29, when she marched with other female journalists to protest at the detention of several of their black male editors at the Post and demand press freedoms. She was arrested and thrown into a filthy jail cell with four of her colleagues; they used the newspapers they were carrying as bed linen and defied their white warden, who tried to force them to clean the excrement of previous prisoners.

It took Masipa 10 years to complete her law degree at the University of South Africa, while working as a full-time journalist, wife and mother. She graduated in 1990, after Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison. Even then, no one would take her on as an attorney, so she did her pupillage at the Johannesburg bar. Female lawyers were still few and far between. Masipa recalls answering her phone to rivals, who expected her to be a man.

The announcement of her appointment as the second black woman in South African history to the bench in 1998 was accompanied by a note of her hobbies: dancing, gardening, yoga. “It was part of a breakthrough. In a sense, she is a pioneer,” said Albie Sachs, a former constitutional court justice. Masipa herself jokes that she is probably the “youngest” ever appointed to the high court, after only seven years at the bar, a part of South Africa’s racial and political transformation.

But black female judges are still a rarity. Even though the population is 80% black, only 44% of superior court judges are. And out of the country’s 239 judges, only 76 are women.

On her journey to the bench, Masipa dropped Matilda in favour of Thokozile, which, in Zulu, means “happy.” Now, Masipa says, she feels the bench has more credibility in its diversity, but it also comes with specific challenges.

“Sometimes it’s not that easy; sometimes the woman comes before your court and she’s saying to herself, ‘Well, she’s black, she’s a woman, she must understand this.’ But you still have to look at what the law says,” she said.

She has admitted that her township background and disadvantaged childhood have an impact on her judgments, allowing her to identify with the people in the dock before her, especially young criminals, who she feels should be given an opportunity for rehabilitation.

On one occasion, hearing from an assessor of a young man moving with “the wrong crowd”, Masipa called him into her office and told him to go back to school. He did. Her most eminent judgments have followed a theme: protect the vulnerable. In May last year, Masipa sentenced a man who raped three women during the course of house robberies to 252 years in prison, condemning him for attacking and raping the victims “in the sanctity of their own homes where they thought they were safe”.

In 2009, Masipa handed down a life sentence to a policeman, who shot and killed his former wife after a row over their divorce settlement, telling him: “No one is above the law. You deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector. You are a killer.”

In 2009, she told the city of Johannesburg that it had failed to fulfil its constitutional obligations by not providing accommodation for squatters who were threatened with eviction.

The Department of Justice has been at pains to say Masipa’s assignment to Pistorius’s murder trial was a procedural one, but many South Africans also regard it is as a significant and welcome statement about the changing nature of the country’s justice system.

“It is a tough place to be, because for a long time it was only men who sat here,” Masipa once said. “And in our culture it’s even tougher, because some men are just not used to seeing women giving orders. But one gets used to it. It’s not you as a woman who’s there – it’s the position that you fill. So you just get on with it.”Comments will not be opened for legal reasons

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WHO declares Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “WHO declares Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency” was written by Maev Kennedy, for The Guardian on Friday 8th August 2014 10.15 UTC

The World Health Organisation has declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency, but it is not recommending general bans on travel or trade.

The global body said the Ebola outbreak – the largest and longest in history – was happening in countries without the resources to manage the infections, some with devastated healthcare systems still recovering from war, and called on the international community to help.

“Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general. “I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible.”

The current outbreak began in Guinea in March and has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, with some cases in Nigeria. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50%.

The virus has an incubation period of up to 21 days, meaning symptoms do not necessarily show before then.

The WHO emergency committee unanimously agreed, after two days of meetings in Geneva and teleconferences with representatives in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, that the outbreak was “an extraordinary event”, meeting all the conditions for a public health emergency, Chan said.

With 1,711 confirmed and suspected cases, and 932 deaths, the WHO said the outbreak was a public health risk to other states – particularly in view of “fragile health care systems” in the affected countries.

Although the WHO said that “there should be no general ban on international travel or trade,” it issued a long list of recommendations on travel and contacts, including urging that all travellers leaving the countries affected by the outbreak should be screened for fever, and that no corpses should be transported across borders.

It said other states should provide information to people travelling to affected and at risk areas, be prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases, and be prepared for the evacuation and repatriation of nationals, including health workers.

States should also ensure access to specialist diagnostic laboratories, and prepare to manage travellers who arrive at international airports or border crossings with “unexplained febrile illness”.

“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries,” a statement said. “A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola.”

The charity Save the Children, which said it was scaling up its operations in the region, warned that medical services in the affected countries were already overwhelmed. Rob MacGillivray, its regional humanitarian director, said that even before the outbreak there was less than one doctor for every 33,000 people in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“Parents are understandably frightened and stay away from medical centres through fear of coming into contact with the infection. Pregnant mothers are giving birth at home rather than seeking skilled help and orphaned children are at risk of being ostracised from their communities at the most vulnerable time in their lives.

“Challenges remain in reaching families in rural communities who were struggling to access healthcare even before the outbreak.”

The WHO said health advice at airports and ports or border crossings should warn travellers that though the disease is rare, careful hygiene should be practised, and all contact with blood and body fluids of infected people or animals, or with any items that have come in contact with such blood or body fluids, must be avoided.

It also says that sexual intercourse with a sick person or one recovering from Ebola should be avoided “for at least seven weeks”.

The WHO advises that the risk to travellers from sharing a flight with somebody who is showing symptoms of Ebola is “very low” – but does recommend contacting fellow travellers if a sufferer reports their condition and seeks medical help on arrival.

For those travelling to affected areas, the WHO describes the risk of business travellers or tourists returning with the virus as “extremely low” – even, it says, “if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported”.

“Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all unlikely exposures for the average traveller. Tourists are in any event advised to avoid all such contacts.”

It said the risk to travellers visiting friends and relatives in affected countries was similarly low “unless the traveller has direct physical contact with a sick or dead person or animal infected with Ebola virus”.

The long list of advice to affected states includes screening all travellers leaving for fever, banning the remains of those who have died of Ebola from being transported across borders, and ensuring “funerals and burials are conducted by well-trained personnel”.

Countries with land borders with the affected states are urged “urgently to establish surveillance for clusters of unexplained fever or deaths due to febrile illness”, and to act within 24 hours of any suspected cases.

The United States is sending teams of experts to Liberia, including 12 specialists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, declared a 90-day state of emergency and said the disease had overwhelmed her country’s healthcare system.

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