Illicit Financial Flows Outpace Development in Africa, OECD Says

Through medication and narcotics smuggling, ivory and people trafficking, oil theft and piracy, Africa is, by conservative estimates, losing about $50 billion a year in illicit financial flows — more, in fact, than it receives in official development assistance. 

A report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers a bigger look at the illegal economy behind the losses and how African and richer nations can fight it.

The OECD report zooms in on West Africa, and one sector in particular stands out. Catherine Anderson, who heads governance issues as the OECD, said 80 percent of illicit financial flows from West Africa are generated from the theft of natural resouces, principally oil.

But West African countries aren’t the only ones losing out from illicit flows, Anderson said. So are developed nations. Migrant trafficking, a hot-button issue in Europe, is a case in point.

“One of our case studies is on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is benefiting from the kidnap-for-ransom activities,” she said. “They are interdicting the trade and passage of goods across the Sahel, levying protection fees and revenues from the population. These have significant implications, not just for West African populations but for OECD countries, for Europe, in terms of insecurity and instability.”

She said illegal resource flows need to be tackled holistically — not only by the countries of origin, but also by those where the finances are transiting, and those where they finally end up, including developed countries. Doing so can be particularly tricky in West Africa, where a huge informal economy blurs the boundary of what is legal and what isn’t.

Ambassador Según Apata of Nigeria is a member of a U.N. high-level panel looking into illicit financial flows from Africa. He said some African governments are beginning to tackle the problem, but they don’t always have the capacity to do so.

“We have not made giant strides yet,” Apata said. “We are still at the elementary, at the mundane level of implementation.”

Apata said that if the $50 billion in losses from illegal activities were channeled into development in West Africa, it could help check the illegal migration that European countries worry about.

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Illicit Financial Flows Outpace Development in Africa, OECD Says

Through medication and narcotics smuggling, ivory and people trafficking, oil theft and piracy, Africa is, by conservative estimates, losing about $50 billion a year in illicit financial flows — more, in fact, than it receives in official development assistance. 

A report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers a bigger look at the illegal economy behind the losses and how African and richer nations can fight it.

The OECD report zooms in on West Africa, and one sector in particular stands out. Catherine Anderson, who heads governance issues as the OECD, said 80 percent of illicit financial flows from West Africa are generated from the theft of natural resouces, principally oil.

But West African countries aren’t the only ones losing out from illicit flows, Anderson said. So are developed nations. Migrant trafficking, a hot-button issue in Europe, is a case in point.

“One of our case studies is on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is benefiting from the kidnap-for-ransom activities,” she said. “They are interdicting the trade and passage of goods across the Sahel, levying protection fees and revenues from the population. These have significant implications, not just for West African populations but for OECD countries, for Europe, in terms of insecurity and instability.”

She said illegal resource flows need to be tackled holistically — not only by the countries of origin, but also by those where the finances are transiting, and those where they finally end up, including developed countries. Doing so can be particularly tricky in West Africa, where a huge informal economy blurs the boundary of what is legal and what isn’t.

Ambassador Según Apata of Nigeria is a member of a U.N. high-level panel looking into illicit financial flows from Africa. He said some African governments are beginning to tackle the problem, but they don’t always have the capacity to do so.

“We have not made giant strides yet,” Apata said. “We are still at the elementary, at the mundane level of implementation.”

Apata said that if the $50 billion in losses from illegal activities were channeled into development in West Africa, it could help check the illegal migration that European countries worry about.

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Fearing Tourist Drought, Cape Town Charts a New Relationship with Water

When Markus Rohner flew into Cape Town’s airport this month, he found an unexpected line at the men’s washroom.

With the city facing an unprecedented water shortage, airport authorities had turned off all the sink taps but one, leaving visitors to wait in line to wash their hands, under the watchful eye of a bathroom attendant.

“In Johannesburg, there were a lot of jokes about the situation. People were saying to each other: ‘Let’s go to Cape Town for a dirty weekend,'” said Rohner, who visited both cities recently for his job as a sales and marketing director for a Swiss machinery manufacturer.

Cape Town, which is battling to keep its taps flowing as reservoirs run close to dry following a three-year drought, declared a national disaster this month. Without rain, Cape Town could run out of water by July 9, city authorities predict.

For visitors thinking of flying into one of the world’s tourism hotspots, threats of a water “Day Zero” raise a range of questions: Will a visit waste scarce water local people need? Will I be able to flush my hotel toilet and have a shower? Should I come at all?

Sisa Ntshona, who heads the tourism marketing arm of South Africa’s government, has the answer you’d expect: Tourists — who support an estimated 300,000 jobs in South Africa’s Western Cape province — should come but they should be prepared to help out and “Save like a local,” as the slogan goes.

In a city where residents now are expected to use no more than 50 liters of water a day — enough to drink, have a 90-second shower, flush the toilet at least once and wash a few clothes or dishes — tourists “don’t have special privileges,” he said.

That means no baths, swimming pools now sporting salt water instead of fresh, sheets and towels changed less regularly, and signs urging visitors to flush toilets as infrequently as possible.

At one Cape Town hotel, visitors who insist on a bath — which takes 80 liters of water — now have to conspicuously carry a large rubber duck placed in their bathtub to reception to exchange it for a bath plug.

With climate change expected to bring worsening water shortages to cities around the world — from Sao Paulo to Los Angeles to Jakarta — such changes are going to be needed in many places in years to come, said Ntshona, the CEO of South African Tourism.

“How do we recalibrate the norm for global tourism?” he asked, on a visit to London to reassure potential visitors. “Tourists are aware of recycling, carbon emissions. But now it’s water.”

“This is the new norm,” he said. “Even if it rains tomorrow, we can never go back to the old way of consuming water.”

Tourist cash

For Cape Town, keeping tourists flowing through the city is an urgent priority.

Foreign tourists represent only about 1 percent of the people in the city even at peak times, but tourism — foreign and South African — contributes $3.4 billion to the province’s economy each year, said Ravi Nadasen, deputy chair of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

Any tourism drop-off in Cape Town also hits the rest of the country, Ntshona said. With many visitors booking itineraries that start in Cape Town and move east, he said, a loss of visitors to Table Mountain also means fewer people at the country’s game parks, vineyards and beaches.

“If South Africa falls off the tourism radar screen globally, to get it back on will take so much attention and focus,” he said.

Bookings for the first quarter of the year have so far not fallen, Ntshona and Nadasen say, though they have been fielding inquiries from worried potential visitors.

“We’ll get a better sense by the end of March, when we look at forward bookings for the next six months,” Ntshona said.

Tourism officials are well aware of the potential threat, however. In 2014, an Ebola crisis in West Africa — a six-hour plane flight away — led to a 23 percent drop in visitors to Ebola-free South Africa as tourists shunned African destinations, Ntshona said.

To try to prevent a repeat of that disaster, government and business leaders are rushing to shore up water supplies — and confidence.

Organizers of dozens of big conferences held in Cape Town each year are making plans to ship in water from other less thirsty parts of the country, Ntshona said.

Hotels have installed low-flow showerheads, turned off fountains and replaced cloth napkins with paper ones.

A Cape Town subsidiary of leading hotel chain Tsogo Sun is this week taking delivery of a pioneering desalination plant, to suck seawater from Cape Town’s harbor and churn out enough fresh water for the chain’s 1,400 Cape Town hotel rooms.

Cape Town itself is also making plans to bring in desalination plants — though not quickly enough to deal with the impending “Day Zero,” now pushed back to July after a successful campaign to cut the city’s water consumption by half.

Political obstacles

Experts have warned of water risks in Cape Town for years, but political infighting has gotten in the way of action, Ntshona admits.

Cape Town is run by an opposition party to the ruling African National Congress — and even the ANC saw its embattled leader, President Jacob Zuma, pushed out of office last week.

“Part of the lesson we’re learning as a country is that when you have a crisis, stop bickering and focus on the issues,” Ntshona said.

Another lesson, he said, is that water shortages — predicted to become longer and deeper across southern Africa as climate change strengthens droughts — cannot be seen as a passing problem.

Winter rains are expected in Cape Town starting in May or June. If they arrive, the current crisis will ease, officials predict.

But, regardless, “we need to recalibrate our relationship with water as a country,” Ntshona said.

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Fearing Tourist Drought, Cape Town Charts a New Relationship with Water

When Markus Rohner flew into Cape Town’s airport this month, he found an unexpected line at the men’s washroom.

With the city facing an unprecedented water shortage, airport authorities had turned off all the sink taps but one, leaving visitors to wait in line to wash their hands, under the watchful eye of a bathroom attendant.

“In Johannesburg, there were a lot of jokes about the situation. People were saying to each other: ‘Let’s go to Cape Town for a dirty weekend,'” said Rohner, who visited both cities recently for his job as a sales and marketing director for a Swiss machinery manufacturer.

Cape Town, which is battling to keep its taps flowing as reservoirs run close to dry following a three-year drought, declared a national disaster this month. Without rain, Cape Town could run out of water by July 9, city authorities predict.

For visitors thinking of flying into one of the world’s tourism hotspots, threats of a water “Day Zero” raise a range of questions: Will a visit waste scarce water local people need? Will I be able to flush my hotel toilet and have a shower? Should I come at all?

Sisa Ntshona, who heads the tourism marketing arm of South Africa’s government, has the answer you’d expect: Tourists — who support an estimated 300,000 jobs in South Africa’s Western Cape province — should come but they should be prepared to help out and “Save like a local,” as the slogan goes.

In a city where residents now are expected to use no more than 50 liters of water a day — enough to drink, have a 90-second shower, flush the toilet at least once and wash a few clothes or dishes — tourists “don’t have special privileges,” he said.

That means no baths, swimming pools now sporting salt water instead of fresh, sheets and towels changed less regularly, and signs urging visitors to flush toilets as infrequently as possible.

At one Cape Town hotel, visitors who insist on a bath — which takes 80 liters of water — now have to conspicuously carry a large rubber duck placed in their bathtub to reception to exchange it for a bath plug.

With climate change expected to bring worsening water shortages to cities around the world — from Sao Paulo to Los Angeles to Jakarta — such changes are going to be needed in many places in years to come, said Ntshona, the CEO of South African Tourism.

“How do we recalibrate the norm for global tourism?” he asked, on a visit to London to reassure potential visitors. “Tourists are aware of recycling, carbon emissions. But now it’s water.”

“This is the new norm,” he said. “Even if it rains tomorrow, we can never go back to the old way of consuming water.”

Tourist cash

For Cape Town, keeping tourists flowing through the city is an urgent priority.

Foreign tourists represent only about 1 percent of the people in the city even at peak times, but tourism — foreign and South African — contributes $3.4 billion to the province’s economy each year, said Ravi Nadasen, deputy chair of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

Any tourism drop-off in Cape Town also hits the rest of the country, Ntshona said. With many visitors booking itineraries that start in Cape Town and move east, he said, a loss of visitors to Table Mountain also means fewer people at the country’s game parks, vineyards and beaches.

“If South Africa falls off the tourism radar screen globally, to get it back on will take so much attention and focus,” he said.

Bookings for the first quarter of the year have so far not fallen, Ntshona and Nadasen say, though they have been fielding inquiries from worried potential visitors.

“We’ll get a better sense by the end of March, when we look at forward bookings for the next six months,” Ntshona said.

Tourism officials are well aware of the potential threat, however. In 2014, an Ebola crisis in West Africa — a six-hour plane flight away — led to a 23 percent drop in visitors to Ebola-free South Africa as tourists shunned African destinations, Ntshona said.

To try to prevent a repeat of that disaster, government and business leaders are rushing to shore up water supplies — and confidence.

Organizers of dozens of big conferences held in Cape Town each year are making plans to ship in water from other less thirsty parts of the country, Ntshona said.

Hotels have installed low-flow showerheads, turned off fountains and replaced cloth napkins with paper ones.

A Cape Town subsidiary of leading hotel chain Tsogo Sun is this week taking delivery of a pioneering desalination plant, to suck seawater from Cape Town’s harbor and churn out enough fresh water for the chain’s 1,400 Cape Town hotel rooms.

Cape Town itself is also making plans to bring in desalination plants — though not quickly enough to deal with the impending “Day Zero,” now pushed back to July after a successful campaign to cut the city’s water consumption by half.

Political obstacles

Experts have warned of water risks in Cape Town for years, but political infighting has gotten in the way of action, Ntshona admits.

Cape Town is run by an opposition party to the ruling African National Congress — and even the ANC saw its embattled leader, President Jacob Zuma, pushed out of office last week.

“Part of the lesson we’re learning as a country is that when you have a crisis, stop bickering and focus on the issues,” Ntshona said.

Another lesson, he said, is that water shortages — predicted to become longer and deeper across southern Africa as climate change strengthens droughts — cannot be seen as a passing problem.

Winter rains are expected in Cape Town starting in May or June. If they arrive, the current crisis will ease, officials predict.

But, regardless, “we need to recalibrate our relationship with water as a country,” Ntshona said.

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Off-grid Power Pioneers Pour Into West Africa

Standing by a towering equatorial forest, Jean-Noel Kouame’s new breeze-block house may be beyond the reach of Ivory Coast’s power grid, but it’s perfectly located for solar power entrepreneurs.

Buoyed by success in East Africa, off-grid solar power startups are pouring into West Africa, offering pay-as-you-go kits in a race to claim tens of millions of customers who lack reliable access to electricity.

At least 11 companies, including leading East African players such as Greenlight Planet, d.light, Off-Grid Electric (OGE), M-KOPE Solar, Fenix International and BBOXX, have moved into the region, most within the last two years.

With a potential market worth billions of dollars, major European energy companies such as French utilities EDF and Engie are taking notice too.

“It’s important to be there now, because the race has already started,” said Marianne Laigneau, senior executive vice president of EDF’s international division.

The main challenge facing smaller companies now is how to raise enough capital to supply the expensive solar kits in return for small upfront payments from customers.

Mobilizing funding for firms providing home solar systems is also part of the U.S. government’s Power Africa initiative.

Major power generation projects have been slow to get off the ground so Power Africa has partnered with startups such as OGE, M-KOPE and d.light, among others, to accelerate off-grid access.

In Abidjan, Kouame doesn’t know when, or if, the national grid will reach the outer edge of the urban sprawl, but thanks to his new solar panel kit he has indoor lighting, an electric fan and a television.

But it’s the light bulb hanging outside his front door that he values the most.

“At night we were scared to go outside,” the 31-year-old taxi driver says as his pregnant wife watches a dubbed Brazilian soap opera. “Where there is light there is safety.”

Some 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to a power grid, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Lighting and phone charging alone costs them about $27 billion a year and some estimates put their total annual energy costs at more than $60 billion.

While governments in much of the developing world are extending access to national networks, Africa is lagging, with less than 40 percent of African households connected, IEA figures show.

But what has long been decried as a major obstacle to Africa’s development is viewed as an opportunity by entrepreneurs such as Nir Marom, co-founder of Lumos Global, the Dutch startup that built and sold Kouame his kit.

“I read an article about people paying 50 cents a day for kerosene and candles, and that just didn’t make sense,” said Marom. “I said I can give them four kilowatt hours for the price of kerosene. And that started everything.”

Off-grid expansion

Lumos Global’s kits, which cost about $600, include a solar panel linked to a battery that supports power sockets, a mobile phone adapter and LED light bulbs.

Kouame, who paid 30,000 CFA francs ($57) upfront for his kit, is now leasing-to-own. A digital counter on the yellow battery pack tells him when he needs to top up his account using his mobile phone.

If he doesn’t pay, the kit, which also houses a global positioning system, shuts down. But in five years, he’ll own it outright and his solar power will be free.

“Five years is nothing,” he says, already weighing the option of another system to run a large freezer sitting empty and unplugged in the corner of his living room. “So my wife can do a little business.”

Pay-as-you-go solar home systems (SHS) like Kouame’s have been the main driver of off-grid power expansion in Africa.

In 2010, when most purchases were limited to simple lighting systems, customers spent $30 to $80 on average over a product’s lifetime, according to GOGLA, an independent off-grid industry association.

Now it’s $370 to $1,120.

Global revenues from the pay-as-you-go SHS sector were $150 million to $200 million in 2016, GOGLA estimates. That should jump to $6 billion to $7 billion in 2022.

Most of the main players in West Africa cut their teeth in East Africa, drawn by the widespread use of mobile money transfers, a key element of the pay-as-you-go off-grid model.

Success there drove annual sector-wide growth of about 140 percent from 2013 to 2016. But as the East African market becomes more crowded and mobile money services spread across the continent, many are now heading west.

“I remember doing a market sizing very early on and from a number of metrics West Africa was a better market,” said Xavier Helgesen, CEO of Tanzania-based Off-Grid Electric (OGE), one of the sector leaders.

About half of the overall African off-grid population are in West and Central Africa, according to the IEA. Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, is  alone home to roughly 90 million people with no grid access.

Lumos is an outlier to the extent it picked West Africa as its first market. It launched in Nigeria in 2016 and by the end of 2017 had sold 73,000 kits and was averaging 16 percent month-on-month revenue growth. Late last year, it expanded into Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy.

Still, despite the rapid growth to date, off-grid solar startups say more must be done to improve the capacity of solar home systems and to bring down their cost so the sector can reach its full potential.

“I don’t believe off-grid electrification is a stop-gap,” said Jamie Evans, director of partnerships with d.light.

“I believe it’s here to stay. If the price of batteries starts dropping precipitously, then it will almost certainly change the face of the industry,” he said.

Capital  intensive

The need to provide consumer financing for the relatively expensive kits means expansion requires significant capital.

But banks, lacking expertise in the new sector, often shy away from lending to off-grid companies, said Rolake Akinkugbe, head of energy at Nigeria’s FBNQuest Merchant Bank.

“There’s also a size issue. Most of the off-grid solutions, particularly those that deal with pay-as-you-go, from a funding perspective, are not within the threshold for banks,” she said.

That means startups have largely relied on venture capital, impact investors looking to generate social benefits as well as a profit, and development finance institutions. But the model has its drawbacks.

“Right now off-grid companies are having to constantly fundraise,” said Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Uganda-based Fenix International.

In what was considered a milestone in the African off-grid sector, Engie bought Fenix in October.

With access to Engie’s capital, Handler says Fenix aims to become a pan-African off-grid leader, serving millions in the near term and tens of millions further down the road.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment are needed to have the impact we want to have,” she said.

Facing stagnating customer growth in their home markets, European energy companies such as Engie are increasingly looking abroad. Africa’s underserved, growing population is seen by many as the future.

The number of Africans without grid access actually increased by nearly 14 percent between 2000 and 2016 to 588 million people. By 2030, the IEA estimates that some 80 percent of the global off-grid population will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Raphael Tilot, Engie Africa’s head of customer solutions, likens off-grid solar to the rise of the mobile phone, which leap-frogged landline networks on the continent.

“Today, no one is thinking about putting telecom wires to individual houses in these places. You can look at energy in the same way today,” he said. “Mini-grids or solar home systems are a far better solution.”

In addition to Engie, French giants Total and EDF also hold stakes in off-grid startups, or are partnering with them. Italian utility Enel and Germany’s E.ON are investing in solar mini-grid companies.

Evidence of the market growth is on exhibit on Kouame’s hillside in Abidjan, where several rooftops, including his neighbor’s, are now crowned with solar panels.

“He asked me how it worked,” Kouame smiles. “Then he went and bought one of his own.”

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Off-grid Power Pioneers Pour Into West Africa

Standing by a towering equatorial forest, Jean-Noel Kouame’s new breeze-block house may be beyond the reach of Ivory Coast’s power grid, but it’s perfectly located for solar power entrepreneurs.

Buoyed by success in East Africa, off-grid solar power startups are pouring into West Africa, offering pay-as-you-go kits in a race to claim tens of millions of customers who lack reliable access to electricity.

At least 11 companies, including leading East African players such as Greenlight Planet, d.light, Off-Grid Electric (OGE), M-KOPE Solar, Fenix International and BBOXX, have moved into the region, most within the last two years.

With a potential market worth billions of dollars, major European energy companies such as French utilities EDF and Engie are taking notice too.

“It’s important to be there now, because the race has already started,” said Marianne Laigneau, senior executive vice president of EDF’s international division.

The main challenge facing smaller companies now is how to raise enough capital to supply the expensive solar kits in return for small upfront payments from customers.

Mobilizing funding for firms providing home solar systems is also part of the U.S. government’s Power Africa initiative.

Major power generation projects have been slow to get off the ground so Power Africa has partnered with startups such as OGE, M-KOPE and d.light, among others, to accelerate off-grid access.

In Abidjan, Kouame doesn’t know when, or if, the national grid will reach the outer edge of the urban sprawl, but thanks to his new solar panel kit he has indoor lighting, an electric fan and a television.

But it’s the light bulb hanging outside his front door that he values the most.

“At night we were scared to go outside,” the 31-year-old taxi driver says as his pregnant wife watches a dubbed Brazilian soap opera. “Where there is light there is safety.”

Some 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to a power grid, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Lighting and phone charging alone costs them about $27 billion a year and some estimates put their total annual energy costs at more than $60 billion.

While governments in much of the developing world are extending access to national networks, Africa is lagging, with less than 40 percent of African households connected, IEA figures show.

But what has long been decried as a major obstacle to Africa’s development is viewed as an opportunity by entrepreneurs such as Nir Marom, co-founder of Lumos Global, the Dutch startup that built and sold Kouame his kit.

“I read an article about people paying 50 cents a day for kerosene and candles, and that just didn’t make sense,” said Marom. “I said I can give them four kilowatt hours for the price of kerosene. And that started everything.”

Off-grid expansion

Lumos Global’s kits, which cost about $600, include a solar panel linked to a battery that supports power sockets, a mobile phone adapter and LED light bulbs.

Kouame, who paid 30,000 CFA francs ($57) upfront for his kit, is now leasing-to-own. A digital counter on the yellow battery pack tells him when he needs to top up his account using his mobile phone.

If he doesn’t pay, the kit, which also houses a global positioning system, shuts down. But in five years, he’ll own it outright and his solar power will be free.

“Five years is nothing,” he says, already weighing the option of another system to run a large freezer sitting empty and unplugged in the corner of his living room. “So my wife can do a little business.”

Pay-as-you-go solar home systems (SHS) like Kouame’s have been the main driver of off-grid power expansion in Africa.

In 2010, when most purchases were limited to simple lighting systems, customers spent $30 to $80 on average over a product’s lifetime, according to GOGLA, an independent off-grid industry association.

Now it’s $370 to $1,120.

Global revenues from the pay-as-you-go SHS sector were $150 million to $200 million in 2016, GOGLA estimates. That should jump to $6 billion to $7 billion in 2022.

Most of the main players in West Africa cut their teeth in East Africa, drawn by the widespread use of mobile money transfers, a key element of the pay-as-you-go off-grid model.

Success there drove annual sector-wide growth of about 140 percent from 2013 to 2016. But as the East African market becomes more crowded and mobile money services spread across the continent, many are now heading west.

“I remember doing a market sizing very early on and from a number of metrics West Africa was a better market,” said Xavier Helgesen, CEO of Tanzania-based Off-Grid Electric (OGE), one of the sector leaders.

About half of the overall African off-grid population are in West and Central Africa, according to the IEA. Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, is  alone home to roughly 90 million people with no grid access.

Lumos is an outlier to the extent it picked West Africa as its first market. It launched in Nigeria in 2016 and by the end of 2017 had sold 73,000 kits and was averaging 16 percent month-on-month revenue growth. Late last year, it expanded into Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy.

Still, despite the rapid growth to date, off-grid solar startups say more must be done to improve the capacity of solar home systems and to bring down their cost so the sector can reach its full potential.

“I don’t believe off-grid electrification is a stop-gap,” said Jamie Evans, director of partnerships with d.light.

“I believe it’s here to stay. If the price of batteries starts dropping precipitously, then it will almost certainly change the face of the industry,” he said.

Capital  intensive

The need to provide consumer financing for the relatively expensive kits means expansion requires significant capital.

But banks, lacking expertise in the new sector, often shy away from lending to off-grid companies, said Rolake Akinkugbe, head of energy at Nigeria’s FBNQuest Merchant Bank.

“There’s also a size issue. Most of the off-grid solutions, particularly those that deal with pay-as-you-go, from a funding perspective, are not within the threshold for banks,” she said.

That means startups have largely relied on venture capital, impact investors looking to generate social benefits as well as a profit, and development finance institutions. But the model has its drawbacks.

“Right now off-grid companies are having to constantly fundraise,” said Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Uganda-based Fenix International.

In what was considered a milestone in the African off-grid sector, Engie bought Fenix in October.

With access to Engie’s capital, Handler says Fenix aims to become a pan-African off-grid leader, serving millions in the near term and tens of millions further down the road.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment are needed to have the impact we want to have,” she said.

Facing stagnating customer growth in their home markets, European energy companies such as Engie are increasingly looking abroad. Africa’s underserved, growing population is seen by many as the future.

The number of Africans without grid access actually increased by nearly 14 percent between 2000 and 2016 to 588 million people. By 2030, the IEA estimates that some 80 percent of the global off-grid population will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Raphael Tilot, Engie Africa’s head of customer solutions, likens off-grid solar to the rise of the mobile phone, which leap-frogged landline networks on the continent.

“Today, no one is thinking about putting telecom wires to individual houses in these places. You can look at energy in the same way today,” he said. “Mini-grids or solar home systems are a far better solution.”

In addition to Engie, French giants Total and EDF also hold stakes in off-grid startups, or are partnering with them. Italian utility Enel and Germany’s E.ON are investing in solar mini-grid companies.

Evidence of the market growth is on exhibit on Kouame’s hillside in Abidjan, where several rooftops, including his neighbor’s, are now crowned with solar panels.

“He asked me how it worked,” Kouame smiles. “Then he went and bought one of his own.”

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Trump Orders Justice Department to Ban Bump Stocks

The U.S. administration is looking to tighten some regulations involving guns, with President Donald Trump formally recommending the banning of devices that turn firearms into more lethal weapons.

The White House is also saying age restrictions are on the table for the most popular semi-automatic rifle in the country. The administration indicated it is open to universal background checks for gun owners.

 

“Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,”  Trump said Tuesday, adding that such regulations will be finalized “very soon.”

The president made the announcement from the White House during the Public Safety Medal of Valor Awards ceremony honoring law enforcement officers.

The ban would include bump stocks — attachments that allow semi-automatic guns to be fired faster — which were used in the shooting in Las Vegas Last October in which 58 people were killed and 851 wounded.

Text of the memo also includes criticism of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

“Although the Obama Administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock type devices were lawful to purchase and possess, I sought further clarification of the law restricting fully automatic machine guns,” Trump said in the document.

“Although I desire swift and decisive action, I remain committed to the rule of law and to the procedures the law prescribes,” the memo added. “Doing this the right way will ensure that the resulting regulation is workable and effective and leaves no loopholes for criminals to exploit.”

Tomorrow, the White House is hosting a “listening session” that is to include students, parents and teachers who have been victimized by mass shootings in America, Also participating in the session will be students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student last Wednesday killed 17 people, which Trump on Tuesday termed “an evil massacre.” 

The president, making his first extensive remarks since the Florida killings, declared “school safety is a top priority for my administration,” adding he will meet with state governors next week to discuss the topic.

“We’re working very hard to make sense of these events,” Trump said to law enforcement members and other first responders during the White House ceremony. “We’re going to come up with solutions. It’s been many, many years, and there have been no solutions.”

The Trump administration and lawmakers are facing a backlash — including from some of the student survivors of the latest school mass shooting — that they are too focused on the mental health of gunmen rather than the weapons they carry.

It has been noted by gun control advocates that many teenagers in America can legally purchase an AR-15 type assault weapon before they’re eligible to vote or drink alcohol. Twenty-eight of the 50 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded at the first press daily briefing in a week, when asked if Trump believed there should be an age limit for the purchase of assault rifles like the one used in the Florida school shooting.

“The president has expressed his support for the efforts to improve the federal background check system, and in the coming days, we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools,” added Sanders.

Millions of gun owners, who support the National Rifle Association and other organizations that fight against restrictions on such weapons, believe that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees unfettered access to guns.

In the 2016 elections, the NRA gave $54 million in political donations, much of that during the presidential race.

It is not unusual for some members of Congress to have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — from the NRA. While some Democrats are also recipients of the association’s money, the top benefactors currently are from Trump’s Republican Party.

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Trump Orders Justice Department to Ban Bump Stocks

The U.S. administration is looking to tighten some regulations involving guns, with President Donald Trump formally recommending the banning of devices that turn firearms into more lethal weapons.

The White House is also saying age restrictions are on the table for the most popular semi-automatic rifle in the country. The administration indicated it is open to universal background checks for gun owners.

 

“Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,”  Trump said Tuesday, adding that such regulations will be finalized “very soon.”

The president made the announcement from the White House during the Public Safety Medal of Valor Awards ceremony honoring law enforcement officers.

The ban would include bump stocks — attachments that allow semi-automatic guns to be fired faster — which were used in the shooting in Las Vegas Last October in which 58 people were killed and 851 wounded.

Text of the memo also includes criticism of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

“Although the Obama Administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock type devices were lawful to purchase and possess, I sought further clarification of the law restricting fully automatic machine guns,” Trump said in the document.

“Although I desire swift and decisive action, I remain committed to the rule of law and to the procedures the law prescribes,” the memo added. “Doing this the right way will ensure that the resulting regulation is workable and effective and leaves no loopholes for criminals to exploit.”

Tomorrow, the White House is hosting a “listening session” that is to include students, parents and teachers who have been victimized by mass shootings in America, Also participating in the session will be students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student last Wednesday killed 17 people, which Trump on Tuesday termed “an evil massacre.” 

The president, making his first extensive remarks since the Florida killings, declared “school safety is a top priority for my administration,” adding he will meet with state governors next week to discuss the topic.

“We’re working very hard to make sense of these events,” Trump said to law enforcement members and other first responders during the White House ceremony. “We’re going to come up with solutions. It’s been many, many years, and there have been no solutions.”

The Trump administration and lawmakers are facing a backlash — including from some of the student survivors of the latest school mass shooting — that they are too focused on the mental health of gunmen rather than the weapons they carry.

It has been noted by gun control advocates that many teenagers in America can legally purchase an AR-15 type assault weapon before they’re eligible to vote or drink alcohol. Twenty-eight of the 50 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded at the first press daily briefing in a week, when asked if Trump believed there should be an age limit for the purchase of assault rifles like the one used in the Florida school shooting.

“The president has expressed his support for the efforts to improve the federal background check system, and in the coming days, we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools,” added Sanders.

Millions of gun owners, who support the National Rifle Association and other organizations that fight against restrictions on such weapons, believe that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees unfettered access to guns.

In the 2016 elections, the NRA gave $54 million in political donations, much of that during the presidential race.

It is not unusual for some members of Congress to have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — from the NRA. While some Democrats are also recipients of the association’s money, the top benefactors currently are from Trump’s Republican Party.

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Florida Lawmakers Reject Ban on Assault Rifles

Florida high school students say they will not let state lawmakers’ rejection of a bill to ban assault rifles stop them from taking their fight to the state capital.

 

With the gallery filled with students Tuesday, the Republican-led Florida House turned down a Democratic proposal to ban the guns. Republicans accused the Democrats of forcing the issue after Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly used an AR-15 to kill 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last week.

Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the shootings, called the legislature’s vote “heartbreaking.” But she said, “We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep fighting for what we believe in. We’re not going to let this bring us down.”

About 100 other Parkland students are expected in Tallahassee on Wednesday, and President Donald Trump will host parents, teachers and students that day for what the White House calls a “listening session” on school safety.

WATCH: Florida High School Students Board Bus to Tallahassee

Survivors from the shootings at Parkland; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012; and Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, in April 1999 have been invited.

Students from Florida and across the country have expressed anger, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, at what they see as politicians’ failure to take steps to stop mass shootings.

Before boarding their bus for Tallahassee, Douglas student Ariana Ortega told VOA that the students “are the ones most involved in this. We are the ones who lived through this whole tragic experience, and we are going to be the future leaders of America.”

WATCH: Inside the Bus to Tallahassee

Students are planning a March 24 rally in Washington and other major cities called “March for Our Lives.” Music stars Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Cher have thrown their support behind the march. Actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, a human rights attorney, said they are donating $500,000 to help pay for it.

“Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country,” Clooney said.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried Tuesday to smooth over the fallout from Trump’s controversial tweet Saturday about the FBI, in which he said agents missed signs about the Parkland shooter because it was busy trying to look for election interference collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Sanders said a “deranged individual” was the cause of the killings.

The FBI admitted it did not act on a January 5 tip about Cruz. According to an FBI statement, someone with a close relationship to Cruz called with information about his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

Police said Cruz confessed to killing 14 students and three adults at the high school he was expelled from last year. He was able to buy an AR-15 rifle after clearing a background check. 

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll said 86 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said stricter gun control laws could have prevented the Florida shooting, while 67 percent of Republicans said stricter laws could not have prevented the massacre.

More than three-quarters of both groups, however, said more effective mental health screening and treatment could have prevented the attack.

Overall, 77 percent of respondents said Congress was not doing enough to prevent mass shootings in the United States, while 62 percent said Trump was not doing enough.

In Washington, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy have drafted legislation to improve compliance with background checks. The revisions are still being negotiated.

The Cornyn-Murphy legislation has drawn support from Democrats and Republicans, although passage of gun legislation has often stalled in Congress. Democratic lawmakers often call for tighter controls on gun purchases, while Republicans often oppose them, saying they would violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sanctioning gun ownership.

The Cornyn-Murphy background check measure would not impose new restrictions on gun purchases, but rather attempt to make sure information about mental health and criminal conviction records that legally bar individuals from buying weapons is consistently sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

U.S. authorities have frequently learned in the aftermath of a shooting rampage that the shooter should not have been allowed to buy a weapon because of mental health issues or a criminal conviction, but the information was never forwarded to the national database.

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Florida Lawmakers Reject Ban on Assault Rifles

Florida high school students say they will not let state lawmakers’ rejection of a bill to ban assault rifles stop them from taking their fight to the state capital.

 

With the gallery filled with students Tuesday, the Republican-led Florida House turned down a Democratic proposal to ban the guns. Republicans accused the Democrats of forcing the issue after Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly used an AR-15 to kill 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last week.

Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the shootings, called the legislature’s vote “heartbreaking.” But she said, “We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep fighting for what we believe in. We’re not going to let this bring us down.”

About 100 other Parkland students are expected in Tallahassee on Wednesday, and President Donald Trump will host parents, teachers and students that day for what the White House calls a “listening session” on school safety.

WATCH: Florida High School Students Board Bus to Tallahassee

Survivors from the shootings at Parkland; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012; and Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, in April 1999 have been invited.

Students from Florida and across the country have expressed anger, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, at what they see as politicians’ failure to take steps to stop mass shootings.

Before boarding their bus for Tallahassee, Douglas student Ariana Ortega told VOA that the students “are the ones most involved in this. We are the ones who lived through this whole tragic experience, and we are going to be the future leaders of America.”

WATCH: Inside the Bus to Tallahassee

Students are planning a March 24 rally in Washington and other major cities called “March for Our Lives.” Music stars Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Cher have thrown their support behind the march. Actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, a human rights attorney, said they are donating $500,000 to help pay for it.

“Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country,” Clooney said.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried Tuesday to smooth over the fallout from Trump’s controversial tweet Saturday about the FBI, in which he said agents missed signs about the Parkland shooter because it was busy trying to look for election interference collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Sanders said a “deranged individual” was the cause of the killings.

The FBI admitted it did not act on a January 5 tip about Cruz. According to an FBI statement, someone with a close relationship to Cruz called with information about his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

Police said Cruz confessed to killing 14 students and three adults at the high school he was expelled from last year. He was able to buy an AR-15 rifle after clearing a background check. 

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll said 86 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said stricter gun control laws could have prevented the Florida shooting, while 67 percent of Republicans said stricter laws could not have prevented the massacre.

More than three-quarters of both groups, however, said more effective mental health screening and treatment could have prevented the attack.

Overall, 77 percent of respondents said Congress was not doing enough to prevent mass shootings in the United States, while 62 percent said Trump was not doing enough.

In Washington, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy have drafted legislation to improve compliance with background checks. The revisions are still being negotiated.

The Cornyn-Murphy legislation has drawn support from Democrats and Republicans, although passage of gun legislation has often stalled in Congress. Democratic lawmakers often call for tighter controls on gun purchases, while Republicans often oppose them, saying they would violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sanctioning gun ownership.

The Cornyn-Murphy background check measure would not impose new restrictions on gun purchases, but rather attempt to make sure information about mental health and criminal conviction records that legally bar individuals from buying weapons is consistently sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

U.S. authorities have frequently learned in the aftermath of a shooting rampage that the shooter should not have been allowed to buy a weapon because of mental health issues or a criminal conviction, but the information was never forwarded to the national database.

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