February 11th, 2011
01:06 PM GMT
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There has been much criticism in South Africa in the past few months around a “youth conference,” which apparently cost millions of dollars to host.

There has been a great sense of indignation in the media about the amount of money spent on what was seen as just a “talk fest.”

Whether you like it or not, conferences are a reality of modern business life. From the big-hitting World Economic Forum in Davos to the small-town gathering of local municipal players, for example, conferences are ubiquitous events.

However, South Africans are particularly fond of putting on large meetings to talk things through. Called anything from a summit to an "indaba" or a "legotla," they are encouraged as a very African way of dealing with issues.


February 2nd, 2011
02:42 PM GMT
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South Africans have been counting how much Nelson Mandela means to them recently. His ill heath has made many here reflect on the life of the former South African president.

The feelings are genuine. Many South Africans consider Mandela to be the grandfather of this nation's multi-racial democracy and the moral voice of the country.

For so many, he is irreplaceable. His worth is unquantifiable.

Ever since he was released from prison in 1990, people have wanted to "own" a bit of Mandela. So you can buy all sorts of Mandela memorabilia in South Africa: Images of his face can be seen on gold coins, handbags, salt and pepper shakers, place mats, clocks and a lot else.

This was upsetting to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. They were concerned Mandela's legacy would be demeaned if he became "just another face on a T-shirt," like Che Guevara. So they clamped down on excessive merchandising of his image.

It seems to have worked. Much of the stuff you can now buy has been "approved" by Mandela's office.

There is good reason for being careful about the Mandela brand – his is probably one of the world's most recognizable names. So the Mandela Foundation has been trying to ensure that his name becomes synonymous with his values, rather than cheap T-shirts. There has been a concerted effort to make sure that Mandela's legacy endures long after he has gone.

But on the streets here, as South Africans count how much Mandela means to them, his "brand" and his "image" are hollow words.

For them, you cannot put a price on what Mandela did to bring peace and democracy to this nation perched on the southern tip of Africa.

January 31st, 2011
07:37 AM GMT
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(CNN) - It took a few days for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to calculate his next moves, and when the decision came the strategy was predictably an "old school" approach to a modern-day governmental challenge sparked by social media.

In power for three decades, no one expected Mubarak to present an "I got it" moment. He chose a right hand man as vice president, Omar Suleiman, who literally saved his life after an assassination attempt. The "big boss," as many in the former government and business community refer to him, sacked his "new school" cabinet of reformers. Then-Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and his four key ministers representing trade, finance, telecommunications and investment were highly regarded in the global business community and trusted faces at the World Economic Forum each winter in Davos.

The act by the president to sack the "new school" reformers sends the wrong signal to global investors and some of the Egyptian corporate brand names that have become well known beyond their borders. Even if he survives the uprising by Egyptians on the street, nearly all the progress made over the past five years goes out the door - not to mention the impact on the tourism sector which is the country's number one foreign exchange earner.


January 20th, 2011
01:39 PM GMT
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I recently spent some time chatting to the Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti. We have talked, on camera, in the past and he is always candid and sometimes surprisingly honest in his interviews.

He has admitted to having some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome after enduring years of brutality and imprisonment by the Mugabe regime. In the past two years, he and his party, the MDC, have been in a ‘unity government’ with Mugabe’s ZANU PF. It is, he says, a bit like "supping with the devil" or engaging in some sort of "unholy alliance." But he and his peers have persevered, he says.

Biti’s job has been to try to stabilize the Zimbabwean economy; he says his first task was to bring down hyperinflation, which he did by stopping the printing presses, which were churning out Zimbabwean dollars. By implementing what he calls ‘commonsense policies’ there has been a slow normalization of the economy.

However, foreign investors, multilateral institutions and states are still very wary of investing in Zimbabwe. The fact that President Robert Mugabe is still a player makes many people concerned about the levels of political risk in Zimbabwe. The degree of uncertainty is just too volatile for many.


January 10th, 2011
06:32 PM GMT
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For the first time ever I made a New Year’s resolution. I resolved to spend less time with my BlackBerry.

After the Christmas break, where I managed to relax and slow down a bit, I realized how overly dependent I had become on my BlackBerry.

I was constantly checking for emails and then felt slightly bereft if there wasn’t a tranche of messages beeping. I had to wean myself off it.

As a journalist, I thrive being in contact and knowing things but I think sometimes it all just becomes a bit too much. After a while, I realized I was being bombarded, constantly, by irrelevant questions or useless facts, much of which was not vital to my day.

Don’t get me wrong, in my line of work the BlackBerry is indispensable. The trick is to use it when you need it and not ALL the time.

Obviously, it got me thinking about all the ways to access and read information in the 21st century. The dilemma for the working person is how to filter all the information we can access each day. It’s the classic example of “The tyranny of too much choice.”

At some stage, I think we have to be disciplined and make clear choices about which websites we spend time reading, how often you check your BlackBerry after hours and when to just say, “Enough.”

It’s all about priorities, isn’t it? Being glued to emails, Twitter, text messages and websites can totally swallow up your day.

So my question is: Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Do you have to limit the amount of technology you use in your life?

December 27th, 2010
03:25 PM GMT
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The somewhat arbitrary dividing up of Africa between the European powers during the "Scramble for Africa" in the early part of the 20th century is still a sensitive issue for many on the continent. The sensitivities around the colonial divisions that created modern Africa are still manipulated for political gain in many African countries.

The issue of "land" and who is the "rightful owner" of African land has been a politically expedient tool in Zimbabwe in the past decade. Here in South Africa, the debate about the "redistribution" of land to black South Africans is a hot potato that is likely to become hotter in the years to come.

So then, why are the Tanzanians leasing tracts of arable farmland to the South Koreans?

I recently interviewed Aloyce Masanja, the head of the Rufiji River Basin Authority a public enterprise, in Tanzania which has recently signed an agreement with the South Korean government to "jointly develop" some of the land to the west of the Dar es Salaam.

This is not the first time foreign nations, lacking in wide-open spaces, have essentially farmed food in Africa and then exported it home. But I was keen to get an understanding of what was driving this relationship.

Mr Masanja is a dapper, enthusiastic advocate of "development" in the rural areas of Tanzania. He feels strongly that if peasant farmers are not producing enough on their farmlands then that land should not be left idle or underdeveloped.

That said, he was reluctant to admit that the South Koreans would be sending the rice from the Tanzanian rice paddies back home, but eventually he did concede that when there was an "excess" of food that the South Koreans would be allowed to export the food back to Asia.

Masanja was, though, at pains to stress that the South Koreans had been contracted to uplift and educate local farmers in the process of planting their own rice paddies in Africa.

So my question this week: What’s in it for the Koreans? What is in it for the Tanzanians? Is this new form of land development another form of colonial exploitation? Or are the Africans wiser this time around?

December 15th, 2010
03:26 PM GMT
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So Ghana has joined the club of oil producing nations. The taps have been turned on at the offshore Jubilee field.

So what does this mean for Ghana? How will ordinary Ghanaians benefit from this resource windfall?

The first concern that should be addressed is the perception that suddenly the country will become flush with petrodollars. Importantly, expectations must be managed. As those citizens in Nigeria or Angola know, the oil money often doesn't trickle down to the people.

Firstly, Ghanaians have to not think that oil will magically create more jobs, or make people richer. Secondly, civil society has to be tough on government and ensure they constantly monitor how proceeds are being spent.

Also, Ghanaians need to quickly implement legislation to govern the administration of this new industry; hopefully these laws will be passed soon. An independent regulator is also needed to oversee the sector.

Luckily, Ghana has a relatively diversified economy compared to other oil-rich African nations. ­The country earns foreign currency from gold and cocoa. This alone makes it more likely to avoid the mistakes of places like Nigeria, where oil revenue accounts for approximately 92% of the GDP, or Angola, which is just about entirely reliant on oil proceeds.

However, the numbers are staggering. ­The Jubilee fields are some of the richest and largest oil deposits discovered in many years. In the long term, oil production is estimated to bring in $1 billion a year. This is a lot of responsibility, as well as a wonderful gift for Ghana.

So my questions: Is this oil discovery a blessing or a curse? Can Ghana avoid the mistakes of some other African countries where oil revenue is used to enrich the elites and not the ordinary people?

December 3rd, 2010
03:16 PM GMT
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Been there, done that.

That’s what some South Africans might be saying after watching the announcement of which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football events.

While many here might be slightly nostalgic about their World Cup memories, others will be utterly relieved that the whole experience is over.

Either way, the questions still remain about just how viable it is for a country to host the World Cup. This past week’s announcements have again made South Africans reflect on the financial implications of hosting one of the world’s largest tournaments.

Yes, it was a party. Yes, everyone was happy. Yes, the vuvuzela become a global institution.

But did you know, according to the South African government, that it cost $150 million to construct the Polokwane stadium – just one of the 10 stadiums across the country that were either rebuilt or newly built.

Now, unsurprising to many, months after the World Cup, that stadium and others in South Africa are largely unused and saddled with costly maintenance budgets. Two million dollars a year is spent by the local authorities to upkeep the grass and the structure at Polokwane, says a staff member of the World Cup “legacy” programs.

The Limpopo province, where the stadium is located, is one of the poorest areas of South Africa. The education system is crumbling and the employment rate is worryingly high.

It is a question I have asked over and over again: Was the World Cup worth it?

Most South Africans will say yes, even though there was no tangible benefit for them. That month of football was a happy, sweet time for South Africans – a whopping, expensive party that was well worth the hangover.

So, my questions: Do you think Russia and Qatar “deserve” the World Cup? Can they beat the spectacle South Africa put on? Will you be going to Brazil, Russia or Qatar to watch the football in the years ahead? Is all the hoopla really worth it?

November 25th, 2010
10:29 AM GMT
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We have just filmed this week’s Marketplace Africa program in Braamfontein, a peripheral urban area on the outskirts of central Johannesburg.

It is quite staggering how much of Johannesburg’s inner city has changed in recent years. Juta Street, where we shot, has in the past few months blossomed into a groovy design hotspot with good coffee, an art gallery, and trendy furniture and fashion stores.

The apartments bordering this area have some of the best views of Johannesburg’s skyline and have been turned into expensive loft-style living quarters.

Across the city, a development called Arts on Main is another example of how a rundown, dodgy section of Johannesburg has been developed into a safe, fun place where South Africans of all sorts go to hangout, watch movies and shop.

Someone reading this might think, “So what? Urban regeneration is nothing new.” However, Johannesburg’s shift from a crime-ridden, dirty, overcrowded no-go zone to a place with potential is quite radical to those of us who live here.

That said, there is still a bit of a “Wild-West” feel to Johannesburg.

Some areas are still chaotic and dirty; apartment blocks are unsanitary and overcrowded like any urban slum, where drug lords seem to own the street.

However, at least once a week we film on Joburg’s streets, loiter with expensive film equipment on sidewalks, and chat to locals, and it has become increasingly obvious that slowly, many areas of Johannesburg have been reclaimed from the criminals and blossomed into a place to do business.

The success of this project was pioneered by the local authorities, which positioned a guard or policeman on nearly every corner and installed a high-tech CCTV network covering the city.

However, the business community - the big banks and mining houses - have also played a major part in bank-rolling the regeneration. This shift was also due to the long-sighted, often inspired influence of the country’s artistic community, who were looking for edgy urban lifestyle not found in the suburbs.

So my question is, do you think changing the face of a city is worth it? Tell us which other African cities are developing in ways that make you think, “Wow, this place has changed.”

November 19th, 2010
11:58 AM GMT
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I am in Kenya filming Marketplace Africa. When I arrived here, the first thing I did was to turn on the television set in my hotel room and watch the local news.

KTV was running a story on how the Anti-Corruption Commission was planning to set up a “corruption curriculum” in Kenyan schools, where there would be a focus on “integrity studies.”

I was both amused and dismayed – what exactly are integrity studies?

According to quotes from the press conference, the Commission hopes to set up clubs – known as “Adili” – in all schools, to reach young primary school children, right up to university-level students. The idea is that more than 10 million children will “discuss moral and ethical choices and dilemmas which they encounter daily both in their personal and communal lives.”

Obviously, the intention is honorable. Kenya has high rates of corruption (according to Transparency International, only 19 countries in the world are perceived as more corrupt than Kenya) and so it seems the authorities hope that by teaching “integrity” to schoolchildren graft will lessen.

But reducing corruption in Kenya could be harder than simply teaching children “integrity.”

We filmed in Kibera slum, where more than one million people live, and many people I spoke to there say you can’t get through the month without paying a protection fee, a backhander for water or electricity, a property tax, and all sorts of other hidden “costs” associated with surviving in one of Africa’s biggest slums.

Children will learn, way before they get to school and have to sit through honesty lessons, that to make your way in the world, in a tough, poor society, you have to learn to work the system, maneuver and make deals. That’s the reality. Tough choices, indeed.

So my question is – how do you root out corruption when it is so endemic? Is the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission wasting its time? Or is this a clever way to instill “integrity” in future generations of government ministers or police officers?

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