Africa in the news: Abiy’s Nobel Prize, Rwanda’s new smartphone factory, and Zimbabwe’s rate hikes on power

A man looks at a billboard with the image of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 11, 2019. The billboard reads "Our Justice motto should be love, respect and anchor of morality for all human beings." REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri - RC1FE40221D0

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wins Nobel Peace Prize: On Friday, October 11 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Announcing the award, the committee highlighted his efforts to resolve the two-decade-long border conflict with Eritrea after he became prime minister in 2018. The committee also cited domestic reforms undertaken by Prime Minister Abiy’s government—including the release of political prisoners, lifting the Ethiopia’s longstanding state of emergency, and increasing media freedom—as reasons for its decision. The committee also recognized the work of other stakeholders “working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.”

In a statement, the prime minister’s office called the award a “collective win for Ethiopians and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia—the new horizon of hope—a prosperous nation for all.”

The first completely “Made in Africa” smartphone factory launches in Rwanda

On Monday, October 7, the Mara Group opened the first high-tech smartphone factory in Africa, touting the production of the first completely “Made in Africa” smartphones. According to Eddy Sebera, Mara’s country manager for Rwanda, the factory in the east African country is unique because, unlike in other African countries, “the entire manufacturing process, from the motherboard all the way to the packaging of the phone is done in [the] newly-opened factory.”

The factory, which cost $50 million to build, will begin employing 200 people (60 percent of whom are women), with the goal of having over 500 employees in 5 years, and is expected to make up to 2 million smartphones per year. The factory will be making the Mara X and Mara Z models, which both cost less than $200. According to Rwanda’s minister for information and communications technologies, Paula Ingabire, the opening of the smartphone factory hits on many development goals for the country, including financial inclusion, job creation, and skills training.  Indeed, at the plant’s opening, Rwandan President Paul Kagame noted, “The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life. The cost and quality is very important and the introduction of Mara Phones will put smartphone ownership within reach of more Rwandans.” Rwandan smartphone usage is currently at 15 percent.

Zimbabwe hikes power rates, and economy expected to contract in 2019

This week, Zimbabwe’s Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) announced that it would allow the state power company to raise power rates by 400 percent, the second of such an increase in the last three months. The rate increase follows the rapid depreciation of the Zimbabwean dollar and ongoing load shedding of up to 18 hours a day. According to ZERA’s board chairperson, the current rates were not sufficient to cover costs, and the power supply should improve following the rate hike as the additional revenue will be used to repair machinery and pay for power imports from South Africa and Mozambique. The rate hikes come amidst soaring inflation – estimated at 300 percent in August and work strikes by doctors protesting pay that has not kept up with soaring prices.

In related news, a planning document from Zimbabwe’s treasury department made public this week showed that the economy is expected to contract by up to 6 percent this year. The report highlights lower agricultural output and power generation due to a drought earlier this year as contributing factors. According to the report, the economy is expected to rebound next year with growth projected at 4.6 percent.