Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

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FinTech for Africa’s SMEs – An interview with Omar Cissé of InTouch Group

A report from the Central Bank of West African States shows that the bank account penetration rate in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from  19% to 21.8% between 2020 and 2021. This…

A report from the Central Bank of West African States shows that the bank account penetration rate in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from  19% to 21.8% between 2020 and 2021. This has been a steady and sustained trend over the last ten years, but it still places the countries of the UEMOA zone among those with the lowest bank account coverage in the world.  

This low rate deprives a large part of the population of basic financial services and limits their participation in the formal economy. Today, this lag is largely offset by the massive adoption of new financial technologies (FinTech) on the continent, notably mobile banking, even more so since the Covid period.

On the same subject : African SMEs have potential to be at the forefront of tomorrow’s digital world

Entreprenante Afrique talked to Omar Cissé, founder of InTouch, a pan-African fintech launched in 2014 offering a pan-African, tailor-made digital solution for secure payment management, providing users with a single platform for administering almost all payment methods present in the countries where InTouch is deployed. 

Omar Cissé shares his thoughts on the trajectory of InTouch since its creation, the factors behind its success, and what FinTech brings to the African economic landscape and to entrepreneurs in particular.

Entreprenante Afrique : In less than ten years, InTouch has made its mark on the African FinTech landscape. Is InTouch today a unicorn?

Omar Cissé Omar Cissé : We hope to be by 2027. Since 2022, we have maintained positive EBITDA, marking a significant milestone towards profitability. We are intensifying our efforts to expand our business further.

189 million transactions, amounting to a total transaction volume of €2,730 million.

The initial version of InTouch was launched in 2015, and by 2017, we had facilitated approximately 5 million transactions. However, the pivotal moment came with the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. When sanitary measures were implemented, businesses of all sizes sought to transition to digital payment methods. Since then, this trend has only gained momentum. In 2024, we processed 189 million transactions, amounting to a total transaction volume of €2,730 million.

Now, InTouch operates in 16 countries, with plans to expand to 25 by 2025. We accommodate nearly 300 different payment methods and operate through 48,000 TouchPoints across our operational countries.

 

Entreprenante Afrique : How do you explain this rapid growth?

In addition to external factors such as Covid and technological development, the human factor stands out as a pivotal factor. What began with a team of four in 2015 has now expanded to include 400 professionals, encompassing developers, sales representatives, and a diverse array of roles. These team members are distributed across the regions where InTouch operates, organized into hubs – such as Côte d’Ivoire for West Africa, Kenya for East Africa, Cameroon for Central Africa, and Egypt for North Africa. This approach enables us to deliver customized services and foster closer relationships with our clients.

The second factor contributing to our success is our shareholders and strategic partners, including the TotalEnergies group, CFAO, and Worldline, who have played a pivotal role in our advancement through technology transfer.

a solution for efficiently managing a large volume of small transactions across various channels, all within a unified platform.

The third factor is our access to financial resources. Since our inception, we have raised between 7 to 9 million euros every two years. The fintech sector is one of the most attractive investment segments within the African technology landscape. 

The final key factor driving our growth is the trust we have established with our customers and investors since the inception of InTouch.

What sets InTouch apart is our ability to provide customers at any stage of development—whether start-ups, SMEs, or large corporations—with a solution for efficiently managing a large volume of small transactions across various channels, all within a unified platform. This simplifies the monitoring and reporting of financial operations.

 

Entreprenante Afrique : To what extent is FinTech, and InTouch Group in particular, changing the African economic landscape? Are you in competition with the traditional financial sector ? 

Omar Cissé :

We do not view ourselves as competitors to banks or microfinance institutions. Instead, we position ourselves as technical partners, digitizing financial relationships. InTouch addresses the gap left by the slow adoption of banking services, such as providing small traders access to nano-credits at very affordable rates through a dedicated platform. While still a pilot project, our partnerships with microfinance institutions enable these operations, as InTouch is not a financial institution in the traditional sense. 

the rise of FinTech carries in its wake the promise of financial inclusion for the greatest number

Small companies have been our primary focus since inception. Our customer base includes 16,000 small traders in Senegal and 34,000 across our portfolio. Prior to InTouch, my experience with companies through CTIC Dakar and Teranga Capital revealed that payment management is a significant challenge for entrepreneurs, especially in Africa. Offering these companies the ability to accept various payment methods is truly transformative. It encompasses secure payment handling, precise invoicing, and a tracking system that boosts productivity. This leads to clearer financial insights and analysis for entrepreneurs. 

In broader terms, the rise of FinTech carries in its wake the promise of financial inclusion for the greatest number, the democratization of basic financial services: banking services, payment systems, credit, savings, insurance, etc.

 


 

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African SMEs have potential to be at the forefront of tomorrow’s digital world

  For over 15 years I’ve been helping companies on the continent with their digital strategies, and I firmly believe in the potential of African SMEs to be at the…

 

For over 15 years I’ve been helping companies on the continent with their digital strategies, and I firmly believe in the potential of African SMEs to be at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s digital world.

And here is why

First, because there is a technology gap

When it comes to digital in Africa, the reality today is that usage is still limited. Only 36% of the African population was connected in January 2023. Technological progress is held back by structural constraints (lack of infrastructure, poor Internet connectivity, weak electricity networks), as well as societal issues (limited purchasing power, populations far removed from the written word, etc.).

But this technological gap is, in many ways, an opportunity.

In fact, we’re seeing that the latest adopters tend to go straight to the most advanced uses. Newcomers to the Internet, for example, will immediately start using artificial intelligence – already via voice recognition on their smartphones – and this will seem normal to them.

This is what we call the Frogleap: a jump that enables African companies to go straight from the craft to the Web 4.0 industry!

 

Secondly, because these companies operate in difficult environments

Political, economic, social, regulatory, environmental: the context is often difficult for African companies – more difficult than elsewhere.

Here again, it’s an opportunity! Because innovation is born of constraint.

After all, why change something that works? Yes, we could do better, but by nature nobody likes change…

This is the main reason why transformation projects in French companies, for example, come up against so many obstacles.

We all know how difficult it is to change established habits. But when faced with a problem or a stumbling block, we’ll do anything to find a solution.

The most obvious example is mobile money, which accounts for over 36 billion transactions in sub-Saharan Africa – compared with just 300 million in Europe and Central Asia (source: GSMA 2021).

Why are these uses struggling to take off in Europe and Central Asia? Because the market is already equipped with bankcards, and while mobile payment brings a plus, it doesn’t respond to a real need.

It’s interesting to see here how these innovations impact the way we measure a country’s level of development – with mobile money, for example, the rate of bank penetration is no longer necessarily as representative …

Finally, African SMEs are often young structures with limited resources.

Surprising as it may seem, this can also be an opportunity for digital.

Indeed, digitalization is no longer so much a question of budget, but more a question of culture.

The rise of “no-code” has democratized access to digitalization for businesses.

Applications such as Notion have enabled companies like Sayna, in Madagascar, to digitize their entire processes without the need for special technical expertise or large budgets.

Social media make it easy to reach a local and international audience.

What’s more, it’s easier for younger and smaller structures to take advantage of digital.

More agile than large groups with established practices, they can evolve their tools and practices to implement new, more appropriate working methods.

This ability to adapt is a real strength in a context of great uncertainty, particularly when it comes to energy and climate issues.

So many reasons for African SMEs to confidently embrace a digital transformation that can be a real lever for development.

However, it’s important to keep in mind:

The human element: Digital must not replace, but rather “augment” the human element. Digital should not be designed for digital’s sake, but to add value. This means improving, simplifying, and streamlining relationships that are first and foremost human, whether within companies or with their customers and partners. In this respect, it’s interesting to see the growing importance of conversational uses in digital interfaces, which are those closest to human interaction (e.g. WhatsApp or ChatGPT).

African specificities: On the one hand, it’s a question of ensuring a better representation of the continent’s realities in the various digital tools. Indeed, the realities proposed online in Google results, on social media, or in image or text productions generated by Artificial Intelligences mirror the content available online – content that is above all American, Asian, European… The aim is to encourage the production of African content so that the continent’s specificities are also taken into account in the future.

On the other hand, while the main digital players today are American or Chinese, we need to ensure that digitalization does not create over-dependent relationships for individual countries. An issue that Africa shares with many other geographies!

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Resilience and adaptation in times of insecurity: the battle of Niger’s women entrepreneurs (1/2)

  Nigerian women have always stood out for their resilience and survival instinct in an arid, hostile environment. Although written records of Africa’s traditionally oral history are relatively recent, as…

 

Nigerian women have always stood out for their resilience and survival instinct in an arid, hostile environment.

Although written records of Africa’s traditionally oral history are relatively recent, as early as the end of the 19th century they began to extol the courage of a warrior queen, a figure of resistance to the colonists – Sarraounia Mangou. 

From 1960 to 1974, Niger was back in the limelight thanks to its first “First Lady”, Mme Aïssa DIORI, who charmed not only with her great beauty, but above all with her unrivalled charisma and rare intelligence. Her prestige radiates around the world. “Rubbing shoulders with the greats of the world (Elizabeth II, Haile Selassie, Nasser, De Gaulle, Johnson…), Madame Diori commanded respect and admiration. At her husband’s side, she began the process of female emancipation through hard work and rigor in this Afro-Muslim region.”  She embodied resilience so well. So disturbed, in fact, that she was personally targeted and mortally wounded in the 1974 coup d’état.

In 1992, in addition to the world-famous March 8, Niger established a Nigerien Women’s Day to honor this resilience. Indeed, following the historic 1991 march by women to demand greater representation on the preparatory commission for the Sovereign National Conference, May 13 came to symbolize Nigerien Women’s Day, instituted by presidential decree.

 

As a reminder, here are a few aspects of this hostile environment. Although they represent 50.60% of the population, women have the highest illiteracy rate, at 78% (compared with 60% for men), and are also the poorest. Indeed, four out of five poor people are women, sinking under the weight of socio-cultural and economic barriers such as material dependence, characterized by low decision-making power, arduous work, and difficult access to basic services. Financial dependence, reflected in low monetization, laborious access to knowledge, jobs, and productive resources. 

Niger holds two sad records, both impacting women: the highest fertility rate in the world (6.2 children per woman in 2021 vs. 7.6 in 2012) and the highest rate of early marriage: 77% of our girls are married before the age of 18 and 28% before the age of 15. And these are just the official figures… many believe that the reality is even more alarming. 

In this context, women have been quick to realize that solidarity – in line with the now fashionable concept of sisterhood – is their only option, and female entrepreneurs are no exception to this trend.

 

Culturally, they are confined to a type of profession that is “acceptable” for women: sewing, beauty care, food processing or fruit and vegetable marketing and cooking, which are also low-margin, low-income sectors. And with low barriers to entry, competition is high and activities are often informal.

In cities, they run or invest in very small businesses and SMEs. They accumulate initiatives and jobs. When they have had access to training, they keep their salaried jobs and develop their VSEs at the same time. Insecurity doesn’t affect them much; they simply adjust their working hours and take precautions to avoid dangerous areas on the outskirts. 

In rural areas, they engage in IGAs – income-generating activities. In villages, women are traditionally involved in market gardening, raising poultry and small ruminants. This income enables them to help support their families. With insecurity, looting and attacks have deprived many of them of income, leading to higher market prices and the impoverishment of entire communes. Forced migration, rural exodus and the loss of fathers and sons at the front have increased the vulnerability of rural women as well as gender-based violence.

 

However, since 1992, they have been organizing themselves into a Union. This is an association or structure of women who have voluntarily decided to band together to defend common interests, but above all to build their financial autonomy through tontines – most often 100% female. Insecurity has further strengthened this solidarity. 

The financial system has also adapted, and is increasingly offering products to these groups, giving them access to savings and then credit, and freeing them from the guarantee or surety previously provided by a man. The dematerialization of traditional tontines also makes it possible to combat looting and secure the assets of these women’s unions.

Whether rural or urban, women entrepreneurs in Niger are organizing, building and maintaining their resilience. Groups dedicated to women entrepreneurs are springing up on social networks, as are professional associations and incubators dedicated exclusively to women. For over 20 years, one microfinance institution, MECREF, has taken up the challenge of catering to a clientele made up of 100% women. Indeed, in Niger as in the rest of the world, studies show that women entrepreneurs are better paid than men.

“Whether rural or urban, women entrepreneurs in Niger are organizing, building and maintaining their resilience”

 

However, the situation remains critical in many regions. Since the beginning of 2023, according to official figures, some 670,000 forcibly displaced persons have been registered in Niger, 52% of whom are women.

Nigerien women will have an increasingly important role to play in rebuilding peace in Niger. Military families are often left to fend for themselves. And just as we saw during the great world wars in Europe, women are now perfectly capable of heading these families and generating income to support the family.

Their resilience is still being tested by the coup d’état of July 26, 2023. Sanctions are taking their toll on households and women in particular, including rising food prices. Nigerien women are calling for peace and a diplomatic way out of the crisis, but they are also passionate about this historic page that the whole country is now writing.

“Their resilience is still being tested by the coup d’état of July 26, 2023”

 

So, more than ever, empowering women is part of economic development and must be a priority. This has a greater impact on health, education and economic development in general. And the fact that they are more involved and that we can provide them with more support will have an impact on safety across the board and at local level. 

Further reading: in our “Resilience and Adaptation” series, discover Mohamed Keita’s article, “Mali’s renewal will come through the private sector“.

 

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3 essential paths for the development agenda of the next 30 years

On May 22, 2023, an exciting day of debate was organized by the Architecture Chair in International Development Finance and the Impact Chair of the FERDI. The event brought together…

On May 22, 2023, an exciting day of debate was organized by the Architecture Chair in International Development Finance and the Impact Chair of the FERDI. The event brought together some twenty African and international researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, and heads of development institutions. What can we learn from this work?

The current debate on the architecture of international financing is bringing the role of the private sector and private financing in development back to the spotlight.

Whichever approach is taken, if we are to meet the challenges of the coming decades, the rate of investment needs to increase. This is particularly the case in poor and fragile countries, which are the focus of everyone’s attention for two reasons: on the one hand, their demographic growth, with its implications for education, health, regional amenities, mobility and the response to social challenges; and on the other, climate change, with in particular the challenge of adaptation. Of course, public investment will be essential. So will public development aid. But private investment must also grow, and so must private financing.

There are at least three different subjects.

First, it is necessary for governments of poor and fragile countries to obtain more financing from banks and markets, in a sound and responsible manner. The current period is witnessing a growing risk of over-indebtedness, particularly in Africa. Returning to this issue is essential. The establishment of a common, global debt coordination mechanism is the central issue, as is the strengthening of the IMF’s surveillance capacity. The G20 “common framework” is the first step in this politically complex process.

To meet the challenges of the coming decades, the rate of investment needs to increase.

Furthermore, more direct foreign investment in these countries is required. The needs in terms of infrastructure are a priority: the domestic private sector, both productive and financial, is rarely on a par with the complexity and size of operations, even if it can make progress. The main challenge lies within the countries themselves: we need better national policies and more projects. That’s why the most appropriate recommendations involve ways of improving the first category, by making them more welcoming to private investors, and strengthening the capacities of administrations in the second category. Development institutions could become more proactive in assisting project development. International investors also need to be reassured about sovereign risk, by improving access to guarantee instruments (such as MIGA, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) and enabling public private sector financing institutions (DFIs) to be faster, more efficient partners.

Finally, strengthening the entrepreneurial emergence and growth of SMEs in these poor and fragile countries must be a top priority. Whatever support and guarantees might be offered to large international companies or institutional investors, these countries are too small and too complex to be of any interest to them other than marginally. So, in contrast to infrastructure, we must position ourselves at the level of the local private sector. This sector is incomplete, fragile and very small.

It is possible to strengthen the entrepreneurial dynamic in poor countries. Twenty years of experience and pilot projects have produced some convincing results, in a context where the will to embrace entrepreneurship is huge. There’s no shortage of projects here!

Today’s agenda is one of scaling up.

So today’s agenda is one of scaling up. First and foremost, we need to support start-ups by strengthening our acceleration, incubation and pre-investment structures. Next, in as many countries as possible, private funds or private investment companies should be set up to provide long-term capital and capacity-building for small businesses in the process of being structured. Finally, regional funds are needed to finance the expansion and capital strengthening of companies that are becoming too large to be financed at national level, but cannot yet access, for example, commercial investment funds. At every level, technological and managerial capacity-building is essential.

There are, however, two important points about the agenda that are too often underestimated.

National savings are still too low to finance this capital investment effort. Moreover, as we have already said, international savings cannot really be mobilized easily in their direction. We therefore need public funding, both national and international, to reinforce domestic private investment. This is why the mobilization of the DFIs, as well as public aid agencies, is essential.

Also, even if private companies that are financed are highly profitable, and bring considerable societal value, investors operating in this field can rarely achieve levels of return corresponding to market expectations. Indeed, it’s difficult to value small African companies, for example, at levels equivalent to those of their European peers. Investments in these small companies are also affected by high management costs, tax burdens and foreign exchange losses, not to mention a claims experience which, while not very high, does take its toll on earnings. Public investors must therefore accept low financial returns, which are justified by the very high fiscal and social returns. If they want to attract private investors, they must also agree to provide guarantees or other return-enhancing elements.

It’s an agenda with a budgetary cost.

It’s an agenda with a budgetary cost. But this cost, as various studies have shown, is modest in relation to GDP and the societal gains generated. The DFIs, for instance, must have the capacity to support this effort. Until now, this has not been their mandate. It must become one, and their business model must enable them to support it. It’s up to their public shareholders – the governments of the OECD and China – to act in this way. Aid agencies also need to accept the idea of committing public funds to the productive sector. For some of them, this is a major ideological and sometimes know-how barrier to overcome. We need to invest in the conceptual framework and the economic and impact justification to reassure and convince them.

There are very few large and medium-sized companies in Africa. Most of the major African companies of 2050 are not yet born. Accelerating their birth, reducing their losses during their growth period, making their expansion faster, safer and more environmentally and socially sustainable: this is the major development agenda for poor and vulnerable countries over the next thirty years.

It will create the mass of jobs needed to absorb the huge demographic wave ahead of us, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. This is how we will create the financial markets of tomorrow, and how major international investors will turn to these countries, which are still poor, and tomorrow, even less fragile, if this agenda succeeds.

International society needs to gain in coherence

A final word. International society needs to gain in coherence. If big business and the world’s financial markets are to connect with developing countries, the right hand of OECD countries that wants to help them must act in the same direction as their left hand, which governs the financial markets. However, the accumulation of rules on anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism, banking risk management, ethics and the environment is beginning to raise questions. As positive and unquestionable as they may be in their inspiration, they lead to a level of compliance risk that today turns too many leading international companies away from developing countries, and particularly the poorest ones. It is essential to return to a more coherent approach and find the right modalities and compromises between the desire to make financial markets healthier and more stable, on the one hand, and to promote investment in the world’s most fragile zones, on the other.


This article is inspired by the working paper: → Millions for billions: Accelerating African entrepreneurial emergence for accelerated, sustainable and job-rich growth, a publication by Jean-Michel Severino, part of the work of FERDI’s International Architecture of Development Financing Chair, and which argues for the need to strongly accelerate public involvement in favor of entrepreneurial emergence in poor and fragile countries.

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Promoting african publications as a means to improve the education system, hence ensuring future economic growth.

By 2050, Africa’s population will grow from 1.51 billion to 2.45 billion. This demographic power will propel Africa into an economic powerhouse. Africa’s GDP in 2050, in the most modest…

By 2050, Africa’s population will grow from 1.51 billion to 2.45 billion. This demographic power will propel Africa into an economic powerhouse. Africa’s GDP in 2050, in the most modest scenarios, will be in absolute value  the GDP of China today (1)

But this demographic power will only reveal its full potential if for the next three decades education is considered a top priority. In the medium and long term, education is the most powerful factor of change, the most effective instrument to fight against poverty and inequalities. And in general, it is essential to the achievement of each of the 17 sustainable development goals.

To illustrate, on two maps, the first showing the poverty rate in the world (2), the second showing the literacy rates (3) (the first indicator of the level of education in a country): the correlation between the two maps is simply incredible. The least developed countries are those with the lowest literacy or education rates.

If today the stakes around this question are recognized, and moreover, policies of access to education are already being applied on the continent, these efforts must also be extended to all the actors involved in the process of transmission of knowledge and know-how, among which that of the publishing industry. 

After great teachers, the best learning opportunity for a child is to have a great book.

The World Bank, for example, admits that after good teachers, the best learning opportunity for a child is a good book. I think this perfectly defines the essential role of books. All books, not just textbooks, provide the best possible learning opportunities.

Today there is evidence that if you want publishing to influence a country’s education, it must also be endogenous.

Today, the market for educational textbooks, but more generally for books, is dominated by imported products. Local and African know-how tends to be overshadowed by universal knowledge. However, the two can and should coexist.

In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to acquire universally recognized knowledge, meeting the epistemological conditions of modern science, marked by the seal of rigor in the collection of information, validated by the multiplication of experiments and rid of all irrationality. The acquisition of this scientific knowledge, with a universal and normative vocation, is necessary, at the risk of being marginalized in the global city.

But, as mentioned above, local know-how tends to disappear precisely because, unlike universal knowledge, it is experiential, pragmatic but progressive and, above all, rooted in a particular experience and context. And in a way, it is in this form of exclusivity that all the potential of local know-how lies. For they answer African questions in a pragmatic way and are the answers adapted to the context in which African societies and entrepreneurs evolve.

For heritage and identity purposes, but also for knowledge as a whole, this know-how must be taught and transmitted to future generations in the same way as scientific knowledge is transmitted.


  1. L’Afrique deviendra une grande puissance économique” – Jean-Michel Severino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2kwLTXUWn8
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_percentage_of_population_living_in_poverty 
  3. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_des_pays_par_taux_d%27alphab%C3%A9tisation 
  4. https://scienceetbiencommun.pressbooks.pub/justicecognitive1/chapter/la-place-des-savoirs-locaux-endogenes-dans-la-cite-globale-essai-de-justification/  
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Are universities in Africa excluding women?

Abidjan, early 60’s, the young Dicoh Mariam Konan starts studying chemistry at the Technical High School. She soon became the first female chemist in the Ivory Coast. Her portrait on…

Abidjan, early 60’s, the young Dicoh Mariam Konan starts studying chemistry at the Technical High School. She soon became the first female chemist in the Ivory Coast. Her portrait on the 25fcfa coins, still in circulation today, illustrates the impact of her career. It symbolizes a West Africa in progress, with educated women, while the period of independence is in full swing. 60 years later, this progress is slowing down, only 8% of Ivorian women continue secondary studies. A figure that applies to the rest of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. How to explain this situation?

Over the years, sub-Saharan women have found many socio-economic barriers to pursuing higher education. These include gender stereotypes and women’s place in society, a clear preference for boys’ education over girls, and poverty. Indeed, the cost of higher education generally falls more heavily on poor households than on rich ones.

Yet, studies show that women play a key role in the continent’s economy. According to UNESCO, the impact of girls’ education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percentage point increase in girls’ education increases the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percentage points and increases the annual growth rate of GDP by 0.2 percentage points.

These figures raise many questions:

  • What mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure sustainable access to higher education for girls?
  • How can we influence deep-rooted societal practices?

A look at 3 mechanisms set up by I&P Education and Employment, aimed at increasing the number of young girls enrolled in higher education institutions to enable them to find their place in the job market.

Overcoming the socio-economic barrier

At ISM Ziguinchor, 11:00 a.m., Elise, originally from the Sédhiou region of Senegal, is taking a management course. After having interrupted her schooling due to pregnancy, she received a scholarship for excellence from ISM Ziguinchor. The first institution of higher education in the capital of Casamance, the establishment is a fine example of parity, in fact, girls represent 55% of the staff.

The policy is clear: “When awarding scholarships, 60% of girls and 40% of boys. For equal competence, the choice is made for girls,” says Georges Bernard Ndèye, director of the school. When asked why girls, the answer is simple: “The desire to get girls out of their vulnerable situation.

Higher education has an additional cost for families living in rural areas or without a university who have to go to capital or secondary cities. For families this means additional costs such as transportation, accommodation, and food[2]. In Ghana, for example, among the poorest households, sending a young person to a higher education institution increases their non-food expenses by 37%[3], an unthinkable sacrifice for many.

Sending a student to college increases a poor household’s non-food expenditures by 37 percent in Ghana

Students and their families analyze the benefits of higher education versus the income if the young person worked right after high school. For Priska Manga, a doctor at Cheikh Anta Diop University, the first obstacle for girls is the family. Social norms (role of men and women in the family, marriage, maternity, etc.) also play a role. A Wolof proverb says “Diangou Djiguène amoul ndieurigne”, a woman’s studies are of no use. Investing in the higher education of young girls can be seen as a waste of time and investment for the most vulnerable families.

Parental education is a critical factor in decision making. When the head of the household has completed secondary school, children are 10 times more likely to pursue higher education than a child in a household with a lower educational level of the head. Thus, convincing vulnerable families of the importance of higher education for girls is necessary. But it is essential to couple this societal change with financial support mechanisms. The granting of a scholarship may be a condition for a young girl from a disadvantaged background to pursue higher education.

Local and adapted infrastructures

In 2016, ISM Ziguinchor, wishing to respond to the accommodation problems of its students, decided to create a branch in Kolda, a city located 500km from Dakar. At the beginning of the school year, the administration realized that the majority of the students were married girls, whose families did not want them to move away for their studies. Families want to keep their daughters within a family circle, to protect them, but also to avoid any incidents that would damage their reputations (unwanted pregnancies, etc.). Bringing the institution closer to female students in rural areas increases their access to quality higher education when social norms prevent them from going to the city alone. For student mothers, the provision of childcare facilities at the place of learning helps them stay in school. To help female learners focus on their education, UNICEF has set up a daycare system as part of the “Girl Power” project in Côte d’Ivoire. The project aims to strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of young girls in the suburbs[4].

  • Dormitories: when school becomes home

Families also use tutoring systems. The student (girl or boy) is placed under the authority of a tutor, usually a family acquaintance. When necessary, or when there are difficulties within the host family, the girls drop out of school. Another solution is to make the school the place to live. The construction of dormitories in schools allows families to find a reliable solution to the issue of distance from the place of learning. This solution is being tested in ESSECT Poincaré schools. Located in the city of Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire, the school welcomes students from all over the region – mainly agricultural – and beyond.

  • The importance of decent and adequate health facilities

In addition to having a decent toilet, it is also a question of equipment adapted to female physiology and available in the sanitary facilities.

Once they enter the school, students spend a large part of their day there. In addition to the availability of facilities, it is important that they feel comfortable. Both private and public, restrooms are places that must meet the requirements of safety, hygiene and privacy[5]. Since joining the IP2E program, Mr. Ndèye considers that decent sanitary facilities are fundamental for the development of young girls. During their menstruation, girls need to have access to toilets with water, soap and garbage garbage cans where they can dispose of their sanitary protection[6]. The availability of these pads is also necessary. In addition to having decent toilets, it is also a matter of having appropriate facilities available in these spaces. When interviewed, girls express an interest in separate toilets. They often emphasize the criteria of hygiene and the desire for privacy and safety.

  • Ensure the protection and well-being of students

Providing a safe learning environment goes beyond infrastructure. Gender-based and sexual violence affects girls more than boys. It is present during higher education, but goes unreported. It can include harassment between students, harassment between professors and students, and the exchange of good grades or job offers for sexual favors. Within the IP2E program, all supported companies develop a “student safeguarding” policy. This policy aims to prevent and respond to different types of incidents (sexual violence, physical safety, etc.) and to increase awareness of these issues among students and staff. Institutions are developing mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints. These mechanisms help build trust and improve the learning experience of young girls.

Inspiring Role Models

At the Institut Ivoirien de Technologie (IIT), along with business and computer courses, students receive leadership and personal development courses. Prisca and Grâce, two second-year students, explain that these courses help “to know oneself, to find one’s strengths to overcome one’s weaknesses. They often discuss the girls’ development with their male classmates. For Grace, one of the reasons for not pursuing higher education is the lack of self-confidence in girls. This lack of confidence stems from the “low esteem” that those around them place on the education of young women.

Gender stereotypes are also found in the orientation. The so-called promising fields, such as science, are often assigned to boys. Fabricia Devignes, a gender expert at UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, explains that “the representation of women has an impact on girls’ education and learning outcomes.

In the companies of the I&P Education and Employment program, one institution makes the difference in the sciences: the USSD (Université des Sciences de la Santé de Dakar ). The Board of Directors of the USSD is chaired by a woman. In the university, 60% of the students are young women. When questioned, the female students explain that most of them come from families where their parents are already working in the health sector. To strengthen the resolve of these future doctors, USSD is also implementing a women’s leadership program. These are mentoring sessions during which women in the health sector will lead exchange sessions with the students. For Professor Ndir, it is by taking the example of female role models that there will be women leaders in the field.

Changing mindsets

In Tamale, northern Ghana, educational company Openlabs is bringing role models into the local community to change attitudes. To train girls in computer skills, Prince Charles, campus manager, and his team conduct outreach to girls as young as primary school, families, women’s groups, and religious leaders. To facilitate the exchange, some team members come from the targeted communities. Zeinab, a student from the Choggu community, spoke. She explains that it is possible to be a young woman, belong to the community and pursue higher education. Prince Charles went on to explain the financial benefits that the education of young women will have on these communities. He also explains the scholarships and discounts that Openlabs offers to young women.

In recent years, the historical gap in access to secondary education between girls and boys on the African continent has narrowed considerably and is now being reversed thanks to government efforts (in Senegal, in 2021: 52% of girls versus 48% of boys). This quasi-parity has highlighted a non-generic inequality, but rather a strong disparity according to the social and geographical origin of future students, and partly explains the low rate of continuation of higher education. Although few girls and boys pursue higher education in sub-Saharan Africa, girls from disadvantaged or rural backgrounds are at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of access to university.

Guaranteeing sustainable access to education for vulnerable girls requires providing mechanisms for financing higher education. For girls in rural areas, the multiplication of community-based higher education offers is also a lever to be implemented. The institutions must be safe places, where the well-being, safety and health of the students will be preserved. Finally, it is necessary to change mentalities, especially regarding the place of girls in scientific fields, in order to ensure that women fully participate in the development of the continent.

“The emancipation of women goes through education. If we manage to have more educated women, we will have women leaders everywhere.”

According to Dr. Priska Manga, “The emancipation of women is through education. If we can have more educated women, we will have women leaders everywhere. Disadvantaged girls need continued access to quality education in order to become self-sufficient and active in the development of their region[8]. Quality higher education develops and strengthens the skills needed to enter a highly competitive labor market, and enables them to claim a decent, adequate and equal income to improve their quality of life.


[1] https://www.globalpartnership.org/fr/blog/leducation-des-filles-releve-du-bon-sens-economique

[2] Darvas, Peter, Shang Gao, Yijun Shen et Bilal Bawany. 2017. Enseignement supérieur et équité en Afrique subsaharienne : Élargir l’opportunité au-delà de l’élite. Directions du développement. Washington, DC : Banque mondiale. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1266-8.

[3]Darvas & all

[4] UNICEF. Projet Girl Power. 2020. https://team.unicef.fr/projects/unicef-projet-girl-power

[5] Marion Simon-Rainaud. 2021. Mélanger les filles et les garçons a facilité l’accès aux toilettes », 7 mars 2021 ? https://usbeketrica.com/fr/melanger-les-filles-et-les-garcons-a-facilite-l-acces-aux-toilettes

[6] GPE. 2018. Comment les toilettes peuvent-elles contribuer à promouvoir l’éducation.

[7] BBC News Africa. 2019. ‘Sex for geades’: Undercover in West African universities. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-49907376

[8] C. Manse. 2020. Education des filles, émancipation des femmes. https://www.entreprenanteafrique.com/education-des-filles-emancipation-des-femmes/

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Tax legislation in question: the role of Mining Agreements in the African gold sector

Until the 1990s, the African continent, even though it is rich in mineral resources, attracted little mining investment.

Until the 1990s, the African continent, even though it is rich in mineral resources, attracted little mining investment.

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Plastic waste in Africa: from fatality to opportunities?

While the regulatory battle against plastic bags has seen notable successes in Africa, where 34 out of 54 countries have banned their use, these victories should not be the tree…

While the regulatory battle against plastic bags has seen notable successes in Africa, where 34 out of 54 countries have banned their use, these victories should not be the tree that hides the forest. Plastic bags are certainly the most visible form of plastic pollution, but they are far from being the only source. It is also important to be realistic: plastic use is not about to decrease, nor is its production. Indeed, the production of plastic could triple by 2050, at a time when their harmful effects on health and the environment are the subject of increased vigilance.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Africa, which is becoming one of the outlets for the rest of the world’s plastic waste, not to mention locally generated waste. The difficulty of recycling and recovering plastic waste that accumulates in open dumps should be a priority for policy makers and industry.

As the UN lays the groundwork for a treaty to address the issue of plastic waste, it is urgent for Africa to find solutions that do not only aim at the total disappearance of plastic packaging but also at developing alternative ways of producing 100% biodegradable or recyclable plastics, as well as collection and recycling services.

Let’s recall that plastic does not only have negative effects. For example, we must distinguish between polluting and recyclable plastics… Among the most obvious advantages, plastic packaging has made it possible to considerably increase the shelf life of fresh food. Without adequate packaging, it would not be possible to transport meat, liquids, and many preparations to the cities and the most remote areas of the continent. Plastic is lighter and stronger than glass, and more malleable than metal. It is an excellent insulator, waterproof, and can be shaped into an infinite number of sizes, thicknesses, and shapes. If this material is so ubiquitous today, it is because it has demonstrated benefits that no other material has.

The question is not so much how to get rid of plastics as how to reason about their use, transform their production and management in order to make them recyclable and, as much as possible, find new sources (other than oil…) to produce them.

Already, many initiatives are emerging on the African continent to recover the plastic waste that can be recycled: reuse of waste to make building bricks or public garbage cans, or individual collection of recyclable waste to sell to factories specializing in their transformation.

But these initiatives will not trigger a mass movement on the scale of African national economies if real circuits of production of 100% recyclable plastics, collection and recycling are not put in place. These circuits exist for glass, nothing prevents us from imagining that the plastic value chain could be inspired by them.

As with metals and glass, the recycling of plastic waste has an economic justification, and technical solutions already exist (PET plastics) or are under development (bioplastics based on algae, fungi, or synthesized by bacteria). The success of each of these methods will depend in particular on their ability to be integrated into a wider cycle of reuse: either to produce biogas, or as an agricultural input, or as a recyclable product in the same form.

The turnaround can be made by bringing together researchers, engineers, public decision-makers, industrialists, users, and all those who, today informally, tomorrow perhaps as employees, make a living from the recovery of plastic waste and have therefore developed expertise in their sorting, collection, marketing, and recovery.

The Moringa Fund is working with its portfolio companies on this project, through the Moringa/ATAF project and the consulting firm The Right Packaging*. The avenues of reflection currently being developed focus on controlling the collection of water bottles and their recycling, and the use of high-pressure decontamination processes in tanks rather than in fruit juice packaging – which makes it possible to use materials other than plastic (cardboard, glass, cans). For dried fruit, the aim is to favor bulk sales as well as the use of single-material flexible packaging allowing for recycling. These avenues are being explored in particular by the Moringa portfolio companies in Mali and Benin.

The market for plastic waste treatment holds huge potential profits, even outside the continent’s borders. Plastic production in Europe is already running out of materials to recycle, and a waste reprocessing industry in Africa could find a secondary market to finance its development. Eventually, plastic could become a coveted raw material… 

Bringing together environmental, economic and commercial interests with scientific innovation could finally be the happy and unexpected consequence of solutions to the plastic waste issue in Africa.

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