The first time the bidding reached one million up went a cheer. Some delivered bids by phone; others waved their paddles or just a pair of specs; others still jiggled their legs as they decided whether to break upper limits decided in cooler moments. After all, the champagne was flowing, the warm room turned febrile and bidding resembled competitive volleys.

By the time the auctioneer put his gavel down on all 47 works, it was clear that east Africa’s first art auction – held in Nairobi this week – was a huge hit, exploding into impromptu applause and whoops in stark contrast to usually poorly attended and rarefied western counterparts. Continue reading »

Addis Ababa: hello PE

When I heard about the US investor, Gabriel Schulze, who’d gone out on a limb and started up Ethiopia’s first private equity fund, I couldn’t wait to meet him.

The feeling wasn’t mutual. Famously reticent, it took me more than a year to convince him to meet me. But when we did, we ending up busting our two-hour time slot over tea and coffee at a private members’ club in London and speaking for six hours. You can now read the interview from that meeting, Portrait of a frontier investor, on FT.com. Continue reading »

Lower-than-hoped growth rates in the second quarter of the year is the last thing Kenya needs following last week’s terror attack.

The national statistics bureau said on Tuesday that Kenya grew at 4.3 per cent in the second three months of the year, lower than the first quarter’s 5.2 per cent and well below IMF earlier predictions of at least 5.5 per cent for the year overall. Continue reading »

Ethiopia’s government is famously protective of its economy, especially telecoms, banking and retail. So when the late prime minister, Marxist-influenced Meles Zenawi, met senior Walmart executives face to face last year, it might have seemed an incongruous pairing.

But rising food inflation, combined with traders hoarding goods to avoid government-imposed price caps, made the prospect of big stores arriving to deliver cut-price goods appealing.

Negotiations are continuing with the American giant under Meles’s successor Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured). But progress is slow. Continue reading »

Africa’s sugar industry will become all the sweeter if predictions about its growth come off.

Edward George, head of soft commodities research at Ecobank, tells beyondbrics he expects that even though domestic demand is rising, Africa will become a net exporter of sugar within seven years if it boosts production as planned, depriving Brazil of a key export market. Continue reading »

The Central Bank of India is on the hunt for business in Kenya. A government-controlled commercial bank whose branch network runs to 4,200, Mumbai-based CBI has become the east African country’s sixth foreign bank authorised to establish a representative officeContinue reading »

The link between one of the world’s most powerful corporate leaders and a small bank in Ethiopia might not be immediately obvious. In this case, it’s an IBM server, which powers Awash International Bank. But soon it could be a lot more if Ginni Rometty (pictured) has anything to do with it.

Rometty, IBM’s chief executive, is spending a week in Africa with her top 15 executives. It’s the first time so many of them have been in one place outside New York. It’s also the first time IBM has convened its chief executives from all over the continent. Continue reading »

Picture: Katrina Manson

Pupils at a school on the green slopes of Mount Kenya no longer have eyes for the blackboard. Instead they are transfixed by a $500 tablet.

Belinda, 19, touches the screen gingerly and is amazed to discover an icon that allows her to film herself within seconds of her first touch of a computer. So speedy is the take-up of tech know-how in Kenya’s first “white space” rural broadband pilot scheme, its backers hope the idea could one day be copied throughout the continent. Continue reading »

Artist's impression

Kenya has begun converting 5,000 acres of savannah dotted with antelopes and ringed by hills into “the most modern city in Africa”. Contractors begin work this week on the $10bn Konza Techno City project, 60km south of the capital Nairobi, which has been dubbed Kenya’s Silicon Savannah. Continue reading »

The clang of a bell announced the launch of Kenya’s new small and midcap market segment on Tuesday, but its founders are determined that will be the only old-fashioned thing about it.

The Growth Enterprise Market Segment (GEMS) could be the solution to several constraints on the growth of Kenya’s economy, which relies on small business for 40 per cent of the country’s $36bn GDP, and may provide the route for Kenyans to invest in the country’s nascent natural resource sector. Continue reading »

Could there be a bigger show of bravado? While observers worry that Kenya’s economy could go awry come the March presidential elections, the monetary policy committee is feeling good.

For the fourth time in a row, it gave a vote of confidence to Kenya’s economy by lowering the central bank rate, this time taking it down 150 basis points to 9.50 per cent. This time last year it was 18 per cent. And not only did it lower the rate, but the 150bp reduction beat analyst predictions of 100bp. Continue reading »

There could hardly be a more poignant or devastating reminder of divisive instability that has spread throughout the Horn of Africa.

On Monday, I moderated a discussion panel on how arts and literature can help rebuild society in the Horn of Africa. But I shouldn’t have been there at all. Continue reading »

You know you’re in trouble when the World Bank counts on an election year to pull your economy out of the doldrums. Especially if you’re Kenya.

Thanks to “another difficult year” in 2012, the World Bank says Kenya will likely miss an earlier predicted growth rate of 5 per cent this year, managing only 4.3 per cent, a drop on the 4.4 per cent of 2011 and far too low to realise the country’s aim to become a middle-income country by 2020. Continue reading »

It’s not a country recognised by anyone other than its own government, but that doesn’t seem to phase three oil companies scaling up exploration in Somaliland.

UK-listed Genel Energy and Ophir Energy, and Australia-listed Jacka Resources, are starting to explore for oil in earnest in the breakaway state, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Continue reading »

Just as South Sudan’s finances are running out and investors are thinking about packing up and leaving, an “ultra-modern” office block might seem the least viable investment going.

But try telling that to the developers behind the $17m project, UAP Holdings. The 12-storey Equatoria Tower is set to be the tallest building in Juba, the southern capital more famed for dust and containers that double as homes than high rises, or anything approaching modern. Continue reading »