Google has announced that it will open an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in Africa, its first on the continent.
The Silicon Valley giant said that the new research hub will open in Accra, Ghana, later this year, announcing the move in a blog post published on Wednesday. “We’re committed to collaborating with local universities and research centers, as well as working with policy makers on the potential uses of AI in Africa,” Google’s blog post said.
Accra, located in the west of Africa, joins cities including Paris, New York and Tokyo, as well as Google’s Mountain View headquarters, in hosting an AI research center.
While the decision is the first of its kind for Google in Africa, the company has had offices on the continent for the past decade. It already operates a digital skills training program that it believes can ultimately benefit 10 million Africans. In addition, Google runs a separate initiative called Launchpad Accelerator Africa that it says supports 100,000 developers and over 60 technology startups in Africa.
But, Accra isn’t the only city in Africa positing itself as a tech hub. Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and Rwandan capital Kigali are both known for their credentials in tech development, for example. Meanwhile, Kenya has been singled out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for its “pioneering” innovation of digital payments platform M-Pesa.
Ghana likely appealed to Google because of the quality of its education system and other feeder institutions, Lucy James, associate consultant with Control Risks’ Africa team, told CNBC via telephone on Thursday. The search company is focussed on “drawing in local talent and there’s no shortage of that in Ghana,” she said. Ghana also enjoys relative political stability, James explained. Meanwhile, it’s neighbor Nigeria — the continent’s largest economy which also promotes business center Lagos as a burgeoning tech hub – is more prone to civil unrest.
Nonetheless, the choice may seem unusual given that Ghana ranks 12th for Sub-Saharan Africa in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business index. Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa – another of the continent’s big economies – all come in the top five by comparison.
But, Ghana’s pro-business government and entrepreneurial society may have contributed to its selection. People in Ghana share the “sense that you can disrupt something and make a difference,” James said.
Barclays Africa Group Ltd. may halve the number of top jobs at its South African retail and business bank as it reorganizes after its British parent cut its stake, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Johannesburg-based lender started talks to consult executives on a plan that may result in the reduction of top management roles in the unit to 12 from 27 to flatten the company’s management structure, the person said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Once the consultation process is completed, the jobs will be advertised and executives who aren’t selected will be considered for employment elsewhere in the company, the person said.
Barclays Africa is reverting to the Absa Group name and revamping its strategy after Barclays Plc cut its controlling stake to below 15 percent to trim back its international operations. Chief Executive Officer Maria Ramos is embarking on a second round of top management changes after announcing in April that she is refocusing the company around four main divisions -- retail and business banking, corporate and investment banking, rest of Africa, and wealth management and insurance.
The South African retail and business banking division “is the first to commence a process of overhauling its structure” so that it fits with an organizational culture built around entrepreneurial drive and accountability, while “restoring market leadership in our core businesses,” Barclays Africa said in an emailed response to questions. “The aim is to create businesses that are agile” and collaborate well, it said, declining to comment further until the process is complete.
On the Payroll
The lender is seeking to double revenue from its business in the rest of the continent to 12 percent, while regaining market share among consumers in South Africa, where the retail and business banking unit accounts for more than half of the group’s earnings. Arrie Rautenbach, the CEO of the retail and business bank, will keep his job, the person said.
Plans to cut the number of executive jobs come a month after Deputy CEO David Hodnett, who in May last year was put in charge of the retail bank, resigned before completing a two-month sabbatical. Each person affected by the changes could remain on the bank’s payroll for up to three months before making a decision to either stay with the company or move on, the person said.
Craig Bond, the CEO of partnerships, joint ventures and strategic alliances, stepped down on Thursday after choosing to take early retirement, according to an internal memo, which was seen by Bloomberg News. Bond decided the time had come to “pass on the baton to new leadership,” it said.
The Costs Challenge
Barclays Africa’s operating expenses rose 2.9 percent faster than revenue growth in 2017 as the lender struggled to boost income amid an anemic South Africa economy and unemployment at a record high. Gross domestic product shrank 2.2 percent in the first quarter of this year from the prior three months as Jacob Zuma’s scandal-ridden tenure came to an end, with Cyril Ramaphosa replacing him as president in February. The central bank expects the economy to expand 1.7 percent this year.
“The economy is weak, so getting top-line growth is going to be difficult,” especially in the retail-banking business, said Adrian Cloete, an analyst at PSG Wealth in Cape Town. “It makes sense that they look at their costs.”
Shares in Barclays Africa declined 2.1 percent as of 10 a.m. in Johannesburg, in line with a 2.2 percent drop in Standard Bank Group Ltd., the largest lender in Africa, and a 2 percent drop in Nedbank Group Ltd. Barclays Africa in March said it will control costs while predicting improvements in loan and deposit growth.
Beijing - Global carmakers touted their latest electric and SUV models in Beijing on Wednesday, as China promises a more level playing field in the world's largest auto market where domestic vehicles are making major inroads.
Industry behemoths like Volkswagen, Daimler, Toyota, Nissan, Ford and others are displaying more than 1000 models and dozens of concept cars at the Beijing auto show.
Thousands of Chinese auto enthusiasts are expected to wander the halls of the mega exhibition centre this week, with electric cars and gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles grabbing the spotlight.
Joint ventures imperative for automakers
Nissan presented its first Made in China electric car produced for Chinese consumers, the four-door Sylphy Zero Emission, with a drive range of 338km.
"The new Sylphy Zero Emission is the next step in our electrification strategy for China," said Jose Munoz, Nissan's chief performance officer, adding that the company will unveil 20 electrified models over the next five years.
Auto executives may have their minds on the boiling trade war between Beijing and Washington, with every twist and turn fanning fears that it could bring their plans for China to a screeching halt.
But last week Beijing announced it will liberalise foreign ownership limits in the sector, a move seen as a possible olive branch to President Donald Trump, who has railed against China's policies in the sector.
China currently restricts foreign auto firms to a maximum 50% ownership of joint ventures with local companies.
The changes will end shareholding limits for new energy vehicle firms as soon as this year, followed by commercial vehicles in 2020 and passenger cars in 2022.
Foreign automakers who account for more than half of vehicle sales in China have cautiously welcomed the changes, with VW saying it has "strong" local partners in their joint ventures.
"This will have no impact on our JVs. But the overreaching principle is important. Hopefully, liberalisation will as well help for fair competition, and having a level playing field," Jochem Heizmann, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, told reporters.
The show comes as China's market hits a transition period -- the explosive growth in car sales seen over the last decade slowed last year and data from early this year point to a continued slump for many vehicle types.
Chinese consumers are following their American peers toward SUVs while policymakers in Beijing push an all-electric future.
Ride-sharing is also on the up. On Tuesday Didi - China's answer to Uber - announced it had joined forces with some 30 partners, including Renault and Volkswagen, to develop vehicles and products specifically tailored for ride-sharing.
Accounting for some 28.9-million car sales in 2017, the Chinese market could soon match those of the European Union and United States combined.
General Motors sold over four million cars here last year, more than in the United States. Volkswagen sold more than three million, roughly six times its home market.
But domestic firms are outselling foreign firms in the SUV segment.
In the electric car market the figures are even more lopsided, as Beijing has heaped money on projects to dominate what it sees as the future.
At the auto show, the domestic upstarts have a separate exhibition hall mostly to themselves, 124 of the 174 electric car models on display are homegrown.
Government subsidies help consumers purchase the green cars, while policymakers are planning a quota system to force producers to build electric vehicles, with plans to one day phase out gas vehicles altogether.
Volkswagen announced Tuesday investments of $18-billion in electric and autonomous vehicles in China by 2022.
"China is our second home," recently installed chief executive Herbert Diess said at a Beijing press conference, with its market set to be "the biggest" worldwide for electric cars.