Alibaba founder Jack Ma's absence from public view in the past two months, including missing the final episode of a TV show on which he was to appear as a judge, has fueled social media speculation over his whereabouts amid a Chinese regulatory clampdown on his sprawling business empire.
China's highest-profile entrepreneur has not appeared in a public setting since a late October forum in Shanghai where he blasted China's regulatory system in a speech that put him on a collision course with officials, resulting in the suspension of a $37 billion IPO of Alibaba's Ant Group fintech arm.
The Financial Times reported on Friday that Ma was replaced as a judge in the final episode in November of a game show for entrepreneurs called Africa's Business Heroes.
An Alibaba spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday that the change was due to a scheduling conflict, declining further comment.
While news coverage of Ma's absence from public view triggered speculation on Twitter, which is blocked in China, it was not a significant trending topic on social media in mainland China, where sensitive topics are subject to censorship.
Chinese regulators have zeroed in on Ma's businesses since his October speech including launching an antitrust probe into Alibaba and ordering Ant to shake up its lending and other consumer finance businesses including the creation of a separate holding company to meet capital requirements.
"I think he's been told to lay low," said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA China. "This is a pretty unique situation, more linked to the sheer scale of Ant and the sensitivities over financial regulation," he said.
Alibaba's Hong Kong-listed shares fell 2.15% on Monday.
After cementing its position in the video calling market amid the pandemic, Zoom plans to develop an email service to be released next year. This is in addition to its new project on a calendar application in direct competition with Google and Microsoft.
According to The Information, an India-based news media, which cited people with direct knowledge of the matter, Zoom Video Communications has begun developing a web email service and “might offer a very early version of the product to some customers next year”.
“The company also is looking into building a calendar application,” sources were quoted. Zoom did not comment on the report.
The company has had a blockbuster year, with its stock price rising more than 500 per cent owing to the unprecedented surge in remote work and learning.
Zoom’s major competitors are videoconferencing platforms bundled as part of comprehensive enterprise app suites.
The two big players are Microsoft with its Office 365 platform and Google with its competing Workspace bundle.
“Both of those platforms offer calendar, email, and videoconferencing products, so it makes sense Zoom would look to email and calendar to try to round out its offerings and make Zoom less of a single-purpose platform,” reported The Verge.
Riding on the pandemic-driven remote work and learning environment, Zoom quadrupled its quarterly revenue, registering $777.2 million in its third fiscal quarter that ended on October 31 — up 367 per cent (year-on-year).
The company had approximately 433,700 subscribers with more than 10 employees, up from 370,200 last quarter. The number of customers contributing more than $100,000 in revenue went to 1,289 – up 136 per cent from last year.
In October, Zoom made its new end-to-end encryption (E2EE) feature available to users globally, free and paid, for meetings with up to 200 participants.
As African countries kick off trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, President Paul Kagame has welcomed the latest development.
The African Union launched the start of the trading of the Continental Free Trade Area on January 1, marking a significant milestone towards the world’s largest free-trade zone.
“Cheers to the launch of Trading #AfCFTA, to those who put it all together and the rest of us who have to join in to make it work and worthwhile!!” Kagame said on Twitter.
The launch is a culmination of years-long negotiations between African countries, which started in 2018 when a landmark agreement was signed in Kigali by leaders of 44 countries.
So far, 54 countries out of 55 have signed the agreement, 33 have ratified it, and over 40 have submitted their offers. This signals that Africa is ready to start trading as a single market.
The agreement envisions a continental market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than $3.4 trillion.
The agreement will also boost the level of intra-Africa trade.
The launch of the trading takes Africa a step closer to the vision of an integrated market on the African continent as it will boost the continent’s manufacturing capability and increase exports.
“This African Continental Free Trade Area should not just be a trade agreement, it should actually be an instrument for Africa’s development,” Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of AfCFTA Secretariat said during the launch.
By 2025, the continent has the opportunity to lift out of poverty 100 million Africans majority of whom are women, cross-border traders, if it implements the AfCFTA effectively, according to the African Development Bank.
Mene said the start of trading offers an immense opportunity for the continent to overcome smallness of national economies, and to overcome a lack of economies of scale.
“We have to take active steps to make sure that we place Africa on a path to accelerated industrial development so that by 2035 we are able to double intra-African trade,” he noted.
It also means that trading across borders amongst African countries will be easier and cheaper. It also means increased opportunities for thousands of entrepreneurs and businesses.
Investors, too, will be able to do business on a single set of trade and investment rules across the African continent, overcoming market fragmentation that has characterized the continent for decades.
The President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Benedict Oramah said 400 African banks are on board to provide trade finance support to African businesses.
That number is expected to increase to 500 banks soon with a combined $8bn trade finance capacity in the next 18 months.
Source: New Times
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars Monday as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.
Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas. In addition, South Africa is extending its nighttime curfew by four hours, requiring all residents must be at home from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., the president said.
“Reckless behavior due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” Ramaphosa said in a nationwide address.
“As we had to in the early days of the lockdown, we now have to flatten the curve to protect the capacity of our healthcare system to enable it to respond effectively to this new wave of infections,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the ban on selling alcohol and other new restrictions would take effect at midnight. They include the mandatory wearing of masks in public, and anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence, the president said.
Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions are necessary because of a surge in COVID-19 infections which has pushed South Africa’s total confirmed virus cases past 1 million.
“Nearly 27,000 South Africans are known to have died from COVID-19. The number of new coronavirus infections is climbing at an unprecedented rate,” he said. “More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.”
Ramaphosa announced the new measures after a Cabinet meeting and an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council. He said the new restrictions would be reviewed in a few weeks and a relaxation would only be considered when the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations decrease.
The country surpassed the 1 million mark in confirmed virus cases on Sunday night, when authorities reported that the country’s total cases during the pandemic had reached 1,004,413, including 26,735 deaths.
Like Britain, South Africa is battling a variant of COVID-19 that medical experts think is more infectious than the original. The variant has become dominant in many parts of the country, according to experts.
The South African Medical Association, which represents nurses and other health workers as well as doctors, warned Monday that the health system was on the verge of being overwhelmed by the combination of higher numbers of COVID-19 patients and people needing urgent care from alcohol-related incidents. Many holiday gatherings involve high levels of alcohol consumption, which in turn often lead to increased trauma cases.
“To alleviate the pressure on the system during this time of the year, where we only have skeleton staff working, especially in the public sector, as well as in the private sector, we are asking for stricter restrictions regarding social gatherings,” Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the medical association told The Associated Press.
“South Africa has got a history of very high alcohol abuse and binge drinking, especially over the weekends. In certain areas that leads to a lot of trauma cases, assaults, motor vehicle accidents and domestic violence,” she said.
The medical association has called on the government to impose stricter restrictions on the sale of alcohol, especially where large gatherings are concerned.
When South Africa previously had a total ban on liquor sales, trauma cases in hospitals dropped by as much as 60%, according to government statistics. When the ban on alcohol sales was lifted, trauma cases went back up to previous levels.
Amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in early December, South Africa limited sales of alcohol to Monday through Thursday between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The country also has a nightly 11 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew.
Various alcohol traders had pleaded with the government to avoid a total ban on alcohol sales, citing the economic damage it would cause. South Africa’s alcohol industry was among those hardest hit when the country imposed a hard lockdown during April and May that also banned all liquor sales.
South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of confirmed daily cases has risen over the past two weeks from 11.18 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 13 to 19.87 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 27.
The 7-day rolling average of daily deaths in the country has risen over the past two weeks from 0.26 deaths per 100,000 people on Dec. 13 to 0.49 deaths per 100,000 people on Dec. 27.
Ramaphosa urged people to avoid gatherings for New Year’s Eve. Instead, he asked all South Africans to light candles.
“I will light a candle in Cape Town at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve in memory of those who have lost their lives and in tribute to those who are on the frontline working to save our lives and protect us from harm,” he said. “I ask that you join me wherever you are in this very important symbolic gesture.”
Credit: Associated Press
The Covid-19 crisis has shown the business world that it is possible to completely overhaul the way we do things in a matter of weeks or even days, says Khomotso Molabe, chief information officer at Standard Bank South Africa.
When the severity of the pandemic became more evident and South Africa announced a national lockdown in March – the president gave the nation a few days to prepare itself – our immediate priority was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees and customers.
This was a time for us to focus intensely on our purpose – driving Africa’s growth while uplifting and protecting her people. As we prepared for the new world we were about to enter, we held daily meetings with the group’s top executives to chart the way forward.
First and foremost, we had to ensure that we looked after our clients as a designated essential services provider. Finding ways to assist them became a top priority. We also immediately implemented measures to get as many Standard Bankers as possible to work from home, and to ensure that they had the resources needed to do so effectively.
As part of our preparations, we put measures in place to allow employees to report Covid-19 infections – both affecting themselves and their contacts – so that we could track the spread of the virus and contribute to containment efforts. And we launched a dedicated Covid-19 app and portal to keep our people informed.
As we scaled up our remote work capacity, office-based employees were the first to shift to working from home, followed by call-centre staff and then branch employees who do not interact directly with customers.
We also identified those customer-facing branch employees who are at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19. To limit their exposure to the virus, they were granted permission to work from home or take special leave. For staff on the frontline, we provided access to personal protective equipment and sanitiser to keep them safe, among numerous other measures.
New ways of working
Within a short space of time, more than 75% of our staff were working from home – and this remains the status quo well into the second half of 2020.
Given the critical role that our IT teams were playing in enabling the shift to remote work, we froze any changes to our technology systems and made sure that funding was made available for timeous and expedited investments in systems and partnerships.
We had to scale up our remote work capacity by providing employees with remote access technologies, laptops and connectivity devices.
For one of Africa’s largest corporates, getting this right in a matter of days is no mean feat. Prior to the pandemic, we had provided around 6,000 data devices to employees. Now, about 23,000 employees have them.
And given the need for teams to remain connected, we also needed to expand our access to collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and BlueJeans.
Before the crisis, we held roughly 30 BlueJeans meetings a month, versus 900 nowadays. And employees now hold about 500,000 Microsoft Teams meetings a month, compared to just 20 000 before.
In fact, we have become so well versed in digital meetings that we have even hosted large-scale investor conferences online via our partnership with Microsoft, including the Africa Investors’ Conference. Encouragingly, participation was better than in previous years, when the event was held in person.
We have conducted the Standard Bank Group Annual General Meeting (AGM), all board and Executive Committee meetings online, and even hosted South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, on a virtual panel discussion with our clients and employees.
Meanwhile, the bank recognised that while working from home brought certain benefits to employees – for instance, spending more time with family and less time commuting – it is not without its challenges.
Many households are not equipped for extended periods of remote work. So, where possible, we provided employees with decent office chairs and desks to make the shift easier and their workdays more comfortable.
Since we now know that working from home on a large scale is not only possible but can even enhance productivity and employee satisfaction, we are preparing for the possibility of a permanent shift in the way that we work – this could entail a combination of working from home and from the office.
However, we are cognisant of the fact that remote work is not suited to all households. Some employees might not have an environment that is conducive to it. For this reason, we will ensure that we remain sensitive to individual employee preferences and needs as we map the way forward.
Overall, the shift to digital ways of working and collaborating has been a huge success. Standard Bank has accelerated its digitisation and client-centricity drive, and we have reimagined the workplace. Like other industries, the banking sector may well have advanced five years in its digitisation journey in the space of just a few months.
Nigeria and Jamaica completed a direct flight from Nigeria’s largest city Lagos to Montego Bay on Monday as the two nations attempt to pave way for a regular direct airline route between the two destinations.
“As part of the activities to commemorate 50 years of good bilateral relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Jamaica, an inaugural direct flight, Air Peace, departed from Lagos and has landed in Montego Bay, on Monday 21 December 2020,” the ministry said in a statement.
Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama was on board the flight, accompanied by a delegation of government officials and members of the private sector.
The delegation was received at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay by Jamaica’s Minister of Transport Robert Montague and other leading state officials.
According to the statement, the event will strengthen relations between the two countries in several areas, among them tourism, education and economic activities.
The coronavirus pandemic has been good business for Netflix: the video streaming service has added more than 15 million new subscribers so far this year. From an investing perspective, Netflix always surprises. Either the company’s quarterly results turn out to disappoint or amaze — rarely do they stay within expectations.
Netflix stocks have soared since the beginning of the pandemic as people practising self-isolation have turned to their TVs for comfort, but fell when the latest results were announced because the growth didn’t fully meet expectations. Will the company’s economic performance continue in the post-pandemic age?
Netflix pioneered the subscription-based video streaming business model. For a fixed monthly fee, subscribers gets a virtual smorgasbord of content — Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood and dozens of Netflix’s own productions.
Subscribers can search particular movies or just browse through individually tailored recommendations based on their prior viewing habits. Having such a diverse choice of shows may be good for viewers, but it’s not economically efficient from a business perspective.
A less efficient service
The subscription model requires Netflix to buy and produce a wide range of movies and TV series, many of which may be of no interest to a majority of viewers. The larger the range of movies, the less efficient the service.
In contrast, pay-by-view models provided by companies like Apple through its iTunes store require customers to make a clear decision about whether they want to see the movie before renting or purchasing it. More popular movies may be more expensive, less popular movies could be free or viewed for a small fee. This model is efficient for viewers: you only pay for what you consume and your choices are likely to be better informed.
Both business models have pros and cons. Many viewers enjoy consuming a variety of movies from all over the world, often on an ad-hoc basis. This kind of explorative viewing is encouraged by subscription-based models and less likely when you pay by view.
However, when rival models co-exist in a competitive industry, the more efficient business models tend to win. The market fails first on the production side. When production companies try to acquire financing for new ventures, financiers are more attracted to movies or TV shows that are similar to what’s currently popular. As a result, current genres will be strengthened while diversity loses.
Must appeal to niche audiences
This is less of an issue for subscription-based services that need to satisfy viewers with diverse tastes and preferences. This is the world of Netflix. It’s a complicated world because Netflix needs to have shows that appeal to wide audiences, but it must also offer a range of niche programs.
Netflix has about 167 million viewers, and a large portion of the new subscribers this year have come from viewers outside of North America. Building a global audience is a crucial factor for Netflix to remain successful. Different regions have different preferences, so internationalization is an advantage for Netflix because of its diverse choice of content.
This diversity aspect changes the game between subscription-based models and pay-by-view models. What may be a niche movie in one region of the world may be mainstream in another.
Pay-by-view models are unlikely to build such a diverse portfolio, so production companies may still be encouraged to distribute their work via Netflix. For example, the TV series Designated Survivor was cancelled after two seasons on ABC. Netflix picked it up for a third season and then offered viewers a Korean version of the show.
It’s difficult to say whether Netflix will end up being the standard of TV watching for generations to come. This will mainly depend on how good they are in fighting the competition in different markets with better productions.
HBO Max, a new subscription-based streaming service that will offer access to the many great HBO shows from the past as well as new content, is launching in the United States in May. It joins a crowded market of Netflix competitors like Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Apple TV+. To keep ahead of the competition, Netflix has burned through billions of dollars and has seen its long-term debt quadruple since 2015.
While we don’t know whether Netflix will win the game, the TV world is likely to remain more diverse and affordable for viewers.
This is a corrected version of a story originally published April 26, 2020. The earlier story incorrectly stated that most of Netflix’s viewers were based in North America.
Global streaming service Netflix set its eyes a few years ago on Nigeria’s film industry, better known as Nollywood.
Distribution of Nigerian movies on Netflix started around 2015. At the time the American giant bought the rights of blockbusters such as Kunle Afolayan’s October 1st, Biyi Bandele’s Fifty and several others, after they had already been distributed in Nigerian cinemas.
During the Toronto International Film Festival 2018, Netflix announced the acquisition of worldwide exclusive distribution rights for Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji’s debut film as director, the comedy Lionheart. The film marked the first Netflix original film from Nigeria. Many saw this as the beginning of a new era in the relationship between one of the world largest streaming platforms and Africa’s most prolific film industry.
But, is this actually true? Is Netflix going to transform Nollywood? And how significant will its impact on the Nigerian film industry be?
These are not easy questions to answer. Nollywood’s economy and modes of production are unlike those of most other film industries. Over the past 20 years Nigerian films have circulated mostly on videotapes and Video Compact Discs (VCDs).
This distribution system made the industry widely popular across Africa and its diaspora. But it prevented Nollywood from consolidating its economy and raising the quality of film production. Piracy dramatically eroded distribution revenues and producers had trouble monetising the distribution of their films. Nollywood prioritised straight-to-video distribution because cinema theatres had almost disappeared in the country (as in most other parts of Africa) as a result of the catastrophic economic crisis that affected Nigeria in the 1980s.
New multiplexes have emerged since the beginning of the 2000s. However, today there are only about 150 widescreens for a population of almost two hundred million people. The cinemas that exist are often too expensive for most of the population that used to buy and watch Nollywood films when they were distributed on tapes.
Within this context, many in the industry thought that streaming could be the best solution to the industry’s problems with distribution. However, a closer look to the history of what has been labelled the “Nigerian Netflix” (iROKO.tv, the leading streaming platform for Nigerian contents) shows that the reality is more complicated.
When the company decided to move its headquarters from Manhattan to Lagos it encountered countless difficulties. They were mainly connected to the costs of infrastructure development in Nigeria and to the hostility of local distributors who controlled Nollywood’s economy since its creation.
Internet connection in Nigeria is still too weak and expensive to guarantee easy access to streaming platforms. As a result, Nollywood content distributed by iROKO.tv and Netflix circulates mostly in the diaspora. Netflix is aware of this problem and is investing in infrastructures to secure a better connection for its Nigerian audiences.
But larger investments seem to be necessary to produce a significant impact on audiences’ behaviour. Accessing Nollywood films via piracy or local screening venues will continue to be, at least in my view, the key strategy adopted by the largest percentage of Nigerian viewers.
Netflix could have better chances in penetrating the country’s elite market, as richer people in Nigeria and across Africa have easier access to reliable power supply and internet.
This might be the reason why MultiChoice, the South African telecommunication giant controlling much of Nollywood distribution across Africa through its Africa Magic channels, has reacted nervously to Netflix’s increased interest in African markets. MultiChoice wants Netflix to be more closely regulated.
These two aren’t the only telecommunication “superpowers” in the field. France’s Canal Plus and the Chinese StarTimes have also made a few investments in Nollywood over the past few years. The competition among all these actors will probably have a positive impact for viewers across Nigeria and the continent. It could bring lower subscription fees for streaming and TV content packages.
There are also likely to be new investments in content production and infrastructures. And there’s larger continental and global exposure for Nollywood films in the offing.
It remains to be seen how good these developments will be for Nollywood producers. Until now, foreign investments in Nollywood have mostly translated into “more of the same” content. Working conditions for crews and actors have remained the same – basically, low budgets and quick shooting schedules.
In fact, big investors seem to be mainly interested in Nollywood’s already established popularity with African audiences. Making Nollywood more palatable for international audiences doesn’t seem to feature.
This means that in most cases they are not ready to invest bigger money in production budgets. Rather, they invest in better structuring distribution networks to extract as much profit as possible from the Nigerian industry.
And most African audiences are indeed happy with how Nollywood is, even if they tend to complain regularly about the low quality and the repetition of film contents and aesthetics. The fact that Nollywood as it is keeps on attracting audiences makes investors reluctant to change the scale of their production budgets.
There are a few bigger productions, with higher production standards, that have emerged over the past few years in Nollywood. But they have hardly been the result of investments made by foreign firms like Netflix, Canal Plus or MultiChoice.
Nigerian producers are those who are mostly concerned about raising the quality of Nollywood films. They want to give better content to their audiences and reach global screens. In most cases, the people investing money in these kinds of projects have been independent producers or groups of investors related to the new business of multiplexes in Nigeria.
In my view, the question is: will these people benefit from Netflix, so as to continue investing in higher quality content? Or will Netflix and other international companies end up taking over the industry to make it only a bit more of the same?
Niger holds presidential elections on December 27, which could see the country's first democratic transition of power since independence. But the new president faces problems from insecurity to corruption and poverty.
Around 7.4 million Nigeriens will cast their vote in presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, December 27.
Unlike some of his counterparts in neighboring countries, incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou, who has already served for two terms, isn't standing for reelection.
He thus paves the way for a peaceful transition of power between two elected presidents, a first for the West African country, which has seen four coups since achieving independence from France in 1960.
Despite ongoing security problems along Niger's borders, experts don't think the election will be seriously disrupted.
"There are jihadist groups on the border with Nigeria and on the border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. They are making some incursions from time to time but these are very localized attacks," said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a consulting analyst for the Sahel at the International Crisis Group.
'Climate of mistrust'
But political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition is still deadlocked.
In November, the Constitutional Court declared the main opposition candidate Hama Amadou "ineligible" to run in Sunday's election.
Although the court didn't give a specific reason, it is assumed Amadou's candidacy was rejected because of a one-year jail sentence he received in 2017 for his links to a network trafficking infants from Nigeria.
Niger's electoral code bars citizens convicted of crimes with prison sentences of one year or more from running for president.
Amadou, a former prime minister, maintains his innocence, saying the charges against him were politically motivated.
Just a week later, the same court dismissed doubts around the nationality of Mohamed Bazoum, a protege of President Issoufou and the candidate for the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS). Under Niger's constitution, only those with Nigerien nationality are eligible for the presidential office.
A pre-electoral mission conducted by the African Union and ECOWAS in Niger at the beginning of December noted "the persistence of a climate of mistrust between the main actors in [Niger's] electoral process." It called for a dialogue between stakeholders, something which is now unlikely to happen before the polls.
Progress with Bazoum
A total of 30 candidates are running in Sunday's election. Bazoum, a political veteran, is the clear favorite. The 60-year-old held the position of minister of the interior for the last four years and is a staunch ally of Issoufou.
The PNDS is hoping its popularity will push Bazoum over the 50% mark in the first round, thereby avoiding a run-off. This would also be a first in the country's electoral history.
Africa expert Paul Melly from Chatham House, a London-based think tank, believes the PNDS has rightly won popularity, especially in rural areas.
"The government has really treated food security and village development as a big political priority over the last ten years. Many villages in parts of Niger that aren't affected by insecurity are benefiting from the sustained effort to tackle basic development problems," Melly told DW.
That could work in Bazoum's favor considering Niger is a predominantly rural country, which was regularly ravaged by famine up until recently, he said.
Niger is one of the poorest country's in the world. According to the World Bank, despite some real progress, the poverty rate remains very high at 41.4%, affecting more than 9.5 million people.
Bazoum has turned his attention to Niger's pressing demographic problems, seen as one cause of poverty. The predominantly Islamic country has one of the highest global fertility rates, with an average of seven children being born to every woman.
"Bazoum is stressing the case for more education for girls. But he's tying that to the question of family size in a way that is quite brave politically," Melly said.
Human rights abuses
The government's human rights record stagnated, however, while Bazoum was interior minister.
"It is clear that the government has abused power in terms of reducing people's freedoms and liberties and arresting activists just for demonstrating," said Sahel expert Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim.
There are also reports of military executions of civilians, people who disappear and all manner of other abuses perpetrated by the state.
This doesn't mean that Niger is rejecting a multi-party political model, Paul Melly believes.
"I think there's a sort of reflex in the Nigerien system. Whether it's a reflection of the fact that the army in Niger has always been a pretty powerful institution and that shapes mindsets is hard to tell," he said.
Corruption as another problem facing the country despite what Melly called "serious efforts" to tackle it.
Help from the international community
Donors are bound to keep up discreet pressure on the next government to remedy these ills.
The administration of outgoing President Issoufo has benefited from significant aid by the West, intent on fighting jihadism in the Sahel and stopping West African migrants using Niger to transit to Europe.
The Nigerien budget has seen a "staggering increase" said Ibrahim from the Crisis Group, pointing out that this, together with military aid, has helped stabilize the country.
The new government doesn't need to fear a loss of interest by the international community.
"I think the position of Niger now gives it a lot of say in the way that the region is run," said Ibrahim, adding that Niger serves as a barrier that prevents many insurgent groups in the Sahel from merging.
"This is like a dam. If the dam breaks up, then the flood will inundate the entire area," Ibrahim said.
It is no secret that many industries have been hit hard by the 2020 pandemic with the rental industry being particularly vulnerable.
As tenant’s income became unpredictable, many landlords were placed in the grey area between being understanding of changing economic circumstances and becoming an accidental financier of their tenant’s homes.
Shanaaz Trethewey, CEO of RentMaster, knows that the idea of a passive income always requires an active role, and she has seen from experience how quickly the rental process can turn from a charming idea to a real ordeal.
Here is how you can make sure as a landlord that your rental rates are just right in 2021.
Understand Your Rental Bracket
Data for property rentals is actively monitored and tracked by category. The industry norm, published by industry specialist TPN Credit Bureau, categorises properties into 6 categories: Property rentals for less R3000, those between R3000 and R5000, R7000 and R12000, R12000 and R15000, R15000 and R25000 and those over R25000.
To set your rent realistically, it is important to understand how these different brackets were impacted economically during this last year. This will help you understand how cost-sensitive your tenants are. You need to understand your tenants' spending habits so that when a crisis hits, you can prepare for and understand their distress.
After interpreting the rental data, we found those under the R3000 bracket were the hardest hit, indicating little or no savings to tide them over in the hard lockdown. Similarly, those in the highest bracket, over R25000, are also showing distress as they deal with substantial pay cuts and larger overheads.
If you considering buying property, the R7000 and R12000 bracket has proven its stability in 2020 and is set to remain constant into 2021.
Understand How Affordability is Affected
As an expert, Shanaaz consistently looks at social indicators, such as the employment rate and the levels of affordability, to assess whether the rental price can be paid in full or needs more negotiation. Employment rates dropped by 13% in 2020, and double-income households became single-income households, meaning that many families needed to reconsider how they could adjust their lifestyle and rental choices in order to keep a roof over their heads.
Since August, as those that could return to work were able to, tenants have found ways and means to begin catching up on arrear rental payments. And others have continued to have honest discussions with RentMaster, and their landlords, on how the gap can be bridged.
Check Tenant Affordability
So, how do you check if your potential tenant can afford your rental rate? It is about consistently scrutinising bank statements, determining spending behaviour over an extended period, and verifying potential occupants’ income and employment.
If there is a change in employment, your level of scrutiny should increase, and the time over which you draw your data should be longer, especially for individuals who earn their money in more fluid ways such as being self-employed. It is extremely important to be monitoring changes in payment behaviour so that you can address affordability issues before they become problems; this way you have a finger on the pulse of ever-changing circumstances.
Make Sure You Vet Your Tenants Properly
In the same way that you cannot draw blood from a stone, you cannot get money from a tenant who simply doesn’t have it, so it is extremely important to know who you are leasing to on a financial and historical basis. RentMaster reviews the bank statements of potential tenants to ensure they can pay on time, every time. This is perhaps why they have a good standing ratio of 85%, a full 10% above the industry average, even in one of the toughest years the property industry has faced.
A Good Tenant Is Worth the Wait
As landlords, we are often all too aware of the increasing levels of vacancies and can feel an acute urgency to get tenants into our properties. However, Shanaaz warns against hasty decisions as she often sees landlords submit potential applicants and the vetting process showed the applicants were not able to afford the rental.
Shanaaz cautions that the cost of having a property vacant whilst seeking a good quality tenant far outweighs having a tenant occupy the property – only to have a loss of income because of non-payment, subsequent lease cancellation and potential eviction.
Have an Air-Tight Lease
Many landlords invest in property to have an asset that can grow in value whilst earning them an additional income. Usually, you would look at the property’s overheads, including bond repayments, levies, utilities and other third-party payments like rates and taxes to set your price. One also has to consider changing interest rates and how you as a property owner are able to create a buffer for your own expenditure on your investment.
Hidden costs, such as repairs and maintenance should be identified, and a portion of funds set aside so you are ready when it comes time to revamp and revitalise your property. These are not always costs you are able to pass onto your tenant, however they are certainly ones that should be on your radar as a property investor.
Be mindful that covering your full rent is likely to be more challenging in the beginning of 2021 for tenants and come to a proper solution that works for all parties. All these intricacies must be explicit, detailed and time-bound in your lease agreements for them to be binding and to prevent any potential conflicts.
Be Careful Considering Raising Your Rent
Unsurprisingly, Shanaaz says that RentMaster have seen minimal to no rental escalations with many landlords choosing to keep their trusted occupants by allowing for rental reductions until the end of 2020. Right now, what is important for landlords to understand is that they should rather look at what a good quality tenant can afford whilst still covering their overheads than trying to increase their profit margins.
What has become clear this year is that as the world changes, we must adapt. Shanaaz says that setting a rental value is no longer a signed, sealed and once a year kind of activity. Landlords will need to take a far more active role in managing their passive incomes than simply reviewing their lease terms every 12 months.
And where we find that landlords already have a full-time job, we make it our business to be that partner to them and protect their rental income with active collection. Just like you would employ a broker to handle shares and monitor the markets, property rental specialists can be essential to your financial success with your physical asset.
Determining rental is not an exact science, and as much as we would love a mathematical formula that all landlords could follow, to be successful despite changing variables, there simply isn’t one. As tenant circumstances change, landlords need to adapt their expectations and their perspective on the level of activity rental recovery requires.
Often these aren’t easy conversations and come with emotional ties and stress for both parties. Making the right call, both ethically and financially, on the right rental rate is more challenging now than ever. But there are those specialists, like Shanaaz, who despite our distressed economy want to help tenant and landlords have the ideal rental relationship by giving tenants understanding and relieving the pressure off of landlords.