REMEMBERING ABDALHAMID EVANS

On June 3, the world lost a visionary, a pioneer, who shared the dream of a harmonized global halal lifestyle and worked for it to take root across a unified Islamic Economy. Abdalhamid Evans was a guiding light and thought leader in the Islamic Economy who spoke gently and wrote from a clear perspective in a most gifted manner.

Born David Evans in New York to British parents, he was primarily raised in the United Kingdom where he was educated and discovered Islam in 1978 when visiting a friend in London who had converted to the religion with other reverts in the early 1970s after their meeting with a noble Moroccan sheikh in Meknes.

He was given the name Abdalhamid, and returned to Ireland where he was living at the time, and began telling the people what he knew about the Deen. Even though it was very new to him, it established very quickly in his heart because it answered all the questions about fitra that had arisen within him while living in a remote part of southern Ireland. Many of these people also converted to Islam and they went to settle in Norwich in England where there was already an established community of reverts with their own mosque in the city center.

After many years of da’wa Abdalhamid and Salama, his wife, made a life change to work in the halal sector. They settled in Malaysia for seven years from 2003 to be at the center of the nexus of change and development for the halal movement in Southeast Asia. From there, they travelled extensively to Australia, UK, South Africa, the U.S. and Canada, inspiring people to bring forward the halal sector.

Some Muslim-majority countries saw the step into the halal sector as a diversification from oil revenues so were ready to hear his vision for halal. During this time, halal changed from the focus on slaughtering of meat to include travel, clothing, pharma and every aspect of the supply chain.

Anticipating the rise of interest in the Islamic Economy, Abdalhamid and Salama perceived that more than 20 percent of the world’s population would desire high-quality halal products and services to meet their Islamic lifestyle needs.

After attending a large Islamic Finance conference in Dubai in 2004 Abdalhamid decided they should hold a similar event for halal with the long-term goal of bringing the two industries together. He went back to the International Islamic Finance Forum in Dubai in 2005 and presented a paper entitled “Halal food and Islamic Finance—Natural Allies”. It was a very new concept to an industry, though further advanced, was still having its own regulation issues.  He then helped launch the pioneer halal conference, World Halal Forum 2006, in Kuala Lumpur, where they convened industry professionals, and presented advanced concepts for expanding and regulating the halal industry.

After leaving Malaysia, Abdalhamid and Salama traveled the globe representing their company Imarat Consultants as Halal Consultants, while maintaining an online presence with their HalalFocus website to keep the global community up-to-date with the progress being made in regulation for the halal sector.

They cultivated relationships with governments, and an array of manufacturers, primary level producers, media experts, and industry giants. They then went on to give their guidance for halal business development, driven by their market intelligence. They started to see their efforts take root country by country.

As multi-national companies grew, food processing technology, consumer goods manufacturers, and conventional financing seemed to overpower and threaten the interests of the common good. The farm-to-fork concept of wholesomeness and accountability, which was conceived in the 1960s and 1970s by the hippie generation, coincided with supply chain traceability and the current evolution of blockchain application.

Abdalhamid carried on to promote the vision of pastoral purity and tied it to the essence of the modern Islamic lifestyle and tech-advanced halal ecosphere through his writings and presentations at numerous international venues and newly-launched Muslim lifestyle shows in the UK.

Abdalhamid’s expertise and belief in the halal sector came out clearly in his writings. In 2007, his article in The Halal Journal tied the mission of halal clearly to its responsibility in Islam. After attending Dubai’s Gulfood trade show, he wrote:

“What became clear at Gulfood is that among the jostling diversity of the marketplace, there are those people for whom halal is more than just a key to market access. It is a portion of God’s gift to mankind; lawful, wholesome, safe, healthy, pleasing. For these people, halal is not just about the end product; it is the entire process. It is a trust, an honour and a responsibility.”

As co-founder of the American Halal Association, while buffering the pressures of Islamophobia in the U.S., he suggested a standards and accreditation model analogous to what was successfully implemented in Australia and New Zealand. To date, several states have some legislation to protect consumers from fraudulently claiming halal on products, but halal standards are yet to be established domestically. In the association’s HalalConnect magazine, Abdalhamid summed up the sentiment at the seemingly long impotence of industry and government leaders that could not advance to fruition what he so clearly saw as the necessary steps to create real change. Yet, he had optimism and summarized the situation in the association’s magazine issue of Halal at the Crossroads:

“Within the landscape of American life, the Muslim community has so much to bring to the table … expertise, experiences, knowledge and skills. It is a community on a straight path, calling to the good, preventing harm, an influential resource in the task of building a brighter future for America.”

After being the Consultant for Halal for the first Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) in 2013 in Dubai, Abdalhamid was witness to his strong recommendation for third party auditing of halal become a reality in the development of accreditation bodies in both UAE and Malaysia that are today making significant strides in regulating halal certification to help bring transparency to the halal ecosystem.

Abdalhamid had other talents few knew about. He had done beautiful leatherwork since his time in Ireland, photos of which you can still see on his fitrablues.com website. In his 50s he found he had songs in him that needed to be written and played. He proceeded with learning how to play the guitar after studying many methods that top guitarists used during the 1960s. He built his own guitar and started playing and recording songs with deep meaning. One was a tribute to the legendary boxer Mohammad Ali who died on the same day he did, two years before, because, in Abdalhamid’s own words: “No one has written a song about him.”

The love, honour and respect that people had for him, and the knowledge he gave to each of them individually, has been flooding non-stop into his wife’s inbox from the global halal community.

Abdalhamid was a creative, a scholar, and a visionary who shared his outlook for a healthier, more ethical and dignified life for all through his writings and eloquent speech. May he be rewarded and blessed for his service to the Ummah.

(Our deepest thanks to Salama Evans who gave valuable insights to this article.)

AFRIEF Organizes a One-day Transformative Dialogue on Wealth Building Strategies in Communities in Sokoto.

AFRIEF Organizes a One-day Transformative Dialogue on Wealth Building Strategies in Communities in Sokoto.


By Halima Sadiya

AFRIEF Organizes a One-day Transformative Dialogue on Wealth Building Strategies in Communities in Sokoto

A one-day Roundtable Dialogue was held in Sokoto, Sokoto State of Nigeria on the theme, Wealth Development in Regional and Local Communities: A Program for Change, on the 10th of October, 2017.

The event which was organised by the Africa Islamic Economic Foundation in collaboration with Duke Consult Limited, Sokoto was a facilitated community-based process intended to advance Sokoto State’s overall prosperity and self-reliance, strengthen its existing and emerging sectors, and increase jobs and incomes for its lower-income indigenes and firms. It was also part of a process to bring together and connect the assets of the entire communities of Sokoto State to meet market demands in ways that would build sustainable livelihoods under its flagship initiative, Wealthy Communities Africa.

According to Mr Baba Yunus Muhammad, President of AFRIEF, the Sokoto Transformative Roundtable was organised to achieve two primary goals. First and foremost, it was to provide a platform for participants to facilitate solutions to their community problems through consensus building, sustainability planning, and scarcity management using a number of proven diagnostic techniques and action processes. Secondly, it was also to provide an opportunity for participants to develop a holistic community vision for both urban and rural communities of Sokoto State through an intellectual process that emphasizes ethical financial planning and asset based paradigm of economic development.

The major outcome of the event was the consensus of the participants to create a state wide Cooperative body that will not only serve as a vehicle that would identify all the enterprising opportunities in Sokoto State but will engage a wide range of local and external partners to turn those opportunities into results that would both build and capture wealth. Furthermore, the Cooperative, under the professional guidance of AFRIEF team would complement or incorporate the prevailing traditional economic development methods, but would intentionally and methodically focus on creating more value that would be rooted in local people, places and firms.

The Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF) is an independent Non-Governmental Organization that provides a distinctive Islamic perspectives on economic and social issues. Its Transformative Roundtable Dialogue series is a unique initiative aimed at projecting a positive and sophisticated image of Islamic finance and economics through the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and objective discussions on the various benefits of asset=based and interest-free paradigm of economic development among academicians, decision and policy makers, private sector operators and development practitioners in Africa. These exclusive and multi-sector roundtables take place in various cities in Africa bringing together civil society organisations, governments, regional economic agencies and the private sector to collaborate, network and exchange expertise and address specific economic issues of interest to Africa.

AFRIEF AND T. LIVENS HOLDINGS LAUNCH JOINT COOPERATION TO PROMOTE ISLAMIC FINANCE IN COTE D’IVOIRE

AFRIEF AND T. LIVENS HOLDINGS LAUNCH JOINT COOPERATION TO PROMOTE ISLAMIC FINANCE IN COTE D’IVOIRE


Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF), an independent organization in the Republic of Ghana that facilitates the exchange of knowledge, experience and the practice of Islamic economics, finance and the evolving Halal economy in Africa andT. Livens Holdings, a leading merchant banking firm in Cote d’Ivoire, have announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with a general objective to have an association to strengthen, encourage communication and collaboration between the two organizations in areas of mutual concern and benefit; to offer strategic advisory and training services (such as corporate trainings, workshops, seminars, conferences) in Islamic economics, finance and the Halal economy with mutual cooperation in Cote d’Ivoire. The MOU also seeks to nurture the creative role of national and international scholarly communication and collaboration in the development and dissemination of knowledge of Islamic economics and finance, learning, research and facilitation of innovative programs of action aimed at improving livelihoods in Cote d’Ivoire.

The two organizations have also agreed to jointly launch a wide range of projects involving research, training, policy development, and community-focused works designed to promote an asset-based/interest-free paradigm of economic development and increase support for transformative strategies among community stakeholders, anchor institutions, and key policymakers in Cote d’Ivoire. The two collaborating entities have also agreed to employ their innovative operational support systems to provide advisory and support services to accelerate the emergence of quality and well capitalized start-ups in Cote d’Ivoire. Furthermore, they will support micro finance institutions (MFIs) in Cote d’Ivoire to achieve their strategic business goals by offering them a variety of services in good corporate governance, marketing, financial management, strategic growth planning, technology and innovation https://www.locksmithspros.com/car.

Mr. Baba Yunus Muhammad Comments:

Mr. Baba Yunus Muhammad, President of Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF) has this to say: “this collaboration marks an exciting chapter for AFRIEF as it will inject its international experience, network and strength into the service portfolios and in-country knowledge and capabilities of T. Livens Holdings to deliver services in Islamic economics and finance, international trade and project development, institutional, technology and human development; and to support the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, public and private sector organizations to accelerate the growth and development of Cote d’Ivoire. We believe the two organizations have complementary capabilities and we are very excited at the power of combining these to create a full-service portfolio leveraging a larger pool of local talents. No doubt, this relationship will create strong synergies in both business and talent development, and it will help to accelerate AFRIEF’s vision of becoming the leading Islamic economic organization in Africa supporting research and growing new ideas needed for sustainable economic development and poverty alleviation in Cote d’Ivoire”.

Mr. Mehmet Issa Ndiaye Comments:

Mr. Mehmet Issa Ndiaye, CEO of T. Livens Holdings has this to say: “This partnership with AFRIEF is in line with T. Livens Holdings’ mission to make Africa the next frontier in terms of global investments. The T. Livens Holdings team is thrilled by the perspective of benefiting from the strong knowledge, experiences and connections AFRIEF has to offer with respect to Islamic Economics, and we are more than eager to accompany Cote d’Ivoire government’s ambition to reach the emerging country status by 2020.”

About the Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF)

The Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF) is an independent organisation that facilitates the exchange of knowledge, experience and the practice of Islamic economics, finance and the evolving Halal economy in Africa. AFRIEF assumed the legal status of a Non-Governmental Organisation on 9th December, 2013 and its secretariat, located in Tamale in the republic of Ghana is at present hosted by Al Furqan Foundation.

About T. Livens Holdings

T. Livens Holdings is a Côte d’Ivoire-based merchant banking holding company that invests in high growth, nascent, undervalued and/or distressed companies, with good corporate culture, strong track records and competent executives, evolving into niche sectors with solid economic and/or demographic backing, mainly in Africa. It also provides Risk Management, Capital Raising and Strategic Consulting services to Governments, Companies, and Individuals alike.

Saudi Arabia’s long game in Egypt

Multiple billion-dollar deals signed recently between Egypt and Saudi Arabia are part of a push by the latter to invest in long-term developmental projects in the North African country.

In early April Egypt and Saudi Arabia inked a deal to establish a SR60bn ($16bn) investment fund, part of a broader series of agreements between the two countries.

The memoranda of understanding (MoUs) – which include deals in agriculture, industry and infrastructure – were signed at Cairo’s presidential palace by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Saudi’s shifting role

Since 2011 Saudi Arabia has played an important role in boosting Egypt’s economy and bolstering the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The Kingdom extended $5bn in aid and loans as part of a $12bn package offered by Gulf allies after Egypt’s change of government in 2013. Saudi Arabia’s contribution included $2bn to boost foreign currency reserves, $2bn in energy products and $1bn in cash, Saudi officials said at the time.

The country now seems keen to move beyond valuable but short-term aid and toward development projects that will generate long-term value for both countries.

The investment fund, for example, will be shared equally between the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund, and the Egyptian government, according to Egyptian state media.

The initiative is one of several that Saudi Arabia has launched in recent weeks with neighbouring countries, including a joint investment commission with Jordan.

PIF is in the process of being expanded from its current $100bn holding to a targeted $2trn, international media reported in April. As part of this drive, PIF will significantly increase the share of foreign investment from 5% of its portfolio to 50% by 2020, according to Yasir Alrunmayyan, secretary-general of the fund.

Mutual benefits

In addition to the investment fund, further agreements signed by the two countries build on previous projects to expand the Suez Canal and promote Saudi private investment in Egyptian development projects.

The agreements will allow the Kingdom to diversify its investment portfolio and support the growth of Saudi investors and companies abroad, part of an overall strategy of economic diversification.

The series of deals includes a MoU between the Egyptian government and PIF to set up an economic free zone in Sinai as well as the development of a 2.25-GW electricity generation plant.

Saudi Arabia’s private sector is also showing increasing interest in opportunities in the Egyptian market, with the agreements expected to ease investment conditions.

According to chairman of the Saudi-Egyptian Council Abdulrahman Al Zamil, Saudi businesses were investing $4bn in infrastructure, energy and agriculture projects in Egypt, with substantial sums already committed.

Energy is a key area for Saudi private investment, with one Saudi company – ACWA Power – planning up to $12bn in investment in the Egyptian energy sector over the next five years.

“Egypt’s power sector is able to [attract] new investments worth $30 billion in the next five years, backed by…legislative reforms and investment incentives provided by the country’s government,” Hassan Amin, country manager at ACWA Power, told industry media.

Egypt has also allocated 202,000 ha of arable land to Saudi investors to encourage agricultural investment, according to Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Mohsen al Fadhli, Saudi Arabia’s minister of agriculture.

In addition, the agreement includes plans to connect the two countries via a bridge over the Red Sea. While no further information on the project has been released, previous estimates suggest the bridge could cost between $3bn and $4bn, international media reported.

Industrial ambitions

Saudi investors were also at the forefront of a recent agreement to develop a 6-sq-km industrial city near the Suez Canal.

The ASEC-Capital alliance, which includes prominent Saudi companies like Al Hokair Group and Al Muhaidib Contracting Company, along with firms from the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, are planning $3.3bn worth of investment, Ahmed Darwish, head of the Suez Canal Economic Zone Authority, told media earlier this month.

The project includes an integrated business city, some 120 factories and a logistics zone.

This should allow Egypt to capitalise on its recent $8bn expansion of the canal. Completed in August after 12 months of construction, the “New Suez Canal” includes 35 km of new channels constructed in the desert, as well as a 37-km stretch where the existing canal was enlarged to accommodate larger ships.

According to official estimates, revenue from the canal is forecast to more than double in under a decade, from $5.3bn in 2015 to $13.2bn by 2023.

However, weaker global trade figures – as demonstrated by the Baltic Dry Index, which reached an all-time low in February – have underscored the importance of deriving alternate sources of revenue from the canal. Saudi investment in the nearby industrial city should go some way toward achieving this.

Ghana moves to strengthen insurance industry

Market reforms to reduce fragmentation and improve solvency, alongside the gradual expansion of bancassurance, should improve the medium- and long-term prospects of Ghana’s insurance industry.

The coming months will likely see mergers across the sector, after the National Insurance Commission (NIC) raised capital requirements for insurers late last year.

Early February brought signs that the push for consolidation was yielding results, with LeapFrog Investments, a Mauritius-based private equity fund, acquiring a majority stake in domestic insurer UT Life Insurance.

Consolidation drive

The beginning of the year saw the NIC increase its efforts to promote consolidation by raising insurers’ minimum capital requirements from GHS5m ($1.29m) to GHS15m ($3.89m). The requirements featured in the NIC’s new risk-based solvency framework, published in October 2015.

Additionally, insurers are required to comply with target capital adequacy ratios, scaling up from 130% as of December 31, 2015 to 140% by mid-2016 and 150% by the end of the year.

Simon Nerro Davor, deputy commissioner of the NIC, highlighted the benefits he believed higher capital requirements would bring to the industry.

“Looking at the way the insurance companies operate, if they have GHS15m ($3.9m), they should operate at some level of efficiency, get the right software, employ the right people, so they can do the right job,” he told media in January.

Approximately 50 companies currently operate in the 25m-person Ghanaian insurance market, split almost evenly between life and non-life policy writers, together with three reinsurers.

The market has significant room for growth, given relatively low take-up compared to many other African nations. Ghana’s insurance penetration stands at less than 2% of GDP, according to the African Insurance Organisation, below that of Kenya (3.2%), Namibia (7.5%) and South Africa (14.5%).

Other driving factors

Along with the new capital requirements, compulsory products, including coverage for commercial properties against fire, flooding and earthquake, will also see enforcement stepped up, according to Davor.

The “No Premium, No Coverage” (NPNC) requirement enacted by the NIC in April 2014 is also strengthening the sector’s capital base, ending a practice that saw some companies offer coverage on credit. Previously, underwriters were forced to borrow funds to cover payouts or were left with bad debts in the event that premiums were not paid out. This had the knock-on effect of making it more difficult for insurers to pay their own premiums to reinsurers.

Bode Oseni, managing director of Regency Alliance Insurance, describes the NPNC policy as a significant step forward for the sector, which has helped insurers to operate independently of other funding sources.

“The policy provides insurance companies in Ghana with liquidity and makes it easier to pay out on claims in a timely manner,” Oseni told OBG. “It is the best thing to happen in the industry for some time.”

Bancassurance on the rise

The sector is also benefiting from a steady expansion in distribution channels, with a number of outlets rolling out new bancassurance offerings.

Since it was first offered in 2007, bancassurance has offered an alternative vehicle for expanding market penetration, and while it has taken time to build momentum, there are signs that the pace is increasing.

A growing number of insurers and banks have joined forces to offer policies through banking windows; more than 20 banks have already been granted licences to offer bancassurance products.

In late February Universal Merchant Bank announced plans to expand its bancassurance operations by adding six non-life products in the non-life segment through its tie-up with Phoenix Insurance.

The same week brought news from uniBank of plans to offer motor, travel, comprehensive home and personal accident insurance at five branches starting in mid-February, rising to all 39 outlets in the second quarter.

Ghana steps up to secure electricity supply

The start of new gas production in Ghana has significantly improved the prospects for long-term growth in the country, although efforts to exploit domestic reserves for local power generation faced a minor setback earlier this year.

While Ghana’s hydrocarbons sector has seen relatively stable output over the first few months of 2016, a two-week period of inspection and maintenance work on the Kwame Nkrumah, a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, led to a temporary drop in gas supply to the power sector.

The shutdown slowed gas supply to the Volta River Authority’s (VRA) thermal generating facilities in Aboadze, reducing output by 250 MW, according to local media.

Expanding gas options

The FPSO has since re-started operations, but the extensive repairs highlight the importance of expanding access to feedstock for the country’s power plants.

Ghana currently has access to two sources of natural gas for its plants: domestic gas sourced from the Jubilee field with 577bn standard cu feet (scf) of recoverable reserves – which is processed by the recently commissioned Atuabo gas-processing plant, near Aboadze – and gas imported via the $1bn West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP), which originates in Nigeria, has an additional gas lateral at Tema and terminates at Takoradi.

Gas inflows from the 678-km WAGP have been unreliable and inconsistent at best, and for roughly 12 months between 2012 and 2013, supply was cut off completely due to pipeline damage by an errant ship anchor.

New domestic production

Associated gas from the Tweneboa-Enyenra-Ntomme (TEN) offshore field, which will also be processed at Atuabo, should help boost access to feedstock. First oil from TEN is expected in mid-2016, according to Tullow Oil, the field’s operator.

Next in line to reach production is the Sankofa-Gye Nyame oil and gas field, which is being developed by Eni and Vitol and where reserves are estimated at 1.5trn scf – enough to meet all of Ghana’s anticipated thermal electricity needs through to 2036. Production is expected from 2017, while processing is to be executed by both companies on an offshore vessel.

That gas, combined with Atuabo’s ability to reach a capacity of 150m scf per day, implies that Ghana should be able to significantly reduce fuel imports for electricity generation with its domestic supply.

LNG plans

However, this will not be enough to solve Ghana’s power needs, Ben Asante, gas advisor to the minister of petroleum, told local media in late April. As a result, another potential new source to address demand in the shorter term is liquefied natural gas (LNG), with a group of private investors exploring the potential for a combined-cycle plant fed by a floating storage and regasification unit.

In February the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation signed an agreement with energy infrastructure investment platform Quantum Power for the Tema LNG project, to be located 12 km offshore.

Upon completion later this year, the $500m plant, which is being developed using a build-own-operate-transfer structure, will have the capacity to receive, store, regasify and deliver around 3.4m tonnes of LNG per year, equivalent to approximately 500m scf of gas per day.

Renewable expansion plans

The recent maintenance work on the FPSO has highlighted the importance of the government’s efforts to further encourage diversification for Ghana’s energy needs. The VRA, for example, has committed to adding more renewable sources, particularly wind and solar, to its energy portfolio to meet future power demand.

In mid-April a new 20-MW solar plant, developed by Chinese technology firm Beijing Xiaocheng Company, came on-line in the country’s Central Region, about 20 km from Accra, and is expected to double its capacity by 2020.

This adds to the 2.5-MW Navrongo solar project, in operation since 2013, and the VRA’s efforts to develop a 12-MW solar project in the Upper West region.

These projects form part of a broader bid to achieve universal access to electricity by the end of the year and increase the share of renewable energy to 10% of output by 2020.

Egypt’s real estate sector remains buoyant

Egypt’s residential real estate market has recorded impressive results thanks to persistently high demand.

Investment is being fuelled by Egypt’s fast-growing population of around 90m – which increases by approximately 2.2% each year, according to the World Bank – as well as interest from abroad, as Egyptian expatriates look to capitalise on the weaker Egyptian pound.

For many Egyptians, property is seen as one of the safest investments, particularly with the country’s currency under pressure, as well as a hedge against inflation, which has historically been a problem. Investment properties are particularly popular for resale or rental at a later date.

Public and private investments in the property market totalled LE47.5bn ($5.3bn) in FY 2014/15, which ended in June 2015, contributing around 5% to GDP. A decade earlier investments stood at LE6.58bn ($741m) for the fiscal year ending in June 2005, according to Ministry of Housing (MoH) figures.

Investor interest

The current market environment is also drawing a range of domestic and international investors, including local developer Palm Hills – which has seen success with its Palm Valley West Cairo project and expects to deliver a total of 1800 housing units this year – and Dubai-based Emaar Properties, which has sold over 2150 units in Egypt to date.

Currency depreciation, combined with greater political stability, also draws interest from Egyptians abroad, who are looking to invest in second properties, Nick Maclean, managing director for the Middle East at CBRE, told local media.

Maclean highlighted the success of developments around Cairo, such as Pyramids Heights, Smart City and Cairo Festival City, which have drawn interest from the international market.

Well-off expatriates tend to prefer houses in these kinds of gated communities or compounds, and prefer paying in instalments, which are offered by many developers, rather than taking out mortgages, according to Ismail Yehia, CEO of Trends Real Estate, an Egyptian real estate company.

“The market will pick up in June when many Egyptian expatriates living in the Gulf return for Ramadan and look for investments in the country,” Yehia told OBG.

Rental prices of apartments and villas in New Cairo, for example, a growing suburb popular with the upwardly mobile, rose by 10% last year, according to JLL’s “Q3 2015 Cairo Real Estate Market Overview”.

“To a great extent, the price increases reflect the falling Egyptian pound and broader inflation, but demand is certainly strong,” Magued Sherif, managing director of Sixth of October Development and Investment Company (SODIC), told OBG. “Housing units are selling as fast as they can be built with pre-sales for developers as high as 70-80%.”

As a result, property prices could rise by between 20-30% this year, according to media reports.

There are some concerns that too many investors piling into the property market at a time when Egypt’s economy is still somewhat fragile may lead to oversupply or an asset bubble.

Affordability gap

The country’s yearly weddings – nearly 900,000 – are also a major driver of demand, as newly married couples look to move into their own homes and invest in property for the future, according to SODIC’s Sherif.

He estimates that Egypt’s housing gap – long a major issue in the country – is nearing 3m units. “Private developers collectively provide about 20,000 units per year, but this barely scratches the surface of the housing gap,” Sherif added.

According to forecasts from Colliers, a real estate services company, an extra 90,000 to 100,000 units will be needed per year through to 2020 to meet demand, which is well above the annual average of 45,000 units that have come on-line in recent years.

Major developers continue to focus on more affluent segments of the population, which are seen as yielding higher profits, rather than the poor and low-middle income groups, for whom the current housing shortage is most pressing.

The majority of Cairenes, or about 52%, are able to afford units in the $26,000-to-$35,000 range, but there is little to no supply offered by the private sector at this price point, according to a 2016 report on Cairo’s real estate market by Colliers.

The most affordable private developments, such as a 130-sq-metre unit in 6th of October City, tend to sell in the $60,000-to-$65,000 range.

The government is looking to address the shortfall in affordable housing partly through partnerships with the private sector.

In mid-May local press reported that the MoH was in talks with Kuwaiti investment company Al Juwisry to develop a social housing project on a 14,000-sq-metre plot in 6th of October City, as part of a larger $800m investment programme.

Many private sector developers, however, will likely continue to target the higher end of the market, underscoring the importance of government-led efforts to incentivise social housing.

Kenya pushing R&D in higher education

A sharper focus on science and mathematics in universities – including research and development activities – is necessary if Kenya is to improve rates of graduate employment.

Expanding sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives and promoting research and development (R&D) collaboration between the academic and business communities, in particular, could narrow the skills gap and improve student outcomes.

Agreement at the national level

In order to better equip students for the labour market, tertiary curricula should be more inclusive of STEM courses, Fred Matiang’i, secretary of the Education Cabinet, told a gathering of public and private stakeholders in March.

Since 2000 Kenya’s higher education system has undergone a massive expansion, with the number of public and private institutions rising from 19 to 70, and total enrolment climbing from 49,000 to 480,000.

However, participation in STEM-related programmes of study remains low, at just 22% of the total students, compared to an average of more than 70% in South-east Asia.

Following on earlier initiatives to improve STEM performance in secondary schools, Matiang’i said a similar shift in focus was needed at the tertiary level.

“It is important for us to start re-orientation of our universities’ programmes and have a deliberate bent to STEM courses,” he said, underscoring the importance of STEM education as a driver of employment and economic development in emerging markets.

Building bridges with business

One of the key benefits of expanding STEM training would be higher rates of employment for university graduates, given the demand for technical skills in the job market. As with many emerging markets, university graduates in Kenya often face difficulties in securing employment – in part a result of a mismatch between academic curriculum and the needs of private sector employers.

Closer engagement on curriculum development between the academic and business communities could help end the disparity between the skills needed for employment and those currently being taught, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice-chancellor of the US International University, told OBG.

“To do this, we should make sure the university’s advisory board includes industry representatives,” he said. “They can offer information on industry trends and skill deficits, which we can incorporate into our curriculum.”

In addition to adding relevant coursework, increasing R&D cooperation between universities and the private sector – whereby companies invest in research relevant to their business and universities conduct the research ­– is expected to further narrow the skills gap.

“Very little of science, technology and innovation research is being conducted in collaboration with the private sector, and this is one area where there is opportunity for mutual gain,” Zeleza added.

Research spending by Kenyan firms remains low, according to a World Bank economic report on Kenya released in March, with the share of Kenyan firms investing in internal R&D 40% lower than in Ghana or Egypt and 50% less than in South Africa. Total R&D spending was equivalent to just 0.5% of company revenues, with the vast majority spent on internal research.

The role of government

To encourage increased R&D, the government could foster further collaboration by providing incentives to the private sector, according to Noah O Midamba, vice-chancellor and CEO of KCA University. However, universities must also meet the standards companies require to work with them.

“The research has to be relevant, and universities need to be able to protect the private sector investments,” he told OBG.

The government’s commitment to double R&D spending to 2% of GDP, as part of Vision 2030 – Kenya’s national economic development strategy – could help bring the private sector on board.

“Hopefully, this R&D push exposes the benefits of research and encourages the private sector to follow. If there is consistent political will, Kenya is well poised to become a regional research centre,” Zeleza told OBG.

Replicating local content policies, which have gained some traction in the entertainment and energy sectors, in the education sphere could also provide a boost to R&D.

“The Local Content Bill will give universities the first opportunity to work with the government. This way we will use our resources to develop our institutions,” Matiang’i said.