Lake Bunyonyi is such a therapeutic and beautiful tourist attraction

Until recently, Lake Bunyonyi seemed like a well kept secret among the people of Kabale in south western Uganda. I remember, the first time I visited this place we had to stop near a group of young men to ask for directions to this wonder of nature. These days there are more than enough road signs giving you a hint of the several hospitality facilities that surround this lake, the second deepest in Africa.

Relaxing in the hammock

Do you really need a caption here?

If you are coming from the capital in Kampala, you will have to endure a long ride of about six to seven hours before getting to Kabale town. You are even luckier if you are coming from another capital like Kigali where you will only need not more than an hour and a half on the road before you get to Lake Bunyonyi. Bunyonyi means a place of many little birds but its imposing beauty can easily make you forget that you are in a prime birding spot.

The accomodation units at Hawk's Eye are all named after different birds.

The views that your doctor recommended

Its beauty is so imposing that it even appears on the 5000 Uganda shilling bank note. This is because the lake is dotted with 29 islands that make you think, the creator was in the mood to be extravagant with the beauty. The terrain around the lake is similar to what most of Rwanda looks like. Very steep hills, terraces and the cold can really bite when it chooses to.

There are more than enough hospitality facilities around the lake for one to choose from. Including one owned by Uganda’s famous comedian, Anne Kansiime. There is no guarantee though that staying there means she will be by your bedside trying to kill you with laughter. On my most recent visit I stayed at the cool Hawk’s Eye Lodge and Campsite.

Just like in the old days, a fireplace is the best for story telling

The fire place, where all the deep stories happen

Things to do while here

There are basically two main things to do around Lake Bunyonyi, to relax and to indulge in energy filled adventures. The relaxation bit is the easier thing to do. The views of the lake are so soothing especially if you are trying to escape the stress of the city and its gruelling capitalistic demands. At Bunyonyi you can just spend hours looking at the calm waters of this very deep lake.

You can also take boat rides as you listen to tales about the islands including the famous punishment island, Akampene where unmarried pregnant girls would be abandoned to die of hunger. Interestingly, it is said that men who didn’t want to go through the struggle of paying bride price often came to the island and picked up the girls. That was so many years ago and the practice is no longer in place.

Hiking the steep hills of Kabale could be the exercise you needed

At the beginning it sounds like fun until you realise you just walked all the way into another district

While many would love the boat rides on engine powered boats, some prefer to enjoy a calmer moment in a dugout canoe. Some of the hotels can only be accessed by boat while others will do boat rides from one island to another or from one hotel to another. The locals will be seen going about their usual lives without a bother. Moving goods and people especially when there is a market day or young children in their canoes just going from school to home and back. The lake to them is a big highway.

Hiking is another fun activity one can engage in while here. During my stay at Hawk’s Eye Lodge, the proprietor of the place, Parity Twinomujuni, took us on this long hike to find locals that still engage in blacksmith activities. The hike started off slightly after we woke up and it turned out to be a whole seven kilometres of mainly uphill stretches. Parity kept telling us how we were almost there and yet we were not. His fitness for a man of his age made us feel bad for being young and unfit. He fed us with lots of fun stories about the people, the area and his interesting life and this kept us going and going.

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You bet this was taken straight from a movie set

Fresh and unique foods

One thing that is rarely mentioned enough is the fact that while you stay at places by the lake, you will enjoy some really fresh and healthy foods. The locals do a really good job at ensuring that visitors have enough to eat that is fresh from their gardens. At Hawk’s Lodge the fruits were always fresh and in plenty. Lake Bunyonyi also has a secret that comes to life when you stay close by – Crayfish.  These Louisiana Red Swamp Crayfish are loved by visitors as a culinary delight. Just like Lake Kivu has Sambaza, Lake Bunyonyi has these tasty Crayfish. Try them when you visit.

The fact that there are so many tourist facilities close to each other means you can stay at one and take a boat ride to have lunch at another before returning to sleep. It is important to find out whether the place you have chosen to stay at has warm water because the cold in this place may quickly make taking a bath an option. Although it is a tented camp, Hawk’s lodge had the water issue sorted.

The views as we hiked for more than 7 kilometres

Walking away in the woods…

Did I mention that the sunsets and sunrises can be really magical from this place? Oh yes they are and you should carry a long a camera or a good phone now that they are the commonest cameras we use. To further deal with the cold, one of the best moments we had at Hawk’s Lodge in Bunyonyi was the fireside chats in the evening where we laughed so hard at stories from Parity and his other staff members who were really friendly to us.

Zip lining over the lake

I rarely do crazy stuff when on such trips but I was having so much fun this time that I put my fears aside and decided to join my friends as we went zip lining. In the past I have refused to try out crazy adrenaline activities like white water rafting or bungee jumping in the eastern lake resort town of Jinja. Zip lining was also in this group but on this day I was like, why not? After signing my name on some document that basically says if things go wrong then sorry!

Been there, done that and got the T-Shirt

Time to swallow that fear and do the damn thing…

The signing of that document has a way it makes you think about whether you really want to do it. But by this time your pride is in too deep. You do not want to give in to any fears. So after wearing the gear needed for this, I climbed up a tree and moved until the last part where a guide who does this so many times that he can see a coward from miles away tried to tell me the usual stuff.

He went on and on about how the rope could hold my weight with ease and that I had nothing to worry about. I agreed with him but my legs did. They were shaking so much; if I had stay in that spot long enough I would have peed on myself. I thought about whether I really had anything to prove given how scared I was feeling. But my fears lost the fight. The Bakiga are known to be brave people and I was not about to let them conclude that anyone who is not one of them is a just a big baby. My pride and that of my people was on the line, literally.

Zip lining over Lake Bunyonyi

The famous Nile Crocodiles just missed a snack right there… lol

I then let go of the guide and down the rope I went. The fear quickly disappears and you start to enjoy the view, the breeze and you feel like you were born to do these things. I even stretched my hand to touch the water.  If you are ever around Lake Bunyonyi, please do the zip lining. The fear is nothing compared to the great photos and that brief moment of invincibility.

The lake is a blessing to the locals

I have been to more than four tourist facilities in this area and it is amazing how the lake is really a blessing to the people there. Many are employed by the facilities while others have something to sell to the tourists that come here. As far regional tourism is concerned, it is one place that a visitor to Rwanda can easily slip into his or her itinerary. It is a great place to visit as a group for the fun activities you can do together and also a good romantic or honey moon spot for the lovers looking for a serene and picturesque place.

Photos by Chris Okello

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Unreasonable taxes expose Uganda’s generational divide crisis

The first day of July came a crude surprise for  some of us. Just a few minutes after midnight those of us who were within the borders of Uganda found ourselves unable to access several internet sites because they had been categorised as ‘over-the-top’ services and slapped with a bizarre tax of UGX200 per day. Those who pulled the plug (Telecoms) took a while to get their houses in order and for a number of hours the internet in general was a mess and the USSD code for paying the tax (OTT tax) seemed not to work.

I eventually managed to pay the tax so as to access the over 50 social media sites that had been blocked. Yes  the number is over 50. Think of any social media site and it is there on that list. So it is not just Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram. Even LinkedIn, Skype and Tinder!

The OTT tax is annoying largely because it comes from a place of deep ignorance. President Yoweri Museveni considers social media not only to be a luxury but also that it is mainly used for gossip. His man at the helm of the Uganda Communications Commission, Godfrey Mutabazi also showed his ignorance when he talked about tech giants like Facebook making a lot of money while trying to justify a tax that is being paid by us who are more of the product that mere users in this social media environment.

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Cartoon by Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo

When it comes to the Mobile Money tax you have to find new anger to understand what these old men and women do instead of thinking. They introduced a tax that applies when you load money onto your mobile money account, when you receive money, when you send it, when you use it to make any payment and when you withdraw it. This immediately led to a drop in the usage of the service with many going back to moving money physically than incur a myriad of taxes on top of the ones that were already in place and the charges for sending and withdrawing.

These taxes clearly expose the fact that they were drafted by old men and women and thrown out to a country that is largely youthful. It is the young people that use Social Media more thanks to being tech savvy and not so loyal to traditional communication lines. In a country plagued by youth unemployment, the average Mobile Money agent is someone who was not around when Museveni and his friends stood outside parliament to announce that they are the new government bringing a “fundamental change.”

The social media tax resulted in some using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass it while others are paying for one sim card and tethering all the others onto it. Such moves further prove that those who may have made estimates on how much money will be collected may have to adjust their ambitious projections.

The tax is clearly a regressive one that seeks to roll back the strides made by a budding digital economy that serves as a source of employment and enlightenment for young people in Uganda. It is also a huge blow to freedom of expression given that many young people rely on social media to express themselves and communicate with  one another. Taxing this on grounds that it is a platform for gossip only gives away ones state of senility.

These old folks don’t know how these technologies work and why they work. All they want is something more to tax and fund their privileged lives and maintain a painful status quo. They are in essence looking for money to keep them going instead of working for their going away from the scene. After 32 years in power many should be looking for ways to create jobs for young people instead of taking away those very jobs. This is how you widen the tax base.

A lot of noise has been made and some have been forced to chew their words or claim ignorance. The President said the tax on Mobile Money should be 0.5% not 1% and that he signed the bill into law hurriedly. Why would an old man hurriedly sign away bills that are only going to make life uncomfortable for the young people in the country by killing their livelihoods and burdening them more for taxes? Has he not learnt any patience after 32 years at as president?

The finance minister also played the ‘I was not around when this tax was passed’ card. Talk is now rife of a review of the taxes but it is clear that those behind them need the money to sustain the amorphous patronage system. Already there is talk of not just increasing the pay for MPs but also getting the whole 426 of them, new bullet proof cars and escorts. Remember they have insulated themselves from most taxes.

The Mobile Money tax is a huge blow to financial inclusion and those who will abandon mobile money are unlikely to head to banks where the excise duty has been increased from 10% to 15%. Pushing people back to carrying around cash is not only bad economics it is also bad for security as more will be robbed and in violent ways. You do not want this for a country where kidnappings and assassinations are already a reality.

These old folks do not even see the irony of branding social media as a space for gossip and yet they are now using the same space to explain the errors and confusions surrounding these terrible taxes. Are they also gossiping? Have they paid their OTT tax like us or are they using VPNs? By the way  given how much young people rely on social media sites as the gateway to most of what they read online, putting taxes on it means strangling the little reading and learning culture that was left.

These old folks have pushed us back to that horrible time when owning a mobile phone was a luxury (remember the president thinks social media is a luxury) and telecom companies were foolishly charging a ‘service fee’ for anyone to use their mobile phone to make or receive calls. Now we are having to pay a service fee in the  form of this OTT tax so that we can access platforms that the government never created nor owns.

The internet is a vital utility and we should be focusing on increasing its access and in more efficient ways. Those interested in collecting taxes need to sit down with executives of companies like Facebook and ask for a cut on what they make from ads. They can even Google how to go about this or simply talk to smart young people and I am not even one of them.

 

 

 

 

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We wont solve unemployment without fixing the education system

Education is a subject that I am quite passionate about for many reasons. One of them being the fact that it is a field I have trained in and also one that I have significant ancestral attachment being an offspring of teachers. More so it is a field so important that one of the truest statements ever made remains that, “a country cannot be more developed than its education system.” It is a statement that  needs to be repeated as much as possible especially in the ears of those charged with designing development strategies for their countries or the continent at large.

The aggregate skilled or semi skilled labour force that every country relies on implement anything is often almost entirely drawn from the fruits of its education system. Therefore it goes without saying that an excellent system will spur development while the reverse is true. What this means is that countries all over the world have almost no option but to take education very seriously.

In some cases I have actually read that education is very serious a matter for some countries that it is actually perceived as a  matter of strategic importance just like military readiness. For a country to leap ahead of others it needs a very developed education system to produce the people who will come up with the latest innovations and solutions needed for the new challenges that  the world has to deal with.

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One of the biggest challenges that African countries have to deal with is the challenge of youth unemployment. This challenge has often been manifested in a double dimension. On one hand you have young people who have gone through the education system being unable to find jobs to do. On the other hand you have young people having gone through the education system but lacking the required skill set to function effectively on the job.
In other words, they are ‘educated’ but not skilled to perform.

Therefore to address these challenges we need to look at the education system and fix it. One of the key flaws of the education systems especially in Africa is that those who end up in the teaching profession are people who had bigger aspirations such as becoming lawyers, doctors or engineers but make it. So the teaching profession becomes a place where dreams go to die. A collection of people who not only preferred  not to be teachers but also those who became teachers because they failed to be what they really to be.

All this comes from the fact that teachers are lowly paid so few aspire to join a career associated with misery and too much work. Another dilemma is that often times, the methods and even the curriculum used do not do a good job at keeping pace with reality. The world is changing so fast but the same cannot be said about how we teach those who are supposed to take on this changing world.

The Mastercard Foundation has over the years invested a lot in supporting education efforts in Africa especially in form of scholarships as well as supporting organisations involved in inculcating different skills like financial inclusion or better agricultural practices all aimed at uplifting the lives of different young people. During the recent launch of the Young Africa Works strategy in Kigali, Rwanda, the Foundation announced two key programs it will embark on so as to enable 30 million African youth  to secure dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.

The two programs with a kitty of US$100 million focus on tourism and hospitality (Hanga Ahazaza) and education (Leaders in Teaching). Both programs are being piloted in Rwanda with a plan to roll them out to the rest of the continent. There are reasons why  Rwanda was chosen to benefit from this first. The country has been on a tremendous path of progressive that riding on this wave is the only logical thing to do.

The Leaders in Teaching initiative seeks to support the delivery of high quality, relevant secondary education and will establish the pan-African Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT that will explore new approaches to improving educational outcomes.It will focus on the areas of training, motivation, and professional development for teachers and school leaders.

In Rwanda, at least 250,000 secondary school students are set to benefit as the initiative aims to improve Science, Math, and ICT knowledge and teaching skills for new and experienced teachers, improve the capacity of head teachers to create positive instructional environments, and recruit young people into the profession.

Finding the people who are passionate about education and equipping them with the right skills, knowledge and attitude to execute this noble act is essentially what this initiative is all about. Teachers plays a very influential role in the education system and often what they have to offer is  probably the biggest influence to the learning outcomes.

The challenges that teachers in Africa face are well known to most of us and yet we often underestimate how these challenges trickle down to the learners and the general quality of life the learners are likely to enjoy. In many cases we are finding the worst people and expecting them to give their best to the learners. A clear case of working with the worst and hoping for the best and yet hope is not a strategy.

The Mastercard Foundation intends to prepare a situation where quality secondary education presents opportunities for young people. This can only happen where the teachers are qualified and skilled enough to deliver on this promise. They intend to do this through country-level programs that focus on recruiting passionate young people into the profession, and on investing in training and professional development for teachers and school leadership.

Secondly, they intend to set up Pan-African Centres for Innovative Teaching and Learning that address a key theme in secondary education relevant across Africa. These centres will support formulation of  evidence based ICT policies and set up of digital  learning resources for African classrooms. In all this Rwanda will benefit from all that the Mastercard Foundation has learnt over the years and Rwanda will also bring on board what it has learnt along its path of progress. The future can only be bright with such partnerships.

About the Mastercard Foundation

The Mastercard Foundation seeks a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn and prosper. The Foundation’s work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion for people living in poverty. One of the largest foundations in the world, it works almost exclusively in Africa. It was created in 2006 by Mastercard International and operates independently under the governance of its own Board of Directors. The Foundation is based in Toronto, Canada. For more information and to sign up for the Foundation’s newsletter, please visit www.mastercardfdn.org. Follow the Foundation at @MastercardFdn on Twitter.

 

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Hanga Ahazaza is a huge blessing to the hospitality industry

Last week all roads literally led to Kigali with Rwanda hosting a big African Union Summit at which African leaders signed a landmark agreement to create the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement. The commitment from the leaders is proof of growing concern to find lasting solutions to the challenges that the continent faces.

In a similar spirit, in the same week the Mastercard Foundation launched its new strategy dubbed Young Africa Works with a commitment to enable 30 million African youth especially young women to secure dignified and fulfilling work by 2030. It was no accident that  the Mastercard Foundation chose Rwanda as the launch pad of the new strategy. Rwanda has proven beyond doubt to be one of the most progressive African countries and it only makes sense for the Mastercard Foundation to set sail where the wind blows.

The Master Foundation announced two new programs in Rwanda aimed at directly addressing the overall goal of increasing economic opportunities for young people in Africa. The continent has an obvious population challenge of high population growth coupled with insufficient employment opportunities and where they exist there is a challenge of skills.

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One of the sectors that have proven pivotal to the economies of many African countries is the Tourism sector. The continent is blessed with some of the rarest wildlife and other natural features that many would love to experience. However the potential  for this industry is not yet fully exploited due to several factors including poor skills for those involved in the tourism and hospitality sector. This sector is all about experiences and you need people with the right skills, knowledge and attitudes in charge of things.

“Youth unemployment in Africa is the issue of our time. Together, we have an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future and increase prosperity for all,” said Reeta Roy, Mastercard Foundation President and CEO.  

The Mastercard Foundation announced a commitment of US$100 million for two initiatives in Rwanda one of which is Hanga Ahazaza, which will specifically seek to increase employment and enterprise opportunities for young Rwandans in the country’s growing tourism and hospitality sector. This initiative is coming just at the right time when Rwanda is doing all it can to harness the potential of tourism.

Indeed tourism has been one of the major contributors of the Rwandan economy thanks in part to the fact that the country is blessed to host the rare and endangered mountain gorillas. The efforts that have been put in place to conserve these rare species and save them from extinction have proved that Rwanda is a good place for such an initiative. The population  of the mountain gorillas has increased and now the government is in the process of acquiring more land from the people to increase on the size of the park.

Elsewhere, Akagera National Park now boasts of the famous Big Five with lions and rhinos recently reintroduced into the park. Poaching is almost unheard of, due to increased security in the park and sensitization of the people living near the parks and the country in general. Overall, the future of wildlife tourism in Rwanda is looking quite bright. Domestic tourism is another policy the government has embarked on with the Tembera uRwanda campaign that encourages Rwandans to explore the beauty of their country.

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The Rwandan government also embarked on developing and implementing a robust MICE tourism strategy. MICE refers to that tourism segment that covers meetings, incentives, conferences and events. The construction of the Kigali Convention Centre as well as new hotels of international repute such Kigali Marriott and Radisson Blu was a sign that Rwanda was ready for take off especially when you couple this with the expansion of the national carrier, Rwandair.

All the above serve as a good foundation for the Hanga Ahazaza (which means , create the future) initiative that will seek to equip 30,000 young men and women with customer service, ICT and digital literacy skills, and provide on-the-job- training and opportunities for employment. Small businesses in the same sector will also benefit from this initiative through access to financial services and business development skills.

All this will go a long way in not only improving the tourism and hospitality sector in Rwanda but also in the region since these initiatives are set to be rolled out to other parts of the continent in due course.

Facts to note

Hanga Ahazaza, meaning “create the future” in Kinyarwanda, is a consortium of partners from the education, development, and private sectors. Working together, they will support small businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector through increased access to financial services and training, and by connecting them to young people who have the skills they need to be successful employees.

• Each year, 125,000 young people are expected to join the labour force in Rwanda, but they face significant barriers to employment.1 More than 65 percent of youth between the ages of 14 and 35 are considered underemployed.2
• Rwandan youth, women in particular, lack relevant technical and soft skills, business expertise, access to financial services and tools, and support to start a business or search for a job.
• When entrepreneurs and small businesses access financial services, they have the resources to grow, expand, and create job opportunities for others in the community.
The Opportunity
• Growth in Rwanda’s tourism and hospitality sector is a key national priority. It’s vital to reducing poverty, improving youth employability, and moving the nation to middle-income status. The sector will have an estimated 151,000 jobs by 2030.3
• Improved access to financial services and tools, business development skills, entrepreneurship coaching and mentorship can support entrepreneurs and small businesses as they grow and hire more young people.
The Foundation’s Response
• The Mastercard Foundation’s Hanga Ahazaza initiative will equip 30,000 young men and women with the skills they need to transition into employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
— 17,000 will be new, entry-level employees.
— 10,000 existing employees and 3,000 new and existing industry managers will be equipped with the skills needed to secure employment in hotels, restaurants, and other tourism and hospitality enterprises.
• Young people will receive training in customer service, ICT and digital literacy skills, and receive on-the-job training and opportunities for employment.
• The initiative will coordinate with training institutions and providers to improve the quality and relevance of training materials. This will ensure they are aligned with national and global standards within the tourism and hospitality sector.
• Hanga Ahazaza will also support small businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector through increased access to financial services and business development skills training so they can create more employment opportunities for young people.

About the Mastercard Foundation

The Mastercard Foundation seeks a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn and prosper. The Foundation’s work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion for people living in poverty. One of the largest foundations in the world, it works almost exclusively in Africa. It was created in 2006 by Mastercard International and operates independently under the governance of its own Board of Directors. The Foundation is based in Toronto, Canada. For more information and to sign up for the Foundation’s newsletter, please visit www.mastercardfdn.org. Follow the Foundation at @MastercardFdn on Twitter.

 

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And the award for Clients at the Centre Prize US$150,000 goes to… Jumo

This year’s Symposium on Financial Inclusion was held in Accra, Ghana and as usual the deliberations were as exciting and insightful as  many had anticipated. The event hosted by the Mastercard Foundation, happened at the Kempinski Accra hotel brought together key players in the world of financial inclusion numbering over 400 from over 50 countries.

As is always the case with similar Mastercard events, the interactive sessions are always very exciting. Sometimes it is the surveys or the debates that get almost everyone following keenly and eager to be part of the conversation.

During each of the symposia, Mastercard Foundation awards the Client at the Centre Prize  worth $150,000 to recognise the organisation that is most focused on client centricity to enable poor people in developing countries to access formal financial products and services.

The finalists for this cherished prize present their business models to the audience of over 400 industry professionals who are then tasked to vote for the winner. Each organisation has only a few minutes to present its case and win hearts and a fat cheque.

The inaugural award in 2015 went to the Swedish mobile microinsurance firm BIMA. Last year, the Prize was presented to the South African international remittance company, Hello Paisa. Every year more than 100 organisations send in application and you can imagine the Herculean task of cutting that number down to only three .

This year the three finalists were:
● Jumo, a large-scale, low-cost financial services marketplace that uses behavioral data from mobile usage to create financial identities for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises;
● ftCash, one of India’s fastest growing financial technology ventures which aims to empower micro-merchants and small businesses with the power of digital payments and loans; and
● Destacame, a free online platform that empowers users by giving them control over their data to build their financial capabilities and to access financial products.

The aim of the prize is always to highlight the best practices that appeal to client satisfaction. In other words for one to win, the audience ought to be convinced that the client’s needs are not only met but are at the centre of the design of the financial service being offered.

Jumo Wins CATC Prize - Nov 8-2017-Accra (1)

After all was  said and done, Jumo, the South African-based company as a large-scale, low-cost financial services marketplace, were the lucky winners of that evening in Accra. After being awarded the Prize, Buhle Goslar, Director of Customer Intelligence at Jumo said “For anybody in a customer function, this is probably the most exciting prize to win because of the people who are voting for it. They really know about customer centricity; for them to vote for us is a great acknowledgement of the work that we’ve been doing.”

The Mastercard Foundation believes that banks and other financial service providers in developing countries should focus more on the needs and expectations of people living in poverty. Putting poor clients at the centre of the design of new financial products and services helps bring them into the formal banking system, improving their livelihoods and their ability to plan for the future.

“The Symposium on Financial Inclusion (SoFI) has focused on client centricity for the past five years,” said Ann Miles, Director of Financial Inclusion at the Mastercard Foundation. “We are thrilled to award this year’s prize to Jumo for its exemplary work of putting clients at the centre of its business model. As we reflect on the past five years of SoFI, it is more important now than ever before to recognize companies such as Jumo and encourage them to continue providing access to financial products for those who need it most.”

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The other two Prize finalists were ftcash, one of India’s fastest-growing financial technology ventures which aims to empower micro-merchants and small businesses with the power of digital payments and loans, and Destacame, a free online platform in Latin America that empowers users by giving them control over their data to build their financial capabilities and to access financial products.

About the Mastercard Foundation

The Mastercard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, its independence was established by Mastercard when the Foundation was created in 2006.

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Will clients remain at the centre of financial inclusion going forward

At the beginning of November, the humid but beautiful city of Accra in Ghana played host to what has grown to become one of most significant conversations around financial inclusion. The MasterCard Foundation Symposium on Financial Inclusion brought together financial inclusion professionals from across the globe to keep pace with developments and share ideas and experiences around the core theme of “Clients at the Centre.”

The Accra event was the fifth annual dialogue that sought to tickle and direct the next generation of financial services providers not keep the client at the centre of all the processes and designs that cover financial inclusion as a whole. Over the years consensus has been built to the fact that understanding the client is key to achieving meaningful financial inclusion especially for the poor.

For the duration of the conference, delegates reflected on the journey that financial service providers and clients go through  and how it influences how they relate with each other. Addressing the issue of whether it remains a win win situation for both the service providers and the clients and whether this can remain the case with all the changes in technology advancements and increased collaboration among the industry actors remained a key talking point.

The over 400 participants from more than 50 countries that gathered at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra spent quite some time mulling over whether indeed the client can keep a hold on to their central position at a time when some of the service providers are growing into worrying monoliths with so much power, data in their hands.

The rise of mobile platforms as major playground for service providers has not only proved to be a worrying to traditional players like banks but also a growing concern to clients who give up so much personal information that big players can use for their own ends. Client centricity can be compromised where big tech players choose to use all the data they mine from clients to meet their own selfish objectives especially where there is no consent from the clients or it is hidden is small print terms and conditions that poor people may not be made aware of.

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This calls for stricter regulatory frameworks and client sensitisation in order to protect the clients’ position from being abused. Much as there is clear evidence of growing financial inclusion and the benefits that have improved the lives of so many, it is important to keep an eye on emerging challenges lest the poor lose out from irresponsible service providers.

More so, the symposium provided a good opportunity for delegates to understand the intricacies of the financial inclusion journeys happening particularly in West Africa. Great insights into how in Nigeria Jumia has grown into a key e-commerce platform and how cognizant they are of the threat from bigger players like Alibaba that are keen to also take a bite at the African e-commerce pie.

For the banks the clarion call remains that they have to partner with fintechs if they are to survive the onslaught of digital platforms eating into their business model. Some have even gone ahead and created their own digital platforms so as to keep apace.

About the Mastercard Foundation
The Mastercard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, its independence was established by Mastercard when the Foundation was created in 2006. For more information, please visit http://www.mastercardfdn.org.

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Wakanow brings travel solutions to East Africa

In the past few years something has been happening around Africa. There is a wave of change in perception and lifestyle. Africans are embracing travel and tourism a lot more. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2 of the 3 visitors to Sub Saharan African Countries are now other Africans.

Contrary to common perception, it’s Africans that are increasingly driving tourism demand in Africa. Many tourism boards are waking up to this reality and luring Africans to visit other African countries and their own countries. What is not in doubt is that travelling remains a cumbersome endeavour when one thinks about the nightmares caused by visa processes and the damage it sometimes does to one’s pockets.

Enter www.wakanow.co.ke

Wakanow, Africa’s leading online travel portal recently opened shop in Nairobi, Kenya as its base for the wider East African travel market. These guys have obviously noted the travel potential in this region and want to be part of this amazing story going forward. Aware of the challenges faced by travellers, they came with goodies in form of travel solutions to ease the life of those suffering from wanderlust.

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The Co-ordinator of the East African Tourism Platform, Carmen Nibigira speaking during the launch of Wakanow Kenya

 

Solutions like “Pay Small Small” an installment payment system that allows one to pay a down payment for a trip then make the rest of the payments in installments. The service has been a huge hit in other markets and the East African market will be pleased to have it here as well. Many of us give up on our travel dreams soon after looking at the cost but with PSS the burden is spread out and therefore eased. It also makes planning smoother especially for the big holidays like at the end of the year. One can start making payments early and that way your pocket doesn’t suffer a major shock when that time comes around.

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The Wakanow Team

Wakanow has also been crucial as far as driving travel traffic from Nigeria and Ghana to East Africa and Kenya in particular. As a region, a good number of the visitors we target are from West Africa. Many West Africans are starting to learn that East Africa is a dream destination after spending years only thinking of Dubai and South Africa among others.

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Mr. Obinna Ekezie the Founder and Group Managing Director of Wakanow Ltd

Intra-Africa travel is now the in-thing. The fact that Nigeria alone has a population of over 180 million should be music to the ears of those at the different East African tourism boards. They also have an office in Dubai and another in UK to tap into the high numbers of African Diaspora always willing to visit the motherland. Wakanow will certainly serve as a strong link between East and West. Working together with tour operators, airlines and tourism boards will only lead to growth in numbers and comfort in the travel industry.

Karibuni to East Africa, Wakanow!

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The need for a fundamental shift on Youth Employment Training strategies

Day two at the Young Africa Works Summit held at the Kigali Marriott Hotel was kicked off with the release of a rather insightful research report titled, INVISIBLE LIVES: UNDERSTANDING YOUTH LIVELIHOODS IN GHANA AND UGANDA.

The report basically looked into the lives of young people in the two countries with the aim of better understanding the dynamics they face and how this new knowledge can be harnessed in addressed the challenges they face in finding employment or creating employment for others.

According to the report, international development programs are guilty of favouring skills training for the formal sector careers over training that can be applied to multiple jobs in the informal sector. This approach ignores the millions of youth on the African continent who are engaged in mixed livelihoods. In other words  the current approaches to skills training are not holistic enough as a solution.

The Invisible Lives research used a diaries method methodology to document the working lives of 246 youth aged between 18 – 24 from Ghana and Uganda over a period of one year. Areas covered were on behaviour, income, economic activities and time management. The report offers deep insight into what young people today have to do so as to achieve sustainable livelihoods and although two countries were sampled, it is considered that there emerging trends can be recognised across the continent.

In brief it was established that young people do diversify  their livelihoods by taking on a mix of informal sector employment, self employment, and agriculture-related activities to sustain their livelihood. Support networks are also crucial for young people as they serve to address issues of business guidance, financial support, skills development and general tips on where to find employment.

Both formal and informal wage employment are not easy to come by in Africa. However informal employment accounts for over 80% of the available opportunities for Uganda people. Although agricultural production is central to young people’s livelihoods  the incomes remain meagre. Even here the young people diversify their agricultural activities. Even with all this, young people remain largely invisible to both development organizations and their own governments which makes it difficult for them to access support services, training or finance capital.

‘Invisible Youth’—those who are mostly invisible to development organisations and their own governments— can become engaged as drivers of agricultural transformation.

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Day two had more in store like the session on engaging the private sector in a bid to understand the barriers to the creation of employment  and self-employment opportunities. There was a deep need to understand what companies are doing to harness youth potential in driving the transformation of the agricultural sector.

Thereafter a plenary session with panelists delved into the issue of unlocking agrifinance for youth. Issues around risk, access and the perception that youths have no collateral, savings, or the credit scores implying that  they will most likely default on their loans.

As is now the trend, the debate sessions were the most exciting with the proposition being that  off-farm activities will yield more opportunities for the youth. This was followed by the breakout sessions on climate change, breaking down gender barriers and use of mechanization or ICT to transform agriculture.

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“Agriculture doesn’t have to be sexy…it has to make sense” – Prof Oniang’o at #YAW2017

Professor Ruth Oniang’o, the Board Chair of Sasakawa Africa Association and Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education spoke passionately about understanding the gender obstacles women continue to endure in this line of work as the summit drew to a satisfying close.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skill straining, and financial services for people living in poverty , primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world.

About The MasterCard  Foundation’s Youth Livelihoods Program

The Youth Livelihoods Program seeks to improve the capacity of young men and women to transition to jobs or create businesses through a holistic approach which combines market-relevant skills training, mentorship, and appropriate financial services. Through our partnerships, our program is supporting innovative models that help young people transition out of poverty  and into stable livelihoods. Since 2010, the foundation has committed $402 million to 37 multi-year projects across 19 countries in Africa.. More than 1.8 million young people have been reached through the Youth Livelihoods Program.

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The green revolution is for the youth to deliver

A few days ago, something major happened in Kigali Rwanda. More than 300 global and African thought leaders and youth agripreneurs (yes Agripreneurs!) came together for The MasterCard Foundation’s second Young Africa Works Summit. Another 50 young but enthusiastic Africans from different parts of the continent also joined this congregation to generate relevant ideas and solutions.

This being the continent with the youngest population and yet faced with employment challenges, the summit sought to look into the issues that need to ironed out in order to ensure that  young people not only take charge of feeding the continent but also do so in a meaningful and profitable way.

“Africa is home to the world’s youngest population with enormous potential to improve agricultural productivity and make the sector a viable source of employment for youth across the continent,” says Ann Miles, Director of Financial Inclusion and Youth Livelihoods, The MasterCard Foundation. Highlighting the contributions being made by young people to turn around what is largely a sector of subsistence farming to a competitive, modern and sustainable one was one of the key goals of the summit.

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A youth delegate talks to CNBC about her agriprenuership journey

The continent not only has a challenge to feed a bulging population, it also urgently needs to address the fact that 11 million young people enter the job market annually. A market that is often not keen at embracing them either for sheer lack of opportunities or the absence of skills required.  Young people are therefore finding themselves in the middle of efforts to modernise agriculture through innovative technologies and production systems.

These interventions can no longer wait now that the threat of climate change is now a reality. The  youth are the ones heading for a painful future if nothing is done to change the situation for better. Stress on water resources and food security is no longer a myth but a worrying reality that compromises the actual security of communities.

It is projected that by 2020, the agricultural sector will create eight million jobs by 2020 even though it is already y far the largest source of employment in Africa. The sector offers tremendous prospects for creating sustainable livelihoods for young people and speeding up their prosperity as well as that of their societies.

“Agricultural transformation is a clarion call for us, the youth of Africa,” says Pilirani Khoza, Founder of Bunda Female Students Organisation at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“For decades, agriculture has continued to operate using the same static methods and technologies adopted by our forefathers. We must adopt the new technologies that are available to us. Youth are technological doers and thinkers, they are energetic and hungry for knowledge and they should be actively involved in transforming Africa.”

Jean Bosco  Nzeyimana moved the audience with his inspiring story on how he created a solution to the dependence on firewood which places a lot of pressure on the environment as trees are seen only as fuel for cooking. He started a company called Habona Ltd. that collects organic waste and turns into briquettes, biogas and fertilizer. Talk of putting waste to use in more than one way. His efforts also seek to replace inorganic fertilizers with organic fertilizer that keeps the soil fertile in a more natural way.

Jean Bosco hopes that young people can embrace agriculture instead of always dreaming of white collar jobs.

I hope to make it a platform for building a community of like-minded people, so we can eventually create a network where we can share ideas and exchange best practices.

During the 2016 Rwanda National Dialogue Day, an old man stood and solemnly affirmed that “No farmer, no food, no future”. I believe that young people must have the same mentality and take the lead in securing our future through farming.

 

From the summit it was obvious that the key message on day one was that young Africans have to wake up to the reality that the transformation of the agricultural sector is not their burden but their responsibility and opportunity. It is a revolution only them can deliver.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skill straining, and financial services for people living in poverty , primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world.

About The MasterCard  Foundation’s Youth Livelihoods Program

The Youth Livelihoods Program seeks to improve the capacity of young men and women to transition to jobs or create businesses through a holistic approach which combines market-relevant skills training, mentorship, and appropriate financial services. Through our partnerships, our program is supporting innovative models that help young people transition out of poverty  and into stable livelihoods. Since 2010, the foundation has committed $402 million to 37 multi-year projects across 19 countries in Africa.. More than 1.8 million young people have been reached through the Youth Livelihoods Program.

 

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At Lake Kivu Serena having fun is not a suggestion but the plan

Every country has its secrets but Rwanda doesn’t seem to have many. The only secret I know of about Rwanda are the street names that even locals have failed to learn since you only see things like KN 3 Av and not the usual Moi avenue or Luwum street. Nothing much else is a secret.

Gorillas cannot have family secrets since at some point in the year we are told which gorilla gave birth to which baby and on which date complete with all the names of the gorillas involved? The recently introduced lions also have names. Imagine being a wild animal but not being able to live anonymously. That must suck, right?

It is also not a secret that if you are trying to Google the “Rwanda + Fun” then you are better off just heading straight to the lake resort town of Rubavu. While in Rubavu you may wonder what to do with your time and money. Simple, the folks at Lake Kivu Serena Resort have had to answer this question so many times that their answers are no longer mere suggestions but plans as well.

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Even in Rubavu the Maasai can be seen doing their thing

Lake Kivu Serena is one place where your ‘what-to-do’ questions have detailed answers that are part and parcel of the hotel’s mission. While here, time will be your only enemy. You will wish it can be frozen for you to enjoy some more. You will want the sun to set in slow motion making the golden hour more like a golden evening.

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At your service

After an amazing breakfast at Kiyaga restaurant you can embark on a bike excursion around the town on the serene tree lined roads as the lake breeze makes its way to where you are. You can make stopovers at the two border posts with the Democratic Republic of Congo and marvel at the cross-border activity that happens here. Other places to stop at may include the market or the stadium.

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Biking on these roads is not exercise but therapy

You can also do the same tour in a car if biking is not your thing. Make it a point to visit the nearby hot springs and let the locals give you a foot massage with the warm water and some herbs to give you back that spring in your step. If you remembered to carry some raw eggs at the hot springs you can be sure to have them as a quick snack. Nature at its finest!

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A visit to the nearby  hot spring comes with being treated like royalty

In case you have had a heavy lunch because your eyes got greedy as you selected what to have on your plate then a game of beach football or volleyball could be enough to ease up the digestion. If the game turns into a disturbing reminder of how unfit you are then maybe you needed it or what you actually need is a relaxing massage before a boat ride.

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Play in the sand until you can’t see the ball

There is this cool dude called Eric at Lake Kivu Serena who is the go to guy for anything to do with water. No he is not a plumber. He is the guy with a call boat in case you want a boat ride on the Kivu or if you want to do some kayaking. Eric’s boat even has a music system which you are more likely to enjoy when he switches off the boat engine to explain something about the lake.

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Captain Eric on his glamourous boat

But who really gets on a boat for the music? Sit back in the leather seats and enjoy the breeze, the stunning views of Rwandan hills or the surreal view of Mt Nyiragongo in DRC as it goes about ignoring the ‘No Smoking in Public’ calls. This active volcano will smoke away without a bother in the world.

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No smoking in public! Says who? 

If mountain climbing is your thing then you can add it to your itinerary. There are also other options like gorilla trekking and embarking on the Congo-Nile rail. Whatever it is you have on your mind, Lake Kivu Serena delivers in being the place to go to or set off from. The beauty of it all is that they will do all the planning for you.

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Make the water your play space

You know I didn’t even have to write all this…I could have just summarised it all into the conversation below.
Me: I am looking for fun things to do in Rubavu

Lake Kivu Serena: Say no more!

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