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Ashoka has announced a $15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support social innovation and entrepreneurship in agricultural and sustainable rural development. The foundation's grant will allow Ashoka to elect more than 90 Fellows who will spread promising innovations aimed at helping small farmers living in poor, rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and India move out of poverty. Ashoka's proven expertise and local and global networks — approximately 2000 social entrepreneurs in 63 countries—are supporting the world's most powerful new ideas and its leading social entrepreneurs. Through its wide-ranging, global "nominators network," Ashoka finds individuals with transformative ideas who lack financing, legal support, or the basic means for scaling their work. After completing Ashoka's rigorous global selection process, Ashoka Fellows are provided with the best intellectual and process leadership for refining and replicating their successes, and for hatching entirely new ideas. Agricultural and rural sustainable development initiatives supported by Ashoka will be oriented around key issues such as new technologies, farmer productivity, key agricultural policies, and connections between smallholder farmers and markets. Founded in 1980, Ashoka is the world's working community of approximately 2,000 leading social entrepreneurs. It champions the most important new social change ideas and supports the entrepreneurs behind them to start, grow, succeed, and collaborate on their ventures. 703.600.8204  www.ashoka.org

The World Cocoa Foundation has announced sustainability principles and goals to help the world's cocoa farmers, guide industry efforts and prioritize the Foundation's development projects in West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Developed over the past two years through discussions among Foundation members, producing country governments, and program partners, the sustainability principles and goals are intended to help guide economic and social development as well as environmental stewardship in cocoa-growing communities around the world. More than 50 World Cocoa Foundation partner organizations from around the world provided input for the sustainability principles and goals. The World Cocoa Foundation is a partnership of nearly 70 member companies fully committed to sustainable cocoa growing. The principles will help famers grow the crop profitably, safely and responsibly, as well as with care for the environment. Established in 2000, the World Cocoa Foundation is a leader in promoting economic and social development and environmental stewardship in 15 cocoa-producing countries around the world.

South Africa's Competition Tribunal has approved the merger between mobile network operator MTN and Durban-based airtime retailer iTalk Cellular. MTN, which provides mobile voice and data services, will acquire the 59 percent of ITalk's shares that it does not already own, said tribunal registrar Lerato Motaung. MTN will thus hold all of iTalk's issued shares and exercise sole control over the company, which sells airtime, handsets and related products.

The World Bank Group has announced the creation of a $ 2 billion fast-track facility to speed up grants and long-term, interest-free loans to help the world's poorest countries cope with the impact of the global financial crisis. The International Development Association (IDA) Financial Crisis Response Fast-Track Facility, approved by the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors, will allow the Bank Group to provide rapid funding for social safety nets, infrastructure, education, and health. The facility would fast-track an initial $2 billion of the $42 bn of IDA15 resources available to 78 of the world's poorest countries over the coming three years. The facility will foster rapid Bank response to the pressing needs of IDA countries based on more swift World Bank analysis of those needs. It will finance expenditures needed to maintain economic stability and sustain growth, address volatility, and protect the poor. Operational responses will include funding budget expenditures in infrastructure services, education, and health and social safety nets. The new IDA Facility builds on the Food Crisis facility created earlier this year to support countries hit hard by the food crisis. Last month the Bank Group announced 3 other initiatives to help confront the financial crisis including a doubling of the Global Trade Finance Program to $3 billion, a global equity fund , supported by the Government of Japan to recapitalize distressed banks, and a new facility to provide roll-over financing to existing, viable, privately funded infrastructure projects facing financial distress.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is looking to increase its development impact in Mali by supporting an improved investment climate, developing programs in education and tourism and seeking investment opportunities in financial institutions, manufacturing, mining and tourism, IFC Vice President Thierry Tanoh told reporters today during his first visit to the country in this capacity. Tanoh was accompanied by IFC's new Director for Western and Central Africa Yolande Duhem. They met with businesspeople and key government officials, including President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure to discuss investment and advisory services opportunities in tourism, education, manufacturing, mining and the financial sectors. Since it began working in Mali IFC has mobilized about $134 million in investments. IFC's investment portfolio in the country stands at nearly $7 million, including gold mining company SEMOS, and loans to Hotel Salam, and Graphique Industrie. IFC's strategy in Mali includes expanding the Support and Training Entrepreneurship Program and the recently approved joint IDA-IFC Country Assistance Strategy. The country ranked 166 out of 181 countries in the IFC-World Bank Doing Business 2009 report which ranks countries based on the ease of doing business in the country and could benefit greatly from an improved business climate to attract more private sector investment.

Pan-African cellular operator MTN and fixed-line operator Neotel are to jointly build a 5 000km fibre-optic cable network connecting several major centres across South Africa. According to an article by Engineering News, the total cost of building the network will be about R2-billion, while the two companies will be able to save between R400-million and R500-million in capital and operational expenditure as a result of working together. The agreement with Neotel marks the biggest collaboration in the South African telecommunications industry, according to MNT. The first phase of the national fibre network will run from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal province, incorporating Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and also linking up with undersea fibre-optic cables such as Seacom, which is currently being laid, and Eassy. Construction of the first phase is expected to start in March, with completion ahead of the country's hosting of the Fifa World Cup in June 2010. According to the statement, the fibre-optic network will provide both companies with "almost infinite" bandwidth capacity to carry more voice and data information, at higher speeds, over greater distances, and using less power than conventional copper cables.By having their own network in place, both companies will no longer have to rely on competitor Telkom to provide them with bandwidth capacity, which MTN said was both costly and unreliable.

The first World Conference on Constitutional Justice, organised by the Constitutional Court of South Africa and the Venice Commission, took place in Cape Town from 23 to 24 January. The conference brought together, for the first time, courts of constitutional jurisdiction from all over the world, including Commonwealth courts and members of various regional groups of courts of constitutional jurisdiction. The conference explored the impact these courts have, both on their own societies and on the development of a global jurisprudence on human rights. At the same time, it will seek to promote co-operation between these courts, and further the development of global human rights principles. South Africa's Constitutional Court, established in 1995, played a crucial role in the finalisation of the country's first post-apartheid democratic Constitution.

South Africans are being invited to apply for a scholarship to study music and dance in Indonesia. The Indonesian government is again offering the Darmasiswa Scholarship for a variety of disciplines at Indonesian universities. According to an Embassy spokesman, the government of Indonesia is giving an opportunity for young South Africans to study various subjects of arts and culture in prestigious Indonesian universities and colleges through the 2009/2010 academic year. Students can choose subjects ranging from Indonesian languages to traditional music, ethno-musicology, shadow puppetry, traditional dance, crafts, painting, batik-making and photography. The Darmasiswa programme covers tuition fees, a monthly living allowance and a clothing allowance. 18 South Africans have already benefited from the scholarship and that four were currently participating in the programme for the 2008/2009 academic year. Over 5 000 students from 75 countries have participated in the programme since it started in 1974. The next programme will start in September 2009 and people younger than 36 who are interested in participating in it should submit their applications before 20 March. Interested individuals or art organisations can obtain application forms from the Indonesian embassy in Pretoria or http://darmasiswa.diknas.go.id

The work to establish three to five economic and trade cooperation zones in Africa proceeds smoothly, China’s Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said recently. The China-Africa Development Fund, aimed at encouraging and supporting Chinese enterprises investing in Africa, has also already invested nearly US$ 400 million. Chen led a Chinese government economic and trade delegation in January on a visit to the three African nations of Kenya, Zambia and Angola. Setting up three to five economic and trade cooperation zones in Africa is one of the eight measures proposed by Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006, regarding economic and trade cooperation with Africa. The Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the Nigeria-Guangdong Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Nigeria, the Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone and the Ethiopian Oriental Industrial Park are all under construction. Among them, the Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone was the first one established by China in Africa. In 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao unveiled the plaque of the zone together with Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, former President of Zambia. To date, the zone has developed well, as evidenced by the fact that 10 enterprises that have set up offices in the zone have signed contracts to make a total investment of more than 700 million USD in industries such as mining, smelting and chemical engineering. They will offer 3,500 jobs to local people and reach a total of 300 million USD in local procurement. The China-Africa Development Fund, officially launched in 2007, is currently China's largest private equity fund and its first equity investment fund focused on investment in Africa. The first phase of funding, 1 billion USD, was financed by the China Development Bank. Funding will eventually expand to 5 billion USD. During this visit to Africa, Chen looked specifically into how Chinese enterprises fulfill their social responsibilities there.

The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has signed a Shs 27.3 billion (US$ 350 million) deal with Qatar's Afro-Asia Investment Corporation (AAIC) for the development of a high class airport hotel and a conference centre. Managing Director, George Muhoho, said the investment was in line with the ongoing expansion programme at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi and that the investment would bring in much needed benefits to the aviation industry and the national economy. Muhuho further explained that both the Cabinet and the KAA board had approved the project. The deal entailed signing the lease documents, concession documents and contract agreement. The project involves construction of a 450-room, five-star hotel, convention centre, exhibition centres, international financial centre for Africa, multi-media centre, Europe and American trade centre, bonded warehouse and five office blocks, among other facilities. The new development is a culmination of three years of negotiations with the Qatari government on the need to bring on board private sectors and to develop Jomo Kenyatta International Airport into a premier hub. Under the deal, the Kenyan government has leased a 90-acre piece of land to the Qatari investment institution for a period of 80 years whereby Kenya would be getting a percentage of the gross earnings. The project is expected to stimulate the Kenyan economy and create more than 5,000 new jobs.

Nigeria and Dubai have signed a preliminary agreement worth $16 billion to develop oil and gas infrastructure in Africa's top crude producer, officials said. The deal will see Dubai World Corporation (DWC) wholly-owned by Dubai emirate, investing in projects in the restive Niger Delta, Africa's oil and gas heartland, which accounts for nearly all of Nigeria's around 2.0 million barrels of crude per day. Lack of development there is one of the grievances of militants who launched a violent campaign of sabotage against the oil industry in early 2006, shutting a fifth of Nigeria's crude output. Nigeria's Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa and Dubai's Sultan Ahmad Bin Sulayem signed the agreement on behalf of their governments. The agreement covers infrastructure projects with the main emphasis in oil and gas. It also covers investment in the real sector, agriculture and power. DWC, which was set up by the government of Dubai in 2006, manages and supervises a diversified conglomerate of businesses, investments and projects spanning over 100 different cities around the world, with over 50,000 employees.

Libya's only internet service provider is launching its first commercial wireless network which it says is one of the most advanced in the world. The state-owned firm said only a handful of countries have rolled out the advanced internet connection known as WiMax on such a wide scale. Libya Telecom and Technology aims to start with WiMax coverage, including a mobile feature, in 18 cities. Africa is seen as a potentially huge market for WiMax technology. The network is meant to be cost effective in the long run and does not depend on often poor conventional wire infrastructure. Anyone with a simple USB device which can be plugged into a laptop can connect to the internet within 50km (30 miles) of any WiMax tower. The new WiMax network, which has a capacity for 300,000 subscribers, will begin taking on business clients from next week and individual customers the week after. There are an estimated 51,000 broadband subscribers in Libya and some 170,000 still depend on the much slower dial-up internet. Both of these connections need a fixed phone-line, a service that has come under massive pressure in recent years because the available infrastructure is outdated and limited in coverage. The WiMax network is meant to do away with all these hurdles and bridge the digital divide, making the internet available to people across the country.

The MacArthur Foundation grant aims to expand and strengthen the network of human rights organisations in Nigeria, Mexico, and Russia that provide the basic infrastructure for a national human rights culture based on the rule of law. In Nigeria, the grants support leading human rights organisations, both nationally and in selected states. Special attention is given to the issue of police reform, including mechanisms for improving accountability and addressing police abuse of human rights, and efforts to strengthen Nigeria's legal architecture through reform of national laws and domestication of international treaties. Grants are made for work at the national level and for work in four states: Lagos, Kano, Plateau, and Rivers. Grants are awarded only to organisations that define clear objectives for their work and measures of progress toward those objectives. The foundation provides multi-year support. Proposals must fit clearly within the geographic and thematic priorities of the Human Rights and International Justice programme. Organisations interested in applying for support should submit a letter of inquiry to the Foundation as well as a one-page summary of the proposed project.

Global brewer SABMiller has announced plans to launch a new lager in south Sudan, becoming the first brewery in the country in 25 years. This follows the change in government in the south to semi-autonomous secular law. Identifying a strong market for a local beer brand, the company plans to invest US$ 37.3 million in the plant in creating a new beer in Juba, the capital of south Sudan. The new brewery expects to employ 250 people and also produce soft drinks.

Sasol continues to enlarge its international footprint through its latest venture, a strategic partnership with Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), to explore hydrocarbons in offshore Mozambique. Drilling commenced in early October 2008 with Sasol as operator of the consortium and equity split between Sasol Petroleum International, Petronas Carigali Mozambique E&P Limited and the Mozambiquan government and its national oil company. As early as November the group reported a natural gas discovery with the economic viability of the finding yet to be tested. The partnership forms part of Sasol's commitment to adding value to the economy and people of Mozambique.

Nedbank, currently South Africa's fourth largest banking group and a unit of London-listed insurer, Old Mutual, has entered into a business co-operation with Togo's Ecobank, creating a network of 1,000 branches and banking outlets in 3 countries throughout southern, west, east and central Africa. Aimed at creating a one bank experience, the alliance will provide clients of both banks with the ability to use one bank in multiple countries. This would benefit corporate clients in particular, with both banks enabled to provide them with shared advisory and technical experience.

Construction on West Africa's first toll road that will connect the towns of Lekki and Epe is to commence in 2009. The Lekki Peninsula has boomed as oil prices soared and the deal was closed before oil prices began to plunge. The project is expected to cost approximately US$ 382 million which will be supplied by the African Development Bank, Standard Bank and local and national governments and banks. Road users and businesses will benefit on completion of the project in three year's time, as traffic congestion in Lagos is expected to improve considerably. The state-owned oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, has signed a US$ 16 billion investment agreement with Dubai World Corporation. Funds will be allocated to infrastructure developments including dams, electricity, mineral resources and agriculture. This will not only benefit the operations of the oil company, but will also encourage existing and future business activity in the West African country.

Heritage Oil has made what may be the company's biggest discoveries yet in the Lake Albert Rift Basin. However, it will take two to three years to determine the full potential of the basin. Reserves are expected to exceed 400 million barrels of oil, making it potentially larger than the M'boundi oil field discovery in the Republic of Congo. The discovery bodes well for Uganda’s oil industry, although falling oil prices may counter the gains.

Angola will receive a loan of approximately US$ 1 billion from the World Bank between 2009 and 2013. The funds will be allocated to the diversification of the oil-rich country's economy away from oil – an important shift given the volatility of the oil price and especially the recent excessive decreases. US$ 250 million will be made available per year should the government decide to make use of the loan, especially for the manufacturing and construction sectors which the government expects to grow by 15.5% in 2009.

The Ecobank Group has increased its regional footprint with the opening of its latest affiliate in Uganda. The bank will enable banking services to be accessed easily between Kenya and its East African Community (EAC) partner states namely Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi where the bank has a presence. Ecobank Uganda opened for business with six branches in and around Kampala. The Uganda country affiliate brings to 26 the number of countries in Africa in which Ecobank operates. Ecobank is now consolidating much of its growth and expansion across middle Africa. This latest addition to its network also introduces Ecobank’s new corporate logo, which the group begins rolling out this month. It marks a new phase in Ecobank's development—one in which the bank intends to focus more on improving customer service, efficiency, productivity and performance.

Fitch Ratings has revised the Outlooks on Kenya's Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to Stable from Negative. The ratings were affirmed at 'B+' and 'BB-' (BB minus), respectively. The Short-term rating is affirmed at 'B' and the Country Ceiling rating at 'BB-' (BB minus). The Stable Outlook reflects the return to stability following the formation of a grand coalition government (GCG), in the wake of disputed elections held in December 2007, which remains intact and has put Kenya on the road to recovery, said the company. Although Kenya's recovery is being affected by the global economic slowdown and liquidity crunch, this will delay rather than derail a return to strong growth and Kenya's fundamentals remain supportive of a 'B+' rating. Public finances proved resilient to the country's political crisis. The deficit in FY08 (July 2007-June 2008) came in at 3.5% of GDP, below the projected 5.3% of GDP, reflecting strong revenue growth in the lead-up to the crisis, while reduced capital spending offset increased spending on security.

African Leadership Academy (ALA), the only pan-African secondary school dedicated to developing Africa’s future leaders, held its opening in February with guests including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel. African Leadership Academy expects to develop 6,000 leaders for Africa over the next 50 years. Its African Leadership Academy brings together promising 16-19 year old leaders from all 54 African nations for a two-year program designed to prepare each for a lifetime of leadership on the continent. In 2008, 1700 of the continent's top young leaders applied for the 100 places available in the inaugural class, making entry into ALA more competitive than Harvard University. ALA's program combines a internationally-recognized academic core with a unique curriculum focused on leadership, entrepreneurship and African studies, and is taught by 20 world-class educators chosen from a pool of 500 international applicants.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Abt Associates, Inc., has launched the Ethiopia Health Sector Financing Reform Project. The 15 million dollar project, which focuses on health care financing reform and health insurance, will improve the lives of over 40 million Ethiopians in the next five years by improving quality of health services, increasing access to health care and improving the utilization of modern health care. The project builds on the successful USAID-supported health financing reform of the Federal Ministry of Health and regional health bureaus, and will support a national health insurance initiative and implement health sector financing reforms at the regional level. This new, five-year Health Sector Financing Reform Project was designed jointly by the Ministry of Health and USAID, and funding for the project is provided by the American people through USAID and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The project will be implemented throughout the country in phases.

South Africa's JSE Limited has launched the Africa Board, a new trading segment on the exchange's main board featuring top companies from across the continent, in a bid to increase interest and investment in African companies. According to the stock exchange, the decision came about after it was continually approached by foreign investors looking for ways to diversify their portfolios; the Africa Board was conceived as offering the best value. Only companies classified as African by the South African Reserve Bank will list of the board, and a company is African if it is domiciled in Africa, says the Exchange. However, if a company is based outside Africa, but the majority of its activities are geographically located in Africa, then it also qualifies as an African company. An African company already listen on an exchange in its home country could still apply for a listing on the JSE's Africa Board. Foreign clients, including investors from within Africa, are able to trade on the Africa Board through local brokers, or alternatively through JSE member brokers. The establishment of the Africa Board was established to give Africans the chance to invest in profitable African companies, allowing "Africans to invest in Africa". Pension is a massive industry in South Africa and Africa, and the Africa Board gives pensioners and those with a bit of money behind them the chance to invest in Africa's top companies. The benefits to African companies listed on the board include increased trading hours and greater exposure, increased liquidity, improved product offerings, strategic positioning for the rest of Africa, and favourable listing requirements, fees and obligations.

Telkom's African expansion has taken another step forward with the acquisition of an additional 25% stake in Multi-Links, giving the South African fixed-line operator full ownership of the Nigerian telecoms company. Multi-Links is a national private telecommunications operator that has a Universal Access License, which allows it to provide fixed, mobile, fixed-wireless, international and data services in one of the continent's fastest-growing telecoms markets. The company also owns an internet service provider license. An independent expert has valued the 25% stake, to be purchased from Kenston Investments, at US$130-million (about R1.31-billion). Telkom acquired 75% of Multi-Links in May 2007 for $280-million. Since Telkom's acquisition of a 75% stake in Multi-Links two years ago, the company has increased its mobile subscribers from around 262,000 to more than 1.7-million as of the end of September last year. At the same time, the company has been increasing capacity in order to provide quality data products, especially to the corporate market. With its low penetration and pent-up demand for voice and data services, Nigeria is a market that will help advance Telkom's goals of becoming Africa's leading information communication technology provider.

A telemedicine programme has started in Cameroon in partnership with several international institutions, including UNESCO, the main promoter of the project, Cameroonian scientist and economist, Jacques Bonjawo, has said. Telemedicine is a rapidly developing application of clinical medicine where medical information is transferred via telephone, the Internet or other networks. The telemedicine programme in Cameroon plans to open four sites in rural areas connected to a main server from which specialists could make diagnostics and prescribe therapies. Cameroon's ministries of health and economy, the Cameroon Telecommunications Company (CAMTEL) and the national health professionals are partners in the programme that should be quickly expanded to other African countries, according to the promoter. After the pilot phase, the programme will probably expand the use of communication technologies in Gabon and to countries in West Africa. Several other southern countries, including India and Senegal, have experimented with telemedicine as a response to the shortage of health specialists and facilities in rural areas.

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to call for proposals for its revamped programme for the publication of text books for use in African universities. The programme was initially introduced as part of a broad set of objectives for achieving greater balance and relevance in curriculum development in African universities by making available to teachers and students, text books that are adapted to the African historical context and the environment of research and learning on the continent. In this role, it was conceived as an important element of the Council’s wider institutional mandate and publications strategy but it also helped, along side other CODESRIA publications, to assuage the book famine that afflicted the African social research community in the 1980s and 1990s. Through the revamped text book programme, the Council aims to continue to contribute to the nurturing and growth of younger African researchers brought up in a tradition of critical, engaged and rigorous scholarship premised on theoretical and methodological foundations that enable them to contribute meaningfully to the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge. To be eligible for consideration for support within the 2009 financial year of the Council, all applications should be received by 30 June, 2009.

The African Development Bank has developed a four-step plan to minimise the burden of the global financial crisis on African countries. The bank, which promotes economic and social development in Africa, has only recently seen success after two decades of structural adjustment, while the global financial crisis presents a threat. The Bank's President, Donald Kaberuka, has announced that the Bank has taken four major steps to minimise the burden, including setting up a $1.5 billion emergency liquidity facility and $1 billion trade financing facility. In addition, the bank has set up an African Bond initiative to mobilise resources. The Bank also plans to accelerate the finance system in order to make short and fast loan receiving procedures and reduce the red tape that slows funds from reaching low-income countries. The African Development Bank warned that many projects risked losing financing due to tightening global credit. This follows projections that the current global economy will affect Africa's economic growth. It is expected to slow to 3.5 percent this year, from an annual average of 5.8 percent over the last decade. It may even drop to 2.5 percent in 2010. This in turn means that Africa runs the risk of rising social tension, the rollback of economic reforms, unwise financial regulations and an erosion of global competitiveness, not only because of shrinking revenues and rising budget deficits, but also because of cuts in foreign investment and aid. The president of the only multilateral development body devoted specifically to Africa, cautioned against hasty decisions that were not anchored on sound confidence in light of governments attempting to recapitalise banks faced with a credit crunch.

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