Category Archives: Ebola

Black Panther vs. Wolf Warrior

How do you write about a movie without giving away parts of it to anyone who has not seen it? I was spurred to see the movie “The Black Panther” after attending a networking dinner where half the guests had seen it and eagerly wanted to talk about it across the table while some of us pleaded that there not be any discussion until the rest of us had seen it.  

As I write this, the Black Panther has crossed the $1 billion revenue mark. When I saw a preview of the movie sometime in December it looked like another mindless action movie set in an American city. But the film with a predominantly black cast is set in Los Angeles, Seoul, and primarily in a fictional African country called Wakanda. 

The movie has been well received in many markets due to its positive portrayal of Wakanda which has massive mineral wealth reserves that the residents have harnessed to develop an advanced technological economy while remaining hidden and portraying themselves to the world, as another poor African country.

It has a mix of new and-well established stars, as familiar faces like award-winning Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Lupita Nyongo have meshed well with several upcoming stars who have worked hard in their careers to get to their big break in the Black Panther. Fred Swaniker, the co-founder of the Africa Leadership Academy, recently wrote about Danai Gurira, a Zimbabwean college-friend of his, who he advised not to study theatre, as it was a waste of time; but she ignored his advice and now portrayed the scene-stealing female general in the Black Panther. 

Black Panther is directed by young black director Ryan Coogler who has a knack for turning movie budgets into large paybacks. And Black Panther is now the 20th highest-grossing movie of all time on a list dominated by comic and children themed movies. Films get on this list when audiences enjoy, re-watch, and tell others to see them. And local entrepreneurs and celebrities have offered to pay for whole groups and classrooms in cities like Atlanta and Kisumu to watch the Black Panther. 

For Kenyans, the film has been well received, and one report that it is probably one of the largest-grossing local films due to Lupita’s appearance.  I got in touch with my friend Chris Foot, Chairman of the Kenya Film Commission to ask about if Black Panther could have been shot in Nairobi and he mentioned that Coogler had actually visited Kenya for research but ultimately the producers decided that the movie would be primarily filmed in the US. 

What’s remarkable about the Black Panthers’ billion-dollar haul is that it was achieved before the movie was shown in the large China movie market. In reading about expectations ahead of Black Panther’s opening in China I came across this article which looks at if the Black Panther movie would change the views of Chinese citizens about Africa.

The article mentions a movie, called the Wolf Warrior II, which was released in July 2017 and became best-selling Chinese movie in history, grossing $874 million. Wu Jing directed and stars in it as an indestructible Chinese soldier who foils rebels in a fictional African country where senseless wars break out that have soldiers shooting at each other and killing civilians even as an Ebola-like disease decimates communities. In it, Chinese are revered as do-gooders in medicine and industry who are not to be harmed in Africa, except by the white mercenaries who are orchestrating the wars. 

Finally, the imagery of Africa in Wolf Warrior II, which was filmed in present-day South Africa, is more realistic than Black Panther’s futuristic utopia of Wakanda. And the global success of the Black Panther movie will not change American or Chinese views about Africa but it may inspire more interest in African countries, stories, and projects.

This was written in March 2018 but not approved for publication as my regular column on financial issues.

Edit: Reading “The Ride of a Lifetime”, Robert Iger’s autobiography of his time as Disney CEO, in which he made three huge acquisition – of Pixar, the Star Wars franchise and Marvel comics into the Disney empire, he writes that one of the proudest creations of his tenure was the Black Panther movie. 

It defied the notion that a black-led superhero movie could perform at the box office, on top of challenging a prevailing view in Hollywood that movies with predominantly black casts and black leads struggled in international markets. This had resulted in fewer black-led films being produced, with fewer actors, and smaller budgets to mitigate box-office risks. 

Coronavirus in Kenya: Week One

The Outbreak

  • March 13: The Ministry of Health confirms the first case of coronavirus in Kenya on March 12 from a Kenyan citizen who returned to the country from the USA via London 
  • March 22: Kenya confirms 8 new cases, bringing the total number to 15. It is tracing 363 other people and institutes a mandatory shutdown of major social activities in the country. 

Banking Industry:

  • March 15: President Uhuru Kenyatta appealed to banks and mobile operators to reduce the costs of mobile transactions and calls on Kenyans to use credit cards, mobile money and other forms of cashless payments. 
  • March 16: Safaricom waived fees for M-Pesa payments below Kshs 1,000 (~$10) for 90 days and raises M-Pesa transactions limits to Kshs 150,000 and also increases daily transaction caps and maximum mobile money wallet sizes up to Kshs 300,000 ($3,000). Airtel and Telkom Kenya follow suit a day later. 
  • March 18: Bankers meet the President at State House where the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor announces that all commercial bank personal loans that were there in good standing on March 2, are eligible for extensions for up to one year while SME and corporate borrowers can approach their banks to be assessed for loan restructuring, with the cost borne by banks. Also, that banks would no longer charge fees for customers to check their bank balances.
  • Different banks announced their compliance with the new rules.   
  • March 19: The Kenya Bankers Association confirms that all banks will assist clients who come in to speak about how COVID-19 has affected their employment or business operations, and whose loan repayments were up to date as at 2 March 2020. They also ask all customers to observe 1-metre (or 3 feet) social distancing at branches
  • March 20: The CBK announces presents Kshs 7.4 billion ($74 million) to the Government to support the coronavirus fight efforts. This it says are the proceeds from the demonetization exercise that concluded in September 2019 and is the sum of (old) Kshs 1,000 notes that were not turned in and which the CBK had classified as being miscellaneous receipts. 

Famous People in Quarantine

  • March 18: Senator for Kericho County Aaron Cheruiyot announces on twitter that he is in self-quarantine. 
  • March 19: Members of Parliament and Parliamentary staff who arrived from London on March 9 are reported to be in self-quarantine. 
  • March 19: Ambassador Macharia Kamau Kenya’s Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announces on twitter that he is in self-quarantine after returning from New York. 
  • March 20: Jane Marriott, the British High Commissioner to Kenya announces on twitter that she is in self-quarantine, following her trip to the UK. 
  • March 22: Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health announces that Gideon Saburi, the Deputy Governor of Kilifi County, has been apprehended and put in a mandatory 14-day quarantine after he failed to isolate himself after returning from a trip to Germany. Also that he will be charged in Court after his isolation period. 

Mandatory Quarantine in the Eastern Africa region 

  • March 18: Uganda announces immediate mandatory quarantine for arriving visitors, at their cost.  
  • March 21: Ethiopia announces mandatory for passengers arriving from March 23, at their cost. However, diplomats will be quarantined for 14 days at their embassies, while transiting passengers will be placed in isolation at the Ethiopian Skylight Hotel until they resume their connecting flights.
  •  March 22: Kenya has suspended all international flights other than cargo from March 25. Also, all arriving passengers will undergo mandatory quarantine at a government institution at their own cost. 

Internal country shutdowns

  • March 14: Rwanda closes schools, places of worship, large gatherings, and asks people to work from home. 
  • March 15: Kenya’s President announced the Government has closed all schools, suspended official foreign travel, and will encourage all employees to work from home. 
  • March 18: Uganda closes schools, universities and bars, and bans weddings and religious services for a month. 
  • March 21: Rwanda closes its borders to movement of people and cancels international flights, other than cargo ones. It also suspended tourism and research in 3 national parks where gorillas are found.
  • March 21: Nigeria shuts its airports to international flights as coronavirus cases reach 22.  
  • March 21: South Africa closes its airspace to foreign travelers.
  • March 22: Kenya orders a suspension of religious services at all places of worship, closure of bars and bans gatherings including weddings, and birthday parties. Restaurants are to remain open for delivery services and funeral events are restricted to a maximum of 15 mourners.

Flight cancellations/ Airlines reschedulings:

  • March 17: Kenya Airways updates its schedule, reducing London flights to five times a week, Dubai & Johannesburg to once daily, and Johannesburg to two daily. It also suspends flights to Bangkok, Khartoum, Djibouti & Mogadishu. 
  • March 18: Rwanda announces a halt to all commercial passenger flights into/out of the country on March 20 including operations of Rwanda Air for 30 days. 
  • March 19: Kenya Airways suspends flights to Antananarivo, Bamako, Bangui, Blantyre, Brazzaville, Kigali, Kilimanjaro, Luanda, Yaounde/Douala, and Zanzibar. 
  • March 20: Ethiopian Airlines announces 30 routes closures. The list is not revealed till the next day – and the listed countries include Egypt, Lebanon, Somalia, Djibouti, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad, Madagascar, Angola, Congo, Mali, Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Indonesia, Israel and all US ones. 
  • March 20: South African Airways immediately suspends all operations until the end of May following a government notice prohibiting the embarkation/disembarkation of non-SA crew and passengers. The only flights that will remain will be domestic service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
  • March 22: Emirates announces cancellation of all passenger flights from March 25 .. but .. 
  • March 22: Turkish Airlines to suspend most of its flights – leaving just a handful of flights to New York, Washington, Addis Ababa, Moscow & Hong Kong (via AlexinAir).
  • March 22: Kenya Airways suspends all international flights. Cargo flights remain, as will passenger services to Mombasa and Kisumu. 

Corporate Restructuring’s: 

  • March 13: Trading was suspended at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. This came following news of the discovery of the first coronavirus case in Kenya and the main share index dropped by over 5%. Past instances when circuit-et breakers have been tripped include in the period of post-election violence in 2008, and in September 2017, on the day that Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the results of the August 8 presidential election. 
  • March 13: Kenya’s insurance regulator, IRA, communicates that insurance companies will continue to provide their services to policy holders affected or infected with the virus .. but insurance companies say their re-insurers do not cover pandemics such as Coronavirus. 
  • March 16: Ethiopian Airlines restructuring plans include scaling up cost-saving programmes and asking service providers for temporary relief, discounts and waivers. They have also started to renegotiate all contracts, including aircraft leases as well as scaling down offices and reducing staff.
  • March 16: Java adjusts seating and promotes delivery as do other restaurants. But many other restaurants closed. 
  • March 18: It was revealed that The Standard Group plans to lay off 170 workers. 
  • March 18: Churches to restrict attendance numbers.
  • March 18: The African Development Bank cancels all travels and requires staff to work from home. The Bank’s Board of Directors is reviewing the configuration and design of the Bank’s statutory Annual Meetings originally scheduled for May 26-29, 2020 in Abidjan
  • March 18: Kenyan listed companies and licensed investment schemes that were to host annual general meetings (AGM’s) in March, April and May 2020 have been asked to defer them to later dates.
  • March 20: Kenya Airways CEO sends a memo to staff following COVID-19 and writes that in the last 24 hours, nine countries in our Africa network, the UAE and India have announced travel restrictions. So far, we have reduced approximately 65% of our flights, and this is changing by the hour. He announces that instead of layoffs they will ask staff to take salary reduction and paid & unpaid leave. The leadership team and he will take 75% and 80% respectively, while that for other staff will be 25% or 50% depending on the pay grade.
  • To facilitate supermarket shopping home deliveries, Tuskys has partnered with Sendy and Naivas has partnered with Glovo.

Government Adjustments 

  • March 16: The Ministry of Lands closes all land registries for 28 days from March 17. 
  • March 16: Kenya’s Sports & Culture Ministry closes all museums, archives, stadiums, public libraries, and cinemas for 30 days.
  • March 18: Kenya’s National Assembly and Senate both go on a month-long recess. 
  • March 18: Kenyan courts embraced digital filings and rulings of cases. 
  • March 19: Public health campaign to stop the spread is launched. 

Uplifting News

  • March 21: A thread to help those losing jobs their jobs this week and to help match their skills with part-time or remote-work opportunities. 
  • March 22: The first shipment of medical relief equipment offered by the Jack Ma Foundation arrives in Africa for distribution to different countries. The total will be 500,000 test kits and one million masks had been pledged on March 13.

Guide to Freetown, Sierra Leone

A guest post

Getting There: Lufthansa and Brussels will get you as far as Abidjan and local carrier operating under them will get you into the country. There’s also Kenya Airways and Air France. Flights are still very limited and very expensive due to the Ebola outbreak; it’s not hard to get in or out with the right planning but don’t expect a couple of flights to choose from every day, more like one to choose from every couple days.

On Arrival: Lungi International Airport isn’t so bad.  Quick walk to the terminal and the bags arrived fairly quickly.  But getting into downtown Freetown is another matter.  I don’t want to wager how long a taxi ride would take as it’s a US$40 shuttle and boat ride into town after your plane lands.  Also, there’s only one company — Sea Coast Express — running boats at the moment, so not a lot of options.  When we landed it was about a 20-minute ride to the boat, 30 minutes to board, and 30 minutes across the water.  And that’s on a good day.  For other colleagues it’s been a 3-4 hour process; one mentioned she got the last boat leaving that day and that was at 17:00 (though we landed at 5 p.m. and were fine).  The boats operate on the flight schedule and fewer flights equal fewer boats.  Bottom line is that it’s safe to assume there will be a boat for your flight but have a backup plan to spend a night in Lungi if you’ve missed the last boat out — much safer and simpler than trying to spend five hours drive there in the dark.

Getting Around: We hired a driver for the week, which is recommended.  Taxis are common but so is picking up as many fares as once throughout the ride to maximize profits.  Boda bodas are everywhere and fastest from their numbers and weaving through traffic.  Buses are another option but unsure of the routes and the morning commute had queues about 75 meters long by 09:00.

It’s very secure, for walking around, even toward the evening.  Just keep in mind that it’s a city and like any city in the world just don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine.  Don’t flash money around, keep your valuables out of sight, and take taxis everywhere after dark, etc.

Staying In Touch: I was not able to use my personal cell line, which is a first as it promotes international access, including data.  While I could have enabled some service, data and calls were prohibitively expensive.  It was off to Airtel for local SIM cards, which did not take long to open a new account (about 30 minutes).  Charging and top up stations are all over the city, so never far from finding someone who could provide more airtime at about 500MB for 50,000 Leone.  An SMS is about 500 Leone and the average call around 2,000 Leone.

Where to Stay:There were lots of hotels offering a good range of amenities.  Colleagues who had been here before, opted for the Country Lodge, which was sufficient and offered excellent views of the city.  This time we stayed at The Hub Hotel, one of the newer facilities, which was excellent with a bar, restaurant, pool, good view, comfortable rooms, and is only going to get better  as their gym is nearly done.  It fills up quick though; and we had to make the booking a couple of months in advance.

Electricity is very reliable. The most we noticed at larger facilities were the generators flipping over in the evening, even at the start of the rainy season.  Outages happened, of course, but the longest I think we waited was just a few minutes.

Eating Out: Star beer everything but a good selection just about everywhere we went.  Food is very broad in the selection as well; chicken and rice is the most common.  Discussion was local politics (the Vice President was recently ousted), and the Ebola response.  As a Liverpool fan, all I could find were Man U. fans, so there was talk of sports but unfortunately no one understood basic good versus evil on that front.

English is the official language, to the point where I only even heard some other local dialects from other chiefdoms a couple times and briefly throughout my week there.  Several local English papers and radio stations.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Probably missed it but didn’t come across a main shopping area.  But stalls are everyone; some streets have them the entire length with everything from shoes to books to computer parts.

While I didn’t get a chance to go — ah, the tease of business travel — everyone who talked about sightseeing started and ended with the beaches.  River Beach No.2 seemed to get the most mentions between its amenities but mostly the seclusion it offers for those willing to drive a little further to get there.  Don’t think you can go wrong at any beach there.

Hotels average about US$130 with breakfast included; dinner would be about another US$25.  Dollars are acceptable but Leones are preferred.  Much more importantly, however, is Sierra Leone basically doesn’t use credit cards.  The bank system is improving but it’s a ways away from making ATM’s a common sight.  Our hotel accepted cards but somewhat reluctantly and with an additional 4% service charge.  So bring cash and lots of it.

Odd Points: Get used to not shaking many hands due to Ebola, even for those you’ve just met – wasn’t odd but sensible given the situation, just off putting at first.  We did dome fist bumps or bumped elbows; most just get right to the conversation.  It’s best to not even try and deal with the awkwardness of not shaking hands versus trying to shake the hand of someone who is clearly uncomfortable but still trying to be polite.

Biggest surprise: Not a real surprise was how common health safety about Ebola was but I was surprised at just how much safety-related propaganda was all around.  It’s everywhere, which course is a good thing and speaks to why (Ebola) is in decline now.