Guide to the Mexican Grand Prix

A guest post by Linda Kamau who has travelled from Nairobi to watch the Formula 1 Gran Premio De Mexico for two years in a row (2018 and 2019).

Getting there: For both trips, I have flown Emirates via Dubai and the USA. A ticket bought early will cost you between $1,200 – $1,500, but if you buy later, it may cost up to $2,500.

For both trips I have gone a week or two early and flown to Cancun then later got into Mexico City the weekend of the Grand Prix, flying on Interjet or JetBlue. In 2018 I did Nairobi – Dubai – New York – Mexico and in 2019, I did Nairobi – Dubai – Florida – Mexico. Using either of the flight legs will take a total of about 30 hours to get to Mexico.

For the visa, if you hold a valid US, UK or Japan visa then you do not need to apply for a Mexican visa. For both trips, I have not had to apply for a Mexican visa, as I hold five-year visas for both the UK and US.

As I always say, if you are transiting through JFK or Heathrow, ensure your flight connection is not less than 2 hours as the immigration queues can get quite long which might cause you to miss your flight.

Arriving at Benito Juárez International Airport, you are welcomed with images of F1 drivers just after baggage pickup. This is a circuit loved by many so there are a lot of people arriving for the race weekend, and immigration can take longer to clear.

An important thing to note, you have to fill in a landing card and once the immigration officer has stamped your passport, they give it back to you with a small part of the landing card that you will need to show when exiting the country. Losing it will cost you 300 Pesos, equivalent to $35.

Getting Around: Uber and Lyft are your friends here. They are way more affordable than regular taxis and can take cash too (Uber cash exists here). Mexico City is big, really big and it is not advisable to just walk around.

The local currency is called the Peso. The exchange rate versus the dollar averages at $1 = 18.10 pesos. Credit cards work but there is a general rule, to not withdraw money from just any ATM. If you have to withdraw, do it at an ATM in the bank. ATM fraud is rampant in Mexico.

Where to Stay: Due to how big the city is, traffic can be crazy. Therefore it is advisable to stay close to the race track (the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit) which is also close to the airport and can save you time for both going for the race and arriving and leaving Mexico city. In 2018, I used booking.com and stayed at Camino Real ($400 for 3 nights). But in 2019, because I was booking late, the same hotel now cost an arm and a leg. So I took a less expensive one – Hotel Hollywood Villas. The cost was $200 for 3 nights, and it was a ten-minute walk to the track.

What to Eat: Tacos, tacos and more tacos. Every corner you turn to, there is a restaurant selling tacos, other Mexican dishes and Tequila. I believe this is taken any time of day as there is no rule to Tequila, Mexicans just love their Tequila. I enjoy Mexican food so I did not get close to any McDonald’s or any other international restaurants, but they are in plenty.

Staying in Touch: As is my rule, immediately I land in a new country, I find the next SIM card store. Data/connectivity comes first even before that vital shower after a long trip. In Mexico, it’s advisable to get Telcel, it’s the largest network and very reliable. It will cost you about 20 pesos with 50 pesos airtime which totals to 70 pesos ($4). You can recharge at a store or you can do that online if you understand the Spanish on the Telcel web page.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: In the city, you can go see Our Lady of Guadalupe, the largest Cathedral after the one in the Vatican. It’s quite a tourist attraction but also a great marvel of architecture.

With Mexico being so far away from Kenya, it would make sense to add in a vacation and see more of the coastal side. I have spent time in Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen and if I were to choose I would go back to Playa Del Carmen. It’s calm, less touristy and you are close to both the beach and city life. There is also the Chitchen Iza (pyramid ruins) and all the Cenotes (naturally occurring sinkholes) in the islands.

I did sample the nightlife in Mexico City with local friends I made after the 2018 GP. We are now F1 buddies, and we sync our trips and plan to attend the newly-added Grand Prix in Miami in 2021. We spent a night dancing salsa at a Cuban joint called Mama Rumba. It was fascinating to watch both the old and young dance – salsa is for all and so is the club.

Race Day: The race is at 1:10 p.m. but that is quite late for Kenya as it’s an 8- hour time difference – so adjust your body clock. It can get quite humid even though October is the rainy season in Mexico. It sometimes rains for an hour and then quickly goes back to being humid.

In 2018 I got a seat at the Grada 4 Grandstand; this is in the area where the cars make their second turn and you have a great view of most of the circuit including the Grandstand. The 2018 race saw Lewis Hamilton clinch his fifth title in Mexico and he did some spins in his Mercedes for the crowds after. Grada 4 gives you that thrill and also you get to enjoy the after-party as you can hear and see the DJ.

Race Tickets: For my first visit, I had bought my ticket on the F1 website which cost $460 for the 3-day package. On practice day I went to pick my ticket from the ticket station at the Circuit. It is advisable to attend on all the three days, as you get to familiarize yourself with the location of the track and especially which gate you will use to go in and which side of the circuit you will be sitting on during the race.

In 2019, my Mexican friends bought the tickets and we got to sit on the side where you see the cars as they start the race just before turn 1. It was nice to watch home crowd cheering Sergio Perez ‘Checo’ and he delivered his best race for his fans after a tight fight with Daniel Ricciardo.

In both of these Mexican Grand Prix races, Mercedes were not the favourites even though in 2018 Hamilton just needed to finish top-six to clinch the title, which he did. Ferrari’s strategy got the better of them again in 2019 and Hamilton took advantage and went on to win the race getting him closer to his sixth driver’s championship.

Also, see this other 2019 F1 race trip report – A Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Digital Roadmap launched in Nairobi

The Pathways for Prosperity Commission launched a new Digital Roadmap report in Nairobi outlining steps that developing countries, especially in Africa, can follow to prepare for a future that will be vastly different thanks to rapid digital developments.

The Report outlines broad recommendations on issues like digital identity and payments while ensuring all citizens are included and have their rights protected. It emphasizes how physical infrastructure and connectivity are essential and how they are combined with continual educational processes to build flexible skills that young people can adapt to different careers of the future.

It encourages developing countries to come up with their own localized digital governance structures and not import these wholesale from developed countries. Collaboration should see all participants in government work with the private sector and civil society. Governments should break down silos, and also make rules that allow for technological innovation by not being too rigid. Also, of some relevance to Kenya, is the need to consider county governments in planning for a digital future.

“We have seen the impact of mobile money on Kenya, but in the digital ocean coming to hit Africa, mobile money is a toe in the water,” said Strive Masiyiwa (Econet) who, along with Melinda Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), serves as a Co-Chair of the Pathway’s Commission

He added that the world was at another moment like it was at the start of the internet era, around 1995, and with artificial intelligence poised to add $16 trillion to the world economy, African countries should aim for a tenth of that and grow their continent’s GDP from its current $2.5 trillion. 

The Commission also launched a Digital Manifesto with 10 steps to transform economies. Some of the measures proposed include empowering all citizens, securing their data, developing digital identity & digital financial systems, providing social safety nets, and enabling investment environments suitable for different countries. New ways of finance include deploying pension funds as local venture capital, and nurturing patient angel capital groups such as the ones in Nigeria and South Africa that have sprung up to finance other young entrepreneurs. 

Countries also need to use technology to build resilience. One potential roadblock cited was the possibility that incumbent giants in different countries would use their governments to seek protection from new technologies.

Double 11 (Singles’ Day) Festival in China

November 11 marks a huge shopping festival by Alibaba in China. Known as “Singles’ Day” or “11.11”, it is now acknowledged as the largest e-commerce day in the world. It is mainly on Alibaba platforms like Tmall and Taobao. Rival commerce sites such as JD.com and Lazada also run their own festival days during China’s long shopping season.

Singles’ Day 2019 saw another record year of sales reaching $23 billion (158 billion yuan) in nine hours. Sales hit $1 billion in the first minute and 500 million shoppers were expected to participate. This was achieved despite a slowdown in China’s economy and the ongoing trade spat with the US. Singles’ Day is three times bigger than the largest US largest shopping day – Cyber Monday which had $8 billion of sales in 2018.

Some numbers about Singles’ Day from Jing Daily.

  • On 11.11, Alibaba sells more on one day than many countries do in a year.
  • Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a plan for the company to attain $1 trillion of gross merchandise volumes in 2020 and create 100 million jobs, and serve 2 billion customers. As such the company is expanding in other countries. In 2017, Russia, Hong Kong and the US were the main markets.
  • International brands are signing on with discounts and specials, and in 2018, 237 brands, including Apple, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Gap, Nike, and Adidas has sales of 100 million Yuan ($14 million) on Singles’ Day.
  • The holiday was originally aimed at young men (bachelors), but has now evolved such that key targets for brands include China’s 400 million millennials, the “aspirational class” and women, the “she economy.” 
  • Over 80% of the Singles’ Day sales are made on a mobile device .. so retailers need to enhance the whole shopping experience by employing unique mobile features like live streaming, interactive games, virtual reality, video marketing, and digital storytelling.
  • On Singles’ Day in 2017, 1.5 billion transactions were processed by Alibaba’s Alipay.

Other Notes:

Kenya’s Safaricom, which has a partnership with AliExpress, also had some Singles’ Day promotions. They signed a deal in March this year enabling Kenyans to shop on ALiExpress and pay with M-Pesa.

The Jack MA Foundation runs an annual Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) that awards a total of $1 million in prize money to ten African entrepreneurs each year.

Read more about 11.11 from Jing Daily here.

EDIT: Alibaba reported that Singles’ Day 2019 generated US $38.4 billion of gross merchandise volumes. It featured 200,000 brands and resulted in 1.3 billion delivery orders.

Banking Week: Interest caps go and Stawi starts

Interest-Caps: This week saw the end of the era of capping of interest rates, that was seen as a populist three-year experiment to reign in large banking-sector profits.

The Government had tried to repeal this, without success, several times over the last few years, and bankers and the IMF have also been vocal about the unintended, and detrimental effects of the caps, on the economy.

Parliament stuck to its guns to the last minute, making farcical attempts to keep the caps in place. But as only 161 MP’s were present to vote, they could not proceed to over-ride the President, as they needed 2/3 of Parliament to be present. While some lawmakers have in the past argued that this high constitutional threshold (of requiring a vote of 233 MP’s) gives the President power to make laws, this has been upheld by the Courts.

The caps did not stop the “super profits” at large banks, but they did weaken smaller banks by limiting their interest-income growth. In the interest capped era, large banks found shifted their lending lend to a national government with an insatiable borrowing appetite, as opposed to small businesses, and when these credit lines shut off, small banks were hit with a rise of non-performing loans.

Stawi: This week also saw the formal launch of Stawi after a pilot phase in which that 80,000 had signed up for this banking industry response to the mushrooming of unregulated loan apps.

Stawi aims to promote savings and lending for small businesses. It is a bank account, opened and operated on phone, and owners can move money through M-pesa (for a flat fee of Kshs 42) and Pesalink. Stawi is hosted by the Commercial Bank of Africa, and, like with its M-shwari product, banking services are only rendered on the app, not at branches.

Users of Stawi have to be registered and in business for six months. New users are encouraged to make Stawi their primary account and to channel transactions through it to get a borrowing limit.

On downloading the app, one is assigned a loan limit based on credit their credit history. Stawi offers unsecured loans of between (~$292) KSh30,000 to (~$2,432) KSh250,000 that can be repaid between one to twelve months at rates of 9% per year.


AfDB’s record capital call of $115 billion

The shareholders of the African Development Bank (AfDB) have approved an increase of its capital to support its future development finance and impact across the continent over the next decade.

Meeting in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in October 2019, the shareholders, representing 80 countries, approved an increase in the AfDB’s authorised capital, from $93 billion to $208 billion. At the end of 2018, the Bank had assets of $47 billion and $58 million of net income.

The voting power of shareholders includes Nigeria (9.3%), Egypt (5.6%), South Africa (5%), Algeria (4.2%), Morocco (3.6%), Côte d’Ivoire (3.7%) and Kenya (1.4%). African nations have a total of 59% of the voting powers, while other nations, including the USA (6.6%), Japan (5.5%), Germany (4.1%) and Canada (3.8%), have total votes of 41%.

The path to the seventh capital increase began back in January 2018 and has gone through several steps including interactions and progress review updates with shareholders and partners that were summarized at the 2019 AfDB annual meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

The last capital increase was in 2010. Some of the highlights of the funding during the sixth period include the establishment of agro-industrial zones across Ethiopia and arranging $1 billion in finance for South Africa’s Eskom to expand its generation and transmission capacity. There was also the Sene-Gambia bridge, which was the realization of a 40-year dream to connect two countries, the 895-kilometers Addis-Mombasa highway and the expansion of Namibia’s Walvis Bay port to become a regional logistics hub.

A bank study of the impact of its $1.4 billion investments in East Africa region, between 2013 and 2015, found that this had resulted in the addition of $1.2 billion to the economies of the different countries and created over 380,000 jobs

The new funding, which will be called up from shareholders between 2020 and 2025, is intended to finance the Bank’s High 5 priorities and maintain its AAA rating with the top rating agencies. Over the next decade, the AfDB plans to double the funding efforts towards energy and agriculture, with targets to allocate 25% and 20% respectively, to the two sectors by 2031.

The Bank has lined up a three-year pipeline of projects to lend to, including $15 billion in 2020 and $13.6 billion in 2021. Some of the planned projects are targeted at improving continental transport networks, supporting climate change initiatives, and increasing access to electricity and water. One of them is a “Desert-to-Power” initiative that aims to transform the climate-fragile Sahel region into the largest solar zone in the world that will generate 10-gigawatts and impact 250 million people.