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Venture studio Adanian Labs fuels startup growth in Africa

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In February 2020, as the world was shutting down, and as businesses downsized on account of the COVID pandemic, John Kamara was busy establishing another new startup, Adanian Labs, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. It had taken him two years to finally make this dream a reality, and nothing — not even the pandemic — was going to derail him.

And so, swimming against the tides, he set up the venture studio in partnership with co-founders Irene Kiwia and Bendon Murgor.

“People thought we were crazy,” Kamara, who doubles up as Adanian Labs’ CEO, told TechCrunch.

It may have been a tough period to build a business, but they sailed through with their mission.

“We stay the course with startups and make sure they become successful businesses — we de-risk them from failure,” said Kiwia.

How Adanian Labs started

The idea to build Adanian Labs was conceived in 2018, when Kamara was living and working in Cape Town, South Africa, where he witnessed the fast growth of the startup ecosystem, and how, in most countries, accelerators were the default launch pads. He thought the continent was ready for better support, beyond the mentorship and training that most accelerators offered.

“The startup ecosystem was growing but I could not fail to notice the problem of accelerators. You know, startups come out of accelerators and most of them do not have a real opportunity to go to the next level,” said Kamara.

“I thought, there has to be a way I can build something that could empower African founders and provide a better support infrastructure to startups…and in a way retrofit it to also build a business.”

Compelled to offer more value to startups, the co-founders launched Adanian Labs in Kenya, joining other players, like Nailab, in the space.

Adanian Labs targets idea-phase tech startups, offering them all-round support, including capital, advisory and operational backing, building them from the ground up.

It makes equity investment of up to $120,000 in these startups.

By the end of the one-year venture building program, the startups should have launched a product, onboarded and have repeat customers, have a defined revenue model and have raised or are in the process of closing seed funding.

“We help these startups build their teams, iterate where needed, until we find a market fit product,” said Kamara.

“I’m not delusional that every startup has to succeed, but from the moment they become part of the Adanian Labs it means that they have the potential to succeed,” he said.

Venture studio Adanian Labs is accelerating the growth of startups in Africa

A team is captured brainstorming. Adanian Labs plans to help build 300 startups over the next five years. Image Credits: Adanian Labs

Africa-wide Growth

In a period of two years, Adanian Labs has grown beyond Kenya, by establishing a presence in Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and Nigeria — some of the biggest startup and tech hubs in Africa.

It is eyeing a pan-African presence by 2025 as it races to help build 300 companies over the next five years. In the interim, the lab is planning on establishing a presence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Senegal and Ivory Coast, and considering a franchise model to help it fast-track its growth.

Having an Africa-wide reach means that startups under Adanian Labs are able to scale in other markets easily as they tap the venture studio’s existing infrastructure as a launchpad.

“Our presence in multiple countries means that our startups can launch in a second country or even five countries without thinking too hard about it. This means we are focusing on innovations that are applicable across all markets. Not just one,” said Kiwia.

“The speed at which our startups are able to scale to these markets is like 10 times because we have a presence, have local partners and we understand the terrain and the legal aspect of setting up,” said Kiwia.

Joy Mwangi, co-founder of Ada animation, a startup in the first cohort, confirmed this to TechCrunch, saying the lab’s wide network has also enabled them to tap talent from other major animation markets in the continent like South Africa and Nigeria.

While Adanian Labs takes in idea-stage startups, they also help investor-ready startups, with scalable products, fundraise. The venture studio is planning on building a fund that will target startups in the growth stage.

“We have encountered startups that are not young for us to incubate, they are doing very well but would never get the attention of VCs because they lack that visibility that we are bringing to these startups. So, we have a short program to help them raise,” said Kamara.

The venture studio is currently incubating its second cohort of 20 startups drawn from the five countries. The group succeeds the first cohort of 12 startups, which included eCoBbaPaylend and AfyaRekod, all three co-founded by Adanian Labs founders.

The eCoBba is a platform co-founded by Kiwia to digitize savings groups, tapping their data to extend their range of financial services. Paylend, which was co-founded by Murgor, helps small and medium businesses access credit, while AfyaRekod, co-founded by Kamara, is a patient-driven health tech startup that ensures patient data mobility. All these startups have raised on average $2 million each in seed funding over the last few months.

AI and Blockchain

Beyond the venture studio, the lab is allied to the Artificial Intelligence Center for Excellence (AICE) and Africa Blockchain Center (ABC), headed by Natasha Ochiel and Jeff Mkungusi respectively, which are independent training and consulting businesses. The AICE has trained 100 data scientists and AI engineers, while the ABC, which is backed by Asia-based blockchain and consultancy business Next Chymia Consulting, has skilled a similar number of blockchain engineers so far.

Adanian Labs said such investments ensure that there are enough skilled persons to build the next-generation startups.

“We’ve lost engineers to bigger companies. And we feel that we have a bigger responsibility to keep training the techies to keep up with the demand. And so, at Adanian Labs, we are not only building startups, we are building the next generation of African tech experts,” said Murgor, also head of the labs tech team.

Tech skills gap in Africa has become a thorny issue as multinationals like Visa, Microsoft, Google and East Africa’s biggest telco Safaricom snap up the few talents available in the market, forcing entities like Adanian Labs to come up with ways of bridging the gap. Besides, as multinationals look to Africa for tech talent, it has become important to increase the digital and tech skills locally.

“Many companies in Africa and beyond outsource the AI and blockchain expertise from India. And we want to change that, and that explains why our capacity building component is so critical, because that’s a lot of lost value. Also, for us to build 300 companies, we need the capacity to be local. The world is also shifting towards Africa, and we are preparing young people on the continent to be able to work in the tech space of the future,” said Kiwia.

And they seem to be living up to their promises as Adanian partnered with U.S. tech multinational Nvidia last year to collaborate on projects and train 4,000 AI engineers (through AICE) in Africa over the next few years.

Adanian Labs also recently partnered with LBank, a cryptocurrency exchange, to build a community of crypto and blockchain developers in Africa. Through ABC they will also run a crypto accelerator to help build next generation startups in the continent.

The venture studio, which is raising its Series A funding, also counts itself as one of the first partners of Emurgo Africa, also one of its first investors. Emurgo Africa is an arm of Emurgo, the official commercial division of the Cardano blockchain that is pushing to have “Cardano’s blockchain adopted as the technological platform standard in Africa for socially impactful solutions.”

Looking ahead, Adanian Labs hopes to overcome the current phase, where the global flow of deals is on a slow-down, and rise to power more startups and conquer more markets across the continent.

Reiterating this, Kamara said, “We built and made it work with the little resources we had. We did not stop then, and we do not plan to stop or scale down now. Adanian Labs has turned into an ecosystem, a place where people come to find value.”

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US senator urges Kenyan president to aid peaceful transition

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A visiting U.S. senator says he has encouraged Kenya’s outgoing president to participate in a “peaceful transition of power” amid the latest election crisis in East Africa’s most stable democracy.

“I’ll let the president speak for himself, but that was certainly a hope I expressed today,” Sen. Chris Coons told The Associated Press after his meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday. He said they discussed ways in which Kenyatta can play a “constructive peacemaking role” after leaving office.

Kenyatta has remained publicly silent since the Aug. 9 vote, adding to the anxiety as Kenya again faces post-election uncertainty and a likely court challenge by the losing candidate, Raila Odinga. Coons, leading a congressional delegation on a five-country Africa visit, was in Kenya in part to meet the key parties and urge that calm continue.

Sen. Chris Coons, second right, leading a U.S. congressional delegation, is accompanied by his wife Annie Coons, right, and Rep Dave Joyce, left, as he speaks to patient David Oduor, center, at his home, after visiting the Tabitha Medical Clinic run by CFK Africa in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. The delegation also met with current President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s new president-elect William Ruto, and opposition figure Raila Odinga who has said he will challenge his recent election loss in court. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Kenyatta had backed longtime rival and opposition leader Odinga in the close race against his own deputy president, William Ruto, who fell out bitterly with Kenyatta years ago. Ruto on Monday was declared the winner, but not before Kenya’s most peaceful election ever slid into chaos in the final moments.

The electoral commission split in two, each side accusing the other of trying to tinker with the results. It came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent ever, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online.

Now Odinga almost certainly will challenge the results in Supreme Court. His campaign has seven days from Monday’s declaration to do so, and the court will have 14 days to rule. Odinga has urged supporters to remain patient instead of taking to the streets in a country with a history of sometimes deadly post-election violence.

After meeting with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto, Coons told the AP “I was encouraged that in all three meetings we heard a commitment to a call for calm and tranquility, to respect the legal processes established in the 2010 constitution.” He said the conversations were about the rule of law, the importance of free and fair elections and peaceful transitions.

“Obviously, the United States has had a very difficult experience with these issues for the past few years,” Coons said, referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump tried to remain in power. “I said in all three meetings we have things to learn from Kenya.”

Kenyatta told Coons that Kenya would uphold “its position of a shining example of democracy in the continent by maintaining peace during this transition period,” according to a statement issued by the president’s office.

Coons said he did not come to Kenya seeking anything like the handshake that Kenyatta and Odinga, after prodding, famously shared to end months of crisis after the 2017 election, whose results were overturned by the Supreme Court over irregularities, a first in Africa. Odinga boycotted the fresh vote and declared himself the “people’s president,” bringing allegations of treason.

This time, with Kenyatta’s backing, the Odinga campaign felt he would win the presidency after a quarter-century of pursuing it.

Kenyatta is stepping down after two terms, itself a notable act in a region where longtime presidents like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have been accused of clinging to power through changes in term limits, manipulation of elections and crackdowns on dissenting voices.

The U.S. delegation is also visiting Rwanda, where human rights and violent tensions with neighboring Congo are almost certainly on the agenda following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit there last week. Coons said he looks forward to visiting again with Kagame.

Kenyatta has played a leading role in efforts to calm the Rwanda-Congo tensions and in trying to mediate in neighboring Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray conflict, with support from the U.S. Coons did not say what kind of peacemaking role he hoped to see Kenyatta play after stepping down.

Ruto’s public comments this week have been on domestic matters, not foreign, but Coons said the president-elect made an “expression of concern and intent in trying to help lead to positive resolutions” in such regional crises.

Coons also has played a role in trying to calm the Ethiopia conflict. But he told the AP the delegation was not having a meeting with Ethiopia’s government or the Tigray forces while in Kenya.

Coons, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and his delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and will visit Tunisia as well.

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How thousands of freed Black Americans were relocated to West Africa

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In the 1800s, the American Colonization Society relocated thousands of freed Black Americans to West Africa. It led to the creation of Liberia.

  • The American Colonization Society’s mission was to relocate freed Black Americans to Africa.
  • Starting in 1820, thousands of Black emigrants were shipped to what would become Liberia.
  • The society’s segregationist ideology has a lasting impact on America and Liberia.

On December 21, 1816, a group of fifty white elites gathered in a Washington, D.C. hotel to discuss the future of freed Black Americans.

Following the American Revolution, the number of freed Black Americans had grown from 60,000 in 1790 to 300,000 by 1830. The American Colonization Society emerged as the solution, with the mission of shipping Black people to a colony in Africa.

African Americans depart for Liberia, 1896.

African Americans depart for Liberia, 1896. The American Colonization Society sent its last emigrants to Liberia in 1904.Digital Collections, The New York Public Library

The organization was the brainchild of the Reverend Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey. The ACS’ early supporters included some of the nation’s most powerful and influential men, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Francis Scott Key, as well as slave-owning US presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison.

“Can there be a nobler cause than that which, while it proposes to rid our country of a useless and pernicious, if not a dangerous portion of our population, contemplates the spreading of the arts of civilized life?” Clay said in his opening address.

Membership certificate of Rev. Samuel Rose Ely, dated March 1840. The Society’s president Henry Clay’s signature is visible at the bottom right.Library of Virginia

Colonization, the state-sponsored emigration and resettlement of freed Black Americans outside America, was widely supported in the US for religious, economic, and social reasons. Even after its dissolution in 1964, the ACS has left a lasting legacy of segregationist sentiment in both America and abroad, according to historians.

“The establishment of the American Colonization Society was a watershed moment in American history,” Eric Burin, a history professor at the University of North Dakota, said. “What you have is a powerful white organization propounding a vision of America as a white person’s country, and African Americans responding with a resounding rebuttal that it’s their country, too.”

A ‘miserable mockery’

The ACS attracted a diverse crowd of white individuals, including slaveholders who saw colonization as a way to remove freed Blacks, whom they feared would cause chaos by helping their slaves escape or rebel.

Many white Americans also believed that African Americans were inferior, and should be relocated to a place where they could live in peace away from the shackles of slavery. Abraham Lincoln held this belief, which led him to support a plan to relocate 5,000 Black Americans to the Caribbean in the 1860s.

The ACS also had a religious mission of Christianizing Africa to “civilize” the continent, according to historian Marc Leepson.

The initial reactions of the Black American community and abolitionists were nuanced. Some activists, like James Fortein, immediately rejected the ACS, writing in 1817 that “we have no wish to separate from our present homes for any purpose whatever”.

But some other Black abolitionists were cautiously interested in the notion of an emigration program. Martin Delany, who was dismissed from Harvard Medical School after white students petitioned against the inclusion of Black students, claimed that even abolitionists would never accept Black Americans as equals, and so the solution lay in the emigration of all Black Americans.

“We are a nation within a nation,” Delany wrote. “We must go from among our oppressors.”

But even Delany ultimately condemned the ACS’s hallmark plan to send Black Americans to Liberia, decrying it as a “miserable mockery” of an independent republic.

It led to the creation of Liberia

As the ACS grew, it sought to create a colony in West Africa. On February 6, 1820, 86 freed Black Americans set sail to the continent.

Map of Liberia, 1850.

An 1850 map of Liberia. Pencil annotations were made to change the report to “by the American Colonization Society,” and to add place names.American Colonization Society/Library of Congress

The initial expedition — and the expeditions that followed — proved to be disastrous as disease and famine struck. Of the more than 4,500 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 40% were alive by 1843.

But the ACS, backed by funding from state and federal governments, continued to send more freed Blacks. In 1821, the society purchased Cape Mesurado from the indigenous people — by threatening the use of force, according to some accounts.

The land surrounding Cape Montserrado would later be known as Liberia, “the free land.” Its capital was renamed Monrovia in honor of James Monroe, an ardent supporter of the ACS.

The settlers developed an Americo-Liberian society that was strongly influenced by their roots in the American South, according to Burin. Americo-Liberians wielded vast socioeconomic and political power over the indigenous people — which planted the seeds for the Liberian Civil War of 1989.

“The Americo-Liberians realized they could essentially exploit the indigenous people for labor,” Burin told Insider. But it was a way for indigenous people to gain access to resources and education as well.

A lasting legacy of segregationist sentiment

Though the ACS eventually dissolved in 1964 after continuous opposition from abolitionists and a lack of interest by free Black Americans, historians said it shaped — and continues to shape — the country’s discussions of race.

“One of the ACS’ lasting legacies was the underlying ideology that drove the colonization movement forward: that Black people really aren’t Americans, at least not in the way that white people are,” Burin said.

The sentiment manifested itself in policies like Jim Crow-era segregation, and still has a grip on some Americans to this day.

A photo of children in Liberia, taken during an ACS mission trip in 1900.American Colonization Society Collection/Library of Congress via Getty Images

The second legacy of the ACS is Liberia itself. In 1847, Liberians declared the country an independent nation, becoming the second Black republic in the Atlantic after Haiti.

“The ACS founded a country that has had a distinctive influence over debates of freedom, slavery, and race today,” Burin said.

♦ Culled from the Insider

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OMG: 20-Year-Old Woman To Be Stoned To Death For Cheating On Her Husband

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A 20-year-old Sudanese woman has been reportedly sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery. Police arrested Maryam Alsyed Tiyrab in Sudan’s White Nile state in June. She was found guilty of adultery by a court on June 26.

Human rights activists continue to fight against the penalty as it violates domestic and international law. “The application of the death penalty by stoning for the crime of adultery is a grave violation of international law, including the right to life and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), based in Uganda. They added how Tiyrab was not given a fair trial and was not informed that the details she gave during interrogation would be used against her. Additionally, she was denied access to a lawyer.

Many groups and activists in Africa fear that the sentence of stoning marks the government’s attempts to roll back women’s rights. “The death by stoning case is a reminder that the criminal law reforms during the transition [government] were not complete, and that such harsh, archaic punishments are still officially on the books,” human rights lawyer Jehanne Henry said. She also added that the sentence “shows that harsh Sharia laws [and] penalties are still being implemented in Sudan.” Human rights groups are protesting for Tiyrab’s immediate release.

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