From Rwanda To Kenya, Beyond The Game Of Thrones In Africa

Rwanda's Paul Kagame in Nyanza on July 14
Rwanda's Paul Kagame in Nyanza on July 14
Alaric Moras


"If I have been unable to mentor a successor or successors that should be the reason I should not continue as president. It means that I have not created capacity for a post-me Rwanda. I see this as a personal failure."

These words were uttered by none other than Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2012. Five years later, it's a telling admission as Kagame — who has been in power for 17 years — won elections again, this time with 98.63% of the vote. Only two individuals were allowed to contest the elections, and they were only permitted to campaign the week before the vote. These astounding limitations aren't actually surprising: Kagame had already declared the August election "a formality". Rwandans had also previously voted in favor of amending the constitution on incumbents standing for re-election. That means that Kagame, 59, will be in office until at least 2024, and could potentially rule until 2034.

Another East African country, Kenya, is about to face elections tomorrow. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing challenger Raila Odinga. As it has in the past, the campaign has centered around ethnic identity. More problematic, however, is the climate of suspicion that surrounds the election, with fears that vote-rigging could trigger violence similar to that in the wake of the 2007 election, when more than 1,400 people were killed.

These factors, as well as local dynamics in each country, can make elections appear too complex to the foreign eye.

From this landscape, it's easy to write off these nations as hopeless. But this would be short-sighted. Countries like Kenya and Rwanda lead Africa"s growth trajectory. Since Kenya's last election in 2013, foreign investment there has risen. Money is being poured into infrastructure. In Rwanda, Kagame rules over pristine streets in a country that once saw genocide. Poverty and inequality are rapidly falling, while foreign investment in industries such as solar power is booming.

Free and fair elections have long been problematic in African nations where powerful and corrupt dictators sometimes rule endlessly and where opposition and media often face crackdowns. Corruption is also a grave concern, as is political repression. These factors, as well as local dynamics in each country, can make elections appear too complex to the foreign eye. French daily Le Monde, for instance, attempted to explain Kenya's upcoming vote with a video that drew a parallel to Game of Thrones. What such explanations miss is the need in these countries to build strong democratic institutions to accompany economic growth.

I would say it but I think Kagame's quote above puts it across most eloquently.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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