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Mobius investor raises Sh3bn for tech start-ups

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By BRIAN NGUGI
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Playfair Capital, the UK venture capital firm — whose founding partner Federico Pirzio-Biroli is an early-stage investor in Kenya’s Mobius Motors — has raised $32 million (about Sh3.2 billion) for investing in promising tech start-ups.

The company said it plans to invest the funds over the next three to five years.

The firm, however, did not clarify to the Business Daily how much of the war chest by one of London’s top venture capital funds will be channelled into Kenya and which sectors it would be eyeing.

Mr Pirzio-Biroli recently relocated to Kenya but will still act as chairman of Playfair Capital. When he announced he was shifting to Nairobi as his base for African expansion, experts predicted African start-ups could be lined up for angel investment by the firm.

An angel investor provides capital for a business start-ups, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.

“I’m delighted to be announcing … the launch of Playfair’s Fund II,” said Mr Pirzio-Biroli in a statement.

“With the new fund we will seek out start-ups that use deep tech and data to create a defensible proposition that has longevity. We are hugely excited about opportunities in the deep tech, SaaS and marketplace segments where we have already demonstrated success”.

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Mr Pirzio-Biroli last year said he plans to keep his stake in Mobius. Through Playfair Capital, he has invested in more than 20 companies across the UK, Europe, the US and Africa.

“Mobius is a fantastic example of ‘Africa 2.0’ — businesses that provide critical products and are playing a key role in the region’s industrialisation. Our continued commitment to the company reflects our excitement to realise this vision,” he was quoted saying.

Playfair also has some stake in Andela, a Nairobi and Lagos based company that trains programmers for placement with tech giants.

Andela received about $24 million (about Sh2.4 billion) investment from Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan (his wife).

Mobius Motors, which pioneered production of a stripped-down car model for African roads, has lately announced plans to boost production with its new Mobius II.



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President Kenyatta’s Easter message of goodwill to Kenyans

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Dear Kenyans,

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The circumstances under which we find ourselves during this year’s Easter holiday are unusual. Our world is going through a period of intense trial brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

We have had to adopt unique measures which we hope will bring an end to the suffering caused by this global pandemic.

Everyone is doing his or her part to the best of their ability and I must commend those who have given tirelessly their resources, skills and expertise to help us get through this difficult period. I thank especially the researchers, doctors, nurses, clinical officers, emergency personnel and security teams who have been on the front lines of this fight. We would not be able to do it without you.

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While the Easter period is often celebrated with close friends and family we are finding that this year it must be different due to the preventative measures we have put in place for our own safety and for the safety of our loved ones. The circumstance of the present however, should not blind us to the spirit and intention of Easter and the message inherent in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I urge all Kenyans, both at home and abroad to reflect on the resurrection story and remember that all things, even suffering, come to an end through unity and faith. Kenya and Kenyans have been tested many times before and we have always done what is necessary to pull through all difficulty and adversity. We have always found inspiration in ourselves and each other to find the sunshine after the storm.

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Today we are in a storm. We have refused to give up and we will see the end of the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya. We must come together by staying apart and breaking the chain of infection. Let us continue to observe good personal hygiene by washing hands and observing social distancing in our communities.

Though these actions are personal, by doing them together we can all do our part in defeating this disease.

There may be difficult days ahead but let us remember that suffering is temporary but triumph is eternal. We will be triumphant if we all do our part.

I wish you all a blessed Easter.

Uhuru Kenyatta, C.G.H., President of the Republic of Kenya

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Two firms begin mass face masks production : The Standard

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Some of the tailors at Kitui County Textile Centre producing face masks. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Government efforts to curb the spread of Coronavirus has seen two garment factories in the country burst into full-time mass production of face masks.

Kitui County Textile Centre (Kicotec) based at Syongila has been turned into a 24-hour production house where 30,000 pieces of masks are being produced in a day.
Eldoret-based Rivatex is also running mass production of face masks.
According to Kicotec’s CEO Georgina Musembi, the garment factory that bagged a tender from the national government last year to produce uniform for chiefs has halted all other productions to concentrate on masks.
SEE ALSO: China virus cases spike, 17 new infections reportedSave lives
“Our driving force is to ensure that we play a role in combating the spread of Covid-19 in the country and save lives,” Musembi told The Standard yesterday during an interview.
The official said orders for the masks were increasing by the day, adding that they were making efforts to scale up the production per day to 100,000 pieces “or even more”.
For More of This and Other Stories, Grab Your Copy of the Standard Newspaper.   Read Now »
She revealed that those who have placed large orders for the masks include county governments, NGOs, corporate entities, private hospitals and parastatals that include Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Kenyatta National Hospital has also placed a large order.
Working shifts
SEE ALSO: China confirms virus spreading between humansMusembi said that company tailors were working on day and night shifts, for eight hours each shift, in order to meet the demand.
In the past, the tailors numbering about 400 would work during the day and retire to their homes.
However, as a precautionary measure to minimise their interactions with people outside the facility, the county government has opted to accommodate all of them at Syongila Youth Polytechnic which is within the same compound.
“They no longer go home. We have decided to accommodate and feed them here as a precautionary measure against the spread of the disease,” said Musembi.
After production, the masks are neatly arranged in labelled boxes each carrying 100 pieces. A box, according to Musembi, is sold out at Sh10,000.
SEE ALSO: Factbox: What we know about the new coronavirus spreading in China and beyondThis would perhaps seem a bit expensive to the ordinary person but Musembi insists it caters for the production costs and a profit margin.
To ensure Kitui residents get much affordable masks, she said the county government had identified and trained local tailors in different centres to produce masks at a much affordable price.
On Monday, Governor Charity Ngilu went round Kitui town giving the masks to small-scale traders and boda boda operators as well as matatu crew.
“These group of people are our first target (for free masks) because they interact with so many people. We are putting every effort to ensure we minimise the risks of spreading the virus,” Ngilu said.
She revealed that Kicotec was up for the challenge of producing quality masks after getting quality standardisation and approval from Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).
SEE ALSO: Travelers to be screened for ‘Chinese’ coronavirus- GovernmentThe governor established the garment factory early last year amid a controversy on its ownership, which at one time saw the County Assembly deny the facility funds for its operations.
Governor Ngilu has, however, insisted the factory belongs to the public.
Dr Temi Mutia, the officer in charge of value addition at the county government, said the raw materials for the production of the surgical masks were readily available in the country.
Mutia noted that the materials approved by the World Health Organisation and Kebs for making the face masks are non-woven and include polypropylene materials No. 17 and Polypropylene No. 20.
“They are currently available in Kenya so we don’t need to import them from South East Asian countries,” he said.

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Are you suspecting that you have coronavirus? Before you rush to the hospital, do this quick easy self-assessment test. #StayHome #WashYourHands HERE.

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CoronavirusKitui CountyKitui County Textile Centre

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Mass gatherings and the coronavirus » Capital News

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Thousands fans travelled to watch their team Atalanta play Valencia in Milan on February 19. Soon after their city of Bergamo in northern Italy was a virus hotspot © AFP/File / Miguel MEDINA

Paris, France, Apr 10 – Congregations of a secretive South Korean sect, an assembly of French evangelists and major European football matches: as the new coronavirus radiated across the planet it seeded clusters of infections at mass gatherings that helped magnify its spread.

With around half of humanity under lockdowns that have radically altered the contours of daily life, social activities such as sharing a meal with friends and family or standing among a scrum of fans at a sports event have suddenly become prohibited in many places.

The spread of coronavirus in South Korean has been traced to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu © AFP/File / Jung Yeon-je

But even as China eases restrictions on the outbreak city of Wuhan and some European countries consider lockdown exit routes, experts say plans to celebrate will need to stay on ice.

“The worst scenario would be a VE day type celebration where everyone’s on the street, kissing and hugging each other,” said David Lalloo, director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

“That would certainly guarantee that any remaining individuals who did have infection are more likely to spread it,” he told AFP, advocating instead for a “much more controlled, gradual return”.

Even as areas like China’s Wuhan ease their lockdowns, there are questions whether social distancing will continue to affect behaviour © AFP / NOEL CELIS

Mass gatherings, in celebration and in sorrow, are an intrinsic part of human life. They also give budding pathogens a well-documented opportunity to amplify transmission.

The devastating 1918 influenza pandemic — which infected about a third of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people — rebounded at the end of World War I as people celebrated Armistice Day and soldiers demobilised, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

– Patient 31 –

A particular risk at a public event is the potential presence of a so-called super-spreader — a person who sheds the virus on a greater scale than others and can infect large numbers of people.

“If that individual happens to be at a mass gathering and for whatever reason there is very close contact between people, then I think we have seen several examples where a mini outbreak within an epidemic has arisen from a single episode,” Lalloo told AFP.

In South Korea they call her “Patient 31”.

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On February 10 — a month after the World Health Organization said a coronavirus could be behind a mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan — a 61-year-old South Korean woman developed a fever.

The woman, a devotee of the Shincheonji sect, attended at least four church services in the city of Daegu before she was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Pope Francis was still seeing mass weekly audiences at Saint Peter’s square on February 26 © AFP/File / Tiziana FABI

Within weeks thousands of infections — most of the country’s total — were linked to Shincheonji members.

“The pattern is very common. You go to a family gathering or religious gathering and you catch the thing and then you go off to your locality and then spread it,” said KK Cheng, director of the Institute of Applied Health Research at Birmingham University.

He told AFP that the huge annual exodus of people for holidays and family visits around Lunar New Year likely seeded the international spread of COVID-19.

France reported the first death outside Asia in mid-February.

Saudi Arabia emptied Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, for sterilisation after the kingdom suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage © AFP/File / ABDEL GHANI BASHIR

Later that month, some 2,000 evangelical Christians gathered in the eastern town of Mulhouse, including several people unknowingly carrying the virus.

The meeting has since been linked to cases all over France and the Grand Est region is struggling with one of the country’s most severe outbreaks.

On February 19, as infection numbers were beginning to rise in northern Italy, Bergamo’s Atalanta football team played a highly anticipated Champions League match against Valencia in Milan.

Tens of thousands of Bergamo residents travelled to the game and others crowded together at home and in bars to watch.

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“It’s clear that evening was a situation in which the virus was widely spread,” Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori said last month as the virus raged across his city.

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Cheltenham Festival was held on March 10 in line with UK public health guidance at the time © AFP/File / Glyn KIRK

Spanish club Valencia said 35 percent of their team and staff tested positive for coronavirus following the trip to Milan.

On March 10, two days after northern Italy went into lockdown, the Cheltenham Festival horse racing event began in Britain, attracting more than 250,000 people over four days.

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, as the Champions League match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid went ahead in the UK.

Liverpool council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton has since told the Guardian newspaper that “it was not the right decision” to hold the game.

Even as governments and organisations began announcing sweeping postponements — from music festivals and the Olympic Games to Saudi Arabia’s year-round “umrah” pilgrimage — more cases emerged.

India began putting about 15,000 people under quarantine on March 18 after a “super-spreader” Sikh guru who had travelled to European virus hotspots went preaching in villages in northern Punjab, before falling ill and dying of COVID-19.

Saint Peter’s square on March 27, as the pope arrived to preside over a moment of prayer © VATICAN MEDIA/AFP/File / Handout

The reluctance of officials to stop big events — in Britain the government did not impose restrictions until late March — meant “some people would have died, some would consider, unnecessarily”, said KK Cheng.

But he said policymakers were faced with a new disease and no easy answers.

A “draconian” response could be so successful that nothing happens and it attracts accusations “that you have damaged people’s livelihoods”.

“It is easy to criticise,” Cheng said.

“And those of us who don’t have to make decisions like this should feel grateful that we are not in those positions.”

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– ‘Endanger millions’ –

The issue of how and when to restrict public events has unleashed debate among experts.

In an article published last month in the Lancet, members of the WHO’s Novel Coronavirus-19 Mass Gatherings Expert Group discussed the organisation’s guidelines for how to assess the potential risks of holding events.

While the authors conceded that in the past mass gatherings “have been the source of infectious diseases that have spread globally”, they said public health measures had reduced the threat in recent years — enabling large events to go ahead despite virus outbreaks.

As the airport in Wuhan reopened on April 8, medical staff from Jilin Province (in red) embraced nurses from Wuhan who they had worked with during the outbreak © AFP / Hector RETAMAL

In response, another group of specialists warned in a letter to the journal against giving “explicit approval” to planned events during an “escalating global pandemic”.

“Allowing mass gatherings under these circumstances has the potential to endanger millions of attendees and upon return home also those who remained in their countries of origin,” said the authors.

The original authors responded in turn, saying the WHO guidelines would be helpful as nations “start removing restrictions and rebuild communities and economies”.

– ‘Hugging strangers’ –

In the meantime, event organisers and religious leaders are innovating new ways to reach their audiences.

Pope Francis livestreamed his Palm Sunday mass from a deserted Saint Peter’s Basilica, and in some countries the Islamic call to prayer has been tweaked to urge people to stay at home.

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Mass gatherings are an integral part of human society © AFP/File / Vincenzo PINTO

With cultural venues closed down, organisations from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to Berlin’s Philharmonic are streaming concerts online.

Sports teams are considering hosting fan-free tournaments.

Lalloo said policymakers should beware of “perverse consequences” of interventions, such as holding matches in empty stadiums but allowing people to gather in bars.

He said the speed with which societies return to holding events with large crowds might be affected by the experience of social distancing itself.

“Are you going to be more nervous about hugging strangers or shaking hands? I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.

“But I don’t think ultimately there will be changes in the way we watch sport, or concerts or whatever in the future.”

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