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Nigeria Becoming Destination for Africa’s Promising Tech Startups

In February, the Nigerian technology startup CrowdForce announced a big break: It had received $3.6 million from investors to expand its financial services operations to many more underserved communities.  

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Tomi Ayorinde said new funding will boost its mobile agent network from 7,000 to 21,000 this year.

“We were looking to scale faster and really gain market share,” Ayorinde said. “And what we’re doing is also very impact-related because we’re creating jobs, avenues for people to make extra income in their communities. So, it was also very interesting for impact investors to be part of what we’re trying to do.” 

When Ayorinde helped launch CrowdForce seven years ago, he intended it to be a data collection company. But after about two years, the company overhauled its business model when Ayorinde realized it could fill a need for bank accounts.   

“When we collected data of 4.5 million traders what we saw was, a lot of them didn’t have bank accounts and the ones that have bank accounts had a very tough time accessing the cash that was sent to them,” said Ayorinde.”That’s when we kind of realized that there’s a bigger problem to solve here.”

Experts say about 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people lack access to banks or financial services. Technology startups in Africa are trying to fix that, said the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association known as AVCA.   

In a recent report, the industry group said African startups attracted $5.2 billion in venture capital last year, and that West Africa – led by Nigeria – accounted for the largest share of investments.    

AVCA research manager Alexia Alexandropoulou said investors are looking to tap into Africa’s huge population of young people.    

“Africa is the world’s most youthful population, so as the proportion of skilled labor increases, then the result will be more human capital in order to power African businesses and also the industrial development within the continent,” said Alexandropoulou.

AVCA’s report also cites increased internet penetration in Africa and more favorable government policies as contributing to increased investments in financial technology services knwoFintech.  

But Fintech Digital Marketing Expert Louis Dike said there are obstacles to overcome, such as weak currencies and policies.  

“Africa is not a perfect place because it’s still made up of virgin markets,” said Dike. “The standard of living is quite low, our regulations are not consistent, today the government will say this and tomorrow they will change the law and restrict some startup activities.”  

But with new talents emerging in technology, more startups with big dreams are emerging in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. 

 

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Musk: Doubt About Spam Accounts Could Scuttle Twitter Deal

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his deal to buy Twitter can’t move forward unless the company shows public proof that less than 5% of the accounts on the social media platform are fake or spam.

Musk made the comment in a reply to another user on Twitter early Tuesday. He spent much of the previous day in a back-and-forth with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who posted a series of tweets explaining his company’s effort to fight bots and how it has consistently estimated that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are fake.

In his tweet Tuesday, Musk said that “20% fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be much higher. My offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate.”

He added: “Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of 5%. This deal cannot move forward until he does.”

Twitter declined to comment.

It’s Musk’s latest salvo over inauthentic accounts, a problem he has said he wants to rid Twitter of.

At a Miami technology conference Monday, Musk estimated that at least 20% of Twitter’s 229 million accounts are spam bots, a percentage he said was at the low end of his assessment.

The battle over spam accounts kicked off last week when Musk tweeted that the Twitter deal was on on hold pending confirmation of the company’s estimates that they make up less than 5% of total users.

Also at the All In Summit, Musk gave the strongest hint yet that he would like to pay less for Twitter than the $44 billion offer he made last month.

Musk’s comments are likely to bolster theories from analysts that the billionaire either wants out of the deal or to buy the company at a cheaper price. His tweet Tuesday came in reply to one from a Tesla news site speculating that Musk “may be looking for a better Twitter deal as $44 billion seems too high.”

“Twitter shares will be under pressure this morning again as the chances of a deal ultimately getting done is not looking good now,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives, who covers both Twitter and Tesla, said in a research note. He estimated that there’s “60%+ chance” that Musk ends up walking away from the deal and paying the $1 billion breakup fee.

Musk made the offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14. Twitter shares have slid since then. They were down slightly in Tuesday morning trading to $37.28.

To finance the acquisition, Musk pledged some of his Tesla shares, which have slumped by about a third since the deal was announced.

In tweets on Monday, Agrawal acknowledged Twitter isn’t perfect at catching bots. He wrote that every quarter, the company has made the estimate of less than 5% spam. “Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” Agrawal wrote.

Estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5%, he wrote. “The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.”

Twitter has put the under 5% estimate in its quarterly filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission for at least the last two years, well before Musk made his offer last month.

But in the filings, Twitter expressed doubts that its count of bot accounts was correct, conceding that the estimate may be low.

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When Not Tending to War Wounded, Ukraine Rock Star Jams With Bono, Sheeran

Taras Topolya is a Ukrainian rock singer. From the first day of the war in Ukraine, he has been working as a paramedic with the country’s Territorial Defense. But when he has a break, he plays with big names in the Western music industry. Lesia Bakalets has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. VOA footage by Yuriy Zakrevskiy.

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Convicted Killer Turned Tech Whiz Confronts His Sordid Past

When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details.

Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors.

With his company set to go public, Hershtik’s past is coming under new scrutiny, raising questions about whether someone who took a person’s life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent.

“When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant,” said Hershtik, now 46. “You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don’t contradict each other.”

Today, Hershtik is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018, while behind bars, which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test.

In a three-hour interview with The Associated Press, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.

Hershtik was convicted of murdering Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper he met when he was 14. The two had a bumpy relationship.

Sela was known for having numerous girlfriends at once, one being Hershtik’s mother. Hershtik said he felt uneasy with how Sela treated some of the women, including his mother.

In early 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him, and the two agreed that instead of involving the police, Hershtik would pay him back double that amount. Court documents say Hershtik instead planned to murder Sela.

Pulled over during a drive to gather the money, an accomplice of Hershtik’s fired three shots at Sela, using Hershtik’s mother’s pistol. He then handed Hershtik the gun, according to the documents, and Hershtik shot Sela in the head at close range.

The pair shoved Sela’s body into the trunk and buried it in a grove in the Golan Heights, according to the documents. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela’s body was found.

The sensational crime gripped the nation.

In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik lied repeatedly in his attempt to distance himself from the murder.

Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included his mother.

Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder and obstructing justice, among other crimes.

He would serve 25 years, during which time Hershtik earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and got married three separate times. He said he established 31 companies, selling six of them.

But prison was also a fraught time for Hershtik. He said he spent 11 years in quarantine because of health issues. He was punished twice for setting up internet access to his cell, in one case building a modem out of two dismantled DVD players.

Last year, a parole board determined he had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a danger to society.

As part of his early release and until 2026, he is under nightly house arrest from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He must wear a tracking device around his ankle at all times and is barred from leaving the country.

A free man, Hershtik sat recently with the AP in his office in the central city of Rehovot, Israel.

His start-up is waiting for regulatory approval to merge with a company called NextGen Biomed, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would make Scentech public.

Hershtik said the company’s product is being finalized for detecting COVID-19 through a patient’s breath, and it is working to add other diseases such as certain cancers as well as depression. The product is meant to provide on-the-spot results in a non-invasive way.

The company has received a patent for its technology in Israel and said it is preparing to apply for FDA approval soon.

Hershtik said the merger values the company at around $250 million and that he has raised more than $25 million in funding over the last two years through private Israeli investors. A large part of the investment is from Hershtik’s own money, although he won’t say how much. Prisoners in Israel aren’t barred from doing business, but

Hershtik’s success is rare.

His company is backed by prominent Israeli names, including Yaakov Amidror, who chairs NextGen and is a former chief of the country’s National Security Council.

“According to the rules of the country, the man is allowed to rehabilitate. He paid his price and he rehabilitated. So there is no reason not to help him rehabilitate,” Amidror, who testified to the parole board on Hershtik’s behalf, told the AP.

But Hershtik’s past is already haunting him. Hershtik was demoted from CTO earlier this year to his current position, in part because he didn’t want his crime to scare away investors.

“Harel has always said if for some reason his presence is a problem and the company would be better off without him, that he’s willing to leave the company,” said Drew Morris, a board member and investor.

As Scentech seeks to take its product to market, investors will need to decide whether Hershtik’s rap sheet influences where they put their money.

Ishak Saporta, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, said he believed investors would be drawn to the company’s potential for profit rather than deterred by Hershtik’s history.

“What concerns me here is that he became a millionaire. He paid his debt to society in jail. But does he have a commitment to the victim’s family,” Saporta asked.

Tovia Bat-Leah, who had a child with Sela, suggested he help fund her daughter’s education or create a reptile museum in Sela’s name.

“He served his time but he should also make some kind of reparation,” she said.

Hershtik sees the good that could come about from the company as the ultimate form of repentance. He said he could have used his smarts to create any sort of company with no benefit to society but chose health tech instead.

“Trust me, this is not for the money,” he said.

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IBM: 6 Black Colleges Getting Cybersecurity Centers

Six historically Black universities in five Southern states will be getting the first IBM cybersecurity centers aimed at training underrepresented communities, the company said.

The schools are Xavier University of Louisiana, that state’s Southern University System, North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State, Clark Atlanta and Morgan State universities, according to a news release Tuesday.

“Technology-related services are in constant demand, and cybersecurity is paramount,” said Dr. Ray L. Belton, president of the Southern University System based in Baton Rouge.

The centers will give students, staff, and faculty access to modern technology, resources, and skills development, said Dr. Nikunja Swain, chair and professor of the Computer Science and Mathematics Department at South Carolina State, in Orangeburg.

“It will further enhance our ongoing activities on several key areas, including cybersecurity, data science analytics, cloud computing, IOT, blockchain, design thinking, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence,” he said.

IBM said it plans more than 20 such centers at historically Black colleges and universities nationwide.

The company said each school will get customized courses and access to company academic programs. They also will be able to experience simulated but realistic cyberattacks through IBM Security’s Command Center.

The company said it also will provide faculty and students free access to multiple SaaS IBM Cloud environments.

Xavier is in New Orleans, North Carolina A&T in Greensboro and Morgan State in Baltimore.

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Iranian Film Workers Arrested, Homes Raided

A renowned Iranian filmmaker has said that the offices and homes of several filmmakers and other industry professionals were raided and some of them arrested in recent days.

Mohammad Rasoulof made the comments on Instagram late Saturday, posting a statement signed by dozens of movie industry professionals.

The statement also claimed that security forces confiscated film production equipment during the raids. It condemned the actions and called them “illegal.”

In a separate Instagram post, Rasoulof identified two of the detained filmmakers as Firouzeh Khosravani and Mina Keshavarz. Rasoulof himself was not targeted in the recent raids.

There were no immediate comments from the Iranian authorities on the raids, and no additional details were immediately available.

Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize in 2020 for his film “There Is No Evil.” The film tells four stories loosely connected to the themes of the death penalty in the Islamic republic and personal freedoms under oppression.

Rasoulof was sentenced to a year in prison shortly after receiving the award, but his lawyer appealed the sentence. He has been banned from making films and traveling abroad.

Iran occasionally arrests activists in cultural fields over alleged security violations.

Iran’s conservative authorities have long viewed many cultural activities as part of a “soft war” by the West against Iran and an attempt to tarnish the country’s Islamic beliefs.

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Russia Artist is 76-year-old Voice of Protest on Ukraine

Yelena Osipova barely slept ahead of Russia’s pomp-filled Victory Day celebrations on May 9.

The 76-year-old artist was up late, making placards to protest about the conflict in Ukraine.

But the moment she stepped out of her home in St. Petersburg on her way to demonstrate, two unknown men snatched the work from her and ran off. 

“It was upsetting. I’d worked half the night and really liked those placards,” the white-haired painter told AFP. 

“It’s obvious that it was an organized attack.”

Indefatigable as ever, within an hour, the tiny, stooped woman, who moves with difficulty, already had a new poster and was heading out again to protest.

Osipova is well-known in her hometown.

She has been called the “conscience of St. Petersburg,” Russia’s second city, after two decades spent publicly opposing the rule of President Vladimir Putin.

Since the Kremlin’s forces rolled into Ukraine, she has also become a symbol of Russians standing up against the conflict.

Footage of her frequent detentions by riot police has been widely circulated on social media.

“The main thing is that people should say these forbidden words today: ‘No to war,'” said the former art professor.

But in Russia that is a risky prospect.

Protests have been ruthlessly stamped out and those criticizing the campaign — a “special military operation” in official parlance — risk a 15-year jail term.

‘Silence means agreement’

Osipova first started taking to the streets two years after former KGB agent Putin took power in 2000.

She has been demonstrating ever since against what she says are the crimes committed by the Russian authorities.

She protested in 2014 when Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and against the fighting sparked in the east of the country.

Now she is focused on Putin’s full-fledged offensive against Russia’s pro-Western neighbor.

“If people accept all this, then it means they are not thinking about their children,” she said as she showed AFP her work in her flat.

“I’m dedicating my placards to this idea: what world are we leaving to our children?”

She shows off one poster with the face of a young girl shouting “No to war” on a yellow and blue background, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. 

Another of a child has the slogan “What world are we leaving behind us?”

“Since 2002 I haven’t been able to stay silent, because silence means agreement with what is happening in my country,” she said.

“That’s why I go to protest.”

Her flat with its decrepit vaulted ceilings is in the heart of Russia’s former imperial capital and has been home to her family for three generations.

Its two rooms are cluttered with pictures and posters with pacifist and anti-Kremlin messages.

“I don’t want to serve as cannon fodder,” reads one poster of a soldier. “Wives and mothers, stop the war,” says another.

A third proclaims: “We are all hostages of the provocative politics of imperial power.”

On one wall hangs a large photo of a young man: her only son, Ivan, who died of tuberculosis in 2009 at 28.

Osipova has been frequently detained by the police, but they now know her so well that they sometimes just take her straight home rather than to the station.

“I’ve long ago stopped being scared for myself,” she said defiantly.

“In your own homeland you should not be afraid, but if you love it you should feel that you are the one in charge.” 

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