The destruction of Iranian drones last year was an early example of a new regional military project that President Biden is trying to shore up during his Middle East visit.
The deaths of migrants in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, is gut-wrenching.
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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, on travels through the Middle East and North Africa over the past week, was urged by Arab leaders to make good on past promises.
The meeting of diplomats from Israel, the U.S. and four Arab countries was momentous just for taking place. But in private, they tried to hash out differences over Iran and the war in Ukraine.
The countries, which have their own relationships with Russia, have provided some modest backing, but Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will ask for more.
Four Arab foreign ministers will meet in Israel’s Negev desert on Sunday, along with their U.S. counterpart. The talks mark a realignment of Middle Eastern powers, accelerated by the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has driven up the prices of staple foods and energy across the Middle East and North Africa ahead of the Muslim holy month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting.
The gathering of top diplomats from Israel, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Morocco, as well as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, is a sign of how quickly Middle Eastern alliances are shifting.
Madrid endorsed a plan for limited autonomy for the territory in northwestern Africa, but the change in policy was denounced by independence groups and could aggravate relations with Algeria.
Egypt imports most of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and is looking for alternative suppliers. And Tunisia was struggling to pay for grain imports even before the conflict.
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Thousands of migrants have drowned trying to reach Spain in the past year. This is the story of a man who is committed to returning their bodies home.
Martín Zamora, the owner of a funeral parlor near Gibraltar, has found an unusual line of business among the relatives of those who drown trying to reach Europe.
The moderate Justice and Development Party may have lost control of Parliament, according to early results, in the latest defeat for Islamists in the region.
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Over the weekend, an international consortium of news outlets reported that several authoritarian governments — including Mexico, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — used spyware developed by NSO Group to hack into the phones of thousands of their most vocal critics, including journalists, activists, politicians and business executives.
A leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets was obtained by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with the reporting consortium, including The Washington Post and The Guardian. Researchers analyzed the phones of dozens of victims to confirm they were targeted by the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which can access all of the data on a person’s phone. The reports also confirm new details of the government customers themselves, which NSO Group closely guards. Hungary, a member of the European Union where privacy from surveillance is supposed to be a fundamental right for its 500 million residents, is named as an NSO customer.
The reporting shows for the first time how many individuals are likely targets of NSO’s intrusive device-level surveillance. Previous reporting had put the number of known victims in the hundreds or more than a thousand.
NSO Group sharply rejected the claims. NSO has long said that it doesn’t know who its customers target, which it reiterated in a statement to TechCrunch on Monday.
Researchers at Amnesty, whose work was reviewed by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, found that NSO can deliver Pegasus by sending a victim a link which when opened infects the phone, or silently and without any interaction at all through a “zero-click” exploit, which takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the iPhone’s software. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak said in a tweet that NSO’s zero-clicks worked on iOS 14.6, which until today was the most up-to-date version.
Amnesty’s researchers showed their work by publishing meticulously detailed technical notes and a toolkit that they said may help others identify if their phones have been targeted by Pegasus.
The Mobile Verification Toolkit, or MVT, works on both iPhones and Android devices, but slightly differently. Amnesty said that more forensic traces were found on iPhones than Android devices, which makes it easier to detect on iPhones. MVT will let you take an entire iPhone backup (or a full system dump if you jailbreak your phone) and feed in for any indicators of compromise (IOCs) known to be used by NSO to deliver Pegasus, such as domain names used in NSO’s infrastructure that might be sent by text message or email. If you have an encrypted iPhone backup, you can also use MVT to decrypt your backup without having to make a whole new copy.
The toolkit works on the command line, so it’s not a refined and polished user experience and requires some basic knowledge of how to navigate the terminal. We got it working in about 10 minutes, plus the time to create a fresh backup of an iPhone, which you will want to do if you want to check up to the hour. To get the toolkit ready to scan your phone for signs of Pegasus, you’ll need to feed in Amnesty’s IOCs, which it has on its GitHub page. Any time the indicators of compromise file updates, download and use an up-to-date copy.
Once you set off the process, the toolkit scans your iPhone backup file for any evidence of compromise. The process took about a minute or two to run and spit out several files in a folder with the results of the scan. If the toolkit finds a possible compromise, it will say so in the outputted files. In our case, we got one “detection,” which turned out to be a false positive and has been removed from the IOCs after we checked with the Amnesty researchers. A new scan using the updated IOCs returned no signs of compromise.
Given it’s more difficult to detect an Android infection, MVT takes a similar but simpler approach by scanning your Android device backup for text messages with links to domains known to be used by NSO. The toolkit also lets you scan for potentially malicious applications installed on your device.
The toolkit is — as command line tools go — relatively simple to use, though the project is open source so not before long surely someone will build a user interface for it. The project’s detailed documentation will help you — as it did us.
- A new ‘digital violence’ platform maps dozens of victims of NSO Group’s spyware
- Google, Cisco and VMware join Microsoft to oppose NSO Group in WhatsApp spyware case
- NSO used real people’s location data to pitch its contact-tracing tech, researchers say
- Dozens of journalists’ iPhones hacked with NSO ‘zero-click’ spyware, says Citizen Lab
- A passwordless server run by spyware maker NSO sparks contact-tracing privacy concerns
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Spanish officials say Morocco increasingly sees migrants as currency for financial and political gains after it let up to 12,000 flood into a Spanish enclave in North Africa over two days.
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Egyptian-based VC firm Sawari Ventures has closed its $71 million fund for North Africa’s rapidly growing startup ecosystem.
The firm first announced its fund in 2018, when it closed an initial $35 million (which subsequently increased to $41 million) in hopes to close at $70 million, per Menabytes. The investors in the first tranche included CDC (which forked over $12 million), European Investment Bank, Proparco and the Dutch Good Growth Fund.
Having closed an additional $30 million, Sawari Ventures’ total raise is $1 million more than its original target. And it has added a range of new backers that includes Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, Ekuity, Misr Insurance Group, National Bank of Egypt and Suez Canal Bank.
Ahmed El Alfi, Hany Al-Sonbaty and Wael Amin launched Sawari Ventures in 2010. Before venturing into the world of venture capital, El Alfi and Al-Sonbaty were investment professionals in the Egyptian tech space for more than two decades. Amin, meanwhile, was a founder of a tech company called ITWorx that made notable acquisitions in the Egyptian tech ecosystem.
In addition to Egypt, Sawari Ventures focuses on Morocco and Tunisia. For the firm, these three countries represent one of the best investment opportunities around given the mismatch between the capital available (amounts and variation at every stage) and the market opportunity. They also share common traits such as language, culture, business, governance norms and market dynamics, making it easier for cross-border cooperation.
Since launching the firm over 10 years ago, Sawari claims to have invested in more than 30 companies, mostly in Egypt. Some of these companies include ride-hailing service SWVL, software startup Instabug, and AI chat-based personal assistant Elves, but its sweet spots are the hardware, education, healthcare, cleantech and fintech sectors.
“We try to cast a wide net given that, in essence, this is a transformative moment in emerging markets tech with the rapid digitization of the underlying economy,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “So as expected, we’re seeing a great deal flow in the digitization of financial services, health care and education technologies. Also, given the engineering talent, there are unique opportunities in SaaS products, semiconductors and IoT.”
Sawari Ventures invests in growth-stage companies, in particular. But it also operates Flat6Labs, a seed VC firm akin to an accelerator that has been used to perform its seed investments since establishing both Cairo and Tunis offices in 2011 and 2016.
Sawari says 10% of the now-closed investments will be earmarked for seed-stage companies as investments through Flat6Labs Cairo and Tunis. Flat6Labs Cairo will seed between 80 to 100 companies and offer follow-on investments to between 30 and 40. Flat6Labs Tunisia will seed 60 to 70 companies and offer follow-on investments for 30 to 40. The remaining 90% will be used to invest in 20 to 25 growth-stage companies across Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, with a median investment range of $2 million to $3 million.
The investment range is a continuation of how Sawari typically cut checks for portfolio startups since closing the first tranche three years ago. The firm said it has invested between $1 million and $4 million in Elves, Brantu, and ExpandCart, Almentor, SWVL and MoneyFellows, among others.
“The Egypt-based fund is a privately held fund regulated by the Financial Regulatory Authority of Egypt (FRA), which allowed us to attract capital from top-tier local financial institutions to co-invest with foreign capital from international development financial institutions, doubling our allocation to invest in Egyptian high-growth companies to $68 million,” El Alfi said in a statement.
“Our aim is to create exceptional returns through investing in knowledge-driven companies, which have the potential of bringing transformational changes to the Egyptian economy. The fund will support local companies with dedicated capital, in addition to quality expertise from our seasoned and specialized team, and the value-add of our investors.”
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Nigerian startup Helium Health sits in a good position during a difficult period, according to its co-founder.
The Lagos based healthtech venture is in the black, has batted away acquisition offers, and just raised a $10 million Series A round, CEO Adegoke Olubusi told TechCrunch.
The startup offers a product suit that digitizes data, formalizes monetization and enables telemedicine for health care systems in Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana.
Helium plans to use the latest funding round to hire and expand to North and East Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Morocco, Olubusi confirmed on a call.
He co-founded the startup in 2016 — with Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia — to bring better delivery of medical services in Nigeria and broader Africa.
“It’s really about tackling three core problems that we see in the healthcare sector in Africa: inefficiency, fragmentation and a lack of data,” said Olubusi.
When he and co-founders Sofowora and Oviato set out doing research for Helium, they noted a data desert on medical info across the continent’s healthcare infrastructure.
“We figured out very quickly that that is a long term problem to solve. And the best way to get the data and access to it is to give simple technology to the providers and let them use it to make their lives more efficient.”
Helium Health has since developed several core product areas for healthcare entities with application for providers, payment, patients, and partners.
It offers tech solutions and developer resources for administration, medical records and financial management. Helium Health has digital payment and credit products for hospitals and insurance providers.
As part of the latest financing, the startup is launching several new products — such as the MyHelium Patient app to facilitate appointments and information sharing between healthcare providers and citizens.
Helium also accelerated deployment of a telemedicine platform in response to the coronavirus hitting Nigeria and the lockdowns that ensued.
“In the last three weeks since we launched we’ve had roughly 360 hospitals sign up, and they’ve had thousands of [online] visits already,” Olubusi said.
Helium Health generates revenues by charging percentages and fees on its products, services and accompanying transactions. Current clients include several hospitals in the West Africa region, such as Paelon Memorial in Lagos.
Helium Health’s model got the attention of the startup’s $10 million Series A backers and Silicon Valley accelerator Y-Combinator — which accepted the startup into its spring 2017 batch.
Global Ventures and Africa Healthcare Masterfund co-led the investment with participation that included Tencent and additional Y-Combinator support.
Global Ventures General Partner Noor Sweid confirmed the Dubai based fund’s co-lead of the round and that the firm will take a Helium Health board seat.
The path of the startup’s CEO — Adegoke Olubusi — to tech founder passed through the U.S. and traditional corporate roles. He went to Maryland in 2014 to complete an advanced degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University, then did a stint at Goldman Sachs before landing positions in big tech with eBay and PayPal.
Olubusi found work with big corporates less than stimulating and gravitated to forming his own company and returning to Nigeria.
“When I was at eBay and Goldman I was really bored and I wanted to do something more challenging,” he said. “We thought, ‘why don’t we pick a problem that is a long-term problem in Africa,’” Olubusi explained.
The founder believes the products Helium Health creates can improve the poor health care stats in countries such as Nigeria — which stands as Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.
Nigeria also ranked 142nd out of 195 countries on health performance indicators in The Lancet’s 2018 Healthcare Access and Quality Index.
On the dismal stats, “We need more properly run hospitals, and we need more profitable hospitals, health systems and health care providers,” said Olubusi.
Better monetization and organization of hospitals could lure more doctors back to African countries, he believes.
“Half my family are doctors but none of them practice in Nigeria. Everyone’s practicing all over the place, but Nigeria,” Olubusi said.
The founder also sees a more digitized and data driven health care sector as something that can draw more entrepreneurs to African healthtech. Compared to dominant sectors, such as fintech, health related startups in Africa gain a small percentage of the continent’s annual VC haul — only 9.3% by Partech’s 2019 stats.
“There are people who want to invest in the market but they can’t…and founders can’t really tackle a healthcare problem because they don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
As for his venture, Olubusi expects growth even given the precarious economic outlook COVID-19 is creating for countries, such as Nigeria — which is expected to enter recession this year.
The coronavirus and lockdowns are shining a light on the country’s healthcare inadequacies (according to Helium Health’s CEO) that people can’t ignore, including the elite.
“This is the first time they can’t get on their jet and leave so they have to go to the hospitals we have. The system was neglected for the last few decades because people had that [previous] option,” said Olubusi.
“I’m hoping this coronavirus crisis will be a period that forces everyone to rethink what we’re doing [on healthcare].”
That could lead to more business for Helium Health.
The startup doesn’t release financial information but has positive net income. “We do generate revenues in millions of dollars and are profitable,” Olubusi said.
Helium Health has received acquisition offers, but declined them, according to its CEO. Olubusi and team intend to grow the venture to the point where it can list on a major global exchange.
“We know this is the kind of business we can take public, without having to sell,” he said.
The idea was to show the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing how many gay men are living quietly in straight society. It backfired badly.
In March, the virus gripping the world — COVID-19 — started to spread in Africa. In short order, actors across the continent’s tech ecosystem began to step up to stem the spread.
Early in March Africa’s coronavirus cases by country were in the single digits, but by mid-month those numbers had spiked leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.
“About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference on March 19. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.”
By the World Health Organization’s stats Tuesday there were 3671 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 87 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 8 deaths on March 18.
As the COVID-19 began to grow in major economies, governments and startups in Africa started measures to shift a greater volume of transactions toward digital payments and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.
Africa’s leader in digital payment adoption — Kenya — turned to mobile-money as a public-health tool.
At the urging of the Central Bank and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the country’s largest telecom, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency.
The company announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.
Kenya has one of the highest rates of digital finance adoption in the world — largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa in the country — with 32 million of its 53 million population subscribed to mobile-money accounts, according to Kenya’s Communications Authority.
On March 20, Ghana’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.
Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.
Growth in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of 200 million, prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.
Lagos based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free — a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a company release.
In March, Africa’s largest innovation incubator, CcHub, announced funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.
The Lagos and Nairobi based organization posted an open application on its website to provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects.
CcHub’s CEO Bosun Tijani expressed concern for Africa’s ability to combat a coronavirus outbreak. “Quite a number of African countries, if they get to the level of Italy or the UK, I don’t think the system… is resilient enough to provide support to something like that,” Tijani said.
Cape Town based crowdsolving startup Zindi — that uses AI and machine learning to tackle complex problems — opened a challenge to the 12,000 registered engineers on its platform.
The competition, sponsored by AI4D, tasks scientists to create models that can use data to predict the global spread of COVID-19 over the next three months. The challenge is open until April 19, solutions will be evaluated against future numbers and the winner will receive $5,000.
Zindi will also sponsor a hackathon in April to find solutions to coronavirus related problems.
On the digital retail front, Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia announced measures it would take on its network to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — said it would donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.
The company has also offered African governments use of of its last-mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers.
Jumia is reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” CEO Sacha Poignonnec told TechCrunch.
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