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Reality checks for the Opposition’s unity project

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Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the 2019 Lok Sabha election for a second term in office, the nation has witnessed a great deal of churn in politics, both at the national and State levels. Many aspects concerning Indian politics have seen changes, and many previous concepts have been rendered obsolete, though leaders and parties still find it difficult to shake off their past attributes and beliefs. It is not that the nature of politics itself has changed, but mainstream parties — essentially those in the Opposition — are unable to decipher the nature of the changes taking place.
The ground reality

The Congress, for instance, is unable to shake off a belief that it is the obvious choice to lead any Opposition combination. While other parties might have accepted this in the past, increasingly, quite a few of them have made it clear that they do not any longer see the Congress as the lead player. However, to assume, therefore, that the party is in terminal decline would be a case of being unable to see the wood for the trees. For its part, the Congress still has a vote bank spread across different States in the country (totalling a little over 20). Excessive procrastination on future strategies is, however, sapping the vitals of the party. It has yet to produce an alternative model to reverse the current trend.

The unpleasant truth (for the Opposition) is that since 2014, when the BJP captured power, they have been divided, weak and ineffectual. Lack of a proper strategy, together with unwillingness on the part of individual Opposition parties to make a realistic estimate of their strengths and weaknesses, accept the current reality, and demonstrate a willingness to support other Opposition parties and groups which may have somewhat greater acceptability, are the main reasons why the Opposition is in dire straits today.

Of late, a measure of realism does seem to have crept into this debate, but not within the Opposition parties themselves. Individual parties are yet to make a realistic estimate of their strengths and weaknesses. What has also not been catered for is that many parties are little known outside their States. Consequently, despite all the current talk of Opposition unity, there is no common thread that binds them, other than a strong dislike of the policies and attitudes of the ruling party at the Centre.

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Of all the Opposition parties, it is the Congress, which perhaps, still has some acceptance across the nation. It has not, however, been able to convince other Opposition parties that, even though its influence today is limited to certain segments and territories, it still has an intrinsic ability to emerge as a coordinator of Opposition unity. While smaller Opposition parties are, perhaps, willing to acknowledge this, the bigger parties are unwilling to ascribe a leadership role to the Congress.
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Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, Mallikarjun Kharge and other Opposition parties members addressing the media after a protest march, in New Delhi on December 14, 2021

This situation has existed for some time, but latterly, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, Mamata Banerjee, has been openly ventilating the opinion that the Congress has become a moribund organisation. In the aftermath of a spectacular victory in the Bengal Assembly elections earlier this year, Ms. Banerjee appears to have taken upon herself the role of rallying the Opposition against the BJP, without formally announcing herself as its leader. While, there has been a great deal of praise and encomiums for the manner in which Ms. Banerjee defeated the BJP in West Bengal, there is little evidence that the Opposition is willing to unite under her umbrella. More problematic is that rather than emphasising Opposition unity, her attempts seem to be more directed at marginalising the Congress. The Opposition, thus, only seems more divided than before.
The path for the UPA

Instead of putting forward a shared story which the country could endorse as a counter to the BJP’s single point rhetoric, the Opposition today only looks confused. Moreover, all their differences are on public display today. With the TMC targeting the Congress, the latter has retaliated, accusing Ms. Banerjee of having a ‘fascistic mindset’ and being a ‘political opportunist’. The TMC’s tactics of poaching legislators from other parties, mainly the Congress, is not helping matters. This display of disunity among the Opposition has put into the shade what might have been a promising opening for Opposition unity initiated by Congress President, Sonia Gandhi very recently (December 14, 2021) — at which the Nationalist Congress Party, the CPI(M), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Shiv Sena and the National Conference were present, but not the TMC. On display today for one and all, is, therefore, Opposition disunity rather than Opposition unity.
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Unless the Opposition has a death wish as far as unity is concerned, it is, hence, imperative that each and every constituent part recognises the criticality of Opposition unity. What has to be kept in mind is that each constituent party has certain inherent strengths which contribute to the overall capability and strength of any union.

Admittedly, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is much weaker than what it was previously. The UPA ‘core’ which previously comprised the Congress, the CPI and CPI(M) and some other secular democratic parties has lost much of its elan since the first decade of this Century, but it is far from a liability as Mamata Banerjee seems to believe. It remains relevant, provided each constituent recognises what needs to be done — something on the lines of a modern day Common Minimum Programme.

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For a start, all Opposition parties included in this group must recognise that the balance of power has tilted very substantially in favour of the BJP, whatever be its shortcomings or the extent of unhappiness with some of its policies. It is possibly the only national level party which has an unchallenged leader. Its politics — which is a mixture of majoritarianism and hyper nationalism — has found ready acceptance among sizable sections of the populace, irrespective of whether this is best suited to today’s circumstances. In effect, the BJP has no peer competitor. This state of affairs may not be truly visible in the rear view mirror of politics to many of the Opposition parties, but it should induce a degree of sobriety when reflecting on how Opposition unity is to be achieved.
To achieve the desired level of unity, and hope for success, the combined Opposition must not only admit to this reality but also to the fact that contemporary policies is not a zero-sum-game. The Congress, perhaps more than any other party in the Opposition, needs to avoid clinging to images of an earlier period and should ensure that the chasm between it and potential allies does not widen any further. This may need casting aside many past perceptions, as also clinging to impressions of a world that has since vanished. Other Opposition parties such as the TMC, must not overestimate their strength, merely because of achieving success in one or two States. Instead, they should work hard to assemble and strengthen alliance partnerships with a view to creating a strong phalanx against the BJP
Towards a construct

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Conquering the BJP will not be an easy task. Any anti-BJP coalition will need the right set of partners — partners who can bring in additional votes and do not constitute a risk to Opposition unity. It would entail a liquidation of wrong beliefs and assumptions — an alliance that can stand up to any kind of ‘stress test’ that the ruling BJP can be expected to employ to undermine Opposition unity.
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Mamata Banerjee

In the prevailing circumstances, viable Opposition unity is possible only if there is honest recognition of what may be termed as ‘areas of influence’ of each party — the TMC in Bengal, the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Left in Kerala, the Congress in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, etc. Any hope of Opposition unity will rest on acceptance of this principle of ‘areas of influence’. Within this construct, each party will have a certain pre-eminence. Merely beating the drum of Opposition unity against the ruling BJP is not enough, and is unlikely to produce results. In short, for Opposition unity to succeed there has to be ‘the rhetoric of transformation but [also] the reality of accommodation’ as Fareed Zakaria had once opined in a totally different context.

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Electric van maker Arrival misses quarterly production goal

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LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) – British electric van and bus maker Arrival said on Friday it had missed its third-quarter target to start van production because of supply chain problems, but was on target to meet its goals for the end of 2022.

“The supply chain is broken and we’re a new company,” chief executive Denis Sverdlov told Reuters. “We are going through our own production hell … but we expect we can go through this much quicker than traditional companies.”Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla (TSLA.O), famously complained of “production hell” as the electric carmaker struggled to scale up the manufacturing of its mass-market Model 3 sedan.

Arrival and other commercial electric vehicle (EV) startups are burning through cash as they race to bring vans or trucks to market before the funds run out or customers choose to buy from legacy automakers instead.

In July, Arrival said it would reorganise its business, possibly resulting in up to a 30% reduction in its workforce. In August, the company said it would delay spending on its bus project as it seeks fresh funds.
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By the end of the third quarter, Arrival said it had managed to build a “production verification vehicle” at its British “microfactory” in Bicester and would still deliver 20 vans to customers by the end of 2022 as previously announced.

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Arrival still does not expect to book any revenue in 2022.

Like many within the auto industry, Arrival said it had experienced supply chain problems, including securing supplies of metal, and parts such as lights and wire harnesses.
Arrival said it still expected to generate revenue in 2023 and would need to raise capital for its second van microfactory in Charlotte, North Carolina, which will focus mostly on fulfilling an order from package delivery company UPS (UPS.N) for up to 10,000 vans.

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Top 10 Nigerian tech companies funds raised in Q2 2022

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Nigeria continues to dominate the startup ecosystem in Africa in terms of the number of innovative companies springing up by the day. with this, it is not surprising that the country is attracting the largest funding across the continent as foreign and local investors inject more funds into its young innovators.

According to Africa Tech and Fintech report by Renaissance Capital, Nigerian tech startups raised a total of $678 million in 107 different deals between January and April this year. The country accounted for 31% of the total funds raised by African tech companies in the four months, which stood at $2.2 billion.

Although not as much as was recorded in the preceding quarter, Nigerian tech startups in Q2 202 also raked in millions of dollars from Venture Capitals and Angel Investors covering different stages of investments.

Here are the top 10 tech startup deals that made the news in Q2 2022:

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Identitypass ($2.8 million)
Identitypass, a Nigerian identity verification startup, raised $2.8 million in seed funding to expand its business. With the funding announced in June, the company said it planned to roll out new verticals around compliance, security, and data collection, push into new African countries and make new hires to its 14-man team.
The startup had raised $360,000 in pre-seed investment last November, bringing its total funding to $3.1 million. The latest funding was led by MaC Venture Capital with participation from other investors such as Y Combinator, Soma Capital, True Capital Fund, and Sherwani Capital.
Founded by Lanre Ogungbe, Niyi Adegboye and Ebuka Obi, the two-year-old SaaS platform in addition to its APIs. The software was built to enhance Identitypass’ growth scale and excel among its competitors in the market.

Indicina ($3 million)
Indicina, a credit agency startup, raised $3 million in June to drive its African expansion plans. The company, which currently operates in Nigeria and Kenya said it would also use the fund to build more products for consumer credit recommendations, and bolster its infrastructure.
Berlin-headquartered and pan-European venture capital firm Target Global led the round, adding to its long list of investments in Nigerian startups, including Kuda, Kippa and Edukoya. The firm’s partner Ricardo Schäefer will join Indicina’s board. Greycroft also participated in this round, as well as RV Ventures.
The investors hinged their interest in Indicina on its unique approach to solving Africa’s credit problem. The company uses data to solve the loan eligibility problem previously decided by incomplete creditworthiness assessments.

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ImaliPay ($3 million)
ImaliPay, a Nigerian fintech that prides itself as a one-stop shop financial services platform, closed a $3 million seed in debt and equity round in April. The fintech had raised $800,000 pre-seed round in 2020, bringing its total raise to $3.8 million.
The round which was led by Leonnis Investments also received follow-on investors from VCs such as Ten 13, Uncovered Fund, MyAsia VC, Jedar Capital, Logos Ventures, Plug N Play Ventures, Untapped Global, Latam Ventures, Cliff Angels, Chandaria Capital and Changecom. Angel investors like Keisuke Honda of KSK Angels and others from Serbia, Kenya and Norway participated.
The company said the investment would go into expanding its 50-man team, amping up its technology, and exploring new markets like Ghana and Egypt.

Kaltani ($4 million)
Kaltani, a cleaning technology plastic waste recycling company, received $4 million in seed funding in May to expand its recycling operations across Nigeria.
Founded by Obi Charles Nnanna, Kaltani aims to solve Africa’s growing plastic waste crisis by promoting the circular economy and recycling best practices. The company’s technology utilises data analytics, predictive analytics, and geo-mapping to ensure transparency and traceability throughout the value chain.
With the funding, the company said it planned to open 20 new collection and aggregation centres across Nigeria and increase its staff strength to over 500 people.

OnePort 365 ($5 million)
Oneport 365, a digital freight forwarding startup that makes it easier to transport cargo to, from, and within Africa, raised $5 million in seed funding in April to enable its expansion into new markets across the continent and push end-to-end digitization of freight management in Africa.
Mobility 54 (the Venture Capital arm of Toyota Tsusho and CFAO Group) led the seed funding round, which included SBI Investment, Samurai Incubate, Flexport, ODX, a Singaporean syndicate fund, and other strategic angel investors.
The startup’s platform allows traders to connect with shipping and inland transportation vendors and manage the entire process. Traders get GPS-enabled, real-time visibility of their shipments and they can view all documents relating to the shipment via the platform, eliminating the laborious process of physically retrieving these documents from offices or shipping line centers.

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Afriex ($10 million)
Afriex, another Nigerian fintech startup, also closed a $10 million Series A round in April to expand its blockchain money transfer platform. The company, which was valued at $60 million runs a money transfer system that utilises blockchain to enable users to send funds by converting them into stablecoins, which are cryptocurrencies backed by reserve assets.
Launched in 2019, the startup founded by Tope Alabi and John Obirije had raised a $1.3 million seed round last year. The latest funding round was financed by Sequoia Capital China and Dragonfly Capital with participation from Goldentree, Stellar Foundation, and Exceptional Capital, among others.

Leatherback ($10 million)
Leatherback, a financial services provider startup secured its first external investment in April as it secured a $10 million pre-seed funding from Zedcrest Capital, a leading pan-African principal investment firm.
With the funding, the fintech startup, which was being bootstrapped by its founders, said part of the fund would be deployed to raise Leatherback’s profile in the fintech space as well as extend its capacity in the many countries that it is licensed in and where it is about to be approved like South Africa, Egypt, Uganda, India, and the UAE.

ZirooPay ($11.4 million)
ZirooPay, a Lagos and Helsinki-based startup that develops mobile POS payment systems designed to facilitate mobile payments raised $11.4 million Series A round in April. The company said the funding would facilitate the expansion of its payment infrastructure, accelerating growth and growing its team.
The funding round was led by Lagos-based VC fund, Zrosk Investment Management, and also involved participation from existing investors, Nordic Venture Fund. Other private and institutional funds such as Fedha Capital and Exotix Advisory also partook in the funding. Individual investors include Petri Kivinen, the former managing director at Deutsche Bank; Morgan Stanley and Renaissance Capital; Abiodun Ajai, the director, Sub-Saharan Africa of Bank of America; Kurt Bjorklund, managing partner at Permira; Stephane Kurgan, venture partner at Index Ventures; and Jonas Dromberg, former Bureau chief at Bloomberg.

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Umba ($15 million)
Nigerian digital banking startup, Umba, in April raised $15 million in a Series A funding round, which brought its total fundraising to date to $17.5 million.
The round was led by VC firm Costanoa Ventures and saw participation from Lux Capital, Lachy Groom, Act Venture Capital, Streamlined Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, Chandaria Capital and Banana Capital, as well as Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield.
Umba prides itself as a customer-centric, mobile-first digital bank that increases access to financial tools, including current accounts, bill payments, loans, cashback, P2P payments, and bank transfers.With the funding, the company said it intended to launch in Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya as well as roll out new financial products including debit cards, savings accounts, and stock trading.

Interswitch ($110 million)
One of Africa’s largest fintech companies, Interswitch, landed the biggest deal by a Nigerian startup in Q2 2022 as it secured $110 million in a joint investment from LeapFrog Investments and Tana Africa Capital to scale its digital payment services across Africa. The two investors said they would be supporting Interswitch’s next chapter through continued product innovation and growth across the African continent.
The investment secured in May came almost three years since Interswitch’s last disclosed funding round when Visa paid $200 million for a 20% stake in the company. Interswitch powers much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system and is well-known for its point-of-sale terminals, online consumer payment platforms, Quickteller, and Verve, the biggest domestic debit card scheme in Africa, issuing over 35 million active cards since launch.

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Fidelity Bank renovates classroom blocks, commissions ATM gallery in Zaria

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Leading financial institution, Fidelity Bank Plc has commissioned the newly renovated Madrasatul Anwarul Islam school in Zaria, Kaduna State, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives targeted across Nigeria.

Established over five decades ago by the emir’s father, late Maga in garin Zazzau, Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli, Madrasatul Anwarul Islam is the alma mater of the current Emir of Zazzau and has produced several notable personalities in the country.

The bank also inaugurated a state-of-the-art Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) gallery to drive financial inclusion within the community.

Speaking at the official project commissioning event on June 18 Executive Director, North Directorate, Fidelity Bank Plc, Hassan Imam, said the bank’s decision to renovate the school was borne out of its commitment to make learning conducive for both students and teachers across the country.

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According to Imam, “Our CSR footprint extends beyond education, healthcare and youth empowerment initiatives across the country as we are driven by the belief that we can only succeed as an organization when the people and community where we do business succeed.

“That is why we have taken it upon ourselves to help upgrade the facilities here at Madrasatul Anwarul Islam. Our hope is that the teachers and students in the school will put the facility to good use.

“As part of our commitment to drive financial inclusion across the country and boost commerce in Zaria in particular, we have installed an ATM gallery at the emir’s palace.

“We hope this would make financial services easier and accessible to members of the Zaria community in line with our mission as a bank and thank the emir, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, for his support in executing this project as well”, he said.

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Applauding the bank for its gesture towards promoting education and commerce in Zaria, HRM Ambassador Alhaji Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli encouraged members of the community to put the facilities to good use and protect them against vandalism.

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The monarch urged businesses and merchants to patronize the bank as a way of appreciating their efforts in developing the community.

Fidelity Bank is a full-fledged commercial bank operating in Nigeria with over 6.7 million customers serviced across its 250 business offices and digital banking channels.

The bank was recently recognized as the Best SME Bank Nigeria 2022 by the Global Banking & Finance Awards.

The bank has also won awards for the “Fastest Growing Bank” and “MSME & Entrepreneurship Financing Bank of the Year” at the 2021 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BAFI) Awards.

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