Category Archives: Pictures

A Suswa Excursion

BRCK Excursion: Mt. Suswa from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

We took a day ride out past the Ngong Hills into the Rift Valley and up Mt. Suswa. Here’s a (very) short video where were playing with a DJI Phantom 1 and a GoPro to do some flyovers of the vehicles. We went with 4 motorcycles (2 KLR 650s, 1 Suzuki DR650, and a BMW 650GS Dakar), plus a Landrover Defender 90. A good grouping of bikes and a backup vehicle, and a day with some fun dirt riding. The rocky road up to the top of Mt. Suswa is a lot of fun, and I was glad there had been rain the day before in order to reduce the dust.

The Masai live on Suswa, and though it looks bleak and unforgiving from down below, once you get to the top there is a lot of nice land for grazing and for growing crops. There’s also an extensive network of large lava caves. We explored through a few of them with our guide Jermiah (pictured below).

For this picture, we’re standing in the “Baboon Parliament”, a huge entrance to a cave, with it’s own skylight. The baboons live above, and they congregate, play and have meetings in the area where we are standing. It smells horribly, as all of the beautiful colors on the rock are from baboon urine, and all of the dirt below is baboon crap. If you go further inside, there’s a bat colony.

Here’s the BRCK sitting on the top rock in the baboon parliament’s cave.

We came back by the satellite dishes in the valley, through Mai Mahiu and up the Lower Road. Luckily we didn’t get any rain, though we did have to contest with cars deciding to come towards us on Waiyaki Way, when there was a jam going the other direction. It’s quite a shock to face oncoming traffic when you’re on a road with a wall between you and the other lanes…

Click: Africa

image by mutua matheka

If you look for images of Africa online you’ll find an overabundance of wildlife or urban poverty. And, while these are part of our narrative, the vast quantity of these pictures would lead you to believe that this is the main story. Maybe it is for people who don’t live here, but why are we letting others own that?

This was brought up by Mutua Matheka, a friend of mine who is one of Kenya’s great photographers, as he was describing what drove him to get into photography. Mutua was annoyed by the fact that the images that he found online didn’t represent the country and continent that he knew. With a degree in architecture, he set out to capture the Africa he knows, not just Kenya, but the cities, buildings and people across the continent.

In Africa in particular, the world tells stories about us, other people create the imagery.

When the world isn’t the way you would like it to be, you have a choice to do something, or not. Mutua has clearly chosen to do something; he’s chosen to be one of the Africans who create the imagery and narrative of Africa for all of us.

What are the images that best define Africa’s challenges and opportunities?

Besides being a fan of Mutua, I’ve had the joy of working with him on the #Kenya365 Instagram project. Now, again we get to work together, as we are both on the judging panel for a new competition that IBM is running, called a ‘World is Our Lab’ over the next 3 months.

the IBM Africa photography competition

Now, unlike Mutua, I’m not a professional photographer. I’m a bit of a hack, to be honest, playing around with my phone and limiting myself to what I can shoot with that small device. This is good, it means that if you’re entering into the competition (which you should!), then even if you’re not a pro, you’ve got a chance as I’m just like you. :) The other judges are Salim Amin from A24 Media and Uyi Stewart. Chief Scientist, IBM Research – Africa.

What you can win:

  • A chance to visit IBM’s new research lab in Nairobi, Kenya
  • Laptops with photo editing software
  • Photography workshop with a leading African photographer
  • Trip to Hemingways Watamu Hotel on the Kenyan coast

The three main categories:

  • African Grand Challenges
  • African City Systems
  • African Innovation

Judges will be looking for photos that express how people living in Africa manage their energy or water needs, how they commute, how cities live and breathe and how people come up with innovative solutions to address their needs and create new opportunities.

The #Kenya365 Instagram Project

[See the pictures at Kenya365.com]

The #Kenya365 Instgram Project

Mutua Matheka and I met up today and hatched an idea to have a little picture fun over the next 12 months. We quickly roped in Eston Whitfield and are looking for a couple more to join up. We’re going to do a picture-a-day on Instagram, and see what happens. Likely others will join in as well, so here are the guidelines:

RULE #1: You can only tag one Instagram photo with #Kenya365 each day.

That is the one and only one rule.

It starts on Sept 1, 2012 (2 days from now) and ends on Aug 31, 2013. To make it more challenging and fun we’re going to ask ourselves to find “interesting” shots each day (however you decide to define that).

Feel free to invite another Instagramer to it, especially if you think they do great stuff, or join in yourself. Just pass on rule #1 to them.

A reminder that this is for fun, and we’ll see what happens. If it’s going well we can create a site to aggregate the images with this tag on it for people to find easily.

You can find us on Instagram with the following handles:

  • Erik Hersman on Instagram: @White_African and on Twitter at @WhiteAfrican
  • Mutua Matheka on Instagram: @Truthslinger and on Twitter at @Truthslinger
  • Eston Whitfield on Instgram: @Eston and on Twitter at @Estoni
  • Jepchumba on Instagram: @Jepchumba and on Twitter at @DigitalAfrican
  • Wamathai on Instagram: @Wamathai and on Twitter at @Wamathai
  • Joseph Were on Instgram: @jaydabliu and on Twitter @jaydabliu
  • Taylor Martyn on Instagram: @Zulusafari and on Twitter at @zulusafari
  • Elvis Mutai on Instagram: @mutaielvis
  • Eve on Instagram: @eveheartsphotog and Twitter at @eveheartsphotog
  • Wachera on Instagram: @Wacherah and on Twitter at @Wacherah
  • Musa on Instagram: @moahandpainted and on Twitter at @mole_a
  • Maggianna Wanjohi on Instagram: @Maggianna and on Twitter at @Maggianna
  • Steve Kitots on Instagram: @SteveKitots and on Twitter at @SteveKitots
  • Lema on Instagram: @lemajisa and on Twitter at @jisaslema
  • William on Instagram: @nguru and on twitter @lilwaim
  • Wairimu Mwaura on Instagram: @missmwaura and on Twitter at @missmwaura
  • Ratia on instagram: @ratia_tee and on Twitter at @ratia_tee
  • Aika on Instagram: @aikawangwe and on on Twitter at @aikawangwe
  • Pendo la Mama on Instagram: @pendolamama and on Twitter at @pendolamama
  • Njeri Thande on Instagram: @njerithande and on Twitter @njerithande
  • Wambui on Instagram: @wambeauty
  • Shitawa Bah on Instagram: @eatoutkenya and on Twitter @eatoutkenya
  • Wiselar on Instagram: @wiselar and on Twitter at @wiselar
  • The Afrohemien Nomad on Instgram: @LAfrohemien and on Twitter at @LAfrohemien
  • Angela Oduor on Instagram: @angelaoduor and on Twitter @AngieNicoleOD
  • Leo Patra on Instgram: @c_Leo_patra and on Twitter at @c_Leo_patra
  • Angela Crandall on Instagram: @honoluluskye and on Twitter at @honoluluskye
  • Flora Okuku on Instgram: @maflosah and on Twitter at @maflosah
  • Mark Mwangi on Instagram: @Mwangyzzle and on Twitter @mwangy
  • eGichomo on Instagram: @eGichomo and on Twitter at @eGichomo
  • Riyaz Osman on Instagram: @ri_yaz and on Twitter at @ri_yaz

If you’re going to take part, leave a comment below with a link to your Twitter handle and your Instagram account and I’ll add you into the list.

Africa: Turning the World Upside Down

Whitespace in business is defined as a place, “…where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear…” It’s the space between the organizational chart, where the real innovation happens. It’s also a great definition for what we see in Africa, and it’s the reason why it’s one of the most exciting places to be a technology entrepreneur today.

I just finished with a talk at PopTech on Saturday where I talked about “The Idea of Africa” and how Western abstractions of the continent are often mired in the past. It’s not just safaris and athletes, poverty and corruption – it’s more nuanced than that.

Today I’m in London for Nokia World 2011 and am speaking on a panel about “The next billion” and how it might/might not turn the world upside down. In my comments tomorrow, I’ll probably be echoing many of the same thoughts that came out over the weekend at PopTech.

Here are a few of the points that we might get into tomorrow:

Horizontal vs Vertical scaling

I talk a lot about this with my friend Ken Banks, where we look to scale our own products (Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS) in a less traditional format. As entrepreneurs you’re driven to scale, but our definition of scale in the West tends to be monolithic. Creating verticals that are incredibly efficient, but which decreases resilience.

In places like Africa, we have this idea of horizontal scaling, where the product or service is grown in smaller units, but spread over multiple populations and communities. Where a smaller size has its own benefits.

In this time of corporate and government cuts, where seemingly oversized companies are propped up in order to not fail, there are some lessons here for the West. We shouldn’t be surprised that the solutions to the West’s problems will increasingly come from places like Africa.

Instead of thinking of Africa as a place that needs to be more like the West, we’re now looking at Africa and realizing the West need to be more like Africa.

Reverse distribution

Will we increasingly see a new set of innovative ideas, products and services coming from places like Africa and spreading to the rest of the world? Why is Africa such a fertile ground for a different type of innovation, a more practical one – or is it?

Disruptive ideas happen at the edge.

Africa is on the edge. While the world talks at great length about the shifting of power from the West (US/Europe) to the East (India/China), Africa is overlooked. That works in our favor (sometimes).

A couple of the ideas and products that have started in Africa and been exported beyond the continent include; Mpesa, Ushahidi and Mxit.


Mpesa – the idea came from Vodafone, but product met it’s success in Kenya. Over $8 billion has been transferred through it’s peer-to-peer payment system. Vodafone has failed to make the brand go global, but the model itself is being dissected and mimicked the world over.


Ushahidi – we started small, from Kenya again, and driven by our Crowdmap platform now have over 20,000 deployments of our software around the world. It’s in 132 countries, and the biggest uses of it are in places like Japan, Russia, Mexico and the US.


Mxit – the famous mobile chat software from South Africa has 3x the number of Facebook users in that country, and has over 25 million users globally.

Like we see at Maker Faire Africa, these innovative solutions are based on needs locally, many of them due to budgetary constraints. Some of them due to cultural idiosyncrasies. Often times, people from the West can’t imagine, nor create, the solutions needed in emerging markets, they don’t have the context and the “mobile first” paradigm isn’t understood.

A good example of this is Okoa Jihazi, a way to get a small loan of credit for your mobile phone minutes when you’re out of cash to buy them, from the operator. They’ve built some safeguards in to protect against abuse, such as you have to have had the SIM for 6 months in order to get the service. It works though, because the company selling it (and many of the mobile operators do across Africa) understands the nuanced life of Africa.

We hold on to technology longer, experiment on it, abuse it even. SMS and USSD are great examples of this, while much of the Western world is jumping on the next big technology bandwagon, there are really crazy things coming out in emerging markets, like USSD internet, payment systems, ticketing and more.

Throughout the world, the basic foundation of any technology success is based on finding a problem, a need, and solving it. This is what we’re doing in Africa. We have different use cases and cultures, which means that there will be many solutions. Some will only be valuable for local needs and won’t scale beyond the country or region. Others will go global. Both solutions are “right”, it’s not a failure to have a product that profitably serves 100,000 people instead of 100 million.

Turning the world upside down has as much to do with accepting this idea of localized success as an acceptable answer as it does with explosive global growth and massive vertical scale.

The Two Big Trends

Trend #1: Adoption by Africans as consumers is increasing.
Trend #2: Technology costs are decreasing

Let’s get back to my talk for tomorrow at Nokia… 87% of sub-$100 phones sold by Nokia are sold in emerging markets. 34% of Africa’s population (313 million) are now considered middle class. The fastest growing economy in the world is Ghana, 5 of the top 10 are African countries (including Liberia, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique). Across the continent, the average GDP growth is expected to be at 5+% going forward.

At the same time, we’re seeing bandwidth increase, and bandwidth costs decrease. Mobile operators are the continents major ISPs, and they’re getting creative on their data plans. Handset costs are going down. Smart(er) phones are available for less than ever before. We even have one of the lease expensive Android phones in the world at $80 in Kenya, the IDEOS by Huawei.

Is it all bright and rosy? Not at all. You’re on the edge, you have to create new markets, not just new businesses. But in that challenge lies opportunity, for it’s from these hard, rough and disruptive spaces that great wealth is grown. If you’re an African entrepreneur, why would you want to be anywhere else?

IGF 2011, a busy week in Nairobi

It’s been a busy couple days with the IGF meeting in Nairobi. I sat on 2 panels, one on cloud computing and how it relates to emerging markets, and another on privacy and security in an open data, realtime, networked world. Both extremely interesting, where I had to put my iHub and Ushahidi hats on to answer questions.

We also had some fascinating guests, including Vint Cerf (Google), Richard Allan (Facebook) and the VP of the EU.

VP of the European Union

It started off with helicopters and bodyguards as the European Union Vice President, Neelie Kroes, visited, speaking with a number of startups operating out of the iHub and the m:lab. We made the case for the open web and the light touch that the Kenyan government has had in regulation and why that has allowed innovation to flourish here.

Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Union, visits the iHub in Nairobi

Facebook

Richard Allan is in charge of policy for Facebook in Africa, the Middle East and Europe (I put them in that order on purpose AMEE sounds better than EMEA, after all.). It was especially fascinating to have someone of Richard’s calibre within Facebook visiting so shortly after the big changes that the social network has had in the last week.

Richard Allan, in charge of Africa, Middle East and Europe for Facebook visits the iHub

There was a healthy discussion around privacy, the new HTML5 “Spartan” push at Facebook, and thoughts around how local devs could take advantage of the Facebook platform to make apps and money. He also mentioned that any dev could go to their jobs area and start testing to see if they’re good enough to make the team.

Vint Cerf (Google)

Yesterday Vint Cerf, one of the founding father’s of the internet and a VP at Google, spent the whole afternoon with a room full of us at the iHub. Besides the surreal stories he told of getting the this whole internet thing going, he also provided some much needed context into why things work like they do now and where we might be going with the internet in the future (the answer to that, apparently, is space).

Vint Cerf, Google VP and a founder of the internet, visits the iHub

A big thanks to all of the community members who came and spent time with the guests, sharing their insights into the local startup and programming space. A big thank you to the VIPs for coming, and we hope to see them again.

AfricaKnows: An African Photo Project

Where do you go to find quality and *real* African pictures? How about the non-tourist ones, the ones that show everyday Africans, work places, bus stops and the lives of your neighbors?

AfricaKnows - Pictures of Africa

AfricaKnows is a new project by TED Fellows Josh Wanyama and Sheila Ochugboju. Their job: to tell a different story of Africa, through big pictures that let you see directly into the heart of African cities.

Africa Knows is about the challenges, triumphs, dreams and nightmares of being an African in a 21st century city that is straddling several revolutions at the same time; the technological revolution, the agricultural revolution, a democratic resurgence and a post-colonial identity crisis complicated by old ethnic tensions.”

If you like an image that you see, you can buy a print or a card of it.

An Airplane Lands in Eldoret

Sourcing

I talked with Josh and Sheila about the site this last week. Right now they get the majority of images by taking them themselves and from other African photographer friends who have good shots of their locale. One of my first suggestions to them was that it would be wonderful if there was a submission page for others to add images in easily. The curating of what shows up on the site would need to be maintained.

There are two reasons why AfricaKnows is a good site:

Quality
So far, the images on the site are pretty good. They’re not all “professional” quality images, but they’re much better than average. A purely open site where anyone could dump images (a la Flickr) wouldn’t work as the noise would quickly outdo the signal, so quality is important.

reality
The reality of the images is the second big reason, it’s why I care to visit and get the feed. If I want to see what the world thinks of Africa I’ll go to a newspaper. If I want to see how Africans view Africa, I’ll go to AfricaKnows.

Traffic at a roundabout in Nairobi

Suggestions

As mentioned earlier, there are others who have good quality shots that would be worth the team looking at. A simple submission form that allowed for me to send in images whenever I took one would be useful – for both me and the editing team.

There’s a real possibility of taking this platform further, making it into a place that is focused on African images and highlights African photographers across the continent. I’d be interested in seeing some images from Teddy Ruge (Uganda) and Nana Kofi Acquah (Ghana) on the site, among others. This could be done by first just allowing them to showcase some of their best images, linking to them and putting contact information on the site (giving them a page).

If others are sending in pictures, then there needs to be a clearly outlined understanding of image rights and ownership.

Lastly, we live in a social web with social lives. There should be the ability to embed the image on another site. Images for this post I had to download (bypassing the javascript security features), and upload into it, which is way to much work for most people. Sharing matters, as it’s how people get found in our digital age. You have to learn to let go – of at least the lower res images. Plus, removing that security will allow more Google image search juice to send more traffic.

Blogging this week

This is a courtesy post so that you know most of my blogging this week is taking place at AfriGadget due to being one of the organizers for Maker Faire Africa coming up this weekend.

I’m also doing some work on the “FLAP Bag Project“, testing out modular, solar and light-equipped bags in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda with Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech.

We’ve got a big release of Ushahidi coming up this week too, so keep an eye on the Ushahidi blog where I have another write-up coming.

The Curious Case of Africa Blindness

Africa BlindnessA scotoma is a blind spot in your vision. Everyone has it, and it’s due to the lack of photoreceptors where your optic nerve exits your eyeball. Normally, it’s right at the center of your vision. It’s curious to note that most maps have Africa placed squarely in the center, and most are blind to it as well.

I’m a big fan of infographics, visualization tools that help us understand something faster than reading a long-winded explanation or a spreadsheet of data. It’s disappointed to see how Africa is usually missing from the global ones – especially in relation to technology.

I call this “Africa blindness”.

Luke Wertz linked one to me earlier today from the New Scientist on Twitter saying, “Notice anything missing from this image? Oh yea, the ENTIRE continent of Africa.”:

Global internet usage infographic

It’s a good graphic, really well designed and it does gets a point across. However, it’s missing two continents: Africa and Australia. Thank goodness, we’re not just dealing with Africa-blindness, but Oz-blindess too. :)

Here’s another great technology infographic, this time by XKCD where he’s showing the IPv4 space (that’s how you get an IP address). Note the glaringly obvious fact that the entire continent of Africa has the same-sized IP allocation as the likes of Apple and half as much as Japan.

XKCDs map of the internet - Africa

Is there a case for Africa Blindness in tech?

A part of me can understand how a graphic designer sitting in the US or Europe, tasked with creating a graphic, would bypass Africa. After all, if you’re not from the continent, you surely don’t think of it as having much relevance in the high-tech world. On top of that, it’s not always easy to find web and mobile data in Africa as it is in the rest of the world. The first is an issue of education and media focus. The second is far more serious of a problem.

You’d think that finding aggregate information on tech in Africa would be fairly easy to find. It’s not, at least not for free like it is for much of the rest of the world. If anyone should know this, it’s me. After all, this is what I spend a great deal of time tracking…

WhiteAfrican and Kiwanja at PopTech 2008

Having a tourist picture moment with Ken Banks of Kiwanja in Camden, Maine right before the Pop!Tech conference begins next week. We’re both Pop!Tech Fellows this year, which is turning out to be way more fun than we ever imagined.

(Note Ken Banks goofing off as usual…)

This reflection is in the door to the Camden Opera House, where the event will take place next week.

DSC_0420

Here I am hanging out with Andrew Zolli, the curator of Pop!Tech, at the Zoot coffee shop. We spent way to much time talking camera lenses and then running around the area taking pictures. Fun times!