Tag Archives: african

Style and Swagger With a Renegade Trike Hacker in Nigeria

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I’m a motorcycle guy, so anytime you put a motor on a chassis with something less than four wheels, then I’m interested. This week I’m at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria. This is the 4th installment, after Ghana 2009, Kenya 2010 and Egypt 2011.

The creation below is by a young man called “STA”, who’s got a lot of swagger and a double teardrop tattoo under his right eye. In many ways STA is a one-of-a-kind character, unlike anyone else I ran into in Lagos.

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Let’s put it this way, anyone who rides such an eye-catching bike without a license plate, and who has no worries of the cops hassling him because of it, is certainly cut from a different cloth. When stopped, STA simply points to the Nigerian flag flying on the front and explains that it’s all the license he needs. (I kid you not)

STA spent about 4 years in Holland where he was inspired by custom motorcycles and trikes (tricycles). When he came back to Nigeria he decided he could build his own here. STA International’s first bike is the long-forked trike.

Due to using his own funds, it’s a little underpowered with only a 250cc engine and a 10 liter tank. STA scrounged around and found the different parts, and put it all together himself. All total, he spent 300,000 Naira ($1,600) on it.

The bike has some very comfortable seating, a nice big sound system, 4 big silencers in the rear and drink holders for both driver and passengers. He can carry two passengers in the back, and there’s room under the seats for a little storage.

The bike is kickstarted, which I wasn’t expecting at first as I’m used to bikes this big having an electrical starter. Makes sense though, as this is a small engine bought off of a used engine reseller. The trike also has a reverse gear, which comes in handy when the bike is as long as this one is, for maneuvering out of difficult spaces.

STA and I hung out a bit over the last few days. He’s got a real passion for modding bikes, and his next big plans include an even bigger trike, though he hasn’t fully fleshed out the design yet. I showed him some of the cool, retro, modded designs on Bike Exif and we talked a while about what a custom bike for African cities might actually look like.

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Note: I’ve been blogging most of this on the Maker Faire Africa blog, so go there to find more posts on the stories from Lagos, Nigeria and the innovative and fun products made there.

Quick Hits Around African Tech: July 2012

Africa’s Mobile Stats and Facts 2012

Few organizations do as good of a job as Praekelt in creating well-designed applications that are used by millions of people in the continent. A couple times a year, they take that same level of quality and create new videos and resources to better showcase Africa’s tech statistics. Here’s their newest video.

Game Creators: an Interview of Maliyo Games in Nigeria

Good interview of Maliyo Games founder and the opportunity in Africa’s gaming space.

Why do you think the African audience is looking for African games instead of Farmville or Mafia Wars?

“It’s not so much what they are looking for, more what is being pushed to them. Our games ‘Okada Ride’, ‘Mosquito Smasher’ and ‘Adanma’ have far more local relevance than Mafia Wars. Nigerian music and Nollywood movies have a strong appeal to the local and diasporan consumers. We are riding this trend and thus far we are seeing traction.”

Check out Maliyo’s website to get their games.

Opera’s “State of the Mobile Web” for Africa 2012

Opera puts together a great resource of user-based statistics [PDF link]. It’s a country-by-country breakdown of mobile penetration, user growth, top domains and top handsets used. Here are a few of the interesting tidbits:

  • Across Africa, data growth seems to outpace page-view growth. This fact suggests that Africans are browsing larger pages and most likely, using richer, more advanced websites.
  • Facebook is the top domain in every country except for these six, where Google leads: Egypt, Guinea, Djibouti, Comoros, Central African Republic, and Algeria.

Mobile Reporting Field Guide

UC Berkeley has created a mobile reporting field guide, useful for people doing data collection and research as well as activist types.

Upcoming Tech Events in 2012

PyCon South Africa – Cape Town, Oct 4-5
DEMO Africa – Nairobi, Oct 24-26
Tech4Africa – Joburg, Oct 31-Nov 1
AfricaCom – Cape Town, Nov 13-15
Mobile Web Africa – Joburg, Nov 28-29

(If you know of other tech events coming up before the end of the year that you think belong here, put it in the comments and I’ll add it later.)

Some Self-Serving Links:

Pivot East: East Africa’s Startup Pitching Competition

Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, submit your applications!

We’re ramping up to the Pivot East pitching competition, where the best startups in East Africa come to show what they have, pitch their startup to investors, media and the judges for a chance to win the prize money.

Pivot East will be held at Ole Sereni Hotel in Nairobi, June 5th and 6th. Last year we had over 100 applications for the 25 slots, and we’re expecting even more after seeing how well Pivot25 did last year (writeups by TIME Magazine and CNN). Last year we saw startups from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and this year we’re hoping to see some from South Sudan and Somalia as well.

WERE2011_PIVOT25-1610

Categories

As last year there are five categories, each of which will have five startups that will pitching in them. If you think you have a prototype, a deck and a business plan to wow everyone with, let’s see it. Applications are open.

  1. Financial Services
  2. Business and Resource Management
  3. Entertainment
  4. Mobile Society
  5. Utilities

Getting more information

Pivot East is put on by the m:lab East Africa, an incubator for startups in the mobile apps and services space. All profits go to support the facility. This year support comes from Samsung, and we’ll be announcing a few more big names in the coming weeks. If you’d like to be one of them, contact us.

If you have any questions, we’re having a meeting a Baraza at the iHub on Monday the 6th of February from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. If you’re a startup wanting to know more, or are media or an investor, come by and talk to the organizing team.

[Note: for more on last year's here is my blog post retrospective.]

UPDATE:
The Pivot East Team will be coming to Uganda on the 20th February 2011 at Makerere. You can book your tickets for the event on the link below:

http://pivotuganda.eventbrite.com/

Thinking 2020: The Future of Mobile in Africa

A few months back Rudy de Waele got in touch with Ken Banks and myself about helping to curate a collaborative outlook on the mobile industry in Africa, called “Mobile Trends Africa 2020“.

Our task was to gather the mobile minds from across the continent and the world and ask them to vision out what they saw happening in the mobile space in Africa in the year 2020. Not an easy thing to do, tech in general, and mobile specifically, are such fast moving items that it’s hard to say where things will be even 3 years from now, much less 10.

The final 28 contributors include some of the people I most respect in this field. To name just a few:

  • Stephane Boyera (World Wide Web Foundation)
  • Will Mworia (Afrinnovator)
  • Gerald Begumisa (Yo! Uganda)
  • Steve Vosloo (Shuttleworth Foundation and mLab South Africa)
  • Nigel Waller (Movirtu)
  • Nicholas Heller (Google)
  • Moses Kemibaro (Blogger and Dealfish East Africa)
  • Gustav Praekelt (Praekelt)
  • Bright Simons (mPedigree, Ghana)
  • Nathan Eagle (TxtEagle)
  • Wolfgang Fengler (World Bank)
  • Anthony K. Ng’eno (WinAfrique)

At the Best of Blogs as a Jury Member

I’m in Bonn, Germany as the English speaking judge for Deutsche Welle’s “Best of Blogs” awards (aka The BoBs). There are 11 judges, each representing different languages, and we each get to present one blog for each main category and each get one vote for the winner. Being the English judge is actually quite challenging, where many of the language judges need only focus on a single region, I have to contend with the fact that there are English blogs all over the world, so many that I can’t know all of them.

House Help and Human Rights

Blogs give voice – they lower the barriers, allowing stories to surface that would otherwise not be seen or heard.

The first vote today is for a Special Award on Human Rights. It’s a sobering start to the morning, going through blogs where people are doing courageous writing, shining a light on atrocities from Mexico to Germany to China. My nomination was for the blog Migrant Rights in the Middle East. It’s a blog put together by Mideast Youth, led by Senior TED Fellow Esra’a al Shafei out of Bahrain – a true grassroots effort.

One of the top contenders in this category is the Chinese blogger Teng Biao’s blog, a prominent human rights lawyer, writer and professor from Beijing. He was arrested this February dung the first day of China’s Jasmine Protests.

Migrant Rights won the award. I think this is largely due to the fact that what the team at Mideast Youth is doing hits on a subject that is so rarely spoken of. There are millions of house help and casual laborers that work in homes throughout the middle east, they come from all over the world and they lack a voice. Their stories get picked up from time-to-time in mainstream media, but there’s a need to follow this all the time (with resources and a database of activities), across the whole region and that’s where Migrant Rights fits in.

Expatriate workers are a crucial part of the fabric of Gulf society and economy, where they make up to 80% of the population in some states…

Whether we are a Qatari citizen who has grown up with a team of domestic staff at home, a Saudi woman who relies on her Pakistani driver to go to visit her girlfriends, or a western expat who benefits from a Filipino cleaning lady and works in a smart, modern office tower that was build from the back-breaking work of Nepalis, Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we all owe these individuals a debt of gratitude. Yet instead these individuals are undervalued, ignored, exploited and denied their most basic human rights. This is modern day slavery.

Congratulations to Esra’a and her team for providing a voice to the often voiceless.

Other Jury Winners

I was also in charge of the Best Blogs in English category, and I’m very happy to announce that the winner is Sandmonkey!

(Note: For those counting, 3 of the 6 jury winners are from North Africa and the English winner is also from the continent. All for good reasons of course, the activity in this space has been amazing since just January. Now it’s time for sub-Saharan African bloggers to up their game. Part of that means nominating the really amazing bloggers who are doing incredible work in your region. )

The Kenyan Mobile Money Ecosystem

[This is a guest post by Ben Lyon of Kopo Kopo, and recently of FrontlineSMS:Credit, who I consider to be one of the leading experts on mobile money, banking and payments in Africa. Kopo Kopo aims to make the integration of microfinance and mobile money as affordable as possible by offering a software-as-a-service that connects m-money transaction data to customer accounts in a range of common loan management systems. You can follow Kopo Kopo on Facebook and Twitter.]

Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya

Kenya is by far the most exciting, innovative mobile money market on earth. Below is an overview of some of the major and upcoming players.

MAJOR PLAYERS

Safaricom M-Pesa
Launched in March 2007, Safaricom M-Pesa was the first mobile money system in Kenya. It is now the most successful mobile money deployment on earth, boasting use by 51% of the adult population. In addition to person-to-person transfers, you can use M-Pesa to remit funds from the UK to Kenya, pay bills, purchase goods, buy airtime, and, with the launch of M-Kesho, move funds to and from an interest-bearing account with Equity Bank. Fun fact: Safaricom M-Pesa has more agents in Kenya than Wells Fargo and Wachovia have ATMs in the United States.

Airtel Money
Formerly Zain Zap, Airtel Money is the second largest mobile money system in Kenya. Prior to its acquisition, Zain was focused on creating a “cashless society” whereby any number of needs could be met via mobile money. Zain was also committed to its notion of One World, the idea that a Zain customer in Country X should be able to call a Zain customer in Country Y a at local rate. One World was the source of much speculation with regard to international person-to-person mobile money transfer. It will be interesting to see if / how Airtel changes course, especially with regard to pricing.

Orange Money
Orange Money launched in late 2010 in association with Equity Bank. Instead of offering the same features as M-Pesa, Zap, or yuCash, Orange opted to create a de facto front-end for Equity Bank accounts, allowing it to exceed regular transaction and m-wallet balance thresholds.

Essar yuCash
Essar yuCash launched in December 2009 and is powered by Obopay. yuCash offers some standard features such as person-to-person transfer and balance inquiry as well as some unique features like requesting money, adding a short message to a payment, and inviting friends to join. yuCash is also unique insofar as it offers five different front-ends: WAP, SMS, Voice, USSD, and STK.

Equity Bank
Equity Bank is the largest microfinance institution in Kenya and is nothing short of a powerhouse. It has an extensive ATM network throughout Kenya and has integrated with M-Pesa (M-Kesho), Orange Money, and yuCash.

Musoni
Musoni is at the cutting edge of microfinance, enabling loan disbursal and repayment via Safaricom M-Pesa and Airtel Money. Musoni plans to conduct country studies in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in the coming years.

Paynet Group
Paynet is responsible for all Visa transactions in Kenya, interchange for 2,000+ ATMs, and PesaPoint. Due to their interaction with Visa, they are PCI DSS compliant, meaning that their system is both redundant and incredibly secure. Paynet aggregates and formats transaction data for several mobile money providers in East Africa.

UPCOMING PLAYERS

iPay
A product of Intrepid Data Systems, iPay enables merchants to accept online payment via Safaricom M-Pesa, Zain Zap, and Essar yuCash. Prominent users include PewaHewa, Fenesi, and Zetu.

PesaPal
PesaPal is a product of Verviant Consulting that, according to CEO Agosta Liko, aims to “make sense of the Kenyan payment landscape”. PesaPal lets online merchants collect payments via M-Pesa, Zap, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit cards. Their latest product, e-Ticketing, allows event organizers to accept online payments for registration via mobile money.

M-Payer
A recent product of Zege Technolgies, M-Payer enables real-time mobile money transaction processing. The CEO of Zege Technologies, Kariuki, played an instrumental role in the M-Pesa / Equity Bank integration that resulted in M-Kesho.

Lipuka
Powered by Cellulant, a company that serves 60M+ subscribers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Lipuka integrates bank and payment channels to enable music downloads, bill payments, and information services via WAP.

Moca
Formerly called ZungukaPay, Moca is a product of Symbiotic Media Corsortium. ZungukaPay enabled online merchants to accept payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, PayPal, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit / debit cards. ZungukaPay also had an open API for integration purposes. The new product, Moca, takes a different turn by enabling customers to buy ‘Moca credits’ via mobile money, which they then use to pay for goods and services on partner websites (e.g. KeleleMobile). Fun fact: selling non-refundable credits precludes Moca from being seen as an e-money issuer by the Central Bank of Kenya.

JamboPay
A product of Web Tribe Limited, JamboPay is an “Online Checkout & Micro-Payment Service” that enables merchants to accept online payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, and Visa credit/debit cards. JamboPay has a tariff structure similar to PayPal in the US: a commission per transaction + a flat fee for any transactions initiated over the JamboPay web platform.

MobiKash
MobiKash, a third party mobile money provider, is operated by MobiCom Africa Limited in partnership with Sybase 365 and Seal Systems. MobiKash leverages USSD to give Kenyans on any mobile network real-time access to accounts at participating banks, including Post Bank, National Bank of Kenya, and Trans National Bank. MobiKash uses the Sybase 365 Mobiliser Platform.

KrossPAY
Formerly PesaPot Holdings Limited, KrossPAY worked with PAYG Solutions to develop a hosted core banking and financial management platform for microfinance institutions, credit unions, and community benefit organizations. Some PAYG Solutions programmers were involved with the creation of M-Pesa, so there may be a mobile money integration in the works. KrossPAY also offers a “universal mobile money transfer and payment” service called CaribPay.

Jipange KuSave
Jipange KuSave is an initiative of Mobile Ventures Kenya Ltd., a subsidiary of Signal Point Partners. Launched as a pilot in 2010 in partnership with FSD Kenya and CGAP, Jipange KuSave aims to extend affordable micro-savings and micro-credit to the ‘mwanachi’ (Kiswahili for ‘common man’) via mobile phones.

Tangaza Limited
Managed by Mobile Pay Limited and a network of independent trustees, Tangaza enables both local and international money transfer as well as services like utility bill payment and remote airtime purchase. Tangaza is accessible via USSD and the internet and works across multiple mobile networks.

NOTABLE M-MONEY INTEGRATIONS

PewaHewa
PewaHewa is similar to the iTunes Store insofar as you can browse for musical artists, albums, genres, etc. and purchase songs via mobile money. PewaHewa is powered by iPay.

Kalahari
Often referred to as “the Amazon.com of Africa”, Kalahari offers a wide range of online goods and services, which customers can pay for via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Kilimo Salama
Kilimo Salama, Kiswahili for “safe farming”, is a crop insurance product offered by the Sygenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Kilimo Salama enables farmers to pay crop insurance premiums and receive payouts via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Quick Hits Around African Tech

Africa’s mobile industry needs to re-invent itself to meet tomorrow’s challenges
Another great zinger from Russell Southwood’s Balancing Act on the state of the mobile industry across Africa and what needs to change.

“Furthermore, although the shift to data puts a spring in the step of most mobile executives, the shift to an interest in services and apps has the potential to marginalise them as “dumb pipe” operators. The new generation of OS operators (Blackberry, iPhone, Android and others) are offering services and apps in a way that the mobile operators failed to do.”

Desert discs: How mobile phones are at the root of Saharan music.
Christopher Kirkley went to Mali to make field recordings, but returned with a mixtape of music taken from Saharan Sim cards.

African Facebook stats, by Country:

“Only 1.7% of Africans are on Facebook, but since there is only 10.9% Internet penetration, we see that 15.9% of African Internet users are on Facebook.”

Kenyan Internet users woo businesses to Twitter and Facebook

“According to the research, Kenya is ahead of its peers in East Africa in social networking with an average consumer spending atleast 6.5 hours per week, followed by Tanzania — 1.6 hours per week — and Uganda 1.5 hours per week.”

Reflections with Michael Joseph in his last week as CEO of Safaricom:
(Video 1, Video 2)

Reflections with Michael Joseph from Al Kags on Vimeo.

Wrong model. Wrong place.
Ken Banks discusses the challenges of normal business models in the ICT4D and M4D space.

The Future of Mobile in Africa:
A great deck by Rudy de Waele, from his talk at Mobile Web Africa 2010.

InMobi and Mobile Advertising in Africa

India is watching Africa closely, especially after the big $10.7bn move by Bharti Airtel to take over Zain’s Africa operations. Yesterday Ankit Rawal, head of advertising for inMobi in Africa, spoke at the iHub. He spent a good amount of time explaining why Africa was so important to their growth strategy, and used a good bit of data from an InMobi research project to show why.

Ad Impressions

From their July 2010 statistics, Africa has over 2.8 billion mobile ad impressions available, an 18.5% growth from just one month before (June 2010). That’s an amazing figure, and amazing growth, by anyone’s standards. Only 16% of that inventory is on smartphones.

InMobi’s largest African markets, in order, are: South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria. There is a big difference between these countries and some of the others that we saw stats for. For instance, Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola and Namibia have only about 20-40 million impressions/month. There is a wide gap between Africa’s tech leaders and the rest of the continent.

Manufacturers

Continent-wide, the most popular manufacturer is Nokia at 61.3%, followed by Samsung at 21.8%, with SonyEricsson a distant third at 6.3%. Those aren’t especially surprising figures, but if you dig down into the country details provided for South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, they differ.

  • In South Africa, it’s 38% each for Nokia and Samsung
  • In Kenya, it’s 66% Nokia and 18% Samsung
  • In Nigeria, it’s 78% Nokia and 9% SonyEricsson

Operating Systems

Important information for mobile app developers and businesses is which operating system to focus on. Nokia OS and Symbian lead, followed by RIM. No Android, iPhone or Windows Mobile mentioned, though there is a suspiciously large (37%) chunk of the pie for “other”.

Handsets

The actual devices that people are using that show mobile advertising is interesting as well. It’s largely Nokia, holding 7 of the top 10 spots, with Samsung carrying the other 3. The top device, is the moderately priced Nokia N70 is a popular, though unpretty, “do it all” phone.

Other Information

Not available in the qualitative research document provided by InMobi, but part of Ankit’s talk yesterday, were some other demographic statistics.

Male acceptance of mobile advertising in Africa is the highest in the world, when asked, “How comfortable are you with mobile advertising?”. African women came in second behind Asia on that same question. Women in South Africa were the clear outlier compared to Nigeria and Kenya, with only 45% comfortable with mobile ads.

Africa’s under 25 population has the highest comfort level with mobile ads in the world. 75% from this age range are okay with mobile ads, as opposed to 67% in Europe, 73% in the US and Asia.

South Africans are more interested in ads when top global brands appear as ads. The primary benefit of mobile ads that all consumers are looking for is “new information”.

Final Thoughts

Africa, as a whole is well positioned to see a huge growth in mobile advertising. This comes from a combination of consumer acceptance of mobile ads being the highest in the world, healthy support via increased data plan competition among telcos, growth in 3g and smartphone adoption, and mobile screen mindshare amongst users.

Russell Southwood at the iHub

I consider Russell Southwood to be the most well-connected person in the African tech scene, he also happens to have one of the best macro view of what’s going on across the continent in the established tech and media worlds. For a taste of his work, read his article, “Africa’s mobile market will go open access – it’s not if but when and how it all work out“.

On Friday he came to the iHub in Nairobi where he took 2 hours to have a fireside chat with local web and mobile technologist on “The Future of Kenya: what needs to happen for local services and apps to succeed.”

“Russell Southwood looks at the kinds of changes that will happen in Kenya over the next ten years, how the barriers to change might be broken down and the relationship between the ICT business and the broader economy and society. He sets out to try and understand what will produce the success factors for the growth of ICT services and apps businesses across Africa and why Kenya has a key role to play. From these broad arguments, he then focuses down on the needs and type of customers services and apps companies can potentially serve.”

Russells relaxed and intimate chat with the community is going to serve as the first of many new fireside chats at the iHub with Africa’s “big thinkers” and top tech CEOs.

Banks Blocking Mobile Money Innovation in Africa?

There’s an good post over at the CGAP blog about mobile money’s innovation crisis. The author claims that nothing new has happened in mobile money since Mpesa was launched in Kenya, except for maybe the launch of Mkesho this year in Kenya as well. Besides that, everyone around the world pretty much tries to duplicate what Safaricom is doing in this space.

Why?

“There may also be one partnership in particular that could be hampering innovation—that with the banks. Historically, these two players have taken very different strategies for new product development, especially in resource poor countries.”

Thinking big picture

You can send up to $500 for as little as 37 cents using Mpesa. On Zain it will cost you 74 cents. That’s an insanely low transaction cost compared to what banks charge, and that’s not even going into the fact that they can’t do transactions as low as 50 to 100 Ksh ($.60 to $1.24). The kicker, you can store your money in it for no fee at all (unlike the usurious rates that the banks charge).

Simply put, banks cannot compete with mobile operators when it comes to transacting payments for the majority of Africans.

Regulators make and enforce the rules around everything. How do they make their decisions, who lobbies them and why? Is the reason that we haven’t seen a true replication of Mpesa anywhere besides Kenya due to the banking sector protecting its interest?

Opportunity lost

Right now anyone in Kenya can do every type of transaction within our own borders, and if creative into neighboring countries as well. A few other countries have the ability to do this type of thing as well, if less efficient and/or elegantly conceived.

Currently opportunity is lost by local merchants in not integrating mobile payment structures better into goods and services offered to both businesses and the public. This is changing, businessmen are quick to move to figure out new ways to increase margins and customers. It’s only held back by the operators not willingly opening up their platforms for easier integration into business.

11% of Kenya’s GDP was shifted through Mpesa in 2009, and the company expects that to be around 20% this year.

We can all agree those are big numbers and that a massive ability to make money has been shown in Kenya. This begs two questions:

  • Why has no one allowed it to truly replicate in another country?
  • Why is no one throwing big money after this, trying to figure a way to scale a mobile operator and bank agnostic payment solution across a region, if not the whole continent?

There are big players trying to break into the greater African market (I’m looking at you Naspers). There are banks who have the money to spend on figuring this out, but aren’t thinking beyond their own brand, so continue to fail. Maybe the answer is we just should sit here and let all this lost opportunity continue to drift by us, waiting on the big credit card players of the world like Visa or Mastercard to make a move.

That’s a fatalistic stance, and I certainly hope it’s not true. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see this service come from 2 guys coding in a garage. Instead, I hope that there are mobile operators and banks banding together to make something bigger than themselves that make more profits for everyone. If not them, a big investor willing to wager millions of dollars on making billions.

Ushahidi Comes Full Circle in Kenya

It’s been hectic lately… In the course of one week I’m going from the madness that is running any situation room for a major Ushahidi deployment (Uchaguzi), to what is looking to be one of Africa’s best tech conferences (Tech4Africa).


(video by Jon Shuler)

Uchaguzi: Monitoring Kenya’s Referendum Vote

Uchaguzi is a deployment of the Ushahidi platform that marries up traditional election monitoring groups and practices with voices from the crowd. It was an experiment in a more holistic approach to monitoring an election.

Our goal is to make this an election monitoring platform that can be used by anyone (at least in E. Africa), as a mixture of the core Ushahidi platform, with a package of customized plugins that do things such as:

  • Map known election monitor phone numbers to specific locations
  • Content-map the election monitoring number codes into an automated full report
  • Use shape files to get make reports not just point-based, but heatmapped
  • Ticketing system for escalated items
  • Ability to mark items as “actionable” and/or “action taken”

We started Ushahidi 2.5 years ago here in Kenya to crowdsource and visualize some of the stories coming from ordinary people in the midst of Kenya’s post election violence. Last Wednesday the whole country went to the polls again, this time to vote “yes” or “no” on a referendum for a new constitution for the country – arguably something even more important than a politician who will only be in office for 5 years.

Being Ushahidi, and this being Kenya, we were ready to do our part. This came in the form of Uchaguzi, a deployment where we partnered with local groups like SODNET, Twaweza, CRECO and HIVOS. Ordinary Kenyans and election monitors alike could send in text messages to a local shortcode, which was widely advertised before the date. (read more here)

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Over 50% of all incoming reports were verified in real-time, and an overwhelming 60+% were reports that things were going well. A win for both the deployment and the country!

A Thank You

Through a combination of great partners and a huge volunteer outpouring of time at the iHub, we were able to manage the inflow of information, mapping and verification.

The Uchaguzi project brought more than 70 volunteers to the iHub August 3rd and 4th (with at least 12 others joining remotely). Volunteers helped map and process over 1400 messages as well as assisted our team of Ushahidi developers fix bugs that popped up during the Uchaguzi deployment. The volunteers met the challenge with incredible enthusiasm, focus, patience, and a spirit of fun! We couldn’t be prouder to have such a wonderful Ushahidi community!

“We” isn’t just the Ushahidi team. Yes, deployments like this do take some time to customize and we did build some new functionality in (than everyone now has access to use), but it’s largely not the technology, it’s the people. The 80+ volunteers, tech and non-tech alike, were amazing and came through in a big way. Not enough can be said about Jessica Heinzelman, Ushahidi intern for this summer, who wrangled all of the volunteers and operations for the situation room.

Media Hits

Fast Company
Christian Science Monitor
Business Daily Africa
UN Dispatch
CNN iReport
All Africa
Reuters
Internews

iHub: Nairobi’s Tech Innovation Hub is Here!

iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community – is here! It’s an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers and designers. It is part open community workspace (co-working), part investor and VC hub and part incubator.

A number of us in the Nairobi tech community have been discussing the need for a physical nexus for the tech community here for a couple years, so it’s great to finally be so close to uncorking the bottles and celebrating a big step forward for all of us.

iHub opens on March 3, 2010!

Here’s a rough video of the iHub. A first-look at the space, before any design or wiring is done:

[Note: my apologies for the video quality, it was taken with my phone.]

Background and Info

The iHub will have a redundant 10Mbs connection, hardwired and WiFi, and it’s freely available to any tech person in Nairobi to use once they become members. Membership is free, our only requirement is that you are indeed involved in the tech space as a programmer, web designer or mobile application developer.

Data connectivity is the most important aspect of the iHub, but after that comes a fresh design and an atmosphere that is conducive to techies getting cool stuff done.

Finally, we’re putting our networks into place to give special access to the entrepreneurs and startups who need space to meet with VCs, seed funders and local businesses. We’re trying to create the place where seeds are planted and are easily found by the people with money to help them grow.

A Blank Canvas

The iHub is what we as a tech community make it. It is a blank canvas, a big open room with a great view and wonderful location, but still an empty room that needs some input from people within the community to design, and create a culture around.

What part are you going to play?

  • Want to have bragging rights on being the logo designer for the iHub? There’s $500 (38,000 Ksh) up for grabs at the iHub logo contest!
  • Have a penchant for design, want to help layout the floor plan, pick the wall colors or design the signage?
  • We’re wiring this place with the latest and best data connections in Kenya. Can you help us make sure the network is sound?
  • Good at creating intranets for fast and easy file sharing of 1gb+ downloads like the Android SDK? Want to help us build that?
  • Maybe you’ve got great business connections. Will you help us connect the iHub and the people in it to the business community?

iHub Location

The new iHub’s location is going to be on the 4th floor of the new Bishop Magua Centre on Ngong Road (directly opposite the Uchumi Hyper). It’s an amazing location, with quick access to public transportation, food and the rest of town.


View iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub in a larger map

Community Involvement

I’ve been working closely with a couple of people from the community to find a place and get some basic items squared away. This advisory group is made up of individuals with a long standing presence in tech locally, including:

  • Riyaz Bachani, CTO of Wananchi
  • Josiah Mugambi, Co-Founder of Skunkworks
  • Rebeccah Wanjiku, Tech reporter and entrepreneur
  • Conrad Akunga, Blogger and Software Manager
  • Erik Hersman (me), Tech blogger, Founder of AfriGadget and co-Founder of Ushahidi

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of things still to be done, and we all need to band together in order to make this space what we hope it will become. Your ideas and drive will make the iHub into the space to be in all of East Africa for tech-related activities.

If you would like be involved, leave a comment below.

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.

Low-Cost Solar Invades Kenya

Meredith watching the Brunton 52 Solar panels - a boring jobReliable electricity in Kenya is an oxymoron. Last year’s rationing was up to 4 days per week in some parts of Nairobi, and with the low levels of water in the dam, it’s looking like 2010 won’t be such a bright year (pun intended…).

This is why I’m writing a post about solar power, which incidentally isn’t something I’m overly-well versed in, I usually leave this up to people like Afromusing. I did take the FLAP bags around Ghana, Kenya and Uganda earlier, but hadn’t started to truly delve into this arena until now. Before moving back, I picked up a Brunton Solaris 52solar power kit for my laptop needs. It has already proved indispensable.

Solantern

Joseph Nganga, a Kenyan businessman who I’ve known for a couple of years, has come back to Kenya and is taking the clean energy position firmly. He’s working with the World Bank on a plan for a “Cleantech Innovation Centre” in East Africa, and knows his way around both small- and large-scale renewable energy systems.

Right now he’s marketing and finding distributors for his Solantern product. It’s a Green Planet Lantern that is sold locally for 2000 Ksh ($25). His goal is to replace the unclean, and sometimes hazardous, kerosene lanterns that everyone uses in Kenya.

[Note: the electricity is off right now, and my wife is using one of Joseph's Solanterns below]

My wife with a Solantern tonight

An average Kenyan family spends 20 Ksh ($.25) on Kerosene every night, a total of $91 per year. There’s a real value buying a Solantern, and the light lasts for much longer than that 20 Ksh of Kerosene would (and it’s cleaner).

ToughStuff

Chance would have it, that on this power-challenged day, I would also meet up with Nick Sowden from ToughStuff. He’s here in Kenya to do for East Africa what they’ve already done for Madagascar: create an industry for entrepreneurs out of 1 watt solar panels.

ToughStuff ProductsToughStuff offers a large selection of accessories for their panel, with extensions like an LED lamp (530 Ksh/$7), phone connectors (75 Ksh/$1), a rechargeable powerpack (550 Ksh/$7.25) and fake D-cell batteries that take direct input from the panel – used to power radios. It’s a compelling mix, and you can tell why they’ve done so well in Madagascar, and which bodes well for them in East Africa as well.

They’ve already started selling them through Chloride Exide in Kenya, at two shops in the industrial area you can pick up the kits for yourself. One shop is on Dunga Road, the other is on Kampala Road.

ToughStuff has a focus on entrepreneurs, which is why they have the “Buy One: Fund One” program. To entrepreneurs they offer financing through local MFIs.

Final Thoughts

Besides Solantern and ToughStuff, there are other projects like Portable Light (and others) working on low-cost solar for East Africa. It’s like the stars have aligned and all the cleantech companies are starting to really look at Africa as a place to make money – which it is.

The AfriGadget-side of me is waiting for local fundis to get their hands on these and to start customizing them for local needs. I want to see 8 ToughStuff solar panels daisy-chained together and used to power something larger. I want to see the wall-of-panels that light up 10 lights across a large room for night classes. The sort of thing that takes local needs, local technical talent and local businessmen to make happen.

Another thought… People think that these low-cost solar light kits are only for the poor. They’re wrong. I use them, as do many middle-class Kenyans if they can get their hands on them. The market is bigger than just the “bottom of the pyramid”.

Finally, I’m greatly pleased to see legitimate businesses, not NGOs, leading this charge. The quickest way to ruin this fledgling industry is by false ceilings imposed by development/aid subsidies around these products.

Testing iScribe: African Pixel’s first iPhone app

african-pixel-logoIn the Summer of 2009 I was approached by Wilfred Mworia, a talented programmer in Nairobi. Wilfred’s big idea was to open up a small company where his main goal was to create mobile phone applications for platforms like the iPhone and Android operating systems. This company is called African Pixel, and Wilfred is well on his way to becoming a mobile app developer of some note, regardless of the fact that he lives in Kenya.

His first application is iScribe (iTunes link), a simple tool for writing a journal on your phone. It’s the tool I’m using to write this post as it pushes to WordPress.

Scribe

iScribe was built to be simple. A way for you to write a journal entry quickly, and then add images, video or audio if you so choose. While I’ve been actively involved providing feedback to Wilfred on the app, I’ve had to constantly remind myself not to ask for more features.

iscribe-writing

“How does it work? Simply, type text, take photos or videos, press a button to record and play back audio recordings, save your stuff, press another button to share online or by email and voila!”

Besides the simple journaling and multimedia capabilities iScribe entries can be emailed or pushed to a blog. This is especially useful as few people write solely for themselves.

Here’s Wilfred giving a walk through of the application:

Go ahead and give this first iteration of iScribe a try. Send Wilfred your feedback on how it can be made better or if you find a bug.

My feedback
The pushing to a WordPress blog is where there are a few shortcomings. I did push most of this post from there, but the images didn’t work right, nor was I able to add links. There are some user experience items where the user needs feedback on when they pushed a button and if something is happening. These are mostly minor issues though, nothing which makes iScribe unusable.

African Pixel

This is one application, something that should make some residual income for Wilfred. I know he’s interested in building more applications that he can sell on the iPhone app store and the Android marketplace. That’s the idea anyway, and it’s encouraging to see that he’s doing it from here, realizing that the web/mobile world means that you can do this anywhere.

Wilfred is currently working on a second application, one that he started in August which has even more potential than iScribe. To keep up to date with Wilfred and African Pixels, follow him on Twitter, African Pixel on Facebook and the blog. Guys like Wilfred need seed capital to get going, to buy the time to create those first apps where they can begin seeing cash flow. If you’re interested in that, I know he’d like to talk to you.