The Africa Tech News Tidbits: Week of April 25th

SenMobile, Makers of Yaboy, winner of the Ericsson Application Award at the App4Africa challenge.
SenMobile, Makers of Yaboy, winner of the Ericsson Application Award at the App4Africa challenge.

Here is what has been happening in the world of African Tech this week:

  • An interview with Jason Njoku, founder of IrokoTV, known as the “netflix of Africa”. Some good insight in a young business that makes sense because the demand is there on it. On the challenges of growth in Africa, this particular nugget stood out to me:  “At present, more people watch iROKOtv in London than they do in the whole of Nigeria.”
  • Think you can’t get rich of the Tech in Africa, think again, and again, and again. You get the point? No, then read this article on 5 Kenyan Internet millionaires and weep at your self inflicted misery. Now go back to work so next time, I can list your name here too.
  • The International Day for Women in NTIC is on April 26th 2012, and various countries are celebrating it. In Senegal, 1000 girls will be trained in NTIC, Mrs Bitilokho Ndiaye, a technical counselor at the Senegalese Ministry of NTIC said the first step will be in training women in using computers, with software using local languages. The long terms strategy would be to push more girls toward scientific careers.
  • A dramatic yet amusing report on the use (or rather misuse) of cellphones in the classrooms of Cote d’Ivoire.  Although officially banned from schools, cellphones are ever present in Ivorian schools, and not used in the best possible ways according to the report. Quote from teacher:”Nowadays, we are surprised to find that during class, students get really comfortable and focused on watching movies, pornographic most of the time, instead of following the course”, by a teacher in a high school of Abobo, a popular district of Abidjan. And by students, I bet he means male students. If not movies, the report continues, students are either listening to FM radio, or watching soap operas broadcast daily after the 1:00PM news on RTI, the national television. Cellphones are also used for cheating, this one teacher reported catching a student who admitted to looking for answers to the quizz he was taking online. If it’s not online they look for answers, it’s through SMS sent to friends outside the classroom. Educators are complaining that cellphones are detrimental to the learning environment and on top of phones ringing during class, which totally disturbs the class focus, students rather get in groups and listen to music or watch indecent movies during study hours instead of studying. The schools are trying to fight this with bans, awareness campaigns and confiscations. If found in violation of the rules, a student’s cell phone can be confiscated for the whole school year. Teachers complain that even when parents are involved and called to intervene, they often reply that they have better things to worry about.The students more than often re-offend once their cellphones are returned. Of particular note, this teacher remarks that what despairs him is that he has students coming in missing some of their school supplies, but yet manage to have the latest smartphone. At the time of the interview, he was holding 24 confiscated phones in his desk drawer.
  • “Yaboy”, that’s the name of the app that won the first place (Ericsson Application Awards) in the West African and Central category of the Apps for Africa challenge. Yaboy provides crowdsourced information on the prices of fish in different areas of Senegal. The aim is to help Senegalese become smarter consumers. It will be soon be available for download from the Google Play store with new features and other improvements, improving on the version that won the prize. Note that second place was won by FreeDeal of the ESMT school in Dakar Senegal, and third by Dunde, an e-commerce app for farmers and ranchers.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VrkPJz3gkI&feature=youtu.be
  • Not essentially tech related, but there is a heated debate going on right now because of the Burberry Spring/Summer 2012 collection and its African or lack thereof inspiration. At issue here:

    Leading African global and style culture magazine from This Day, ARISE Magazine, reportedly, placed a call to world-renowned label BURBERRY to find out what inspired their Spring/Summer 2012 which featured heavily what we refer to in these parts as Ankara (tribal print) (but what was officially referred to as eclectic print by Burberry) The label was reported to have said it was NOT inspired by Africa. It is this statement that has caused uproar as African fashion stakeholders are scandalized that Burberry would state that it did not draw inspiration from Africa as regards a collection that featured overwhelming prints that have been regarded as and are believed to be distinctly African.

  • In other video related news, Buni.Tv a new Pan African web and mobile Pan-African digital video platform for you to check out. At launch, the platform will offer the entire 5 seasons of the very popular Kenyan political satire The XYZ Show (produced by parent company Buni Media), award-winning Kenyan animation films like Kwame Nyong’o’s The Legend of Ngong Hills, documentaries by Egyptian filmmaker Abu Bakr Shawky, Nigerian children TV program Bino and Fino, music videos from across the continent, as well as content provided by its partnership with Scotland’s Africa in Motion film festival. Buni TV will also act as a curator, showcasing film trailers and other videos already existing online but notoriously hard to find.
  • #UgandaSpeaks: A New Ugandan Bloggers’ Initiative to Correct #Kony2012 Mistakes on TechMtaa.
  • After Dakar, it’s Startup Weekend time in Kampala, Uganda from April 27th to the 29th 2012.

Titanium Studio: package org.appcelerator.titanium does not exist

After updating to the latest 2.0.1 version of Titanium Studio, i got this error while trying to deploy my applications:

package org.appcelerator.titanium does not exist

import org.appcelerator.titanium.TiStylesheet;

Followed by a bunch of other errors related to missing Titanium libraries. And in the end, that’s just what it was. For some reason, Titanium Studio had set my SDK path to an invalid value. To fix this issue, go to Window -> Preferences -> Titanium and check that the Titanium SDK Home path is set to a correct value.

African Tech News Tidbits: Week of April 17th

dotAfricaA lot happening and since my schedule cleared up a bit, let’s do a quick round of what’s been happening in the world of AfricaTech.

  • First, this is a must read by Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, titled “Will Europe Underdevelop Africa Again?“, on the inequities of the new Economic Partnership Agreements or EPAs being negotiated right now between between the EU and African Countries. The first two or three paragraphs are a summary of policy talk, it might discourage you but keep on because when Soludo comes around to his own thorough and “meticulate”(meticulous and articulate) analysis of why EPAs are a bad deal for African countries, you will most certainly find a lot of gems. It is my Pick of the Week.
  • An African Renaissance is still 10 to 15 years away says Frost and Sullivan, still within my lifetime God willing!
  • An inside look at the emerging startup scene in Nairobi, by Bertil van Vugt who does a good job at summarizing the issues on the ground for entrepreneurs and investors in Kenya. It seems the whole technology industry in Kenya is undergoing a major transformation, or at least the beginning of it due to its growth.The questions I keep hearing now is “How do we make money of it?” which is different from the “How cool or useful is it that we can do this app!” from a few years ago. Signs of growth.
  • Kuzima, a useful app by a Ghanaian entrepreneur to hold companies accountable for the level of service by providing a public Praise or Shame feedback mechanism.
  • Cameroon, listed as one of the countries with the least use of ICTs (in the latest release of the World Economic Forum ICT for Growth rankings) is launching a project to connect all 234 post offices in the country over the next 18 months through a high speed network connected to a data center. Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a Chinese company has been awarded the job for a total cost of $60M. That same company has just been denied a $38 billion high speed network contract in Australia for “security reasons”. Huawei Technologies operates in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and last year the Netherlands’secret services reported that China was collecting economical and technological information using a network of surrogates. The company’s CEO Ren Zhengfei served in the Chinese Army and his second in command worked at the Interior Ministry. Just saying…
  • Investigative journalists from a few different West African countries(Bénin, Cameroun, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambie, Ghana, Libéria, Nigéria et Sénégal) are in Dakar, Senegal since Tuesday April 17th 2012 for a 3 day training on using the Web for Investigative Journalism put together by FAIR, the Forum for African Investigative Reporters. You can follow the updates from the conference here. Of note a presentation by Hamadou Tidiane Sy, founder of Ouestaf, a West African online news site, where he drove home the fact that credibility is the lifeblood of journalism and because of the speed of the news cycle brought about by he Web, journalists should ensure the credibility of the information they relay because once it is out, there is no going back even if clarifications or rectifications are appended later.
  • $1,000,000. One million dollars, that’s the amount of the monthly phone bill racked up by the now Ex-president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade. Again, good riddance. Like a friend of mine used to sarcastically say: “Third world? It’s the country that’s poor, the people? they are rich!”
  • Still in Senegal, the new president, Macky Sall, has nominated a former Senegalese expatriate in Germany, Abou Lo, as his Minister of ICT. Lo hopes to be able to perform well by using his experience in the fields, coupled with his respect for German pragmatism and the help from all of his team and the collaborators of his Ministry. Lo is a Master Degree graduate in Actuarial Science who worked in Germany as a development consultant in insurance software and is the topic of a mini-controversy right now, since it seems he renounced his Senegalese citizenship when he became German. Nevertheless and more pressing, a hot issue in Senegal that Lo even admits to being a victim of is a tax on incoming international calls imposed by the Wade government that had the population fuming. Senegal has a big diaspora community and incoming international calls dropped 15% on application of the tax. Lo said that he was too early for him to have an opinion on what would happen to the tax at this point.
  • Two hackers in Senegal, Pape Meissa Ndiaye and Woura Ba, risk 5 years in jail for the hacking of the Wari money transfer service and the theft of $27500.Wari has reported losing customers as a result of the incident and is asking for $40,000 in reparations.
  • The former prime minister of Ivory Coast and now Head of the National Assembly Guillaume Soro and 2o members of his team have completed a training on social media (Facebook, Twitter) in order to improve their outreach and communication capacities. I’ve personally seen him try his hand on Twitter. Good deal and hope he becomes as active as Alain Lobognon, who is the most socially active member of the current government.
  • Trend: Because of the very competitive mobile market in West Africa, the current trend for customers is to use double-SIM cell phones(French) (Nokia, Samsung and LG offers a number of these models) that effectively allow you to carry two numbers from two different carriers . This might seem foreign to US residents who are used to the 2-year long term contracts of the American market but in Africa, and the rest of the world, mobile markets are a lot more fluid. In West Africa, the mobile market is dominated by prepaid, and operators are always running promotions to entice customers to switch. Having a double-SIM cell effectively allows customers to save on their communications and all levels of society are cashing in on the deals. Chinese phone models are in hot demand because of their cheap prices, you can score a double-SIM card for as little as $30, with higher end phones with MP3 players, cameras and FM radio going for $60. Customers nevertheless complain of the short battery life these phones suffer from.
  • African domain names are still having a hard time taking off. Where France has 2 million registered .fr domain names, Mali counts 400, Burkina Faso 1000, Cote d’Ivoire 2000 and Senegal 4000. This is due in part to the registration process being more cumbersome and expensive for certain countries whereas generic names (.com and .net) are processed in a matter of seconds and are definitely cheaper.
  • The Ipad 3 is launching officially in South Africa on April 27th. It’s not like folks waited.
  • Last but not least, a long but interesting article on the growth of the middle class in Africa and its impact on the economy and what it means in terms for ICT.

That should keep you busy for a week, enjoy and share. Until such time!

Kenyan startups: As real businesses or social impact projects?

iCow
iCow

In an interesting reflection, Dinfin Mulupi over at HowWeMadeItInAfrica brings up a worry from investors in Kenya that the emphasis on social impact technology is distracting entrepreneurs from building real tech businesses. That’s a  good question to ask I believe, and legitimate from an investor point of view. As argued by Nikolai Barnwell of 88mph, an investment fund:

“[…]There are the entrepreneurs with social apps and they get a lot of media coverage. These are the people considered to be successful. There is not enough focus on businesses that make money.[…] The information is disproportionally skewed towards social impact. People are getting the idea that African tech is all about social impact.”

Sean Smith, an analyst and manager of new investments at Invested Development, concurs but with the nuance that it is possible to have both social impact innovations and profit-driven businesses in the same ecosystem provided that “entrepreneurs need to have the rigours to build sustainable businesses using the money they get. They need to have some level of discipline”. On the other side of the debate, Su Kahumbu-Stephanou sums it up nicely:

“Su Kahumbu-Stephanou, the developer of iCow, a platform that enables farmers to access agricultural education and extension services, says that social impact projects play a critical role, especially in a country where millions of people live below the poverty line. “In a country like Kenya, a continent like Africa, our focus should be on poverty alleviation and impact, not money in the bank,” says Kahumbu-Stephanou.”

Furthermore, she points out that “it is incredibly important for entrepreneurs to maintain the majority shareholding in their companies, adding that receiving VC investment too early often results in the entrepreneur having little leverage”, which any startup founder can definitely agree with and I am more of this opinion. I can not discount however the point brought out by Sean Smith in that, if applicable and appropriate, social impact applications should also include a sustainable business model, because after all, the longevity and prosperity of the business affects its social impact as well. In the end, I think the startup ecosystem is reflective of the society it evolves in, and as progress is made as a whole in the Kenyan economy, the ecosystem will adapt as well to the realities of the terrain.

African Tech News Tidbits: Week of April 10th

Startup Weekend Dakar
Startup Weekend Dakar

Back for another session of ATNT, and I got some good reads for you. This week the topics covered include disruptive technology in an African context, startups raising funds, hackathons, and a robbery/kidnapping victime saved by Twitter, yes you can believe it!

That is all for this week. See you in a couple of weeks. Until such time!

Social Entrepreneurship: Make a difference

Make a difference 2012-04-09 14-18-11In a guest post at Venture Beat, David Gorodyansky, CEO of AnchorFree, which makes Hotspot Shield, a privacy shield for internet users around the world dicusses examples of entrepreneurs around the US that founded startup whose primary mission was effecting social good as opposed to purely commercial ventures. Gorodyansky argues that:

It’s time we took a cue from innovators such as the duo behind MobiCrops, an app aimed at eradicating world hunger. New Jersey Institute of Technology graduate students Daniel Boston and Manoop Talasila developed the app as a tool to enable farmers around the world to communicate better, therefore improving their efficiency for planning and growing crops for those most in need.

“Our first goal is usually to solve the problem, not make money,” the students said.

It’s this mentality that should serve as our guide as we launch start-ups and build business plans. The world doesn’t need another mind-numbing game. It needs solutions like the ones the NJIT students devised. Once you identify a true problem and develop a means for addressing it, the money will come.

I especially agree with that last sentence and it kind off resumes my take on entrepreneurship as it related to my life goals. The primary motivation is to affect a change in the world, but honestly, I am not Mother Teresa, nor a monk so i want to take care of my family as well. The ideal venture I am working on will achieve both God willing even though it’s a hard road to trod.