African Tech News Tidbits – Week of August 12th 2012

Google Africa
Google Africa

As usual don’t forget to check out the podcast of the African Tech Weekly over at Coders4Africa Radio. We are now available on iTunes and soon in the Zune store. If you are doing something interesting in technology in Africa and you want the world to know about it, reach out!

That is all for the week!

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The African Tech News Tidbits Week of June 7th

Polyvalent Wireless Communication System
Polyvalent Wireless Communication System

How are we all doing? Here are your ATN Tidbits for this week. By the way, I hope to count you as one of our listeners in my new weekly radio show at Coders4Africa Radio starting June 24th 2012. We will be discussing of course your weekly ATN Tidbits, discovering Coders4Africa and getting to know more of the African Developer and Geek community. It a serious but irreverent affair and audience participation is key. You can link us up on Skype at “Coders4AfricaRadio” to participate live. My prayers and thoughts are also with all the victims and their families of the plane crash in Nigeria. Now without further “Abou” here we go:

Hope to count you as a reader again for next week’s edition and as a listener on my upcoming show at Coders4Africa Radio.

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!

E-Learning Africa 2012 to happen in Benin

E-Learning Africa 2012
E-Learning Africa 2012 - Copyright @icw

Tech Event of note on the continent:

eLearning Africa is the continent’s largest gathering of high-level policy makers, decision makers and practitioners from education,business and government. It is the key networking event for developing eLearning capacities in Africa.

eLearning Africa 2012 will take place from 23rd to 25th May in Cotonou, Benin, which has a rich cultural heritage and significant record of achievement in education over the last decade.

 

eLearning Africa 2012 is under the patronage of Hon. Max Ahouêkê, Minister of Communications and New Technologies, Benin.

Focusing on eLearning and Sustainability, eLearning Africa 2012 will explore creative ways in which eLearning can support development and help to build a sustainable future. eLA 2012 will focus on the key themes of sustainable technologies and infrastructure; eLearning for sustainable communities; sustainable change management; eLearning and sustainable resources; and sustainable economy, culture and society.

Check the website for more information.

West Africa and the push for E-Government

E-Governance in Africa
Cover for E-Governance in Africa by Gianluca Misuraca

Slowly but surely, West African countries are following the lead set in East Africa in pushing E-Government. In Ivory Coast, a seminar was held last week (December 14th to the 18th 2011) on the topic of e-government moderated by Mr Georges M’bra, of the government’s scientific committee. The Ivorian government wants to modernize the administration and develop a numeric economy operating within a well defined legal and institutional context. The seminar focused on validating the roadmap the government has established so far and plan out the implementation of a series of projects scheduled for 2012 through 2017. The e-government initiative in Ivory Coast was launched in 2004 with the Center for Government Information and Communication (CICG) with a website offering downloadable documents and content on Ivorian Immigration law.

Other countries are further along the path of e-government as illustrated in this article (in French):

Cap Vert:

You might not have heard of this little island nation off the coast of Senegal but they have been at the forefront of e-government in West Africa. Soon after the arrival of the Internet in the country, the government created an intranet (NOSI) or Operational Center for the Information Society whose role is to mobilize society, the private and public sector into bringing about a real information society by leading initiatives leading to e-government.

Burkina Faso:

E-government in Burkina Faso is aimed at bettering good governance policies and fighting against poverty. The Delegation Generale a l’Informatique (General Delegation for Computer Science) is in charge of making administrative and political information available to the general population and government workers have access to an intranet. E-Government is also used as a way for citizens to communicate with parts of the government, for example, they are able to email the “Premier Ministre” (Prime Minister) with questions, advice or suggestions or even ask personal questions.

Mali:

In Mali, the focus was set at first on training governments workers in the use of ICTs and upgrading the computer equipment government wide. Since 2005, AGETIC (Agency for Information and Communication Technologies) has networked the offices of the president, the prime minister, several ministries  and state services and the IntraCom project has linked together several administrative districts in an attempt to further the “decentralisation” process (Moving away from having all administrative services centralized in a single location ) and bringing government and citizens closer in order to promote good the practices of good governance.

Benin:

Benin offers two models of e-government initiatives. First, the Systeme d’Information Administratif Public (Public Administrative Information System) is made up of all the data and information made available over the web by the Beninese government. Second, the Systemes d’Information Sectoriels (Sector-based Information Systems) are made up of all the intranet sites and websites belonging to the different ministries and institutions. Benin also voted a 2009 law protecting individual privacy and data rights.

Senegal:

The Senegalese government has shown a certain voluntarism when it comes to e-government and e-administration. In Senegal, e-government lies in administrative services like government intranet, fiber optic inter-ministry network, in enterprise services (Duty management software), and in publicly available services like the website dedicated to finding and filing administrative papers, online since 2005.

Niger, Togo and Mauritania are other West African countries with very limited e-government initiatives, but as shown by the overview above, the e-government effort in West Africa is pretty limited and in my own opinion, more geared towards providing a good sound bite for foreign investors and governments (or even articles like this), but not a real effort put in place by believers in ICT and its transforming effect on administration and the economy. The analysis show that most of the initiatives consist of putting a public web interface on databases and there for example, no administrative service that can be performed online (like paying your taxes, or applying for a passport or ID card). As the article stresses, e-government goes way beyond giving instructions online on how to file for a paper, since this is nothing exceptional in most developed countries but rather the minimum that can be done. The article also questions the lack of mobile integration in e-government given the prominence of the technology in Africa.

As of 2010 here are some African countries standing in global  e-government rankings:

  • Tunisia (Best in Africa ) 66th worldwide
  • Mauritius: 77th
  • Egypt: 86th
  • South Africa : 97th

Between 2008 and 2010, most West African countries actually dropped in ranking:

  • Cap Vert , from 104th to 108th
  • Senegal 153rd to 163rd
  • Mali 175th to 176th
  • Benin 171st to 173rd
  • Burkina Faso 176th to 178th
  • Ghana 138th to 147th

In order to better e-government in West Africa, the author recommends of global review of existing efforts in order to better integrate them in development strategies. The E-Government 2010 Survey argues that these initiatives could be bettered by a reinforced cooperation between countries, by keeping in mind that beyond its  “electronic” component, e-government is about promoting citizenship and participation in government. That last sentence is key so I’ll repeat it “promoting citizenship and participation in government”; if you know anything about the political situation in most West African countries, you’ll understand why it’s failing right now…