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Africa Tech News Tidbits, Week of March 5

Mobile in Africa
Mobile Users in Africa, copyright @ AgenceEcofin

Back at it, after  taking a little break due to a busy work schedule, let’s see what’s been happening in African Tech:

  • In Cameroon, a young entrepreneur just released the Cardiopad, a medical tablet designed to help with remote diagnosis of heart problems.
  • Saya Mobile in Ghana has released a messaging competitor to WhatsApp called Saya, which killer feature is StreetChat, allowing you to chat with people in your direct proximity.
  • AfriNic (The Registry of Internet Number Resources for Africa) is currently working with the Internet society to promote and encourage a bigger African participation in the worldwide IPv6 launch initiative scheduled for June 6th 2012.
  • Today, March 7th was the last day of a 2-day conference held in Ouagadougou on the topic of “Internet infrastructure for an African Digital Economy”. This event was put together by the African Union for Telecommunications in collaboration with the ICANN, ISOC and the aforementioned AfriNic and was aimed at educating government officials and ICT regulators on Internet ecosystems and the current challenges in term of infrastructure.
  • On the topic of conferences, another was held in Zanzibar February 29th to March 1st on the topic of African mobile finance with representatives from about 39 countries, as well as banking and financials operatives from diverses African economic bodies (ECOWAS). Finance experts concluded that there are real opportunities to develop finance in informal economies by allowing the 75% of unbanked Africans to have access to banking services through the mobile platform.
  • In 2011 , First National Bank in South Africa sold 30000 Ipads and 2400 Galaxy (S smartphones) by allowing clients to break down payments in monthly installments, allowing them to boast that they sold one Ipad “every two minutes”. Everybody’s happy!
  • Etisalat Nigeria will offer the Samsung Galaxy Note for N125,000 ($795 US), not too bad…
  • For you African football fans, Goal.com has released the localized edition of its site for Nigeria.
  • Not directly tech related, but with the help of social media participation during the first round of the presidential elections in Senegal, more and more Senegalese people are calling for a public televised debate between the participants in the second round incumbent Abdoulaye Wade and challenger Macky Sall.
  • A recent UN report warns against an increase in electronic waste in West Africa, with 85% of it coming from domestic consumption and the remainder through imports. The dangers to the population and environment are real but collection and recycling of this waste is a job creator in itself with about 30000 people deriving income from it in Ghana for example.

That’s it for this edition, back for more next week!

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…

 

.africa Domain Name? Soon Come…

Get ready people, you might be able to snatch a .africa domain name by 2013, as the ICANN is currently accepting applications for new generic top level domains and many organizations are going to put in applications for the .africa gTLD according to this CNN article. DotConnectAfrica, the African Top Level Domains Association, the African Registry Consortium and even the African Union Commission are all considering putting in the $185,000 required to apply for operating the “.africa” domain, with the Commission also vying for the  French and Arabic alternatives “.afrique” and “.afriqia”. The reasons put forward by Sophia Bekele, director of DotConnectAfrica makes sense based on their research:

  •  80% of African domain name registrants have opted for “.com” or “.org” suffixes instead of country code top level domains (ccTLDslike .sn, .co.za etc…) because they were priced competitively, reliable to register and had wide recognition.
  • ccTLDs are “usually owned by governments, and governments are typically not very good at marketing”.
  • Proceeds from African domain registrations would remain on the continent, rather than flowing offshore.

The African Union Commission goals are more culturally motivated and aim to “to ensure the identity of Africa, the image, the culture are well-maintained” according to Moctar Yedaly, head of information society for the commission. The support is there, especially from the young developer community, as well as corporations as a way to unifying branding. DotConnectAfrica plans to “offer domains at prices competitive to “.com” registrations — $5 for students, or between $9 to $19 for small- to medium-enterprises.”.

There are of courses folks a little more enthusiatic about the prospect, and the reservations against .africa come from governments who are worried  would jeopardize existing ccTLDs which Bekele assures, won’t happen due to the current state of affairs. From the private sector, some are more skeptical of mass adoption of the new domain name because new gTLDs like .africa go “against the grain of current consumer trends”, which is search engine and social media driven web navigation according to Ray Valdes, vice-president of web services for tech consultancy Gartner, who recommends avoiding the hefty fee and spurs companies in creating faster and more search engine friendly websites as well as increasing their social media presence.

Personally, i like the idea of a .africa domain name, I think it is critical in establishing, just from a mental point of view the broad vision that is needed by Africans to create an truly African marketplace. Having ccTLDs for a website makes it somewhat limited to me, seeing a ccTLD in a URL for me diminishes the value I think i can derive from the site, especially if it is from a country I am not familiar with. I don’t think I am alone in that behavior and having a .africa domain name gets over that initial hurdle. It would be up to Africans to give .africa the value of a .com or a .net but the new generation i feel is up to this challenge. I’ll definitely buy one as soon as it is available, mark my words.