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, 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!

Lessons in unsuccessful African startup creation

In a blog entry,  developer Pascal Ehitie Aito from Nigeria shares some insight in the best ways not to create a successful startup. It is funny and definitely makes sense. Highlights:

When developing your startup idea, ask yourself, “is what I am creating a solution to a NEED or a WANT?”  According to the Nigerian Bureau of statistics 60.9% of Nigerians in 2010 were living in “absolute poverty” i.e. less than $1 per day. Do you think that taking a hiatus to create a music startup to enable these people living in abject poverty listen to music amounts to a good use of your time? or “skills”?

Why would you clone when there are a myriad of problems you could develop solutions for? If you are developing a clone, ask yourself this question “why would anyone use this (***insert the name of your clone***) instead of the main thing (***insert the name of the website you cloned***)?” .

Reading too much of Techcrunch et al. These tech blogs are written by elitist white techies who live in silicon valley where the difference between over there and here is like light and day.

That last point makes sense, it’s easy to get overly enthusiastic reading the likes of TechCrunch and Venture Beat. Head over and also check out the comments on the article.

Website design rules for the African market

Will Mutua at Afrinnovator writes an interesting article on how to design websites for the African market and supports it with some facts on the ground. Looking at the examples of the most successful websites in Kenya and Nigeria, Will comes down with the following nuggets when it comes to designing for the African market:

  • First to market:
    Bottom line: If you are offering a great service, and customers catch on and engage with your service, it is unlikely that they’ll jump ship when someone else comes by who’s offering exactly what you are offering with a better looking skin on it.
  • User Experience Design trumps Graphic Design:
    You may not want to hold up the product because of the graphic design side of things but user experience is everything. If you’re going to spend time on design, spend as much of it as you can on getting aspects of user experience and user interaction just right.
  • Mobile Web Rules in Africa Design Specifically for it:
    […]It would be wise to invest in creating a custom site for mobile, or making your website mobile friendly. As far as web design for mobile goes, the cardinal principle is to minimize. Minimize on the number of graphics you have, minimize on the number of actions a user needs to do or number of pages it takes to accomplish a task.

Great advice very in tune with my own experience so far. Read the whole article here and you should also be a frequent reader of the Afrinnovator website.


African Mobile Tablets: A Reality

VMK TabletI ran into this recent article  from the sharp African Tech Evangelist Robert Alai discussing the topic of African tablets with Professor Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an inventor who holds a patent on a microchip used in minimally invasive surgical robots. I’ve first heard about African tablets earlier this year around June from this Engadget article about the Way C, dubbed the First African Tablet (which as with any “First” proclamation is subject to challenge), which pleasantly surprised me as I wasn’t aware of any such initiative being started on the continent. That was the work of Verone Mankou, a 25 year old Congolese entrepreneur and the news soon made the rounds on Twitter, with good coverage in local newspapers and French media.

What was even surprising to me was the mini controversy that soon followed as some critics questioned the “African” epithet in African Tablet due to the fact that even though the tablet was designed by an African, it was manufactured in China. I did not see the point of such an argument, iPhones are manufactured in China, yet they are not called Chinese phones. I guess the point of that argument could be more targeted at the fact that no new component was created by an African and the tablet is just assembled from existing components but that point is still moot with me. I am more encouraged by the fact that a tablet is being brought to market by an African, for the African market, than in how it is made. This is a starting point and it is needed. The Chinese started with R&D, Repatriated and Duplicate, and knowing how to reverse engineer can be a good starting point to innovation.

So when I read Robert’s article, I learned two new things: first that I was not the only one feeling that way, and second that there were other African tablets being released (Kaboo by a Kenyan, and Encipher/INYE by a Nigerian, Nigeria has also the Ovim tablet). Robert writes that:

Some of the claims from the pundits and journalists were that the Kenyan, Nigerian or Congolese could not have launched or managed to design a tablet so soon without 2 or so years of R&D. Most of these arguments were lame and just brought out the stupidity of the bloggers, pundits and journos. They forgot that many Africans have created far greater ideas without having to go the formal way of innovation.

Harsh terms but it illustrates the irritation that these arguments did indeed evoke in me. In the video accompanying the article, Robert discusses that issue with Professor Ndubuisi Ekekwe, dubbed by Robert as “one of the great young African minds out there”, and Professor Ndubuisi agrees:

He wondered why Africans should be forced to produce new processors, screens and other parts of a tablets while others have already done so. Ndubuisi is of the opinion that to create some of these ideas you just need to know how to assemble a product, make it look African and solve African problems. Africans need not reinvent the wheel.

In my computer science curriculum, this was one of the mantras that was stressed and oft repeated: “Do  not re-invent the wheel” so creating a tablet from existing components totally makes sense to me. I hope these initiatives do indeed capture the market and grow because tablets can be used in Africa for example at the education level, and this is one of the goals of Project Elimu, an open source SaaS School Administration & Management initiative by Coders4Africa, the non profit I work with. Having tablets mass adopted and incorporated in the African public psyche the way mobile phones are is key in ensuring that we can create solutions that make sense in our context.