Zimbabwe Suffering

Most of you in the blogosphere have heard how bad things are. If not, click here to see a video of what Mr. Mugabe’s govt is doing. Our African leaders failed to persuade Mugabe to stop the madness, meanwhile Zimbabweans continue to suffer. This picture which appeared on the mg.za photo widget caught my eye. It captures a bit of that exasperation and imminent danger to those in Zim.

‘If I die, I want people to know why’
MGZaImage
This young man joined Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service in late 2005 and has related to the M&G stomach-turning details of secret prisons and torture camps. He has now been moved to an unknown location in Europe and continues to fear for his life and for the lives of his remaining relatives in Zimbabwe.
John Grobler, M&G

Read the full story about the above picture here (Title – “I was in a Zimbabwe Death Squad”).

Please visit a fellow blogger Sokwanele for more information and info on how you can help. Thanks.

Cellphone Base stations powered by wind and solar

This post by Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu chronicles makes me just want to jump up and down with glee. “Simmer down now and write the post AFM”.O.k o.k. This is exciting!awesome!totally cool! omg! “Chill out and quit acting like a teenager seeing orlando bloom for the first time” o.k o.k! – Serious face on now…

image from TC - solar base stations
The post by TC is about cell phone base stations run by wind and solar power currently in use in Namibia. These may already be in use by Celtel, since these stations were delivered to them in 2005 (per this post, also by TC) Does anyone reading this blog know if Celtel is currently using such base stations? If you have pics, or more info, please comment. TIA. I have made some enquiries and will update you once i know for sure.

Update:Sunday March 11th: Celtel does indeed use the wind powered base stations in kenya, a company called WinAfrique provides the wind turbines.  Thanks Bankelele!
Why is this so apropos? There is now no excuse for mobile phone companies to neglect areas such as North Eastern Kenya in providing cell phone services. Places like baragoi and other remote parts of kenya can have cell phone coverage if more of these base stations are used. The initial cost of the solar panels and wind turbines will be paid off quickly and the mobile service provider will recoup their money in no time. One thing would be to find the most important outposts such as schools, boreholes, places of religious importance such as kisima – near maralal; install the base stations there.

More reading material from TC: PDF of Siemens PV systems for Telecom

AkalaNote: Barcampkenya – Nairobi is set for March 31st, please sign up here I join whiteafrican in providing drinks, since i can’t be there in person:- Incentive people!

Solar Concentrator update

I made some inquiries about the $450 solar concentrator (Sun Flower) that i blogged about last year
sunflower

I contacted Andrew Beebe of energy innovations, about their plans for making the sunflower available for purchase: It is not available for sale in international markets until 2008. According to the EI site, they are still testing and refining the Sunflower.

This is one product I am looking forward to testing it in Kenya once it becomes available, mainly because it is cost effective, and suitable for those wishing to still be tied to the electricity grid, but supplement their energy needs or even resell it to the Electric company.
AOB:

Ugo Okafor of African Architecture had blogged about a solar Chimney/Concentrated solar power plant in Sahara desert. This is a very powerful idea that apparently has a precedent. Bruno De Wachter writes on Leonardo Energy

In the current photovoltaic industry boom, another solar power technology has somehow been overshadowed: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). CSP uses mirrors to concentrate the sun rays on a pipe or vessel. These contain a gas or liquid that is heated to around 400° C and is then used to power conventional steam turbines. The technology is proven â?? a CSP plant in the California desert has been functioning very effectively for fifteen years. One major advantage of CSP is that the medium heated during the day can be stored in vessels to keep the turbines running at night.

more here and also a post on a superconducting hydrogen-electricity grid

KWFT – Loans for Solar Systems

kwft

*image from KWFT.ORG.

- Kenya Womens Finance Trust has a program for loaning qualified women in Kenya money for purchase of solar systems.

KWFT Mission is to facilitate access to sustainable financial and non-financial services to economically active women entrepreneurs.

Information gathered from brochures at their main office indicate that they have introduced new products that include solar systems for household, business premises lighting and Income generating endeavors, such as mobile phone charging stations. Listed on there are the many benefits of using solar energy systems in part: Its a one time investment, improved study time for your children, access to information through television and radio, very low maintenance costs, movable in case of migration, easy to operate, helps conserve environment (reduces use of wood).

KWFT has an extensive network of locations in kenya, with offices in all the major regions. To be a member, the application is available online or at any of the locations, it costs Ksh 200. To qualify for the loans one would need to already be a business woman, other requirements apply depending on the type of loans.

The info about the loans for solar systems has not been updated on the site, but is available at the KWFT offices.

KT Travel Tips

This is a follow up post on the one tip i posted, others in the diaspora contributed some useful tips for traveling to Kenya and Africa in general. (Thank you!) This post is to meant to highlight their contributions.
Lets start with the obvious: Make sure your passport hasn’t expired. Contact the Kenya Embassy, there are 3 locations, DC, LA and NY. A family member went to the NY office, where the staff was courteous and expedient in providing them with the travel documents they needed! This is unlike the passport blues of last year in DC. Way to go guys!

If you will be going through Britain, Magaidi has a tip for you:

…for those transiting through London, you might want to call the British Consulate, moreso for those changing Airports (eg. Flying into Heathrow and departing from Gatwick) in order to get a temporary VISA. This could save you inconveniences and delays once you get there.

MONEY

Credit cards and cash? Input on this came from several bloggers. Ssembonge said

Amex is only accepted in the US and in establishments worldwide that cater for business travelers. In the US, some places donâ??t accept Amex.
If going to Kenya carry cash, which can be easily exchanged at the numerous bureaus. You get a better deal in downtown than in tourist hotel and banks. If you have a huge amount you can negotiate the exchange rate up front if you convert it all at once. Since many establishments accept Visa/MC, I usually end up returning with my dollars.

EGM added -

The one thing about using cards is the length of time it takes to process transactions. As late as October this year I saw a payment I made at Java way back in January get posted. Most of the transactions were posted within a week of making them, but about 5 or so took almost 5 months on average to post. So this time I will try and use cash everywhere, resorting to the card only as a last option.

Kikuyu Moja representing Deutschland and ‘Old World’ KT’s chimed in regarding credit cards that have worked just fine…

…my Maestro debit card and Master Card work perfectly well with Barclays.

E-Nyce (could you kindly give me a link to your blog?) – pointed out a very handy tip that Kudrinketh shared over on Bankelele’s . The handy tip from Kudrinketh is:

For all diaspora investors who will be sending tons of money home for IPO investment,i have a money saving tip.DO NOT USE MONEYGRAM OR WESTERN UNION.

I have been preaching this for years yet people still burn money through these sharks.here’s how you send money home for free,with the best rate.Bank of America(BOA) and Barclays bank have an agreement whereby one can use either bank’s ATM for free.so what i do is open a BOA acct in U.S,send the debit card home and whenever i want to send money i simply deposit money in my BOA acct and instruct the recipient to withdraw cash from Barclays ATM.No fees,you get market exchange rates,no hassle,you can get money 24/7.I have been doing this since 1998 and i can say I’ve saved a ton of money

Another money saving tip,y’all know how most banks charge foreign transaction(2-3%) fees when you use your credit card when you travel abroad.well,Capital One credit card waives this fee so you can swipe you card anywhere in the world without extra penalty.

And from Whispering Inn:

Carry only two cards â?? one debit card for cash and one credit card for purchases. Leave all your other cards behind.

The best option, though, is to open a separate checking account with your bank, transfer a maximum of $1,500 (or however much youâ??re gonna need for the entire trip) into the account, get one of those debit cards that also function as a credit card attached to it, and carry/use ONLY that one card during your travel. Its safer and easier to keep track of your spending. Leave all your other cards behind.

Iâ??ve also found American Express TCs (Travellers Cheques) to be very convenient.

Write and keep the phone numbers of your bank, VISA/MC, and Amex in a separate pocket from your wallet â?? in case you lose your wallet.

Keep receipts of all transactions and pore over your statement when you return or online everyday if you have a secure computer. Easier to catch unauthorized transactions.

Iâ??ve found Barclays bank foreign currency counter at Queensway branch the most helpful.

He also added that if you travel to kenya more than twice a year, just keep an account there and use cash from it when there. I second his recommendation to use Barclays, the service i received was pretty good.

PHONES & ACCESORIES

From Ntwiga are two awesome tips, he has a splitter for his laptop btw, that’s another tip you can check out over at his blog.

- sign up for Skype/Vonage or some other internet service for $10-19 or so a month with a new number and forward your calls from your regular number to your new internet service number. Get a head set with a mike and you can then use any PC in Kenya to make calls to the US/rest of the world for free or stupidly low rates. I used this service to call my credit card companyâ??s 800 number for free when they decided to freeze my account.

- buy a cheap used 900Mhz GSM phone like a Nokia 6100/6610 on eBay, take it with you and use it there. Good phones are expensive in Kenya. For comparison purposes, a 6610/6100 costs maybe $40 (Kshs 3500) on ebay vs. $110 (Kshs 8500) in Kenya. A â??crackberryâ? 7100 costs $80 on eBay (Kshs 7000) vs. atleast $250 (Kshs 18000) in Kenya. You can use the phone to check email, blog or even hook up a laptop to the net via GPRS.

For how to connect to the internet using GPRS, we hop on over back to Kikuyu Moja’s post on this.

In order to use GPRS with Safaricom, all you have to do (as a prepaid customer!!!) is to send an empty short message (SMS) to 4777. Thatâ??s it!
They will then shortly afterwards send you a confirmation sms and the settings for your GPRS capable (!) phone which you will be asked to save and activate using the following PIN: â??1234â??. Simple as that.

If the settings canâ??t be received for whatever reason, but your phone is able to do GPRS, then try the following settings for Safaricom:

APN: safaricom
username: saf
password: data

Do check his site for more on GPRS in Kenya. What i can add for US KT’s – when looking for the data cable that you will need to use with your Quad band/GSM capable phone, buy it from ebay or amazon.com. Radioshack and Best buy are packaging the cable with software and inflating the price, you could have gotten it for $12 but with the software bundl its now $50.

From E-Nyce:

- do not buy power adapters (plastic thingies that allow US cords to plug into Kenyan sockets) in the US – even assuming you can easily find them, theyâ??re cheaper in Kenya! Although JKE aka kikuyumoja might have better perspective on the quality of these. They work fine for me. YMMVâ?¦

I second this, the one i took last year burnt out in no time (Jensen), found a decently priced one at walmart $20 for Travelwise international converter set. Lets see if it holds up.

MISC

E-Nyce again :)

- wanna buy inexpensive gifts for the folks in the Motherland? Go to Walmart if you have â??em, or better a 99-cents store, to stock up on plenty of low-cost goodies.

- if youâ??re taking a laptop, load up as much music as you can on it. Not only good to have some comfort-food for yourself, others will be interested in hearing different music. Believe-it-or-not, I got so many Kenyan friends hooked on Trip-Hop and Nu-Soul, sounds they had never heard before. Funny, considering that these genres are heavily influenced by African rhythms.

I think that’s all for now, for those in the US, if you have Time Warner Cable and get BET Jams, saturday nights starting at 11:00PM eastern, you can watch great African videos, from the Soweto Gospel choir, Fela Kuti, Lingala and more. The program is called Soul Of Africa – Cool stuff.

Suswa

Since Africa is the cradle of mankind, is this the belly button?

suswa

Click here for the google earth placemark

In case you missed it, there is a fun quiz on africa. Do check it out if you havent already, just ten questions. When taking it, i learned that there is a school called ‘Ramses college for girls’ in Cairo. Not entirely sure why i was laughing…hard. Yani if i get a kido and she misbehaves i can yell ‘Quit playing, i will send you to Ramses college for girls!’

*(Its probably a really good sch, i am just using the name for corny-effect)

Jonathan Castros Automatic Niche Store Generator

Via Solarbuzz.
Jonathan Castros Automatic Niche Store Generator
There are 3 interesting things in this article. It isnt just about solar panels being installed in post offices. It points out an effective system for providing financial services like Life Insurance, for rural areas. In kenya, people can access the internet at post offices, but there are still some rural areas that are not covered, as i bet they also do not have financial services in those remote areas. Another thing? There is money to be made.

The �??Postal Fin-mart�?? had been set up with the objective of addressing all the financial needs of the customers starting with postal savings to postal life insurance as well as sale of other financial instruments under one roof.
She said that power was being generated using solar panels at a post office in Maharajganj in Rae Bareli district while similar panels are being installed in Sindholi, Bikapur (Faizabad) and Gauriganj (Sultanpur) regions

Free Alaa, Egyptian Blogger

Via Mshairi and Black Looks.
Alaa Abd El-Fatah was arrested along with other activists in Egypt, Cairo. This is a very sad situation for Egypt, and for Africa as a whole.
Join the effort to bring awareness by and linking the word Egypt to the site http://freealaa.blogspot.com/

I have always wanted to visit Egypt, what with all the history, mystique and…Using the word egypt as many times as possible in a creative manner isnt as simple as i thought. I dont want to just type Egypt Egypt Egypt all over the place. Ok, i am sure egyptians would be kinda miffed at me starting to say things like..oh the pyramids of Egypt, oh the nile in Egypt, and oh the dates in Egypt- there are dates in Egypt right? Yummy ones too i bet. Moving along, the linen pants in Egypt – When i think of people wearing linen…guess what? its in Egypt. Oh the miraa in Egypt!I do not mean to make light of the situation in Egypt, iam serial, the egyptian government needs to support free speech and free Alaa. Please.

FreeAlaa

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Solo Project Part I

The guys at Explan were kind to answer the questions we had about the Solo project (Thank You Paul!), the series of posts are broken down as follows.
Part I – Introduction and abit of background on the solo project
Part II – Technical questions answered with the assistance of Kikuyu Moja
You can read part II here.
Part III – What next, what now – which style of IT implementation is more appropriate to users in a rural town/village?

PART I
The first thing to point out, is what the Solo project is NOT, it is important to know that the project is not an AID/charity type initiative. It does not receive financial support or grant from any government or NGO. It is fully commercial, the Design Team comprises a collaboration between 14 companies or freelance engineers. The Solo design is owned by the members of the Design Team who make decisions without a financier over-ruling them for short term gain.
They are based in northern Europe, though the manufacturing of the solo will be done in manufacturing bases in Africa. Kenya is one of the countries in consideration as a base, Nigeria too per this post. The solo is still in development and has not been manufactured yet.

Remember the discussions last year during Live 8 about Aid and how innefective Aid has been over the years? KP’s ongoing commentary on Aid and MMK’s post.
For more on why Aid does not work, check out the recent essay by William Easterly (via Muti)

    Strategy, motivation, what are these guys about?

Paul explained
“…we are not just designing a solar-powered computer, but we carefully research what is required, and take an active role to ensure that out strategy can provide the right technology to the right regions’.
The ethics of fair trade are integral to their strategy and drive their thinking on the solo project.In-part, this influenced the decision to have manufacturing bases in Africa/developing world. For more on their their thinking…paul explained to me this way, and it definitely makes sense to me.

Consider this: The *majority* of the world, measured either by population or land-area, is beyond the reach of mains-power and attainable telecommunications (ie I’m ignoring expensive satellite phone systems for the moment).

And yet telecommunications is the backbone of modern worldwide trade in the same way that the steam-engine was the backbone of the industrial revolution 200 years ago. So if your position in world society denies you access to modern telecommunications, then you must remain inpoverty. The only route to the wider market for your goods is through a middle-man who takes the profit.

The Solo Project may initially appear to be about the design of ultra-low energy computer technology. But in reality, its overall goal is to “change the way in which the world works”.

In theory you could attempt the same changes by using other existing computer hardware. However, the major factor is the running cost rather than the IPP (Initial Purchase Price). Based on Microsoft’s own survey figures, published by them in 1998, the IPP of a typical Windows-PC accounts for only 20% of the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) over a 5-year average lifetime.

So even if a Kenyan village invested $1000 in a laptop, software and GSM data-link, they should expect to find an additional $4000 to keep this operating correctly, legally, safely and efficiently over the 5-year life of the installation.

In fact since 1998, the TCO has swung even further in that direction. The cost of hardware has almost halved during that period, whilst the costs of software, virus protection and maintenance have risen. And in the Developing World, the percentage is even worse because you also have to consider where to get your electricity (generator?) and the higher cost of maintenance because technical skills are further away from you. If we want to break that log-jam, then we must concentrate on lowering the TCO, and not get hung-up on the IPP[initial purchase price]. Thus anyone who asks us “how much will a Solo cost?” has missed the point!

If we offered a Solo computer with solar-power-supply for only $200 we would still fail! But if we design a computer that will last 12 years in the field and cost less than $100 per year over its lifetime, then we’ll succeed. The difference in thinking is crucial.

So one of the first steps we must take is to build the computers as close as possible to the user-base in the rural areas of the Dev-World. This greatly lowers the TCO and places the best technical support within reach of the people who need it most.

As you may well know, Kenya, and the East African region has been struggling with power deficits. The solo is an ‘ultra-low-energy computer’ that can use solar energy, and thus would be suited for use in rural areas such as Baragoi, Maralal and parts of North Eastern Kenya where there are no electricity lines.. I am citing those areas because i have been there and i know there is no reason for them not to have access to computers, and in the near future, access to the internet.