Africa popping up in Trend Watch

Now this is positively surprising, though not to many Africa-watchers…
Africa is hot for business now, and its popping up in Time Mag’s trend watch. Great to see that ideas espoused at TEDGlobal Arusha 2007 are reaching the ‘center’ from the fringes.

It’s great to see Time magazine present some trends that are not obvious, well-worn, are already over. They take a chance in this list of ‘10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now.‘ The line up includes not your usual suspects. With any list like this, there is no telling which are likely, but they are at least plausible. Two extra points for a positive African scenario. The ten trends are featured in the pic below; details at the link.

Picture 38

(Via KK Lifestream.)

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder…what of the global economic crisis? Wouldn’t that put a dent in this positive outlook? Oz has a great run down of how the global crisis affects Africa.


1. A slump in external demand affects exports and remittances.
2. A slump in external demand lowers commodity prices. Oil producing nations such as Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.
3. Lack of credit is stifling capital inflows and trade finance in the more advanced markets like Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
4 The region is not immune to financial problems of its own. Credit has ballooned in many countries. Banks’ loan books are often concentrated in commodity-related industries.
5. Some retail investors borrowed heavily to punt on local stock markets.

You can also follow OZ on twitter.

Women Inventors and Innovators: Meet Bola Olabisi

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Global Voices had a wonderful meme that I marginally partipated in. I say marginally, because i did not exactly teach someone how to blog, though i added my 2 cents to a question posed about twitter, and was so glad to know that my input was helpful, and even more elated that the person I sorta ‘taught’ how to micro blog is an inspiration to many African women including me.

Bola Olabisi

Pic of Bola at TED Global Arusha

I was fortunate to meet Bola Olabisi of GWIIN (Global Women Inventors & Innovators network) in Long Beach during TED 2009. She is one extraordinary person. If you were at TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, you may remember her talk about women entrepreneurs and innovators. If not, click here for my post and here for Ethan Zuckerman’s blogging awesomeness.
I wrote of her TED talk:

Hers was a very inspiring talk because she exemplifies action. She saw something that wasn’t being done and just got on with making change happen.

To get updated on her organization’s work check out GWIIN. It will have a blog in future. Meanwhile, follow her on twitter. She is Tweeps, please welcome her.

So her statement about twitter was ‘I am still trying to figure out twitter’
This was my brief response, keeping in mind that she has an E71/s60 Nokia phone, and I hope its also helpful to others reading this blog.

1. Only follow people you are interested in. To message someone, type @ afromusing and short message following. This will be seen by all your followers. to direct message (without all your followers seeing d afromusing…

2. You can download an app for your e71 twibble so you can see your twitter stream on your cell phone. (this uses your data connection, so be sure you have a data package or a wifi-capable phone)

3. For a desktop client, use this allows you to share links, which you can shorten or which can aggregate all your other social networks (plus it is an app made in Capetown SA)

4. I have intentionally omitted the section on updating your twitter using SMS because I think that functionality was disabled for countries other than US.

5. You can tie your twitter acct to your facebook account with the app such that when you update your twitter it updates your FB status too.

Happy tweeting…and a belated Happy Valentines! Add more tips in comments.

Ory’s Video on

crossposted on the Ushahidi blog

Ory Okolloh is not only a blogger, founder of, co-founder of Ushahidi and colleague, she is also an inspiration to all of us. Below is the video of her talk at TEDGlobal 2007 – Arusha Tanzania.

The making of an African Activist

Ory, we are sambazaing this whether you want to hide or not 🙂

Monday Inspiration: Corneille Ewango

The botanist Corneille Ewango talks about his work in the Congo to protect the forest giraffe or ‘Okapi’. He touches on the effect of the war, mentioning the mineral coltan which is used in electronics like your cellphone. Do note that coltan has fueled the war in the Congo for many years.

He also goes over his life story, which personifies courage and endurance in the face of difficult circumstances.
If you are not able to view the video, you can read a summary by EthanZ.

Memes, Markets and Africa

I’ve been on the road since late last month, and I am afraid this space has been left quite neglected. So if there are any remaining readers…heres to a comeback.

I had the chance to speak at TTI Vanguard early this month and my topic of discussion was Innovation in Africa[pdf pg 10 and 11]. I gave a brief overview of the tech landscape in Africa, and engaged mostly in conversations around what is happening now. Since then, the article ‘Inside Nairobi, the Next Palo Alto?’ by G. Pascal Zachary in the NY times became the 7th most emailed article in the NYT world business section, spurring some discussion around the theme of Innovation, ‘light tech’ and localization of technology in Kenya.

As we all know there is this persisting perception of Africa as this sort of backward mess. Ethan Zuckerman has been writing for a few years about ‘rebranding Africa’ and more recently he wrote about David Weinberger’s Ninja Gap. Do read the whole piece, the bit that is relevant to this post is in part…

Context matters, Galtung argues. If weâ??ve got a mental image of Africa as a backwards and technically retrograde place, weâ??re likely to miss stories about innovation in mobile commerce (see the lead story in issue 407â?¦) or success in venture capital. Galtungâ??s fifth maxim is closely linked to the idea of cognitive dissonance – itâ??s uncomfortable to attempt to resolve new information that conflicts with existing perceptions, beliefs and behaviors.

Well, its quite an experience to have an encounter with someone who clearly brings this cognitive dissonance to light…I wont go there though. Suffice to say Africa, we have a long way to go. The overarching meme about Africa is still one of poverty, corruption, despots, famine and stunning sunsets…yeah, you know. Oh perhaps the stunning sunsets meme is one I would totally agree to and actively propagate, but I digress.This is with no small thanks to foreign correspondents who cover African news with the aforementioned brushstrokes.

So, while we African bloggers and digerati wrestle with not quite so positive images of Africa, debate Aid Vs Trade, couple that with our current reality of immense potential that is muffled by worrisome politics, rising inflation, environmental degradation and many other factors; I am
trying to think of the bigger picture, a way to wrap my mind around things.


Years ago, my friends’ mom told me about a ‘bad-good-shot’. When you swing that golf club and you know that you missed the green by considerable measure, yet the ball hits a tree and deflects onto a reasonable section of the course, then you get to make a better than expected shot. There are some projects and tech that arise out of challenges like dearth of broadband, and in reaction to the bad choices our leaders make. In Africa, we get some of those really bad shots, sometimes, something good arises out it and perhaps we can position ourselves for a much better shot at prosperity. I do not know if we can, but we can definitely aspire to it.

I think TEDGlobal Arusha had started that rebranding process, by bringing to Africa a mix of intellectuals, scientists, technologists…you name it; to experience an alternate African reality of sorts. Last monday, I was reminded by Sean to not underestimate the value in bringing prospective investors to Africa, so they can have a different context, and perhaps get over that ‘cognitive dissonance’. As I look back to TEDGlobal, I remember that I was in awe of my fellow Africans, I was inspired by them, and felt that we had just gotten to the ‘jumping off point’. I am still inspired by their talks as they are released on Well, December 30th 2007 came, when the meme of ‘Kenya’s potential’ suffered quite a blow. It will take awhile to rebuild that confidence in my mind, let alone the minds of others. I think other countries in Africa have a positive meme attached to them and boy, am I envious. My Ghanaian friends, please guard the positive meme of Ghana with all you’ve got. As a Kenyan, and also as an African I still believe that we can redefine/ we are redefining what it means to be African.


When it comes to markets and the potential in disruptive technology, I would strongly suggest you subscribe to Sean Park’s blog, and Bankelele’s too. These guys give you the meat and potatoes when it comes to evaluating not only the economics but the potential in mobile banking and other sectors of African/Kenyan economies. Because aspirations are well, good and awesome (really!), but at the end of the day, fundamentals of investing should always be rock solid.

So there is the perception problem, but that can be tackled by hard data. Speaking of market data, AfriMonitor launched earlier this month.


It will be a great resource as the bid to rebrand Africa continues. Various conferences will be happening throughout the year, and will be invaluable in bringing together many of you who see this alternate African technological reality. I am still bummed that I did not make it to Barcamp Nairobi in June, but I am making every effort to make sure I do not miss the next one. Last but not least, I just want to salute Wilfred Mworia, all the geeks and volunteers at Ushahidi, Josiah Mugambi, Dorcas Muthoni of Linux chix Africa, Riyaz, all the Skunkworks geeks, Kasahorow crew, JAB, techies in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and other African countries. Here is to not just the next Palo Alto, but the next Nairobi, Accra, Abuja, Capetown, Johannesburg, Lusaka etc.

Thank you Hash for the cool graphics, they are based on one I found on Memehuffer

Video & Short Summary: Chris Anderson on Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose interviewed Chris Anderson of TED on his show…below is the video.

There is another famous Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine and author of the popular book ‘The long Tail’…so just to make it clear, the Chris Anderson on the video is not the same as the Wired guy, though they are both just brilliant. The wired Chris Anderson spoke at a TED conference; his talk on Technology’s long tail is available on as are other amazing talks. I recommended his book on this post in 2006, and Erik did an interesting post on The long tail of Banking in Kenya. What is going to be the next big idea in business this year?
On the digital activism front; i cant wait to hear about the ‘Cute Cat Theory’ by Ethan Zuckerman at Etech March 3rd. Ethan will also be live blogging TED2008 Conference in Monterrey from Feb 27th – March 1st. I would bookmark his blog/subscribe to his rss feed for his coverage and other Africa-watching-tech-digital-activism posts.

I am becoming more cognizant of the fact that embedded videos are not easily viewable on mobile phones; and since some of this blog’s readership is in Africa, i will summarize a bit of the interview.
You can read about Chris Anderson’s background on the TEDblog

Chris gives an introduction of what TED is, and mentions its rapid expansion. Just to paraphrase, TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is about bringing together scientists, architects, artists, leaders – basically a diverse group of people from many fields to talk about their work and how it fits into the bigger global picture.
Charlie says it sounds elitist to him: In response, Chris points out that it is indeed expensive, at $6000 a person to attend, but that the content is available on the internet for free. He touches on some of the speakers that have graced the TED stage including Craig Venter’s interesting research on creating synthetic lifeforms. Craig’s work could solve the energy crisis and global warming -more on that here. Chris also mentioned the Google founder’s talk several years ago, where Sergei Brin and Larry page talked about their company.
Charlie asked about the TED prize, which Chris explained as not just a $100,000 award for the recipient to make his/her wish come true, it is also the commitment and assistance from others in the TED community that makes things happen. They cut to a video showing E.O Wilson’s TED wish for the Encyclopaedia of Life; Chris mention that it would be unveiled in march. Here is a link to the EOL site.
Chris mentions some of the speakers and TED Prize winners lined up for TED2008, Dave Eggers, Neil Turok – A physicist who is setting up an institution for science in Africa…and Karen Armstrong. More info here.

Charlie Wilson brings up JJ Abrams; (creator of popular TV shows Lost and Alias) and they cut to a video of JJ’s talk. Chris explains that JJ’s talk centered around the role of mystery/hiding in cinema, a technique used by the likes of Spielberg (You never saw the shark in the movie ‘Jaws’ till the very end.) They discuss a bit more on the mission of TED being ‘Ideas worth spreading’, and Chris notes that its about seeing ideas take shape, and in the coming years actually see the ideas in practice.
Charlie asks “Why 18 minutes long?” – Because it is long enough not to be trivia, but short enough to hold your attention. This reminded me of Andrew Mwenda at TED Global last year who said; that a TED talk should be like a miniskirt – â??long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to maintain interestâ?. Moving along…

Chris talked about how the lives of the speakers at TED are transformed. Their work; which they have often been doing over many years without much exposure, gets recognized and becomes widely known. The example of Hans Rosling’s talk which has now been watched by more that a million and half people around the world.
Chris also talked about the teaching profession and how the broadband and video revolution is redefining this role. He feels that we shall continue to see an explosion of knowledge that is far reaching.

Charlie asked Chris about 3 people who changed his life, and Chris responded
– His editor when he was a journalist showed him the importance of passion and enthusiasm for good work. Adding emotional richness to experiences is important and that is why they include musicians and artists as part of TED (I am paraphrasing!)
– Jonathan Haidt, the author of ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’
Charlie wraps it up and asks about the dates of TED2008 – Feb 27th – March 1st. Chris mentions some of the big questions anchoring the conference this year…a full list from the TED site include…

Who are we?
What is our place in the universe?
What is life?
Is beauty truth?
Will evil prevail?
How can we change the world?
How do we create?
What’s out there?
What will tomorrow bring?
What stirs us?
How dare we be optimistic?
And the point?

Some notes on the DEMO video (long)

Well, when I started blogging I never thought a video of me talking at a panel was part of the deal, its quite strange watching yourself and getting self conscious about the whole thing. OMG mom! I am on the equivalent of TV! Lame lines aside; Erik has the video, I cant get myself to embed the video on my blog yet. I feel like Mike, that i could have done more. Some of the things I mentioned might seem a bit esoteric, so i will add some links and mention a few things i think i should have included at the panel.

OLPC: This computer has been the subject of discussions with Erik, Steve, JKE, Maitha and others for awhile now, several years actually. Erik’s post in 2005, my post in 2006 and even more recently regarding the keyboard design. It seems like we have lived through the project since it was a concept to its current reality. My thoughts on it have fluctuated, from the posts I wrote in the past, I was really gung ho about the thing. I still am on some level, as I do appreciate that I wouldn’t be where I am, were it not for access to computers (and power actually) during my formative years. This is what i wanted to say…

I was listening to the digital planet podcast (11/26) where they had a correspondent attend the launch of the OLPC in Abuja, Nigeria. You could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in the children’s voices as they spoke of what they would do with the OLPC. It was a great moment. Now to the questions that started popping into my head like Orville Redenbachers microwave popcorn. When Gareth Mitchell was talking to Bill Thompson, they mentioned how they attended the OLPC launch in Tunis and how a child was crying because they’d been given an OLPC to play with for a time, then it was taken away. That was not a good moment, rather sad really, that kid is probably traumatized right now wherever he or she may be. I mean isn’t that just a little cruel? I know i would wail like a banshee if i was in her shoes. The discussion segued into what it would mean for the children to have a laptop that they would call their own. This got me wondering, that perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the OLPC project is that it would enhance the idea of ‘mine’ rather than ‘ours’. In modern Africa do the age old African values of community and sharing still apply? Would the OLPC idea chip away at the ‘utu’, that is a societal benchmark? Is the Ndiyo project a better thought out model for computer literacy, what with the idea of USB thin clients that I am already a fan of?

I should add that I think the Ndiyo model of networked computing could be well suited for school situations. This is because of two reasons.
1. Cost – The class sizes in Kenya increased owing to the free primary schooling offered by the government. Having a networked model enables more students to get basic computer literacy, as they can share the computer lab resources. This is particularly apt i think because the OLPC project was geared towards schools in the developing world.
2. This i already mentioned above…the idea of ‘my laptop’. The OLPC can be shared between students…but if you have a class of 30 children and 28 OLPC’s someone will undoubtedly get disappointed.On the other hand, as Steve mentioned in the post on OLPC Keyboard..i will reiterate his comment here, because i think its very important.

Some thoughts: you ask “Maybe I am looking at this all wrong, Is Negroponte pimping the â??education projectâ?? in pursuit ofâ?¦what?”. Well, maybe the answer is indeed in plain sight. Maybe he just wants to provide technology access to the masses like he keeps telling us he wants to.
And here is another thought for you: if the OLPC team did indeed go to Nigeria to look for inspiration for the design of the product, it is heartening that they are looking to the populations that will actually use these products for design and usability clues instead of sitting in Boston or LA or wherever and saying “hey, thats what the kids/world/users/consumers need”.
I have in the last month or so found myself increasingly frustrated with this attitude to design and product creation when I have to “fix” my computer for my 4 year old who wants to use it but cannot understand why in the world Windows keeps doing stuff and getting in his way.
Find out what your users need and want and give it to them. End of story.

Though i haven’t had a chance to play with the OLPC, I am sure its a fine product. From Steve’s comment i think the OLPC should just be marketed as a low cost computer for those interested to buy for their children/themselves, and not specifically geared towards governments purchasing them for schools. The Give one Get one campaign was nice…but how were the ‘given’ laptops distributed? What rationale? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I think that at a price like $100 how about seeing some free-market action going on in Africa? That is a whole other AID Vs TRADE debate right there.

On the power to charge OLPC: There is a larger question of power in Africa, which i won’t get into right now (though i will in the coming weeks) For a glimpse of the opportunity, Idris Mohammed mentioned the great opportunity in power generation during last years’ TEDGlobal. More here, and whenever his talk is posted, it will be on the TED site here. Erik did mention that there is a cranking device that can be used to power the OLPC, and browsing the power supply tab on OLPC news shows some novel and innovative approaches to solving the power problem. From a cow dynamo to something i like…the OLPC solar mesh repeater.
The company i referred to in the video is called Verviant. It is based in Nairobi and helps small to medium sized businesses in the East Coast of US to maximize on limited IT budgets. In speaking with Onesmus Kamau of Verviant, he indicated that the company was able to deploy a video management system that will save their client $500,000. It is but one example of the opportunity in outsourcing web development, database management, and software development in general. This infoworld article (albeit a few months old) mentions the hot spots for this being Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Rwanda. I would also recommend watching Carol Pineau’s movie ‘Africa Open for Business’ if you haven’t already. The blogger Nii Simmonds, who will be speaking at SXSW writes about business in Africa,including outsourcing. His blog ‘Nubian Cheetah’ is a good resource, as is Emeka Okafor’s Timbuktu Chronicles. The PSD blog is also another good resource…(links to other outsourcing references are quite welcome, do chime in on the comments)

Mobile Phone Tech: I think between Mike, and Erik we covered this o.k. A sim card/chip costs less than a dollar…and the phone with a flashlight that I was referring to in the video looks like this.
Picture 3.png
On cell phone reach, here is one example of celtel’s reach illustrated in a post from a Zambian economist. My little screed last year about the iphone hints at the fact that i totally love the fact that you can choose whichever carrier you like when in Kenya/most parts of Africa. Its just a matter of switching sim cards and not having to worry about whether your phone will work or not. Most if not all the handsets in Kenya are unlocked.

On the parting shot: Customization and allowing for grassroots creativity. I wanted to mention that this idea is illustrated best by Chris Nikolson,in an NYT article, and context was added by one of my favourite bloggers ‘African Uptimist. Please see this post. It has some great examples that show how the idea (a strategic one at that) is implemented in the field. I felt like my brain had some speedbumps and for some reason Chris Nikolson’s name completely disappeared from my head. I think his quote is so important, let me amplify it again here if I may…

The best results are achieved when you move with the natural flow of grassroots creativity. Often, this means abandoning or suppressing preconceived notions, and building on spontaneous and creative adaptations of the new technology by local people to meet their needs.

One more link…Guy Lundy’s ‘Future Fit’ – An African futurist to watch.

TEDAfrica – Registration opens today.

TEDAfrica logo

The TED Africa conference in Capetown South Africa, promises to build on the magic of TED Global 2007. The concept for this years’ conference makes that quite clear.

What if Africa had no borders? What if her boundaries extended as far as those living in the diaspora, or even further? What if you could fly directly from Cape to Cairo, Lagos to Luanda, Bujumbura to Abuja? Or what if you could drive to every city and every town and every village? What if the Internet was a reality for every African? What if you could call the world from atop the Kilimanjaro, or from deep in the forests of the Congo? What if a lingua franca was spoken and understood by every African? What if we could halve the number of poor Africans by 2015, or eradicate poverty altogether someday? What if there was a cure for every disease and the average African could live beyond the age of 33? What if Africa embraced innovative thinking, and in the process, reinvented her future?

I would recommend registering early for this exciting event, and if interested in the African Fellows program, to apply for it as soon as possible. There are 50 fellowships available this year.

Quick notes

I have a new post on Global voices, rounding up environment news from blogs. You can add the code showing all the pieces I do for GV to your website. Incentive? My perpetual gratitude.

Via Carbon Copy
A cool mashup site with base maps showing CO2 emission levels, power plant locations, photos, videos etc.

Cho of New Zambia has an excellent intro to the Zambian blogosphere

Confession: I do not like traffic jams at all…one thing that’s been making it bearable for me is listening to Ted Talks and other podcasts on the Ipod (o.k, ok, i watch abit at stop lights and such). Thing is, i got a weird, albeit puzzled look from another motorist at a stop light because i was clapping my hands. An unintended consequence of watching inspiring ted talks in public places.
The video I was applauding to was that of Zeray Alemseged, specifically where he said

A positive African Attitude towards Africa is the Key

Clean Drinking Water Pumped by Wind Energy!

This installation in Chifiri, in North Eastern province Kenya is an example of how wind and solar installations can be used to provide the needs of marginalized communities in arid and semi-arid areas.
Chifiri Wind Turbine
Simon Mwacharo, TEDGlobal speaker and renewable energy innovator has written about it in wonderful detail and provided pictures. Read more about it here.

The turbine also provides some power to the nearby manyattas (traditional samburu huts), Simon noticed a Japanese guy camped out near the turbine. That was the only place he could charge his laptop and phone!

Do note that next week, the TEDGlobal talks will premiere on Subscribe in itunes by searching for tedtalks and also check the TED blog for a series of posts from bloggers who attended the conference. A piece i wrote is is alread posted on the TED blog, Like Emily said ‘This is the bloggers story to tell’, because there wasn’t as much coverage of it in the mainstream news. I hope you enjoy the talks.