One idea for Africa’s Internet Future

A recent Mozilla report from Kenya brought to light the fact that web there are millions of people getting online who do know what the internet is, that the internet is theirs, that it is not one walled garden, and are not aware of the possibilities of creation and not just consumption. That
“The Internet and its potential are yet to be discovered by a substantial amount of people. Participants mainly considered the Internet as a way of interacting with others through social media, and are not aware of other resources the Internet has to offer.”

Consider that there is also an emerging problem of internet fragmentation; in various forms. The first type of fragmentation to highlight is commercial fragmentation, of which walled gardens is a particular issue. See Vint cerf paper on internet fragmentation.

Commercial Fragmentation A variety of critics have charged that certain commercial practices by technology companies also may contribute to Internet fragmentation. The nature of the alleged fragmentation often pertains to the organization of specific markets and digital spaces and the experiences of users that choose to participate in them, but sometimes it can impact the technical infrastructure and operational environments for everyone. Whether or not one considers commercial practices as meriting the same level of concern as, say, data localization is of course a matter of perspective. Certainly there are significant concerns from the perspectives of many Internet users, activists and competing providers in global markets. As such, the issues are on the table in the growing global dialogue about fragmentation, and they therefore merit consideration here. Accordingly, in this section we briefly survey five sets of issues: peering and standardization; network neutrality; walled gardens; geo-localization and geo-blocking; and infrastructure-related intellectual property protection.”

“zero rating ends up violating net neutrality and favouring the supplier and its selected partners in a manner that limits people’s’ access to and understanding of the Internet.

Why is this problem urgent? – The generativity of the internet is at risk. With the stated aspirations of African leaders to lead the digital revolution; it would be important to consider the risks to this digital revolution if key issues of net neutrality, internet freedom and most of all… access are not tackled head on with clear mandates, collaborations and projects to address these issues.

Consider this idea: A digital survival guide for the 21st century.
What if we could educate current and future generations on what the internet is, its ethos, its culture, its history. What it is and what it could be? What if we included internet and web literacy as part and parcel of learning programs in Africa and the world?

What are the initial ideas to get started on right away?

1. Work with partners to have educational content about the Internet included in the curriculum deployed to the edges of society. For this, I am excited to announce that the Internet Society of Kenya agrees to join BRCK.org in this regard.

2. Work with partners to deploy educational content about the Internet to community centers (turned into digital community centers), alongside the online starter toolkit, digital job training materials, women and youth empowerment activities. Intel Foundation is looking at projects in Kenya for this.

3. Support organizations on the ground with connectivity services – CISCO is providing support for connectivity as the next Africa Cancer Foundation provides free screenings!

There is more to do; and it is quite encouraging when we see governments, philanthropists, private sector and civil society engage on these matters from many angles.

If these ideas sound interesting to you, do get in touch info@brck.org and let us figure out how we can do our part to ensure that we are rolling our sleeves and doing our part for the next generation of african technologists and yes, that we are contributing to the African digital revolution.

On Africa, Growth and Transformation

Below are some thoughts I wanted to share today at the closing plenary of the World Economic Forum on Africa. Many thanks to Mike Macharia, Bill Hoffman, Lorna Irungu-Macharia and Paul Cohen for their thoughts. [More edits later when I get time!]

With population growth of < 30 who could be disaffected, unemployed uneducated or we could be investing in this generation to make them innovative entrepreneurs who are participants in shaping a better future. Africa is at an inflection point of engaging and training the future. From Large corp, Civil Society, innovation hubs like iHub. We should engage on transforming Africa, or we give up a century.

McKinsey estimates Africa’s gross domestic product at about US $2.6 trillion, with US $1.4 in consumer spending. Africa’s population growth and urbanization rates are among the highest in the world and these are the statistics generating demand for innovative new ways to handle the problems they raise

Be careful not to confuse growth with transformation. Growth statistics can provide confidence to invest and a willingness to change. Change cannot be orchestrated, sometimes it happens often from the bottom up. Tolerance for this change and actually support for these changes. One of those positive changes is the growth of innovation and business hubs like the iHub in Nairobi, Bongohive in Tanzania and IceAddis here in Ethiopia. e.g Tax Breaks and incentives for innovation hubs Africa wide. Connect, Invest and scale the work happening here.

A connected world has different velocities, power structures, different risks but transformative opportunities. We are in a hyper connected century of not just consumers, but producers, diverse micro economies and We cannot be afraid of complexity, diversity and gender equity. Empowerment of women and education. Although only 1 in 5 women is a legislator it is higher than the global rate.

Solutions need to be Demand based From my perspective: We can learn from Technology adoption worldwide can provide near term benefits in areas in Agriculture, a woman with a mobile phone and access to an Ushahidi system to get information about appropriate plant disease in Argentina. Adoption of these kinds of systems in Africa can help. The best uses of open source technology is often not under our control. We can provide a great skeleton on which various stakeholders can flesh out appropriate, local solutions. In addition there are homegrown startups like Mfarm and iCow in Kenya. These are young tech women creating solutions for the agricultural sector. We need to support and scale what they are doing to other parts of Africa.

Illusion of a nexus between education, entrepreneurship and innovation. There are real gaps that need to be filled. Focus needs to be on bridging these gaps in a real way and not just in talk. Digital and financial literacy need to be embedded into education systems. Nevertheless, In a nation of 34 million, over 28 million Kenyans own a mobile phone, representing 71.3% of the total population. There is an opportunity to do more to impact more people with the technology they have in their pockets.

Unbelievable paucity of intra-african trade, cost of a 40% of US trade is within NAFTA, 60% of European trade is within Europe, 12% of African Trade is within Africa. The cost of a phone call from Kenya to the US is 10kes, India and China 18kes, and within Africa, 30. Clearly there is more to do here from infrastructure perspective to even internet access where only 13% of Africans have internet access.

Culture: Reimagining “This is Africa” When faced with Process and resource efficiencies, we need to be impatient and demand better. It is not enough to have 600 million mobile subscribers we have answer the question of access to what. Do people have access to healthcare, education, finance and agriculture information and services via those mobile phones or do we have another digital divide emerging. What needs to happen is to figure out the economics for provision of services everywhere even in rural areas. In 10 years Europer could look to Africa on how to crack this.

Linking the digital and physical world in a coordinated way can provide efficiencies. The Transportation sector could benefit greatly transnational communications.
The African opportunity is not just theoretical, given the right opportunity; people can make incredible contributions; as we have seen with several African business leaders from Africa and this year’s Social Entrepenuers. Talent is universal opportunity is not. In order to transform Africa, we need to create opportunities. I was greatly encouraged to see Bethhelem’s sole rebels workshop. She is creating opportunities and is already transforming Ethiopia with a global business. Mxit is an instant messaging and social network platform that processes over 500 million transactions every single day. Fantastic contributions.

The transparency we see with the open data movement, presents opportunity in creating a new asset class. When governments provide data that is accessible, relevant and useful. Many government agencies have fantastic information on historical weather patterns, water levels in rivers and even consumer protection information. Providing that data in an accessible and meaningful way could lead to a new data economy where entrepreneurs leverage that data to reduce inefficiencies.

Hyper local innovation that can make a difference on a village level. It matters and we need open platforms to support these kinds of innovations.

Innovative ideas? Draw on the open source culture that helped grow Ushahidi. global entrepreneurship index is at 2.49: Kenya is at 2.63, second only to Nigeria at 2.7 in Africa among others like the US at 2.8. This number clearly depicts the great potential for Kenya to become a globally- recognized ICT center and more so, an environment for nurturing entrepreneurs talent to a higher level.

Making the case for open source technology as an investment not only by ministries, to invest in the youth in a truly concerted way to build future businesses. What if the national innovation ecosystem is not driven by local needs and culture, its great to partner with multinationals in clusters, but that needs to happen in partnership with local firms. To enable knowledge and skill transfer. That is key in various industries.