Tag Archive: Kenya


AMDG

 

I chose Africa because itÕs the continent with the lowest cell-phone penetration but the fastest sales growth. By yearend, Africa will have 261 million cellular subscriptions, more than 10 times the number in 2001. The penetration rate is approaching 28%, according to market watcher Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Everyone knows AfricaÕs legion of problems: overpopulation, tribal conflict, AIDS, malaria, dreadful infrastructure, corruption--and much more. Yet growth for the continent as a whole may well hit a 25-year high of 7% this year. Could cell phones help Africa to finally emerge from poverty? The nearly unanimous answer from interviews with several dozen low-income Kenyans and Ugandans was: yes. Time and again, people eagerly told me stories of how ownership of a cell phone had helped them earn more money or eased the burden of existence in places where even short trips can be a time-consuming ordeal. Here are some of the people I met and the stories they told:

Having arrived in Dodoma and having not made the journey in about four years, it was great this year to be able to track my route using Google Maps. From Nairobi to Arusha and then Arusha to Dodoma are two long coach journeys, about eight hours each. We pass through some of the most interesting places on earth – very near the cradle of humanity – The Olduvai Gorge, where the oldest hominid skulls have been discovered, dating back 1.8 million years. Having Google Maps and Wikipedia to hand during the coach journey made it a fascinating journey. Mobile technology has certainly transformed the lives of many people in Africa, with phones more widely distributed than computers, and more people having mobiles than bank accounts. With the advent of the smart phone – even at the most basic level of capability, it is clear that having a phone now means more than just making phone calls or texting. I often point out to the students they carry around more processing power in their pocket than the Apollo Spacecraft.

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atelier-mobile-bankingIn reading up about how the mobile or cell phone has super-charged development I was very interested to find out that a Manchester based academic, Richard Heeks, Director of the Center for Development Informatics in Manchester, has done a lot of research on this and has identified some ways in which mobile technology is changing the lives off even the poorest communities. Firstly he identifies its ability to connect the excluded. It has already been noted how Kenyas M-Pesa is changing the way people save money , spend money and move money around. Circumventing the rather laborious process of setting up a bank account by transferring credit via phones – now it is easy to see the fruits of saving money, investing money, rather than the precarious way of living from hand to mouth etc. In India, A Little World, has invented a way of using a finger print scanner and mobile phone to set up bank accounts, they now how over 3 million users. Employees can now even cycle out to the most remote villages and set up ‘shop’ under a tree – allowing the most basic saving and investments in things such as fertilizer etc. Farmers can check competing prices in various local markets before making the decision of where to sell their goods… in fact an app developed here in Uganda, Farmers Friend, has been invented with that very purpose in mind. I have a fond memory of a cotton farmer in Rural India, sitting on his cart and bullock whilst pointing out to me his dual sim card phone, so he could have a business line and a private line. At once four hundred years behind UK farming technology, and more advanced mobile technology ( I hadn’t come across dual-sim phones in Britain then).

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downloadAnother thing that phones allow that the middle man can be cut out or at least be kept tabs on. Their are innovative ways all over the world sprouting up to report and log instances of local corruption, the Bhoomi project in Karnataka, India is a great example of this, stopping corrupt officials from demanding a bribe before they offer land registration certificates (which farmers need to get a loan). Thirdly crowdsourcing – I love the app I heard about in Nairobi, Ushahidi,  testimony in Swahili, which was developed after the terrible violence in the Kenyan elections of 2008. Text messages allowed them to map report about violence, and now it used to map natural disasters, or in Ghana mpedigree uses it to map where drugs are running out.

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One of the things I love about East Africa is how resourceful everyone is, they don’t expect to rely on hand outs, so there is this incredible network of tiny businesses, and the mobile phone has unlocked this great entrepreneurship.

The UN in Africa

AMDG

Last week I spent a very interesting few hours visiting UNON, the United Nations Office in Nairobi.  I was checking it out akaribunis a place to bring students on a visit next year as part of their induction in East Africa. Globally the UN now has four permanent bases, New York where the general assembly of its constituent 193 member states takes place every (the Holy See has permanent
observer status). There are two more offices in Europe, in Geneva, Vienna and most recently one has opened up in Nairobi in 1996.  Many have argued that it was long overdue to give the UN a sure footing in the continent of Africa, where its original and overriding purpose is to promote peaceis often under threat.   Its environment  programme (UN and habitat programme (are headquartered in Naorobi, but many of its other programmes / funds / commisions also have offices there.

Many  feel the UN is in crisis  – some world argue, given its impossible remit, a state of permanent crisis, its faces the challenge to be semper reforandum – always reforming.   The core dream and vision of the UN is worth fighting for. Riddled with politics, often rendering it ineffective ( Russia & China’s unscrupulous use of the veto in the security council for example) … it is still the only supranational political body that can be called on in a crisis, and often the only one with the clout to get warring parties around the table.  The extraordinary meeting of the Security council in Narobi bringing together the Sudanese on November 2004 is a recent example.secretary-general_ban_ki-moon_right_meets_with_sudanese_foreign_minister_ibrahim_ghandour_oct_2_2015_-_un_evan_schneider-e7ab4

Currently the UN has a succession crisis as they look for a new secretary  general. The recent leadership of the South Koran, Ban Ki Moon has been disappointing, seen as being too protocol bound, lacking the dyanimism and diplomatic genius of his predecessor Kofi Annan.  So there is a sense of urgency to select a leader, in what appears to be the most transparent process yet.   The PC option is to have a women from Eastern Europe, with two Bulgarian canditates spoken of.  But one of the things that has discredited the UN so often is being sucked into the quagmire of ideology and development politics, part of the reform must be shedding the Political Correctness for a more meritocratic way of operating. The farcical appearance of the Vatican before the Comittee for the  Rights of the Child (CRC) was widely criticised for being an axe-grinding exercise, not sticking to its remit.  It seemed to have written the report before hearing an evidence, and like the end of the film Spotlight it conflated what had happened 20 years ago with the present, with no acknowledgement of the serious distance the church has gone in protecting children – for excellent analysis of this read here.

All of the good and bad of the UN are visible in its office at Nairobi, we need to engage creatively with it, accepting and building on the good and recognising and letting go of the bad, if we want to make the world a better place.

AMDG

Regions_of_the_African_UnionPreparing to go to Tanzania with some of the students here, it is good to challenge some of the stereotypes that they are carrying with them.  First of all – Africa is a continent, not a country….   Northern Africa with its failed Arab Springs and Isis breathing down its neck is very different to Southern Africa, so long dominated by South Africa, which hosted the World Cup. Although Johannesburg has now economically been taken over by Western Africa, as Nigeria surges ahead.  The Nigerian Film Industry, Nollywood, is the second biggest in the world after India.  Not surprising since the average Nollywood movie is produced in a span of 7-10 days on a budget between $7,500-13,000. Compare this to Hollywood’s average budget of $6.7 million per movie and one year production time! It seems that the internet and digital technology has allowed it to take off.

IMG_2890-480x480However East Africa, dominated by Kenya, leads the world in mobile banking.  It is easier to pay for a taxi ride using your mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in New York.  M-PESA Kenya’s world-leading mobile-money system, is used by nearly three quarters of the adult population allowing them to transfer cash using their phones. A micro-financing scheme –  you pay money into the system by handing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents (typically a corner shop), who credits the money to your M-PESA account. You withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have sufficient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash. You can also transfer money to others using a menu on your phone. It is quick, safe and easy and  useful where many workers in cities send money back home to their families in rural villages. M-PESA has since been launched in Romania & Albania.  A technological innovation that has reached Europe.

disruptive_technologies_rbb-300x263It is a disruptive technology (like Uber & Air B’n’B) and of course the banks are upset.  But in a part of the world were bank branches are few and far between, and bank accounts were seen as a luxury and only obtainable to the elite it has proved phenomenally popular. It reminds me of travelling to India with a group of students 13 years ago and having to rent a very expensive satellite phone for emergency use – it cost about £800.  A year later – all I had to do was by a sim card when I got off at Bangalore airport.  It was easier to cover the country in mobile phone masts, than put up pylons and landlines.  In a similar way M-PESA avoids having to put up branches every where.