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JumpStart Africa makes crowdfunding available to African entrepreneurs
July 21, 2014  ♦ Business & Video ♦ 2 Comments

JumpStart Africa is the first crowdfunding platform to revolutionize the way the world supports Africa by backing innovative projects developed by African entrepreneurs. Simply put, JumpStart Africa is Africa’s Kickstarter.

All entrepreneurs face great challenges – coming up with the perfect idea, finding the time to develop a plan, etc. – but those in Africa have an even harder time securing funding for such projects. Banks aren’t as supportive and investors are generally scarce due to challenging business environments and legal structures. Online payments remain a challenge for many in Africa, but there are a growing number of solutions that allow more people to start and support businesses.

JumpStart Africa aims to change that by creating a uniquely African online platform to attract attention for African entrepreneurs. The process to create a campaign is similar to other crowdfunding campaigns – set a campaign length, set a fundraising goal, create a video, and set perks. What sets JumpStart Africa apart from other crowdfunding sites is a dedication to African ideas. Potential backers already know that all projects on the site are intended to empower African entrepreneurs and can therefore understand the projects through a more refined lens.

Though the site isn’t 100% live, JumpStart Africa is already accepting projects to help aspiring entrepreneurs raise the funding they so desperately need. We had the chance to test-drive the platform and we must say the flow is seamless. Nearly all features are similar to those found on popular sites Kickstarter or Indiegogo (a good thing!). If a project is successfully funded, JumpStart Africa will apply a 10% fee.

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In the meantime, we encourage you to signup for the newsletter and better yet, considering submitting a project. Projects can fall into any category (art, comics, craft, design, fashion, film, games, music, photography, publishing, technology are all free game) as long as they lead to an eventual product.

Plus, Jumpstart Africa is hosting a free Q&A session with their Founder, Ahmed Zrikem, on July 31st. This is a great opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators to meet with a seasoned African entrepreneur live via Google Hangout.

Note: JumpStart Africa is accredited by the Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards (CAPS).

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: e-commerce in the spotlight, figuring out local content, Angola as an ICT leader, BRCK ships, and more
July 17, 2014  ♦ News ♦ No Comment

A few themes from the past two weeks of news headlines are worth discussing in greater detail.

E-commerce is (slowly) gaining traction

Nearly every day there is another article about African e-commerce. Some posts examine how online shopping is becoming adopted; other authors look at the challenges facing e-payments and delivery of goods. iAfrikan compares Uganda’s emergent e-commerce sector to “seeing a caterpillar metamorphose into a beautifully coloured butterfly.” Hilary Heuler, for ZDNet’s African Enterprise blog asks why Africa doesn’t have its own Amazon yet (though Jumia is a contender). Another story, written for North Africa’s Wamda, focuses on how credit cards, internet access, and online bill pay are contributing to a “booming” state of e-commerce in Morocco. Finally, BBC News surveys a few shopowners in Abidjan on how they utilize the online platform Kaymu to drive incremental sales.

Using technology for education is increasingly common in rural areas

The Economist’s prominent Baobab blog highlights how classrooms in northeastern Nigeria are using Raspberry Pi computers along with tablets to supplement education. In South Africa, tablets are, in cases, replacing traditional textbooks. The company Via Afrika has seen 64,000 e-book sales in 2014 after having 1,000 a year ago. Such efforts take funding or investment, however, and often do not come from public funds.

More apps are raising awareness of corruption

VOA News reported on the Action for Transparency (A4T) app that allows citizens to see how much money is allocated to schools and health centers. An icon allows users to blow the whistle on questionable public spending. Similarly, NoBakchich, a Cameroonian app, crowdsources government administrative information and allows citizens to report bribes. These are just two examples of dozens across Africa that are helping to end rampant government corruption.

Laying terrestrial infrastructure is extremely difficult

Often, we take for granted that thousands of kilometers of fibre optic cable are laid every year across Africa. The process is not as simple as unspooling cable from a boat. Instead, there are rivers to cross and natural obstacles like bee hives to overcome. Liquid Telecom, for one, is doing an excellent job creating international fibre networks from Southern Africa to East Africa to North Africa.

Political bodies use social media for different means

There is no single way how African governments and political groups are using social media to get their word out. Some nations have very low internet adoption, meaning that few citizens are getting news online. Most political parties do use social media to campaign, though effectiveness is questionable given the dominance of others mediums like radio or television. Kenya’s 2013 elections are an example of a successful social media campaign (the youth heavily voted for President Uhuru Kenyatta). Nations like Zimbabwe have an opposition party who shares information via social media but does not fully engage the youth through online interaction. In places like Sudan and Ethiopia, the government attempts to prevent online dissent. In fact, according to Endalkachew H/Michael, one of the co-founders of the Zone 9 blogging collective, “the government is trying to train bloggers and social media users to try to engineer the public opinion on social media because social media is a stronghold for people who have no access to the traditional media.”

What is local content?

Everywhere you look someone is complaining about the lack of ‘local content’ in African cyberspace. The most common social networks, chat apps, and email services are American, though the content hosted on these sites is uniquely African. To some, this type of content isn’t the same as actual Africa-hosted websites. Still, James Lunghabo, writing for Uganda’s New Vision, feels that 1) local content should be referred to as ‘local digital content‘ and 2) small-scale instances of content are still useful. He doesn’t mention the language barrier that precludes many Africans from going online and creating their own content. On that subject, it’s worth reading a World Bank feature on how a number of ICT initiatives are targeting Gabon’s preservation of linguistic and cultural identity (daily communications are still largely in vernacular languages). Moreover, the apps mentioned earlier in this post certainly fall under the umbrella of local content.

‘Tis the season for Internet governance forums

After a quiet period, there were a variety of internet governance forums in July. Most prominently, the 3rd African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Themes up for discussion included the usual mix of internet access as a human right, regulation, affordability of access, youth inclusion, and job creation. Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Ghana also held an IGF in early July.

Viber service is back in The Gambia

VoIP services like Viber and Skype were reportedly blocked earlier this year in The Gambia on shaky regulatory grounds after the government deliberated for a year on whether to take the step. A few months later, however, VoIP service has been restored after GSM companies lost revenue as subscribers spent less money on data.

BRCK is ready for the public

The versatile device that can broadcast a WiFi signal from a 3G data-enabled SIM card even in times of power outages shipped on July 17th. BRCK was notably designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya and is suited for both urban and rural uses. BRCK retails for $199.

This week it is Angola who is leading Africa’s ICT sector development

Every country has a few private sector leaders who tout their advancements as pioneering achievements that set the pace for the continent’s growth. In this case, the Deputy CEO and CTO of Unitel (the leading telecoms company in Angola) had quite a lot to say about how Angola is a leader in enabling fibre networks (terrestrial and submarine), launching LTE technology, and creating jobs. Unitel is big on international African expansion and the creation of a high-capacity network between Angola and Brazil.

UN survey finds African governments need to prioritize online service delivery
July 9, 2014  ♦ ICT Policy & Statistics ♦ No Comment

Progressive governments are the cornerstone of sustainable development. The prospect of e-government, or using technology to provide more information and better public services, provides a great opportunity to improve African societies.

The UN defines e-government as, “the use and application of information technologies in public administration to streamline and integrate workflows and processes, to effectively manage data and information, enhance public service delivery, as well as expand communication channels for engagement and empowerment of people.” The applications can come in the form of online services, big data, social media, mobile apps, or cloud computing. Not only can e-government make administrations more efficient, it can stimulate economic growth and promote social inclusion.

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A bi-annual UN E-Government Survey assesses the e-government development status of the 193 UN Member States. The report finds that most e-government initiatives are inclined toward mobile government and social media strategies rather than fundamental changes to legislation. Few African governments offer a suite of online services for citizens. In fact, nearly one-third of African countries are in the bottom 10 percent of the world rankings. That, however, is changing, and there are dozens of successful African examples of e-government initiatives.

African e-government rankings:

  • Tunisia, ranked 75th globally, is the top African nation for overall e-governance (Mauritius isn’t far behind)
  • Morocco and Kenya are regional e-participation leaders
  • Africa has the lowest regional average of e-government development
  • Six African nations have e-government index values above the world mean (Tunisia, Mauritius, Egypt, Seychelles, Morocco, South Africa)
  • 30% of African countries are in the bottom 10 percent of the world rankings
  • The authors suggest African countries should focus on building human capital and on bridging infrastructure gaps
  • Tunisia climbed 28 places since 2012; Mauritius 27 places; Morocco 38 places
  • Libya saw the biggest improvement in the region, moving 70 places from 191st place to 121st place
  • South Africa, Seychelles, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Angola, Nigeria, and Cameroon saw gains
  • Kenya’s rank remained steady at 119
  • Cape Verde, Gabon, and Algeria fell in position

Deeper analysis:

  • Morocco has a comprehensive government portal (sgg.gov.ma) where citizens can access legislation online and post comments. The government transparently presents responses to these comments.
  • Mauritius has an online portal (gov.mu) listing more than 100 e-services. Investments in infrastructure have helped citizens get involved online.
  • Low- and middle- income countries with relatively low levels of Internet use (Ethiopia and Rwanda) and relatively high online service scores may need to invest more in securing telecommunication infrastructure to fully optimize the benefit of e-services.
  • The ICT sector is a key part of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan. A land administration system, mining portal, and “green” ICT initiatives are being developed.
  • Ethiopia has a high level of online service delivery (better than a number of European nations). A national strategy will implement more than 200 online services by 2015 as part of a shift from agriculture to ICT economy.
  • Ugandans can speak out on what is happening in their communities using a free SMS-based system.
  • 23 African nations deliver online information on environmental issues.
  • Africa lags other continents in creating an entity to oversee its e-government strategy.
  • 14 African countries have an online e-government portal with no links to ministries.
  • Only 3 African online e-gov portals (6%) indicate security features (global mean is 27%).
  • Based on word that 99% of Kenyans internet users access the Web through a mobile device, policymakers should consider SMS services for those with feature phones and mobile apps for those with smartphones and tablets.
  • Kenyan-developed Ushahidi functions as a citizen reporting platform that boosts social inclusion.
  • In Cape Town, South Africa, service delivery issues can be reporting using the Lungisa platform. More than 1,000 cases had been resolved as of October 2013.
  • Of low income countries globally, only Burkina Faso provided downloadable forms.
  • 61% of African countries provide online services in more than one language.
  • 4% of African countries provide online services for the disadvantaged groups though 19% provide RSS feeds for these groups.
  • Special online services for women are only available in one African country. Youth have the option for services in 7 nations.
  • In Ghana, 47% of youth surveyed cite a lack of information as a primary job search challenge.
  • Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ghana are the only African countries with an open government data portal. Kenya is the only low income country globally with such a portal. Kenya’s is lauded for providing a section for web developers to integrate the data.

Every African government can take steps to improve its online service and data availability. Despite a general improvement in African e-government services in the past couple of years, the reality is that most African nations hardly have an easy-to-navigate online government portal. Better platforms (online and SMS-based) need to be part of national ICT policies. Furthermore, such platforms should provide not only open data, but should also encourage e-participation. Online security should not be overlooked either.

P.S. Just this week Nigeria announced the intention to launch a new e-government plan in September.

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Reasons why Cameroon needs to open up its 3G market
July 6, 2014 ♦ Broadband & Mobile
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Cameroon lags behind other African nations in terms of broadband affordability. A recent Research ICT Africa policy brief addresses what is causing the high cost – and what can potentially be done to remedy the situation.

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: Africa’s mobile money lead, 5G, solar-powered schools, Eritrea’s internet snapshot, and more
July 2, 2014 ♦ News
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We take a deeper dive on top stories of the week including solar-powered schools, lower tariffs for Gabon, South Africa’s access divide, Africa’s mobile money lead, African 5G, Eritrea’s internet stats, and Libyan voter registration.

Quick African broadband trends from Akamai’s ‘The State of the Internet, Q1 2014′ report
June 27, 2014 ♦ Statistics
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According to Akamai, Sudan has seen rapid growth in fixed broadband speeds in 2014. Libya has seen a continued decline. South Africa’s average connection speed is around 2.6 Mbps.

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: made in Africa tablets, PayPal, new TV white spaces trials, and more
June 20, 2014 ♦ News
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Our top 10 stories from the past week feature made in Africa tablets, PayPal, new TV white spaces trials, and more.

South African solar-powered tablet aims to enable e-learning in rural areas
June 19, 2014 ♦ Mobile
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South African company Millbug has released a solar-powered tablet aimed at boosting education in rural parts of Africa.

Leaders gather in Mozambique to drive affordable Internet
June 18, 2014 ♦ ICT Policy
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The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) is hosting a meeting with government officials to identify the key blockages to affordable Internet in Mozambique.