Online Africa Weekly Top 10: e-commerce in the spotlight, figuring out local content, Angola as an ICT leader, BRCK ships, and more
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.