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African Tech Tidbits: all sorts of mobile, terrorism, elephants, and more

January 31, 2012  »  UncategorizedNo Comment

Many viewpoints appear on our radar as we sift through news stories from across the continent. All are useful, but some are especially intriguing. This year, we aim to routinely jot down snippets of our thoughts on what is happening in the realm of African Internet progress. We hope the discussion of these themes can ever-so-slightly contribute to a continent where every citizen has the means to not only access, but also to understand the power of the Internet.

On our mind this January 31st, 2012 are a range of themes:

  • Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf is wise to tout the educational opportunities enabled by the ACE undersea cable, but the question remains of how many students will be able to download a PowerPoint by the end of the year (she doesn’t specify a timeframe).
  • In Malawi, a growing share of youth are flocking to mobile phones instead of Internet cafes. Some business owners claim that perhaps 80% of youth now use Internet cafes – down from 100% last year. On one hand, cafes offer a personal experience and in many cases, allow for one-on-one skills training. However, in the long-run, mobile access is cheaper than than cafe access and can be used at any time of the day. Cyber cafes will certainly co-exist with mobile access, however.
  • Regarding Mauritania’s February 25th (2011) movement: we forget how few people really have Internet access. The Facebook group has 670 fans, the Twitter account 165 followers. We find it impressive that this core group has created such a lasting impact.
  • We worry about Konza City’s delay. The concept looks great on paper, but the total cost is enormous – Sh1.2 trillion (US $14 billion) – even if the city is expected to generation roughly US $1 billion per year to Kenya’s GDP once finished. Still, optimism is paramount to large-scale innovation and we look forward to the day it comes to fruition.
  • South Africa’s Corruption Watch is a great idea. The site will undoubtedly unveil more corruption than can be dealt with a on a case-by-case basis. Still, its mere presence can hopefully encourage transparency and accountability.
  • Who are the 6% of Tanzanians who doubt ICT can play a big role in improving the economy?
  • Nigerians continue to embrace the social network Eskimi. The number of Nigerian members has grown from 1.2 million in July 2011 to 2.2 million in January 2012. We all could learn something from the simplicity of the platform.
  • Orange’s commitment to provide free Wikipedia access in its African markets is great, but will there be local content available? Will Wolof speakers in Senegal, for example, care about 1,000 or so odd pages of content written in their language? At least Orange is making the effort to provide such a service.
  • The big data story last week was Portland Communication’s How Africa Tweets infographic. Many felt the data, consisting of geo-tagged Tweets from 20 nations, lacked context. We side with the researchers that 1) data is hard to come-by and all nations can’t be represented 2) Tweets per capita can be easily calculated by applying population figures by those who are interested 3) infographics can easily become cluttered if too many data points are included.
  • Kudos to Algerian authorities for capturing three terrorists who viewed jihadist websites at Internet cafes while using false names. By law, Internet cafes are required to collect names and ID numbers of their customers and report this information together with any suspicious activities to the police. We’re glad to see the system succeeding.
  • On the note of terrorism, Boko Haram’s recent internet video message signifies that the group not only uses the Internet, but has faith in interested users to find the information. We’d all be better off spending our time developing the next m-health app than reading terrorist propaganda, but the reality is that thousands of impressionable youth are within reach thanks to the Internet.

Finally, PC Tech blogger Aiden Kitayimbwa is spot-on to compare Ugandan 3G operators to elephants. He uses at least two analogies to describe the effects of 3G competition. (“As the big elephants tussle it out to decide who is greater than the other, the smaller animals watch on in despair as the grass they would have eaten is seized by the elephants.”)