October was an exciting month of innovation in Africa. With the Transform Africa 2013 Summit held in Kigali at the end of the month, we’ve seen renewed interest in technology in the region from investors and media alike. The BBC has posted this interesting profile of the growing role of the world’s technology giants in Africa. Here’s a rundown of the developments in ICT in some of the areas Indigo works in:
Leading up to the ICT for Agriculture Conference 2013 (Ict4ag13) on the 5th of November, there has been a host of announcements of new innovations set to have a significant effect on productivity in the region’s single biggest sector. Information is key to allowing farmers to produce more and sell their produce at fairer prices. SMS messaging has emerged as an important way of getting this information out to farmers. The M-Pesa Foundation has recently announced that it is partnering with M-Farm in East Africa, a software and agribusiness firm, to bridge the digital divide between the agricultural sector and the ICT sector.
Projects like this are spreading quickly across Africa with great effects. A government-backed pilot project, FarmSMS initiative, operating in drought-prone central Tanzania delivered real-time weather information to the mobile phones of farmers around the towns of Hombola and Tumbi to allow them to plan more effectively. It has been found that farmers who used the information had a 50%-125% increase in yields. The government now hopes to roll the project out across the country. A similar service, mFarmer SMS, has been introduced in Uganda, which works alongside community radio to provide weather reports and up-to-date market information to farmers. Success is not limited to East Africa, however: Cameroon’s coffee SMS service has reportedly resulted in a 4% increase in yields.
Technology in schools has the potential to address a host of problems in education systems in Africa: lack of textbooks, low educational outcomes, poor record keeping and teacher absenteeism to name a just a few. This week, the Tanzania Beyond Tomorrow Programme was announced. A Samsung-backed project, it is an eLearning initiative which hopes to transform secondary schools by bringing in private partners to invest in the best technologies for schools. In Kenya, East African telecoms giant Safaricom has announced that it will supply free broadband access to schools across the country. ICT is being used to empower 1 000 girls in Nigeria. Backed by Chinese technology firm Huawei, the project will equip girls to reap the benefits of the information revolution gripping the region, which they may otherwise be marginalised from.
However, great potential can be undermined by practicalities. A recent report found that electricity scarity in sub-Saharan Africa has hampered ICT roll-out to schools. Budget constraints are also ever-present. The Kenyan Government has been forced to cancel the primary school laptop tender after the lowest bidder quoted a figure Sh20 billion over the government’s budget for the project. As well as being politically embarrassing for new president Uhuru Kenyatta, the project represents a lost opportunity to equip a generation of Kenyan children with skills necessary to compete in the global economy.
Perhaps the biggest development in African technology this month has been the piloting of a Wikipedia articles-via-SMS service. Partnering with Airtel, the three month trial will seek to reach people who not have internet access. With mobile phone use sky-rocketing in the region, this new service represents an opportunity to improve the quality of educational material available.
Politics and accountability
It’s been a busy month for Kenya with the country also leading the announcements of new technological innovations in politics and accountability. President Kenyatta announced a new corruption reporting platform and a tool to allow citizens to communicate directly with the President. In a country where corruption is endemic, the website will allow citizens to report when they have been asked for a bribe. The website will also allow citizens to book meetings directly with officials working in the State House.