Tag Archive | content

AfroPioneer launches Kmerblagues, the Comedy Central of Cameroon

Cameroon's Comedy Central

Today Cameroon witnessed the launch of Kmerblagues (Cameroonian jokes in French). The founder, Mohamed Ahmed Felata, a Facebook developer from Garoua in Northern Cameroon, describes his efforts as the beginnings for the ‘comedy central for the country.’ A fun application that creates a place for sharing jokes on Facebook. Its a creative idea and he makes a strong case for connecting brands with a difficult to reach audience – University students and young male professionals between the age of 19 to 32 – on a difficult to leverage platform. He believes there is a need for local content if we are going to get more Cameroonian users online. He says, ‘It’s content about the region and the people. Just the name gives an idea of who our users are and the jokes we offer are really about Cameroonian humor.’

When asked about his interest in Facebook he explains, ‘according to Alexa.com Facebook is the second most visited website in Cameroon with about 361,220 users according to the site (May 2nd 2011).’ The first is Yahoo, although Mohamed is quick to explain that Google runs multiple properties and likely claims the top spot when combined. He goes on to explain, ‘But Facebook is unique. As a Facebook user I know the site and understand how me and my friends use it. At the same time its difficult for brands to get their exposure there. The adverts are limited so why can’t we do something more with integrated applications?’

Asked about his background Mohamed explains that he was living in Youande. He used to work at the airport but hated his job. He smiles when he explains, ‘the best thing that happened to me was a small laptop and access to the wireless network at the airport. I spent my extra time reading and imagining what I could do. I always liked advertising and was learning about all of these different mashups. I went to the BarCamp and heard Fritz, a fellow entrepreneur, present his ideas behind an SMS appstore. I also heard about Kerawa and the exciting projects he was working on. Here was a guy who was doing it and he quit his job to follow his vision so I decided to do the same.’ Mohamed started working on Facebook applications at home. A friend from Buea used to send him Cameroonian jokes by SMS and he thought it would be interesting to integrate these jokes as a service on Facebook.

Curious to know how he ended up at ActivSpaces in Buea he explains, ‘I came to Buea three months ago when he heard about ActivSpaces from a friend. I was looking for a collaborative place to work and connections for help and maybe financing. In Youande I was paying 25.000 a month for a Ringo Internet connection. I was looking for some kind of solution and I wasn’t really making progress working alone.’ This seeded his interest in finding likeminded developers when in his words everyone in Yaounde focuses on doing management software.

He closes, ‘When I came to ActivSpaces I didn’t want to stay too long. I thought someone would steal my idea but when I got to know the team I could see everyone was doing great work. I realized this was the place I could grow. When I get stuck I have guys who can help me. Fua, Fritz, all of these guys can give me some advice. Ideas are shared and thats the best thing.’

My first day at ActivSpaces here in Buea couldn’t be better 🙂


Africa Interactive wins Diageo Africa Business Reporting Award!

In African countries near the equator, darkness starts at 6:30 in the evening. An estimated 500 million Africans lack access to electricity and can only work, read and cook with kerosene lamps. But that fuel is expensive, dangerous and bad for health. The solar lamps provide a lasting solution to these problems.

According to calculations by the World Bank 17 billion U.S. dollars are annually spent on kerosene lamps in Africa. Some light manufacturers, including the Australian Barefoot and Dutch Philips company focus on this growing market.

After some hard years of work Africa Interactive takes home the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Award for the Spark Africa series! Spark Africa is a 20 episode video series dedicated to sustainable economic developments and innovative projects in Africa.

Each episode shows the ‘spark’ of potential entrepreneurs who think about African solutions for African problems. Examples of foreign businesses who successfully invest in African countries are also shown.

Spark Africa is published on leading Dutch news websites like Volkskrant, RTLZ, NuZakelijk en Wereldomroep. This video series aims to balance the traditional image of Africa as a lost continent. Spark Africa shows the energy, innovation and opportunities of the continent.

All items are made by freelance African camera men/women, presenters and technicians. There is filmed in Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Initiator of this series is Dutch media company Africa Interactive. Check out a few episodes and a big congrats to the team 🙂 It is a big award and well deserved.

The revolution is here and the time is now! Technology drives innovation in Africa

African entrepreneurs are driving a second technological revolution in Africa. Where ICT’s were once imported from abroad and artificially embedded as telecenters a new trend is underway.

Local talent are actively working to deconstruct technology in ways they can rebuild it with a purpose. Designing from within the context and for the context gives it meaning.

A growing network of investors see this potential and are now working to engage the entrepreneurs with the best ideas and in a growing effort to tap this new potential.

The iHub, Nailab, Limbe Labs, Appfrica Labs, Banta Labs, MEST and other incubators on the continent are the front lines in this business. They bring together entrepreneurs in ways that they can effectively incubate new projects and ideas. They also serve as a critical nexus where knowledge, skills and capital come together. Otherwise an effective interface to the outside world, the public and private sectors and government.

Afrilabs brings this emerging network of labs together in the interest to promote these local initiatives, coordinate activities, share lessons learned and promote success stories.

VC4Africa.com is a peer to peer platform for connecting entrepreneurs and investors. The revolution is here and the time is now.

Rise of African Content


AfricaNews.com - The most compelling interactive Africa community, sharing news, photos, weblogs, videos, mobile reports and the untold stories by African people.

The growing number of mobile phones, and increasing access to affordable Internet, has resulted in the rise of African content. The African ‘blogosphere’ exemplifies these changes. Three years ago an Internet search resulted in only a handful of postings from across the continent. Now there are thousands of African blogs and the numbers continue to grow exponentially. Global Voices (United States), Afrigator (South Africa), Akouaba (Congo), Naijapulse (Nigeria) and BlogSpirit (Uganda) have emerged as Internet platforms that aggregate, organize and distribute the ever-increasing amount of information.

The rise in African blogs is joined by further developments in the African mediascape. In the last three years Africa has seen the emergence of Reuters Africa, CNN Africa, CNBC Africa and many others. Other global players see new opportunities too. Heavyweight Google has opened offices in East Africa, setting up local search engines, expanding their Google maps initiative and supporting numerous efforts to translate the web into local languages. Google has also made a big push to support its Android technology that will make the mobile phone center to its African strategy. This effort is only highlighted by the company’s launch of Google SMS and the recent Google investment in the O3b Satellite project. These events confirm the company’s long-term commitment to the continent, a business that depends on content for its success.

Africa is also starting to produce talented programmers and ingenious projects emerge as a result. In 2006, Nathan Eagle of MIT launched an innovative curriculum needed to train local programmers in Nairobi. The program has now expanded to universities in 10 Sub Saharan countries and reflects growing demand and interest in the subject. The Makerere University Faculty of Computing and ICT in Kampala, Uganda is the largest program in Sub-Sahara Africa. The university is training thousands of students a year as ICT professionals. The faculty hosts a 600 seat call center and is host to a software incubation lab and programs dedicated to digital mapping and mobile programming. The faculty is consistently oversubscribed. Appfrica Labs and Software Factory Uganda in Kampala offer private sector examples where local programmers are given the space and tools needed to develop their skills and incubate their businesses. Samasource is another innovative effort that aims to source projects in North America that can then be developed by local African talent.

An emerging community and a host of dedicated events support these new talents. 2008 saw the first TED talks in Nairobi and impromptu BarCamps have taken place in locations as varied as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Congo, Mauritius, Madagascar, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda. Dedicated workshops have been hosted by organizations like Facebook, Google and MobileActive08. These events focus on the potential local programmers have to develop Internet and mobile applications for the local market. Once unique efforts to establish viable networking platforms, new events emerge by the day.

It is not possible to speak about innovation in Africa without recognizing Ubuntu, a Debian-derived computer operating system based on GNU/Linux, otherwise a high quality desktop and server operating system that is freely available all over the world. Mark Shuttleworth, a successful South African entrepreneur founded the project in 2004, and is a driving force in mobilizing the open source movement on the continent. As a spin-off the project has resulted in the creation of a number of unique tools for free software developers, such as the Bazaar version control system and Launchpad.net. Sub-projects include specialized desktop environments for schools and platforms that address the needs of people in specific countries or industries e.g. Edubuntu and Kubuntu. These efforts play a critical role in making software available to developers across Africa, lowering barriers to participation, and part of a growing interest to engage local programming talents.

Africa’s lack of infrastructure presents unique opportunities and inspires creative thinking. Uninhibited by legacy infrastructure, as in N. America and Europe, Africa has been forced to innovate on mobile. In 2008 Vodafone introduced its M-Pesa mobile banking platform in Kenya. The company initially planned to register 200,000 new customers, what was an ambitious projection, and proceeded to surpass all expectations. The reality is that the demand for the M-Pesa service was so high their systems crashed and the company has been trying to catch up ever since. Within one year M-Pesa was already servicing 1.6 million Kenyans. Hammond, a director at Vodafone says, ‘look, microfinance is great; Yunus deserves his sainthood. But after 30 years, there are only 90 million microfinance customers. I’m predicting that mobile-phone banking will add a billion banking customers to the system in five years. That’s how big it is.’ Needless to say, mobile banking projects are being rolled out across the continent and are now innovating network structures and models that can be applied elsewhere. Increasingly, people from around the world come to Africa to learn about how such a service might work in their own country back in N. America or Europe.

The power of mobile is also being linked to the web. MXit is an example that demonstrates local innovation with wide scale impact. Developed in South Africa, MXit is a free instant messaging software application that runs on GPRS/3G mobile phones and on PCs. The website explains, ‘It allows the user to send and receive one-on-one text and multimedia messages to and from other users, as well as in general chat rooms. MXit also supports connection to other instant messengers such as MSN messenger, ICQ and Google Talk.’ The service is cheap compared to SMS. Instead of charging for one-on-one messages, and because messages are sent via the Internet, the cost per message is greatly reduced (typically 1c for a MXit message compared to approximately 75c per SMS). As a result, MXit has become a popular communication platform with over 11 million users. They calculate about ‘17 million log-ons per day and over 250 million messages sent/received per day.’ This project successfully shows that there is local demand for information services and its no surprise to see similar services emerging in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.

The success of mobile-based platforms does not stop with transferring money and/or messaging services. Mobile phones can also serve as a source of employment. Building on several years of experience, and learning from his interactions with local programmers, Nathan Eagle has gone on to launch TxtEagle as an innovative outsourcing initiative. He has created a service where African’s exchange a few spare minutes, needed to complete short assignments on their mobile phone, in exchange for mobile phone credit. This project highlights some of the innovative thinking that can be inspired by a truly unique African context.

Mobile phones are also being used to monitor, track and report on local events. This is part of a growing effort to bring transparency to issues that plague the continent. Ushahidi is an example of a project born out of an African experience. In 2008, and as a result of mixed election results, Kenya witnessed unexpected post election violence. As the media storm began to descend on the country, which remains a faithful recipient of foreign development aid and depends on tourism as its largest source of foreign currency, the government responded by closing down both traditional and new media channels. The government made a proactive effort to ‘lock’ the local flow of information.

Ushahidi, which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili, is an open source engine developed in the effort to better map out post election reports of violence in the county. On their website they explain that, ‘the core Ushahidi platform allows for a plug-in and extensions that can be customized for different locales and needs. The tool are open source allowing others to download, implement and use the engine so that they can bring awareness to crises in their own region.’ The core engine is built on the premise that gathering crisis information from the general public provides new insights into events happening in near real-time. In an African context people understand this better than anywhere else in the world. Where infrastructure is so limited, communication so costly, each kilobyte has significantly higher value. It is important to mention that programmers from several African countries have been fundamental to the project’s development and highlights a new generation of skills, talent and a rising African power to innovate locally.

This is an early initiative that shows how the development of an application, inspired by a political crisis in what was previously believed to be one of East Africa’s most stable societies, can be applied elsewhere. The platform has already been used to monitor events in the DRC, Madagascar and the recent conflict in Gaza. At the time of writing, there were also plans to use the Ushahidi engine as a monitoring tool during the 2009 elections in India. Because Ushahidi was born out of an African experience, where lack of communication infrastructure forces the design of inventive solutions; it is now positioned to meet crises anywhere in the world.

The entire African ICT space is experiencing extraordinary growth and development that changes the face of the continent forever. Like the success of mobile banking, now is the time to realize that innovation can also come from Africa. It is important to recognize the rise of local African talent, a new breed of individual that has the motivation, skill and power to develop solutions that tap into local opportunities and address local needs. Now is the time to explore these developments in more detail and from the perspective of the end user. Taking the time to recognize this dynamic context in which new actors emerge, it is paramount we review the ICT4D debate and our own role in this process. This is in an effort to better understand the changes on the ground and their implications for the future. In this way we can start to learn from these developments and benefit from this high level of innovation. Young programming talents are only now starting to emerge in African countries but the potential is clear. The more people in Africa who see the power to shape the technologies they use, the more Africa is capable of meeting its own needs. In turn, these new talents contribute to the global information society and play an active role in shaping its future.

Read Software Studies, rethinking computing for development in Africa

Interview founder Ethiotube.net

As many of you know, I am interested in understanding how the web will develop from an African perspective. Please see a previous article YouTube ‘burden’ creates opportunity in Africa and my interview with Alemayehu. He is the coFounder of Ethiotube.net, Ethiopia’s version of YouTube.

Where did you get the idea?
The idea came from the booming social networking industry, video sharing in particular. YouTube’s success was indeed an inspiration for EthioTube’s establishment.

When did you decide to actually execute?
I’d say a very fascinating CNN International panel discussion on social network-based entrepreneurship gave the final kick we needed to launch EthioTube February 2008.

How are you going about doing this?
We’re building a strong user-base right now. We’re trying to get more users involved in video sharing, rather than just enjoy what’s being shared. We are also trying to establish partnerships with various entities which will enable us to expand our network even further.

What is your experience with Ethiopia, start ups and the web?
Ethiopia’s web presence is really a disappointing one. CIA’s World Book on Ethiopia (2007) show’s that there are just over 290,000 internet users. A data from Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC), the only Internet provider in the nation, shows, as of September 2008, there are just close to 39,000 internet subscribers in Ethiopia. The poor connection speed and increadibly high costs – even for afican standards – tribute to this very low Internet presence. So, mostly, Ethiopians living overseas are our main users. We’d love to use our network to connect Ethiopians living in Ethiopia to the rest of the World. But this will continue to be very difficlute to implement, unless the telecommunication sector in Ethiopia opens up.

What are your biggest challenges in getting this project off the ground?
Finding a reliable host for our bandwidth demanding business was one of the biggest challenge we had. One other challenge we’re facing is: the online Ethiopian community hasn’t really picked up on the idea of direct communication, as we’d have wanted. Trying to get users talk to each other has been a difficulte task so far.
how are you different than other online video services like YouTube?

Our video sharing site is different from many out there, because we specifically cater to the large Ethiopian community with only ‘Ethiopia Related’ content. In other words, a user who is specifically looking for videos related to Ethiopia do not need to conduct a search on vast networks like YouTube.

Is Ethiopia ready for these kinds of services?
As many African and developing countries, Ethiopia has a long way to go on developing its Internet infrastructure. We understand Ethiopia is slowly but surly working on such projects. We believe once these projects are completed, greater number of Ethiopians will be online seeking an alternate media. EthioTube will be there to satisfy this demand.

Where will this project be in five years?
In five years EthioTube will be the hub for Ethiopians to find all kind of multimedia. We hope and work hard to become the 1# Ethiopian website in this timeframe.

What is the most surprising thing you have discovered/learned along the way?
It does not matter how small or unknown you are, if you listen to the heart beat of your targeted audience and deliver to it, you can be successful. It was also fasinating to learn how extremly careful we had to be about our own success; we could have easly become its victim.