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Africa: New Internet Opportunities

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 9, 2010 (100509)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The convergence of internet and mobile phone technologies is creating significant new opportunities for innovation in Africa, which are likely to continue to grow as new fibre-optic connectivity increases not only in coastal nations but also through links to their land-locked neighbors. Ushahidi software first developed to monitor violence in Kenya in 2008 is now being used around the world. And other initiatives, such as cellphone banking, are also being rolled out rapidly.

Recent uses of Ushahidi, which employs sms text messages, e-mail, and the web to collect data for updatable maps, include tracking the Gulf Oil spill and the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, as well as new projects in Kenya such as mapping of Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. See more at http://www.ushahidi.com, http://blog.ushahidi.com, and
http://mapkibera.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a number of relevant excerpts from the latest Balancing Act News Update, which tracks information and communication technology developments across the continent. These include an article on the use of SMS in Uganda to track baby weights by village, the roll-out of new village communications centers in Botswana, new internet connectivity developments in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, the use of e-learning tools by universities in Kenya, cellphone banking in South Africa, and the rapid expansion of Facebook to over a million users in Nigeria. Balacing Act News Update is available at: http://www.balancingact-africa.com

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletin's on information and communication technology in Africa, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/ictexp.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Balancing Act News Update, Issue no 503

8th May 2010

http://www.balancingact-africa.com

UNICEF and Text For Change: how they are using technology in different ways?

Donorland has been littered with pilot projects over the last ten years that took interesting technology and ideas and sought to make them work in the unforgiving African context. All too often they had little idea of what potential users actually wanted and once the funding ended, the water closed over them and that was that. There is now a second generation of ICT4D projects that seem to have learnt the lessons of these early failures. Russell Southwood spoke to Terra Weikel and Sean Blaschke of UNICEF and Bas Hoefman of Text for Change about how they are using technology in different ways.

In 2007 UN childrens' organisation UNICEF set up an Innovation Unit that initially encompassed its Communications Unit but eventually drew in other parts of the organisation. Its Director of Communications Dr Sharad Sapra had begun to ask questions about how mobile phones and networks might change the way development work is done and the Innovation Unit was set up to address these questions.

It was a small team dedicated to finding tech innovations that could improve how the organisation's programmes, services and communications might be delivered. It sought to combine various technologies - mobiles, radio, Internet, computer hardware and paper - to do this. The purpose of all this was to give people new ways to change their lives, "while creating demand for better service delivery and accountability."

In Uganda where UNICEF has several Innovation Unit members, it has chosen to focus on a range of initiatives including: data collection using Rapid SMS; mapping data; connecting rural and remote constituencies that are off-grid; and "digital doorways" to give villagers Internet access. With the data collection, there is an emphasis on "action-oriented" data, figures that make you do something about them.

It has carried out data collection using Rapid SMS in 20 different communities. One of the data sets gathered was baby weights and this was used to identify problems like malnourishment. Instead of paper returns being laboriously gathered by messenger and post, travelling through several organisational layers, the data ended up in one place at the speed at which the SMS messages were sent. Higher data returns were also achieved.

It has also been used to report medicine stock levels in hospitals in order to identify corruption and the "leakage" of stock. By comparing patient and stock levels, it's possible to see where things are disappearing.

The team have also created a dashboard that can be used with Google maps to plot the data geographically by location so that anyone looking at the map can easily see the story the data is telling by location.

Many of the places where UNICEF wanted to do work were off-grid, both in terms of electricity and Internet. Using what it calls its BOSCO model, UNICEF has been installing Point-to-Point Wi-Fi grid to create a "local, low bandwidth Intranet structure." Using high structures like village water towers, it has been able to create basic connectivity for a wider number of communities.

Once basic connectivity has been established, it will provide village access points. UNICEF is pioneering two different approaches. The first of these approaches has been to buy ruggedized, stand-up computer units from the Meraki Institute in South Africa. These are steel cased computers with rugged keyboards and toughened glass screens at which the user stands up to access the Internet.

However, the team felt that it would be better to build a local version and are currently prototyping one that uses a couple of welded oil drums as the container and stand for the unit.

One of the suppliers working with UNICEF is Bas Hoefman's Text For Change, which although based in Kampala, works across the continent. It has run a programme for pregnant mothers reminding them to go for their check-ups: through SMS reminders, mothers now attend 2-4 times during pregnancy rather than the more usual once.

It makes things easier for donor organisations by having developed an SMS software (with local company Yo Uganda) to gather data and by having "short codes" with almost all of the mobile operators. The software allows messages to be sent in local languages. Sending the SMS is not free for Text For Change but is for the user but the donor client covers these costs. 70-80% of Ugandan mobile users know how to send SMS messages.

Hoefman has a sophisticated approach to building databases of users (with their permission) that is not always shared by the operators themselves:"Mobile companies miss a huge opportunity by not knowing who is behind the telephone number. The future in mobile is in profiling and segmenting (users). We always try to ask for age and gender and keep that on our database."

It has sent out quiz about HIV/AIDS and has persuaded Zain to send it (as part of its Corporate Responsibility Programme, first to its 600 employees in Uganda (with a 40% response rate) and then to employees in several of its other African operations. It is running a similar quiz on reproductive health for Family International in Kenya and Tanzania.

In some ways this use of SMS by UNICEF and Text For Change is far more sophisticated than local private sector FMCG and service companies approaches to similar forms of marketing. Maybe they have something to learn from this very African approach to using ICT to involve people in helping themselves.


BTC embarks on second phase of rural telephony programme in Botswana

The Botswana Telecommunications Authority launched the second phase of its Nteletsa project with a groundbreaking ceremony in Nswazwi last week.

Nteletsa II, as the project is known, is a spawn of the government's Rural Telecommunications Development Programme aimed at providing communities with access to telecommunications services. These include voice, data and Internet services. This phase of the project will see 197 villages in the Chobe, Ghantsi, Kgalagadi, Central, Kgatleng, the North West and Kweneng Districts provided with telecommunications services for the first time. The villages have been divided into four areas.

Nswazwi Village in the Central District was chosen as the venue for the groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of Nteletsa II in Area 3.

"It gives us great pride to be undertaking this project," said Acting CEO of BTC, Keabetswe Segole. "The fulfilment of the Nteletsa project will bring remote areas in Botswana together through telecommunications services.

"Funding this project is a promising sign of the government's dedication to bringing all of Botswana into 21st Century communications. BTC is glad to be the vehicle driving the country towards improved telecommunication availability."

The Nteletsa project began in 1999 as an answer to the isolation of certain regions of the country. It is a government initiative with the overall objective of extending communications infrastructure and services to all parts of the country.

The first areas to be connected were the Tuli Block and Barolong, hollowed by Tswapong, Ngwaketse, Kweneng, the Southern and the North East. Also speaking at the launch of Nteletsa II, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, said he was "happy with the progress".

"Our mission is to ensure everyone in Botswana has access to telecommunication services for the development of each remote community in the country," Ramden said. "BTC has done commendable work thus far, and we have confidence in the Corporation's ability to ensure Nteletsa's continued success."

In 2008, the government demonstrated its commitment to levelling the playing field by awarding contracts of the second phase of the multi-million pula rural telecommunications connectivity programme, Nteletsa II, to Mascom and little-known consortium, Kuto Lamworld Telnet, in addition to BTC which had enjoyed a monopoly in Nteletsa I. (Source: Mmegi)

Rwandatel Seeks Alternative Route to Seacom

Rwandatel is currently negotiating an alternative route for undersea fiber optic connection through TEAMS cable which comes through Tanzania via Burundi to Kigali, the Company has announced.

This will reduce heavy reliance on SEACOM, the largest fiber optic cable carrier along the Indian Ocean coast.

This follows massive internet disruptions experienced last month after the SEACOM marine submarine cable that transmits the bandwidth was damaged by a ship amid repairs on the cable.

According to Issiaka Maiga Hamidou, the company's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), while internet connection has now stabilized with completion of the repairs, the company is keen on finding an alternative route to increase network stability and reduce costs.

"We have also added on our bandwidth so that next time if SEACOM is down we have enough capacity. We intend to connect with Tanzania so that the problem of disconnection is over," Hamidou told a press briefing on Tuesday.

The telecom company is currently dominating internet market share with 65 percent coverage for data.

For mobile internet, the Company charges a flat rate of Rwf41,300 per month on both 2G and 3G to have the connectivity.

Hamidou said negotiations are ongoing to have the connection by the end of 2010 with the Rusomo border as the landing point.

"Our entire roll out will be by fiber from the border to Kigali," he said.

The CEO said his company is also targeting fiber connection to reduce high maintenance costs of its microwave connection system.

While Rwandatel currently spends at least Rwf5 million monthly on only configuration repairs, Hamidou said the bill shoots up to Rfw50 million including operating costs.

"The cable is reliable and also very good quality and we are sure the price will not be very high and the customer also will appreciate," he said.

The CEO also noted that the Company is currently in negotiation with other operators to agree on how to share the fiber optic cable as soon government completes laying the pipe.
(Source: The New Times)

Aquiva Wireless soon to launch new broadband Internet service in Zimbabwe

Aquiva Wireless, a locally-owned telecommunications company, has signed a US$7,2 million deal with a Chinese company, Huawei Technologies, to establish 92 base stations for broadband Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol.

Chief executive Mr Brian Maphosa said his company would be listing on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange through an initial public offering before the end of the year.

"We have signed a US$7,2 million deal with a Chinese company and we are hoping to roll out before the end of July -- providing VoIP and broadband Internet," said Mr Maphosa.

He said discussions to list on the local bourse have already started. By listing, the company will be able to expand and grow its shareholder base.

The Chinese firm will provide the 92 base stations, key solutions, shipping and installation.

Meanwhile, Aquiva is also on the verge of clinching a US$3,6 million deal with Seacom to link fibre optic cable from South Africa to Beitbridge to be linked throughout the country, starting with Harare and Bulawayo.

Mr Maphosa said each of the major cities like Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare, and the highway, and towns in between, would be "wired-up", then connected to each other.

Aquiva, which was formed in 2007 by three local entrepreneurs, was awarded an Internet Access Provider (AIP) Class A licence by the regulating board, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, this year.

Going forward, Aquiva chief operations officer Mr Artwell Mataranyika said the company would also offer calling card, video telephony, live TV channels, and video on demand, among other value-added products.

Mr Maphosa said negotiations with other service providers to offer value-added products such as calling card are at an advanced stage.

He said the establishment of the company was driven mainly by the passion to connect Zimbabwe to the world in a way that is convenient to customers.

Mr Mataranyika said the benefits were too many to enumerate, saying only "the impact on the country will be enormous. Government, businesses, homes, will all benefit. It will make our industries competitive on a global scale."

Landlocked countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, and Zambia, have a major disadvantage because they do not have direct access to the undersea cables that have been laid along the coasts, providing cheap and effective global connectivity.

This means their people and businesses do not have access to broadband, leaving them lagging behind on the digital highway and the new industries it is spurning.

These countries rely almost exclusively on satellite links, which are very slow and expensive.
(Source: Herald)

Kenyan Universities are increasingly turning to e-learning as a tool to facilitate improved education.

They also want to rope in more students through better access to facilities, hoping to reach a wider base in a cost-effective way.

The efficiency accruing from e-learning is among the advantages gained by local universities that have adopted the use of technology.

Using different platforms, students are able follow lectures online, interact with lecturers, submit assignments and check on their grades.

Lecturers are also able to upload course materials, post assignments and generate discussions online using blogs.

However, these institutions have to train both students and lecturers on how to use the platforms.

At Strathmore University, United States International University (USIU) and University of Nairobi (UoN), all students are enrolled in e-learning courses when they first join.

Strathmore University has adopted the use of e-learning in many of its courses via the Moodle platform.

The university uses this as a way of facilitating lectures. Mr Patrick Shabana, the Director of Strategy and Performance Improvement said that the university applies a blend of direct lectures and e-learning techniques in many courses as technology gains acceptability among lecturers and students.

"One area in which the university has utilized e-learning is by the use of video conferencing for visiting professors, this is done especially in partnership with other business schools." Strathmore has a tie-up with the IESE Business School which is under the University of Navarra in Barcelona Spain.

Prof John Odhiambo, the Vice Chancellor of the university said the platform is already in use, but it takes time for lecturers and students to be fully comfortable with the approach.

He said that the Moodle program allows university professors to give lectures remotely, on top of enabling access to more students.

Regina Mutuku, the Director of IT at USIU said e-learning is just another way of delivering services which works together with face-to-face teaching.

"It gives you the ability to manage work more effectively ... It is not replacing the contact hours but it is being more responsive to the modern student", she added.

Dr Regina Mutuku said that USIU had recently adopted a new platform, Blackboard 9.1 which will go into use in the coming semester.

She added that formerly the University has been using Webcity which had over 400 courses and half of the faculty using it in interacting with students.

Daystar University has also adopted a blended version of e-learning.

Deputy Vice-chancellor Jon Masso, said that this enables a fully electronic relationship between lecturers and students.

"In distance-learning, students work and do assignments online. We been working in that direction and probably next year we will have a whole degree taught on that kind of platform" he added.

However, he said that there are various challenges being faced, "The technical infrastructure relies completely on local networks and the internet which may be may be slow.

Public universities such as Moi, Maseno, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Kenyatta all have e-learning portals where students can log in and perform various tasks while interacting with lecturers.

Dr Elijah Omwenga, the Director of ICT at UoN said the institution uses technology to enhance distant learning education and has the necessary facilities to do this in all its campuses.

"Lecturers have flexible access and student hostels have a wireless network. There is curriculum training for staff on how to facilitate content online and the student's information systems network has been integrated into the e-learning system to enhance and allow fast uptake of e-learning. There is also an awareness campaign using brochures, flyers and open days to increase interest among students and staff."

Kenyatta University has an institute of Open Distance and e-learning using the Moodle platform.

According to its website, over 100 courses are fully offered using the platform.

In the US and Britain, e-learning has been in use for a long time.

Universities like the University of Phoenix, University of Illinois and Ashford University offer on campus and online degrees.

On the other hand, Institutions like The London School of Business and Kaplan University offer degrees and professional certifications like the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) online.
(Source: Business Daily)

On the Money briefs

In South Africa, a service launched by FNB in November enabling its customers to send money or make payments to anyone with a local cellphone number, has so far achieved transactions worth R1m a day, surpassing expectations as ever more people become comfortable conducting banking via cellphones. FNB said its eWallet solution had achieved growth of 239% since its launch, and had attracted mostly urban-based customers who were taking advantage of its convenience to send money to relatives and family, particularly those in the rural areas, where people do not have easy access to banking services.

Nigeria Hits Over 1.2 Million Mark On Facebook

Nigeria's population on Face book has hit over 1.2 million marks as at March 2010. Disclosing this recently during the launch of Facebook in Nigeria, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Wild Fusion, Mr. Abasiama Idaresit said, great deal of opportunities abound for Facebook advertising in Nigeria .

Wild Fusion, a digital marketing firm that specializes in online media sales, social media engagement and web analytics services has been granted exclusive rights to media display possibilities on Facebook. The rights cover all Nigerian-facing homepage inventories on the world's greatest social media platform - Facebook.

According to him, "Face book is really very popular among Nigerians and it may interest you to know that the population of Nigerians on Face book is one of the highest on the continent. From the latest statistics, we got from Face book, Nigeria is among the top three most visited sites by Nigerians and the most popular age demographic globally is 35-49."

According to a BBC programme "Superpower", the Nigerian internet population stood at about 24 million people in 2008, this statistics also aligns with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimate for Nigeria.

Idaresit said, the data places Nigeria as Africa's biggest internet market (audience), dwarfing South Africa and Egypt. Internet offers a great platform to reach millions of Nigerians with amazing targeting possibilities including age, gender, interest and behavioural targeting.

Looking at the internet population trend, Idaresit said he foresees an increase in the size of the online audience in Nigeria . He is optimistic that with better infrastructure including the launch of the two fiber optic submarine cables and other technologies, there should be a drop in internet subscription charges and an increase in penetration in the country. "Digital marketing plans should now become a part of the overall consumer engagement plan".

Throwing more light on the services rendered by Wild Fusion, he said other opportunities exist on MSN, BBC (mobile and web) and MTVbase.com adding that the organization also offers services on the Google platform which includes search, display and analytics services. "The Facebook self-served ads would still be available for everyone though they have a lower click-through rate and are much cheaper. The higher value engagement ads such as the Facebook Video engagement ads (a company can have his TV commercial on members homepage) Event Engagement Ads (best for events and programmes), Rest-of-site Ads, Poll Engagement Ads and Virtual Gift Engagement Ads would be handled by our professionals.

It would be recalled that Facebook was officially launched in Nigeria on April 30, 2010 at the Protea Hotel, Ikoyi. The launch focused on enlightening the public about the advertising opportunities available on the Facebook platform such as Engagement Ads. Engagement Ads encourage members to interact with the ads by leaving comments, sharing virtual gifts or becoming fans. To combat the currently dismal click-through rates of traditional advertisements, these features emulate widgets and encourage users to increase member adoption, viral growth and brand interaction. (Source: Daily Champion)


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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