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Africa: New Internet Opportunities
May 9, 2010 (100509)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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,
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
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Balancing Act News Update, Issue no 503
8th May 2010
UNICEF and Text For Change: how they are using technology in
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
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
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
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
The Botswana Telecommunications Authority launched the second phase
of its Nteletsa project with a groundbreaking ceremony in Nswazwi
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
"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,"
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
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
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.
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
Using different platforms, students are able follow lectures
online, interact with lecturers, submit assignments and check on
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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)
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