Microsoft 4Afrika – ‘Ma...

To improve technology access, Microsoft has announced the deployment of a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications a...


Subsistence farming is the cause of...

If you watched Johannes, the World Bank Country head’s press conference on Friday, you should be worried. The Bank is worried that the declining foo...


The role of Social Media

The social media platform has been great and we say good things, yet in three days we forget about them.  At times we revive the issues but we never...


It’s due time for our Industr...

A total of 81 million manufacturing jobs are to move out of China in the next few years.  Some jobs are moving back to the US and some are finding t...

Microsoft 4Afrika – ‘Mawingu’ TV white space broadband project

To improve technology access, Microsoft has announced the deployment of a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet Service Provider, Indigo Telecom Ltd., to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare, and delivery of government services across Kenya.

The deployment is called ‘Mawingu’, which is Kiswahili for cloud. It is the first deployment of solar-powered based stations together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, to deliver high-speed internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity.

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Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access – high-speed wireless internet – for the African continent.

Source: Microsoft 4Afrika – Mawingu TV

Subsistence farming is the cause of all our problems

If you watched Johannes, the World Bank Country head’s press conference on Friday, you should be worried. The Bank is worried that the declining food productivity especially maize will lead to severe food insecurity in the country. There are signs that we may not get sufficient rainfalls next year. This is no longer a surprise since the drought cycle in Kenya is four years.

Subsistence farming is the cause of all our problems. The solution is that we must reduce those we call farmers from 80% to less than 5% and increase manufacturing from its current contribution to GDP of 11% to more than 40%. We must move to large scale and mechanized farming in order to significantly improve on our productivity.

To achieve this, we must address land use in this country but we have decided to bury our heads in the sand on the issue of land. The problem is not in the distribution of it or the size one owns but in land use. It is far much easier to tax the Delameres for not utilizing the land than resettling 10,000 people on the land on the basis of ensuring equitable distribution of land. There is no country that has developed with majority of its people spread throughout the country in what they call Home Square.

There are more than 70 million people living in England which is the size of Nyanza. In Kenya, 20% of land is arable and can be used without reliance on irrigation. This is far bigger space than England but due to our primitive sub-division of the land, we are not able to use the land productively.

In Kisii, which is the most fertile land in Kenya, average land size has dropped to less than two acres. Some “farmers” grow less than 100 stalks of maize. Clearly we are creating problems as we see crime soaring.

As Johannes concluded, we must scale up our manufacturing. This will enable us to rapidly urbanize and hopefully leave land for farming. Manufacturing opportunities in Kenya are enormous with insatiable market around us. Can we for once wake up and try exploiting these opportunities? I shall be the first one to contribute Ksh. 100,000 as capital for those willing to mobilize resources and take the risk of venturing into manufacturing, either in light electronics or in value added services to our agricultural products.

There is a body of knowledge that will help us minimize the risk. I know for example, if we met the standards of potatoes we consume at KFC, we can begin to compete with Egypt and Brazil. This also provides us with the opportunity to develop standards apps and further expand job opportunities.

It is my prayer that this time round we go past palaver and do something not just for us, but for the country.

Image source: Sagarkatdare

The role of Social Media

The social media platform has been great and we say good things, yet in three days we forget about them.  At times we revive the issues but we never do anything that our children and grand children will remember us about.

The forum we have is great.  We need to use it much more by, for example, mobilizing resources to seize these emerging opportunities.  Our risk is minimized, if for example 1,000 people give Kshs. 100,000 for production of locally manufactured set top boxes or mobile handsets. We shall never get to do this unless we consider the opportunities our collective responsibility to exploit them.

Social media will become part of our history if we pull this.  No donor or anybody can do this for us.  Let us just do it.

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It’s due time for our Industrial Revolution

A total of 81 million manufacturing jobs are to move out of China in the next few years.  Some jobs are moving back to the US and some are finding their way into emerging economies.

In the past few weeks since the ground breaking ceremony at Konza, I have met with six manufacturing outfits that are considering Africa as their new manufacturing destination. Two are well known chipset manufacturers. Read more

Digital Migration – What You Need To Know.

Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK) has gone to court to stop the planned Digital Switchover in Nairobi at the end of this month. This is most unfortunate considering the fact that the current analogue broadcast has been the most discriminating. Majority of Kenyans have not seen the level of communication that Digital offers (this is what the constitution demands). In the new platform we have seen more vernacular channels delivering news in a language that people understand and relate to. It therefore surprises me when an organization such as COFEK moves to court to protect an elitist broadcast platform.

Further, every one new channel creates more than thirty new jobs. There are more than one hundred and fifty new applications awaiting clearance to start digital broadcast. Twenty of these are already on air. If we get two hundred new broadcasters, we shall have achieved our quest for having a pluralistic and diversified broadcast environment. In whose interest is COFEK advancing the agenda of maintaining monopolistic practices in Kenyan Media? Does COFEK really understands the seriousness of unemployment in Kenya?

The cost of not migrating will be far too greater if we don’t bite the bullet now and enable frequency spectrum to be used in more productive and inclusive manner. The benefits of mobile operators moving from 2G to 3G are glaring. We need to scale up to 4G and create a robust last mile that will reduce the rural-urban digital divide; that will create an enabling playing field when we start delivering new local content to schools country-wide.

Most of the world has migrated and they fully understand why we need to free up spectrum. EAC member states agreed on the December 31st deadline. Tanzania, for example, has committed itself to this agreed deadline despite not having completed the national roll-out of the digital signal. In Kenya, we have adopted a phased plan starting from Nairobi. Technology changes every six months and Kenya must remain at the technological edge in order to remain the true hub of Africa. We seem to be exercising freedom without any responsibility.

Developing a Knowledge Economy

Yes there are four different Transnational Operators wanting to be in Mombasa. It could be related to the interest in building mega data centers here. These are possibly trying to entice content aggregators to have their point of presence here. There will be some positive to this considering the fact that we get the opportunity to develop capacity (improved real employment opportunities), significantly develop our energy sector and possibly drastically reduce cost of connectivity.

My frustration has been how we get our people to begin working on local content. We do not need cloud for content like Sesame Street when we can create local edutainment from local resources. Remember the local content you develop here is good for any African Country. If we automated our Government records, we shall have the chance to replicate the processes in 50 other countries. We shall get to my bet subject of intra-Africa Trade.
Check this blog and know where the future lies:
After my trip to IGF in Baku, I passed through London at the invitation of the John D. and Catherine T. MacAthur Foundation to join a multidisciplinary Research Network of thinkers and doers on “Opening Government” to analyze and realize the potential impact of technology on democratic institutions, specifically how we can use technology to create more collaborative ways of governing to solve the world’s hardest problems.

There were about 40 Professors meeting at 10 Downing Street. They were mostly from top Universities in the World. Some of the MIT and Stanford researchers have research going on in Kenya or planning to be in Nairobi for collaboration. Most of them mentioned Kenya as an emerging IT destination and hoped we can sustain the innovative capacity.
I realized that we must create an ecosystem that brings together researchers, government and developers together if indeed we want to sustain this innovative capacity. Most of our Universities have become teaching institutions that must now move to research. The real-time data most developers have been wanting must be data from research activities and some from institutions.
For example, any hospital must have its capacity data out there. We need to know which hospitals have Neuro-Surgeons, Cardiologists, Oncologists etc. What equipment is available in these institutions, capability of the labs etc. This is all knowledge such that if I have a heart attack patient I know where to get help instead of trial and error, and as you know Kenyans do not volunteer to say they have no capacity. This is what a knowledge society looks like.
One of the Professors presented life data from a mobile phone gathering data in a Central American country. Simple analytic on the data shows that teachers go to their respective schools for less than two days a week. These are some of the worst performing schools. There was a high correlation of poor performance and affiliation to Unions. Does this resonate with Kenya? Thought so!
Change is in our hands but we must begin to exercise our responsibility to change our country for the better.

Image Source: Relativity Online

Making Sense of our Development Agenda

Page 19 of the Star of Thursday, October 11th, carried a story on Water Hyacinth titled “Water hyacinth project threatened by court order”. This is apparently a donor funded project in its phase two under Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP).

LVEMP II is an eight-year US$254 million (Ksh. 2.1 billion) old regional project being implemented in the five East African Community partner states says the article. Objectives of the project include: improving “collaborative management of trans-boundary natural resources of Lake Victoria basin” as well as “reduce environmental stress in the targeted pollution hot-spots and selected degraded sub-catchment areas as a way of improving the livelihoods of communities who depend on the lake basin’s resources”.

One will hope that the project is supposed to physically remove water hyacinth from the lake to enable the people access the resources from the lake. However, in the past eight years the spread of this water menace has more than tripled and this is what prompted me we to re-examine the objectives as stated. If these objectives were to be re-stated in simplified English, the real meaning could be to help citizens of East Africa understand how to collaborate and manage their resources as well as reduce their stress. The project therefore has nothing to do with water hyacinth and hence the reason why the people are fighting over it.

If the donor language were to be simpler, they would have thought about project sustainability in which case we did not need all the resources that is at the disposal of the fighting citizens. In my view we needed only US$50 (US$10 million for each country) to set up an organic fertilizer factory. Hyacinth has been found to be a good ingredient for organic fertilizer. Just recently I wrote a blog how soil nutrients have been depleted in densely populated districts with excessive land sub-divisions. Studies also show productivity levels dropping significantly that our food security and safety is at its worst threat.

Further, chemical fertilizer may be poisoning our ground water and may be likely the cause of increased cancer cases in the region. There is greater urgency than ever before that we exploit every opportunity for developing organic fertilizer like hyacinth that would improve on productivity, ensure sustainable development and reduce its impact on our water resources. Our problems would only be solved by us and as such foreign interventions will not always be a universal remedy to our predicament.

Education and Our Future

Ken Robinson says that schools have killed creativity. From the recent Kenya Union of Teachers’ (KNUT) strike it was evident that we are lacking in creativity. Three weeks of strike threatened the effectiveness of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) like never before. Why is KNEC linked to KNUT?

In 2010 GCSE candidates took their exam towards the end June and the results were out by August. More than 700,000 students worldwide did mathematics and English while other subjects averaged more than 350,000 candidates. At the same time about 360,000 sat for the KCSE in the same year between October and November but the results came out at the end of February. In other words marking our exams took twice as much as it took the Pearson’s Group (a private entity) to mark GCSE.

GCSE exams are marked by retired teachers as well as other qualified people. It is a contract for which you are paid 800 pounds for the three to four weeks exercise. They heavily use IT to process the exams and some papers are marked by computers.

The company offers a variety of qualifications, including A Levels (GCEs), Edexel (which is one of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s five main examination boards and the BTEC suit of examination qualifications. It also offers work-based learning qualifications – including BTEC Apprenticeships through Pearson Work Based Learning, awarding over 1.5 million certificates to students around the world every year.

Since we benchmark on everything, is it not time we started to benchmark on our education?

Taking Care of the Future – Part III (Open Data)

During lunch break from my meeting with HR&A on the 26th Sept, I met Prof. Beth Noveck of MIT to discuss issues relating to an upcoming conference on Open Data in November. In three minutes the prolific professor and former Obama advisor on technology had asked why we were in New York, what makes Kenya think it will be the best technology hub, why we want to build a tech city. She is driven by data and data is her life and the future in solving the many problems. I concurred with her and felt bad that we have not exploited what already is out there in the Open Data Portal.

At JFK, I picked Financial Times and was drawn to an article titled, “Chances of Survival are on the rise by Andrew Jack”, who argues significant advances have been made by scientist in the battle against the disease but victory remains elusive. Further he says “poor quality data – in identifying cases, registering outcomes from treatment and confirming deaths from cancer – means precise figures are difficult. Yet estimates from 2008 suggest that, at least 12 million people around the world contract the desease annually, 8 million die from it and nearly 30 million are living five years after diagnosis”.
This is precisely what I had been discussing with Prof. Noveck. How do we identify a problem as well as solution by utilizing technology? Can we for example create a mobile app for Cancer patients? Can the doctors be compelled to report the data to a central data bank? How about indigenous contribution to this knowledge? What is Africa’s future with respect to both food security as well as safety?

I was pleasantly surprised to read in Sunday Nation an article by a Nation Correspondent in Arusha. Why Africa food crisis persists? Here every data you need to solve the problem was given and I must commend the writer since he effectively used data to drive the point home. He says “one of the reasons for low yields has been the high rate of soil nutrient depletion”. This is the outcome of excessive land subdivision. Citing a report from Alliance for Green Africa headed by Kofi Annan and co founded by Bill and Melinda Gates, the report says Africa uses only 8Kg of fertilizer per hectare when it needs to use at least 50Kgs for the same. Currently, Africa uses less than 3% of global fertilizer and if we doubled that to 6%, plus better seed, we can improve crop production by 50%. We need these data available in all formats if indeed we want to change Africa. How do we get this message to the ordinary farmer?
I mentioned to Prof. Noveck that I am carefully analyzing the issue of Agriculture in Africa because it comes with greater opportunities. But we need to tackle what our role should be in creating a modern Africa. Who precipitates change? We have more than 70% of African referred to as farmers when in fact we know that in as much as small holder farmers contribute to 80% of the consumption, only less than 10% are what you can call farmers. The rest are under employed hangers on in rural Africa continuously undermining productivity and their activities are not sustainable.
Our discussion later drifted into what Universities are doing to prepare for massive change that is on the horizon. This is where we feature poorly. While some of the leading Universities have changed significantly their courses, we have not. We still offer yesterday programs and we are not able to manage knowledge properly. We need for example to have a course in history for everything. History of technology, history of cancer, history of agriculture in Kenya and so on. What this would do is to force us to begin to understand our past that will inform our future.
Sometime back I read Prof. H.W.O Okoth-Ogendo’s paper, The perils of Land tenure reform: a case of Kenya that extensively draws from R.J.M Swynnetorn Report 1954.  The report first proposed privatization of land in order to improve on agricultural productivity. Prior to 1954, land tenure was communal. This is where our land disease started and has spread on to Zimbabwe. How do we reverse the acquired culture and move people to rural urban cities or communal settlement? How can we build on the Maasai land tenure practices?
It will be a mockery of our intellectual capital if we continue to slide in both food security and safety. We have the knowledge but we are looking to elsewhere to sort our problems. If we do not deal with the food situation comprehensively, then none of us will be safe in the days to come.
Action: Let us crowd source the solutions and ways we can take this debate to rural Kenya. I started this in selected districts. Initially I thought they would call me a mad man but I have four invitations from different groups in different parts of the country to discuss and propose the way forward.
Perhaps we need to draw the job description of the 1. County Representative, 2. The Member of Parliament (MP), 3. The Senator, 4. The Governor and 5. The President in order to articulate these problems. I can bet a million shillings that the county representative does not know that it is his/her responsibility to ensure utilities are available in their locality. Check with Ongata Rongai, Kitengela and other fast growing peri urban centers, the representative does not even know where to start. This is the problem. Any member of Parliament will tell you that most of the legislatures hardly know any piece of legislation that goes through Parliament. We need to draw a performance contract with all legislatures, at least an exam on all the legislations that they have passed. The Governor, watching the Kiambu Debate on NTV, only God will help them before they end up in jail (Except for Nyoro and to some extent Kabogo, they are incoherent in explaining such problems as Mungiki menace and creating jobs for youth). 
The people of Kenya must precipitate change.

Taking Care of the Future – Part II

On the 25 and 26th we had meetings with HR&A. These meetings were an eye opener for me since I got the insight of the American construction industry. While HR&A wanted to fully understand their mandate and also present some of the initial works, they also were making proposals on the way forward before ground breaking late October/early November. They used 3D printing to develop the Pavilion model. We were curious and wanted to know more.
In one of their works, the Barclays Centre in New York City, everything was done with the use of technology. Each part that went into building the massive center was bar coded and placed exactly how the model was developed on the computer. The roof material which had decra-like material had all the pieces barcoded 3D printed and placed where it was meant to be. There are no estimates. If you have built in Kenya you know what this method would do to efficiencies in building. There was no “Mzee Mabati haikutosha”. This is precision building. 

This new technology is changing and will change the world as we know it. In the past nine of my speeches I have mentioned eight times but nobody ever bothered to fully understand what it is and how we can leverage on this. The technology defies the rule of economies of scale. It is precisely like any printer where the cost of one copy remains the same till the last copy. This means even a small scale producer can be as efficient as a large scale producer. It means when you build, you go to a small scale producer and print the number of “Mabatis” you need including angle cuts that is usually the bulk of our waste in construction.

The printer works with a new software code in different prints. This is where we shall need millions of software coders for different jobs. In building a house you need floor and roof tiles, ceiling, timber, cement, etc. Each of the material would need a new software code.  I asked the consultants to make a presentation to one of the Universities when they come towards the end of the month. Architects, quantity surveyors, Civil Engineers must get themselves acquainted with the technology before they find themselves irrelevant.
Action: We must get Universities adopting these new technologies now. Already we are working with Dr. Gachigi at University of Nairobi to get to do something tangible before Private Sector jumps in. We are desperately trying to raise Ksh. 15 million to buy a 3D printer for a research project in circuitry. This is what will translate to jobs both in software and manufacture of many items. We could start this project with as little as Ksh. 4 million. If you feel we can get together and raise the amount, please say it. The bureaucracy in Government will take far too long to raise the funds.
If you want to know more about 3D printing sometimes referred to additive manufacturing or computer assisted design, there is a comprehensive coverage of it in one of the past Economist. You can start with Wikipedia.

Last part of the series “Taking Care of the Future” coming up in a few days.


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