Category: Technology

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

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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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.

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.


Taking Care of the Future.

Through HR&A our Master Developer at Konza we met two agencies today in New York involved with the development of a futuristic New York that will be competitive in the next 50 years.

Hudson Yards Development Corporation was created by Mayor Bloomberg to redevelop a section of New York that was their industrial area. It covers approximately 300 acres with mostly non high rise buildings. The city now wants high rises to meet future office demands.

Here they are buying back most of the land while developing modern infrastructure including the subway. Consultants are working day and night to ensure the redeveloped area meets current and future needs.

Later we visited the New York City Development Corporation charged with NY’s future competitiveness. They noted that in 1890, NY was basically a trading centre. In the 1940s, it became an Industrial City and today it is largely a financial and services city. They now want to switch gears to a more technology city.

Through a competitive process, they have put together a number of universities to deliberately steer NY into another Silicon Valley. Cornell University is paired with Israel Institute of Technology to deliberately create multi disciplinary programs in applied sciences and entrepreneurship. NY University too will partner with other global centres of excellence such as Indian Institute of Technology to also focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.

To help create a competitive future, the city will give free land and other incentives. They are demolishing one of the hospitals in order to create space for a futuristic project. Each of the different university grouping will focus in a specialized area that will be critical in the days to come. They are coming up with courses like health analytics, smart cities etc. 

This is how in future we can use data to predict our future. This is very critical and many lessons for developing countries. As we continue to do things the same way it has always been done, things remain the same and this ain’t good at all. We need to leverage on what we have and do a little more.

In the evening I attended a UN sponsored launch of Better than Cash Alliance at the Ford Foundation. Here speaker after speaker they lauded Kenya for its contribution towards mobile money. Our own Michael Joseph (former Safaricom CEO) was in attendance. This was a launch to scale up what has been successful in Kenya (75% of mobile money transactions world wide happens in Kenya). We shall see many researchers coming to Kenya. We must move up the ladder through research and begin to lead the rest of the world.

Instead of spending many hours arguing the merits and demerits of SAP training some Kenyans we need a mobile payroll system that can be integrated with Government’s Integrated Financial Management System.

When Matatus were introduced, there was a regulated transport system in Kenya. Buses could not just stop anywhere. They were like the proprietary software. Mini buses could stop anywhere and charged based on distance travelled and eventually dealt a blow to buses in urban centres. The rest today is history.

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