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Steal this idea: A network of couriers to ease Ghana/Nigeria traffic

April 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment | Posted in General

On a recent trip to Ghana, I spent a good amount of time traversing Accra, and consequently getting stuck in traffic. Ghana is not unlike many other African and foreign cities. It boasts a growing urban population, engaged middle class, and business growth. Add to that poor urban planning and you get horrendous daily traffic. At this point Ghanaians have accepted that traffic delays are a way of life and have adjusted accordingly. Commuters try to alleviate travel headaches by getting multiple cars per household – one for each member of the family to travel independently. Having a driver also allows you to multi-task and rest while stuck in traffic. Enterprising Ghanaians are taking advantage of the congestion and the captive audience. Hawkers are a treat for any Accra tourist. You can buy everything from solar light bulbs, to children’s toys, and puppies – Yes, live puppies – in Accra traffic. Ghanaian businessman [Albert Osei, founder of Koko King](, launched his popular mobile breakfast business throughout Accra, mostly supported by his street carts serving Ghanaian commuters sitting in traffic.

But as much as I’m happy that budding entrepreneurs have seized the problem/opportunity that is Accra traffic, sitting ion the traffic myself, I often thought of the wider implications and possible solutions. The reality is that Accra traffic is not a good thing. Like most African countries, Ghana has fairly limited road infrastructure and a rapidly growing urban population. Just recently it was announced that with a reported population of 170 million people and a few billion dollars in GDP, Nigeria is [now Africa's biggest economy]( Not having been myself (anyone want to sponsor my trip? lol), I’ve heard many horror stories about traffic in Nigeria. Nigeria’s large population, growing disposable income, and poor infrastructure will only accelerate it’s traffic problems.

If you ask any Ghanaian or Nigerian we’ll tell you that building more roads will be a welcome solution. But while we all wait for the politics and logistics of that solution to be ironed out, what about creating a wide network of delivery and courier services. Imagine a network of motorized scooters zipping through Accra traffic connecting citizens to the goods and services that they want. Instead of Ghanaians having to defend upon the city for their simple daily market visits, what if there was a distribution network of workers who ran those types of errands? In theory, besides solving the traffic congestion problem, this strategy could tap into the ballooning youth population as well. You can’t attend any Africa-focused conference these days without hearing a discussion about how to [solve the youth unemployment issue]( It’s been reported that Africa currently has 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, the youngest region in the world. And that youth population makes up 60% of the the unemployed in the region. Building a businesses that have low entrance rates that are scalable are one of the keys to ushering the youth population into the employment. Well a courier/ delivery network can be one avenue. Ideally, building such a network could be a way of supporting local businesses who have distribution and access problems, alleviating the strain on the limited roads we do have by connecting customers to necessary goods and services, and connecting youth to viable employment.

I’m sure there are areas of this idea and implications I haven’t considered yet so let me know what you think. Could building a network of couriers/delivery services work to help solve the traffic problem? How could this be built?

Flying drones or more roads? What will connect more Africans?

March 17th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in General

There’s an ongoing debate going on right now spawned by recent news that Facebook’s bid to buy a drone manufacturer has implications for the company’s goal of “connecting Africa”. Whether Facebook actually intends to pursue that goal or it’s just a ploy to keep the company’s investors happy, the idea that Africa’s future could be filled with the buzzing of drones has sparked a heated debate.

2 sides to the debate
On one side are those who champion the idea. On the other hand detractors criticize the initiative as a dumb, libertarian fantasy I agree that the Facebook’s drones, Google’s balloons, or Microsoft’s tv white spaces won’t be the magic bullet that solves Africa’s problem. I’m not as skeptical as Bill Gates though, that any of these ideas are off base. Facebook, Google etc. might have their own motivations for pursuing these initiatives, but that does’t necessarily make it a pie in the sky idea. I’m not sure about Facebook, but Google has made a business of executing on pie in the sky ideas. Remember what we said about self-driving cars? The company has shown us that it has the chops to prototype, test, release a solution and then work with government to make their solution a widespread option.

What I think many critics of the Facebook project get wrong is that there’s a need there. Maybe not for Africa, but certainly for Facebook. Take Facebook or Google out of the equation and the idea that Africa’s skies could be a resource to connect large areas and people becomes a viable discussion. In my role as a strategist I often counsel partners and clients not to start with an “I want to build/do/be like X” perspective. Rather you must take yourself out of the equation, identify the problem that needs solving, and then see if you actually provide a solution to that problem. The appropriate solution will always be the result of analyzing the problem or a job that needs to be done.

What problem is Facebook solving?
So let’s take the Facebook drones initiative. The news that spawned the debate highlighted the initiative as a way for Facebook to connect Africans. Using the “what problem are you trying to solve” question, we can safely deduce that Facebook – a public company whose main platform is the social network to which it’s advertisers could pay to connect to – has a monetization and growth problem they need to solve. The idea that they’d look to Africa – one of the youngest regions in the world with a growing middle class – as a potential solution, makes sense. To tap into the African potential Facebook needs to be able to control/guarantee users’ connectivity and engagement with the platform and in Africa access is a barrier. Facebook is actively exploring solutions hrough acquisitions (e.g. WhatsApp), interface redesigns (e.g. Every Phone app), and now, potentially with drones to deliver their product while maybe even bypassing regulatory barriers. So drones help solve Facebook’s growth problem but does it help Africans?

Solving Africa’s connection problem
The bigger, more interesting question for me is whether drone technology can actually help bridge some of Africa’s barriers. In this case it’s the connectivity problem. Not connectivity as in connecting to the internet, but easily connecting to people and services that make everyday life easier. I won’t go as far as saying Africa needs more drones than roads, but I think the idea that drones could help Africa connect virtually or in person could be a good idea. As with most growing societies, African countries need to be able to connect it’s people – especially the youthful population – in a reliable and efficient way. In this day and age, technology has been the most effective was of doing so. Whether it be to tell your spouse that you are running late, or compare the price of fish, technology has been a great enabler in Africa. When you’ve lived in the USA or Europe you tend to believe complex technology is the way forward, but as Africa continues to show, scaled down options like feature phones can also enable societies. Beyond the hype, it’s been well documented that the mobile phone has boosted connectivity and productivity in Africa. The mobile phone has been successful in Africa because it helps solve the information exchange and dissipation problem, among others. But the mobile solution was the result of a specific problem.

What problem could drones solve in Africa? Well what about the problem of location and proxymity? Both for unban and rural dwellers. Anyone who’s set foot on the continent knows that roads and traffic are a MAJOR problem in cities. One of the many reasons is that many of Africa’s cities were never really planned and the ensuing growth in population is only helping highlight the deficiencies. While in Ghana recently, I realized that almost all of the cars during rush hour had single passengers. Image that. A large population, few roads, and an abundance of cars with single drivers in a city of millions. It is a recipe for chaos and disaster. It’s not just roads Africa needs, it’s proper urban planning and ways to connect people and services without bogging down the limited infrastructure we do have.

If we think in traditional ways of solving the location-based connectivity problem we would likely labor about ways to build complex highways to allow the growing population to navigate the cities for goods and services. But if you invert the solution there stands a possibility that instead of bringing people to goods and services, we could explore bringing goods and services to the people, particularly if they are in remote areas. Imagine if Jumia explored using drones rather than scooters to deliver products to it’s Nigerian customers. Could drones be a solution? Possibly in some cases it will be – cost permitting. Technology by itself will never solve Africa or any other society’s problems. To truly begin to develop solutions we need to redefine our problems and maybe technology will enable our solutions.

What do you think? Would you welcome the use of drones in Africa?

IBM Chief Research Scientist on Tech as enabler for Africanized solutions

March 5th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in General

Last year I met IBM research scientist Uyi Stewart at a Africa business and innovation conference at the NYU. After hearing him talk on a panel and a few short conversations I could tell that he was a man on a mission. At the time we connected Uyi was finalizing plans to leave his position in the USA for a role in Kenya as the Chief Scientist at IBM Research Lab – Africa. Since launching in November of 2013, the research lab has hit the ground running with a few powerful projects, most notably a project to reduce Kenyan traffic congestion using mobile phone data.

CNN’s African Voices program recently sat with Mr. Stewart to talk about his return to Africa, technology as an enabler, and the part he and IBM are playing in African innovation. Watch below.

Trailer: When China met Africa (documentary)

April 6th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Business, Film/Television, General, Politics, Travel

When China met Africa‘, a new documentary film produced by Marc Francis & Nick Francis and Miriana Bojic Walter, tells the story of China’s entrance into Zambia and the cultural and business relationships surrounding:

A historic gathering of over 50 African heads of state in Beijing reverberates in Zambia where the lives of three characters unfold. Mr Liu is one of thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs who have settled across the continent in search of new opportunities. He has just bought his fourth farm and business is booming.

In northern Zambia, Mr Li, a project manager for a multinational Chinese company is upgrading Zambia’s longest road. Pressure to complete the road on time intensifies when funds from the Zambian government start running out.

Meanwhile Zambia’s Trade Minister is on route to China to secure millions of dollars of investment.

Through the intimate portrayal of these characters, the expanding footprint of a rising global power is laid bare – pointing to a radically different future, not just for Africa, but also for the world.

Watch the trailer below:

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Western Union partners with M-Pesa for international mobile money transfers

March 31st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Business, General, Technology, Travel

Western Union has announced a partnership with M-PESA, the popular Kenyan mobile cash-transfer service. This deal opens up Western Union’s huge money transfer network to the Safaricon-owned “mobile wallet” service. The parnership will allow customers in US, UK and other countries to transfer money to a Safaricom/M-Pesa user’s account and the receiver will receive an SMS message from M-PESA notifying them that the money is available in their account.

Kenyans living abroad can now send money to their relatives back home through Safaricom’s mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa.
This is after Safaricom and Western Union signed an agreement, which enables Kenyans living in 45 countries in the US, Asia, Europe and Africa to access the now world famous M-Pesa service.
Although they can send up to Sh35,000 per transaction, limits per day, per month or per year will depend on the country the money is sent from, following the link-up that is likely to give the NSE listed firm a head start in the increasingly competitive mobile telephony market.
“Through this partnership, our customers and their friends and families will benefit from affordable, faster and more convenient international remittances,” said Safaricom chief executive officer, Bob Collymore.
Mr David Yates, of Western Union, applauded the service as an impressive adoption of the mobile channel.
“Cash payout through M-Pesa is projected to go up from 23 per cent to 40 per cent, as the traditional cash payout will take the rest,” Mr Yates said.
The transaction is similar to a traditional cash-to-cash money transfer, except that the sender specifies the recipient’s mobile phone number at the time the funds are sent.
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New wave of Western investment flows to African film

February 16th, 2011 | 2 Comments | Posted in General
In recent years, though, there have been signs that a shift is under way. A wave of Western investment in African cinema has focused on sustainability and long-term growth. Rather than using Africa as a picturesque backdrop for big-budget studio productions, filmmakers from outside the continent and various fests are looking to cultivate a new generation of African talent….There’s been a shift on the festival circuit as well, helped by the emergence of small, dynamic African film festivals in the West, and a new generation of festival programmers looking to spotlight fresh African talent….The next step is to challenge the mainstream perception of Africa “as not really a dynamic place” for filmmaking in a way that translates into greater distribution, says Joslyn Barnes, who along with Danny Glover co-founded Louverture Films to help promote and cultivate filmmaking in the developing world.


Microsoft chairman plots Africa’s tech revolution (video)

January 18th, 2011 | 3 Comments | Posted in Business, General, Technology

In the video featurette below, CNN’s African Voices highlights Cheick Diarra, the Microsoft chairman for Africa who has been trying to make technology more accessible on the continent. In the video Mr. Diarra talks about tech affordability, connectivity, and training in Africa, and also comments on combatting software piracy by developing the local software development community, Before joining Microsoft in 2006, Cheick Diarra spent 10 years working for NASA as its first African astrophysicist.

The latest chapter in his career has seen him return to Africa, where he has been heading Microsoft’s operations since 2006, trying to make technology more accessible on the continent…’This is a unique opportunity because somebody like me, who is known for his scientific achievement, being able to have the opportunity to use, to leverage a company like Microsoft to really put the technology-access issue at the middle of the table,” he says….However, Diarra is quick to point out that access to technology will do little to accelerate Africa’s economic and social development if it is not accompanied by investment in the continent’s most important resource — its people. – CNN African Voices
More in the video below.
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Africa’s wealth and consumerism draws big brands

January 14th, 2011 | 4 Comments | Posted in Business, General

The Wall Street Journal is currently running an in-depth interactive series on the rapid development and potential of the African consumer market. The first installment of the series includes a wealth timeline of foreign investment in Africa, consumer profiles, an insightful article on multinational brand perspective and more. It’s a must read. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

There’s a new gold rush under way for the African consumer, a campaign that spans the continent and aims to reach an emerging middle class. These are the people who have begun to embrace cellphone messages, restaurant meals and trips down supermarket aisles.
In Kenya, a battle between units of Britain’s Vodafone Group PLC, and India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. has driven down the consumer’s cost of a text message to a penny. Yum Brands Inc. of the U.S. recently said it wants to double its KFC outlets in the next few years to 1,200.
And Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $2.5 billion to buy 51% of South Africa’s Massmart Holdings Ltd., with plans to use the discount retailer as a foothold for continental expansion. Andy Bond, Wal-Mart’s regional executive vice-president, describes the potential as a “10- to 20-year play.”
Some analysts believe a billion-person continental market already has arrived. Consultancy McKinsey & Co. says the number of middle-income consumers—those who can spend for more than just the necessities—in Africa has exceeded the figure for India. The firm predicts consumer spending will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, from about $860 billion in 2008. – Read more on
click image to enlarge
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Insights on mobile banking & advertising in Africa (videos)

January 5th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted in Business, General, Technology

If you’ve been following this website or been engaged in any recent conversation about Africa’s future, you can’t have missed a mention about mobile technology innovation and it’s impact in Africa. For the curious or uninitiated, here are a couple of videos which focus on the trend and give some insight particularly in the banking and advertising industries.

Banking revolution saving lives in Africa (CNN)

According to the Bureau of International Information Programs at the U.S. State Department, around one million of Tanzania’s 41 million inhabitants use mobile phone technology to carry out financial transactions and save money.
At the same time, only 12% of the population have a formal bank account, while almost half of them own a cell phone.

M-Pesa: Kenya teaches the developed world about the mobile wallet (BBC)

In developing world countries like Kenya, the technology to do this has been around for several years – and you do not need a bank account to use it. M-Pesa launched in 2007, and there are now nearly 100 services like it around the world, mainly in developing countries. Can the developed world learn from Kenya’s experience with the mobile wallet?

Mobile Advertising in Africa (A talk by Ankit Rawal of InMobi)

Ankit Rawal, Head of Advertising, Africa, InMobi speaks about the state of mobile advertising in Africa at iHub in Kenya.

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Watch out Silicon Valley. Chinese and Indian Entrepreneurs Are Eating America’s Lunch

December 29th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in General
…India’s and China’s successes
aren’t due to their education systems, but despite them. You’ve
probably heard of Indian outsourcing hotspots like Bangalore and
Chennai, but it’s not just call centers and software sweatshops
Americans now need to worry about: Technology entrepreneurship is
booming all over in China and India, and is beginning to innovate;
these startups will soon start competing with Silicon Valley. The
next Google could well be cooked up in a garage in Guangzhou or

Indian and Chinese children are
very much like their counterparts in the United States –
intelligent, open-minded, and motivated to change the world. They
receive poor education on average, but many are able to rise above
that. And the United States is giving an unintended boost to these
countries by sending away highly educated skilled foreign


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