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Balloons will provide internet to Kenya’s most inaccessible regions

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Technology is truly amazing. A few years ago, internet speeds in Kenya were laughable by today’s standards and wireless internet didn’t even exist yet. No one had dreamed of 4G LTE speeds, let alone being able to use the internet on your phone; you were lucky to even have it in the house. Now, cell phones and smart devices have gone from being a luxury to the point of being so ubiquitous that there are more mobile devices than people. However, there are many Kenyans without internet access. Installing fiber networks or building cellular mast sites is expensive, and not particularly cost effective for companies to do in some of Kenya’s most inaccessible areas. In a world that’s increasingly digitized, how can technology be leveraged to help these populations? The answer seems to come from Balloons.

Google’s sister-company Loon has announced its first commercial deal: partnering with Telkom Kenya to deliver connectivity to the region.

The firm’s antennae-dangling fleet will ride the wind high above parts of the African country.

But experts have warned that the partnership could lead to a communications monopoly.

Originally known as Project Loon, the technology behind the internet balloons was developed under parent company Alphabet’s experimental division, X.

Earlier this month, the business “graduated” to become a fully fledged subsidiary in its own right: Loon. As part of its first commercial agreement, Loon has pledged to bring internet access to some of Kenya’s most inaccessible regions.

The specific terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

“We will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered Internet in Africa,” said Aldo Mareuse, chief executive of Telkom.

How Loon Balloons Work

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African Ingenuity

Video Games Are Emerging in Africa With Strong African themes

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Video games are becoming a booming industry in Africa thanks to a mushroom of innovators and developers on the continent. Startups are spiraling across the continent coming up with unprecedented games and content with African themes. The gaming industry in Africa is now worth millions of dollars due to relentless efforts of these developers, programmers, scientists, entrepreneurs and other tech gurus.

Madiba Guillaume Olivier had dreams like any other teenager when he was growing up in Cameroon. His most pressing dream was to move to America or even to Europe in order to pursue not “greener pastures” but his zeal for video games. He lived a life of video games because his father owned a video store. Olivier did not sit and wait; rather he went online in order to understand more about game design. However, it was not until when he was doing computer science at the University of Yaoundé that his dream (and that of the continent) started to bear fruit. He partnered with a group of friends to work on a project they dubbed Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.

Video Games Project and the Prince of Planet Auriona

The project was a 2D flight of the imagination game that featured Enzo and Erine, a Prince and his fiancée. The two were embroiled in a quest to reclaim the lost power after a family member betrayed them in the planet Auriona. The team later improved the game design and used it to dive deeper into the industry. Olivier did not move to US or even Europe. The project led to a natural death of his dreams of moving but gave birth to even better dreams with continent-wide and later worldwide ramifications. Olivier and his team released the official version of the game in 2011 winning the hearts of fans, investors and everything else in between. That is how Africa got Kiro’o Games, the first video game studio to come up with an African-themed mythological video game.

“We started to think about the fact that we can make our own studio here [Africa] and sell games abroad,” Olivier remembers.

Olivier and his team are not the only innovators doing Africa proud in this emerging video game industry. In fact, over the last ten years, many video game developers and startups have sprung up across the continent. There are startups in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia and even in Egypt. Because of growth in funding opportunities and supporting accelerator tech hubs on the continent, Africa is moving beyond the confines that resulted from inadequate infrastructure in some countries. Traditional fintechs in Arica are now normal and nothing to write home about anymore. The continent is expanding beyond what has now become normal tech disruptions in education, health, insurance, agriculture into other areas. Now is the time for the gaming industry.

Other African Themed Video Games

The African narratives, myths, legends, traditions, stories, creativities, mysteries and other mystical societal characteristics are more frightening than Halloween. Or at least to those who understand why it is commemorated in the first place. Tapping into this social heritage and cultural material is a sure success path for the gaming industry. That is why a Moroccan Telcom has invested in a mobile game.

There are other notable gaming innovators doing exciting video games. This boom can be observed with The International Game Developers Association having seven chapters in Africa.

Some innovators in this space include:

  • Ananse: The Origin by Leti Arts in Kenya, is a game based on impressive folklore from Ghana.
  • Celestial Games and Thoopid are also doing Africa proud with magnificent games from the South of the continent.
  • Ebola Strike Force that touches on the story of researchers and scientists yearning to save humankind from the lethal virus is breathtaking.
  • Mzito by Weza Interactive Entertainment in Kenya is a game that takes users on a journey to save the continent. Here, you play as a lion and use ancient spirits to save Africa from ancient corruption. “We wanted to focus on the African theme on because we think it’s time for Africa,” George Ohere, the Weza Interactive CEO said recently.
  • Sambisa Assault is another one that gives game enthusiasts the chance to join the fight against terror movements.
  • The Okada Rider by ChopUp studio in Nigeria that simulates the notorious traffic congestion in the streets of Lagos.
  • Digitalmania has more than 87 magnificent games on Google Play, Facebook, and Apple Store. Sadly, these tech giants do not allow merchant payments in Tunisia. Because of this, the innovator cannot get revenue from their innovations.

The African Video Game Industry by Revenue

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Business and Development

These Are The Innovative African Startups Awarded For Building Africa’s Future With Technology

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Future of Africa

The future of Africa is getting brighter with every passing year. This is because of the relentless contributions by budding enterprises in both profit and non-profit entrepreneurship. The African Diaspora Network has singled out and rewarded 10 early-age entrepreneurs in Africa. These are the ones that are building the future of the continent through technology. Through The Builders of Africa’s Future (BAF) Award, the organization has recognized the contributions of African innovators who are leading the continent in its tech and differentiated business development landscapes.

Africa is a continent with myriad and unique needs that require innovative solutions. The BAF initiative and Awards which is currently its second year, recognizes, celebrates and wards early-stage innovations in Africa. It gives recognition and awards 10 entrepreneurs from all regions in the continent. These regions are East, Central, West, North and South Africa in order to balance initiatives in building the future of Africa.

Enterprises Building Future of Africa

The BAF looks at areas of concern where African innovators are coming up with unique solutions. These areas include education, health, commerce, energy, gender inclusion financial inclusion, industrial development, nutrition among other areas that provide socioeconomic benefits. This year, the following innovative African enterprises impressed BAF and hence subsequently awarded the Impact and Innovation Award for building the future of Africa;

  • AkiraChix. (Kenya) Linda Kamau is the MD and co-founder of AkiraChix that provides hands-on technical teaching and mentorship to young girls, women and children. This is in order to increase the number of skillful women in tech and impact the community positively.
  • Asante Mama Brand – Sunshine Agro Products (Uganda). Pamela Anyoti Peronaci is the founding associate of Sunshine Agro Products and Owner and CEO of Asante Mama brand.
  • Enda Athletic (Kenya). Navalayo Osembo-Ombati is the founder of Enda Athletic, a business that is bringing Kenyan athletic prominence to runners around the globe by producing the first made-in-Kenya running shoes that champion the spirit of running from the abode of running champions.
  • Fundibots (Uganda). Solomon King is the founder FundiBots, a non-profit in education with an objective of accelerating science learning in Africa.
  • J-Palm Liberia. (Liberia) Mahmud Johnson is the founder and CEO of J-Palm Liberia (JPL), a company that produces organic health and beauty products out of formerly wasted palm kernels.

Others in the future of Africa list include the following;

  •  Moringaconnect (Ghana). Kwami Williams is the co-founder of MoringaConnect, a vertically incorporated supply chain aimed at improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. He is also a NASA rocket scientist and now a future for Africa.
  • Shule Direct (Tanzania). Faraja Nyalandu is the founder of Shule Direct, a successful organization that provides inclusive web and mobile educational platforms in order to offer educational content across multiple subjects to over a million youth in and out of school.
  • Unreasonable East Africa (Uganda). Joachim Ewechu is the founder of SHONA Group, a company that is transforming economies in East Africa by growing East African good quality businesses.
  • WeMove (Nigeria). Celestine Ezeokoye is the founder/CEO of this enterprise that is focused on building inventive technology solutions for transportation in Africa.
  • Women in Tech Uganda. Barbara Birungi Mutabazi is the founder/director of Women in Technology Uganda, an organization bringing together women in order to foster technology.

Winners in Building African Future

The founders and leaders of the above enterprises are the builders of Africa’s future according to BAF. This is because they “represent the stories we want the community to learn about developmental progress on the continent [Africa]”.

The winners received the Impact and Innovation Award during the just concluded African Diaspora Investment Symposium that ended on January 26. This electrifying event was at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Silicon Valley in United States. The event convened entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders, investors, and friends of Africa, with a common goal of promoting the future of Africa.

To be eligible for the award, an enterprise needs to be an established legal entity. It also must have demonstrable traction in the market and not in the pitch or prototype stages. Additionally, the enterprise must have a website, tangible physical or digital product spanning more than six months. Most importantly, the future of Africa business “cannot be a clone of a western technology or business solution without differentiation”

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Business and Development

The Tech Revolution Is Digitizing The African Way Of Life

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Digital revolution is happening in Africa in exceptional scale affecting almost all facets of life. Innovators on the continent are using technology in a manner that is disrupting even established institutions. A case in point is the mobile money technology that provides financial services to those even without bank accounts. Despite this being a revolutionary technology, there are many that trace their “origin” to the African way of life. For this reason and in significant ways, digital revolution is repackaging traditional African practices to make them more effective today.

What practices were there in those pre-internet days? What made African life meaningful in those days? These are some of the questions that innovators are asking in order to come up with ingenious innovations. What does this mean? This means that traditions that held together and helped communities live a meaningful life are still important for innovators today. Technology is coming up with solutions that meet the needs of the older members of African society and the smartphone-generation in areas such as finance, entertainment, and communications.

Digital Revolution for Personal Finance

An example is the story of Wemimo who grew up in a financially-challenged family in Nigeria and lived through a challenging school life. His family was often unable to pay his fees. For this reason, his extended family started pooling their monies into an account with friends and making it possible for each member to draw from the pool in turns. This is how Wemimo was able to get an education in Nigeria and later pursue further studies in the US.

This problem brought about a digital revolution in the form of Esusu, a mobile app that Wemimo (and his colleague Goel) tout as a “digital platform that makes personal finance easier than ever”. The app digitally revolutionizes the traditional African practice of pooling resources together for mutual gain. It functions more or less in the same way as his parents used to do in the past. The process is simple; download the app and register, invite your friends and family to do the same, Save money as a group regularly and then allow each member to make withdrawals. For this one, you can save together for different reasons other than just pay school fees!

Digital Revolution on Stokvel and Bitcoin for Camels

Similarly, this revolution is happening to a savings model and practice called stokvel in South Africa. Stokvel has existed for many centuries in South Africa has been digitized. It appears in the form of the Stokfella app that makes collective pooling of resources possible. For this one too, you do not just pool resources, but also learn financial literacy.

From West Africa to South Africa and the digital revolution story is the same in Eastern Africa. Somalia grapples with and subdues the effects of instability and few banking institutions with digital revolution. People here are digitizing their hagbad (ayuuto) social lending and financial traditions leading to a cashless society. This social lending model allows them not only to pay schools fees and weddings but also medicine. What more? The camel commerce in Somalia has been digitized by a startup called Ari.Farm (that has been re-branded as Agrikaab). Is there anything else surprising? Yes, you can use bitcoin to buy a camel.

Do you have an African tradition that you would like to digitize? Tell us in the comments below!

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