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Regina

3 Nov

Send A Cow farmer Regina

Regina’s interesting mobile phone project is simple. She lives in a remote community outside Busia in west Kenya, and is a one of Send A Cow’s peer farmers (which means that due to her success with organic farming, she now trains other farmers in agricultural techniques.) As more and more of her neighbours begin to buy and use mobile phones, she saw a business opportunity.

At her house, Regina has electricity, but she is in a minority. Most of her neighbours have to travel a long way to reach charging stations. They’re not uncommon in the region, but it usually means a trip to the nearest town or village which can take a whole day there and back.

For these small scale farmers, time is precious. They don’t want to waste it. Unfortunately, one of the burdens of owning a mobile phone is it’s battery life, and to keep it topped up, trips to the town and to electricty are essential.

Enter Regina…

This is Regina’s charging station. By investing in a variety of charging adapters, a broad enough selection to fit the most popular mobile handsets, she offers mobile phone charging on her neighbours doorsteps at 10 Kenyan shillings (just less than 6 and a half pence) a go.

Regina’s charging station is an example of how mobile phones are seeping into the everyday consciousness of people in rural Kenya. Knowing that many of the farmers I interviewed didn’t have electricity in their homes, I often asked them whether this was a problem for them, but they rarely told me that it was. Either they get used to charging when they’re in town. Or they look for other solutions, like Regina, like this or even like this! 

As entrepreneurs go, you have to hand it to Regina who saw an opportunity, and used it to her economic advantage, alongside the money she earns from her farm.

And it’s not her only side-project. She also dabbles in incubation…

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National Geographic

3 Nov

During my trip, I found FrontlineSMS to be one of the most innovative and widely used tech-mechanisms for social change. – Especially in Kenya.

Today, a blog post which I wrote about FrontlineSMS, and it’s users has been published on the National Geographic Newswatch blog, curated by Ken Banks, founder of FrontlineSMS and National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

I’m very proud and I’d be delighted if you took a look.

What did you expect?

18 Oct

A shopfront near Busia, Kenya

Have you ever been to somewhere new and thought, this isn’t what I expected. Maybe you’ve even told whoever you’re with, only to be confronted with the question, ‘well what did you expect?’. And you think…you know, I don’t know.

In many ways, travelling to Kenya and Ethiopia fulfilled many of my expectations. Mobile phones, as twitter would suggest, are truly everywhere. Everyone, in fact most of the adult population use MPESA to control their finances. But for some reason, if you’d told me that I would see phone masts rising amongst hilltops and eucalyptus trees I would have found it very hard to picture.

Which is funny really…

I admit, it was rather ignorant of me.

But one of the biggest lessons I learnt from the people that took their time to talk to me during my trip, I learnt from their reaction to my questions. The tilted head, the vague and baffled eyes when I asked if I could stop asking questions about their farm and speak to them about their mobile phone.

With the huge impact that mobile phones are having in the developing world, it can be easy to imagine that these revolutionary devices are the pride and joy of their owners, locked away and treasured above any other possessions.

But an egg is an egg is an egg. And a phone is a phone is a phone. True, they’ve become extrememly important to people. But they are still buried in people’s pockets, flung in baskets, and abandoned on bar tops.

In many ways this is their great beauty. In taking little steps to improve people’s everyday, they enable the big changes and make the giant statistics.

Sneak peak: Meet Florence

12 Aug

Meet Florence.

Florence lives near Busia in west Kenya. She is the Vice Secretary of Upendo III, a group of women farmers who have been working together since 1989.

I asked Florence how having a moible phone had affected her day to day life as a farmer.

You can hear her response here:

NB. A ‘boda’ or ‘boda boda’ is a bicycle or motorbike taxi. Interesting fact: The name orignates from Florence’s home town of Busia which lies on the border between Uganda and Kenya. Bikes would transport local people from Kenya to Uganda. ‘Border border’ became ‘boda boda’ and the name is now used in many other African countries.

One week down

15 Jul

 So back inNairobi. It’s crazy that my time inKenyais almost up. I’ve had a varied and interesting week. It started in the city. I visited John Cheburet, who produces the organic farmer radio programme on Monday. He uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with farmers. Straight from there, I went back to Jomo Kenyatta international and flew to Kisumu, a city in the western province on the shores of lake Victoria. I think flying low over the lake as we came into land was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Perfect timing, the sun was setting. I was whisked off in a taxi towards Mumias where I spent the next three nights, actually living within the huge Mumias sugar factory. Bright lights, steaming chimneys, noisy engines, all amid miles and miles of sugarcane. Quite a sight. The main purpose of my trip was to conduct interviews with small scale farmers which involved a lot of travelling down narrow uneven roads- fortunately I wasn’t driving. I’ve made some enlightening discoveries and interviewed some fascinating people. very excited about getting back and putting the documentary together. Get ready for a photo overload on here too! In terms of my planning, so far so good. I’ve been lucky enough to meet great people every step of the way who have been a massive help to logistics! But I’m scared about speaking too soon when I’m only half way through. I’ll be back in the countryside on Monday. So until then I’ll be soaking upNairobiandAddis Ababa…

Day One

10 Jul

I arrived in Nairobi after an eight and a half hour flight and a two and half hour queue for a visa. It was an interesting place journey. Big groups of teenagers heading out to take part in development projects and a noticeably large contingent of journalists, spending the night in Nairobi before heading out to the east to report from the refugee camps. Fascinating. Although after a day of exploring the city today, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that it takes such a tragedy, such a disaster for the world media to descend. Yet again it makes me question the picture of Kenya and east Africa which we have painted for us in the UK.

Anyway, I’ve seen some of the sights- parliament, the national museam, Victory park. And some less conventional- ambulances dodging the traffic by crossing the middle of the highway and driving toward ongoing traffic, riding in a bus which mounted the pavement for 200 metres to dodge yet more traffic, and a group of men pushing a huge bus to get it jumpstarted…

Tomorrow I have an appointment to meet with the producer of a leading Agricultural radio programme to find out how he uses SMS technologies to communicate with his listeners. My first interview… lots of things to remember currently going round and round in my head. Then I head back to Jomo Kenyatta International to head to the west of the country. It’s all go!

More soon!..

5 reasons to watch East Africa.

8 Jul

Tomorrow morning I  fly from London Heathrow to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International. I’ll leave behind hacking, hikes and HRHs, silly hats and all. I’ll miss out on Olympic tickets (again) my beloved Latitude festival and HP: the finale.

But you won’t have failed to notice that I’m heading to east Africa at a time of dramatic upheaval. Even if I’m not a direct witness, I’m preparing for interesting discussion and comment on some monumental issues.

Here are five issues, I definitely don’t expect to escape from.

  1. The birth of South Sudan Last time I flew to Addis Ababa, the plane stopped in Khartoum to refuel. I didn’t get off the plane, but I suppose you could say the sights I saw through the little window, were my first experiences of Africa. At 2100 GMT tonight (Midnight, local time) Sudan will separate and South Sudan will be born. Ethiopia and Kenya will have a new neighbour, geographically and politically. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be glued to Twitter. Take a look at The Guardian’s Eight pointers for more on South Sudan.
  2. Drought in the Horn of Africa The Horn of Africa includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. It’s a peninsular of extremes, with high mountains and low arid plains, and so drought is, unfortunately, not an unfamiliar problem. But after consecutive years of unpredictable rainfall driving the price of grain higher and higher, the UN say that the droughts we’ve been alerted to this week, are the worst for 60 years in some places. The problems extend to Kenya and Uganda. In Kenya, thousands of refugees are arriving in camps having walked, sometimes for days from Somalia. It looks as if the area is on the brink of drought. I won’t be travelling to the worst hit areas, but this backdrop of failing crops, soaring food prices and people on the move is going to provide me with very interesting context for my documentary.
  3. Ethiopia to build first ever wind farm Ethiopia has long been involved with major energy generation projects. Currently Ethiopia are constructing the biggest dam in Africa on the Nile, expected to generate 5250 MW of power. In July work will commence on a €210 million wind farm in Ashegoda. It’s expected to be the biggest in Sub-Saharan Africa. These huge projects provide Ethiopia with a currency for exchange and electricity will be sold first to Djiboubti and then Sudan. It’s big business with big implications.
  4. A new phase of Egyptian protests Since the uprising in Cairo almost six months ago, African nations have had their eyes glued on Egypt to see what happens next in the country. Today, thousands descended on Tahrir Square, the site that’s now synonymous with democracy, the world over. People gathered to demand the trials of former leaders and further reforms, including the restructuring of the police force. Protests occurred all over the country. The wave of civilian protests since December 2010 was ignited by social media and dubbed the Arab Spring. As the name suggests it seems it was only the beginning. Whatever the implications, the whole of Africa will still be watching.
  5. Africa Football on the up Like him or loath him, Sepp Blatter is still the most powerful man in world football and he’s spoken out about the game’s future in Africa. There is a talent in Africa, he says, which is impossible to find anywhere else. Earlier this year, President of the Confederation of African Football Issa Hayatou expressed his determination to strive toward professionalising the game across the continent. With a pan-African campaign to get the 2020 Olympics in Durban, it’s an exciting time for African sport.
I’m so excited to be travelling at a time when not only African’s will be talking about all of these things, but the whole world will be watching.
I leave tomorrow. It’s not quite hit me yet.

The plan…

19 Jun

So. I have a plan.

Come July, I will be flying from Heathrow

to Jomo Kenyatta airport, Nairobi. 

(I Google Map-ped it and it would take me six days and twenty one hours to go by car. So it’s a good job I’m flying.)

From Nairobi I’ll be travelling to Kisumu…

and on to Mumias…

…and Kakamega.

Then it’s back to Nairobi and onward to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. (more on the next leg soon.)

All maps from lovely Google

Mobile phones for building the bigger picture.

1 May

Image: Denaldi Photography

Kibera in Nairobi is Africa’s biggest slum. It’s home to 60% of the whole population of Nairobi and takes up just 6% of city’s area. About one million people live in about 200 settlements here.

At least that’s what we think. Heaving, thriving Kibera was only recognised by the Kenyan government as an area of housing in 2003. The figures that we have are generally based on estimates by non-governmental organisations.

One thing we can be sure of is that many many people call Kibera home, and no matter how many Kenyan settlements there are in the slum, if they were to look at a map of the area in 2009, they’d find a blank space where their homes should be. Unrecognised. Unmapped.

Of course Kibera is not just made up of homes. There are roads, shops, cafes, hairdressers, bars and many other facilities. Where there are people there are also sports clubs, meetings being held and churches.

So out of this blank space came Map Kibera. A project which has resulted in an interactive map of the area, showing all available facilities. Here’s a snippet…

Image: Map Kibera

Initially it was created with simple GPS mapping methods as explained here  by William Underhill. Now though it has reached a new phase and is one dimension of an interactive community project, Voice of Kibera. This is where the phone come in.

Based around this wonderfully up-to-date map, Voice of Kibera is a citizen reporting project. Residents with news of a meeting or an incident can text or submit a report online and using information about the location. The incident is then verified and plotted on the map using the Ushahidi platform where anyone logging onto the website can see it. An incident can also be investigated further if needs be. This is a video of Samson Ochieng Ooko detailing a forced eviction on the 27th February 2011.

Witnessryan: Railway Communities Facing Eviction

It’s another example of people using mobile phones to go the extra mile, important for communities and interesting for humanitarians, anthropologists and statisticians.

This multi-dimensional project has filled what was an empty space. But is it an accurate picture? Can we rely on adequate, widespread mobile use in Kibera for creating a service which is useful for all?

Follow Voice of Kibera on Twitter

And get updates via the Map Kibera Blog