Tag Archives: Africa

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…

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.

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.

Slowly making progress

12 Aug

 I’ve been back in the UK for nearly three weeks now, and I admit I’ve only just reached the end of my first, uninterrupted week of editing. Largely I suppose because I’ve managed to be rather distracted by sunshine! Thankfully this week has been a gloomy, ‘mizzley’ one in Cornwall.

This evening I feel a bit like I’ve reached a milestone. All my audio is now neatly clipped up and arranged in labelled folders. It’s taken many hours in front of Adobe Audition. Infact, I was beginning to feel like I was living inside my computer screen earlier today. I also imagine that this is only the start; Hello weeks of dreaming about waveforms. (Welcome to the world of a radio producer I guess!)

But it’s not all bad. Infact, really it’s far from it. The wonderful thing about this week, improved by the fact that it’s taken me nearly a month to sit down and sift through all my interviews, is the way that it has transported me back to my time in Kenya and in Ethiopia.

Listening to the stories of my interesting and patient interviewees, I could be back there. Perched on a wooden stool in a garden, or a chair inside someone’s rural home. Sipping at fresh, spicy and curiously chocolatey coffee, or watching chickens – ‘kuku’ in Swahili, ‘dora’ in Amharic – scratching the dusty ground. Listening to the birds, the cows, or the lorries racing by on the nearby road, or staring out over a bustling cityscape, or the undulating highlands. Holding out my microphone and worrying the whole time that what my interviewee is telling me will be lost in some freak electronic failure of the recorder. My memories have surged back.

But my next challenge will be to disassociate myself a little from these personal feelings and to think pragmatically about my documentary. I need to select the most appropriate stories and start to think about how I can best illustrate my experiences and my findings in audio format. Next week’s task.

I’ll also be winding up my interviews next week. I want to put some of the individual stories I heard when I was travelling into a much broader context. It’s important because, as I hope I’ve demonstrated by now in this blog, mobile phones really are having a dramatic impact on local, national and international economies. So I’ll be speaking to development professionals in the UK about my research and hoping to draw some solid conclusions.

For now though it’s back to Audition I suppose!

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.

Getting to the point

6 Jul

In three days I will be on a plane bound for Nairobi so it’s about time I get to the nitty gritty of my project. I’m going to use the next few days to think about the main questions that I hope my documentary will go some way to finding answers for. Beyond that, my blog will become a bit of a progress diary, a travel log. So check back to see how I’m getting on.

Mobile technologies are changing lives, especially in the developing world. Since beginning my project, many people I have quizzed have emphasised that technologies must not simply be seen as a tool for administering aid. I hope that this argument will raise it’s head during my documentary. But my focus will be to ask…

How are mobile technologies affecting the relationship between NGOs and farmers? 

In a way, the argument which says that mobile technologies should be used for change outside of the confines of the aid industry goes some way to answering this question. Are people so empowered by the technologies that they are using that they don’t need the support we’ve come to see as ‘conventional’ from Non-governmental organisations.

On Monday, Oxfam launched it’s largest ever emergency appeal in Africa. We are, they say, amid the worst food crisis in the 21st century, as the Horn of Africa suffers from widespread drought. The Guardian have produced another great interactive map which shows some if the facts and figures. (I will stop banging on bout their maps I promise) Notice it states that 10 million are in need of ‘humanitarian assistance’.

So what does humanitarian assistance mean in an age when the internet and mobile phones make it increasingly easy to start up businesses? Have we moved into an age where aid has altered from being about Geldof and his gigs? Or are these ten million people still needing instantaneous solutions?

The reality is that I won’t be visiting the people who are really desperately in need of food aid. But I do hope to talk to farmers about how they see development projects that they are part of, and how technology is making them think differently. I’ll also be talking to people who have seen NGOs and the work that they do evolve as attitudes, politics and technologies have all had their part to play in changing international aid and development.

If the Horn of Africa really is amid a food crisis, I’m hoping that my documentary might shed some light on the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Africa Gathering

20 Jun

Image by Africa Gathering

As I plugged away with emails and enquiries for my forthcoming trip (less than three weeks now!) I whiled away my afternoon reading the ferevent stream of tweets coming from the Africa Gathering in London. #AgLondon for anyone who wants a refresh.

In their own words, Africa Gathering…

“provides a space to bring technophiles, thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators and everybody else together to talk about positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education, environment and good governance in Africa.”

Now I know that I only scraped the very surface of the gathering by reading the tweets. It sounds like a fascinating day, packed with important and insightful presentations which following online I wasn’t fortunate enough to see. But it felt rather apt to be part of the event via twitter. Scrolling down the stream of tweets from today’s gathering I found another place to bring ideas, thoughts, questions and information together.  

When I travel to Nairobi I will visit the iHub and I’ve been learning more about it today. Another centre, another space to share ideas enrich, engage and enable.

It’s strength in numbers I suppose.

Poverty Matters

4 May

The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog is worth a look if you haven’t come across it already. Today, especially so. Read Mohamed Béavogui’s post for the 4th May 2011 here. 

I don’t think that Mr Béavogui’s argument is a new one. It’s certainly one I’ve come across before and really without it, I wouldn’t have a documentary in the pipeline. He says that African farmers have the potential to solve the ‘food crisis’ that we could face in the future. Further than this, that they hold the key to the further development of the continent, and that we must see them as entrepreneurs, as business men and women.

But, he adds, to ensure success, they need support and investment by their governments in things like access to technology, access by roads. Improved electricity and reliable water resources are vital too. Keep an eye on goings on at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town this week.

I was struck by the attention drawn to national supply chains and the changing demands emerging from African centres, instead of demand from foreign importers. Last week I read an interesting article courtesy of the African Research Institute. Written by a Kenyan smallholder, it detailed how he manages his farm and how he produces vegetables, largely soya beans for export rather than for local sale. With Europe putting pressure on consumers to buy local and avoid ‘food miles’, will smallholders start looking for business that little bit closer to home?

Then again, we’re talking big business. World food prices are at a record high, and strong horticultural exporters are reaping the benefits. Is it really realistic for producers to ignore the temptuous international marketplace?

Anyway, The Guardian Poverty Matters blog. Take a look.

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

Applab connecting Uganda

20 Apr

Original video: Applab, Grameen Foundation

Grameen Foundation work with communities in the developing world, increasing access to technology and micro-finance initiatives, aiming to help people make their way out of poverty.

Like Question Box , when it comes to connecting people, Applab‘s philosophy is a simple one. Community knowledge workers work with farmers, bridging the gaps that can’t yet be connected by the internet. Farmer’s questions get answers. Knowledge is shared.

Their flickr page and blog are also worth a look.