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pix1In 2008, following post-election violence in Kenya, a group of young techies in Nairobi created Ushahidi, a data-mapping platform to collate and locate reports of unrest sent in by the public via text message, e-mail and social media. Ushahidi, which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili, has become the world’s default platform for mapping crises, disasters and political upheaval. As at September of 2016, Ushahidi, which is free to download, had seen over 90,000 deployments, reaching a population of over 20million across the globe.

Digital technology is transforming how we live our lives and sub-Saharan Africa has been an interesting theatre for this revolution. While its adoption has varied greatly between countries, reflecting the peculiar needs of the people, it is, regardless of the country, transforming economic activity, evolving new platforms and opportunities for delivering new products and services to Africans while also breaking down the barriers that has long held the continent back.

A number of underlying drivers are responsible for laying the groundwork for the ongoing technological revolution. The first of these is the emergence of Africa’s new ‘Consumer Class’ with access to income that is truly disposable. The second driver is Africa’s demographic and urbanisation boom. By 2050, Africa will account for almost 24% of the world’s population while Africa’s rate of urbanisation has risen from just 11.2% in 1950 to an estimated 38% in 2015, creating more than 50 African cities with a population of over 1 million. This rate is forecast to rise to 50% by 2030. The third driver is the ubiquity of mobile phones in Africa. Back in 2000, barely 1% of Africans had a mobile phone; by 2016 this proportion had risen to over 80%.

Together these growth drivers have made sub-Saharan African ripe for disruption with a number of digital services making a huge impact in the development sector. Fintech (financial technology) leads the charge, blazing a trail across the continent as its boosts financial inclusion and challenges banking models. So successful has the launch of mobile banking been that over half of the world’s mobile money deployments are in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 223 million registered accounts and 84 million active accounts.  The poster child of African fintech is M-PESA, Kenya’s mobile money platform. The mobile payments network created by M-PESA has transformed Kenya’s economy – bringing millions of Kenyans into the financial system – and laid the groundwork for a wave of innovation in financial services, extending credit to Africans who were previously unbanked.

Similarly, digital technology has had a huge impact in Agriculture, providing channels to disseminate information to farmers about their crops and livestock. Apps have led the way, with numerous services providing live price data, marketing information, training and community services. Leading examples include Cocoa Link (developed by the World Cocoa Foundation for cocoa farmers in Ghana), Esoko (the so-called ‘Facebook for farmers’, providing farming and marketing information in a dozen African countries) and i-cow (providing husbandry tips for Kenyan dairy farmers). In addition, there is the example of the innovative use, by the Nigerian government, of cell phones as an e-wallet to change the way farmers get fertilisers and other farming inputs. This was hugely successful in helping to remove middlemen, reduce corruption in the sector and increase productivity.

One new technology could address the difficulty of delivering goods to African locations that are remote or poorly served by roads: drones. The use of drones to deliver small to medium-sized packages is being piloted in a number of countries in Africa. Rwanda is experimenting with using drones to deliver urgent medical supplies to mountain communities – a trip that could take 2-3 days on a motorbike can be accomplished by a drone in a few hours. If successfully implemented this new technology could be a breakthrough for the retail sector as well as for health and agriculture extension services, enabling the rapid and efficient sending of high-value or urgent items to otherwise inaccessible locations.

In health, Peek, the portable eye examination kit that lets users carry out eye exams by taking high quality retinal images with their mobile phone, and Cardiopad, a tablet computer designed to test for heart problems in remote Cameroonian communities which lack cardiologists, demonstrate how with relatively simple technology local health worker can carry out medical examinations and get remote diagnosis of the results quickly and cheaply. In addition, Sproxil and M-pedigree, both SMS based technologies, have been successfully used in combating counterfeit drugs and other unwholesome products.

Technologies are also being developed that use mobile call-data records (CDRs) to map outbreaks of diseases and identify where treatment centres should be built. A pioneer in this space is the Swedish non-profit organisation, Flowminder. Using anonymised voice and text data from 150,000 mobile phones in Senegal, the company created detailed maps of population movement during the recent Ebola outbreak, helping inform decisions on where to target help.

These success stories and prospects have not been without challenges. Chief among these is regulation from government. The disruptive effect of digital technology often brings it in conflict with traditional systems with some governments putting regulatory provisions in place to ‘restrain’ it. This is reason why for example Mobile money has not been as successful in Nigeria despite the mobile phone penetration. Next is the power situation on the continent. Without reliable power, developers are unable to work and end users are unable also access these services. There is also a skills gap with only very few programmers, a host of them self-taught, working in mostly independently funded creation hubs to develop applications. Digital technology is not a common feature of formal school curricula on the continent. In addition, with funding coming mainly from venture capitalists, focus has been more on services that have commercial value and not necessarily those with developmental impact on poor communities.

These challenges notwithstanding, the opportunity for digitally enabling development on the continent is huge.

This piece was shortlisted for the Haller Prize for Development Journalism, 2016.

nze

Since 7 December, The Pigeonhole has been serialising Mother Never Sleeps, an anthology of new african writing put together by Bahati Books in  daily digital instalments delivered straight readers’ devices via the Pigeonhole iOS app, Android app or web reader.

My Story The Confession ,one of the stories in the anthology and is up today.

Hurry now and download The Pigeonhole app on iOS and Andriod to read for free. You can also read on the Web reader here. Its free to sign up.

Do drop a comment to let me know what you thought.

 

abu-aliThe Nigerian Army has been engaged in serious operations against the Boko Haram insurgents for almost a decade. The destruction to lives and property has been unquantifiable but very little is still known about the war itself. Nigerians know more about the War against ISIS or the even the shenanigans of the dictator in North Korea than they know of the war being fought for so long in their own country. The very little information that trickle in, come as reports from international organisations like the Human Right Watch while for the most part the rest is stepped in propaganda and falsehood with the army itself being known to have at various times, issued information that was later found to be false.

The consequence of the dearth of information about the war is that there has not been any detailed human angle to it. So we hear of communities wiped out and statistics of the number killed and that is all. We hear of soldiers ambushed and missing and afterwards of ‘sizable numbers’ being found. Hardly any names attached to victims, who they are and what their stories are. But for the celebrated Chibok Girls, not much is known about human victims of this war and ironically, because they are the only one whose case have been so publicized it sometime begins to sound like they are the only set of girls and women who have been victims of the war.

Equally, we know very little of the heroes of this war. The gallant officers who are daily paying the price so that the rest of us can live, do our businesses and sleep peacefully at night in this country. On several occasions I have written on this column, how shameful it was that we report the news about our military casualties just as figures, sometimes even grossly underreported just to perhaps save some top dogs some embarrassment. Nigerian soldiers fighting this war are buried un-acknowledged and uncelebrated. We do not even know their names. It is like they never existed.

I have argued that this is an opportunity being missed by the army. Wars are won on many front and one of the fronts is being able to control the narrative and inspire your people to support the war efforts. Being able to document and tell the stories of your war heroes both alive and dead instills bride in the army itself and fires up the spirit of patriotism in the people and a knowledge among a huge section of the populace that indeed if they die serving their fatherland in the army, they will be celebrated and their efforts would not have been in vain.

It is thus cheering, on a very sad note though, that finally, one such gallant officer and hero of the war is being celebrated. Prior to November 4, 2016, the name Lt Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali aka Slim rang no bells and very few Nigerians outside of his army colleagues knew about him or his exploits. For those who are yet to read about him, a brief introduction will suffice. He was the commanding officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion who became popular among his peers for his heroics in the battle field, killing boko haram insurgents which earned him an accelerated promotion to the rank of Lt Colonel in the army. He was killed during an ambush on 4th November while he was preparing for another raid on Sambisa.

It is painful that we only got to know about Abu Ali in death. It is sad that we can now only celebrate in past tense this unique officer who has been described by his peers as uncommon leader, a patriotic Nigerian and a fine gentleman. When he was given accelerated promotion for his heroics especially during the recapture of Baga, why did we know hear of it, why did the army not celebrate him and let Nigerians know of his story. This is such a huge missed opportunity. It was not enough to have added a new rank on his shoulders, he should have been sold as the face of the army, a live evidence of the heroic army which has been so battered by poor press for being cowardly in the face of battle.

Though he is getting the commendations he deserves in death, he would, I am sure have been happier to see a nation appreciate him while alive. Now, one hopes that beyond the praises, the Nigerian government will do what is necessary to immortalize him and importantly, take care of the very young family he left behind.

But there are many more Abu Ali’s in the Nigerian Army alive today. There are many more officers and soldiers who have shown extraordinary courage, innovation and leadership in the battle front who we should now begin to celebrate and whose stories should be told. One of our problems as a nation today is that we lack role models to look up to. The lot of our past leaders have very little for anyone to admire. There are too few stories to inspire the next generation and instill in them a sense of national pride and patriotism. We need to talk more about the best among us, those who are doing the kind of things that is worthy of celebration in every field of endeavor. The heroes of the war on terrorism presents very good characters for this tale and Abu Ali is a good first chapter.

@nzesylva

First published here on Nov 10, 2016

king

His Royal Highness King Kgosi Molotlegi

For very obvious reasons, His Majesty, the handsome young King of the Royal Bafokeng Nation of South Africa, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, received a rousing applause, after his presentation at the recently held Nigeria Mining Week organized by the Miners Association of Nigeria in partnership with iPAD Nigeria and PwC. His presentation was on the example of a local community participating and benefiting thereof from Mining activity on their land. And what an example the Bafokeng Nation is and one from which Nigeria has a lot of lessons to learn as we continue to struggle with issues around resource control, revenue derivation and the resource curse especially in the oil rich Niger Delta.

 

The Bafokeng Nation might not ring a bell to many Nigerians but it should. This community which has one of the world’s largest deposits of Platinum first got the attention of the world during the world cup in South Africa when it hosted world cup matches in a 39,000-seat stadium built by the community as part of its infrastructural development – a move by the visionary young king who is noted to have said of the stadium project, “Let’s build this thing for the future”. Also built along with the stadium is a sophisticated sports complex that was the base for English team during that World Cup.

The sports facilities are just one in a long list of infrastructure and other forward thinking initiatives of this community which stands as an example to the rest of the whole world. The community is of just about 150,000 on a land area of 1200km2 in the North West Province of South Africa. Under the young and very visionary King, the Bafokeng is utilizing proceeds from the resources in its land to reverse the resource curse or ‘lottery effect’ that has brought corruption and hardship to many African nations rich in gold, diamonds, oil, platinum and other natural resources but with not much to show for it.

In the last decade, the Royal Bafokeng Nation has gathered a financial asset value of USD 4 billion. This includes a 13% shareholding in Impala Platinum, the major company operating in the area, a majority shareholding in the community owned platinum mining and refining company, The Royal Bafokeng Platinum, and a shareholding in various other sectors including financial services, telecoms, property and transport sectors.

The community believes that the key to enabling sustainable and productive social change lies in long-term and evidence-based planning. They have developed a strategic blue-print for their overall economic and social development including PLAN 35, and a Masterplan for the built environment which extends beyond the Bafokeng Nation to the wider Platinum Belt.

Central to the community’s success is transparency and a proper governance structure. All Royal Bafokeng Nation resources are held in a Trust on behalf of the Nation as a whole and their investments are managed through a wholly owned investment company, Royal Bafokeng Holdings, possibly the most successful community-owned investment company in the world. This means that no individual has decision-making power in how the Nations collective resources are used. The Royal Bafokeng Administration has spent over USD 700 million on roads, utilities, schools, clinics and other public amenities in the last decade and employs around 400 people.

King Leruo says he wants to preserve that fortune against the day when the platinum is depleted, so he relies mainly on interest and dividends to finance development.

In his talk at the Nigeria Mining Week, King Leruo advocated for among others, community ownership of their land, ownership of equity stakes by mining communities, in the companies operating in their land and the need for enabling legislation to make this possible. In addition, institutions and governance structures that promote transparency must be instituted in such communities to manage the earnings, invest in other sectors and ensure that the people from whose land such resources are earned continue to benefit from it long after mining activity might have ended.

The Bafokeng Nation’s success story is one that stands out as a shining example from Africa on what is possible with the right leadership even at a community level. Very often, the Sheiks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are cited as examples of visionary leadership. Here we have ours, and one that relates more to our current circumstances.

Communities in the oil rich Niger Delta of Nigeria are among the poorest in the country with severe environmental degradation which has seen to continuous agitation and unrest in the region. Communities with rich solid mineral deposits (even when serious mining is yet to take off) are already suffering for outbreaks of poisoning and environmental degradation from the activities of illegal miners and there are reasons to worry that not being a nation that learns from past mistakes, we are set to repeat the same mistakes we made with oil in this sector.

For the most past we see a complete disconnect (and absence of trust) between the communities, their traditional leadership and the state. The people appear not to have any stake whatsoever in the value chain. Then there is the Land Use Act to also contend with. The 13% derivation  and the NDDC has hardly changed the fortunes of the oil producing communities and the entire nation continues to be the brunt of decreased oil production even in challenging times almost like a classic case of “the child that says his mother will not sleep, will also not know sleep”

It is time to try something new. Where laws have to be reviewed they should. Where new laws should be enacted, we should enact them. Overall we need a paradigm shift from what clearly hasn’t worked to something more effective which ensures that the people from whose lands these resources are gotten benefit immensely from it and that the entire nation as a whole is better for it. We should be sending teams to the Bafokeng Nation to learn how they did it.

@nzesylva

First published here on Nov 1, 2016

migrantsIt’s been disappearing in installments, the future. Like dew at the first touch of sunlight. We are witnesses of the exodus, seen in the ever long queues of visa applicants at various foreign embassies. We’ve read about stowaways in ships, braving life in airless containers for weeks, on a sail to uncertainty. We know someone who knows someone who has endured the heat of the Sahara and the stormy waves of the Mediterranean on a crossing to Europe in makeshift boats. Perhaps a friend or a family member has willingly or by coercion, made the crossing to begin a career in sex hawking or drug trafficking. Sometimes, having been denied repeatedly at the embassies, we know of folks who have manufactured their own papers and try to beat the hi-tech security checks to leave. For some others, a short term visa was all they got, but they boarded the flight, without any intention to ever return. The future, our future, has been leaving.

A better life, the need to find a job, the lure of the grass being greener on the other side, used to be the main drive. So the majority were desperate, unemployed or underemployed young people, some hardly with any formal education, hustling and grabbing at anything to stay afloat. It was a little ironic that while that class kept the hustle to go abroad, we had a unique class making a journey in the opposite direction. Young people, educated abroad, some raised there, leaving fancy jobs, and returning home armed with their ivy league certificates, experience, some awesome business idea, an accent and plenty enthusiasm to grab for themselves a piece of the pie in what was an economy growing averagely at 6% year on year for over a decade and with a GDP many other countries can only dream about.

But all that has changed now. Virtually every young person I know is leaving or considering his/her options. I mean people one grew up with, went to school with, met on social media and work with. Young people, educated, professionals, working, running businesses, of childbearing age, heads bursting with ideas…. the future, all in a hurry to leave. This includes most of the people who braved it back in the last five to ten years, persons who uprooted themselves from their lives abroad to sink roots at home. There is a general sense of uncertainty and despair. Nobody seems to be sure about anything and the exit door has never held a greater appeal. europe-migrants_1

What with the state of the economy and the body language of the leaders which inspires no confidence. Truth be told, no leadership in this country has exactly inspired any confidence since independence but nothing feels worse than being left high and dry as this current bunch have so successfully done. Coming into the last elections many young Nigerians, either out of exuberance, ignorance or a combination of both, had their hopes high that the country was finally going to turn a new leaf. How the government has crushed such hopes and in the process, foisted on the nation an air of cynicism. Like, ah it’s all over! There is no hope left now.

The exodus and the ‘we have given up on this country’ stand of many young people is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. When we talk about what makes Nigeria a possible economic superpower, we boast about the population, specifically, the very young population. This population is only a potential until the right things are done to unleash the power inherent. This we have consistently failed to do. To have this very critical demography on a race to leave presents perhaps the clearest signal that this country is in trouble. Not only does it have a negative impact on productivity and government finances, but it also has long-term implications for the real-life opportunities of young people and the communities around them.

I read a recent PwC report on Young Workers Index which estimated the potential gain from youth empowerment to be over $1 trillion across the OECD economy. This is a huge figure. Imagine what it would be if a similar study was done for Nigeria. The report further explored ways governments, businesses, schools and young people themselves can work together to create economic opportunities in a way that promotes social mobility. These are the things our government should be doing, seeking ways to provide opportunities that empower young people to take ownership of their own future outcomes. But no. We are content with appointing a dozen young people as social media aides and handbag carriers for madam while the rest perfect plans to relocate to Canada.

The reaction by some readers who feel defending the people in power is their eternal duty will be to accuse one of not offering any solutions. To those, I call to mind the words of Chinua Achebe that “Writers don’t give prescriptions. They cause headache.’ But if one must offer an opinion, I will simply point to a country like Germany, a shining example, even in Europe, where youth unemployment rates dropped to around 7% and where Government has been able to improve economic opportunities for younger people. What are they doing right? Is it rocket science?

Before it’s all lost and the much talked about ‘future’ of the country is all gone, contributing to the GDP and good governance of other climes, we must wake up and arrest the tide.

This article first appeared on Olisa.tv

This piece was written in commemoration of #BlackHistoryMonth 2016

I first became conscious of race and the history of black subjugation while watching the screen adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 classic novel, “ROOTS” on NTA, Nigeria’s leading television channel. I was seven or eight. In those days, television time on national broadcasting stations was limited so it was a special feeling to be invited by my dad to watch this programme which had become at the time, a favourite for many families in the neighbourhood. I am grateful that he did. I was so enraptured by the story and the experiences of the main character – so much so that I hardly referred to the programme as “ROOTS”, rather, it was “Kunta Kinte” to me. That show broadened by understanding of identity and black consciousness.

Before then, we had sang during morning school assemblies songs which pledged solidarity with the black struggle against apartheid and segregation in South Africa. We often donated with our meager lunch allowances to the “Free Mandela” efforts, of which Nigeria was at the forefront. We had also been taught about colonialism, of our country once being under the rule of white people, of how Nigeria won its independence on 1st October 1960 from Britain, a story that welled in me a sense of national pride. Nothing however brought all of these experiences – slavery, colonialism, apartheid and racial segregation, to life as much as “ROOTS”.

I remember feeling hurt knowing that what I was watching was not fiction, but an experience lived by people who look like me. I remember how I would lie in bed after each episode, mentally rewriting the script and changing the plot to enable Kunta Kinte’s escape. In my mind, he would succeed in his escape attempts, and he somehow returned to The Gambia as a free man. My young mind could not understand why one group of humans would subject another to such treatment. It made absolutely no sense and for many years, images of a defiant Kunta Kinte in chains, being whipped and forced to accept a new name was etched in my memory.

Many books, movies, and news stories later and I still struggle to grasp this history: not so much the past which I cannot change but the present, which point to the fact very little has changed in a system characterised by racism and prejudice.

Read the full article here

refuse1

Nigerians are now unshockable what with the kind of absurdities they are treated to every passing day. Some of these issues which would have generated quite an uproar in time past are greeted with not more than sighs and inaudible grumbles – the sign of a people who have seemingly resigned to their fate and have assumed a siddon look approach to life. Imo State is a clear example

How does one explain a state government declaring boldly – and I dare say, with impunity- that it has failed to clear mountain-high refuse from a major road in the state capital as punishment to its citizens for their opposition to the government. What on earth could be more absurd and unintelligent?

Anyone who knows Owerri the Imo state capital will know that Douglas Road is right at the heart of the city, one of the main roads that runs through the state capital. When images of the abandoned refuse first emerged, it was quite shocking. But it was nothing compared to the shock when the state government owned the refuse and even attempted a justification for clearly abdicating its duties and leaving the refuse there.

One wonders what the sins of the citizens of Owerri are for their government to visit such wickedness on them. Opposition, was what the government listed. Of what kind you may wish to ask. Is somebody forgetting that this is a democracy, thus ‘opposition’ is sanctioned and protected by the constitution?

Their real sin one must observe was voting in such simpletons as their government and tolerating their many failures for this long. Indeed their sin is lack of opposition to such government. For it is years of letting their leadership get away with inefficiency and bad governance, and even rewarding it with second terms that has given the Imo state leadership the audacity to do what it did.

But the motives and logic of the Imo state government must also be questioned. An Igbo rochas adage goes that he who holds someone to the ground is himself also held to the ground. You leave refuse on the street in the name of punishing the citizens, do you not realise you are shooting yourself in the foot. I will assume that there are doctors that work with the state government. They should in the least know the public health implication of that action, the least of which is air pollution. There are countless diseases and their pathogens that will find conducive breeding grounds in such a place. We are looking at the possibility of an epidemic of varying kinds which will in turn further stretch the state’s health care system. Lassa fever remains a reoccurring decimal nationwide, yet a government establishes a breeding ground for rodents right in the centre of the city, and has the guts to brag about it. Something has to be wrong with us as a people.

This is just another episode in what has become a series coming out of Imo state. It is the same state where the governor has declared unashamedly that the work week is now cut to three days and that its workers should use the remaining days to go fend for themselves because government cannot cater for them anymore. In other words, government was throwing in the towel. Such examples make it seem like good governance is not possible at all. But the now famous speech by Peter Obi, former governor of neighbouring Anambra state on October 1, at The Platform tells us otherwise. I happen to be from Anambra state and unlike many, I didn’t need the speech to become aware of the exploits of Obi in office. I am a witness and beneficiary of his efforts to cut down cost, and engender good governance, the effects of which are being felt even today. Here are two states that exist side by side, one is relatively working because the past leadership planned and saved, the other not only can no longer meet its obligations, it now also abandons refuse on the streets to punish her people.

Therein lies some food for thought for Imolites (Imo state indigenes) and Nigerians in general as we stumble on towards 2019.

And two other things…

Arrest of Judges by the DSS

When one calls attention to an obvious abuse of human rights and the rule of law these days, you get the response “do you know what they did?” So is the case with the recent Gestapo style arrest of judges across the country by the Nigeria secret police. People must realise that societies survive not on good intentions but on laws and precedence. There is no way the Federal government paints this that it does not look like an attack on the judiciary. And we must realise that in our system of government, those three arms, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are equal with provisions made in the law to enable each checkmate the powers of the other. When one begins to act superior to the others, it begins to look no longer like a democracy but something else.

Attack on Shiites

Shiites have sustained their push for the release of their leader who has been held for so many months without charges or any information really about his state of health. This is within their rights, to march and to protest in a democracy. The continued use of security agencies against them – including the recent request for the arrest of their spokesperson by the Kaduna State Governor is quite worrying. It amounts to beating a child and at the same time denying him the right to cry. The El-Zakzaky situation is already a messy one. Government should be seeking ways to resolve this amicably, not create a situation that could turn into an inferno of its own.

Do have a good week.

@nzesylva

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