With many on-going projects and planned ICT developments, Kenya has taken the lead in the digital race in Africa. Yet, projects to reduce the digital divide in Africa are not confined to the East African country. Interesting programs are found in the most unusual places. Brazzaville, the capital of Congo, is one of them. Congo – often confused with the DRC with capital Kinshasa – is the most unlike country to host a high flying modern project. Yet, it is a Congolese firm – VMK, founded and headed by Vérone Mankou – that has been stealing the headlines in this field.
In September 2011, VMK launched the first African tablet, the Way-C. Way-C is the first tablet entirely designed in Africa. The tablet uses Android 2.3, has a 512 MB RAM, 1.2 Ghz processor, 4GB internal memory, and supports Wi-Fi. The tablet costs less than £200 and is being distributed in Congo, Senegal, Kenya, Gabon, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Belgium. This tablet proved that the continent can go its own way without leaning on Asia or Europe. To critics who accused Mankou of not proposing an entirely African product (the Way-C is produced and assembled in China), the Congolese entrepreneur retorted by asking to know where Apple, Blueberry, Samsung and Nokia were producing their tablets (just for the record, the answer is … China!).
Barely a year passed and VMK presented its first smartphone: Elikia. The name means ‘hope’ in Lingala. Elikia is not going to make the news in Western circles. With its 3.5-inch (480 x 320) display, 512MB of RAM, a 650MHz processor and both 5-megapixel rear as well as front VGA cameras, it is not a remarkable peace of technology. However, with a price tag of £ 70, and its own app store, Elikia is poised to take a good slice of the local smartphone market.
Other specs include an included microSD support to expande the memory with an additional 32GB, but also with all the connectivity options you might hope to see on a device of this kind, including 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, A-GPS and USB 2.0. The 1,300mAh battery might seem stingy at first, but coupled with the phone’s frugal processor, it should be enough for up to six hours of running time between charges.
ICT is not only hardware. Widespread poverty and inadequate infrastructure in health, education, finance and agriculture open up possibilities for a whole range of new ways to transform Africa through mobile applications. Youthful innovators are providing homegrown solutions to long-standing problems around the continent. They see mobile phones not just as instruments of communication, but 21st century tools for fighting poverty in Africa. Software developers in Africa have accepted the challenge to use the technology and unlock the potential of their communities by creating innovative mobile apps that can be adapted and applied by users in their day-to-day lives. Once again, Kenya and South Africa lead the pack. However, there are interesting developments elsewhere.
Eric Mutta, from Tanzania, invested just £15 in his MiniShop app. He was later awarded $15,000 by the US Department of State as winner of the Apps4Africa Climate Challenge 2011. MiniShop is a user-friendly accounting and inventory control system for small businesses. “This app – he says – is transforming societies by empowering small businesses to maintain better records, which they can then use to access credit”. The software has been upgraded into a national grain supply chain management system that monitors the purchase, storage, distribution, and consumption of grain across the entire country. It is designed to ensure both food and economic security.
Rwandan Esther Kunda was a computer engineering student at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology when the entrepreneurial bug bit her. She co-founded OSCA Connect with her classmates to develop mobile apps that would simplify many daily tasks.
Her tech firm is behind Sarura, a mobile app that provides farmers with weather updates and agricultural advice. “We realised that normal seasons have been altered, resulting in unpredictable weather that affects famers’ yields. Sarura dramatically remedies this situation,” she says.
Kampala is a city plagued by fuel shortages and spiralling petrol prices. Christine Ampaire decided to do something about it. She developed Mafuta Go, an app which helps users find the nearest petrol station with the cheapest prices and tells them how to get there. She now wants to develop a text based Mafuta Go for boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders in Kampala whose phones cannot access the internet.
Lutwama Geoffrey, also from Uganda, wants to help his country achieve one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. He says his Saving Tomorrow app can reduce child and maternal mortality. “We realised children die of simple diseases because there is no connection between mothers and doctors.” Saving Tomorrow captures the mother’s medical data and schedules her visits to the hospital, reminding her of her appointments. It also schedules immunisation and vaccination dates, and sends nutrition advice via text.