For once, Google was unlikely to face privacy complaints as the US Internet giant on Tuesday launched its Street View service in Kenya’s Samburu park, in a move conservationists said could help protect endangered elephants.
Special cameras have taken panoramic images of the reserve while driving down dusty tracks – and have also been fixed to a backpack to penetrate deep into the bush.
Some of Google’s previous Street View forays have brought complaints on privacy grounds.
But this time there were no demands to blur out faces – the main residents of the 165 square kilometre reserve are 900 elephants.
“We hope that by bringing Street View to Samburu, we will inspire people around the world to gain a deeper appreciation for elephants,” said Farzana Khubchandani of Google Kenya.
Slightly larger than a basketball, Google’s camera contains 15 individual fixed-focus lenses that simultaneously capture a 360 degree image roughly every three metres.
The Kenya project was launched in collaboration with conservation group Save the Elephants.
“It’s exciting to open a window onto Samburu, and to help us better protect its elephants,” said Save the Elephants chief Iain Douglas-Hamilton, speaking in Samburu, some 300 kilometres north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Kenya is struggling to stem poaching to protect its remaining elephant population – currently estimated at 30 000 – and just over a thousand rhinos.
With ivory raking in thousands of dollars a kilo in Asia, conservationists have warned that African elephants could be extinct in the wild within a generation.
“Giving people a virtual tour will bring Samburu to the world, and inspire the world to come to Samburu,” county governor Moses Lenolkulal said.
“The more people experience our culture, our people and the majestic elephants and other wildlife with which we co-exist, the more we are able to conserve and sustain the Samburu culture and its fragile ecosystem for generations to come.”
A motorbike accident two years ago in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton left Pascal Kassongo with a leg fracture, multiple cuts and a written-off bike, crippling his courier business.
Two weeks in hospital, followed by several more of physiotherapy and recovery, drove the father of four into near destitution.
Too weak to buy and deliver goods to clients, his opportunity to earn R300-R400 ($24.40-$32.60) a day was gone.
Originally from Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Kassongo fled the war there in 2007, and had only a few friends he could call on for help in South Africa.
One of them was a pastor who took him to Scalabrini, a centre that helps migrants settle and find an economic foothold in South Africa.
As well as receiving regular food parcels, Kassongo was recruited for the “Amandla!” Project, whose name means “power” in the Xhosa and Zulu languages.
The scheme trains unemployed people, especially migrants, to run small businesses using a solar-powered kit called Ecoboxx.
Inside the box
The Ecoboxx is a lightweight, portable power supply, charged with two solar panels, that can provide 50 hours of power. It comes with two LED lights, a USB-driven fan, hair clippers and a charging cable for cell phones and other devices.
The kit was designed for the Amandla Project, with the intention of giving entrepreneurs a tool to power their activities, said Merle Mills of Community Chest, the organisation that came up with the project.
Using the kit, an individual can make up to R1 600 per month cutting hair five days a week, or at least R1 400 by charging up to seven cell phones at once with the device, Mills added.
Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids said a Dutch investor had backed the Ecoboxx as a way of helping Africans access economic opportunities.
“Getting into green or solar technology is the ideal platform to ensure we give our people low-cost and sustainable resources so they can develop the economy for themselves,” Davids told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Community Chest started Amandla in January after getting funding of almost 2 million rand, on condition the kit would be made available at a nominal cost of R200 to keep people out of debt.
Davids said the Ecoboxx would help entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas “electrify” their homes, and set up businesses to generate income for their families and communities.
At first, it was targeted at individuals who find it hard to break into the mainstream economy, like African migrants and communities where small businesses lack access to electricity.
The solar device, which retails for R4 000, is manufactured by a technology company that also supplies to retail stores in South Africa.
So far, Amandla has distributed 300 kits – almost a third of the planned total – including 50 to foreign nationals.
Spreading the light
“After spending a month in Pollsmoor prison for selling pirated DVDs and CDs, I was determined to sustain myself through legal means,” said Papy Shereza, 31, a bio-chemistry dropout from a Congolese university.
After enrolling in the Amandla programme, he was given an Ecoboxx, which he uses to run his own barbershop in the community of Du Noon.
“On weekends I make good money, but during the week I have to supplement my income by selling other hair products for women,” he said.
He also charges cell phones, and in a good week, he can earn up to 1,000 rand.
In the sprawling community of Gugulethu, Janet Bete, who came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 2007, is equally happy. Her son, 24, uses an Ecoboxx to power a family barber shop.
“In my neighbourhood there is a man who runs a spaza (tuck shop) but has no electricity, so I hire out the solar lights to him daily from 5am when he opens, to 7am when it’s no longer dark,” said Bete.
The enterprising woman, who also manages a crèche, rents out the solar lights for evening church crusades and parties too.
“Whenever there is a funeral in my community and there is no power, I donate my lights – it’s my way of paying (people) back for living well together,” she added.
In Milnerton, Kassongo has adopted a different approach.
“I don’t own a barbershop, but I hire out my kit to local South Africans who do. We share the proceeds,” he said. “It helps put something on the table.”
Joe Pereira, head of strategy for Community Chest, said the Amandla project aimed to expand its opportunities to all “deserving” South Africans.
“Being creative around renewable energy will benefit many people,” he added.
When you think of an African farmer, the first image that will probably come to mind is that of an old man in the village, probably dressed in shabby clothes that have seen better days.
Indeed, a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicated that in Africa, the average age of farmers is about 60, despite the fact that 60% of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age.
Rural youth have been leaving the farms for cities in droves for years now; between 1960 and 2010, the continent’s urban population grew from 53 million to 400 million; by 2030, the number of Africans living in towns and cities will increase by another 345 million.
With aged parents left behind tending the farm, it raises questions about future prospects for increasing farm productivity as Africa’s demand for food grows larger.
However, there is some good news; there’s a new generation of farmers coming up in many cities who represent the future of African farming.
New urban tech farmer
They are young, tech-savvy, resident in the city, probably employed full-time in an office job, but own some land in a peri-urban or rural area that they inherited from their parents, or bought as an investment.
They travel to their out-of-town farms only on weekends, hiring a farm manager to take care of the everyday running of the farm, and frequently telephoning to check on progress.
With demand for fruits, vegetables, meat, milk and eggs soaring as African cities grow larger, it’s a solid investment that can give lucrative returns.
But many ‘telephone farmers’ struggle to keep up with what’s really happening on the ground.
You can’t really get a true sense of how the crops are doing from conversations on the phone with a farm manager. (Photo: Flickr/ ICT4D)
This is where IBM Research Africa sees and opportunity, with a new innovation they call EZ-Farm.
It’s a nifty combination of a soil moisture sensor, a water tank level monitor and – best of all – an infrared camera that monitors plant health.
The soil moisture sensor looks like an electrode that is placed in the ground, and sends data to the IBM cloud on the level of water availability.
The water tank monitor is installed on the inside cover of a water tank, and measures the level of water still in the tank by acoustic waves, like what bats use in echolocation. It sends out a sound wave and detects how long it takes to be reflected back, by this you can gauge how deep the water is in the tank.
But the “killer app” is the plant health monitor that uses infrared light to monitor soil health.
Plants absorb red and blue light to fuel photosynthesis, but reflect green and infrared light (it’s the reason why plants look green to our eyes).
With the infrared camera, one can detect the areas in the plant of intense photosynthesis, where blue light is being absorbed and infrared light reflected. If the plant isn’t getting enough water, or is stressed in any way, photosynthesis will slow down, and less infrared light will be reflected.
By this, a farmer can really “see” whether the plants are coming along nicely, or not,; like a finger on a pulse, it’s a kind of vegetative “vital sign” that can provide an early warning if a plant’s health is failing – even if your farm manager or relative in the countryside doesn’t call to tell you.
All this Big Data is collected every minute of every day, and sent to the IBM cloud, where it delivers up-to-the-minute insight about current and predicted water and soil moisture levels to farmers, via desktop and mobile apps – specific to that particular farm, going by the “optimum health” from the plant stress monitor.
It’s the kind of granular, highly targeted and tech-friendly farm management system that telephone farmers in Nairobi are already scrambling to get their hands on.
IBM says EZ-farm is still in the pilot phase, though they have already received dozens of requests.
The company is looking to have the devices assembled locally in Kenya, but their biggest challenge going forward is finding a local manufacturer who can deliver on the specs in the large volumes that will be required very soon.
On-demand – think Uber and taxi-hailing apps – is huge worldwide. In the United States, the on-demand economy is booming, with funding for the sector reaching almost US$10 billion since 2010. There is increasing evidence this process is happening in Africa too.
Uber, active in Africa in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, gets most of the attention in this respect. Yet there are a myriad of other taxi apps, notably Easy Taxi, Maramoja, Snappcab and Taxify. Beyond taxis, however, Africa’s on-demand economy is also booming. We take a look at five of the best outside the taxi sector that are making waves.
Like Uber, but for motorcycle taxis, and with a twist. The SafeMotos app went live only this week in Rwanda, but with US$85 000 already secured in funding, the team behind it is already plotting expansion across the continent.
The SafeMotos app at its core is Uber, allowing users to request motorcycle taxis via their smartphone, after which they pay using automated mobile money or cash. But moving away from the Uber model, the startup has also developed a safety proposition designed to tackle the road safety issues that surround motorcycle taxis in Rwanda and elsewhere.
Learning from the vehicle telematics industry, SafeMotos uses a driver’s smartphone to track driving habits and register data, pushing bad drivers onto the outskirts of the system. There are 20,000 motorcycle taxi drivers in Kigali, but the startup is already looking wider targeting the likes of Uganda, Benin and Nigeria.
In South Africa, WumDrop is an on-demand couriering startup. Via web, Android app or iOS app, WumDrop allows users to request a courier. Drivers receive and accept requests, before collecting and delivering the requested item. A user is billed ZAR7 per kilometre, with WumDrop using both professional drivers and students.
As with many on-demand startups, WumDrop has proved popular with investors, raising US$37,000. It is currently live in Cape Town and Johannesburg, but is planning on rolling out across the country.
On-demand has also made it into the restaurant sector, with hellofood getting much attention across Africa. However, more local versions exist. In Kenya, Yum has been operating since 2012. The startup allows users to order food from any of around 70 restaurants across Nairobi.
Food is then delivered to the customer’s door and paid for using cash. There are benefits for both customer and restaurant owner. The customer is spared Friday night traffic in Nairobi, while restaurants are given a new marketing angle. Yum is considering branching out into supermarket food delivery as well.
One company already active in the food delivery space is Supermart.ng, launched in Lagos, Nigeria. The startup allows users to order groceries from leading supermarkets, such as Park ‘n’ Shop – SPAR, MedPlus, Office Everything, Mega Plaza, 9 – 7 and Chi-Shoppe, with food then delivered to the customer’s home.
The startup recently rolled out a Prime service, which allows customers to pay a lump monthly sum for their deliveries, cutting down costs for frequent customers.
In South Africa, SweepSouth is tackling the country’s largely unreformed domestic services industry, offering a platform that allows users to book home cleaning services from their phone, laptop or tablet. The service connects homeowners with a reliable, vetted and insured cleaner within minutes.
Cleaners on SweepSouth cost USS$3 (R38) per hour, with the startup now active in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. It too has proven popular with investors, raising a funding round recently to accelerate its growth.
Tom Jackson is a tech and business journalist and the co-founder of Disrupt Africa.
Admiring paintings or photographs by Africa’s greatest contemporary artists is a luxury in Benin, where museums are scarce and most people lack money to travel farther afield.
But a new application developed by a foundation based in Cotonou, the largest city in this West African state, is seeking to bring art to the masses by allowing anyone with access to a printer and smartphone or tablet to turn their place into a museum.
“For 10 years, the Zinsou Foundation has been striving to bring contemporary art to people who don’t have access to it because we think culture is a right, not a luxury,” said Marie-Cecile Zinsou, the Franco-Beninese head of the foundation that created the “Wakpon” app.
Budding art enthusiasts need only print out colourful images available on the app’s website onto pieces of A4 paper and hang them on the walls of their home, school or government building – just like paintings in a museum.
Visitors can then aim at these images with their smartphones or tablets using the app, and a painting by Benin’s voodoo artist Cyprien Tokoudagba or a photo of Nigerian hairstyles by J.D. Okhai Ojeikere will pop up, alongside information on the work of art.
All in all, 44 pieces by 10 artists are available on the app, all taken from the foundation’s collection.
Low visibility for African art
Zinsou said she convinced her father, who has just been named Benin prime minister, to set up the foundation after she realised that like many other African countries, there were no museums in Benin to showcase the continent’s contemporary art, despite its growing popularity elsewhere.
Leading African artists were virtually absent from art sales just a decade ago but now contemporary works feature strongly in several international auction houses.
Bonhams in London recently described the continent as “one of our hottest properties on the art block”.
Since 2005, the foundation’s show room in Cotonou puts on free exhibitions of Beninese and foreign artists, and once showcased US legend Jean-Michel Basquiat – a first in Africa.
In 2013, it opened a museum in an old building of the former slave trade hub of Ouidah, some 40 kilometres away from Cotonou.
All in all, nearly five million people have visited both places in a decade – most of them them children who often come the first time with their schools, return on their own and then bring their families.
Zinsou said the Wakpon app – which once downloaded does not need to be connected to the Internet – aims to widen access to a broader population.
Mobile phone penetration has been low in Benin, particularly for smartphones, because of poor infrastructure.
But competition from international mobile operators and under-sea cables is increasing take-up, as prices come down for both handsets and Internet services.
“This application is amazing,” said Beninese artist Romuald Hazoume, whose work has been showcased abroad and is also available on the app.
“African people will be able to have access to their culture, to their artists who are known around the world but whom they cannot see due to a lack of exhibition sites, of money or visas.
“It’s like a bait. People will know works of art, their story, and they will want to see them for real. It’s tomorrow’s museum and it’s what all big collections should be doing.”
In the Cotonou showroom, those who visit are given a Wakpon demonstration at the end of their tour.
“Wakpon” means “come and see” in Fon, the most widely spoken local language in Benin.
“It’s great. My cousin has a good telephone, I’m going to plead with him to activate the application and our entire district will take a look,” says Obed, 15, who came with his class.
Zinsou said people in Africa had a tendency to think that culture will emerge only once their countries are developed.
“But no, culture is essential for development,” she added.