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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT M-PESA AND THE REALITIES OF THE BLOCKCHAIN



This is really an article about a ledger and two ideologies that compete to control it. One ascribes to a stateless society, defined by self-governed voluntary institutions. The other looks to government and state machinery for answers.

The State

As of this writing, there are more than two hundred self-governing states in the world, this development became a reality over the last 200 years as former monarchs lost their influence and power, and sold a particular brand of government to the rest of the world.

The world was taught after two world wars that one of the primary functions of a state was to offer security.

The functionaries that arose from the creation of the state; be it the military, the police, the judiciary, administrators or the tax collectors were not self-supporting so taxes were essential to allow the state to function.

However, recently, people have lost their trust on the system. The global financial crisis of 2007-08 raised questions about how much confidence was being given to the banking system, and who it was really benefiting.

Fact is, central governments have allowed trade and commerce to thrive and thus brought the rapid advances we have witnessed over the last 150 years. During this period, trade and commerce has also become extensively complicated, it cannot be compared to the barter trade that sufficed in stateless societies in the agrarian age. Today, complicated transactions require resources to be shared among multiple people for them to perform work that has no immediate value.

Technological disruption

Over the last two decades technology has disrupted every conceivable industry and inspired governments to offer better services. We are living in an era where the Western world is agitating for freedom and privacy, which in all due respect is a fallacy in a state system.

Even so, technology is offering a way out that can transform the basic pillars of our society, fundamentally affecting how governance and business systems function. 



Bitcoin, Blockchain and M-Pesa
Bitcoin is a digital payment system, a cryptocurrency invented by Satoshi Nakamoto and published in 2008. Primarily, users can transact this currency directly without needing any intermediaries.

The idea that you do not need any intermediaries is groundbreaking. Normally trade is recorded through ledgers closed and isolated from the public. To facilitate and approve our transactions we use third parties and middlemen we trust these include: banks, governments, accountants and even paper money.

The blockchain, essential to the distribution of bitcoins, is a publicly distributed ledger shared by all nodes participating in the network. Blockchain calls for us to fundamentally change to our conceptual understanding of trade, ownership and trust.

M-Pesa is a money transfer and microfinance service that allows users to deposit, withdraw, transfer money and pay for goods and services. M-Pesa is pegged on a one-to-one basis with the local fiat money.

Bitcoin’s value is not set by any single person and is highly volatile, having gone through several appreciations and depreciations, over the last four years from a low of $0.3 in 2011, to a high of $1,242 in November 2013, to a low of $293.70 on 11 July, 2015.  This volatility is driven by bad press, which scares bitcoins users into selling, and by increased speculation by investors. There are a number of ways to hedge from this volatility the only problem is that these methods have a long way to go before they become acceptable to the average consumer.


Bitcoin's volatility over time

So why is M-Pesa so successful in Kenya, and having trouble being accepted in other countries? And what are the pitfalls that bitcoin has to overcome to become a system embraced across Africa?

M-pesa worked in Kenya because regulation came after the system had attained a tipping point. This piece by Bobby Yawe, is an interesting read on the same. Two divergent views on a mobile payment system, one seen as a financial solution, and pitched to the Central Bank thus subject to red tape, the other shared with Treasury and pitched as a way to create visibility to the Kenyan cash economy, which until then was blind to the planners.

Also, M-Pesa initially was not seen as a threat by the banking industry in Kenya until it was too late, it also helped that its acceptance in the market was rapid and exponential. By the time banks were waking to the reality of the disruption at hand, they were forced to embrace what their clients had already integrated in their daily lives.

Safaricom invested in an agent network that spread countrywide, making it very easy for the local fiat to be transformed affordably into a digital format in one locale and changed back to the local fiat in another locale within minutes and at no loss of value.

M-Pesa also used something that all its mobile users utilized SMS/USSD, which allowed it to reach the rural citizen who could only afford a basic or feature phone. Some even pooled resources to buy a single phone for the village

As we stand, more than 25% of the Kenyan economy runs through M-PESA and this is speculative.  

Why is this successful run not being witnessed in other countries like India and South Africa?

The answer goes back to how M-Pesa interacts with the regulators in these countries as it launches. Does it have to go through onerous regulatory steps before being approved for the market, and how easy is it for a customer to sign up or use the system? Are there other more efficient, cost-effective systems in place to distribute the local fiat? In South Africa this has called for a revamp of the solution and the need to have agents where people live and work.

Collaboration is imperative, even as we speak the M-Pesa system in Kenya is growing in bounds because it opened up as a platform for to any business that offers goods and services. The more M-Pesa meets the needs of different entities and consumers the more it will grow and becomes central to the economy of a nation.

Bitcoin promises to disrupt the banking system internationally. A number of banks including Santander, one of the largest in the world, have taken the time to study the blockchain and even develop their own use cases.

For bitcoin adoption across the vast expanses of Africa and for it to be acclaimed as the solution for the unbanked, a few determiners have to be looked at carefully.

The technology needs to be adoptable to the masses, usable on simple and feature phones, the pillar of the mobile revolution happening across Africa. (37coins and CoinKite offer to send bitcoins by SMS). Having said this, I will not discredit the increasing number of smart phones across the continent, but the provision of Internet services to the rural areas, will take a bit longer. 

Innovatively collaborate with local mobile payment service providers and have a clear plan on how not to cannibalize their current markets. Kipochi had to learn this the hard way as they integrated with Safaricom’s M-Pesa network. They offered a service that was a competitive threat to Safaricom’s dominant M-PESA money transfer business. Kipochi, as of this writing, is no longer in operation.


Source: http://coinbrief.net/debunking-kipochi-mpesa-bitcoin-kenya/

Bitcoin Use Cases

There are a number of use cases for bitcoin in Africa.

International remittance seems well publicized; with bitcoin being touted as a cheaper alternative to high remittance fees that Africans face when sending money back home.

Digital piracy is a big problem in Africa, with estimates of less than 10% legitimate content. The problem affects music, movies, e-books and so forth. If we identify a file as unique and associate it with the blockchain, you can exchange that file for money, and even avoid its piracy.    

There is need to uniquely identify citizens in order to offer them services. In fact the blockchain can be used to implement public records (birth certificates, passports, voters IDs, land titles, the list is endless), private records (signatures, wills, etc.) and semipublic records (personal medical and accounting records) all this from a bitcoin wallet that can be integrated on a SIM card; bitSIM promises to offer this solution and more.

This becomes the precursor to a “state in a box”, a term explaining how a technology; the blockchain, is able to carry out functions that were previously the responsibility of a sovereign state be it property rights, identity registers, electoral democracy, or taxation.  

When you start to walk this path you begin to see the power of the blockchain and its centrality to the future of mankind.

Sun Tzu once said “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” My advice to the incumbent, “keep your business partners close and the disruptors even closer”.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

5 THINGS INSURANCE COMPANIES NEED TO DO TO SURVIVE IN A DIGITAL WORLD

The Insurance industry is undergoing a dramatic and necessary disruption.  This disruption serves two purposes, one, to allow insurance to be offered at a microlevel and to a market that was hitherto underserved and two, to ensure that the customer is more intimately engaged.  A few weeks ago I looked at how technology is disrupting the Insurance industry in Africa and how micro insurance promises to save Africa. If you missed it, read it here.

In this piece, we want to suggest five ways an incumbent in the Insurance industry can change and survive. We will be using the example of the Kenyan market, one of the most vibrant in the African continent.

1.     Develop a digital strategy

In doing this, lies the evolution of the strategy. We have seen it evolve from a static plan covering multiple years, to a flexible plan that adapts to a changing environment. Today, there is a rising demand for more strategic thinkers across organizations, as opposed to only in the boardroom. 

As a term, digital strategy went from primarily being about marketing using digital tools to depicting a term that spoke about disruption of old, entrenched business models. This is the stuff of Uber disrupting Taxi associations, Instagram disrupting film and photography, Netflix disrupting movie rental, and the list goes on.

How Software is eating the world. Source: disruptors.mx

In Kenya, M-Pesa disrupted traditional banking by digitizing money and creating a trusted system where people and businesses can distribute money in exchange for goods and services. From a virtual branchless bank, M-Pesa has grown into a virtual megamarket with buyers and sellers peddling goods and services of every kind. 

For Kenyans this digital world is no longer a channel, but a transformative force that is creating completely new behaviors and opportunities.

Today more people in Kenya are turning to digital communities and stores be it Jumuia, OLX or Facebook. This digital world is allowing users to self-select their experiences, thus allowing businesses to gain feedback and build relationships.

Any Insurance company that wants to survive and thrive has to develop a digital strategy. What is a digital strategy? Three definitions could point us to the right course of action. A digital strategy is:

a)    a  process of identifying, articulating and executing digital opportunities that will increase an organization’s competitive advantage. (Digitalstrategyconference.com)
b)    a plan that aims to accomplish something with the benefit of digital tools.
c)     the who, what, when and where of listening and responding to customers, bridging brand experience, iterating offerings and collecting and activating customers relationships in order to accomplish an actionable and measurable objective.  (Bud Caddell)

2.     Define and understand your Digital capital

We are ushering in a digital capital economy. Winners in this era will not be determined by cheap labor or ordinary capital both of which are being squeezed by automation. Instead, the future will be for those who can innovate, develop new products, services and business models repeatedly at the speed that the customer demands.   

To achieve this feat, we start to talk about digital capital meaning not just the tangible assets that most incumbents are acquiring like servers, networks and basic software, but also the intangibles assets like the organizational redesigns that can be realized with the right skill and mix of employees to better engage and satisfy the customers. The complementary business processes, work practices, patents, brand equity and even culture, ensure an enhanced digital experience for users.

Most insurance companies in Kenya lack intangible assets or they are only skin-deep. This needs to change. These intangible assets, if well understood and clearly defined, can allow the incumbent to feel secure outsourcing certain functionalities to supply chain partners thus drive down operational costs while allowing them to rapidly respond to client needs.

3. A digital transformation is not an IT transformation

IT Transformations are traditionally massively complex and highly disruptive to long-standing business processes and their end-users; they can also span years and cost a ton of money. Success is normally low. They fail because of lack of involvement, weak support from top management and unclear business objectives. (Source Strategy&)

Sourced from corbusllc.wordpress.com

IT transformation is comprehensive change to an IT organization that cuts across its processes, technologies, culture, and sourcing and delivery models that enables continuous step change improvements in business capabilities supported by significantly stronger IT capabilities at lower unit costs (Source KPMG).

Digital transformation on the other hand is customer facing, demand or revenue generating. Digital transformation demands more at the pace of the market and customer expectations rather than at the upgrade cycles of IT Vendors.

Digital Transformation drives or can drive IT transformation and not the other way round.

IT Transformation is about Operation Expenditure (OPEX) control measures and increasing operational efficiency and optimization.

Digital Transformation is about using fast digital technologies such as analytics, mobility, social media and smart embedded devices to change customer relationships, internal processes, and value propositions.

Because these fast technologies operate at the speed of thought with a potential to turn the incumbent’s tangible assets into liabilities, it is essential for the incumbent to embrace shorter cycles in taking a product or a service from idea to deployment. For this to become a reality, collaboration and horizontal integration is essential within an organization.


4. Avoid the following transformation traps

Source MIT Sloan Embracing Digital Technology
Make sure you have a leader with the right temperament and experience to take charge of the digital transformation. Most insurance companies have few leaders having and offering a vision or a road map to digital transformation. 

The leader must be able to rally the support of all employees across the enterprise. Remember that urgency is an imperative; not acting soon enough could put the business in peril. According to an Altimeter Survey, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is the most likely executive to champion digital transformation efforts, mainly because their role focuses on customer engagement.



Manage the attitudes of older or technophobic workers especially if they are in management and educate them on technology: Trends, disruptions occurring and future strategies.


The presence of legacy systems that have already cost the organization a lot of money in investment and are too complex to update should be reviewed and a careful analysis done on how to replace them with minimum disruption. In this situation, make sure management has complete transparency in the costs involved in indecision.

5. Finally, have a change checklist

Develop a checklist that defines the steps to Digital Transformation for your Insurance Company. There are many in the wild, I prefer the one below  adapted from Altimeter’s Digital Transformation Report.

It focuses on three areas: Leadership, the Customer Experience and the team you constitute to make this transformation a success.

Have a leader and articulate the vision

1.     Document the factors disrupting the market. Generate a business case that will help make this clear to management.
2.     Develop a SWOT analysis that assesses your current position for transformation.
3.     Develop a vision statement on how the digital transformation will look like in the end, the benefits it will accrue, current clients or new clients it will be able to serve.
4.     Seek an executive sponsor who becomes the leading champion, he must buy into the vision and be willing to rally support across the organization.
5.     Constantly educate the executive sponsor and make sure they are effectively communicating the vision for digital transformation throughout the length of the project and across the organization.

Create a digital customer experience
Sample Customer Journey

1.     Map the customer journey and the digital customer journey, as they exist currently. Interview stakeholders and learn the opportunities and challenges that exist among them.  
2.     Understand the differences between current and digital customers’ journeys. Identify any unique variations
3.     Chart a sample journey around the right experiences for the right customers based on channel and screen
4.     Note the gaps that exist and which investments are lacking and need to be made.
5.     Assess the processes, policies and systems currently in place that prevent success in engaging digital customers and lay out a plan to overcome them
6.     Review the ultimate customer journey every half-year and adopt investments to realize a better digital customer experience strategies.

Digital transformation Team 
 
1.     Create a cross-functional transformation team ideally from every function in the organization.
2.     Develop a RACI model for the cross-functional group and an ongoing collaboration schedule and reporting process. This allows prioritization and delegation of projects.
3.     Build a strategic alliance with the IT Department (this must be a cross functional team).
4.     Form a data collection and insights team as part of the digital transformation workgroup. Create role(s) necessary to collect, analyze, and tell a story through data.
5.     Measure impact of transformation at the enterprise level and at each touch point to document progress and benefits. Establish a reporting process to the workgroup and ultimately to stakeholder groups.
6.     Develop a training regimen to bridge the gap between existing and required expertise for transformation processes and technologies.
With that, I wish you success in your digital transformation journey.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

HOW MICROINSURANCE PROMISES TO SAVE AFRICA

The ancient Chinese farmer, medieval Venetian merchant and the conquering Victorian company man had one thing in common. They took insurance. Arguably, our civilization has gone this far because men took risks and knew there was a fallback plan in the face of insurmountable odds.

Generally, the insurance industry has grown over several centuries into a hydra of products and services, vastly complex and vaguely understood. However, through all its manifestations, the primary goal of insurance is to hedge against the risk of contingent loss. To this end, it has failed to ignite the African imagination.

Historically brought by the white man as he colonized and disenfranchised Africa, Insurance has suffered shame in the hands of a misinformed continent. Only the affluent and middle class seem to grasp its power with penetration rates in the continent below 5%. Insurance agents have also failed to inspire its uptake with a general feeling that they are unreliable, untrustworthy and missell the complex product they represent.

Let us underline the fact that more than 48.5% of sub-Saharan Africa live on $1.25-a-day, 414 million people as of 2010.  More than 70% of the poor in Africa live in rural areas and depend on agriculture in smallholdings.
  
The grim picture is that they are faced with poor crop production, lack of access to markets and poor infrastructure. They are poorly organized, isolated beyond the reach of social safety nets and poverty programmes. HIV/ AIDS is also a burden…

While this is happening, Insurance companies are doing brisk business in the cities and towns fighting for a dwindling upper to middle-income market, made up of mainly formally employed people. The competition between insurance companies in Kenya (one of the best performing insurance markets in Africa) is dire, with 49 licensed insurance companies, fighting for a market with 3.4% penetration. Traditionally they have been risk-averse with most of their investment going to ‘secure’ government securities.

There was a predominant lack of customer focus, and lack of market intelligence to appreciate the needs of 90% percent of market, that is, the middle-low income to those living below $2 dollars per day (as shown in the diagram below). Before the mobile phone revolution, it would have been next to impossible and costly for the insurance industry in Kenya to tap into this segment of the market.


Fortunately, M-Pesa made financial inclusion a reality in Kenya. More than 70% of households in Kenya and more importantly, more than 50% of the poor, unbanked and rural populations use the service.
  
Technology is the primary reason microinsurance is one of the fastest growing microfinance products in the world. Does it then mean Insurance companies are on a trajectory to a massive disruption in a “software is eating the world” era?

The battle lines are being formed and a lot of strategic maneuvering is happening among the top insurance companies in Kenya. Acquisitions, cross border expansion, and engagement of pedigree global management consulting firms being the order of the day.

The reality is more modest; competition should be for the customer interface. A traditional brick-and-mortar-services approach will guarantee losses and certain demise.

To understand the mismatch, you need to understand what we call digital capital—the resources behind the processes key to developing new products and services for the digital economy. Digital capital takes two forms. The first is traditionally counted tangible assets, such as servers, routers, online-purchasing platforms, and basic Internet software. They appear as capital investment on company books. Yet a large and growing portion of what’s powering today’s digital economy consists of a second type of digital capital—intangible assets. They are manifold: the unique designs that engage large numbers of users and improve their digital experiences; the digital capture of user behavior, contributions, and social profiles; the environments that encourage consumers to access products and services; and the intense big-data and analytics capabilities that can guide operations and business growth. They also include a growing range of new business models for monetizing digital activity, such as patents and processes that can be licensed for royalty income, and the brand equity that companies like Google or Amazon.com create through digital engagement. (Sourced from McKinsey Quarterly - Measuring the full impact of digital capital)

Noninsurance companies (read Safaricom) with strong digital capital may be poised to redefine insurance in Kenya rather than the incumbent. The picture below paints this picture vividly. 
 

The disruption that faces the insurance industry in Kenya will be driven by the entity that understands and captures the microinsurance segment.
  
Why?
  
Digital disruption is driven in three dimensions simultaneously: new product, lower price and better customer satisfaction; cheaper, better and highly intimate. Information will become the tool of disruption and will bring about a competitive advantage.

Why will it happen? 

Insurance is an intangible product therefore the entire value chain can be digitized. To this end, there is a lot of experimentation happening in the market and innovation is inevitable. 



The potential client in the microinsurance market needs financial instruments to empower themselves. They need support and knowledge in farming. They need weather prediction. They need market intelligence on where to sell their produce profitably. They need cost efficient storage for their produce. They need instruments that allow them to pool in groups and buy life- changing machinery or equipment; they need subsidies et cetera. The intention is to ultimately reduce their risk and ensure their success, which in term guarantees their upward mobility.

To accomplish this, it is essential for the Insurance industry to exist in an ecosystem and borrow a leaf from other markets. In Peru, LA Positiva  uses rural water networks to distribute its products by adding premium payments to water bills. In Sri Lanka, Sanasa offers livestock insurance, with RFID microchips placed on livestock. It also offers weather index insurance offering protection against weather-related risks and natural disasters for food crops

Can the Insurance Industry in Africa align with community-based projects? Can they invest in projects that empower communities instead of offering traditional products? Can they be investors and partakers of the success of the farmers?

For this to happen, a link between financial services and insurance will have to exist and insurance products “will and must” be simplified and individualizeda necessary reality in an era of data analytics.

The main competition for Insurance companies in Kenya will definitely have to be indecision; a situation where people wait until a disaster strikes to pay out of their pocket for expensive health, funeral and other services. The other consideration will be family and informal savings and lending groups that people depend on when disaster strikes.

There is room for mutual microinsurance, which is more intimate, grassroot driven, community focused and inspires trust. As we speak, someone somewhere is studying it and developing a software solution that will cater to this market my hope is that it is an incumbent insurance company in Kenya.

In conclusion, microinsurance is a weapon for poverty alleviation. It is a safety net for microentrepreneurs, and with microfinance, it creates synergies for success.
  

Sunday, 3 May 2015

TECHNOLOGY IS AT THE HEART OF AFRICA'S DREAM

 
I remember the first time a computer made an impression. It was in 1993, and I was living in Nanyuki an outpost town in Kenya (at least back then). I was ten, and I had gone to visit a programmer who had been hired by a research team studying Mount Kenya and the ecology around it. Although most details are hazy today, I remember the programmer, I really thought he was the most intelligent man alive and everything that came out of his mouth was the golden truth. I promised myself that one day I would own and operate a computer like him. I was one of the first students in Kenya back in 1997 to take up IT as a subject in high school, I honesty think that was a blessing because we had a volunteer from the UK who had experience in developing software, he took us through three of the four year in high school, it is through him that we really dug into C++, C and Pascal programming languages. It is from here that some of my colleagues eventually found themselves working in the Greater Seattle area for Microsoft, and a few other multinationals.

The Equator passes through Nanyuki Source:https://dekockoverland2europe.wordpress.com
So why do I share this story?

Over the last twenty years, my generation has seen tremendous change and disruption in what was once believed to be culturally acceptable.  Many of us migrated to the cities in search of a better education and life. Many more dreamed of travelling to Europe and America to get a better livelihood.

The reality is that for those who go to Western countries, a minority actually became great successes, but a far greater percentage end up barely surviving and live from hand to mouth, or worse still die in the high seas having not arrived at their safe haven.

As all this is happening the great majority of Africans are young, unemployed, and uninspired. They lack mentors who can train them in catching the proverbial fish that can sustain them through life. The kind of education they receive in public schools is only reflective of the lack of focus seen in how governments are run across Africa. Teachers are few, underpaid and overstretched, ill equipped to educate much less mentor the flood of children left at their school gates, by a population barely making a living. 

I have visited swatches of land around my country where there is no trace of a human being, while in the cities there are moments when you cannot walk on a straight path because of the density of human traffic choking the life out of our cities.

And while this is the state of affairs in all African countries, statistics shared by World Bank and Bloomberg point to Africa for strong economic growth.  Is this a contradiction? Or is this gradualism at work. Where despite the harsh reality that disease and poverty is still ravishing Africa, the continent is getting better a man at a time.

Most of my writing points to a bright future for Africa. In this article, I would like to explore the theory that technology is the centerpiece of this vision becoming a reality. And for me the technologies that will drive this change include social media, mobile computing, data analytics and cloud computing.

How have these technologies altered the African landscape?

The mobile phone has collapsed the distances that once made communication impossible between relatives in the city and rural areas. Research also confirms that mobile phones are effective as means of searching for labor-market information, which then drives migration among rural populations.

The mobile phone has also been lauded for being the tool that will allow financial services to reach the unbanked and underserved rural populations inexpensively and/or cost effectively. But many of us forget that once upon a time, banks would visit rural outposts once in a few months to offer their services to a rural community; this was never a successful venture.  With mobile phones and the ecosystem it has created, we now have banking agents, who for an affordable rate can offer increasingly complex and higher value financial services to villages across the developing world.
Graph showing U.S. production of corn in 2015 at more than 150 bushels per acre as compared to African corn yield at about 30. Source:Gatesnotes

Seven out of ten Africans are farmers, but they are far less productive than their counterparts in other continents, why? There is a disconnect between the agricultural research being done, and its dissemination to farmers across the continent.  There is lack of better food storage, lack of knowledge around use of fertilizer, crop rotation, timing and planting techniques. The process by which farmers get this information is called agricultural extension. It was traditionally expensive and complicated and required highly trained agricultural experts to travel and engage the farmers. However, today, the mobile phone can deliver this service, inexpensively and effectively.   

 

The other dimension to this story lies in the elimination of the middleman, who usually depends on the poverty, ignorance, lack of information, short window of freshness, and the exorbitant cost of distribution that face most farmers across Africa.  They buy fresh produce at rock bottom prices in the rural areas and make a large profit by selling these produce in urban areas, where food is desperately needed. 

The answer here lies in the creation of cost efficient networks that can effectively allow farmers to negotiate better prices with their consumers, which in the end affords them higher prices.  


In Kenya, for instance, there is a quiet revolution brewing as young professionals are going back to the farm and using better farming practices and adopting the latest farming technologies. And they are using social media to educate, inspire and collaborate with each other.
  
Technology is altering both how we educate Africa, read here, and how we deliver health care, read here.

SMEs contribute greatly to the African economies. Despite this, most are not part of the formal economy and are severely hampered by a weakly developed business environment hampered by red tape, corruption, complex entry regulations and few incentives to become a formal part of the economy.

A case study on the awareness of cloud computing by SMEs in South Africa, uncovered that most of the respondents had very low, to low understanding of cloud computing and the terminology used and how it could benefit their businesses. And while there are counter-arguments to adopting cloud computing, the truth is that Africa is ripe for its adoption predominantly because it allows us to utilize infrastructure, human capacity and experience that is lacking across the continent. It allows SMEs to compete favorably internationally.
Africa 2.0 Source Africa Progress Panel http://www.africaprogresspanel.org/why-technology-is-key-to-africas-future/


The conversation leading to the adoption of cloud computing in Africa needs to be basic. African SMEs need to also understand that when they are using Facebook, Google mail or WhatsApp they are actually utilizing the cloud.

With time more technology innovations will arise that will target the individual SMEs as technology incubators, hubs and competitions like Pivot East become established across the continent.

In conclusion, I believe because of technology, Africa is witnessing explosive but gradual change that will empower the continent. But am sure you already know that!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

THE TIE THAT BINDS AFRICA’S FUTURE



The landing of a man on the Moon by the Americans engraved a deep footprint on the innovative psyche of the world. The audacious declaration to land a man on the Moon made by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 (realized a few short years later by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin at a time when war and gloom ravished the world) was a watershed moment. It also unlatched the mental constraints that had been placed on humanity a few centuries earlier, in the Dark Ages. This was the beginning of an innovation era that knew no restrain for humanity.

Source: NASA Moon Landing

Africa over the last two centuries has been chained and shackled like a lion in captivity. The more it fought the more it bled and when it licked its wounds they festered.  As our forebears looked over the hills and saw the plunder and enslavement of generations to come they must have seen that we would be disenfranchised from our land, but what would have broken their hearts would have been our loss of dignity to be self-reliant and equal to other men.

Let me be categorical, this article does not ask for anyone to pity Africa. However, it calls on Africa to regain its self-reliance. It calls for it to go through a process of self-awareness, devoid of the imported affluence being thrown at its shores by developed countries that seek to perpetuate an extended begging hand or quench a guilty conscience.

Our past is lucid and vivid, like a dream that haunts us, this is why Africans risk limb and life to cross the unforgiving Sahara, die in droves in sinking boats on the Mediterranean Sea and maybe survive to live in deplorable conditions in makeshift slums in Southern Spain, the belly that feeds Europe.   

Spanish police, in the foreground, and Moroccan police, in the background, blocked dozens of African migrants as they attempted to jump a fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla last month as part of an attempt to cross into Spain. Credit Santi Palacios for The New York Times
A people with no vision, perish and look to others for affirmation and identity. Africa is in need, desperately, for a vision and identity. A visionary will sacrifice the now for a better tomorrow.  But how can we alter the course of a particular race?

For every Mandela and Sankara that arises there are systems to continuously plunder and subjugate the continent, a system that depends on corruption, extractive influence and greed.
 
Nonetheless, I see a lifeline that has allowed millions of my generation to rise and understand that there are tools essential in defeating such a system. Similar to what Martin Luther, Rosa Park and others did in overcoming the segregated busing laws of Alabama  when they walked instead of taking buses.  I believe some people are becoming aware that they are not alive only to fend for themselves but they have to serve humanity and drive change.

1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott  source: sos-racisme.org
Africa does not need to be a contradiction (with ravishing poverty afflicting its populations) while it hosts some of the richest deposits of minerals and the most extensive arable land in the world. Africa needs to transform from within. Like a human being who realizes that, his mental mapping was wrong and seeks to correct it.

I then realize that maybe; just maybe, change will not come from better civic education or democratic elections that ape Western systems. But it may come when Africa finds a common voice, spoken by millions across the continent. Driven by a common cause. Where people start to join hands to achieve a common goal, which supersedes personal gratification. And I look to Mahatma Gandhi and how he achieved the impossible in India. I believe if this cause strengthens the position and self-reliance of the continent then there will be a tectonic shift.

America was founded by a migrating people, who had seen the worst ravishes of imperial rule and wanted the freedom and space to undertake free enterprise. Japan was driven by a strong almost numbing honor code, where corporate order and conformance mattered more than personal comfort. South Korea was driven by having hit rock bottom and its keen mentee relationship with Japan. Singapore understood they were geopolitical and cultural underdogs compared to their neighbors.

What does Africa need?

Nelson Mandela gave his life, so that South Africa could be free, Julius Nyerere believed in Ujamaa’s sense of community and togetherness that still pervades across Tanzania. Kenya’s founders believed in corruption, nepotism, accumulation of wealth and this behavior still is rooted in many other countries across Africa.

Founding fathers of Africa Accra Conference of Independent African States April 15, 1958 Source: www.nyahbinghi.com
But is there room for us to alter this course from what was a top-down push of character to one that is driven by ‘anonymous’ individuals? In the past, a few individuals undertook a political revolution.  In our case a “communally” centered revolution, holds the key to change, where we revert to one common goal to advance Africa.

President John Kennedy stated this ideal best in his speech lauding the race to the Moon.

“This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline, which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.”

We require a goal that will strike a chord across the continent almost to a “targeted” man, so that we begin to uproot corruption, encourage the pursuit of education and knowledge and seek to develop homegrown African global enterprises.
This goal will push us to begin to engage and interact at the global level to push for our agenda; be it agitation for equality or freedom for all. It will force leaders to begin interacting with their ‘clients’ and excellence becomes a reality because it can be felt and seen based on constant interaction with global players.

Allow me to say that the reality of such a goal is here. Access to the Internet across Africa is enabling some of these things to happen though an invisible hand of profit, altruism or human ingenuity gradually drives its spread. Things are changing. And while the change is slow and sometimes lacking any orchestration, there is hope.  

Hope that this could be “the walk on the Moon” for the collective African psyche. A rousing call to innovate and change our mutual distress, alter our course and raise a formidable future generation that can engage and lead the world. Through the Internet I see my children interacting with a concept of excellence that was previously culturally unknown. I also see an innovative dexterity that has been stretched while interacting with the best.

My children’s generation will see transparency entrenched in government, and the fruits of corruption like mass unemployment, extreme inequality, poor infrastructure and terrorism will be defeated. I see the Internet facilitating a tie that will bind us.