5.29.2017

TIA-This is Africa: The Challenge of East Africa

Introduction: 

As the west is looking into the East Afrika Countries (EAC) the idea of leap-frogging the west versus replicating is in reality unattainable. There is the possibility to move EAC ahead of the west, but the reality is that it must start from the bottom up. While we can go and develop smart-cities, how can the average citizen make use of the technology if they lack the basics of education. Perhaps the elite and the millenial graduate will benefit, but what about the remaining 70%, the mother who views her android as a mobile-phone and not as a mobile-device?

An aggressive campaign for the cooperation and transparency of governments must be first and foremost. Federal statistics compared to those of World Bank are either inconclusive or mere fractions. How is one to understand their market demographics when the data is not available?

Challenge I

Basic infrastructure and services must be developed before smart-cities can even be introduced. For both Tanzania and Uganda the very first impression one will have is the bad-condition of the roads and traffic. These both relate to each other; there are less vehicles per driver in EAC then the west, yet it’s the pot-holes every 0.5 meters that prevent anyone from reaching speeds over 50kmh/31mph. This becomes a slinky-effect during lunch hours, commencement of school for the day, and the end of the work day. While Dar Es Salaam does have public transportation, it is only available on one street. I have yet to find any public transportation in Uganda.

 This morning I met with a startup near to my hotel. We immediately became stuck in the mud, and had to push the car out. The road to their office is in a neighborhood considered middle-class, yet 80% of the road was underwater. The streets near middle-class taxpayers, and the slums were indistinguishable. The street the office was situated on was made last year, yet if we were to drive over 20kmh/12.4mph, we would break the axles or severely damage the car. 

I inquired as to who was responsible for the roads, if they were publicly built/repaired or if they were contracted out. The government contracts the majority of the road work/repair, yet financial capacity prevents proper construction or deters businesses from bidding for the project. While I have yet to research this, I was told that the World Bank will fund the businesses to fix the roads, but retains 40% of the contract (this is where I need to research). Due to this there is no ability for the business to make a profit, no ability to use modern construction vehicles, nor use the proper materials. 

Before even focusing on the roads, immediate attention must go into drainage. Whilst roads are repaired, tarmac is laid (cement vs. tarmac last longer as well as eco-friendly) the water has nowhere to go, and destroys the roads as it deteriorates the gravel/sand below the tarmac. If it rains for two hours, transportation can come to a halt as complete streets become impassable. Those commuting to work must drive through neighborhood streets creating deeper pot-holes. 

There are two challenges, nay dangers, as well that come with lack of drainage. People are known to have been washed away in rainfalls of 2 hours. On a health aspect, puddles of stagnant water are prevalent everywhere. In a region of the world where HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, yellow-fever run rampant the solution is not more vaccines and pills, but rather mitigate the sources of many of these diseases. Mosquitos make the cooler evenings unbearable, without even the consideration of insect-born diseases.

Challenge II

Time to destinations within urban areas is a challenge in it of itself, yet travel up-country is dangerous and time consuming. While there is a train from Dar es Salaam to South Africa, movement through the rest of EAC relies on either personal vehicles, bus-taxis, or buses. The buses are extremely cheap, but the buses are bullies. Accidents involving buses occur quite regularly with fatal consequences to their passengers as well as to passengers in the other vehicles. Either drive your own vehicle, or take a bus at a fraction of the cost; the risk of collision exists for either mode of transportation.

I took a commercial bus in March 2017 from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. The distance was approximately 660km/410miles, yet it took well over 16 hours to reach the final destination. Besides flying, passenger vehicles are the only other mode of international travel within the EAC. The $200 flight one-way (versus a $20 bus one-way) is not an option for most people.

If you are to take a bus, a 70km/43.5miles trip will take 3-4 hours. While this has to do with the road conditions, there is also another factor. If there is a seat open, the driver will slow down and/or stop for passengers along the route. Evenings after work-hours are even more frustrating, as the roads are packed with people walking between villages. Commuters in personal vehicles are stuck in traffic as the roads are held up by taxi-buses stopping for each pedestrian.

Though the risk is low, there are small chances the more north you go that radicals will stop the buses and bus-taxis. Militant groups to the north will stop vehicles to rob them, and religious radicals are known to murder passengers for different faiths or beliefs. While this is rare, and more prevalent closer to the South Sudan border, Nigeria, Egypt, and Somalia, I must be honest to investors.

The solution would be trains; trains that only stop at designated stops. Time to destinations would be reasonable. Collisions by buses would drop dramatically, yes, a train-accident can occur, but the probability is extremely minute. Stopping a speeding-train is next to impossible, while stopping a vehicle moving at 30kmh/18.6mph is simple.

Challenge III

As of date, I have 4 sim cards and 4 phone numbers for EAC. While I could use an international sim, the locals cannot afford to contact me due to charges. While we are fortunate that WhatsApp exists, it does not solve everything. If I am to order an uber in Tanzania, the driver cannot call my Kenya phone number. I am involved throughout EAC, so either I must expect people to contact me via email or WhatsApp, or have different phone numbers for each country. This provides an additional challenge if I am in a neighbor country. Am I to provide a business card with 6 phone numbers and expect prospective entrepreneurs to dial each phone number until they find the number coinciding with the country I am physically in ?

Coming from the US, it does not matter if I am in Hawaii or New York, there are no charges. Mobile carriers need to allow roaming-free throughout the EAC. I can have AirTel or VodaCon as a carrier in Uganda, yet cannot receive or make a call in a neighbor country even though the same carrier is present. In the post-modern days, connectivity should not be this much of a challenge.

Challenge IV

In order for a smart-city to exist, electricity is essential. Those who live in urban areas experience black-outs regularly. As one travels up-country access to electricity is not inclusive. In rural villages, shops exist with the sole function of charging mobile-devices. One should be extremely wary of power-surges as well as to questioning the source of power. The solution is simple and exists, so a huge focus on financing solar and renewable energy must be made.

Challenge V

We live in the digital-age, yet this is not equal across the board. Even in the west we find members from the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and the occasional Gen X’s who do not comprehend or utilize computers, mobile-devices, etc. In EAC, computers are mobile-devices are commodities. Often a person’s first mobile-device will be when they move to the city for university studies; they purchase a 8 year old Sony Ericsson. 

Let us consider the mother who wakes up at 6 am to draw water, cook food, take the children to school. Then she must return home to take her sick-child to the hospital. She get’s to the hospital to find that the forms are all on tablets. She has never seen one of these before, only heard her children mention them after school. She has no idea how to use this; so the receptionist points her to a seat to wait until someone can assist her. The mother sits down, and notices the large amount of women around her; she asks if they can help, but they too are in the same dilemma. She finally gets the diagnosis from the doctor and a prescription. Because she had to pay for the doctor and has no idea what digital cash is, she must walk home. Since she has no idea what Google Maps is, nor knows that she can find the closest pharmacy to her location, she walks an extra 30 minutes to the pharmacy. The children come home as does her husband. She must help the children with their studies, but she has no idea what the homework is about. One generation ago, women did not attend school. The children are in bed, the dishes from supper are cleaned, and her husband heads to the bar. The mother waits until 3 am for her husband to come home from the bar to ask for money. This money is for food tomorrow, to pay for medicines, school fees, or when her husband is too drunk to give her money. This is a reality in EAC.

Lack of knowledge is higher than lack of accessibility. She has a mobile-device, yet she only knows that it can receive/send calls. Had she known about mobile-money, location services, etc. she would have more time to focus on learning, empowerment, and independence. Lack of information must be addressed before smart cities.

Conclusion

While there are many more challenges that must be addressed in EAC before innovation can occur, before the introduction of smart-cities, resolving the above challenges will mitigate many others. Smart-cities in EAC by 2020 would be a waste of finances and time. Governments and citizens alike must be educated as to the purpose and the benefits. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania will be a mega-city by 2030. The window of time to find sustainable solutions and act is closing. 

5.19.2017

May 19, 2017

I've been back in Uganda for a little over a week. It's is harvest and also the cooler time of the year. For those of us from Northern climates, we would consider it the middle of the summer. The equator is only an hour drive south of the capital, so even cold days here are warm and balmy. StartupBoat pays for my housing through AirBnB; I am housed at a bed & breakfast just outside the business part of town. A cafe is attached with high-speed wifi, so I usually start my mornings and end my days there. Kampala is called "The City with Seven Hills," so from the terrace I can see different part of the city, sprawling lazily over the rolling hills. Monkeys are often heard chattering in the trees overhead, but I have yet to see them.

I shall take the time now to explain what I am doing in Uganda, while my mission is still on aid and support, the focus has altered. I am the managerial director for StartupBoat, East Africa. I had initially began with the group as the innovation scout for Uganda, but it did not take long before my title was changed. The title has changed, but my mission-goal is still the same. The only difference is that Kenya, Rawanada, Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi are in my jurisdictions. So what is StartupBoat and how did I come to be working for them? StartupBoat is a foundation that develops sustainable responses to social challenges. We have partners that are willing to finance/partner with entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as mentor them as they develop their business plan. 
Now this sounds like we are strictly a finance company trying to make a return for our partners. That is true to some degree. While we have an obligation to our partners, we also are trying to use their funds to move society forward; profits are not our goal here at Startup, but rather creating jobs in developing regions and progressing society forward as a whole. 
One of our partners, GreenTec, has a project of making electricity available to rural areas in Mali. This project utilizes shipping-containers that have the entire set up for solar-power. This is a sustainable energy source, as well as the proximity to the sun/equator amplifies the amount of sun-rays each unit can intake. This project will also create jobs locally for those installing as well as technicians for maintenence. In the bigger picture, more jobs will become available due to access to a sustainable energy source. 
The first full week in Uganda saw me sitting behind my laptop, sending emails to every university in Uganda and any possible implementing partner. Fortunately, coffee culture is important as well. You will often find me sitting on a cafe, ordering coffee for the use of their wifi. Free wifi and cheap data are commodoties that have yet to fully integrate throughout the region, and often there will be hours in a day where the power-grid or data is non-existent. After 4 in the evening, my fingers and my mind have had enough, and I leave my computer for another day. While professional networking is pertinent to my job, I find social interaction one of my stronger abilities.
There is a theory that the more south one lives, the more open the person is as well. Northerners are often pressed by the elements and have a natural tendancy to shove their hands in their pockets and walk forward as fast as possible. Here, everyone acknowledges salutations and respond to a smile with a smile. 
It is very easy to pick up a conversation with a random stranger; I find it impossible to avoid making friends here, and I am somewhat of an introvert. I happened across a Mexican restaurunt here, which was the one thing I missed during my tenure in Greece. I would dare-say that the Mexican cuisine is more authentic than most venues in Mid-West America.
You will find me here 2-3 evenings a week. Not necessarily for the dining, but rather the ambience and opportunity to meet new people One of the people I met is the director of "Afrika Arts Kollective." They work in the communities empowering and teaching skills by using glass and other items, turning them into art pieces and useful household items. 
Another man I met works in tourism and takes people on safaris. We have a great opportunity to market safaries to people on a budget. Often people think of safaries and consider the $5-7000 cost way out of their pocket, that only the rich can afford it. If we can budget safaries between $1-2000, many more would be apt to consider. For a fraction of the cost we can improve the economy through tourism, by including younger adults; safaris do not have to be for the retired or rich.
Each day puts me into contact with more people; and as I search I find more conventions and conferences for innovators and entepreneurs. On the 26th-27th of June, I have the opportunity to speak at the Sahara Sparks conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This will be my first culture-hackerthon, with over 1000 attendees and 30 partners. I am excited to both begin this partnership with Sahara Sparks, as well as scouting for tomorrow's game changers.

Andrew R. Frania

Managerial Director, East Africa
StartupBoat
Kampala, Uganda
Phone: (+256) 07876 11386