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. 

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