The world’s first commercial drone delivery service operates from Rwanda. The drone service is operated by Zipline, a San Francisco-based robotics company. It delivers blood by drone to almost half of all Rwanda’s blood transfusion centers. Orders are made online, by text, phone, or WhatsApp.
A technician sits in a refrigerated room where the blood are stored, communicating with his team over Slack. An order has come in for a hospital about two hours away by car. The drone delivers the package in 20 minutes.
“To have a proven model here first in Rwanda is amazing,” says Maggie Jim, who manages global operations and communications for Zipline. She says the company is talking with other governments in Africa, including Tanzania’s, as well as in Latin America about launching drones services there.
That African countries are emerging as a test bed for new ideas that Western countries—bogged down by strict regulations or antiquated systems—are too slow to try has become something of a popular narrative.
Foreign investors and companies are still wary of setting up on the continent while local startups, especially those outside of Nigeria, South Africa, or Kenya, struggle to get funding.
Drones are one area where African countries are proving more accepting and innovative. The commercial drone industry has been slow to start in most other parts of the world. The United States prohibits drone flights that leave the line of sight of a human pilot.
In contrast, African countries like Rwanda, Cameroon, Malawi, South Africa, and Kenya are increasingly open to the use of drones in tourism, health services, and e-commerce.
Kenya recently said it would allow the commercial use of drones. In Malawi, drones have been deployed to transfer HIV tests to and from rural parts of Malawi. Elsewhere they’re being used to combat poaching or to augment safaris.
A Cameroonian start up named Will & Brothers recently raised $200,000 to begin assembling and producing within the country parts for drones. In Rwanda, another drone company has plans to build what would be the world’s first civilian “drone port” for commercial deliveries and ferrying health supplies.
A Morocco-based startup Atlan Space has developed software to use drones for monitoring illegal maritime activity (video) like illegal fishing or oil spills.
Ugandan authorities have also been open-minded, according to Moses Gichanga, founder of Autonomous Systems Research, a Kenya-based tech consultancy. With consent from the country’s aviation regulator and local authorities, his company has been doing aerial drone tests in the Uganda’s eastern districts as well as in Malawi.
“There are countless use cases for Africa,” says Gichanga, listing agriculture, mineral exploration, security surveillance, and conservation as some of the top areas where drones could be deployed on the continent.
Drone deliveries make sense especially in countries with poor roads and disconnected communities. During the rainy season, many of Rwanda’s roads are wiped out and getting health services in an emergency can take hours because of the country’s hilly terrain. Mapping and deliveries would also be useful for quickly expanding African cities.
By 2050, as much as a quarter of the world’s population will be living in Africa, more than half of them in cities.
“If we think about Africa in 2050, it won’t be the same story. More people, more security needs, more urbanization, more connectivity [mean] more need of accurate data for maps,” says William Elong, who founded Will & Brothers, which already uses drones for agricultural surveys. Elong says the company has been getting more requests for their drone services in e-commerce and healthcare.
Elong and Gichanga both cite Rwanda as an example of the continent’s increasing openness to drone technology. At Zipline’s operation in Muhanga, a few hours south of Kigali, the drones sit in rows on a wall. More like small airplanes than quadcopters, they fly at 100 km an hour, about 60 miles per hour, and can reach any clinic or hospital within 75 kilometers.
The drones follow predetermined routes that trace the ups and downs of Rwanda’s terrain. Instead of landing, the drones drop the package at the hospital, in a biodegradable paper box attached to a parachute, and then return to Zipline’s headquarters.
But even in a country like Rwanda where technology has been a core part of the government’s plans for growth, it’s not clear that drones have the most effective impact on its healthcare improvements.
Rwanda has expanded access to healthcare across the country and dramatically improved maternal mortality rates, but is still dealing with a shortage of health workers. The country has 0.06 doctors per 1,000 people, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended rate of 2.5 health workers per 1,000 people. In 2011, there were nine anesthesiologists and 17 surgeons serving a population of more than 10 million.
Zipline and the government won’t disclose the costs of the service. Jim says that the healthcare system overall will save money by reducing waste and inventory costs.
In a country with a government known for keeping an eye on its citizens—and accused of disappearing rivals and critics—Zipline has also had to earn the trust of the communities their drones fly in.
The team introduced themselves at town hall-like events, showing the residents photos of the drones and assuring them that they are solely for delivery. The only time cameras are installed on the drones is during test flights to map out routes. “We want to make sure that every citizen in Rwanda understands what it means when a drone flies over them,” say Jim.
“When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.”
Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement: the oldest stone tools in the world and evidence for tool production by our hominin ancestors have been found in eastern Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa respectively.
Despite notable African developments in medicine, mathematics, metallurgy and technology in the past, today Africa lags far behind other regions of the world and gives too little or no attention to science and technology.
Let’s take a look at some historic technological achievements in Africa:
Ancient Egyptian mathematicians had a grasp of the principles underlying the Pythagorean theorem. They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result.
Timbuktu in Mali was a major centre of the sciences. All of the mathematical learning of the Islamic world during the medieval period was available and advanced by Timbuktu scholars: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
The binary numeral system which lead to the development of the digital computer was widely known through Africa before it was known throughout much of the world.
Egyptians were the first to develop a 365-day, 12-month calendar. It was a stellar calendar, created by observing the stars.
Even today, South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.
South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometre Array project.
Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appears in West Africa by 1200 BCE, making it one of the first places for the birth of the Iron Age.
Besides being masters in iron, Africans were masters in brass and bronze. Ife in Nigeria, produced life like statues in brass, an artistic tradition beginning in the 13th century.
Benin also in Nigeria mastered bronze during the 16th century, produced portraiture and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process. They also were a manufacturer of glass and glass beads.
The knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known to the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast. A slave named Onesimus explained the inoculation procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century; he reported to have gotten the knowledge from Africa.
In Djenné, Mali, the mosquito was identified to be the cause of malaria, and the removal of cataracts was a common surgical procedure. Based on Timbuktu manuscripts, the dangers of tobacco smoking were known already to African scholars.
Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned for their healing skills, Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists.
Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs. Around 800, the first psychiatric hospital in Egypt was built by physicians in Cairo.
Around 1100, the ventilator was invented in Egypt.In 1285, the largest hospital of the Middle Ages and pre-modern era was built in Cairo, Egypt, by Sultan Qalaun al-Mansur.
Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid-20th century.
The theory is earthen jars containing grain used for making Nubian beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed people fared better by drinking beer.
Successful Caesarean section was performed by indigenous healers in Kahura, Uganda, as observed by R. W. Felkin in 1879. European travellers in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda and Rwanda) during the 19th century observed Caesarean sections being performed on a regular basis.
The expectant mother was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, European observers concluded that they had been employed for some time.
A South African, Max Theiler, developed a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937. The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967.
During the 1960s, South African Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques, in which a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target.
The coming of the Europeans to Africa hindered further scientific and technological advancement in Africa.
The continent still has great scientific minds: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian won the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, methods that allow the description of change states in femtoseconds or very short seconds; but 40% of African-born scientists live outside Africa because African countries invest too little or nothing in science and technology Research and Development.
Sub-Saharan African countries spent on average a meagre 0.3% of their GDP on Science and Technology in 2007. North African countries spend a comparative 0.4% of GDP on research.
Notably outstripping other African countries, South Africa spends 0.87% of GDP on science and technology research. Although there are many technology parks in the world there is none in Africa.
There are over 500 Science and Technology centres in the world but only two in the whole of Africa. This is how far Africa has fallen in Science and Technology.
Today, Africa is shadow of herself. The continent can hardly even show the remains of her glorious era of scientific and technological advancement, net even science or technology museums to showcase whatever remained.
Africa’s youth population is expected to double to a staggering 830 million by 2050, such rapid growth has led to questions about how the continent will keep up in terms of resources and jobs.
A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) into World Employment paints a dire picture of the state of youth unemployment and working poverty on the continent.
According to the 2016 report, North Africa has the second highest rate of youth unemployment in the world, while sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of working poverty.
So how do you tackle a rapidly growing population burdened with high rates of unemployment?
For Google Brand and Reputation manager Bunmi Banjo it’s teaching millions of Africans digital skills, for free.
How to train a million
After a career in banking, Banjo said she saw a need to create economic opportunities for Africans, which led her to Google.
She joined the team in 2012 and under her leadership, the company has trained a million youths in sub-Saharan African in just eleven months.
“We have trained hundreds over the years but we decided that in Africa we really needed skill,” Banjo told CNN.
“A lot of them [youth] coming online only know about social and are using the web primarily as a communication tool which is great, but [they are] not realizing that there is a lot more they can do with it especially in Africa where the jobs are not there.”
Soon after the Digital Skills for Africa program launched in April last year Banjo found it necessary to raise the bar higher, and the company decided to train one million people.
“You can connect with people, grow your skills and potentially get jobs from across the world,” she explained. “This is what we want to make sure large numbers of young people are aware of.”
‘ Not a quick fix’
The training, a free crash course in digital marketing, was delivered in classrooms, online and offline for areas with limited Internet access. Training happens in over 27 countries According to Banjo, the course will give participants a 70% chance of becoming more employable.
“We know people across the region are ingenious, with a little they do a lot and they are thirsty for knowledge,” she said.
“All our classes are oversubscribed because they are eager to learn. If they had the right tools and information they will be able to.”
While she acknowledges this training is no ‘quick fix’ for the continent’s high unemployment numbers, she stressed the importance of teaching African youth about less traditional paths to job creation.
“A lot of young people will have to figure out how to create income and opportunities for themselves and we feel very strongly that the web is a way to do that.”
Getting value out of the web
According to Banjo the program is already yielding positive results.
” 67% of the people we have trained have said they have either gotten a job or they feel better prepared for jobs because of the training,” Banjo shared. “If only a few million people are impacted by 67% that is significant.”
But Banjo is not stopping there.
“I know a million on its own sounds big but we are talking about a continent that has 500 million people that have the potential to contribute to the economy,” she said. “A million doesn’t look so big anymore.”
Google plan to train at least another million by the end of 2017 and to offer courses in local languages including Hausa and Swahili and Banjo has no plans of slowing down.
“Every aspect of my job is about helping people get value out of the web…” she said.
“Young people [in Africa] are ingenious and all they need is a little support to connect to the tools they need to improve their future.”
“It’s not every time you get to do something where you get to meet the beneficiaries of the work you do. It’s the most rewarding feeling to point at the work you do and the impact it’s having at the level of the individual.
Opera, the Norwegian browser-maker that was sold to a Chinese consortium last year, is doubling down on the African market after it announced plans to invest $100 million to grow its business in the emerging region.
The company is well known for its reach in emerging markets, and Africa in particular where it recently reached 100 million users. This $100 million budget is principally for the business in its three strongest African markets — South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — where it plans to strengthen its product, grow its ecosystem of partners and bring more users aboard. Further down the line, it could apply the same approach to other countries in the region.
“We are definitely interested in more markets,” Jan Standal, head of global marketing and communications, told TechCrunch in an interview. “There’s nothing preventing us from initiating an extension at any time.”
Standal, who said the budget is expected to last for “the next couple of years,” explained that Opera’s marketshare in the three chosen countries is between 40 and 60 percent and, with that base, it is looking to make a major push into content.
“We’re stepping up [because] the purpose of the browser is evolving,” he said. “Particularly around news publishing, the browser is one of the main gateways to consumption. If you want to reach people [in African countries] you have to work with web browsers… and we’re changing our role from being a browser to content aggregator.”
Opera has long put a focus on media with its web browsers — both mobile and desktop — but earlier this year it revealed that Chinese parent company Kunlun Tech had developed a team to bring AI to the core of its services. News and content distribution is high on the order for its AI tech, which will be increase the personalization of news that the company’s browser surfaces for users. In Africa, the company said it wants deliver “personalized and localized content” to users.
Beyond working with content producers — Standal stressed a focus on “premium content” — Opera plans to ramp up its work with OEMs and operators to bring more users on to its platform, and double down on its data optimization technology to help offset the comparatively expensive cost of data in Africa. It also began running TV ads in Africa to raise awareness of the service, and what users can do besides just browsing the web.
Beyond those established gatekeepers, Opera has its eye on startups that fit with its mission of growing digital audiences in Africa. Standal hinted that technology around payments is one area of interest, but he declined to provide specific details around plans for investments or acquisitions.
“This is the direction we’re interested in but we don’t have any announcements at this point,” he added.
Opera is already working on widening its content reach in Africa — it initially began on general news and sports — and it has adopted a similar approach in other parts of the world. In India, for instance, it introduced Cricket alerts earlier this year.
While Opera has given any targets for its $100 million investment in Africa, Standal said the company “expects to see good growth.”
“We’re going after this investment plan because we have a very strong position in Africa,” he explained. “We want to continue to grow the internet base.”
Operationally, it has an office in South Africa already and is in the process of opening similar bases in both Kenya and Nigeria in line with this push. The company said it plans to hire 100 people across its workforce in all three countries.
Malaria is one of the world’s most deadly diseases even though it is highly preventable and treatable. Malaria causes approximately 881,000 deaths every year, with nine out of ten deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.
Effective control and treatment of malaria has been very challenging and efforts have been made to reduce the burden of malaria in an integrated approach that combines preventative measures, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), with improved access to effective anti-malarial drugs.
However, malaria is a disease that stems from and causes poverty, and many at-risk populations live in extremely destitute, remote areas. Poor, rural families are the least likely to have access to these preventative measures that are fundamental to malaria control, and may live kilometres from the nearest healthcare facility. They are also less able to afford treatment once infection has occurred.
In addition to the human cost of malaria, the economic burden of the disease is vast. It is estimated that malaria costs African countries more than US$12 billion every year in direct losses, even though the disease could be controlled for a fraction of that sum. For Nigeria alone the direct loss to the economy is estimated at GBP530 million annually.
Up to 40% of African health budgets are spent on malaria each year, and on average, a malaria-stricken family loses a quarter of its income through loss of earnings and the cost of treating and preventing the disease. Malaria causes an average loss of 1.3% of economic growth per year in Africa.
There is a ray of hope in Africa as the world first malaria vaccine is to be rolled out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018. This injectable vaccine known as “RTS,S or Mosquirix” was developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will be offered for babies and children in high risk areas as part of real life trials as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In clinical trials it is proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule, but it is the first-regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito- borne disease. The WHO, who is in process of assessing whether to add the shot to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, has said it firsts wants to see the results of on-the ground testing in a pilot programme.
“Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director said in a statement as the three pilot countries were announced.
“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria toll by 62 percent between 2000 and 2015. The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the Mosquirix’s protective effect in children aged 5 to 17 months can be replicated in real life. It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the four doses needed and explore the vaccine’s potential role in reducing the number of children killed by the disease.
The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programmes, wide use of bed-nets and well-functioning immunization programmes.
Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine. The vaccine was developed by GSK in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The WHO said in November it had secured full funding for the first phase of the RTS,S pilots, with 15 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and up to 27.5 million and 9.6 million respectively from the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID for the first four years of the programme.
This significant development will help to address the continuing challenges presented by malaria in Africa in the years ahead and hopefully bring an end to this deadly disease.
The Hindu, April 25, 2017.
Kokwaro G. (2009) Ongoing challenges in the management of malaria. Malaria Journal, 8(Suppl 1):S2 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-S1-S2.
They may be teenagers, but 17-year-old Brittany Bull and 16-year-old Sesam Mngqengqiswa have grand ambitions — to launch Africa’s first private satellite into space.
They are part of a team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa, who have designed and built payloads for a satellite that will orbit over the earth’s poles scanning Africa’s surface.
Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture, and food security within the continent.
Using the data transmitted, “we can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing in the future”, explains Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School.
“Where our food is growing, where we can plant more trees and vegetation and also how we can monitor remote areas,” she says. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods but we don’t always get out there in time.”
Information received twice a day will go towards disaster prevention.
It’s part of a project by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) working with Morehead State University in the US.
South Africa’s program aims to encourage girls into STEM, particularly astronomy. Less than 10% of young women are interested in STEM subjects.
The girls (14 in total) are being trained by satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in a bid to encourage more African women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
Scheduled to launch in May 2017, if successful it will make MEDO the first private company in Africa to build a satellite and send it into orbit.
“We expect to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” declares an enthusiastic Mngqengqiswa, of Philippi High School. “In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts and it has really affected the farmers very badly.”
By 2020 80% of jobs will be related to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), MEDO predicts, but currently only 14% of the STEM workforce globally are women.
An El Niño induced drought led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa’s April 2016 maize production, according to a UN report.
South Africa is expected to import between 3 million and 4 million tonnes of maize to meet its shortfall this year.
“It has caused our economy to drop … This is a way of looking at how we can boost our economy,” says the young Mngqengqiswa.
The girls’ satellite will have a detailed vantage point of South Africa’s drought crisis which led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa’s April 2016 maize production.
Initial trials involved the girls programming and launching small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude weather balloons, before eventually helping to configure the satellite payloads.
Small format satellites are low cost ways of gathering data on the planet quickly. Tests so far have involved collecting thermal imaging data which is then interpreted for early flood or drought detection.
“It’s a new field for us [in Africa] but I think with it we would be able to make positive changes to our economy,” says Mngqengqiswa.
Ultimately, it is hoped the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa comes from a single parent household. Her mother is a domestic worker. By becoming a space engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make her mother proud.
“Discovering space and seeing the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s not something many black Africans have been able to do, or do not get the opportunity to look at,” says Mngqengqiswa.
The schoolgirl is right; in half a century of space travel, no black African has journeyed to outer space. “I want to see these things for myself,” says Mngqengqiswa, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
Her team mate, Bull agrees, “I want to show to fellow girls that we don’t need to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible — even aerospace.”
A chip containing millions of genetic variations that are common in Africa could help scientists bring the benefits of precision medicine to the continent.
The chip could lead to new insights into human health as well as new treatments that work better on Africans. Its developers say it will be ready to use in early 2017.
“This will be the first chip that has been created to specifically target genetic variation in African populations and people of African descent,” says Nicola Mulder, a bio-informatician at the University of Cape Town in South Africa who led the work on the chip.
Precision medicine—the practice of scanning patients’ genes to devise tailor-made treatment programs—is already routine in rich countries for some diseases. Oncologists in the US and Europe use genetic tests to determine which treatments will work best for their patients’ cancers.
But Africans and people of African descent, such as African Americans, have been left behind in this medical revolution. Out of the more than 35 million participants that have participated in genetic screening studies to date, 81% were of European ancestry. Of the rest, three-quarters were Asians. Only 3% were of African origin.
This is a problem because Africans are the most genetically varied on Earth. Two Ugandans living in the same city can have greater genetic variation than, say, a Spaniard and a Belgian. And Africans have many genetic variations that do not appear at all in Caucasian populations. This means that precision medicine tools based on Caucasians could be less effective, or even potentially harmful, in African populations.
Scientists hope that Africa’s as-yet uncharted genetic variations can help explain why people on the continent are more susceptible to certain conditions. For example, Africans develop chronic kidney disease about twenty years earlier than Europeans. “It’s a complete nightmare illness,” says Adu Dwomoa, a Ghana-based researcher in charge of a multi-country study looking for genetic clues as to why the disease hits Africans so young. The disease affects up to 40% of sub-Saharan African adults, he says. Few have access to expensive dialysis treatment, and so they die. Dwomoa hopes his research will lead to new treatments that work in Africa.
But so far African scientists have had limited ability to carry out studies to pinpoint genetic causes for disease. In order to link a gene to a disease trait, scientists need to screen thousands of people’s genetic sequences against a reference library of genetic markers—specific variations in the genetic code—and see if they can pick up any patterns. These markers are stored on chips manufactured for researchers by biotech companies. But chips on the market currently cover little of Africa’s genetic wealth.
Enter the new chip, which will contain 2.5 million different markers hand-picked for their African relevance. It’s been produced by the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative, a program to boost genetic research in Africa funded by the UK and the US. The program has collected tens of thousands of samples from Africans to study genetic links for diseases like diabetes, sleeping sickness, rheumatic heart disease and tuberculosis. This information has fed the chip with data from dozens of African population groups, from the Khoi-San in the south to the Yoruba in the West and Masaai in the East.
Because African countries don’t yet have the machinery to sequence entire human genomes quickly, that part of the work was done at Baylor College of Medicine in the US. The resulting data—all 144 terabytes of it—took weeks, if not months, to transfer back to Africa via high-speed networks, where it was analyzed. The samples will be returned to Africa after sequencing to be stored in biological sample banks on the continent.
The project has been an Africa-led effort from the start, says UCT’s Mulder. But the benefits should be felt beyond the continent, she adds. Since humankind originated in Africa, its genetics charts the history of all of humanity, says Charles Rotimi, a Nigerian geneticist who works for the US National Institutes of Health based in Bethesda, Maryland. “Understanding the genetics of African people is imperative. Without it you can’t tell the story of the rest of the world,” he says.
A South African university student called for “Western” science to be eradicated. The young woman argued that science “is a product of western modernity” and suggested that decolonisation would begin with the introduction of “knowledge that is produced by us, that speaks to us and that is able to accommodate knowledge from our perspective”.
We may not completely agree or not agree at all with her but we cannot deny the fact that Africa is excluded from science. Veteran science journalists Sarah Wild and Linda Nordling conceded that the way science is taught and practised in Africa is not socially inclusive. It mostly ignores African perspectives on science and contributions to the field. The accomplishments of African scientists deserve far more attention.
The Communication of Science
Wild and Nordling argue that science can and should be decolonised. This can be achieved in a number of ways, like giving more attention to local research challenges and research outcomes relevant to everyday life in Africa. Better communication between science and society is also crucial. But communication experts also know that relevance – connecting science with people’s everyday lives – is as important as conveying information. This would help kill the myth that science somehow belongs to white people.
Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, chair of the Pan-African Solidarity Education Network, has long advocated for a more inclusive approach in the way science is portrayed, communicated and practised in Africa. Rasekoala said it was important to empower young people around the world with the knowledge that every part of the world has contributed to the history of science. But communicating cutting edge science while respecting local cultures can be a difficult balancing act. That is where experts in the field of science communication can make a difference.
Science communication experts understand the political nature of science and science communication, as well as the intricacies of communicating science in diverse social settings. They appreciate that knowing science does not necessarily equate to support for science. In fact, more knowledge about science may lead to a polarisation of views about it. As social scientists, these communicators have studied the complexities of people’s responses to new scientific information and understand that public opinion about science is shaped by a multitude of factors, including the legal, ethical and moral dimensions of science. They know, in short, that communicating only the facts is likely to fail.
Importantly, science communicators know that understanding and respecting the audiences you are trying to engage is a cardinal rule of effective and socially inclusive science communication. They also know that meaningful communication involves mutually beneficial dialogue between scientists and communities, rather than a one-way, top-down flow of information.
Telling Our Own Science Stories
Communication experts also know that relevance – connecting science with people’s everyday lives – is essential to get society interested. They appreciate that science communication is not about promoting science, but rather about embedding science in society and allowing people to participate in science. There are some wonderful examples of science communication that crosses cultural boundaries. A children’s storybook, “The crocodile that swallows the sun”, presents current knowledge about celestial objects alongside the beautiful ancient African legends of the night sky.
And when the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management uses educational theatre to engage people about HIV prevention most of the actors on stage are farm workers from the Stellenbosch region. This means they bring their own ideas and perspectives to the table, too, along with the established science. And audiences identify with the cast, which encourages them to become active participants in dialogue instead of passive recipients of health messages.
Homegrown research led by Unizulu Science Centre director Derek Fish has proven the importance of catering for cultural diversity. The research also shows the value of using home languages to increase students’ understanding and engagement. Through science-art collaborations – theatre, music, art – science can be made less threatening. These sorts of collaborations can encourage meaningful dialogue about science issues in everyday life.
Scientists Have a Role to Play
There’s also a need for scientists to tell their own stories and to play a role in explaining their research. Many South Africans, for instance, may not know that the government is funding extensive research on indigenous knowledge systems. Good examples are the exciting work by the University of Cape Town’s Professor Jill Farrant and her team on the so-called resurrection plant and medicinal plant research by Professor Nox Makunga at Stellenbosch University.
This is cutting edge science based on indigenous knowledge that could lead to the development of drought-tolerant crops or new medicines for the future. Both Farrant and Makunga are committed to sharing their work with the public using a range of tools. Sharing these sorts of stories will go a long way to reminding people that a great deal of brilliant science is coming from Africa, by Africans, for Africans. It will also create room for more socially inclusive science to be taught across the continent.
This list of 26 African science and tech innovators helps to reposition how we consider science and tech innovation in Africa and by extension what it means to be a science or tech innovator. Each of the individuals spotlighted, share a commitment to something simultaneously infinite, yet quantifiable: change.
1. Tonje Bakang
‘You have to live in the present but have the vision for the future’
What started as a dream to promote black heritage on film and television screens led Cameroon native, Tonje Bakang, to create Afrostream, a video-on-demand platform designed to distribute ‘Afro entertainment’. His goal is to impact black communities in every continent in the world by sharing stories they can relate to, while also providing them with on-and-off screen heroes that they recognise. He hopes that this initiative will create a shift in how black people are depicted in film and television.
While Tonje agrees that Afrostream is thriving. For him, real success will be visible in the next ten years.
Afrostream’s plans for the future centre around developing and transforming how Africans can tell their stories.
2. Afua Osei
She Leads Africa, Ghana
As one of the founders of She Leads Africa (SLA), Afua Osei is driven by a goal to create the ‘go-to’ community for smart and ambitious young African women.
SLA offers young African women coaching, online guides, classes, and on-the-road tours and programmes, where each offering is strengthened by building direct engagement between women in SLA’s various communities.
For Afua, along with her partner Yasmin Belo-Osagie, SLA is a space that is for African women, by African women and about African women. According to her, SLA expands through customer engagement, and understanding what young African women need to help them achieve within their careers as they develop.
‘This year, we’ll be in seven different cities. We’ll also be launching a new and accelerated programme for women startups in Nigeria. The main focus is growth and how to reach more women.’
3. Evans Wadongo
Greenwize Energy, Kenya
‘I’m happy to solve problems and then see the impact of the solutions.’
Growing up without electricity turned out to be one of the best things to happen to young Evans Wadongo. After graduating with honours from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2009, Evans combined his passion for clean energy solutions to what he learned from his degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering to make the LED lamps he became famous for, at the impressive age of 19.
He is currently the Co-Founder of GreenWize Energy Limited and the Executive Director and Founder of Sustainable Development for Africa (SDFA) in Kenya. Since its formation in 2014, Greenwize’s revenue has increased by 100 percent each year and the employee count has tripled. By 2019, the energy company is set to serve 300,000 clients with renewable energy solutions through a “pay as you go” model.
By 2019, the company hopes to develop ‘EnergieRapide’ an all-in-one solar and wind energy hub. Evans finds being an innovator both ‘tiring and fulfilling’ but for him, it’s all about hard work.
4. Nkem Uwaje-Begho
‘You always have to figure out what works in the environment that you’re in.’
Nkem Uwaje founded FutureSoft Software Resources Limited (Futuresoft) in 2008, driven by a desire to change Nigeria’s technology space. FutureSoft, an IT solutions provider focused on online solutions, e-learning and IT security, has garnered Nkem respect and recognition as a leader in her industry, where she remains one of the few women occupying the space.
Nkem is also an expert speaker on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Africa. She received the Jim Ovia Prize for Software Excellence and the Etisalat Prize for Innovation, for her efforts in improving access to technology in Nigeria and Africa-at large.
Presently, Nkem is focused on expanding Futuresoft into other markets in Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya within the next five years.
5. Sara Menker
Gro Intelligence, Kenya
‘The process of creation can be a weird one. For some time, you’re creating in a vacuum.’
When Ethiopian native Sara Menker’s nine-year trading career at Morgan Stanley stopped motivating her, then the Vice President of the New York Commodities Group, she turned her attention to fixing a problem in Africa that impassioned her – agriculture. Starting out, Gro Intelligence was primarily concerned with agricultural data issues and commodities on the continent, but soon Sara and her team realised that the scale and technical complexity of the product that they were dealing with, was in fact global.
Currently, the 28-man team of Gro Intelligence is split between Nairobi, Kenya and New York in the United States. “We’re a really odd company… it’s basically a melting pot of engineering, data science, design and domain expertise around markets and actual science. We do have full-time scientists that work on environmental problems alongside the engineering and design teams. It’s a big shift from when I started Gro.”
For Sara, being an innovator is about constant discovery and uncertainty as well as being able to remain comfortable in a world where everything – including your ideas – is constantly shifting. Gro is presently working on improving ‘Clews’ and the overall delivery of the company.
‘Our product (Clews) helps users find connected paths between information and the shortest path possible to an end goal to the questions that they have around agric.’
Sara is a Trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, a member of the Global Agenda Council on Africa at the World Economic Forum and an Advisory Board Member of Shining Hope for Communities. Sara was named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is also a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative of the Aspen Institute.
6. Chief Obi
‘It’s not about the money… Anyone can stand in front of the camera, but it takes true passion to be different.’
As a sophomore in college in 2012, Henry Obiefule – Chief Obi – incidentally started a comedic career in the United States by making and posting videos on social media media platforms, Keek and YouTube.
With a fair amount of nudging from his friends who liked his videos and encouraged him to do more, he kept on, while extending his content to Vine, and finally Instagram. Today, he has 172,000 followers on his Instagram page and his full-time career includes stand-up comedy with hosting and MC-ing duties.
Chief Obi’s videos were inspired by growing up around his Igbo relatives, the “die hard ones that you see in Nollywood movies”, and the experiences of the popular character from his skits – Obinna is actually loosely based on his own experiences living with those relatives.
“I stay relevant by being motivated to do my videos, because I love doing what I do.”
Sometime in 2011, an aunty sent me an audio message on Whatsapp. It was the singsong voice and accent of a middle aged woman from the South East admonishing the youth to avoid being what she termed ‘a waste’- except that she pronounced it ‘weist’, or something like that, with a thick heavily-inflected tone infused with Igbo ‘ethnic interference’. The recording had just the right dose of playfulness and wit to make me reply to her text with ‘LMAO.’
7. Rapelang Rabana
Rekindle Learning/Yeigo, South Africa
After selling her first company, Yeigo, to South African communications company, Telfree, in 2009, Computer Scientist and entrepreneur, Rapelang Rabana, remained with the company for two more years before starting another equally brilliant company – Rekindle Learning. The 2014 Entrepreneur for the World and World Economic Forum Global Shaper started Rekindle with the hopes of transforming how we learn and utilising digital technology to better facilitate that process.
“Being an innovator comes from the things that you are subliminally aware of which frustrate or annoy you and believing that you can change them.”
Rekindle Learning focuses on the methodology behind learning and how young individuals in Africa can quickly and competently reach mastery levels while also seeking to develop their skills and capabilities. The technology company uses tools such as personalised learning which checks your learning performance by helping you master your weak areas, and ‘real time guide’, a GPS-like tool that helps individuals without experience navigate through organisational processes and rules to help them add value to whatever organisation or corporation they find themselves in.
‘The real-time guides give you contextual advice. Essentially, you can behave as if you’re an expert. Just as you do in a new country with the help of GPS.’
Rapelang hopes to use Rekindle to achieve more within academia and education in the future. In the near future they plan to establish an English learning platform to address the poor quality of written English found amongst youth who are secondary school graduates, with other subjects to follow.
‘We’re still finding out what works and what doesn’t as we go along. The outline is to reduce the time to competency, and whatever can assist with that is what will be part of the plan.’
8. Samuel Otukol
Water Distillation System Process (DSP), Uganda
Trekking up to three kilometres in search of water as a young boy in Uganda, Samuel Otukol could not believe that there was so much water in one place when he moved to Canada. The difference between his hometown where there was a constant water shortage and his new country of residence inspired him to eventually create the Water Distillation System and Process (DSP), an alternative source of viable drinking water, after years of research.
“Some realities [in Uganda] have not changed much… There are boreholes now, but some of them are tapping into brackish water which could be harmful to health.”
Because of Dr. Otukol’s research, drought-stricken areas or those that only have access to seawater, commonly found in Eastern Africa, can now boast of clean water and improved agricultural practices. The DSP also works with solar energy which is an added advantage in areas that witness electricity shortages in addition to periods of drought.
9. Prof. Lesley Erica Scott
Smartspot TBcheck, South Africa
As a professor of Applied Sciences, Prof. Lesley Erica Scott is using her knowledge to transform medical diagnoses in Africa with Smartspot TBcheck technology. The technology checks the accuracy of the results from popular rapid Tuberculosis tests, of which incorrect diagnosis of the deadly disease can put individuals at a risk of going through unnecessary treatment. Smartspot is the first technology of its kind developed by Africans, for Africans, to be endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
‘This is an idea that can be commercialised and impact health in Africa and the world,” says Prof. Scott.’
With Smartspot, Tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment which has saved over 37 million lives between 2000 and 2013 will significantly improve, allowing laboratories to safely and economically diagnose the disease which is the third leading cause of death in Africa. Smartspot was awarded the Special Prize for Social Impact ($25,000) at the 2015 Innovation Prize for Africa awards which held in Morocco.
10. Jean Bosco Kazirukanyo
Oil Spill Cement, Burundi
Last year, Burundian Chemical Engineer, Dr. Jean Bosco Kazirukanyo, shone at the Innovation Prize for Africa awards with Oil Spill Cement (OSP). His ground-breaking innovation, which was also borne out of climate change activism, mitigates the poisonous effects of oil spillages and lubricants by containing them in lumps suitable for adequate disposal and ecological recycling.
Dr. Kazirukanyo, who is also known for his work with the Advanced Cement Training and Projects Institute (ACTP), which produces highly trained and qualified cement engineers and chemists, is on his way to helping the continent manage potential ecological crisis.
11. Dr. Edward Mabaya
Genetically Modified Crops, Zimbabwe
Born to a Zimbabwean family that lived on a small farm and made ends meet by growing food crops such as, cabbage, maize, yam and potatoes, Dr. Edward Mabaya grew up appreciating some of the rewards of subsistence farming.
Years later, and armed with a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Cornell, he began to work with the Rockefeller Foundation on seed access in Africa. He then set up an organisation to help African seed companies market and distribute seeds.
Dr. Mabaya’s research and technology helps small farm owners in the rural areas of most of the English-speaking countries in Africa to access maize, cassava, sorghum and other types of seeds.
The African Seed Access Index (TASAI) provides a diagnostic tool that helps farmers, investors, agricultural companies and policy makers in Africa uncomplicate the process of seed systems and supply. Since its launch in Nairobi last year, it has spread to 12 countries in Africa and promises to cover the entire continent in the next two to three years.
‘I’m trying to make seeds ‘sexy’ again. People have forgotten how powerful seeds can be in transforming the lives of small-holder farmers…This very small technology can be the key to improving food security in Africa. It’s simple yet complicated.’
Dr. Mabaya, whose life has been directly impacted by agriculture, believes that it is one of the answers to the eradication of poverty in Africa. As the Associate Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food and an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow (2007) amongst other notable achievements, Dr. Mabaya credits his current status to his firsthand experience with seeds as one of ten children on a small farm.
‘[Seeds] transformed my own life. I’m where I am now, partly because I saw the power of seeds in rural Africa. What keeps me motivated is making sure that more people get the access that I was able to get.’
12. Paulo Miki Akpablie
Kadi Energy, Ghana
Paul-Miki didn’t like struggling to study because there was no electricity or seeing his grandmother give her phone to a driver who had to journey miles out of rural Ghana, just to charge it. Years later, his concern for energy in Africa and passion for entrepreneurship, witnessed a boost after he won the United World Scholarship in high school to study in Hong Kong, after which he moved to Colorado College in the United States where he is currently a senior.
Paul-Miki established Kadi Energy during his sophomore year in Colorado; the young innovator believes that energy is the difference between those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and those in the developed world, and is devoted to unsettling the inequality that obstructs equal access to energy around the world.
‘As an innovator you’re constantly thinking about the things around you and what could be made better. It’s also about empowerment and leaving a legacy. It shouldn’t start and stop with one person.’
Kadi, which in ‘Ewe’ (a language from the Volta region in Africa) means “light”, hopes to become one of the major players in energy in the world by producing energy storage systems and launching unique 50-port charging stations for micro-enterprises. The prototype for the charging stations was manufactured and assembled in Nigeria and the company hopes to expand manufacturing to other African countries.
In Ghana, Paul-Miki’s is building a ten megawatt solar farm to provide energy for 10,000 homes with plans to achieve completion in the first quarter of 2017. Haiti and Sierra Leone are also posed to witness the launch of the charging stations in the near future.
13. Rachel Sibande
It is no surprise that Malawi owes its first and only technology hub and incubator space to Rachel Sibande, CEO and founder of mHub which identifies, nurtures and incubates young technology entrepreneurs. A PhD candidate in Computer Science at Rhodes University in South Africa, Rachel’s research focuses on the use of mobile technology for citizen engagement.
When she was young, Rachel was curious about gadgets, and would break old radios and move parts from one gadget to another to learn how they worked. Earlier on in her career, Rachel taught Information and Computer Technology (ICT) at an elite high school in Malawi and was a Statistics lecturer at the Mzuzu University.
With a membership of over 120 young technology enthusiasts, mHub has championed the development of local technology solutions in Malawi. The company intends to become a leading software development house in the East African country and penetrate global markets. Also, mHub plans to nurture and mentor more than 40 technology startups by 2021 by establishing a formal training institute for practical and dynamic technology-related courses that respond to the fast changing world of technology.
Rachel’s passion for enhancing female participation in Science and Technology led her to establish a ‘Girls4Code’ initiative and a ‘Children’s Coding club’, where children and girls between the ages of 9 and 18 are taught the basics of computer science and mobile application development skills in order to take up careers in science and technology.
“I find satisfaction in creating change that unravels new value. For me, not even the sky’s the limit…it is about being creative and dynamic.”
14. Winnifred Selby
Bamboo Bicycles, Ghana
At just 20 years old, Winnifred Selby is a 2016 New African Woman in Science, Technology and Innovation Award winner, a 2015 World of Children Honoree, a 2014 Set Africa Fellow, an Anzisha Fellow 2014 and a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum. The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, of which she is a co-founder, is at the centre of these achievements.
The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative employs 35 people and is focused on the afforestation of degraded lands and exportation of bamboo bike frames to generate revenue for the Ghanaian economy.
The initiative also serves as an empowerment scheme for women as bamboo briquette (making a type of charcoal from bamboo residue to use as a cooking fuel) entrepreneurs with added training on leadership and entrepreneurship. More than 100 women have been trained in professional technical courses since the programme’s inception.
The outstanding leader and serial social entrepreneur dedicates her life to the economic empowerment of young people in her community and as the President of the EPF Educational Empowerment Initiative, her varied abilities are directed toward a single purpose: the ever-widening implementation of her mission to keep school children, especially young girls from deprived communities in Ghana, in school.
‘Moving forward, we seek to position the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative as the number one bamboo bike manufacturer and exporter in Africa, creating employment opportunities for hundreds of young people. We also want to go into large scale commercial bamboo plantation as a means of creating employment opportunities for the youth while encouraging processing of the bamboo by adding value to it and exporting them to earn foreign exchange for the country.’
Winnifred has travelled extensively worldwide, shared platforms with notable international figures such as the Executive Director of the World Trade Organization, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon whom she was able to convince to take a ride on one of her bamboo bikes.
15. Damola Taiwo, Tola Ogunsola, Dolapo Taiwo
In 2014, three friends teamed up to start a company using their extensive backgrounds in web development, digital design and their love of music. In June 2015, MyMusic was launched in Lagos offering Nigerians the opportunity to download music in a cheap and easy manner.
According to Dolapo Taiwo, one of the co-founders, “we had an idea for people to download music in one click…we didn’t know how it was going to pan out.” Damola and Dolapo returned to Nigeria in 2008 to start Unitech Media (which is still in operation) and later joined forces with Tola in 2014 to start the company. Today, MyMusic is integrated with all the telecommunication companies in Nigeria and about 60 million Nigerians with a phone and internet connection can download music.
“Our lives are action packed and unpredictable. Sometimes you work till 2am and other times it’s for 24 hours,” says Damola who is also the CEO of the company, and Dolapo echoes this sentiment. “As an innovator you’re on a quest to solve a particular problem, and until you solve it you never really sleep. You have to never take no for an answer.”
Damola, Tola and Dolapo have plans to make MyMusic Pan-African with a short-term plan to expand into five other African countries through an aggressive marketing plan. In time, the company hopes to go global, as they note “African music is very dynamic and big all over the world.”
MyMusic currently partners with Facebook on the social network’s ‘Facebook Music Stories’, as Facebook’s first African partner in this capacity.
16. Ify Aniebo
African Health Magazine, Nigeria
‘The passion of trying to save lives, imparting knowledge and creating change is what drives me.’
Nigerian-British Geneticist and Scientist, Ify Aniebo, is on a mission to find out why malaria drugs are failing by exploring drug resistance. According to her, Africa is living on its ‘last life’ for malaria drugs and the medical community is not working quickly enough to develop new solutions. Ify’s dedication to these issues was born from her experience with malaria as a child and a desire to educate people about science and health.
Ify founded African Health Magazine to provide better information around health and science, particular to health concerns facing people around the continent. Her work is centred around trying to stop the spread of malaria drug resistance in Africa with detailed research which serves as a surveillance tool for clinical scientists.
In order to do this, the molecular geneticist spends most of her days and nights in the laboratory. “Sometimes I’m not aware of the time. It’s tough and it also gets lonely for scientists. You’re in your own world a lot. If things don’t work out you try to find why. But when you do get a little bit of progress it gives you the energy to carry on.”
While the award-winning scientist admits that her PhD candidacy at Oxford University (which is almost over) doesn’t afford her the energy to invest in her magazine as much she would like, she plans to move back to Nigeria in September and make the magazine and initiative more programmatic with outreach strategies in addition to the use of mobile and internet technologies.
“Education is empowerment. People need to know the signs to look out for. However, not everyone can access the internet. I plan to go into the rural areas to provide information to those who need it the most.”
17. Takunda Chingonzo
Takunda Chingonzo’s passion for technology and entrepreneurship led him to create Neolab Technology P/L at the age of 19. Neolab Technology provides free internet to the public through Saisai Wireless and other similar startup networks. These other startups include Neo Effect (empowering underprivileged youth in southern Zimbabwe through Information Technology (IT) literacy), MX Project, and BOOT Africa (promoting student startups in tertiary institutions).
The award-winning 23-year-old university student believes that any business can thrive with access to the internet. He is committed to technological innovations that bolster a vision of revolutionising entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe’s economy and the rest of Africa.
Saisai is going to become a gateway for local developers, content creators and curators to reach their targeted customers.
Takunda also plans to establish 100 sustainable companies on the continent by 2020 with the launch of 20 per year. His business model for Africa is investing in products with visible potential in order to guarantee lasting success. For Takunda, innovation is an extension of ourselves as humans and must be practiced with frugality. He believes an entrepreneur should create and transfer value to the end user using the least amount of resources.
18. Adnane Remmal
Livestock Antibiotics, Morocco
Last year, Moroccan researcher, Adnane Remmal, won the Innovation Prize for Africa’s $100,000 cash grand prize for a patented alternative to livestock antibiotics. A professor of Biotechnology at the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Remmal’s innovation seeks to address the health problems that antibiotics in livestock feed can cause humans.
Professor Remmal directed his research towards studying the quality and strength of livestock antibiotics and replacing them with the most natural and harmless compositions for livestock, which offer the same antimicrobial results and prevent resistance. This way, livestock remain healthy, the agricultural sector receives a tremendous boost, and people can consume livestock products without fear of transmitted germs or carcinogens.
He currently runs a small company that manufactures and distributes the product with hopes to attract investment in order to increase production levels and expand into other countries in Africa and the world.
According to Professor Remmal, innovation is the most important means to contribute to African development.
19. Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola
In 2012, Bilikiss Adebiyi left a five-year-long job as a Software Programmer at IBM in the United States to return home to Nigeria and execute an idea that came to her while she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): A recycling company now called WeCyclers.
WeCyclers collects waste from low-income communities and rewards the participants with points that can later be exchanged for prizes.
The generated waste materials – which are also collected with help from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) – are then sold to recycling companies, making WeCyclers both a social and economic enterprise.
Before founding WeCyclers, Bilikiss attempted to establish a scrap metal venture with her brother which didn’t quite pan out. However, that failure led her to an even better innovation. Bilikiss hopes to turn WeCyclers into a movement that will change the way Nigerians and Africans view waste.
According to Bilikiss, “Waste management is one of the main problems for poor populations in Nigeria. We want to create a system that would change how people see waste from a problem to a solution.”
20. Madiba Olivier
Kiro’o Games, Cameroon
Young Madiba Olivier always thought he was going to end up working as a game developer in either the United States or Europe, but it turned out his home country of Cameroon had much more in store for the game lover. Upon realising the lack of dynamism and African characterisation, as well as mythical and cultural representation in games, Madiba decided to make games that would address these issues while entertaining game players both home and abroad.
To this end, Madiba began developing Aurion: Legacy of Kori Odan, a Role Playing Game (RPG) inspired by one of his favourite games ever – Final Fantasy. He launched Kiro’o Games, which is now the first gaming studio in Central Africa, in 2013. Last year, Kiro’o Games received $50,000 from a Kickstarter campaign to fund its projects.
“As an innovator, you’re a little bit alone. A lot of people don’t understand how you see things or how you see the world”, Madiba says. The Computer Scientist also thinks that while some people are born with the gift to come up with great ideas, others are trained. For Olivier, it’s 50-50 and the key is to keep an open mind and learn how to process ideas better. Kiro’o plans to organise with other games studios in Africa to make the continental market one of the best in the world.”
‘The video game industry is moving towards virtual reality/augmented reality. In ten years, Africa can invent the next way to entertain. America already invented sight cinema and video games. I want to have a team ambitious enough to invent the next step.’
“We’re in the last stages of trying to release the game. This is the end of the road of a 12-year dream. We will decide on the future of the industry in the region if Aurion is a success. If we succeed, we will pave the way for other games to be produced in Cameroon. If we don’t, we may have closed it for a long time for investment and giving others a shot. That gives us a lot of pressure and equal motivation.”
21. Oluseun Onigbinde
A Co-Creation Hub Hackathon set the stage for public finance analyst, Oluseun Onigbinde, to launch one of the best ideas that Nigeria has seen in some time – BudgIT. Because of BudgIT, Nigerians now have access to federal budgets while they are being drawn up.
BudgIT uses SMS, infographics, interactive applications and games, amongst other tools, to bring transparency and accountability to civil society while aiming for a more socially and economically evolved Nigeria. According to Oluseun, BudgIT simply aims to provide budget access, which both he and his team believe is the key to civic engagement and institutional reform.
Oluseun is presently working on international partnership to advance BudgIT’s vision. The Africa Transparency Initiative, a Pan-African initiative, USAID, Ford Foundation, and the Knight Foundation are some of the partners that the company has managed to make progress with over time. Additionally, BudgIT has developed tools such as ‘Tracka’ and ‘Fitila’ to monitor local community projects.
The idea is that rather than having reports just being entirely narrative, we want them to be backed by data. We don’t want 1000-word opinion pieces not backed with data guiding the thoughts.
BudgIT currently employs 22 people and has future plans to build “sustainable cities” that are data-driven. To do this, Oluseun is ready to “pull the old order down and rebuild a new experience for stakeholders” while strengthening access to citizens in digital and offline communities.
“We want to publicise finance data in the hands of citizens, raising their ability to ask questions and demand service delivery. But we don’t want to do this with heavy dependence on donor funding, so we want to ensure that we fully establish a thriving business segment that focuses on private clients and development agencies in areas of data science, visualization and civic technology.”
22. Dr. Chrystelle Wedi and Dr. Kopano Matlwa Mabaso
The Ona Mtoko Wako Initiative, DRC/South Africa
The Ona Mtoto Wako (See your baby) social initiative was founded by South African Rhodes Scholars, Chrystelle Wedi and Kopano Matlwa Mabaso. It was developed in order to tackle the leading causes of maternal and newborn deaths in rural and low-income areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by identifying high risk pregnancies with the use of mobile clinics offering ultrasonography and health screenings to expectant mothers.
The aforementioned exercises are aimed at drastically reducing the numbers of preventable deaths in mothers caused by complications such as pregnancy-related anaemia, hypertension, HIV and malaria. At the screenings, the phone numbers of these ‘high risk women’ would be collected in order to stay in touch and connect them to healthcare facilities in their area.
This thoughtful initiative won the first ever Aspen Idea Award in July last year with a cash prize of $25,000 to bring the idea to life. Dr. Mabaso is an award-winning author, a pioneer of the World Economic Forum Global Shaper – Johannesburg Hub and a 2015 Fellow of both Tutu and Aspen New Voices.
Dr. Wedi is currently the Secretary General of Vandelo NGO and co-managing partner of Watoto Hospital & Karibuni Hospital, based in the DRC, as well as a 2016 Aspen New Voices Fellow.
“I am passionate about issues affecting the African continent especially those relating to socio-economic, public health and gender inequalities. I hope to play a significant role in improving quality and accessibility of healthcare for women and children in Africa and plan to coordinate research which can be translated into effective and efficient health policy in African states.”
23. Dr. Thumbi Mwangi
Livestock Systems, Kenya
Dr. Thumbi Mwangi’s research focuses on the link between livestock health and human health. His research in East African rural households helped to inform the 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, at risk of falling ill following the consumption of sick livestock.
A trained veterinarian and member of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Dr. Mwangi carried out a study which tracked 1,500 households and their livestock in Kenya in March 2015, and has since been documented in an open journal Plos One.
Presently, Dr. Mwangi is focused on researching the human-animal interface in East Africa and investigating the relationship between livestock health and productivity, human health, nutrition and welfare in order to improve health and welfare among livestock-dependent households by improving animal health and productivity.
Ghana and Nigeria combined forces to provide a basic service to black women- hair styling. Priscilla Hazel, Cassandra Sarfo and Esther Olatunde created Tress – an application which provides Black women with information on how to style their natural hair, where they can find salons, and what products to use for various hair textures.
Hazel, Sarfo and Olatunde met at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, Ghana and instantly connected based on their shared frustrations with their hair and options available to them. Last month at the Lagos Social Media Week, the three friends launched Tress amidst rave reviews.
CEO Priscilla Hazel agrees that it can get awkward for women to approach strangers and inquire about their hairstyle and this is a barrier that the application is helping women overcome.
‘For us at Tress, after identifying the challenge that we faced we wanted to find an easier and convenient way to solve the challenge of finding details of amazing hairstyles we constantly see online.’
Tress is available for download on the Google Play Store with more versions to come. The founders have disclosed plans to expand into e-commerce, as well as make Tress active on various media platforms by partnering with “likeminded organisations and individuals”.
“We envision that in the near future, Tress will be the go-to app for black women looking to find hair inspiration, hair-stylists and high quality hair products. We believe that Tress will continue to evolve and grow into a multi-faceted global brand.”
25. Yahaya Ahmed
Development Association For Renewable Energy (DARE)- Architecture/Eco Friendly Homes, Nigeria
Eco-friendliness takes an amazing architectural form in plastic bottle houses, constructed by the Developmental Association for Renewable Energies (DARE) in Nigeria. DARE constructed these homes from thousands of recycled plastic bottles which are filled with sand, cement, and mud. These components form a highly formidable wall which is 20 times stronger than brick walls, fireproof, bulletproof, and earthquake resistant.
DARE CEO, Engr. Yahaya Ahmed, co-founded the Kaduna-based non-governmental organisation, which seeks to promote the understanding and use of renewable energy resources as well as promote clean indoor air through energy autonomous plastic bottle houses and other environmental projects. The houses are fitted with energy saving stoves with little or no emissions which mitigate desertification and climate change, urine filtration fertilization systems and purification tanks.
Yahaya Ahmed’s environmental projects seek to aid Nigeria’s issues with deforestation and pollution, in addition to other forms of environmental degradation. The energy efficient kitchen stoves were recently made available for purchase in Kaduna and plans are in the works for nationwide availability.
DARE currently trains young people in Kaduna to assemble the stoves in order for them to become future entrepreneurs. Additionally, the organisation is training local masons in the bottle building technique with the help of Andres Froesse, the founder of Eco-Tec Soluciones Ambientales.
26. Zim Ugochukwu
Noire – Travel App, Nigeria
Travel Noire (TN) founder Zim Ugochukwu has been listed as one of the “10 Amazing Black Women Changing the Game” by Teen Vogue given her role in dismissing the age-long myth that black people don’t like to travel.
Born in the United States to Nigerian parents, Zim worked as a Biologist and community organiser (she was among the organisers of the Obama campaign in 2008) before her love for travel led her to establish Travel Noire in 2013. In less than three years, her establishment has become the go-to guide for young black people who want to travel around the world.
‘It’s challenging but rewarding. As an innovator, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’
Travel Noire presently employs seven people who “live wherever they want, are productive and very happy.” The brand offers two major products at the moment; the Travel Noire Experiences, which curates a group travel experience, and the community based product.
According to Zim, the experience is about connecting with the local environment, more than mere sightseeing. The TN experience package is available in Italy for now but will include six to seven other locations by summer this year. Next year, Travel Noire plans launch another product to teach people how to work while on vacation, to encourage people to travel more. Zim believes that “you can be in Fiji or Darfur and still have your ‘nine to five’.”
With venture capital flowing in and home-grown businesses building up, Africa is in the midst of a tech boom that’s luring entrepreneurs away from tech centers in the United States and back to their home countries where opportunity beckons.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the most rapidly growing economies and populations experiencing the fastest rate of urbanization on the planet.
It boasts as many as 200 innovation centers that teach coding, host app competitions and act as the center for a newly emerging tech culture, a panel of Africans and tech experts speaking at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club said Wednesday.
In the last six months the area is generating Silicon Valley-type headlines, including IPOs, exits and $1 billion start-ups, said speaker Jake Bright, co-author of The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse. In addition, he said, $300 million to $400 million was invested in African e-commerce start-ups during the same time frame.
A survey he conducted this spring estimated that as much as $1 billion in venture capital will flow into the region over the next two years.
In the coming years, a region many Americans associate with drought, famine and corruption could instead become a business powerhouse.
Toro Orero is the managing partner at DraperDarkFlow, a Silicon Valley fund for African start-ups. He noted one advantage for the region is that it can leap-frog over the brick-and-mortar phase many more-established economies struggle to extricate themselves from as they become fully digital.
An example Orero gave was Africa’s lack of banking infrastructure, which once necessitated businesses making payments with large bags of cash. With the rise of mobile phone technology, many businesses skipped banks entirely and moved immediately into mobile payments — avoiding an expensive infrastructure buildout.
Africans are Heading Back Home
Many of the entrepreneurs creating this new tech subculture studied and worked in the United States and are now returning home, where they’re finding engaging financial opportunities.
One is Chris Folayan, a Nigerian native who saw a need for better e-commerce in Africa when he was living in the United States and went home to build MallforAfrica.com, the continent’s largest online mall.
Too many Western e-commerce sites were afraid of doing business in Africa because of concerns over fraud, but Folayan saw an opportunity where others only saw danger.
A growing fintech company, Paga payments was founded by Nigerian entrepreneur Tayo Oviosu. He graduated from Stanford Business School and worked at Cisco before returning home to Nigeria to found Paga.
The company has now reached its first billion dollars in transactions processed and could become Africa’s PayPal, said Bright.
Talent Flowing from the US to Africa
African tech is not just drawing talent home, it’s importing talent from the United States.
Bright noted that Ghana’s MEST Incubator and VC fund is managed by Katie Sarro, an American from San Francisco. The managing director of the online shopping store Jumia in Kenya is Parinaz Firozi, an American from Texas.
Americans can expect to one day have African stocks in their 401(k)s, find themselves watching Nigerian movies on Netflix and downloading Kenyan songs from iTunes, all via tech innovations developed in Africa, said Bright.
“In the future,” he said, “Americans are definitely going to be learning a lot more African names than just Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela.”