Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Monday, August 27, 2012

Africans in the '60s - Liberation and Neil Armstrong's Moon Landing

The sad news of Neil Armstrong's passing offers a chance to revisit how much the idea of space travel and race to land a man on the moon also had a powerful hold over the popular imagination of many Africans in the 1960s. One example, of course, is grade-school science teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso's Zambian space program and its proposed mission to Mars on the eve of Zambian independence in 1964.

Hinted in Alexis Madrigal's blog post about Nkoloso is a sense of the end of liberation struggle, Zambia's independence day celebrations and, perhaps, the same kind of naiveté, optimism and euphoria we've seen frozen and capsuled by photographers like Philippe Koudjina and Malick Sidebe in the black and white pictures they took of Malian youth in that hopeful time.

The same optimism is captured in a different way in the two 5 mins excerpts below from Congolese auteur  Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda's 2009 short film, We Too Walked on the Moon (Nous aussi avons marché sur la lune), which uses the 1969 American Apollo 11 mission that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon as the year and the backdrop for an interesting glimpse at middle class Congolese lives -- the lives of a teacher, a doctor and an artist.

In the film we get to see each person experience the radio broadcast of the moon landing differently, with the artist (you can see that in the 2nd excerpt) eventually deciding that he must also walk on the moon.

With the news and discussion of a moon landing as a reminder of the technological chasm between Africa and the West, Olivier Barlet's  review over at Africultures, I think, touches the core of Bakupa-Kanyinda's film (Google auto translation + mine):
The film revolves between poems by Aime Cesaire and the Congolese poet Tshiakatumba Mukadi, recited by students under the direction of their teacher.... A slow tracking shot shows various portraits tacked above the blackboard, revealing many major African figures, including Obama, confirming them as sources of inspiration.... For an Africa that suffers from an inferiority complex inherited from the mental integration of its alleged backwardness, the message is simple: be the image of those of you who believed in themselves.
This post is a reworked version of a previous post from July 2nd 2010.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Africa: Switched On

Switching on: Africa's vast new tech opportunity By Pete Guest (Wired Magazine UK, August 2011)

PDF version of Pete Guest's article in the August issue of Wired UK. It features Agosta Liko of Pesapal (Mpesa, Kenya), Saheed Adepoju (Encipher, Nigeria), Joe Muchero (Google Head of sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya), Isis Nyong’o of Inmobi (Kenya), Bright Simons (M-pedigree, Ghana), Stephan Magdalinski (DealFish & Kalahari). The first paragraph in the article is a keeper:
In 2011, visitors to Africa looking for war, famine and pestilence have to dig a lot deeper than in the past. At Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, hardened missionaries have been replaced by gap-year students clustered around iPads, and on the streets the bad old days have given way to another holy trinity: Premier League football, Toyota Hiace minibuses and cellphones... (more)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Somalia/ Libya/ U.S: Drones Over Mogadishu and Other Shadow Wars

Courtesy of a $45 million Pentagon terror aid package, African peacekeepers fighting al-Qaida’s allies in Somalia are about to get their first drones  - the hand-launched Raven RQ-11. Spencer Ackerman over at Wired's Danger room blog, explains:
But neither the U.S. military nor the CIA will be flying the four-pound, hand-launched Raven. Instead, some of the 1200 peacekeepers from both nations manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets of Mogadishu will be its operators. They’ll likely be using it in the same way U.S. soldiers and Marines flew the Raven in Afghanistan and Iraq: for aerial recon over the city, to trace al-Shabaab’s movement of fighters and weapons through the Somali capitol. (No missile strikes from the small drones, in other words.) That’s consistent with the “outsourced” approach the U.S. has adopted to confront al-Shabaab. Although outsourcing has its limits, as when an occasional mystery airstrike slams a convoy of militants. The whole idea behind the Ravens is to allow small units to rapidly acquire and act on their own overhead intelligence without going through the cumbersome military bureaucracy necessary to fly larger, more expensive spy aircraft. But neither nation’s forces have used small drones before. And the first Marine battalions to use Ravens in Iraq found them underwhelming.
We don't know about those American soldiers in that "underwhelming" video, but the R-Q 11 replica built according to spec by the nitroplane guys in the clip below flies just fine, and the footage obtained is captivating.

Army Times adds that part of the $45 million aid package also includes goodies for the following African al-Qaida-challenged countries:
...funding a number of other North African countries, including several where there is a continuing terror threat from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The plan includes:
• $22.6 million for Mauritania for a turbo prop aircraft for troop transport and surveillance, and necessary maintenance and training; and $8.1 million for airfield systems and construction and communications equipment to develop a forward operating base in the country.
• $17.7 million for an aircraft for Djibouti, where the U.S. has its only Africa military base.
• $12.1 million for helicopter upgrades and training for Kenya.
• $1 million for Mali for mine detector kits.
Speaking of an ever expanding drone warfare and the whole White House vs. U.S Congress debate over whether or not what the US is doing in Libya constitutes a war not approved by congress, Matt Yglesias over at Think Progress' pointed out:
...Part of what the White House is saying about the War Powers issue seems to rely on the idea that it makes a big difference if you're not dispatching actual human beings into an area of armed conflict. After all, everyone recognizes the difference between participating in a war and providing military equipment to someone. And a drone is just that, a piece of equipment rather than a soldier.
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehesi Coates concluded:
I understand this from the perspective of making an argument to Congress and the American people. But there's implicit message here to the rest of the world. Perhaps Americans don't consider it war, unless actual American soldiers are endangered. But why should, say, these guys draw the same conclusion? I assure you if I were in Libya and my baby sister was killed by a NATO bombing, I would conclude, whatever my hatred of Gaddafi, that America was at war with me, that it had, indeed, commenced hostilities. I don't think I'd be wrong in that.
pic: ISAFMedia 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Africa: To Develop, You Need an Army of Patent Lawyers - the Case of "Golden Rice"

Over at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blog, Robert Ziegler writes about the Foundation's work with International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in relation to "golden rice":
I am particularly excited that our Golden Rice work, as with all our work at IRRI, is non-profit. For this, we can thank the inventors of Golden Rice and others who have donated intellectual property and supported the project financially. This will help assure that even the poorest farmers and consumers will have access to Golden Rice...
White rice, though ample in calories, lacks vitamin A, which makes genetically engineered "golden rice"--which contains an extra beta carotene which turns into Vitamin A when digested--kind of a big deal for a developing world addicted to rice. It all reminded us of a chapter in Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans and the Secret History of Capitalism, which tells the backstory of "golden rice." The excerpt below explains how "golden rice" or other technologies that could help the developing world, even when the inventors of the such technologies want it to be free, are often tied up by the frustrating phonomenon of "interlocking patents":
Unfortunately, the problem of interlocking patents has recently becomeworse. More and more minute pieces of knowledge have become patentable,down to the level of individual genes, thereby increasing the risk of patents becoming an obstacle to technological progress. The recent debate surrounding so-called golden rice illustrates this point very well. In 2000, a group of scientists led by Ingo Potrykus (Swiss) and Peter Beyer (German) announced a new technology to genetically engineer rice with extra beta carotene (which turns into Vitamin A when digested). Because of the natural colour of beta carotene, the rice has a golden hue, which gives it its name. The rice is also considered ‘golden’ by some because it can potentially bring important nutritional benefits to millions of poor people in countries where rice is the basic staple. Rice is nutritionally very effective, able to sustain more people than wheat, given the same area of land. But it lacks one critical nutrient—Vitamin A. Poor people in rice-eating countries tend to eat little else other than rice and therefore suffer from Vitamin A deficiency ( VAD). At the beginning of the 21st century, it is estimated that 124 million people in 118 countries in Africa and Asia are affected by VAD. VAD is thought to be responsible for one or two million deaths, half a million cases of irreversible blindness and millions of cases of the debilitating eye-disease, xerophthalmia, every year.

In 2001, Potrykus and Beyer caused controversy by selling the technology to the multinational pharmaceutical/biotechnology firm, Syngenta (AstraZeneca at the time). Syngenta already had a legitimate partial claim on the technology, thanks to its indirect funding of the research through the European Union. And the two scientists, to their credit, negotiated hard with Syngenta to allow farmers making less than $10,000 a year out of golden rice to use the technology for free. Even so, some people found the sale of such a valuable ‘public good’ technology to a profit-making firm unacceptable. In response to the criticisms, Potrykus and Beyer said they had had to sell their technology to Syngenta because of the difficulties involved in negotiating licences for the other patented technologies they needed in order to operationalize their technology. They argued that, as scientists, they simply did not havethe necessary resources or the skills to negotiate for the 70 relevant patents belonging to 32 different companies and universities. Critics countered that they were exaggerating the difficulties. They pointed out that there are only a dozen or so patents that are truly relevant for countries where the golden rice would bring about the largest benefits. But the point remains. The days are over when technology can be advanced in laboratories by individual scientists alone. Now you need an army of lawyers to negotiate the hazardous terrain of interlocking patents. Unless we find a solution to the problem of interlocking patents, the patent system may actually impede the very innovation it was designed to encourage (page 127-8).
More in Chang's chapter about finding that delicate balance between rewarding innovation through patents but avoiding a "hazardous terrain of interlocking patents" that kicks away, after others have climbed it, the development ladder for developing nations to acquire or use the innovations.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


This 2007 Christian Science Monitor piece by Michael Birnbaum about Mason Whitlock, one of the last original typewriter repairmen (he started repairing typewriters in 1930 when Herbert Hoover was president and the Empire State Building was under construction) makes a nice prelude to Jessica Bruder's piece in the NYTimes about a growing movement of digital bobos' fascinated with typewriters and the growing culture/market around reviving them. Excerpt:
Why celebrate the humble typewriter? Devotees have many reasons.... Typewriters are good at only one thing: putting words on paper. “If I’m on a computer, there’s no way I can concentrate on just writing, said Jon Roth, 23, a journalist who is writing a book on typewriters. “I’ll be checking my e-mail, my Twitter.” When he uses a typewriter, Mr. Roth said: “I can sit down and I know I’m writing. It sounds like I’m writing.” And there’s something else about typewriters. In more than a dozen interviews, young typewriter aficionados raised a common theme. Though they grew up on computers, they enjoy prying at the seams of digital culture. Like urban beekeepers, hip knitters and other icons of the D.I.Y. renaissance, they appreciate tangibility, the object-ness of things. They chafe against digital doctrines that identify human “progress” as a ceaseless march toward greater efficiency, the search for a frictionless machine.
The part of the article where Bruder writes that many of the younger typewriter users have "the old technology rest[...] comfortably beside the new," she might as well be talking about the guys behind this new awesome line of usbtypewriters:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Africa: Gaming Immersion Universal

Looking at the rapt faces of the Soweto children in the CNN report reminded us of British photographer Robbie Cooper's 2008 project, Immersion, (NYT slideshow here), wherein a camera hidden behind a glass reflecting the video game captures the rapt attention of the children as they played.

Yeah, we all share a common humanity. How about our humanity feels all that more shared and common in the child-like immersion engendered by a video game.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Africa: Women and Mobile Phones

Our belated International Womens' Day entry - the mWomen project.

Over at the Ericsson site,  GSMA mWomen Programme Director, Trina DasGupta, argues that women in developing countries are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone = 300 million women without access = $13 billion missed market opportunity!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Africa: Debunking the Humanity Came "Out of Africa" Theory

With new findings giving more credence to multiregional theory of human evolution--i.e. a gradualism theory that says evolution takes place over wide areas under natural selection and whenever there is a new feature that's an advantage it spreads among the species, an alternative to the homo erectus coming out of Africa with evolutionary advantages that helped it replace other species--above, science blogger Razib Khan talks to an early skeptic of the humans came "out of Africa" hypothesis, University of Michigan paleoanthropologist Milford Wolpoff. Below is a clip from Nova's "Last Human Standing" documentary, based on the "Out of Africa" theory and provides some more backstory and illustration of the homo erectus migration out of Africa to other parts of the world:

Friday, December 24, 2010


A fascinating look at the Wikileaks backstory + back in October, Assange shows up (around 5 minute mark) to drop some rhymes on an Australian web show called Rap News:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DRC/South Africa: Nuclear Programs

Excerpt from a U.S diplomatic cable (published December 19th) assessing security at the Kinshasa Nuclear Research Center (CREN-K), which houses the DRC's two nuclear reactors:
While neither the Triga I or Triga II reactors function, CREN-K's nuclear scientists continue to work. They conduct agricultural research (such as irradiating and mutating corn), study nuclear medicine, produce isotopes, analyze and identify neutron material, study radiography and teach University of Kinshasa students physics and nuclear science...Professor Lumu, who runs the facility, told Emboffs he wants to restart the nuclear reactor. Lumu has been lobbying the international community to provide the necessary funds and technology to do this. Lumu said he plans to use the reactor to study x-ray detraction, radiology, agronomy, gamma irradiation, nuclear medicine, environmental science and radiation protection...Because CREN-K's security is poor, it is relatively easy for someone to break into the nuclear reactor building or the nuclear waste storage building and steal rods or nuclear waste, with no greater tool than a lock cutter. It would also be feasible to pay a CREN-K employee to steal nuclear material. It is imperative that the international community find a way to help better secure the facility, even if GDRC remains unwilling to give up its fuel rods. Priority funding needs are new fencing, proper nuclear waste storage and disposal and security training.
Still on nuclear research, AlJazeera posted a few days ago a look at South Africa's scientists--SA's one of the world's biggest suppliers of medical isotopes--using technology from the country's apartheid era nuclear weapons programme to now pioneer the use of extracting molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) from low-enriched (LEU), rather than highly-enriched, uranium. According to a Dec 9th Homeland Security News wire, "The United States has just taken delivery of the first shipment of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) made from LEU. It was made by the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation at its Safari-1 reactor at Pelindaba":

Friday, December 17, 2010


Catch up with the Google demo slam submissions/promos. It's never about the technology. Rather it's about the many ways people come up with to use it to do whatever.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Africa: "Why Haven't We Seen More Disruptive, Important Tech Companies Coming Out Of the Emerging World?"

Tim Wu (Columbia Law School) thinks these "emerging world" telcom markets aren't really free yet + their AT&Ts or incumbent carriers haven't yet been dismantled like we saw in the U.S' in the 80s, hence leveling the field and freeing up ICT innovation. Sarah Lacy (TechCruch) points the finger at the nature of the Silicon Valley venture capital/funding eco-system.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


TAT's Open Innovation experiment shows the future of screen technology by 2014 with stretchable screens, transparent screens and e-ink displays... and McCloud's Understanding Comics still on our bedside tables? 8 years on, our Steven Speilberg inspired Minority Report-future is already stuff pushing a walking stick:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Africa/India: The Myth of Scaling When it Comes to ICT4D

So much aid money to burn in the face of the intractable nature of human development problems seems to drive the hunger for a panacea for, or for one or two magic bullets to the dome of, development, hence building myths and wrong expectations around development solutions - i.e information and communication technologies. Former Microsoft director of research, India, Kentaro Toyama, talks above at TEDX Tokyo about misconceptions about technology's abilities and the myth that by scaling technology for development, we can solve complex global problems. Over at the Boston Review's "Can Technology End Poverty?" forum, he writes:
If I were to summarize everything I learned through research in ICT4D, it would be this: technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. If you have a foundation of competent, well-intentioned people, then the appropriate technology can amplify their capacity and lead to amazing achievements. But, in circumstances with negative human intent, as in the case of corrupt government bureaucrats, or minimal capacity, as in the case of people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around. The myth of scale is the religion of telecenter proponents, who believe that bringing the Internet into villages is enough to transform them. Technology is a magnifier in that its impact is multiplicative, not additive, with regard to social change. In the developed world, there is a tendency to see the Internet and other technologies as necessarily additive, inherent contributors of positive value. But their beneficial contributions are contingent on an absorptive capacity among users that is often missing in the developing world. Technology has positive effects only to the extent that people are willing and able to use it positively. The challenge of international development is that, whatever the potential of poor communities, well-intentioned capability is in scarce supply and technology cannot make up for its deficiency.
A formidable array of respondents - everyone from One Lap top per Child's Nicholas Negroponte to FP's Net Effect Evgeny Morozov.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Africa: T'Challa, Cont'd

When comparing the Black Panther "welcome to wakanda" preview (above) from the soon to debut New Avengers animated series to the Reginald Hudlin/ Denys Cowan Black Panther BET series, the wise folks over at blacksuperherofan and shadow & act seem to be caught in a saturday morning cartoon time warp. C'mon guys. Motion comics and pitiful distribution aside, the BET series still kicked ass. Even if just for its stilted speeches and wishful pan-Africanist politics :-)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Brazil/ Africa: Chasing Cerrados

Back in August, the Economist put up a kick ass article on how Brazil's Agricultural Research Corporation/ Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA)--the world’s leading tropical-research institution--turned the cerrado--Brazil's once upon a time nutrient poor back lands--green. In the article, one of the things EMBRAPA did to achieve that was:
Embrapa went to Africa and brought back a grass called brachiaria. Patient crossbreeding created a variety, called braquiarinha in Brazil, which produced 20-25 tonnes of grass feed per hectare, many times what the native cerrado grass produces and three times the yield in Africa. That meant parts of the cerrado could be turned into pasture, making possible the enormous expansion of Brazil’s beef herd. Thirty years ago it took Brazil four years to raise a bull for slaughter. Now the average time is 18-20 months.
Below, EMBRAPA's Jose Bellini from EMBRAPA's Accra office, introducing Brazil-Africa agriculture cooperation in technology development and capacity building at at a CGIAR meeting in Addis Ababa, back in August.

The Economist then asks...can "...the miracle of the cerrado be exported, especially to Africa, where the good intentions of outsiders have so often shriveled and died?" In response, it clarifies the difference btw a systemic versus magic-bullet approach to the problem:
Brazil’s agricultural miracle did not happen through a simple technological fix. No magic bullet accounts for it—not even the tropical soyabean, which comes closest. Rather, Embrapa’s was a “system approach”, as its scientists call it: all the interventions worked together. Improving the soil and the new tropical soyabeans were both needed for farming the cerrado; the two together also made possible the changes in farm techniques which have boosted yields further. Systems are much harder to export than a simple fix. “We went to the US and brought back the whole package [of cutting-edge agriculture in the 1970s],” says Dr Crestana. “That didn’t work and it took us 30 years to create our own. Perhaps Africans will come to Brazil and take back the package from us. Africa is changing. Perhaps it won’t take them so long. We’ll see.” If we see anything like what happened in Brazil itself, feeding the world in 2050 will not look like the uphill struggle it appears to be now.
Sustainable agricultural development talks a lot about empowering the small farmer. In the case of Brazil, a commenter observed:
Brazil knows that small farmers cannot manage the challenges of credit, technology and marketing. In the northeast the new generation of irrigation projects is experimenting with a model of reverse concessions, with the primary weight in the bidding process going to ways in which the "anchor enterprise" incorporates small farmers in the productive chain in about 30% of the area being concessioned. This is another creative way Brazilian agriculture is attempting to charter new territory.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Africa: Humanitarian Design Imperialism?

This blog has been covering the idea-- and examples--of humanitarian design. Over at the Design blog, Bruce Nussbaum wonders if all the humanitarian designs by the developed world with the less developed world in mind, amounts to a new imperialism:
So where are we with humanitarian design? I know almost all of my Gen Y students want to do it because their value system is into doing good globally. Young designers in consultancies and corporations want to do humanitarian design for the same reason. But should we take a moment now that the movement is gathering speed to ask whether or not American and European designers are collaborating with the right partners, learning from the best local people, and being as sensitive as they might to the colonial legacies of the countries they want to do good in. Do designers need to better see themselves through the eyes of the local professional and business classes who believe their countries are rising as the U.S. and Europe fall and wonder who, in the end, has the right answers? Might Indian, Brazilian and African designers have important design lessons to teach Western designers? And finally, one last question: why are we only doing humanitarian design in Asia and Africa and not Native American reservations or rural areas, where standards of education, water and health match the very worst overseas?
Looks like the folks behind Ghana Think Tank saw this coming.


The future of the magazine? It packages what your social networks share and filter your way. Gawker flips:
Flipboard mines your Twitter and Facebook friends for interesting articles and videos to show in a swipe-friendly magazine format. It also takes mundane status updates from your friends and turns them almost into magazine articles, with blown-up pictures (where possible) and headlines... what's intriguing about Flipboard is the message implicit in the product: News today is more and more about sharing and less and less about broadcasting, and even a device as inventive and popular as the iPad isn't going to reverse that trend.
And if this becomes the preferred approach to laying out content for the Ipad, then it's easy to project a magazine future where everyone is reading a form of blog or writing for one.

Friday, April 2, 2010


wow! Hmm. Ipad + magazine content in sequence rather than in parallel  = A blog?


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