All posts by emiliamaj

African WebMuses

“African WebMuses” presents portraits of women that our team met during a journey in November 2013. We wanted to show powerful females from the IT industry, working as programmers, teachers, tech events organizers and managers supporting technology development. It was a great pleasure to meet and learn from all of you. Martha Chumo, Julliet Zoe Wanyiri, Jessica Colaco, Miriam Wambui, Jamie Mayombwe, Akaliza Keza Gara, Clarisse Iribagiza, Carolyne Ekyarisiima, Fatma Meawad – thank you for being an inspiration!

The movie was made by WebMuses and AfricaHackTrip, with financial support of Women’s WorldWide Web and WMIAfrica. Thank you! Asante!

African WebMuses from WebMuses on Vimeo.

How I discovered Africa #2

AfricaHackTrip brought so many new experiences and gave me an entirely different perspective of technology scene. Even though I only discovered a small part of the African world, I feel like sharing it with friends and fellows from the European tech community. In the last post, I summed up my thoughts about the environment and technology – now I’m adding a few more paragraphs. Enjoy!

Products
Africa undoubtedly needs technology as much as every other continent. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to solve society’s problems. Of course, it won’t abolish hunger, corruption, or the absence of electricity or water – but it is able to reduce their impact and offer at least short-term solutions. I was impressed by community and government awareness regarding the primary problems and their focus on solving them.

A majority of projects are directed at these social concerns and are supported by government organizations, European/American base foundations or NGOs. The other side of the story is there are not enough commercial products that would have a big influence on the economy and bring more independent national solutions.

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Some of the most memorable projects:
M-FarmBRCKWebDeskGreen FoundationAfrican StatesLight Up Nigeria

An additional but unmissable fact is: Africa loves PhP. And PhP loves Africa. The language speaks in every software product and this likely won’t change in the near future.

Devices
I’ve never encountered so many Windows-based computers in my life! It’s impossible to come across Apple devices, which is more than obviously due to cost. But a general absence of Linux or Ubuntu systems (which was built in Africa, with Africa in mind) is more than surprising. Computers are mostly second-hand, so it’s common to see broken screens or button-less keyboards. Systems infected with viruses and illegal software (btw Uganda doesn’t have any copyright laws established yet) are prevalent as well. Africa is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, so phones are the main communication device there. The most visible firms were Huawei, Konka, Tecno and Nokia. The little kiosks or even individuals on the street selling ONLY air time or internet bundles are everywhere.*

africahacktrip_monk4

Design
Simply put, there is no design there yet. I met only a few professional designers, but many event attendees emphasized their interest in the particular field. Honestly, I didn’t see any great usability or graphic stuff being developed. To make it clear: I don’t mean American and Western European-based design, but design dedicated to the African user, focusing on their specific needs and esthetic. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. As African technology is fresh, it is therefore focused on basic needs such as appropriate operation – if it works, it’s good enough :) However, entrepreneurs are aware of the power of design. What prevents them from more focus on usability and beauty in their products are: financial issues (that’s why developers there are often simultaneously designers) and a deficiency of experienced employees. Well, I see a big opportunity for this profession there!

As I said, these are my private impressions, based only on a crazy 35-day trip. Probably I didn’t notice everything and didn’t dig up all the information. That’s why I’m sure about one thing: I definitely want to go back to Africa and observe the real changes that should happen in subsequent years. Even if I don’t like or don’t agree with some of the local ideas or policies, I admire the way of living and the solutions that develop from it. The fact is, a place so diverse and full of contradictions attracts me and discourages me the same time. AfricaHackTrip allowed me to understand the continent better, so next time I won’t come there as silly or naive.

 

* popular tips:
Kenya – you can buy a Safaricom one-day bundle to use social media for only for 10KSH = 0.09 EUR!
Uganda – you can use Facebook Zero for free, everywhere, everytime…errr, sounds ominous but the topic of net neutrality won’t be discussed for now :/

How I discovered Africa #1

Two weeks ago, one of the most influential events in my life came to an end.  I visited four African countries during five weeks with a group of nine curious developers and designers. It would involve lots of explanations to describe how the trip actually was, so it will be easier to say what the trip for sure was not.

  • it wasn’t a business trip – we had neither a commercial purpose nor a business interest in the entire idea.
  • it wasn’t a support action – we had no ambitions to teach anyone; the goal was to get to know the local people and find out what solutions and tools they use.
  • it wasn’t a holiday – it was a super-intense time of dealing with an AHT project, the backlog of work at home and private struggles with the unknown African environment.

 

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I need to admit one thing – I had no knowledge about African reality before the trip. On one hand, this was intentional (similar to the fact that I don’t read reviews before going to the cinema), but also because of time and the lack of easy-to-find information.

It turned out to have positive effects. Being silly and naive helps absorb the reality much more intensively. After living under the constant influence of the American and European continents, Africa appeared to be a distinct world with particular rules, needs and corresponding solutions. I met highly talented people, heard so many inspiring stories and places that charmed me with their innovation. The expedition gave me many personal experiences as well as common knowledge that is worth knowing. A very select summary is presented below:

 

Environment
The first aspect I experienced was a big gap between the average African life and the technology environment. I met modern and actively-operating places as hubs and coworking spaces. On the other hand, what I saw initially were countless piles of rubbish, enormous holes in the roads, lack of sidewalks, poor people and a slow internet connection. Even if african tech community is struggling with daily issues: insufficient infrastructure, lack of qualified people or commercial opportunities, it develops very mature projects (e.g. work of Ushahidi or HeHe Ltd.). Of course, I observe this situation from my personal perspective. I would say the differences in life and society are not that huge and visible in Poland.

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Technology
The lesson I learned – make technology as simple as possible and adjust to the infrastructure you have. I’m big fan of the mobile payment solution M-Pesa that seems like the easiest payment system in the world. Still asking the question: why don’t we have this in Europe? I love the Ping App as a answer to the Westgate terrorist attack. It’s an extremely simple and useful tool that helps people to connect to their families and friends in case of disasters or crimes. The development team made sure that it is accessible to as many people as possible via smartphones, simple phones or desktop computers.

Almost all the valuable projects in Africa are based on sms and offline solutions because there is actually a possibility to make this technology affordable for average person. What we can NOT do is compare the technology in Africa to Europe: these are different mediums speaking to people in diverse economic realities.

 

This is the first bunch of my personal impressions. More information – about African products, devices and design – coming soon!

Hackers love numbers

AHT_infographic

The AfricaHackTrip team got back to (more or less) serious, every-day life in Europe. Only @bumi decided to hack longer so he’s reporting news from tech Africa’s communities to the others. Appreciated!

Even though the trip has finished a week ago we’re still in the “AHT mode”. There is no longer organization, meeting, interview time – rather a reflections and recaps period. Everyone has a head full of information, memories, pictures, faces… Fact is, we visited so many cool places, met countless incredible people, took part in dozens of superb events. Believe us, we feel like that trip took at least half a year, not only 5 weeks. It’s hard to recall all circumstances and persons so number came to rescue here. Geeks love numbers. And open source icons. And a nice visualization using those :)

We wanted to shortly sum up an entire project to share our experiences, present outcome from the events and show how many things (great and not that great) happened during the journey. It’s an interesting summary for us personally but hopefully also a piece of knowledge for AHT followers.

P.S. Quiz: one of the digits is fake. Which one? Sorry guys…nothing could stop us from putting it here :)