Africa Gathering – Aftermath

Africa Gathering London is over – and it was a really great event. We (Karola, Martin & me) were only there from Friday to Sunday, but heard many interesting talks, had great discussions and met amazing people.

Our movie got great response and we were featured in many blogs including Erik Hersman’s, Ken Banks’, Mobileactive, Jürgen Eichholz’s, Putting People First, Cian O’Donovan’s and Alasdair Munn’s as far as I noticed so far.

Below you can read our sum-up of the presentations, Karola’s photos from Africa Gathering can be viewed here.

Thanks to Ed Scotcher for organizing the whole thing and all the participants for making this event an unforgettable experince. It’s really inspiring what projects there are out there – I hope my notes gave a small impression of them.

Next Africa Gathering will take place in Brussels in September – and I’m sure we will attend it again, with new projects, more members and the same enthusiasm.

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Africa Gathering – Aftermath
was published on 27.04.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Afrca Gathering – Panel discussion

Notes from the talks of Africa Gathering taking place in London, England on 25 April.


Panel Discussion
Juliana Rotich, A J Munn, Erik Hersman, Matthew Ncube

Erik Hersman – White African, Afrigadget, Ushahidi; USA, Sudan, Kenya

Alisdair Munn – tcg The Communication Group, trying to enhance understandning social media tools; Zimbabwe, UK

Juliana Rotich – Ushahidi, Global Voices Online; USA, Kenya

Matthew Ncube – Twitter, Mathematics; Zimbabwe, UK (thanks Jürgen)

Out of the technologies we’re seen today? Are there barriers to achieve these projects we’re seen?

Erik: There’s probably a lot more going on as we see. One of the problems – a lot of these projects have been running from outside, it would be great to have more projects run by Africans.

Alisdair: The gap between we want to do, the costs is big – Africa knows best what’s good for Africa. We should have the understanding that they are able to do what they want on their own. There needs to be more participation.

Matthew: Information is not really shared. It is difficult to find out about innovative ideas in many parts of Africa. But there some big and strong ideas we are yet to find out about. It’s not the dark continent, there’s a lot of things going on we don’t know about.

Juliana: Somebody’s probably asking – why is it called Africa Gathering, why is it happening in the UK? If you want to see what African ideas look like – go to a BarCamp on the continent, there are many taking place.

Q: What technologies do yo ufind most useful to stay connected with Africa?

Alisdair: Skype, email, mobile phones, but the way I connect is different. Mobile phone has huge power.

Erik: 75% of developers of own open source main tool are Africans. Main tool to stay connected: Skype channel. Also blogs themselves. Power of blogs is immense, mobile phones of course as well.

Q: Can Africa’s economy growth of the next 5 years base on technology?

Matthew: Education is vital. A lot of young Africans have to be connected to the rest of the world, curricula all over the world have to influence education in Africa as well. Sometimes textbooks are outdated as information is changing so fast – education in Africa has to take that in consideration.

Alisdair: Technology has a role to play, use is relevant. But it has to be lead through people-centered research. Scaling things up makes them often los relevance. A lot has to be done to understand the differnet cultures & areas.

Erik: There’s many technologies for different people, a lot of tools, not the one big technology. In Africa there’s a lot of inefficiencies.

Q: What are the examples that resonate with you the most when taking mobile technology in account? What’s the next big thing?

Matthew: I think we’re quite fortunate to live in a cabled world in the UK. That technology doesn’t exist in many parts of Africa. Next big step will come in the form of WiMax. Reaching a wider audience at faster speed.

Alisdair: In Africa there’s a lot of wasted intelligence. One interesting idea: geographically relevant search, comission based microconversation platforms, there’s a lot of ways social media can be relevant.

Erik: The ability to make payments has large potentials.

Q: How far are we from direct money transfer – e.g. sending airtime internationally? How long will that last?

Q: An observation – make ICT women friendly, don’t exclude them by making ICT too masculine. Women have a great deal of inluence, especially in rural areas.

Q: We’re prototyping in Sudan with a cross border mobile based cash solution.

Q: WiMax will be very interesting also for mobile payment.

Q: Appropedia – Wiki for collaborative hardware devices.

Q: Comment – hear a lot about importance of good governance, a lot of it is about empowering poeple. Next big thing – using technology into the hands of more and more people so they have a voice.

Erik: That was what Ushahidi was built for. I think there will be more of that stuff happen.

Alisdair: Things are changing – technology enables people to be less reliant on countries – they will become more accountable.

Q: There was a mobile conference just last week, lots of interesting discussions.

Q: We have to get African artists to take part in development as well.

Juliana: list of Africa-related conferences on Whiteafrican

Ed: Is Ushahidid purely open source & free? What’s your business model?

Erik: Ushahidi will continue to be open source for all the time. Team gets money by customizing the project for companies.

Ed: What is your dream system concerning m-payment?

Juliana: An open API is vital – extending the functionality. Africa Liberation Card – coming out of Ghana.

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Afrca Gathering – Panel discussion
was published on 25.04.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Africa Gathering – Talks 4

Notes from the talks of Africa Gathering taking place in London, England on 25 April.


Martin Konzett – ICT4D Austria
ICT4D and grass roots approaches in Africa

Martin explains who we are and what we do

This is the trailer of our movie project

Our projects can be accessed in wiki project page.


Dave Mason – IntraHealthOPEN
How downloading a song can open the future of a continent

Dave comes from the open source community

IntraHealth uses open source – successful implementation of a HR system

Open source

  • guarantees that the user has the right to copy, redistribute, use
  • GPL licenses are actually protection licenses – the content is protected to remain free

In the health sector things like that can also happen

  • Idea: let’s start a space where health care workers can share ideas & experiences
  • Solve big health problems collaboratively
  • Based on open source & GPL

A bunch of musicians were asked to remix a song, provide it creative commons for people to download to donate afterwards – Nas, Peter Buck, Youssou N’Dour, …

Q & A

Experience of NGOs – have a closed attitude. What happenend in IntraHealth to take this approach?

  • NGOs are protecting their property as much as companies – with IntraHealth, people from the field asked for open source, experience with an open source translation tool was so good that it convinced many people

List of preferred open source versions that people use would be useful.

Music project is a campaign?

  • Yes – to raise money & awareness


Jürgen Eichholz

Solving everyday problems with African ingenuity

Free blog – showing people a different picture of Africa, which has more to offer than meets the eye

Different examples of “AfriGadgets” – simple innovative useful toys

Ingenuity born of necessity – people invent things because they have to

Reusing tools which are thrown away in Europe or America -> upcycling instead of recycling

Mobile hardware & applications – created by people in Africa

AfriGadget tries to make people aware of small innovative things which are not obvious on first sight

The innovative part is the creation of something that will work on a local level

Maker Faire Africa – August 13-15, 2009, Accra, Ghana

Bringing innovative, arty, ingenious people together from all over Africa

Q & A:

Who looks at the site?

  • Mostly people from the West – Europe, Asia, America

Observation: initiatives in most of the cases base on economic motivation, would they do it if they could buy the materials?

  • People would do it in a different way, they “misuse” products already – it’s not just about economic motivation. People want to take something and change it. Also people think it’s fun.

If the people didn’t have economical urges – wouldn’t come out, would it? But this applies for us as well.

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Africa Gathering – Talks 3

Notes from the talks of Africa Gathering taking place in London, England on 25 April.


Nick Short – University of London Veterinary College
How mobile technology is being used to improve veterinary services in East Africa

Healthy animals for healthy people & vice versa

Founded VetAid 70 humanitarian health works

people got mobile phones in the past 20 years

What can be done?

  • Using GPS enabled Androis phones
  • feedback location based data (disease, mortailty, vaccination, climate, status)
  • relevance to wider community


  • Push out updates into the community
  • Location based relevance – adapt to languages
  • Context sensitive
  • Podcasts and Videocasts – possible to hear and see what’s happening
  • New web 2.0 communities

Appropriate technologies & solutions for all

Q & A:

Online collaborative community – does the use of mobiles mean you don’t have to wait for landlines?

  • Mobile phone is only 160 characters,

Interacting with students on the ground – in what extent did you use also with the local knowledge?

  • It’s hard to tap the knowledge and make it available – but we try to, we learn as much from them as they from us.


Niall Winters & Kevin Walker – London Knowledge Lab
Village e-Science for Life: Participatory Design of ICT for Rural Agricultural Villages in Kenya

Knowledge Lab: partners with University of Nairobi & several English

Aim: Enable rural communities in sub-sharan Africa to use andvanced digital technology to improve agricultural practices and literacy levels

Research in Kenya – initial findings

  • many people used computers
  • few have heard of email
  • very few knew English
  • farmers need information
  • farmers and schools like to take photos to publicise their successes & problems


  • mobile resource kit for farmers & schools
  • provision of training using the devices
  • making results public

Next solution

  • Wireless sensor network to monitor humidity, …

Findings so far

  • ownership issues
  • traditional expectations / non-traditional approach
  • sustainability – business model required
  • flexibility / adaptivity

Background – research methodology:


  • western assumption
  • not appropriate for LDCs

Social studies of science

Why did the aforementioned project work?

  • Value to the community
  • Ownership and access by community
  • Potential for adaption
  • provide a role for the community in use and maintenance -> sustainability
  • no unnecessary complications

Q & A:

It’s hard to do perticipatory on the ground for people who don’t speak the langauge – we got somebody who went don there for us – “participatory design from a distance”

Which devices are there out in the field?

– Macbook, existing devices, open source software


Alex Petroff – Working Villages International
Building Pease in Eastern Congo – A Village of Hope

Often small change in Congo get overwhelmed because even if it’s a really good idea, the other problems are way too big

New approaches necessary who do not repeat the errors of the past

Focusing on widespread small-scale ownership

Adam Smith: small farmers made Britain wealthy

Congo: affected by “Africa’s First World War”

Started a project in a very poor region after the war – no technology at all available

  • Improved in agriculture, diversity of vegetables
  • Growing techniques are new

Upscaling was possible – 20 villages, 100 farmers with all different types of crops

“Grow everything you need” – the community has more commodities, no trade with foreign markets – back to autarcy

Now: Ox-program because fuel is too expensive – tractors have generally been a failure in Africa

  • biogas digester -> power supply

three new exiting technologes:

  • firewood – bad for environment; solar ovens haven’t worked -> earth ovens powered by solar power (Scheffler oven)
  • solar powered heating
  • kerosin lamps – bad for environment -> LED light bulbs

Right now – payroll of all the people working there is coming from local revenues, not anymore from the US

Q & A:

What did you do to motivate to do that?

  • Had the same question in the beginning? Bottom-up is not always working – you must have leadership & a plan. E.g. Bolivia: they get the money from the government, but they don’t have a vision what do with it. Furthermore there’s a necessity of startup capital.

Scale & land ownership – who owns the land the project is taking place?

  • In the beginning it was a company town model. Over time the farmers get land & a house free of charge. the project takes place on small farms – and the land is owned by the community, they can’t sell it, they can just give it back to the community.


Simon Berry –
An amazing story that shows how the convening power of the internet can turn the head of a global brand… and get them to act.

Video: You can buy coke everywhere – but 1 in 5 children dies from dehydration & diarrhea before the age of 5 – so we want to use Cola’s distribution network to get these children access to medication

Everywhere you are – you will be eventually asked if you want a Coca Cola

In the same area 25% children die before turning 5 years of very basic diseases

Idea: Let’s deliver oral rehydration sources (ORS) via Coke crates and also spread the information about these devices

Launched different campaigns on different platforms to gather people for that cause

Facebook groups

  • started to grow
  • within three days unknown people started to join

IPM blog – users can suggest items to go on the program on Saturday on BBC

Getting back to Facebook and making people call Coca Cola

Met with head of Corporate Social Responsibility of Coca Cola

  • 2 results: they were going to do some purely economic research
  • how about a progress report on the blog?
  • Creating three blog posts


  • FlickR groups was created
  • Blog was created – platform for discussion, fertile place
  • Impressive social media response
  • Application to Goole 10 to the 100
  • Video was created by community in 4 days

Anyone with an idea can do it

Trip to Tanzania with Cola people to review the situation

  • own prototype for medicine box “aidpod”
  • starting discussions with distributors about the prototype
  • good response

In the mean time a lot of support by traditional organizations & the community is still growing

Just last Tuesday: Coca Cola said YES to trial of the prototype, at least they are planning for that

to be continued …

Join the Facebook group!

Q & A:

Exisitning channels should be used for distribution – isn’t Coca Cola getting a lot of publicity too? What for do they need Coca Cola anyway?

  • Facts are: 20 years ago you could get Coca Cola anywhere – in the mean time we have failed to address the issue of child mortality. Frankly I don’t mind if Coce sells more, if the issue of child mortality is resolved.

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Africa Gathering – Talks 3
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Africa Gathering – Talks 2

Notes from the talks of Africa Gathering taking place in London, England on 25 April.


Ken / FrontlineSMS o/
Mobiles in Africa – How technoloy is driving social and economic change
Mobile technology empowering grassroots NGOs – FrontlineSMS and field-based case studies

25 years in IT, projects in 8 different African countries

Pattern emerging: Mobile adoptionby users & NGOs is driven by formal & informal conomic activity

  • shops & people just putting up businesses
  • exciting activities
  • people selling airtime, fixing phones, charging phones

impact of mobile phones is as revolutionary as roads, railways…

the majority of reports fail to specifiy which applications are used or how other NGOs can start running similar projects


  • easy solution for NGOs to use mobiles, not necessary to have internet
  • it provides a communication platform, not a tool for something particular
  • it empowers innovators and organizers to do what they desire to
  • basically just allows you to send and receive messages
  • examples: Nigerian election monitors, security alerts to fieldworkers in Afghanistan, spreading news in Iraq, rural healthcare network in Malawi, …

Online comunity for FrontlineSMS is about 470 people now – talking to each other, giving adivce

Why it works

  • Local ownership
  • Local Awareness
  • Free & works on available hardware
  • Replicably & scalable
  • No need for internet
  • Easy to ues
  • Responds to their needs

Logo – o/ – signifies empowerment

Lowering the bar

  • creating versions which work from USB
  • Mobile applications
  • MMS version

Tag line – how can we help the disadvantaged

Q & A:

Technology – is it quite basic? Just sending messages between phones? How to get the numbers? Free SMS?

  • I don’t deal with that – the users do, they work out how to deal with it best

How can you monitor that? How does this SMS response work?

  • software is keyword-driven – can be posted to a website, sent be email, automatic response, call some totally different tool

What do you think about scaling? Is it possible?

  • It’s a big issue – how to scale stuff? Scaling can work horizontally – not one central big implementation but many small ones


How we’re creating access to basic phone services for more than a billion people earning less than two dollars a day
Connect the Unconnected

Working in telecommunication for 20 years – with the mobile operators (Zain, Vadacom, Safaricom, …)

Current mission: connecting the unconnected

What does Movirtu do

  • Research & dissemination of information how people use phones at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP)
  • Innovative infrastructure for mobile operators
  • consumer services

Who are the unconnected? People below $2 income a day

  • 3.5 bn people not connected
  • without phone
  • but still using phone services
  • spend 5-20% income on mobile services

Barriers to entry

  • handset prices
  • airtime prices
  • sim card costs for operators

Ways to get to a phone – shared phones

  • public phones, person to person sharing
  • nearly as many shared phone users as regular users

The problem

  • Identities – shared phone users don’t have an “identity”, they’re hard to get hold of
  • creating an identity for these people
  • e.g. email exists behind the hardware – mobile numbers depend on the hardware
  • why not take the phone number away? – put the phone number back in the network & use phone as network clients
  • you can do everything as if had a phone – but you don’t need to buy one
  • buy airtime for your account – get a free number, access your account with any phone


  • community phone – people using their own number
  • brand: sending free phone numbers to people

Q & A:

We can’t do projects without the operator; to get this working is quite complicated

There is a system around called Pigeon – SW based solution which does basically something similar. Why is it necessary to get so deep into the protocols?

  • It’s necessary to be able to make outbound calls as well; we’re faking a whole SIM-card, because of all the security our there it has to be quite complex


Sian Townsend – Google
Conducting mobile user experience research in sub-Saharan Africa

At ICTD in Quatar: a lot of questions what is Google doing there – so this information should be shared in this presentations

Displaying asked questions by people via sms about diseases, agriculture, …

What is User Experienced Research?

  • deals with all aspects of user interaction
  • user experience, feasibility engineering, product management
  • what do people actually need?
  • about the whole experience of a user – how it looks, how it makes you feel, make it easy to use

2 tyes of research: tactical (optimising) and strategic (innovative)

Tactical: trying to find out what people exactly do when using a devices, where they get confused, …

Strategic: do people have unmet needs, understanding existing patterns, …

What is Google doing in Africa?

  • Offices in Kenya, Egypt, Unganda, Senegal
  • Launching search in African languages – 38 African languges
  • Google SMS in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria – keyword based
  • Google Maps in several countries – user generated content
  • Research awards for students, literacy project, gadget competition social stuff Google does with 1% of the profit

A rising tide lifts all boats – any success is good – snowball effect

Mobile is the technology to work with currently – but ecosystem is complex (operators, …)

What new products to build? How do you know you want something if you don’t know it?

  • Field studies – using FrontlineSMS
  • collecting data, mapping them – user journeys
  • what happens when you first give people the opportunity to use a technology?
  • creating a lot of pilotes – many iterations

Q & A:

The sms-questions/answers were translated to English

What about the 100 best ideas?

  • Delayed, coming back to that

Why do people trust the answers of Google?

  • The operators brand helps the applications behind that (trust in the operator)

How are maps verified?

  • The satellite images can be used to trace the streets

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Africa Gathering – Talks 2
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Africa Gathering – Talks 1

Notes from the talks of Africa Gathering taking place in London, England on 25 April.


David Hollow – ICT4D Collective / RHUL
The $100 laptop in Ethiopia – A case study

ICT for Education:

How to assess impact? How can ICTs make an impact in such extreme poverty?

Why impact assessment?

  • How do we know if our interventions have any benefit?
  • Variety of approaches
  • Operate in partnerships with people there
  • Engaging in ICT 4 Education projects, but then stepping back and evaluating what was happening

XO laptop in Ethiopia

  • What’s the educational challenges? Far not all children go to school, lack of textbooks & learning materials
  • 5000 XO laptops in use
  • Impact of the textbook reader on the XO laptop – monitoring and evaluation

Lessons learned:

  • content: educational content would be useful
  • teacher training: students are more advanced then the teachers – more training necessary
  • integration: laptop is not integrated in courses
  • frustrations: it’s not used for studying – a tyo rather than a tool; teachers have problems too, they don’t know how to use the laptops

what to do?

  • text book reader: options to provide a bridge, pupils can use  them & teachers see the benefits
  • technical challenges: mesh network & translating all the documents from textbooks to virtual
  • teacher training (pedagogical & technical)
  • plan for integration
  • more communication to parents & community
  • adjusting focus on secondary students
  • government shifted their approach from authoritatian to a more collaborative one

wider application

  • partnership requires transparency, expectations, communication
  • there are unanticipated outcomes

reflection on own projects

  • bring in self reflection
  • do we asses the impact of what we’re doing?
  • are beneficiaries engaged in decision making processes?
  • what methods are used?
  • are we conscious of power & aspiration in our projects?
  • do we see ICT as our tool and development our objective?


difference between children and teachers?

  • children were more willing to learn

what did children actually learn?

  • main thing: how to take photographs, how to play tunes

development of Akili? in Etheopia?

  • was developed in Switzerland

was there anybody responsible for translating the textbooks?

  • large team of people

why secondary education rather than teachers?

  • because of the volume of students – the sums involved

trying to connect to academics – you chose to work for a top-down orgaization, what could we have done better to make you work with a bottom up organization?

  • there are many projects I wanted like to work with, rationale was to engage with a large scale project to better assess impact


Nkeiru Joe – International Law department, Virije University Brussel
Staying connected to Africa: an ecosystem approach as a response to the “solutions temptation”

Law, Africa & development – international law can achieve linkage

There are myriad problems when looking at international law

Solutions temptations – always going for the simplest solutions

Connecting everybody to technology – is it really great?

Submarine cabels provide Africa with big amounts of information – the issues connecting the cabels (connecting Africa with other areas) cannot be addressed within the continent alone

Has to be addressed by international law – there need to be standards in place

Who is liable for damage of the cables? Who protects the cables? A system in international law has to be put in place

UN-convention is in place – there has to be influence influence to hold the parties accountable

Norms and law can create the framework to include everyone in ICT4D

Why solutions need law?

  • There need to be capable agencies in place
  • Solutions can only come from within – local people have to be incorporated
  • International law = “watchful parents”

without addressing issues structurally = digging deep, sustainable solutions can’t be found

Q & A:

are landlocked states also addressed by the law of sea?

  • yes, they are

landlocked – geographically disadvanteged states – is there any pressure on coast states to share infrastructure with these states?

  • yes, e.g. Zimbabwe can lay a cable to the sea through any country as long as they are not causing any damage

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Africa Gathering – Talks 1
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