Airtime makes the world go around

Recently I wrote a short piece about the emerging mobile banking systems in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. The article was published in the bi-monthly Swedish eco- and lifestyle mag Camino. This issue’s theme was about “smarter money”, and I mention here the advantages of simple SMS-based services like the Z-Pesa, a credit-transfer service from Zantel, one of the main telecom operators in Tanzania/Zanzibar. You can send ‘hard cash’ if you get a Z-pesa account, but more common is to send SMS with ‘airtime’ (cellphone credits) to anybody with a cellphone (requires no fixed account).

The text is also about how the fast growth of mobile technology are changing the economical infrastructure in these countries, the difference it has made for people and the myriad of small businesses which has been generated around mobile phones. Also worth noting is, the embarassing fact that these simple yet great services still are not available in Sweden or Europe (at least not to my knowledge).

Check out the piece here (yes, in Swedish, but neat pictures to look at), or even better, get your own, shiny copy straight from Camino.

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Airtime makes the world go around
was published on 16.03.2009 by Anders Bolin. It files under global
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Swahili course – lesson 1 & 2

In summer 2009, Daniela Wolf and I will offer a comprehensive IT course (Zanzibits Support) in cooperation with Zanzibits in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. In preparation for the course and the stay in Zanzibar we attend a weekly, private Swahili course lead by Elisabeth Zenz who has lived there for over 1 year.

The course is mainly intended to teach us the neccessary skills to be able to get along in everyday life, do small talk, go shopping, etc. Also, Elisabeth has set herself a target to teach us as many cool slang words as possible so we can impress locals 🙂

In the first lesson on March 4th we were taught pronounciation, how to greet and say goodbye, how to do basic smalltalk (habari za …), the numbers from 1 – 1000 and the most important persons (mimi = i, wewe = you, kaka = brother, dada = sister, mama = mother, papa = father). During the course we read some small talk conversations in groups of two to improve our articulation.

In the second lesson on March 12th we read some more advanced dialogues in groups of 2 and afterwards analyzed the vocabulary and tenses used. We learned the three most important tenses (present tense, past tense, future tense) which should suffice. After we had learned some more places you can go to (njumbani = home, kazini = to work, shuleni = to school, sokoni = to the marketplace) we simulated shopping at the marketplace:
how to order food (mchate = food, mkate = bread, yai = egg, matunda = fruits, ndizi = bananas), ask for the price, complain that the price is too high (which we were told to do always) and how to bargain.

As soon as we are satisfied with our articulation we are going to record complete dialogues in groups of two and offer these audio files under a Creative Commons licence online. Also, Daniela and I are collaboratively keeping course notes and a vocabulary on Google Docs which we will publish as well at the end of our course in June.

From now on, there will be a blog post about our progress every week.

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Swahili course – lesson 1 & 2
was published on 12.03.2009 by admin. It files under east africa, global
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UZI Africa update

A little update about our mobile phone documentary from Africa and Zanzibar. A first draft is now finished and can be read in its full context on our webpage. I have outlined the main ideas we want to express, what we have done so far, the characters ans stories we like to present and more. The picture below shows the sewing machine of the local tailor on Hurumzi street who produced 200 awesome DVD covers made out of recycled Kangas (and by the way, we found out that uzi in swahili means “thread”). Next step in the post-production process is the making of a trailer. Stay tuned & read all about it!

Jambiani was the first village in Tanzania that started with seaweed farming. The practice began almost 20 years ago and the harvesting was and is still done almost exclusively by women. This was once one of the only ways for women to earn their own money, giving them a greater independence in the household. Jambiani is considered a good place to farm since the weather and environmental conditions are optimal. Seaweed can be used for the Pharma industry, cosmetics, plastics and a variety of other uses. Sadly, the profit does not make it back to the community. Two main companies run the show, a Tanzanian state and a Japanese company.

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We arranged for a private course in Swahili at the Jambiani Primary school. The school is located in the exact center of the village and teaches about 1.200 pupils. For one month, three days per week, we attended school classes; sitting on benches made for 7-year old kids. Mr Faridi was our tutor and mentor- he unlocked the code of Swahili for us. Mr. Faridi even arranged a special class about mobile phones for us. We met and discussed with other teachers as well regarding their views on the possibilities and challenges of mobile phones.

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UZI Africa update
was published on 14.01.2009 by Anders Bolin. It files under sub saharan africa
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Zanzibar for sure. Stories from the field.

Due to the load of field work we have been busy with, and the lack of decent internet connection, we have not been able to post as frequently as we would have liked. So we give you here a wrap-up of the recent weeks activities so you get a glimpse of the many stories we have documented so far. Next week we will have free wi-fi in our apartment so we can also post some good shots.

We want to mention that the output of our misson is to shoot a movie and we will publish all the raw material of the Nikon D90 HD-ready video and H2 Zoom WAV audio as Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike and provide download or mail delivery service. (You should attribute “ICT4D.at” and link to https://ict4d.at)

The champion

We had a very interesting meeting with a guy called Juma Lukondya. We met him in Jambiani while we were staying at a local kitchen and he introduced himself to us as the bicycle champion of Zanzibar. It turned out that he is sponsored by the Austrian bike team Cyclopia. He is using his mobile phone to keep in contact with his family in a remote part of the mainland. He also get updates in his phone from upcoming bike competitions, it also keeps him in touch with the Austrian team. We have footage of him training on the beach, riding his bike and using his phone.

Massais at Paje Ndame

We had a very successful day meeting traditional Massais working in Paje. We interviewed Faraja who shared his experiences with mobile phones. He introduced us to his friends who were very cheerful and avid mobile users. We have lots of film material with them chatting and telling their stories and opinions of network operators. One guy was all the time dancing to his favourite mobile tune on his Nokia. Later they all gathered to play a traditional game called Bao, and all the time the phones are ringing while they are playing.

Fishermen

As the tide was good we decided to go out fishing with captain Mohamed and his crew on a traditional sailing boat. The weather was stable but as we left Jambiani there was heavy rain all time we were on the boat. Everything got wet and everybody jumped into the water to have a swim. So no mobile phone acitvity on the boat. The fishermen left the phones at home charging. As we got back to their house on the beach they started using the phones and we did some interviews while they were repairing the fish traps and the nets and peeling the fish.

Local wedding

We were invited to a local wedding ceremony. It was a very nice experience and we were allowed to catch everything on film. It started outside and there was a big gathering of families and friends of the couple. There was a lot of people taking pictures with their cellphones and also DV cameras around. We brought a gift for the bride therefore we were invited in to their house where they had already set up a scene with lightning gear and filming equipment. Afterwards we were offered traditional spicy Pilau rice dish outside. All people were sitting on the ground between the village houses together with goats and chicken and eating the food with the hands from big plates.

Sound recording

We met a cool guy in Stone Town, Akhran Mohammed. He makes his living in town as a shopkeeper but his real passion is recording songs with his friends. He showed us to the basic studio they have and we filmed them while they recorded a new song. The sound producer provides a cool beat on his  Macbook while Akhran is rehearsing a catchy lovesong. When they are finished recording the producer converts the new song into a mp3 file and transfers it via bluetooth to Akhrans mobile phone. Later Akhran plays the song for his impressed friends on the phone in town.

What else do we have?

We cover the school in Jambiani where we are having Swahili lessons. Our teacher Mr. Faridi is holding a special class about mobile phones in his secondary school class. We interviewed the teachers and got a lot of opinions about mobiles. We have a lot of night life shots here and there. most of them in local bars and people having party.

We cover Zanzibits, a Dutch project, which is a multimedia school where they teach programming and handling complex software for editing media. We have a local band called Dwumbaki. They are playing Ngoma, traditional Zanzibarian music. We cover a local kitchen where potatoes are fried and we see randomly shots of customers coming in and out. We have the Jambiani town councellor and we follow him around in his duties. We feature the seaweed women harvesting and drying seaweed.

We follow the student Muhammed when he is playing football and taking photos with his phone. We film a fundi in town repairing and hacking phones. We join an engineer which is building up a new lodge. AND we went to another wedding (!).

We want to mention that we are using a 3 year old Nokia Communicator 9300i and we share it (2 people). It is very useful to write SMS on the keyboard and manage contents in folders. it is also a great notebook where you just enter rich text, format it with RTF editor and then bluetooth it to the Macbook, transfer it to a USB stick and then post this blog 🙂 Also, people we meet love to play with it and pretend doing phonecalls with it.

That’s all for now, stay tuned.

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Zanzibar for sure. Stories from the field.
was published on 09.11.2008 by Martin Konzett. It files under sub saharan africa
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Mobile phones in rural areas of Zanzibar

I’m back to Vienna and left my colleagues Martin and Anders behind in Zanzibar, where they’re doing more interviews with people in and around Jambiani to cover the use of mobile phones in rural areas.

In towns almost everybody owns a mobile phone. This is still different in rural areas. Local people working at resorts usually have a mobile phone, since they need it for their work. Some of the people we spoke to also told us that they receive airtime from their employers. A quite impressive experience was to see Masaai performing traditional dances, still wearing their traditional dresses and living according to their cultural customs, but at the same time being on the mobile phone all the time.

Mobile phones had a huge impact in rural areas, since it is relatively easy to set up a network antenna. In contrast, Internet is still hard to find in those areas. That’s also why Martin and Anders aren’t able to post any news at the moment. They’ll report from their experiences once they’re back to Stone Town.

Antennas at the beach of Jambiani

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Mobile phones in rural areas of Zanzibar
was published on 27.10.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under east asia
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