Author Archives: mkenned1

ICT4D Professional Profile: Riyaz Bachani

The ICT4D thought leader that I profiled is Riyaz Bachani.  Mr. Bachani was educated at MIT, where he was involved with the schools IT consulting team, as well as their Network Security Team.  Upon graduation, Mr. Bachani returned to Kenya to work with Kenya Data Networks, in which he worked to design and implement the largest national wireless high-speed data network in the country.  Currently this network is being used by all major banks, ISPs and corporate offices in Kenya.  After this project, Mr. Bachani worked with Terracom Ltd, in which he managed the acquisition of the Rwandan National Telecommunications company.  Currently, Mr. Bachani is the CTO with Wananchi Group in Kenya.  In his current position he works to design and implement a cable triple play network, which provides television, internet and voice services to its users.  The service, known as Zuku, is the first of its kind in Africa.

Mr. Bachani is also a co-founder of Skunkworks, a group that works to untie ICT driven minds in Kenya.  This service works to create discussion among its members, as well as providing information about ICTs as well as opportunities and event for those interested.  Along with this, Mr. Bachani is an adviser at iHub.  iHub is located in Nairobi and provides a space and resources for technology driven individuals to experiment, conglomerate and develop new technologies.

Riyaz Bachani’s current project with the Wananchi Group is the development of a “Wazi Wi-Fi” pilot program.  In this system, a wireless network is purchased by a company or organization housed in a public area, such as a mall or airport.  Two wireless networks are set up, a private one for employees to use, and a public one for use on customers wireless devices.  A trial of the service is offered for free, after which users can purchase access on either a daily or monthly basis.  The revenue generated on selling the wi-fi then reduces the costs for the business that purchased the service.  The pilot program, located in a mall in Nairobi, has already seen great success and a large customer base.  It will be interesting to see how this develops, and learn more about the role the private market can take in ICT4D.  I have included a video in which Mr. Bachani describes the program.

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ThreatToons

Recently, the blog post Threat Geek introduced a new weekly series of comics poking fun at the various threats seen over the internet.  Threat Geek is a blog run by Fidelis Security Systems, a market leader in network security.  The first posting is of a hacker and a Viking in a bar…

Personally, I don’t really get it.  But I assume it’s making fun of a security analyst as he plays a game like World of Warcraft.

While this cartoon and the ones that are likely to follow do not directly deal with ICT4D, the ideas behind their creation could prove valuable to ICT4D start-ups.  Creating a light humorous atmosphere could encourage those interested in ICT’s to further their careers in the field.  The idea of making a more user-friendly system is also seen in the efforts of iHub in Nairobi, which works to create an enjoyable atmosphere to encourage young Kenyan techies to explore ICTs and development new technologies.  With all the importance that we in class, and those in the ICT4D field have placed on security, innovation, and all aspects of ICT’s, it is important to create an environment conducive to learning and exploration.  Cartoons making fun of the geeks, made by the geeks, that work to make the internet a better and safer place may just be a way to encourage more people to explore all that is available to them.


Lasting Effects of Social Media Protests

In a recent article written by Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon of Al-Jazeera, the question of how long the effects of protests and ideas started through social media sites will last.  The example brought up in the article is the Spanish “outraged” movement, which united under the slogan “Real Democracy Now”.  Last May tens of thousands of people organized and protested, demanding reform for better political representation.  While some changes were made in the government in response to this effort, overall little change was accomplished.  The effect of the global Occupy movement was also brought up, that at this point we can not state the full extent that the movement has changed the system, but currently few of the demands of the Occupy movement have been met.

This is contradicted with the successes seen in the Arab Spring movement that swept through the Middle East and Northern Africa this past year.  In the cases seen in Tunisia and Egypt and the like, a movement started online through Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter took to the streets and resulted in the overhaul of the governments in efforts made by the people.  This raises the question of what differentiates from online movements from truly becoming a movement or just a trend?

One statement in the article that sums this up well follows,

Online networks make contentious politics easy because they are fluid: anyone can help boost a protest by re-tweeting messages or posting a link to their Facebook friends; but this makes participation transient and short-lived, unable to deal with the long-term dynamics of the political process. Most instances of digitally-enabled mobilisations lose steam soon after they erupt, losing the momentum for political change.

This can be seen in many of the recent “movements” in the United States, with a high level of participation digitally, but with a much smaller number truly participating in the movement on the ground.  The two best examples are of the Occupy movement, with a large level of support online, but with little accomplished in the actual world.  The second is Kony2012.  From my experiences with it, the video trended for several days, with millions supporting the video with the realization that there is some horrible man terrorizing Africa.  However within just a day or two, almost all discussion of the video ended, at least among my peer group.  It will be interesting to see if the video is actually able to spawn a true movement, with people participating in raising awareness about Kony on April 20th.

Overall this article raises more questions than I am able to answer.  The most important of these is the role the social media and the internet can play in successful movements throughout the world.  Is social media a way to start ideas as in Kony? or as a way to unite those with similar ideologies such as the Arab Spring movements?  As social media and the internet continue to develop and we continue to understand it better, it will be interesting to see the changing role that it plays in our daily lives.


Open Source Grassroots ICT4D in Zambia

A recent article published by techradar.computing exposes the reader to an ICT4D upstart in Zambia, known as Macha Works.  This group, founded in 2001 by Gertjan van Stam, a Dutch engineer, was designed with the philosophy of training and employing local people wherever possible.  This is evident on their website, with the following statement, “There is consensus that the only people that can develop Africa are people from Africa itself. Macha Works puts them in the drivers seat to decide what is needed and implement solutions that work within the context of their own community.”  Macha Works is focused on a more ‘holistic’ approach to development, with projects ranging from construction of schools and medical centres, to empowering the poor to voice their opinion in which projects are truly needed.  The focus of this article though is one their work with ICT4D, mainly the branch known as LinkNet, an ISP and network service provider.  The remote sites are connected to Macha Works via satellite uplink, and the Wi Fi signal is then sent throughout the community by an antenna placed atop the water tower, with a range of 3 km.  Directional antennas are used as well to reach more distant areas.

One area that LinkNet serves are cyber cafes.  Often times these house older computers that use Linux OS.  The cyber cafes are built into the used shipping containers that aid supplies were originally delivered in, using old packing crates as shelving.  These centres provide a hub, similar to the telecentres discussed in class, for locals to learn how to use computers, as well as access a range of information, from YouTube videos to current market prices.  Just as importantly, these centres, as well as a larger training centre provided by Macha Works, provide education for locals in the field of ICTs.  This not only provides them with career training, but with the new networks throughout the region, encourages them to apply their training by working in their area, reducing the brain drain seen throughout much of the developing world.

One aspect of LinkNet and Macha Works that appeals to me is the sustainability of the operation.  This is seen in the way they design cyber cafes by reusing old shipping containers, the use of satellite up-links to reduce the need for physical infrastructure, the training and hiring of only locals as opposed to foreigners, the emphasis of input from the end users in what development projects should be done, and the use of open source software, which allows for more control and can lead to greater innovation, as well as reduces the need to depend on outside sources should the system fail.  However, Wayan Vota weighs in on the matter and warns against putting too much emphasis on open source software, but instead looking at the practicality of what systems would work best for the situation.

The article ends with one more use for ICT’s, preserving culture in the face of development.

“Using equipment borrowed from the radio station and local church, he’s slowly creating a digital archive of Zambian folk and gospel music.  Munguya believes that although the introduction of technology will inevitably change local culture and tastes, it can also be used to preserve it. In a country with more than 70 spoken languages, and even more traditions, that could be the task of a lifetime.”


Mobile Phone Cash Transfers

This week marks the beginning of a new program in Haiti, commissioned by UNDP and developed by Digicel, in which those affected by the 2010 earthquakes can receive cash subsidies to put towards construction supplies to be used in rebuilding homes.  As stated in the article, two-thirds of the population have access to a mobile phone, while only 10 percent have bank accounts.  Utilizing a mobile phone to act as a personal banking system allows individuals to not only provide security and convenience over carrying around large sums of money, but also empower individuals to better their own lives.

The program does raise questions about the digital divide within the country though.  The digital divide may be increased in this situation do to the selection process of those with mobile phones, a lack of service for the most poor with a mobile phone, and the location of centers providing materials and training.  All of these create more opportunities for certain individuals while neglecting others.  Despite these possibilities, this program still is a great way to provide much needed resources directly to the individuals affected by disaster.


Made in Rwanda

Recently the “Made in Rwanda” Leadership Summit (Post no longer available) was hosted in Kigali, Rwanda to discuss and promote efforts of Rwandans to lift their country out of poverty.  One such initiative is that of Arthur Karuletwa, who recently signed an agreement with Starbucks coffee for the purchase of GeoCertify, a Rwandan start up that allows consumers to track the path that their food took to their table.  GeoCertify was originally started to support Rwandan Coffee farmers.  This is a great example of what the summit is looking to accomplish, connecting international businessmen with Rwandan entrepreneurs.  With this motive in mind it is easy to see the need for ICT’s as an opportunity to connect the international community with local businesses in developing countries.  Initiatives such as GeoCertify are excellent examples of how ICT’s can be used as a tool to lead to development.


Social Media in a Period of Unrest in Sudan

In July of 2011, after decades of civil war, South Sudan became independent from the rest of Sudan.  In the six months since, Sudan has continued to struggle with internal conflicts throughout their borders, from Darfur in the North, to the Abyei Area in the South and to Blue Nile in the East.  The existing issues are coupled with a loss of income from the oil fields in South Sudan and increased dissatisfaction with President Omar al-Bashir.  This dissatisfaction has led to the creation of activist groups, such as Grifina.  Grifina, an Arabic phrase meaning “we’re fed up”, as well as individuals throughout the country have been able to take advantage of social media and ICT to begin to spread their messages.

In an article from Al-Jazeera, multiple examples are given to illustrate the unrest within the country, as well as proactive measures within Sudan.  With all the recent uprisings throughout Africa and the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, it is possible that we will be able to see a similar situation unfold in Sudan in the months to come.  It is easy to understand the dissatisfaction felt throughout Sudan, with millions of displaced persons and refugees and multiple sectarian and territorial conflicts as seen in the map attached.

Social Media, such as Twitter, Youtube and Blogging sites will prove vital for a cohesive effort to create change within Sudan.  However, as posted in this blog earlier, new efforts at censorship on a national level may hamper efforts made by Grifina and other activist organizations.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next several months, and the role that social media and ICT will play.