Saturday, March 7, 2015

Seven African technological innovation

According to Encyclopedia of Earth, technology innovation is the process through which new (or improved) technologies are developed and brought into widespread use. Innovation is being composed of research, development, demonstration and deployment. There are many such technological innovations in the west. But there is a growing number of tech innovations that are now taking off in Africa, pioneered by Africans themselves. I will briefly examine a few of these techies, their innovations and how they have positively impacted their various African communities.

Cardiopad: First and foremost, our very own young Cameroonian computer engineer, Arthur Zang. He invented the Cardiopad, which is Africa’s first system to transmit a cardiac signal over a mobile network, ensuring that cardiac patients in rural areas have access to vital medical assistance. It is a touch screen medical tablet that enables cardiac analysis to be performed in rural areas. The results of the diagnosis can be relayed wirelessly to specialists in urban areas with medical equipment who can interpret them. With only forty heart surgeons concentrated in Douala and Yaounde, the Cardiopad is already a life saving device especially for patients in the rural areas. And Arthur Zang invented it at the unbelievable age of twenty four.

M-Payer: This innovative technology is the brainchild of Kenyan software engineer, Kariuki Gathitu. While working in a bank, Kariuki witnessed the challenges of integrating mobile money to the banking system. Customers could not send money to their banks through mobile money. Kariuki took it as a challenge, worked hard on his idea of cracking the code of mobile money transfer and he did it. The first mobile money to bank integration was done in 2010 and this was called M-payer. The objective was to target banks and solve the mobile money banking problems. Kariuki then founded Zege Technologies, a software development firm that creates financial solutions.

Makeshift Windmill: After dropping out of school because of a severe famine, William Kamkwamba who is from humble origins in Malawi, decided to build a windmill out of almost garbage. Armed with his radio repairing knowledge, he used a bicycle dynamo, the wind levels at his home, blue gum trees and parts collected from the local scrap yard to build a functioning windmill that powered some electrical appliances in his family’s house. William later built a solar-powered pump that was used to supply the first drinking water in his village. He was awarded a scholarship at the African Leadership Academy and in 2014 graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire where he was inducted as a member of the Sphinx senior society and mentored by Bill Clinton. He wrote a book titled, "The boy who harnessed the wind" which was published worldwide.

Mellowcabs: Mellowcabs is a Capetown based start-up that is planning to offer free transportation by bringing the web’s advertising model into the real world. They are high-tech tricycles for one rider and two passengers. It is eco-friendly urban micro transport, with a tech powered advertising model. It started in 2012 when Neil du Preez and Kobus Breytenbach discussed ideas for disrupting the bicycle-taxis industry. They are designed to be location specific with mobile billboards. Mellowcabs are operated on a pre-planned set route that may not be deviated from and will be monitored. The tricyles host an on-board tablet computer that runs geolocation software. Mellowcabs are equally designed with maximum exterior advertising space.

Happy Farms: Happy Farms is a project founded by Cameroonian Entrepreneur, Roland Fomundam using a novel technology in Cameroon -the green house technology to boost the rapid agricultural production of garden plants in well protected green houses in Mbengwi in Cameroon’s North West Region. It employs the technique of providing favourable thriving environmental conditions of garden crops like tomatoes all year round aided by a drips irrigation system. The purpose of the project is to introduce new, more efficient and environmental friendly farming techniques with minimal chemical input that will produce healthy crops biannually. This will in future swap with the age-old mundane traditional farming methods which are practiced only during the rainy seasons in Cameroon. The project will revolutionize the Agricultural sector by initiating a transition to mechanized farming too.

Lions Light: Kenyan Richard Turere is the visionary behind Lions light technology. They are dazzling lights set up around a perimeter facing outwards. The intention is to scare away lions which attack cattle at night. He devised this light system to prevent night attacks by lions on his family’s cattle head. These types of attacks often lead to the hunting and killing of lions in Kenya which are endangered. But Richard’s innovation fended off the lions and they kept away. Soon Kenyans started asking him to set up similar systems around their farms. The cattle were also quieter because the lights meant they could see that their environment  was safe.

Dry Bath: Do you sometimes feel like not taking a bath during freezing temperatures? Then South African twenty-two-year old student, Ludwick Marishane has found a solution for you. Dry Bath! Just as the name suggests, Dry Bath is the world’s first germicidal bath substituting kin skin lotion. It requires minimal amount of water to use. When you apply Dry bath, it moisturizes your skin, kills germs and leaves you smelling sweet and fresh.

Monday, March 2, 2015

No more payment of airport tax

Which are the only airports in the world where the government collects airport tax? Cameroonian airports! And it is 10.000 francs, approximately 20 dollars. What I am wondering aloud is this, what do they do with all the money collected? Since the Douala Airport became operational in 1971 (during the presidency of Ahmadou Ahidjo and it was the fourth best airport in Africa then!) it has barely had any very impressive face lifts. Many Cameroonians who return to Douala after long sojourns in the diaspora always exclaim, "I say eh, this airport never change!"

So I was very excited when the news began circulating that very soon the payment of 10.000frs as airport tax would end. What was the point of the airport tax? It is not collected in so many other countries. Why should it be collected here, especially when it is not used to spectacularly improve our airports?

The law became operational from March 1st 2015. However, on some flights like Kenya Airways, there is a small twist. All passengers who bought their flight tickets before March 1st still have to pay the airport tax. It would be done at the KQ office since the payment booth is not functional anymore. The KQ staff would pay the money to Cameroon government officials at the end of each flight or the end of the month. On the other hand, passengers who bought tickets on March 1st and beyond would not pay anything even to KQ.

What baffles me is that some other airlines like Ethiopian don't collect the airport tax even from passengers who bought flight tickets before March 1st. So I am wondering if they will end up paying all that money to our government in due course. I consider that issue Ethiopian Airlines' business anyway. All I am happy about is that there is no more payment of airport tax at our two main airports in Douala and Yaounde. But hey, no rejoicing because the tax has been added in the flight ticket, so passengers are still going to pay it in another form. So when next you pic up your flight ticket and find this, "T7" then know it is the initial for the airport tax you paid.

Meeting Flavour

I was working on Kenya Airways last sunday and guess who I met? Flavour N'Abania from Nigeria! He had performed in a concert here in Douala the previous night and was returning to Nigeria on Asky Airlines.