In a nation known for minerals, a controversial crop is on the rise.
Before he started growing weed, Koti spent his days digging holes and tunnels, mining for morsels of gold. He would smoke weed — or bangias he calls it — to overcome his fear of the darkness that he faced underground. As a teen, he saw a tunnel collapse, trapping five fellow miners — only one was rescued. “It’s dangerous,” says Koti, of the illegal minerals trade that many eastern Congolese families depend on. “People were dying.”
The tragedy frightened him, but with no other source of income, he was back at the mine the next day. Then, in 2007, a foreign mining company kicked Koti and the other small-time miners off the land. With no other job, he bought cannabis seeds from a neighbor, planted them and, six months later, harvested a crop of cannabis that measured in the kilos. “I had no other job,” says Koti, who asked that his real name be withheld out of fear of authorities. “So I decided to start growing marijuana.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second-largest nation by area, is known for nefarious trade in copper, coltan, cobalt, tin and other minerals. But now, tens of thousands of Congolese like Koti are setting their sights on a different sort of illegal resource: cannabis. The United Nations estimates that Africa produces 10,500 metric tons of cannabis — a fourth of all the marijuana in the world. Between 27 million and 53 million Africans use the drug, making up about one-fourth of all weed users worldwide.
But while cannabis farming comes without the physical fears that accompany mining, it carries its own share of risks, wrapped in politics from across the Atlantic. Decades of U.S. and international pressure are a key reason why cannabis cultivation is illegal in Congo. In 1961, the U.S. voted in favor of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which added marijuana to the list of drugs that were banned internationally. The way to solve America’s drug “problem” was by pinching off the global supply, or so the thinking went.
Farmers can’t receive international aid to grow an illegal crop. It also leaves them vulnerable to harassment from corrupt police officials.
The penalization of cannabis in Congo is endorsed by the U.S. at a time when many states are decriminalizing the drug at home. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has funded “alternative livelihood” programs to shift Afghan farmers away from cannabis. And in 2005, the U.S. vetoed an international attempt to “reschedule” cannabis as a less dangerous substance — a move that could have opened the doors to deregulation.
A good coder is hard to find, as Kenyan entrepreneur Tonee Ndungu knows. Nairobi is chock-full of mediocre ones, while those with real skills are in such high demand they work “five jobs at the same time,” says Ndungu, whose startup, Kytabu, aims to bring digital textbooks to African schoolkids. Ndungu searched far and wide, from Kazakhstan to India, and nearly sputtered for lack of talent.
Then he learned of Moringa School, a for-profit startup that aims to turn tech-savvy Kenyans into employable programmers and developers, coders and designers in a matter of months. After visiting Moringa’s classrooms this spring, Ngundu offered two students 14-day internships — and hired them almost immediately afterward. The pair are working so quickly, Ngundu says, that he has moved up Kytabu’s launch date by three months.
As cities like Nairobi, Lagos and Kigali become major tech investment hubs, the promise of smart new jobs has rightly generated a lot of hope. Picture far-away armies of bright young developers, coders and UX specialists quietly building the infrastructure of the global digital economy while boosting their own prospects. It’s a fine picture, indeed. But an important question remains, and it has become a quandary for entrepreneurs, aspiring techies and governments alike: Who will train the young Africans to fill the jobs?
Find out at OZY.
Off a dirt road, atop a grassy hill, the plains of central Kenya seem endless. The nearest town is a decent hike away. But here, in the middle of nowhere, I pull out my iPhone, and within seconds I’m checking my email on a hot spot provided by Mawingu Networks. The connection is superb.
Is this Africa’s real Silicon Savannah? Even as Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria vie for that mantle and the jobs that come with it, they’ve focused mostly on cities, neglecting the farmland and actual savannahs that lie beyond. Conventional wisdom says the countryside’s lack of infrastructure makes broadband too daunting; titans like Google and Facebook are looking to balloons and drones to solve the rural Internet conundrum. Which is why Mawingu Networks’ solution is so remarkable. Not only does it bring the Internet age to the boonies, and cheaply, but it does so with a technology so old you might not know about it: TV white space.
Read the full story at OZY.
In an age of terrorism, many countries — the United States among them — face a difficult balance between security and civil rights. For Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the fight against al-Shabab is no less than “existential.” But human rights groups here say the way Kenya is fighting terrorists will only cause instability and insecurity in the long run. When Muslims see their peers extorted, or worse, by the police, the natural response is anger. A few may even be drawn into the arms of the terrorists, says Mgandi Kalinga, an investigator with local human rights group Haki Africa. A few is all it takes. And so, “the security situation in Kenya is compromised by the government itself,” Kalinga said.
More than any other U.S. president in history, Barack Obama has the chance to shape the course of Kenya’s fight against al-Shabab, not just because of his Kenyan ancestry, but because the United States has helped fund it and train those who are carrying it out. His visit to Kenya over the weekend offered an unprecedented opportunity to influence its parameters.
Did Obama dodge the difficult questions?
As the heavyweight Uber enters Nairobi’s robust taxi market, a start-up called MaraMoja is adapting to the local scene
In January, the taxi-app juggernaut Uber set up shop on the crowded byways of Kenya’s capital city. But already a bevy of local taxi apps operate in Nairobi. Banking on the universality of its technology, Uber has not taken local taxi culture into account much, unlike its competitors — it insists on giving users the exact same experience anywhere in the world. But the truth is that Nairobi is not Brooklyn, or San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. From culture to infrastructure to labor force, the challenges are different.
That’s why one competitor, Maramoja (“very fast”) might have a leg up on Uber and everyone else. Based on the premise that passengers would trust a driver whom a friend recommends, it scours your phone’s address books and social networks — Facebook, for now — to find drivers your friends trust. “People told me, ‘I won’t even get in a car with anyone but my guy,” says Jason Eisen, an American consultant who co-founded Maramoja. “They tell me this horror story or that horror story. But then they all have the same problem when their guy isn’t available — they need someone else that they trust.”
Maramoja says it has data to back up its model. It ran experiments in which subjects used the app to choose between two drivers stationed equal distance away: one recommended by a friend and the other with a 3-, 4- or 5-star rating. Subjects chose the driver recommended by a friend a whopping 96 percent of the time.
The introduction of Apple Pay, which allows users to pay via smartphone, has generated plenty of buzz. But when it comes to mobile money, America trails years — seven years — behind another country: Kenya.
The mobile money app M-Pesa launched in 2007 and now has more than 15 million users in Kenya — plus millions more across South Africa, Afghanistan and the rest of the globe. By 2012, the value of M-Pesa transactions reached $18 billion, equal to about 41 percent of Kenya’s GDP. For those interested in emerging markets, M-Pesa has become a larger-than-life success story: It launched a hundred research papers and became a sort of holy grail for other telecom companies, which have tried — largely in vain — to replicate its model around the world.
But M-Pesa’s model may finally be spreading. Last month, Kenya’s Equity Bank introduced a new piece of technology that literally piggybacks off of M-Pesa’s success. Called a “thin sim,” the paper-thin chip slips under a standard SIM card used in mobile phones by Safaricom, the telecommunications company that owns M-Pesa. Operating like a second SIM, the device will connect to its own cellular network to allow users to make instant money transfers, just like M-Pesa.
Those in the industry are watching closely, not just to see whether another player can finally shake M-Pesa’s dominance, but also because the technology could finally make mobile payments feasible in other developing countries. If so, it could further blur the line between banking and telecom, and potentially offer market access to the hundreds of millions around the world who have a phone but no bank account.
It started out as a nice idea that made a sharp left turn and then took a whole new direction. A 22-year-old Kenyan developer, getting the idea from a class at Strathmore University in Nairobi, wanted to create an app to help drivers avoid bad traffic and accidents. But when he learned that a friend had just been stopped by police at an alcohol Breathalyzer checkpoint, he decided to turn it into an app that would warn drivers about checkpoints — and it took off.
Fifty people downloaded it the first day. Three days later, 2,500. Then 5,000.
But the fun didn’t last. The police soon took notice, and Brian Osoro says an officer called him to try to persuade him to take the app down. “A friend of mine who’s doing law told me this was obstruction of justice,” he says. “In my conscience, I thought, ‘This is bad.’” He read about a drunk driver — of a bus carrying students — who lost control of the vehicle and crashed. No one died, but “I thought to myself, this could be my cousin, one of my brothers. This could get them killed.” Ultimately he took it down, and today he has a much different and successful app– one that helps, not hinders, justice.
For more than two centuries, The Old Farmer’s Almanac seemed to hold the answer to every crop grower’s questions, like when is the best time to plant onions (“as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring”) or harvest potatoes (“after 10 weeks, usually in early July”).
Agnes Mwaki prefers to use an app. After the 49-year-old banana farmer in Meru County, Kenya, recently switched to growing onions — a more profitable crop — she needed help determining when to transplant the seedlings and when to harvest. Through a government program that provides her with a smartphone, Mwakinow uses WhatsApp to send a photo of her onions each week to an agronomist. “When I spot a problem, I just take a photo and send it to the agricultural officer, and she describes the drug [I’m] supposed to use and I buy it,” says Mwaki.
In recent years a growing group of mobile apps has moved in with access to real-time advice and market intelligence, and the latest of that technology is originating where this kind of data is increasingly vital: Africa.
Read the full story at OZY.
Even the smallest of bribes can stifle an economy when they’re magnified millions of times over.
When a police officer gets caught soliciting a bribe, most people would tend to blame the cop. In Kenya, the government is trying a new approach: clamping down on the people whopaythe cop.
And they’re going about it in a strange way, ordering that Nairobi’s public matatus— the beat-up, privately owned vans that ferry most of the city’s commuters — go high-tech. Passengers are being asked to use popular mobile banking applications like m-pesa to pay the fares. No more cash-carrying passengers, no more bribes, the thinking goes.
Many in Kenya say government officials aren’t naïve in their hope to stem corruption this way — they’re just plain lazy. High-tech solutions like digital fare cards or mobile phone payment apps abound. But Kenya may be no exception to the rule that ending bribery must begin and end with old-fashioned justice for the people who solicit the bribes.
new balance heart rate monitor
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A year ago this month, gunmen affiliated with the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab stormed the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The three-day standoff killed 67 people and wounded many more. The event riveted the world for days. Those who survived are still recovering.
Among the dead was the Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor. He’d come to Nairobi that weekend to speak at Storymoja, a Pan-African literary festival. Hundreds of Kenyans and visitors from around the world had gathered at the National Museum downtown to discuss literature, memory, politics and country, and to meet luminaries like Awoonor. The poet had led a workshop, presented a talk about his forthcoming book and taken part in a press conference.
But Awoonor was at the Westgate Mall, enjoying the company of his son, Afetsi, when the first gunshots rang out. He died. The next day of Storymoja was canceled. In Accra, Ghana, later that week, hundreds gathered at the airport for the arrival of the poet’s body. He was 78 years old.
Another Ghanaian poet, Kwame Dawes, explained to me Awoonor’s significance to Ghanaian culture and African history.