Resurrection Science


George Steinmetz/Corbis

Biologists Could Soon Resurrect Extinct Species. But Should They?

“Until we make space for other species on Earth, it won’t matter how many animals we resurrect,” writes M.R. O’Connor in her book Resurrection Science. “There won’t be many places left for them to exist.”

“Paradoxically, the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become.”


Uganda Attempts to Shut Down Controversial Silicon Valley-Funded Schools

Columbia Global Reports

School children in Malindi, Kenya, February 2018. Photo by Ian Ingalula, Creative Commons.

Bridge International Academies was conceived in 2007 to be the McDonald’s of global education, promising to better educate poor students using Nooks and standardized curriculums for as little as $6 to $7 a month. Using tablets and standardized curriculums in each country, Bridge operates more than 520 schools, teaching some 100,000 students in Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and India. It’s currently expanding in Asia with dreams of reaching an ambitious 10 million students across the world by 2025.

But Some African parents may be uneasy about the idea of a western-conceived company disrupting something they hold so dear: control over their children’s education. Bridge threatens to globalize—or perhaps, to westernize—the sector on which many Africans bank their families’ futures.

Read the full story at Columbia Global Reports.

Nudging in Nairobi

U.S. News & World Report

An emerging science is helping Kenyans make smarter decisions about bargaining, sanitation and more.

Last year at primary schools in western Kenya, social scientists were busy performing dirty skits in front of hundreds of children. The script went like this:

The facilitator pretends to go to the bathroom behind a tree, then wipes using a thin leaf or piece of paper. But the leaf or paper rips, and she reacts with surprise upon getting (imaginary) feces on her hand. But she doesn’t wash her hands. Instead she wipes them on her clothes, then goes to shake the hand of one of the students, or picks up a mandazi – a doughnut – and offers it to a student to eat.

The students recoil in disgust, and the facilitator’s work is done: She has just implanted a “disgust trigger” into the kids’ brains – a simple, but powerful psychological reminder that forgetting to wash your hands is gross. And it works.

Welcome to behavioral psychology, the emerging science that seeks to nudge people to make smarter decisions.

Read the full story at U.S. News & World Report.

The struggle to create ICT jobs for Africa’s youth

Africa Renewal Magazine

Young people across the continent aspire to careers in Africa’s blossoming information and communications technology (ICT) sector. But many encounter major barriers that prevent them from finding jobs in the industry. “We have a lot of young people. But unfortunately they come from neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of opportunities,” says Tim Nderi, the chief executive officer of Mawingu Networks.

“Do people have access to the internet, and is that access afford-able?” asked Microsoft’s Anthony Cook in an interview with Africa Renewal. “As you think about moving towards a knowledge economy, you have to be able to take the bulk of the population with you.”

Read the full feature story in the Special 2017 Edition of Africa Renewal Magazine and read the sidebar, “Teaching Africa’s Young Techies,” which features the Moringa School in Nairobi.

In East Africa, empowering passengers to demand a safe ride

U.S. News & World Report


NAIROBI, Kenya — On a sunny afternoon in Nairobi, 37-year-old Francis Raymond Adika climbs into the front seat of a matatu, or public transit van, and slides next to the driver.

“I lost my brother in an accident,” says Adika. On August 15, 2001, a matatu was speeding down the wrong side of a two-lane road in Nairobi trying to pass traffic. When it swerved back into the correct lane it slammed headfirst into a truck. Adika discovered his brother’s body in the Nairobi morgue. He was 19, just days away from his high school graduation.

A Jesuit missionary who travels extensively across Africa, Adika says it isn’t just in Kenya where people lose their lives to reckless driving. “I lived in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia – the carnage was just the same.”

Each year, 1.24 million people die in road accidents worldwide. By 2030 that number is expected to triple to 3.6 million, making road deaths the fifth-largest cause of death in the developing world – worse than AIDS or even malaria, according to the World Health Organization. Africa is the hardest hit, with 26 road deaths for every 100,000 people – nearly 50 percent above the global average.

But a series of scientifically rigorous, randomized control studies by Georgetown University may have found a simple way to dramatically reduce deaths on East African roads. By placing stickers inside buses and matatus that encouraged passengers to tell their driver to slow down, researchers discovered that the number of insurance claims fell by half for long-distance vehicles and by one-third overall.

Read the full article at U.S. News & World Report.

The Blood in Your Phone: Covering Conflict Minerals

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism - Covering Business

Artisanal copper mining in the Congo. / Jacob Kushner

The global mineral trade can be ugly. Think children skipping school to dig barefoot with picks and shovels for gold or other precious ore. Picture warlords and army officers using guns to traffic minerals on the black market. Think Democratic Republic of Congo.

Or perhaps, consider the multi-billion dollar corporations that source many of the precious metals they use to build your mobile phone or your laptop from under regulated and often illegal mines. U.S. Congress began thinking about this in 2010 when it passed a first-of-its-kind law aimed at curbing the trade of certain “conflict minerals” in the Democratic Republic of Congo—Africa’s second largest country, whose eastern region has been ravaged by mineral-fueled violence for decades, killing more people than any other conflict since World War II.

Covering Business spoke with Michael Kavanagh, a veteran Bloomberg reporter in Congo who has covered the mineral trade there for more than a decade, about what journalists get wrong and how they can do a better job of covering this complex and divisive subject.

Read the article at Columbia University’s Covering Business blog.

When Knowledge Isn’t Power

The Financial Times - This is Africa

“I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move,” US president Barack Obama told an energetic crowd at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi in July.

The president’s visit underscored his support for the idea that investment in technology and innovation can propel African economies forward in ways that agriculture, manufacturing and natural resources have not.

Yet two decades after the OECD began promoting the idea that reorienting Africa’s economies towards knowledge generation could fast-track development, none of the region’s 54 nations are yet able to compete on a global scale.

Read the full article at The Financial Times’ This Is Africa blog.

Hopes for African tech are high. But who will train the coders?













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.

In Pursuit of Africa’s Missing Trillion

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism - Covering Business

In recent decades, Western media has tended to place the blame for Africa’s problems overwhelmingly on African shoulders. Given portrayals in the mainstream press, for example, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Robert Mugabe’s ongoing state plunder in Zimbabwe or the Joseph Kabila administration’s secret mining deals in Congo were purely African scandals, manufactured by Africans without any outside help.

And yet a subtle shift in western media’s coverage of Africa is underway: today many news outlets are making great efforts to uncover the ways in which foreign corporations and actors from North America, Europe and Asia are central to corruption on the continent.

Read the full story at the Columbia University Covering Business blog.

Is This Africa’s Real Silicon Savannah?

Jacob Kushner for 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 Nairobi, Social Powered Taxis?

Polina Kazak for MaraMoja

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.

Read the full story at OZY or at USA Today.

Apps, Laptops and Cupcakes in the Developing World

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism - Covering Business

Nairobi, aerial view. ©DEMOSH

Social entrepreneurship—the creation of for-profit businesses that aim to improve social conditions in the places where they operate—is big in Africa, and in the developing world at large. But not every entrepreneur who arrives on the scene from Silicon Valley to take advantage of a shortage of business knowledge and high-tech know-how deserves a hero’s welcome. The following are some strategies I’ve developed while covering Nairobi’s social enterprise, tech and overall start-up scene during the past year for the forward-looking, Silicon Valley based news site, OZY.

Read the article at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Covering Business blog. 

In Kenya, the future of sanitation may entail turning human waste into fuel


To get the fuel she needed to cook her food and warm her home, Kenyan Nancy Wambui, 54, used to buy charcoal made from chopped-down trees. But recently, she was given a new set of briquettes to try, that looked just like regular charcoal but worked even better. The secret ingredient? Human poop.

These briquettes just might be a promising new way to curb deforestation, reduce the daily expenditures of low-income families, help solve an energy deficit facing the country, and support sanitation improvements in areas where they are desperately needed. More than 2.5 billion people in the developing world lack access to toilets, and a child dies every 15 seconds from diarrhea, usually the result of food or water becoming contaminated by human waste. Each year, 200 million tons of the world’s poop also goes completely untreated, ending up directly in lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Read the full story at TakePart.

Pay by Phone? Africa’s Got It Covered

Daniel Grizelj/Getty

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.

Read more: Pay by Phone? Africa’s Got It Covered | Fast Forward | OZY

Driving Drunk in Nairobi? There’s an App for That.

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.

Read the full story at OZY.