Beyond Stereotype

When we think of Africa, we think of child soldiers, war lords, famine, poverty, we don’t think of technological progress. Yet that is what’s happening in Nairobi, Kenya, an African version of California’s Silicon Valley. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer recently visited and IBM recently chose Nairobi as its first African Research lab. Google, Intel, Microsoft and Vodafone are there too. It’s all due to Dr. Bitange Ndemo, who first began the project to compete with South Africa, and now sees the possibilities for the whole of Kenya, for the region and the continent. Since 2007 when he began, the country has gone from 6000 broadband connections to 6 million, from fewer than 3 million internet users to 18. Ndemo is trying to build the first country in Africa to adopt open source data, allowing the government and researchers to update necessary data almost instantly, instead of once in a decade. In a few years mobile phone penetration has gone from less than 25% to 85% partly because of cheap rates and to services like M-Pesa, through which users can pay for goods and services transferring money for one phone to another. About one third of Kenya’s population uses M-Pesa. It is so successful it is now taking off around the world. Perhaps soon we might well see M-Pesa ads on our local media