Tek Africa

Silicon Savanna: Mobile Phones Transform Africa

By Alex Perry (Nairobi)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The buzz at Pivot25, a conference for mobile-phone software developers and investors held this June, is all about the future of money. Ben Lyon, the 24-year-old business-development VP of Kopo Kopo, wants $250,000 to produce his app for shops to process payments made by text message. Paul Okwalinga, 28, describes his money app — called M-Shop, it allows you to buy travel tickets and takeout via mobile phone — as "not reinventing the wheel but pimping it." Kamal Budhabhatti, 35, claims Elma, the latest product from his company Craft Silicon, lets a phone do and be almost anything financial — act like a credit card or an online bank (a "digital wallet," he says), trade shares or forex, organize a company's payroll and (incidentally) surf the Web and phone home. Cash suddenly seems very old. The previous week, Joe Mucheru, a senior manager at Google, declared credit cards prehistoric. Adding to the giddy mood is the thought that the inventions on display might make some lucky Pivot25ers gazillionaires. And where are these extraordinary futures being imagined and plotted? The giraffes and zebras grazing in the game park outside rule out Silicon Valley, Seattle and Bangalore. Try Nairobi.

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Terracom Failed to Deliver Internet Connectivity in Rwanda

Mr. Wyler, an executive based in Boston who made his fortune during the tech boom, said he would lace Rwanda with fiber optic cables, connecting schools, government institutions and homes with low-cost, high-speed Internet service. Until that point, Mr. Wyler, 37, had never set foot in Africa — he was invited by a Rwandan government official he had met at a wedding. Mr. Wyler never expected to start a business there; he simply wanted to try to help the war-torn country. But after nearly four years, most of the benefits hailed by him and his company have failed to materialize, Rwandan officials say. “The bottom line is that he promised many things and didn’t deliver,” said Albert Butare, the country’s telecommunications minister.

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Google and Rwanda's Information Economy

This Rwanda is a world away from the Rwanda of 13 years ago. The 1994 civil war razed its infrastructure and decimated its population. Around 1m people were murdered, and twice that many fled the country. The small, land-locked country, in which nine out of 10 people subsist through agriculture, started its long, painful journey into the 21st century with a huge handicap.

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