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African Bus to Tackle African Roads

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Roads in many parts of Africa are rough at best, and hostile to vehicles designed with smooth, flat highways in mind. Even in countries like South Africa, where modern highways are common, a quick turn off the smooth highway to visit many communities will mean tackling makeshift dirt roads. In these conditions, buses imported from Western Europe are at a disadvantage when they hit the bone-jarring reality of potholed roads.

In the West African country of Ivory Coast, a manufacturer has decided to tackle the problem head on by designing and manufacturing a long-distance passenger bus just for African conditions.

The engineering arm of the national transport company, Sotra (http://www.sotra.ci/sotraindustries.php) (http://www.sotra.ci/index.php?rub=act), decided it could save money and create a bus better suited to African conditions.

“We want the transfer of technology in Africa,” Mamadou Coulibaly, Sotra Industries director, told the BBC. “And we want to build our own buses with our specification.

“In Europe the technology is very sophisticated with lots of electronic devices. In Africa we don’t need this.

“We just need robust buses because our roads are not very well done like in Europe. This is an African design for Africa.”

The African bus has fewer seats than European ones, and it can pack 100 people inside. It is a successful formula that has now attracted orders from other African countries.

Three buses are already in operation and more are in the works on a production line. They are designed and made in the largest city, Abidjan, building on an existing chassis and engine base made by European truck company Iveco. Sotra plans to build 300 buses a year in three models: coach, urban and tourist.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Isaac Gueu, an Abidjan accountant, told the BBC. “It’ll help students to move about in more comfort.”

Not only is the accomplishment impressive as an example of made-in-Africa manufacturing, but it was also completed while the country was going through a civil war and political crisis.

Sotra is an experienced manufacturer, and built its reputation with reliable boat-buses (http://tinyurl.com/bot6fv) that ply the country’s lagoons.

Africa’s roads lag behind the rest of the world: In 1997, Africa (excluding South Africa) had 171,000 kilometres of paved roads — about 18 percent less than Poland, a country roughly the size of Zimbabwe. As efforts to complete the trans-African highways continue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-African_Highway_network), the quality of existing roads is deteriorating. In 1992 about 17 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s primary roads were paved, but by 1998 the figure had fallen to 12 percent (World Bank). More than 80 percent of unpaved roads are only in fair condition and 85 per cent of rural feeder roads are in poor condition and cannot be used during the wet season. In Ethiopia, 70 percent of the population has no access to all-weather roads.

Africa also has an appalling road accident rate, mainly attributed to the use of minibuses and other makeshift buses. Each year the number of road deaths and disabilities due to road accidents rises. It is estimated if things carry on as they are, the number of yearly traffic deaths across the continent will reach 144,000 by 2020, a 144 percent increase on today’s deaths.

A properly designed bus is a safer option than trying to pack passengers into a tippy minibus.

On top of making road passenger travel safer and more comfortable, Sofra is creating jobs in Africa and reducing dependence on imports. Beholden to importing sophisticated goods from outside the continent, Africa’s wealth is spent to the benefit of others, and at the expense of high-value jobs at home.

Coulibaly is confident Sotra will reach its goal.

“We have been to school in Europe and we think that we are able today to build our own buses; there are no special difficulties,” he said.

In Nigeria, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (INNOVEMCO) (http://innosongroup.com/ ) is, in collaboration with Chinese manufacturers, building a huge auto plant in Nnewi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nnewi) where a wide range of commercial and utility vehicles will be produced for the Nigerian market and some countries in West Africa.

Published: February 2009

Resources

  • Africar: A South African company making four-wheel drive vehicles. Websites: http://www.africarautomobiles.co.za/africar-home.htm
  • AfriGadget is a website dedicated to showcasing African ingenuity. A team of bloggers and readers contribute their pictures, videos and stories from around the continent. The stories of innovation are inspiring. It is a testament to Africans bending the little they have to their will, using creativity to overcome life’s challenges. Website: http://www.afrigadget.com/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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New Battery Back-up Technology Targeting Developing Countries and Remote Regions

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Africa’s greater global engagement and economic growth in the past few years has started to draw attention back towards the continent’s dearth of reliable power sources and inadequate power infrastructure. While demand grows at a fast pace, sadly political instability and lack of security in many countries scares off foreign investors and multinational companies who could help to expand capacity. This leaves people running small enterprises and organisations – especially in rural areas – significantly neglected. According to Zandile Mjoli, senior general manager for resources and strategy at South African utility Eskom, two-thirds of Africa’s 700 million people live in rural areas, and less than 10 per cent of the rural population has access to electricity. Each one per cent increase in available power will increase GDP by an estimated two to three per cent.

The extent of the looming crisis in 2007 can be seen in the problems of the Southern African Power Pool, which coordinates power production and trade in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It predicts an energy shortfall in 2007 that will force countries like South Africa and Mozambique, which have provided about 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s power requirements for example, to scale down on exports in order to meet rising demand from their own domestic markets.

Plug Power is a research and development company in the US specializing in clean, reliable energy products for areas where power supply is unreliable or non-existent. It uses fuel cell technology to build back-up power supplies for telecommunications, utilities and uninterruptible power supply needs like refrigerators and medical supplies. It is now targeting Africa with its new GenCore back-up fuel cell system using ultra capacitor technology, basically the mechanism by which the fuel cell stores electricity. It is specifically built for remote regions with severe climates where the limited lifespan of a battery and harsh weather conditions can lead to power supply disruptions.

Fuel cells use chemicals to create electricity and heat similar to batteries, but when hydrogen is used, they only produce clean water as a by-product. Most importantly for those working in development, it provides a continuous power supply as long as the fuel is provided. Plug Power’s system allows for hydrogen to be taken from multiple sources to power the cells.

Published: January 2007

Website: http://www.plugpower.com/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Maker Faire and the R & D Rise in the South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The majority of the world’s research and development (R & D) in science and technology is now shifting to the global South. Powerhouses like China boast vast numbers of published papers in peer-reviewed journals and hefty cash inputs into research and development.

China increased its R & D spending in 2009 to US $25.7 billion, a 25.6 percent increase over 2008, according to Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology. China is rapidly closing the science funding gap with Japan: in 2009 it allotted US $37.1 billion for R & D.

The times have never been better for those with new ideas in the global South.

And it’s not just big companies that are involved. There is R & D going on at ground level as well. African inventors, innovators and creatives met in Nairobi, Kenya in August as part of the Maker Faire Africa 2010 (http://makerfaireafrica.com). This is research and development on a shoestring, and done in a very practical, problem-solving way. While Africa’s inventors and innovators lack the big budgets of other economies, they are not short on ideas and drive.

The Maker Faire Africa is a family-friendly gathering where the inventors can showcase their work and connect with others. It is a mix of workshops, tips on business skills, awards and a party.

The global economy thrives on innovation and so-called ‘creative destruction’ – as economist Joseph Schumpeter called it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction) – that takes place as out-of-date technologies and ways of doing are surpassed by better ideas and more efficient methods. The power to innovate is the deciding factor for sustained economic growth.

The philosophy behind Maker Faire Africa 2010 – the brainchild of ‘venture catalyst’ and entrepreneur Emeka Okafor (http://timbuktuchronicles.blogspot.com) – is to prove that innovation doesn’t just happen with computers.

As its website says, “The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations (http://www.afrigadget.com), inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified, propagated, etc.”

Maker Faire Africa is working with research organizations like Ghana’s Ashesi University (http://www.ashesi.edu.gh/index.html) and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (http://www.knust.edu.gh/pages) “to sharpen focus on locally-generated, bottom-up prototypes of technologies that solve immediate challenges to development.”

In the end, the goal of engaging all this creative and inventive energy is to spur Africans towards building “a manufacturing base that supplies innovative products in response to market needs.”

This initiative stands out in several ways: it is truly inspiring, it gets to the core of how wealth is created, and helps build communities of innovators and inventors to tackle the problems facing Africa – and humanity.

“We have a broader variety of makers this time around,” says Emeka Okafor of the 2010 Maker Faire. He notes makers are bringing more complex systems to the Faire, rather than just single devices. And that they “have more makers who are actually from the region.”

“Maker Faire Africa is essentially a platform whereby innovators, inventers, creative types, across all disciplines, share ideas, showcase their products, interact with attendees and other makers,” he continues. They “begin the process of building what we think is an essential community of what I like to term the productive class. That is essentially where we see ourselves playing a key role. A productive class whose foundation is laid upon building problem-solving systems.”

Okafor believes Africa just doesn’t “have enough wealth creation as we should.”

“We have things backwards. … One of the essential steps is that you had productive systems that allowed those countries (Asia and Europe) to create wealth. And they had to draw those resources from within.

“We see Maker Fair Africa celebrating resources that we already have, with knowledge from within and outside.

“In many ways the Makers as we see them, epitomise the very sense of problem-solving that as a society acquires more of it, it begins to deal with its challenges very differently. And not look elsewhere in terms of dealing with its challenges. We want to make our Makers sexy, we want to make inventors sexy, innovators celebrities.”

Some of the inspiring inventors from this year’s Faire include Norbert Okec from Uganda. His prototype for a solar powered street lighting system comes straight from his frustration with the traffic lights of Kampala, Uganda. Many don’t work and so he has developed a prototype solar-powered traffic light using a mix of recycled local parts and some LEDs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode) brought by a friend from China.

He hopes to produce an e-book on his invention to share with other inventors. He was joined by fellow inventors working on a dashboard for managing wireless networks, how to recycle plastic parts, solar-power torches, water and sanitation products, junk art, community cookers, sculptures, eye glasses, bicycles, and an automatic lighting system for homes.

Okafor is a passionate advocate of the Maker philosophy and how it changes the game: “…building is equivalent to making and making is a joyful thing, it is an interesting thing. It is a very satisfactory thing. It is not work. Most of the individuals around here have the biggest smiles on their faces. They don’t see what they are doing as work.

“The fact they are sitting next to other people like them if anything is one of the biggest take-aways for them. Because for some of them they were toiling away on their own. Now they see others like them. And they realise they aren’t crazy.

“When you build a community and the community begins to get stronger and sustain itself, all the other things come naturally: businesses get formed, partnerships happen: and then everything else people look for first…actually begins to happen.”

And Africa’s future prosperity is what is at stake at the Faire: “There is a market for the products. And we believe as more individuals – Africans and otherwise – come into contact with what is on display, they will come to see their own societies differently. ”

Published: September 2010

Resources

  • Flickr photo gallery: A clickable archive of the Maker Faire inventors and their inventions. Website: http://www.flickr.com/groups/makerfaireafrica/pool/
  • Afrigadget: ‘Solving everyday problems with African ingenuity’: This blog never ceases to amaze and fascinate. Website: http://www.afrigadget.com/
  • Afrobotics: A competition for African engineering students to develop robots. Website: http://www.afrobotics.com/
  • International Development Design Summit: The Summit is an intense, hands-on design experience that brings together people from all over the world and all walks of life to create technologies and enterprises that improve the lives of people living in poverty. Website: http://iddsummit.org/
  • Butterflyworks: A social design studio using design to make social change. They use media, social branding and experiential learning to share knowledge, trigger creativity and build sustainable businesses. Website: http://www.butterflyworks.org
  • AshokaTECH: AshokaTECH is a blog about technology and invention within the realm of social entrepreneurship. It aims to find, support, and celebrate social innovators whose technologies offer fresh, effective approaches to advancing social change. Website: http://tech.ashoka.org/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Enormous Potential for Nigerian Software Industry

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Nigeria has an unfortunate global reputation as the home of 419 scams (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance-fee_fraud). A typical 419 scam involves sending emails to people around the world in order to extort money from them. Online scams may show an unexpected technical sophistication for a country associated with poverty, but are a sign that some of Nigeria’s plentiful talents are being turned to illegal activities rather than building legitimate businesses.

Many argue that Nigeria is missing its potential to become an African legal software powerhouse. The Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria said the country’s annual consumption of software reached US $900 million in 2006, making it possibly Africa’s biggest market.

“Nigeria stands a good chance of dominating both the local and West African diaspora in a thriving global software market,” it argues.

Production of computer software is a major income earner for countries like the United States and India.

Many argue that Nigeria has enormous potential, if it can address some common problems: an absence of software quality assurance, poor investment in software development, poor product standards and a lack of proper documentation. In short: if Nigeria’s software industry takes on board global best practice, then it is sitting on a goldmine of legitimate business opportunities.

Chris Uwaje, president of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), told Business Day that the country’s software technology, if well retooled and strategically positioned for global competitiveness, could earn about US $10 billion annually from foreign software exchange.

He argued that developing the software industry would have many benefits for the population as a whole.

“Software has … become and will remain one of the fastest growing industries with power to enrich, and sustain national economies,” Uwaje said.

Some estimates put the world software industry and associated markets at US $1,300 billion, with 90 percent of the world’s software exports coming from the United States and Europe. Outside the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, the new and emerging countries within the software industry are India and China, and to a lesser extent Singapore and Malaysia.

According to market researcher DataMonitor, the worldwide software industry grew by 6.5 percent between 2007 and 2008.

DataMonitor forecasts that in 2013, the global software market alone will have a value of US $ 457 billion, an increase of 50.5 percent since 2008 (Datamonitor’s Software: Global Industry Guide).

Africa has a high proportion of entrepreneurs because people have next to no social supports to fall back on and need to do business to survive. Nigeria’s large youth population – 43.2 percent of the total – could be the driver of this new economy if used right.

Nigeria mostly imports software solutions despite having an extensive capacity in software development. If developed well, software could surpass oil as a revenue generator for the country.

According to A Profile of Nigeria’s Software Industry by H. Abimbola Soriyan and Richard Heeks, “A typical software company (in Nigeria) had between 11 and 50 customers (the average was 36 though a few firms involved with package installation had several thousand). There was a strong concentration among these customers. Almost all were private sector … There was a surprising lack of government/public sector organizations as customers (reflected above in the limited number of firms found in Abuja).”

Jimson Olufuye, president of the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN), believes that more needs to be done to support the software developers. And while on paper there is strong support for this sector in information technology policy, “In addition, we need to establish more IT parks with appropriate policies on infrastructure, human resources, incentives and business plan.”

Wahab Sarumi, chief executive officer of Wadof Software Consulting, explains the problem: “Indigenous software developers are an endangered species, abandoned by the government, neglected by its own people and bullied by the poachers from India, to whom Nigerian businesses rush to buy software applications to solve local business problems.”

Already, Nigerian software firms are offering existing off-the-shelf software that they custom package with local services. This recognizes software made in advanced countries isn’t entirely right for developing countries: and this is where business opportunities await for software developers.

But the key to success, at the end of the day, is to be the best solution on offer for the right price. James Agada, managing director of ExpertEdge Limited, believes people buy the best software for the task and don’t care where it comes from.

“If you want to sell software, the buyer does not buy the software alone, he buys the software, buys capacity to support the software, buys your capacity to improve on the software, he buys what he assumes is your mastery of the domain the software … the software must be able to compete favourably with its competitors.”

Published: February 2010

Resources

1) West Africa Trade Hub: A great resource for doing business in West Africa . Website:http://www.watradehub.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1439

2) Rogue Economics: A website accompanying the book by Loretta Napoleoni on the illegal economic activities unleashed after the fall of communism. Website: http://www.lorettanapoleoni.com/

3) Towards an African E-Index: SMS e-Access and Usage Across 14 African Countries: A report from 2006 showing how small and medium African businesses increase income with ICTs. Website:http://mobileactive.org/research/towards-african-e-index-sms-e-access-and-usage-across-14-african-countries

4) Changing Dynamics of Global Computer Software and Services Industry: Implications for Developing Countries: A report from UNCTAD on how computer software can become the most internationally dispersed high-tech industry. Website:http://www.unctad.org/templates/webflyer.asp?docid=1913&intitemid=2529&lang=1

5) A Profile of Nigeria’s Software Industry by H. Abimbola Soriyan and Richard Heeks, Paper No 21, 2004, Development Informatics: Working Paper Series. Website: http://tinyurl.com/yh25dpa

6) Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria: A great contact point for finding legitimate software developers in Nigeria. Website: http://www.ispon.org/

7) Tech Soup: A great place to meet legitimate software developers and learn more. Website:http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Other stories from Development Challenges, South-South Solutions:

African Digital Laser Breakthrough Promises Future Innovation 

China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

Digital Mapping to put Slums on the Map

New Weapon Against Crime in the South

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021