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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.

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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Indian Solar Economy Brings New Vocation for Women

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

India has started to make significant advances in developing solar power technologies for the poor. There are now whole villages using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country. This new solar power ‘grid’ is also bringing further economic opportunities: jobs for people to repair and maintain the new equipment.

An interesting initiative is turning the need to repair and maintain solar-powered equipment into a job opportunity for poor women.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, and 400 million in India (World Bank). Some 600,000 Indian villages lack an electrical supply. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged “power for all” by 2012. An ambitious goal, and one that acknowledges that without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.

Being able to see at night, for example, unleashes a vast range of possibilities – such as being able to work or study later – but for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense, soaking up 10 to 15 percent of income.

The power of the sun can help transform this situation. According to Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/international), India could generate 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030.

In the Indian State of Rajasthan, more than 30,000 homes in 800 villages have turned to solar power for lighting and cooking needs. It is this increasing solar power grid that the Barefoot College (http://www.barefootcollege.org) based in Tilonia – where it was founded over 30 years ago – has turned to as a new economic opportunity. The College is training women to be solar engineers, developing both useful skills and a new income source. So far, Barefoot College itself has solar electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan.

The College prides itself on stripping out academic jargon while inspiring confidence in students’ innate talents and skills so they can take on new vocations.

The solar engineers – many of whom are illiterate – are taught by their peers. Given a box of tools and hardware, the students undertake practical projects to learn-by-doing how the solar devices work and can be repaired. They are introduced to technical terms and concepts and learn how to wire circuits and do daily repairs.

“It is only, we have found, an illiterate woman who is a teacher who can actually train an illiterate women who is a trainer,” the college’s founder, Bunker Roy, told the BBC. “They have the patience, tolerance and improvisation.”

Roy says the training teaches more knowledge of the technical aspects of solar power than a typical student would glean from an undergraduate university degree.

The Barefoot College takes its inspiration from former Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi), who felt the wisdom, knowledge and skills already existing in rural villages should be the basis for any development. He also believed deploying sophisticated technology in poor communities should be done on their terms to avoid exploitation.

The College is a passionate believer in the inherent skills and abilities of the poor to improve their conditions. It eschews formal qualifications, believing these can be as much a hindrance as a help, trapping people in rigid methodologies.

The Barefoot College has been working on solar electrification in poor and rural villages since 1989. It has used similar techniques to train teachers and teach medical skills.

The course has successfully attracted sponsored students from as far away as Africa. Sarka Mussara, a 56-year-old widowed grandmother from the West African nation of Mauritania, had never attended school or even left her village before coming to India on a UN sponsorship.

“We started little by little learning the solar energy system,” she told PBS. “Day by day and little by little we were able to put things together.”

The solar engineers become highly skilled and can even fabricate complex components like a charge controller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_controller) when they are back in the village.

One of the additional benefits of training skilled solar engineers is the more confident role these women play in their communities when they return. They often take the lead on other projects in the village.

The College also picks the tough cases: only villages that are inaccessible, remote or non-electrified get help.

Its approach is to have a meeting to introduce the benefits of solar lighting to the community. If the community wants it, then a village committee is formed. Any household that wants solar power has to pay a small fee, no matter how poor. This is to ensure they feel a sense of ownership of the new technology.

Some members of the community are then selected to be trained as “Barefoot Solar Engineers,” or BSEs. They will install, repair and maintain the solar lighting units for at least five years. A workshop is set up to carry out repairs fully equipped with tools and replacement parts. The solar engineers attend a six-month course at the College, leading to work for at least five years.

The Barefoot College encourages middle-aged women and widows and single mothers to become engineers. Experience has shown them to be the most reliable and less prone to moving to the city after training.

Published: May 2010

Resources

1) D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to more than 1.6 billion people globally currently living without electricity. They aim to be the number one player in off-grid lighting and power solutions worldwide. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com

2) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website: http://www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) Sun King solar lantern: The lantern provides 16 hours of light for a day’s charge. Website: http://www.greenlightplanet.com/ourusers.html

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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An ad promoting the magazine’s fourth issue is below:

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

Southern Innovator can be read online here:

ISSN: 2222-9280

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British Library: http://tinyurl.com/kgxo6hj

Centre multimédia sur l’environnement et le développement Dakar, Senegal: http://enda-cremed.org/bpd/opac_css/index.php?lvl=serie_see&id=674

Library of Congress: http://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=15784&recCount=25&recPointer=0&bibId=17462965

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Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Libraries: http://ent.library.utm.my/client/en_AU/main/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f820$002fSD_ILS:820407/ada?qu=Youth&rw=1200&ic=true&ps=300

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If you would like hard copies of the magazine for distribution, then please contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation: Website: http://ssc.undp.org/content/ssc.html. If you would like to either sponsor an issue of Southern Innovator or place an advertisement in the magazine, then please contact southerninnovator@yahoo.co.uk. This is a great opportunity to reach millions around the world and to connect with the pioneers and innovators shaping this new world. With Issue 5 tackling the timely theme of Waste and Recycling, this is the moment to get on board and help support SI. With global urbanization levels continuing to rise, fresh thinking of the kind found in Southern Innovator‘s fifth issue is urgently required.

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

© David South Consulting 2022

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Technological Innovation Alive in Brazil

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The growing digital economy in the global South is giving rise to a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

A University of California paper by Naazneen Barma found explosive potential in poorer countries to innovate, and challenged the view of developing countries as passive market places for products innovated in the industrialized world. She said that “in terms of their market power and their production and innovation possibilities, emerging economies are positioned to increase their presence in the digital era … poor consumers are increasingly driving modular innovation in production technologies, business models, organizational management, and marketing and distributional strategies.”

It has been estimated that the number of people with equivalent to US $10,000 in annual income will double to 2 billion by 2015, creating hundreds of millions of new consumers for digital products.

Two cutting-edge innovators from Brazil are tapping into this growing market. Both FunStation and Zeebo have developed technology specifically wrapped around the needs of Southern consumers and are growing across the South as a result.

FunStation’s (http://www.funstation.com.br/blog.php)simple motto – “Touch – Get – Enjoy” – hides a savvy technological innovation aimed at the growing army of digital downloaders on the march across the South. Sao Paulo’s FunStation entertainment kiosk system serves up video, audiobooks, songs, and ringtones to mobile phones and MP3 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3) players. Customers just need to plug into one of the large futuristic white kiosks, scroll through the choices, select what they want, pay and download. By going to the kiosk, customers avoid the need to download from the internet, which can take a lot of time depending on the connection and bandwidth. The kiosk is speedy, with 14 musical tracks downloaded to a device in 10 seconds.

Apart from the convenience and speed of the kiosks, they also have other benefits: customers do not need to register with a download site like iTunes on the internet. This means they do not have to run the risks of giving away bank details or other personal information.

Customers buy something called a Funcard which is similar to a pre-pay phone plastic phone card, with a PIN number. Cards are sold with values ranging from US $2 to US $50. The user just punches the number into the kiosk to pay for the download.

The kiosks are being located in high-traffic places like festivals, airports, universities, retail shopping centres and transport systems.

Founded in 2007, the company is a partnership between Bruno de Marchi, 35, computer science student Armando Perico, 24, and 60-year-old Marcos Maynard. The company already has the rights to sell half a million items and has 55 kiosks operating in Brazil, mostly in the country’s north. “People are poorer in those places,”de Marchi told Monocle magazine. “Usually they have an MP3 player but no computer.”

The FunStations have also been successful outside of Brazil: 50 kiosks were sold to Mexico in March. It is launching in Chile later this year and in the United States in 2011. Always evolving, the business is also working with the University of Lugano in Switzerland to develop new software and keep the kiosks fresh and lively.

Another Brazilian technology pioneer is Zeebo (http://www.zeeboinc.com). The brainchild of Reinaldo Normand, 34, Zeebo is a game-playing console that doesn’t require a CD or DVD, or connection to landline internet. It downloads games directly from remote servers using wireless 3G technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3G)embedded in the console. It exploits the fast-growing penetration of mobile phone wireless networks across the South to download the games on the consoles.

It has its eyes firmly on the global South’s rising middle-class families, who will use the consoles for game-playing and educational applications. It is currently available in Mexico and Brazil and is preparing to roll out across Asia. Normand studied at Tectoy S.A. in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is a life-long gamer, entrepreneur, journalist and forward thinker. He conceived of a new 3D system for the developing world and contacted American company Qualcomm. He partnered with Mike Yuen at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, who was exploring new forms of gaming using innovative technologies.

As Zeebo’s mission states, it is “tailored specifically to the economics and market realities of emerging economies. The Zeebo system fills an enormous unmet need in these regions. At the same time it opens an immense new market for interactive content and products.”

Normand is ambitious and wants to reach a vast market of 340 million Chinese families. “By 2011, I want to close deals in China to manufacture televisions with this technology built in, therefore entering the homes of millions of families,” he told Monocle.

Zeebo makes some games for the console and also buys in other games from big-name game makers like Electronic Arts and Activision. The games are downloaded from the internet using a 3G mobile chip already built in to the consoles. The games are priced between US $5 and US $13.

The Zeebo system will roll out to China, the US and India in 2011, and Eastern Europe in 2012.

Published: August 2010

Resources

  • Afrinnovator: Is about telling the stories of African start-ups, African innovation, African made technology, African tech entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. Their mission is to ‘Put Africa on the Map’ by covering these kinds of stories from all over Africa. As their website says, “if we don’t tell our own story, who will tell it for us?” Website: http://afrinnovator.com
  • AfricaUnsigned: This African alternative way of producing African music started this year. Unsigned artists record their music, funded by fans. Music fans from all over the world listen to the selection of artists, pick their favorite(s) and chip in a minimum of $1 dollar to the recording of a professional EP. The music is then distributed to the fans who backed the artist and sold on all major online stores (incl. Amazon & iTunes). Website: www.AfricaUnsigned.com
  • TechMasai: Pan-African start-up news and reviews. Website: www.techmasai.com
  • The Emerging Economies in the Digital Era: Market Places, Market Players, and Market Makers by Naazneen Barma, University of California. Website: http://tinyurl.com/3xjf2ps
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