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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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African Ingenuity Attracting Interest

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The tide of science and innovation from the South is grabbing the world’s attention. While the big giants of India, China and Brazil are well-established hubs of invention, it is the once-overlooked continent of Africa that is generating current excitement. The atmosphere can be equated to the flush of innovation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as inventors tackled the budding new technologies of the combustion engine, flight, electricity and radio waves. These days, it’s the challenges of development, rapid urbanization and finding ways to ‘hack’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hack_%28technology%29), like adapting existing  technology such as mobile phones or bicycles to new purposes.

That previous period of invention had a spirit of pioneering and making-do, of dreams and adaptability triumphing over poverty, and it laid the path for many new companies to sprout up and create wealth and jobs for millions. At this August’s Maker Faire Africa gathering (http://makerfaireafrica.com/) in Accra, Ghana, African pioneers in grassroots innovation offered inspiring inventions.

The rapid changes happening in African countries – especially the tilt to having a larger urban population than a rural one – means there is an urgent need to boost incomes.

Handled right, these grassroots inventors could grow to become part of the already expanding South-South trade, which grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007, to make up 20 percent of world trade.

Inspired by the US magazine Make (http://makezine.com/) – a do-it-yourself technology magazine written by makers of computers, electronics and robotics – the first Maker Faire gathering was held in 2006 in the San Francisco area of the United States.

The African Maker Faire modelled itself on this approach and has tapped into Africa’s well-entrenched do-it-yourself development culture. It went looking for more inventors like those celebrated on the website AfriGadget (http://www.afrigadget.com/), with its projects that solve “everyday problems with African ingenuity.” The Faire works with the participants to share their ideas and to find ways to make money from their ideas.

The Faire in Accra ran in parallel with the International Development Design Summit (http://2009.iddsummit.org/),which came to Ghana from its home at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (http://web.mit.edu/) in the United States. Its aim was to bring technology closer to “potential end users of the projects.”

“It is part of the revolution in design that aims to create equity in the distribution of research and development resources by focusing on the needs of the world’s poor,” organizers said.

This spirit of African invention is about breaking the perception that invention is a purely Northern phenomenon that requires complex and expensive materials. African ingenuity is about taking whatever is available and tackling common problems. It is an empowering approach that celebrates local initiative and seeks to find ways to turn these inventions into sustainable incomes.

“What’s different about African mechanics and gadgets is that it’s generally made with much fewer, and more basic, materials,” said Afrigadget founder Erik Hersman. “Where you might find a story on how to make hi-tech robots at home in Make, its counterpart in Africa might be how to create a bicycle out of wood. No less ingenuity needed, but far more useful for an African’s everyday life.”

The African Maker Faire featured a wide range of solutions, from a low-power radio station to a bicycle-powered saw and a simple corn planter.

Shamsudeen Napara, from northern Ghana, brought a US $10 corn planter that looks like a pill dispenser to help speed up crop planting. He also has invented a cheap shea nut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shea_butter) roaster. These inventions are cooked up in his metal fabrication shop which builds tools for agricultural use. Shea nut processing is a lucrative task for women in Northern Ghana. Napara’s roaster costs US $40 and reduces the energy and time to process the nuts. He has also made a soap cutter using piano wires and guitar screws.

Bernard Kiwia, a bicycle mechanic from Arusha, Tanzania, is a pioneer working with windmills, water pumps, mobile phone chargers and pedal-powered hacksaws – all made from old bike parts.

Hayford Bempong, David Celestin and Michael Amankwanor from Accra Polytechnic (http://www.accrapolytechnic.edu.gh/), built a low-power radio station. Made from scrap electronic parts and an antenna from copper pipe, the radio was put straight to use to broadcast announcements at the event over a range of a few thousand metres.

Suprio Das, Killian Deku, Laura Stupin and Bernard Kiwia brought a method to produce chlorine from salt water and other common materials. It can then be used to purify water. Their method can clean vast quantities of water using no moving parts (avoiding breakdowns). It does this by dripping chlorine into the water until a level has been reached, and then the purified water is released. By using a 5 litre bag of chlorine, and a US $3 valve, 100,000 litres of water can be purified.

Electricity was also being made using low-cost batteries from aluminum cans and plastic water bottles. Applying salt water as an electrolyte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolyte),electricity is created by the oxidation of the aluminum can – a cheaper approach and less toxic than commercial batteries.

A group called Afrobotics (http://www.afrobotics.com) gave a presentation to encourage more African students to go into engineering, science and technology. Afrobotics is set up as a competition to “fuel engineering, science, innovation, and entrepreneurship on the African continent, utilizing robotics.” They have some excellent videos of African robots in action: http://www.afrobotics.com/videos.

Published: October 2009

Resources

1) Fab Labs: Like the futuristic “replicator” in the TV show Star Trek, Fab Labs allow people to design and produce what they need there and then. The labs are mushrooming throughout the South as people get the innovation bug. The Fab Lab program is part of the MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) which broadly explores how the content of information relates to its physical representation. Website: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/

2) id21 Insights: A series of articles by the UK ’s Institute of Development Studies on how to make technology and science relevant to the needs of the poor. Website: http://www.id21.org/insights/insights68/art00.html

3) eMachineShop: This remarkable service allows budding inventors to download free design software, design their invention, and then have it made in any quantity they wish and shipped to them: Amazing! Website: http://www.emachineshop.com/

4) The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website: www.red-dot.de

5) Institute for the Future: It identifies emerging trends that will transform global society and the global marketplace. It provides insight into business strategy, design process, innovation, and social dilemmas. Its website helps budding inventors to identify new areas of invention.Website: http://www.iftf.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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Indians Fighting Inflation with Technology

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Despite the global economic downturn, many countries of the South are seeing rapid economic growth. That can have a down side: inflation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflation). Inflation can be caused by variety of factors – too much money chasing too few goods, deliberate government policies to increase demand for goods and services, environmental disasters creating scarcity, or poor investment in infrastructure straining against rapid economic growth. But when it gets out of control for life-essential goods like food, then people need solutions to survive.

In India – home to more poor people than all of sub-Saharan Africa – rising inflation has prompted the Reserve Bank of India to raise interest rates, which in turn leads to more expensive loans and credit, just when funds need to be borrowed to invest in infrastructure improvements for the country.

India’s finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, has warned that the rising interest rates necessary to fight inflation will hurt India’s economic growth.

India has seen inflation jump from single digits in 2008 to double digits this year. Consumer price inflation for industrial and farm workers in India rose by 14 percent, government data show – up from 5.51 percent in January 2008 (It hit 16.22 percent in January 2010, according to the Indian Ministry of Labour).

And it is the poorest who suffer the most from inflation. Inflation in India has led to worker protests for wage increases and rising prices for essentials like food: a life-and-death issue for the poor.

Other countries across the South are also experiencing high inflation, the worst being Venezuela. India has the highest inflation after Venezuela’s 32 percent rate, according to Bloomberg data compiled from 82 countries.

The UN’s trade and development body, UNCTAD, has called for new measures to tackle inflation. “In the past few decades, monetary policies have been more and more gradually based on inflation targeting,” said Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of UNCTAD. “I see there should be other instruments to contain inflation rather than monetary policies.”

Frustration with inflation has even been taken up by India’s vibrant entertainment industry, Bollywood (http://www.bollywoodworld.com).

The song “Mehangayi Daayan” (“The Inflation Witch”) in a film produced by acting star Aamir Khan has the lyrics, “my husband’s earnings are good but his second wife — inflation — is eating them up.”

Indian marketing consultant Suhasini Sakhare (http://www.suhasinisakhare.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=2&Itemid=12) from Nagpur has called for Indian consumers to be empowered, just as farmers are with the successful e-Choupal web portal.

E-Choupal (http://www.echoupal.com) has developed a reputation for both controlling prices and increasing incomes for poor farmers. Started in 2000 by the major Indian company ITC Limited (http://www.itcportal.com), it links farmers to the latest prices for products including soybeans, wheat, coffee and prawns.

E-Choupal works through computers set up in rural areas. It has built one of the largest internet initiatives in rural India, reaching 4 million farmers in 40,000 villages. It does this through 6,500 computer kiosks located in the homes of farmer-coordinators called Sanchalaks. The kiosks offer weather reports and the latest market prices, important scientific developments, risk management advice, and help with sales and marketing. The computer is in the Sanchalak’s house and connects to the internet by telephone. Each computer can serve around 600 farmers in the surrounding area.

Indian agriculture suffers from being very fragmented, with poor infrastructure and an army of middlemen looking to get the best price for themselves at the expense of farmers and consumers. Indian farmers are heavily in debt and plagued by a very high suicide rate as a result (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers’_suicides_in_India). This agricultural crisis has a direct impact on India’s ability to meet its development goals and lift many millions more out of poverty in the future.

E-Choupal sees itself as creating a “virtuous circle of higher productivity, higher incomes, enlarged capacity for farmer risk management, larger investments and higher quality and productivity.”

E-Choupal has increased yields for farmers, reduced transaction costs, and raised the quality of output leading to rising farmer incomes.

It is clear from experience in other countries that better access to price information helps control price inflation. E-Choupal has the advantage of providing both information and the means to access it: a big problem in rural India. Most poor Indian consumers do not have access to the internet and make food purchases from small vendors, whom they must trust to set the right price for products.

Online, there are plenty of price comparison websites for Indians (http://explore.oneindia.in/internet/portal/comparisonsites): computers, electronics and household goods (http://compareindia.in.com) for example. But this is of no use to poor Indians without access to the information.

Economic commentator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta told AFP of the political dangers: “There’s a huge amount of discontent and anger across the country and certainly among the poor. Speak to the person on the street and their biggest problem is inflation.”

Published: August 2010

Resources

  • Olam: A global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria. It shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade. Website: www.olamonline.com
  • Model Village India: A pioneering initiative is reviving impoverished rural villages. Drawing on self-organizing methods used in India since 1200 BC, the Model Village India is based around India’s democratic system of Panchayats: a village assembly of people stemming back to pre-colonial times. Website: www.modelvillageindia.org.in
  • e-Choupal: Hope or Hype? By Neeraj Dangi and Harjit Singh, American Journal of Economics and Business Administration 2 (2): 179-184, 2010. Website: http://tinyurl.com/3682r3p
  • A book on the consequences of inflation when it gets out of control: When Money Dies: The Nightmare of the Weimar Hyper-Inflation by Adam Fergusson. Website: http://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Money-Dies-Nightmare-Hyper-Inflation/dp/1906964440
  • The American National Inflation Association: A website with educational videos and resources on inflation. Website: http://inflation.us

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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