Monday, November 22, 2010

Africa is in need of "appropriate" education

People often speak about the need for "appropriate" technology in developing nations. Appropriate technology is "technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for". (Wikipedia). Appropriate is also about the need to adapt technology to the receiving nation instead of imposing technology that was developed in the industrialized word, thinking that it will automatically function in developing countries.

In this posting, I would like to discuss the need for "appropriate"education, in particular higher education (post secondary school) in Africa. I discussed the ICT needs for primary and secondary education in my posting of November1, 2010. When introducing education in developing countries, we should take the country's social, political and economical aspects into consideration, the same way we do when we adapt technology to the receiving nation.

Until recently higher education in countries of Africa was primarily provided by public universities. Those universities are "funded" by the governments, but in reality they were often under-funded. The professors' salaries were largely insufficient pushing them to have an additional job in the private sector to compensate for their lack of revenue. I observed this first hand during my three years as a professor at the National University of Zaire (1982-1985). My African colleagues had a secondary (in fact primary) job in addition to their professorship. Their salary level was shamefully low compared to my expatriate salary. (In 1958, my father published a paper explaining that there was no justification for that difference. To read more find the paper as REF17 in my father's bibliography posted on his website.). The situation for native university professors was difficult as they often needed to sacrifice their teaching and research profession for their higher paid job and no one could blame them for that.  This combined with inadequate university infrastructure resulted in a poor quality of education and graduating students did not match even the basic skill requirements to work in the private sector.

Fortunately, the situation is changing. Governments in Africa understand the importance of a good education system for the development of their country. However, the gap is significant and one needs to start improving education from the primary school level all the way to higher education. It will take some time before the impact can be felt.

Over the last decade, Africa has seen a rise in the opening of private higher education institutions. These are often imported from Western countries by different organizations. While their goals are usually laudable, their impact is less obvious. The main reason is that they are delivering an education curriculum that is not "appropriate" for the particular country they are in. Curricula based on the needs of developed countries do not necessarily fit the needs of Africa. In addition, the cost for an education in a private institution is also usually much more expensive than in public universities. These private institutions label themselves "university" when they often don't have the research level and quality of academics to justify this denomination. As a result, they are "selling" more than what they can really deliver. The new middle class parents in the country who cannot afford to pay for higher education abroad send their sons and daughters in these Western imported "universities" with the hope that their "better" quality education will get them a job when they graduate. Unfortunately, more than often their student contributes to the statistics of unemployment after several years of studies.

 It is important that the curriculum of those institutions is adapted to the local needs. The curriculum should be developed in cooperation with the government based on its strategic plans for the country's development and with the private sector based on the type workforce it needs. Also, the private sector should offer internships to students during their studies to better integrate the education system with the job force.

A good example is the new Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda. Co-founded by Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, this institute provides women with practical and market relevant training to find meaningful employment in the fastest growing sector of the economy. If you ever go to Rwanda, and in particular in the capital Kigali, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that tourism is in full development in the country. The Gorilla treks north of the country are attracting thousands of tourists. In the capital you can see major hotels being build by Marriott, Hilton, and a convention center build by Radisson Hotel. They will need to find people to manage and to work in these hotels.

Having identified this need in collaboration with the government, the Akilah Institute started a hospitality curriculum, graduating 50 women this year. the Institute will have a hard time satisfying the growing demand in the country even with its plan to have 800 graduates per year in the near future. It takes a lot more to discourage Elizabeth, who I had the pleasure to meet during her last fundraising trip in the US. She is now looking into e-learning capabilities to extend the reach of the institute. Once again, this is the appropriate step to take as the Rwandan government made significant  investments in the country's ICT infrastructure which will allow institutes to deliver e-learning across the country (see my paper published in Next Billion).

It is also the responsibility of the governments to attract the appropriate education to their country based on their development plans. To support their goal of becoming an ICT center in East Africa, the Rwandan government has engaged with IBM and the East Carolina University to develop a software engineering curriculum at KIST, the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology. The government is also currently working with the Carnegie-Mellon University's School of Computer Science (recently ranked #1 Computer Science School in the US) to open a graduate campus in Kigali.

While many of these private higher education institutions are functioning with foreign development investments, it is also critical that they become self-sustainable sooner than later. Self-sustainability will be possible once they deliver appropriate education or in other words, once they provide immediate value to the country which can be monetized. No need to say that all these companies building hotels in Kigali are knocking at the door of the Akilah Institute. If they cannot not hire individuals with hospitality skills locally, they will need to import workers at a much higher cost from foreign countries. So, it should be in local hotels' interest to financially support the institute that will provide them a skilled work force.

Here different business models are possible. A model used in some countries has corporations pay for students' tuition in exchange for their commitment to work for the corporation  for a minimum amount of time (usually 3 to 5 years) after they graduate. In doing so, the students pay back the corporation for the sponsoring of their studies.

Another model is that once the institution is operational, it should be sustainable with the tuition of the students as donors pay for the tuition of the students based on their merit. This model establishes a personal relationship between the donor and the student that is often very valuable to donors who can act as mentor for the student.

In summary, "appropriate" education will better serve the needs of the developing country as it will ensure students get a job when they graduate and will make it possible for the education institution to be sustainable and even profitable.

See you later alligator...

Monday, November 1, 2010

One laptop per child...but what "laptop"?

Most enterprises today could not operate anymore without the use of IT. Imagine an accountant without spreadsheet, or an airline company without a reservation system, or a bank without ATMs, or a retail store without cash registers. Enterprises are using IT to automate their business processes like accounting, sales management, procurement, supply chain management, etc. by using professional software (called business applications) to manage their business.

Business applications have been developed in the last 30 years since the PC became available. They have been designed for the traditional PC. Enterprise’s employees need a PC to access and use those business applications.

But the PC has evolved dramatically since the first bulky desktop PC announced by IBM in 1981. Over the years, technology miniaturization allowed for smaller PCs and the laptop (that you can hold on your laps) became more in use. It was possible due to the flat screen LCD technology, replacing the TV like screen. By attaching the flat screen to the keyboard, you had a more portable PC. All these PCs are not really mobile. They need power connection as the battery lifetime is short (a few hours) and would not allow for a day of work without reloading the battery. In addition they are heavy (more than 5-6 lbs) and big in size not making it easy to carry them with you.

In parallel to the PC evolution, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), the second generation mobile technology which could carry data as well as voice traffic was developed in the early nineties. In 1992, the first GSM phone, the Nokia 1011 was launched. Over the years mobile phones' sizes got smaller and more portable.

As network bandwidth increased and technology evolved, smart phones like the Blackberry appeared that were offering more advanced computing capability. They where like a hand-held computer integrated with a mobile phone capable of running software applications.

Basically there is a convergence between PCs getting more mobile and mobile phones becoming more like a PC. In 2007 Apple announced the iPhone. It was really the first complete integration between both a mobile phone and a PC platform that was internet and multi-media enabled. The iPad tablet was the next device announced by Apple in that new category of devices called Mobile Internet Devices (MID).

The old business applications designed for the PC need to be redesigned to be used on those MIDs. It is probably easier and better to develop new applications designed directly for mobile devices. Already more than 300,000 such mobile applications have been developed for the iPhone/iPad. Those mobile applications are not really running on the device itself, but rather somewhere in a cloud data center accessed via Internet (see my posting of October 27, 2010). Broadband internet connection makes it possible for those devices to access and exchange data with sophisticated applications running in the cloud. This new paradigm is called cloud computing, a new delivery model for IT as a service.

An IBM survey (2,000 information-technology professionals in 87 countries) found that more than half believe that within the next five years, more developers will be working on mobile applications and cloud-based architecture than traditional computing platforms for enterprise. Ninety-one percent of IT professionals surveyed said cloud computing will overtake on-premise computing as the main way that businesses access data within the next five years. “The cell phone is no longer a gadget – it’s what IT is going to become.” said Jim Corgel, an IBM general manager of independent software vendors and developer relations.

In a future posting I will explain what mobile application really means, the potential of those applications and the requirements for them to succeed in emerging markets like Africa.

For now I want to stay focused on the new mobile internet devices. These new mobile devices will become the user access devices of choice in the next 5 years. Already today one in three devices is a smartphone, a MID, or a Netbook. These new devices that bring Internet access to mobile phones will help Africa bypass the need for computers when linking into networks to access applications. Africans are turning their late adoption of technology to their advantage by leapfrogging landlines and personal computers to mobile phones.

It is therefore important that schools in Africa that want to develop ICT awareness with their young students use these new mobile internet devices. In doing so, the children will get familiar with this new category of devices that will be in use by the majority of people in Africa in the coming years. They will experience mobile access to information and better understand the new innovations that such a mobility makes possible.

This should also benefits the schools as these devices are much less expansive than the traditional PCs. A traditional laptop PC still costs around 500-800 USD. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) PC's price is 100USD. It is really more a Netbook than a laptop because of its small size, its light weight and its 12 hours battery life.

Child using the OLPC Laptop at Kigali's airport where wireless Internet access is free
This OLPC PC in my opinion is one of the most admirable technical achievement when you look at all the technical challenges they addressed, not speaking about the "political" challenges. But even more, the OLPC team didn't rest on their laurels, and they are preparing a new tablet MID. Their XO-3 "crazy-thin tablet" will be priced at just 75USD!

The new OLPC XO-3 tablet

iPod touches, a portable device that can access Internet using wireless connection are now available for a starting price of 140USD.
At the Culbreth middle school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, students can carry iPod touches throughout their school day. They are allowed to bring their iPod touches from home and use these during the day as long as each student and parent(s) agrees to adhere to the restrictions explained in the use agreement. Students who do not bring an iPod touch can use iPods provided by the school for free. Those iPods can not be taken back home but are assigned to individual students and used throughout the school day. Students can then use these iPods from anywhere in the school and access Internet using a wireless network. They can use them to search for information relevant to their courses or to use applications performing the tasks required by their class assignments. The school is basically teaching them to become "mobile knowledge workers" that are capable of finding information needed to perform their tasks. But more than that, they can also collaborate with their friends students through the social networks available on the web.

So in addition to providing children with the next generation information access mobile devices, the school's cost can be dramatically reduced by using those versus expensive older laptops or they can serve more children for the same cost. Obviously, in Africa schools should still accept donations of the older laptops when offered, nothing beats free! It is certainly better than no PC at all.

See you later aligator....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The New Nomads and Cloud Computing in Africa

You may be interested in reading my article published on the "Next Billion" website:

It is about the impact of cloud computing on the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
Enjoy the reading and let me know what you think by adding your comment in the Next Billion website.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rwanda on the Move

Every year for the last three years, I go to Rwanda to visit my brother who lives there. Thus I have the opportunity to see the changes happening over one year. For many countries, including my country of origin Belgium, I don't see much changes from one year to the other, at the contrary I sometimes see things degrading like roads or buildings in Belgium.
This is not the case in Rwanda. While I know that this election year may have been at the origin of many improvements, it is clear that the country is on the move. The most visible changes are the infrastructure changes. Roads have been paved, and public lighting installed. For example, the dirt road that was leading from the airport to the military hospital was in such a bad shape that I was thinking that any person driving on it in an ambulance would die. That road is now paved and lighting has been installed. The main boulevard leading to the center of Kigali was a dangerous road without central divide. It is now a nice boulevard well lighted with central divide preventing fast downhill driving cars to enter in collision with cars driving in the other direction. Similar road improvement are happening inside the country. Many new hotels are under construction in Kigali. A convention center construction is also in progress expected to complete by 2012. Most of these constructions are executed by Chinese companies.
In the country side, I have seen several villages being equipped with electricity. The gas extraction facility on the Kivu lake is now producing electricity.

But even more exciting for me is the Information and Communication Technology infrastructure progress. An extensive fiber optic network is put in place and is reaching into all 30 districts of the country. It is installed by a South Korean company. Here are pictures of the fiber optic cable on the road from Giseny to Kibuye.

The country is now connected to the broadband SEACOM Internet cable. The fiber optic will allow to deliver it to the entire country. Broadband really means that you can now deliver complex services like video to the users. I bought an internet modem from Rwandatel. Compared to last year, the monthly cost was divided by two ($68/month unlimited data transfer) and will probably be divided by two again when I come back next year. I tried it inside the country. As my brother and I stopped in a bar in a small town we succeeded in using Skype to call my mother back in Belgium via video call and it was working fine! People in the bar were looking at us like we were sorcerers! This opens the door for many more applications like e-learning or e-healthcare, allowing doctors to get remote diagnosis of medical images via Internet.
I did help start a penpal program between the St Vincent Pallotti school of Kigali and the Culbreth middle school in my town of Chapel Hill to help Rwandan students learn English by exchanging letters with American students. I was very pleased to see that the school now has an ICT room that did not exist last year. Even the building was new from last year. The computers are refurbished computers offered by an Italian donor. It was very exciting to see the students learning using it, searching for the characters on the keyboards.

When I was at the school, there were military people helping build cement blocs for the building of new classes. Nice example of community service!
Completing the ICT infrastructure, the government is also finishing a National Data Center that will be able to deliver cloud services. The combination of high mobile penetration, broadband Internet and cloud computing open new opportunities. It is now up to Rwandan entrepreneurs and the private sector to leverage that opportunity to improve the local industries' productivity and to deliver solutions that will make a difference in Rwandan people's lives.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Western vs Eastern Perspectives on Africa's Development

During the 19th century until the first World War in 1914, Africa has been the object of invasions and colonisation by most Western European countries. The entire continent was annexed as colonies by Belgium France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Those countries found in Africa the resources needed for the European development and the raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, and tin. The geographic design of many colonies was inspired by the need to easily export those goods via the ocean. It is visible on this partial map of West Africa where all countries have an ocean access.
This geographic design was contrary to the local population's interest as it forced different tribes to live together against their natural affinity. Along the cost you would find fishermen tribes, further inland you would find farmers cultivating the land and higher in the plains you would find cow breeders tribes. The colonies' borders were cutting across these tribes, separating them by country and forcing fisherman, farmers and breeders to live together.

The only colony created by the United States was Liberia created to accept emigration of free black slaves. This colonisation attempt was against the will of the native people.
While the French colonies represented a more significant surface area occupied, it was the British colonies that hosted the largest populations.

In general, the trade balance between the colonies and the colonial power was in favor of the latest as they were selling more goods to the colony than they would buy from it.

It then took more than 20 years to see the African colonies access to freedom starting in 1951 with Libya. While "free", the same pattern of exploitation by the colonial power would basically continue. This was sometimes called the "neocolonialism". The USA had a growing influence during the post-colonial era as Africa became the target for the communist bloc and the cold war propagated in Africa. The USA were supporting often rogue government to stop the increasing influence of the USSR in the region. As an example, Angola has been the subject of a civil war after the end of the war for independence from Portugal in 1975. The war featured conflict between two primary Angolan factions, the communist MPLA and the anti-communist UNITA. lasting 27 years during which an estimated 500,000 people were killed.

So basically, the development of Africa for the last two centuries until the end of the 20th century was heavily influenced if not controlled by the Western countries (Western Europe and the USA).

Then as China and India fast growing economies required more access to natural resources, they became more involved in Africa. Over the past decade, the Asian powers have consolidated their presence on the African continent through trade, investment, aid and migration.

It is interesting to compare the Easter perception of Africa's development with the Western perception that prevailed until recently. This has been very well described by Fiona Dwinger in a report published by Consultancy Africa Intelligence: Opportunity versus Risk: Differing Perspectives on Africa’s Development 
I will summarize it here. 

The basic difference between the Western and the Eastern perception of Africa is that Western countries see Africa as a high risk business while Eastern countries see it as a business opportunity. 

Western Perception: High Risk

- Western industrialized states have traditionally shared the view of “helping” Africa.
Western strategy is aid-based development assistance, focusing on issues such as health, education, poverty reduction and, more recently, good governance
- Over the past forty years Western aid has not been correlated with a significant improvement in the African people’s standard of living.
- The Western system of development assistance has led to a high dependency on external help and has thus stifled innovation, entrepreneurship as well as hindered Africans from taking their fate into their own hands.
- Developmental projects funded by aid – such as the building of schools and health care centers – are often not sustainable and fall into decay once their control is handed over to local Governments.

Eastern Perception: Opportunity

- Asia’s involvement in Africa is much more diverse than that of the West.
Asian interest in Africa is not limited to resource-extraction but has rather brought with it opportunities for growth.
- The building of roads, railways, harbors and the expansion of telecommunications is of mutual benefit to both Asia and Africa.
- Asia reduces the costs associated with logistical inefficiency and of transporting raw materials from their source to harbors for export
- Africans gain from externalities whereby the cost and time of transporting goods - and thus of doing business in general - is reduced.

In her report, Fiona Dwinger also addresses the Western concerns (in particular from the USA about China's investments in Africa) of the Chinese non-interference policy. "The United Sates, for example, argues that by investing in or giving aid to (Western labelled) pariahs such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, the Chinese Government is directly influencing the ability of these despotic regimes to hold onto power...  The United States’ argument is rather contradictory considering that by investing in China, American businesses are also supporting a state with a questionable human rights record."

"In addition, treating African recipient countries as equal partners and not dictating the conditions of development assistance and thus controlling the domestic policy space". This is another major difference with the West which seems to subject their support to conditions of African countries adopting certain Western values. I spoke about those in preceding postings:

See you later alligator....

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The fallacy of family planning in developing countries

Yesterday, with thousand of other people in 82 locations around the world, I attended a TED x Change meeting. This was a special event organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and TED, marking the anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 
I attended the event in Chapel Hill where it was hosted by IntraHealth International, an NGO based in town.

Melinda Gates was the first speaker. She impressed me by the clarity and innovative thinking of her ideas. She made the point that if Coca-Cola was able to distribute their drinks anywhere in the world, we should be able to learn from that to address health problems.

The next speaker was Hans Rosling, a brilliant researcher from Sweden. He is using a great visualization technology that he developed that transforms development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. This software is open source and available here.

I probably misunderstood some "strange" ideas that he shared, so my next description has to be taken with caution, as he is much smarter than I'm. What I don't agree with is an idea that he presented and that I have seen presented by many others in the Western or "developed" world (see my view on the reality of "developed" in my posting of  September 13, 2010).

So here is what I understood from some part of his presentation. He showed a chart where on the horizontal axis you could see the measure of the average number of children per family going from zero to eight. On the vertical axis you could see the children mortality going from zero to hundreds per thousand births. Then on the chart you would see circles representing the different countries where the size of the circle was proportional to the population size and its position was based on the child mortality and average family size in that country. He then showed that there were two major groupings on the chart. The African countries were mostly on the top right of the chart meaning that they had large (more than 4) number of children per family on average and that the infant mortality was high, in the hundreds per thousand birth. Then he showed that most of the other countries (the developed world) would be in the bottom left of the chart, meaning they would have less (less than 3) children per family and a much lower infant mortality.

So this would mean that less children per family would lead to lower mortality!!! I don't think that there is a direct link here. We know that in developed countries life expectancy goes up with the average income (GDP/capita). But so does the cost of children, and therefore naturally families tend to have less children. In the developing world, because of the domination of unskilled labor in the production function, the child represents an early economic value, while in developed countries he acquires value only at the end of a long and expensive training.  In modern societies, the child never contributes more than he costs. Better, he is expensive and brings nothing.  To allow him to integrate into a technical economy, parents need to provide him with a lengthy and costly training.  And once this training is acquired, no sociological imperative compels him to surrender the fruits of his work. At the contrary in traditional societies in the developing world the social structure is characterized by the predominance of the extended family, which includes all members of the same lineage, compelled to a series of several obligations, under the rule of an undisputed chieftain.  The requirements governing the operation of the clan provide parents with the personal enjoyment of the work of youngsters, which are in a way their pension scheme. This reason accounts more for a difference in procreative behavior between developed and developing countries.

Another idea shared by Hans Rosling is that the link of lower child mortality to lower average family size should justify the importance of family planning, the "most important way" to address the problem of child mortality. He also added that family planning would also solve many of the other MDGs. Since it would lower the mortality, children would actually survive to go to school addressing MDG #2 (achieve universal primary education). Having less children would reduce world population, saving the planet from exploitation of limited resources and solving MDG # 7 (ensure environment sustainability). And the audience applauded frenetically!!!

What I'm uncomfortable with here is that it is somewhat implying that a large African family is more dangerous for the environment sustainability than a small family in developed countries. This was shocking to me, even if he did not put it exactly that way. We know how developed countries are contributing to the world pollution compared to developing countries. It seems to me that the push for family planning by developed countries is more about their concern to have to share the limited resources of planet earth with the growing population of developing countries and to protect their existing way of life.

Finally what is the moral basis for developed countries to tell families in developing countries how many children they should have? The fallacy of these policies is very well described by Fernand Bezy in "Démographie et sous-développement : propos antimalthusiens" You can find this document in the Fernand Bezy Web Site (there is a link to it in this blog). You will find it in the bibliography section (document REF8) both in French and English version.

 See you later aligator.....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Are the so called "developed" countries really more developed?

Today people speak about "developed" countries to designate the industrialized world, mainly North America, Western Europe and Japan. Opposed to developed countries are the "under-developed" countries now called the "developing" countries.
The notion of "under-developed" countries is mainly based on a Western concept of development. Under-development is considered as an objective status based on a series of criteria, the main one being the "Per Capita Income". Examples of other criteria are the alphabetization rate, life expectancy, infant death rate, distribution of population between agriculture, industrial and services sectors.
This approach based on under-development indicators is rejecting any value judgment in favor of facts observation only . These indicators are used for a "precise" measurement of the intensity of under-development. Like a thermometer that is used for the body temperature measuring fever to determine if the person is sick or not, but fever is not the sickness, it could be due to cold, malaria, tuberculosis,...with very different possible outcome.

The most used indicator because it is summarizing all other indicators is the per capita income, the ratio between the gross domestic product (GDP) and the total population, which represents the mean value of the output produced per person.
Indicated in US dollar, here are some GDP per capita from 2009 provided by the World Bank: Monaco = US$ 209,667; USA = US$ 46,436;  Germany = US$40,873; Japan = US$ 39,729; Brazil = US$ 8,114; Angola = US$ 3,734; China = US$ 3,687; India = US$ 1,122; Kenya = US$ 759; Congo (RDC) = US$ 163 (that is 1,280 times less than Monaco).

Today, there is another category of countries between the developed and under-developed countries: we call these the emerging countries like Russia, China, India, Brazil and others. While these countries may have high GDP per capita, they still present indicators of under-development, especially on the social and poverty aspects.

In the Western concept, under-development is perceived as a lag towards technical development, increase of production and standard of living. Under-development is thought of as a development gap that needs to catch up. This vision assumes that the developed country model is ideal, that developing countries need to modernize like Europe or the US by adopting their technology, their management models and at the same by relinquishing their traditional religions, their  "archaic" social structures etc, all of which prevent them from closing the gap. The expectation is that overtime the developing countries will close the gap and become "developed".

So lets look at this more closely. In the ratio between the gross domestic product (GDP) and the total population, the numerator and the denominator do not represent the same number of individuals. The national revenue is created only by those who are working while the denominator also include the children, the old retired people, the jobless. This ratio between active and inactive people is very different between developed and developing countries. And this average is hiding very different situations. Someone once told me that statistics is the science that concludes that a man who has his head in an oven and hist feet in a refrigerator, feels good on average. To understand, 10 could be the average between 9 and 11, but also between 1 and 19. In the first case, the average is close to the reality because it is not too far away from the numbers it represents. Unfortunately, in developing countries the situation looks more like the the second case. While some Brazilians live like Americans, half the population lives in poverty.

In the case of developing countries, some elements are not included in the national revenue. An example are personal services like housework. This would not be a problem if the ratios where the same in developed and under-developed countries. But in the Western society, many women are employed generating revue and in addition personal services are commercialized: hair dresser, dry cleaning, restaurants, entertainment, etc. Therefore the national revenue of developing countries is systematically under evaluated.

In the case of developed countries some revenue are not subtracted from the national revenue. Development has its costs (liabilities) which should be subtracted from revenue (assets) as is required in accounting. In the so called "developed" countries, enormous amounts are disbursed to repair the damage from development: car accidents, too rich and unbalanced  food (excess of sugar, fat, alcohol, tobacco) generating teeth caries, cancers, cardio-vascular problems, diabetes. Technology like television showing violence  impacting criminality, scholar results, social relations and finally the huge cost on the environment.

Using the revenue per capita to measure development implies that happiness is linked to wealth and accumulation of material goods pushed by large corporations for their own interest, persuading customers about their needs with massive advertising.

Using these indicators to define development, industrial countries appear superior to developing countries civilizations. But in many respects they look less advanced. How not to appreciate the under-developed countries values like their social values against the neurosis generating Western hyper-individualism. I will describe some of these values in a future posting.

The Western development often addresses fabricated needs where goods are estimated at their exchange value, not their usage value, but do they address the real needs of the majority? Should developing countries be inspired by that type of development? In developed countries, the system goal is to reduce cost of expansive workforce, while developing countries have an enormous mass of cheap workers. In industrialized countries, the norm is to satisfy luxury needs of rich customers, while in developing countries, most don't even have access to the basics. 

For developing countries, the Western development model is more like a cons-model. In a future posting I will present the developing countries' view of development.

PS: Many concept described here are inspired by Fernand Bezy and have been published in his "Analyse Economique des Pays en Developpement" course in 1990.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Will software piracy threaten the growth of ICT in Africa?

In an article recently published by "Jeune Afrique" (here is the link for those of you reading French), they describe how in Tunisia you can buy pirated software in public stores.  The article then mentions about 30 other similar shops in Tunis full of people buying pirated software. In those stores, a software that is priced at thousands of dollars is sold for five to ten dollars. Across the region, up to 80% of software is counterfeit. Actually the biggest piracy is that of music/movies CDs and DVDs sold in more than 35,000 locations across the country.

In this post, I'd like to focus on the software piracy. And this post is not particularly targeted at Tunisia as this happens in all the countries in the region and in other emerging markets like China.

So the good news is that those stores are full of people, confirming that the ICT (and digital media) market is growing in the region. The bad news is that those people buy pirated content and don't pay the full price, or at least that is the thinking in the developed countries.

The reaction of developed countries to this situation is to require that those countries put in place the laws to protect Intellectual Property (IP) and threatening the users buying pirated versions. In fact Tunisia recently adopted such a law but that did not change the situation. These stores are publicly accessible and the law does not seem to be applied.
So most Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), i.e. the companies that develop those software and sell it for hundreds or thousands of dollars don't see that revenue to which they are legally entitled.
For those ISVs that want to take the opportunity to increase their revenue by penetrating the growing ICT market in Africa, there is no question that piracy get them thinking twice before making that investment.

Everything I said so far is the superficial analysis of the situation. It typically results from developed countries trying to apply in Africa what they do at home without understanding the local situation. Actually, part of the answer is provided by a customer of one of those stores interviewed in the article: "I know that they are pirated, but I can not afford programs such as AutoCAD or InDesign, they are too expensive. I would have to invest about EUR 4000 for software to be able to work. It is not within my means, but here I have it for 5 euros. Somehow, I find it normal to choose the pirated versions, because the publishers are filling their pockets on the backs of consumers and, with such prices, they create a selection by money".

Most ISVs in developed countries do not understand how to do business "at the bottom of the pyramid". In his book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid", C.K. Prahalad makes a great case on how to serve the world's poorest people AND make a profit. "The rich use cash to inventory convenience. They can afford, for example, to buy large bottle of shampoo to avoid multiple trips to the store. The poor have unpredictable income streams. Many subsist on daily wages and have to use cash conservatively. They tend to make purchases only when they have cash and buy only what they need for that day."

The first thing to do to address the piracy problem is to adapt the pricing to the region. Clearly selling software at $4,000 is not affordable for most people in the region. "This requires to start with a radically new understanding of the price-performance relationship compared to that currently employed in developed markets. This is not about lowering prices. It is about altering the price-performance". An example is Microsoft's Windows XP Starter Edition offered in developing countries. It is a low-cost version of Windows, but users can run only three programs or have three windows opened at once. Performance and price are adapted to local need. ISVs then may fear that those low cost products be sold in developing countries competing with the "same" product sold there at a higher price. That risk is reduced by different performance, the Windows XP starter edition running only three programs at once would probably not satisfy the more sophisticated needs of users in developed countries.

Another way to address the pricing problem are free open source software (OSS). Linux is a free open source operating system, and actually, the best Linux version in the market is Ubuntu developed by an ISV originating from South Africa. The challenge for OSS is that they have very little visibility in emerging markets. Consumers in those markets are very influenced by recognizable brands. The reason is that they have no access to other information about products than brand advertisement. It is very unlikely that free OSS can spend the money to establish their brand and compete against the mega marketing power of Microsoft. This will change over time when access to Internet will increase (see my posting of August 31, 2010)

The second thing that can, and in my opinion SHOULD be done by ISVs to counter piracy is to adapt their software to local needs: local languages, local currency, local culture, desired local "look-and-feel.",etc. This is called "localization" of the software. Again  Microsoft announced the Local Language Program, a global initiative to partner with governments to localize Windows in regional languages. Localized software in local languages and sold at a lower cost in emerging market are even more unlikely to be sold in Europe or US. But more importantly, localized software will deliver more value and be more attractive to local buyers.

But probably the best protection against piracy is still to come and will be provided by cloud computing. Cloud computing is a new consumption and delivery model for IT. SMEs can buy access to IT resources from cloud providers on a pay-by-usage basis. End-users no longer need expertise in, or control of the technology infrastructure "in the cloud."   

For SMEs, the traditional paradigm for procuring IT was to buy their own software and hardware. Now the SME only needs a good Internet connection to remotely access the IT infrastructure that is located in the cloud provider’s data center.  The cloud provider can offer access to IT services for a lower cost than an on-premise IT infrastructure. This low cost is achieved by the cloud provider’s ability to share IT infrastructure among a large number of consumers, by utilizing efficient IT service management. 

ISVs use clouds to deliver software applications through Internet. This is known as Software as a Service (SaaS). User then use PCs (even a cheap Netbook with an Internet browser will do it) and mobile phones to access the SaaS of their choice. A familiar example of SaaS is Gmail. Gmail is an email application running in the Google cloud data center and can be accessed through the Internet, using a simple web browser. Other examples of SaaS used by SMEs are,, and 

When delivered as a SaaS, software cannot be copied and pirated anymore as it resides in a remote secured data center and it is not available on CDs or DVDs. In addition ISVs are guaranteed to collect the revenue for the usage of their software by offering access to their SaaS through monthly subscription, typically less than $10/ month/ user. This price would surely better please the customer interviewed in the article. 

ISVs may ask themselves how will I get my investment back with such a low price? First the low price will attract significantly more buyers than the high price. In the telco industry in India, handsets prices used to be in the $300-$1,000 range and not surprisingly, the market was limited. Until one telco offered 100 free minutes for a mobile, multimedia phone with an up-front payment of $10 and monthly payments of $9.25. The company received 1 million applications in 10 days!
Actually ISVs don't see a penny from the 5 dollars currently paid to the pirate shops. A monthly subscription per user of 10 dollars/month over the lifetime of the usage of the software will ultimately exceed the onetime charge of thousands of dollars in the traditional model. If the user does not pay her subscription fees, the ISV can interrupt access to the SaaS by removing the user name from the authorization database.

So in conclusion, I don't think that software piracy will impact the growth of ICT in Africa. It is the responsibility of the ISVs themselves to address the problem, not through threatening the users pirating their software, but rather by offering them software adapted to their needs both in terms of functions and price.
Finally the new SaaS delivery model should protect ISVs from piracy and guarantee their revenue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Looking for a fast growing market? Think Internet in Africa

As promised, I will start a series of postings about the ICT market in Africa. Today I will start with the Internet situation in Africa.

In 1991, the CERN (not Al Gore) publicized the new World Wide Web project, two years after British scientist Tim Berners-Lee had begun creating HTML, HTTP and the first few Web pages. It really became more accessible to the public with the first browser (Mosaic, do you remember?) in 1994. Even more we had to wait for Yahoo in 1995 to make it more useful. Internet has been a major driver for business in developed countries.

But until recently, Internet was generally not available in Africa and when it was, the cost was high and access was unreliable. This is probably why some people call Africa “the last frontier”.

Well, things are changing and at an incredible pace! Africa is finally getting broadband access to the Internet. This year alone, three major broadband ocean cables have been connected (EASSy, Glo1 and Main One Cable).

These projects are expected to increase Internet access in the region while significantly reducing the cost. Analysts project that the new cables will help reduce broadband prices by up to 90% over time. The effects are already being felt in Ghana where the monthly cost of the access it buys from larger telecommunications carriers drop more than a quarter to $1,625 per megabit per second, from $2,250, in recent months. And a new wave of investment is coming that will vastly raise the bandwidth available in West Africa by mid-2012. The carriers, fearing they could lose customers, have started cutting prices ahead of the new cables landing in the country.

In 2008, 32 million sub-Saharan Africans, or 3 percent, had Internet access in 2008. But that number was growing at almost twice the world average rate. Internet growth in Africa has been phenomenal and has not shown any signs of being diminished by the worldwide slump in the economy. As of June 2010, penetration of Internet in all Africa reached 10.9%, representing a 2,357.3% use growth for the 2000-2010 period!

What is the meaning of all this?

First this will reduce the cost of doing business both in Africa and between Africa and other international parties. It opens the door for the big opportunity of Internet services to be delivered to or from Africa. Here is a good study on the Global Opportunity in IT-based Services from the World Bank.

Second the increasing numbers of broadband cables will bring more capacity, allowing for more sophisticated media based Internet services. An example is Pixel Corps, a US-based digital media firm and a specialist in computer graphics and video production. Pixel Corps has entered into a partnership with the government of Rwanda to start one of the best media production academies in the region. The goal is to train hundreds of African artisans capable of state-of-the-art media development to produce content for their community as well as content for the rest of the world.

Third, increasing number of cables will also deliver more reliability to communications in Africa. Undersea cables are prone to being damaged by fishermen and earthquakes and take weeks to repair. When SAT-3 broke last summer, it took several countries completely offline for a while, and Nigeria lost 70 percent of its international capacity. Here is a good cable map for Africa (and the world) providing technical information about bandwidth, availability and landing points.

Fourth, Internet will provide better access for Africa to the global market. It can help “unlock” landlocked countries and help them come out of poverty. In his book “The Bottom Billion”, Paul Collier identifies “landlocked with bad neighbors” as one of the main reasons for poverty. Thirty eight percent of the people living in the bottom-billion societies are living in landlocked countries. While Internet cables are mainly connecting coastal countries, those cables will also connect land-locked countries in East and Southern Africa. This should provide a unique opportunity for those countries to “unlock” themselves and get access to the global market.

While in the past the West coast of Africa was mainly targeted by those cables to connect Africa with North America and Europe, there has been an increasing tendency in recent years to expand submarine cable in the Pacific Ocean on the East coast in part a response to the emerging significance of Asian markets in the global economy and to major investments in Africa by China and India.

But challenges are remaining.

One challenge is what telco companies call "the last mile", that is to bring Internet to the people's homes or to the businesses. This requires the fiber cables necessary to carry the signal from the shores inland which still requires significant investments. Some countries are moving faster than others. Rwanda's president Paul Kagame told the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2009 Summit in Geneva, Switzerland that over half a billion US dollars has so far been invested in communication infrastructure, 70 percent of which was private investment. Rwanda has deployed fiber optic network to serve the capital Kigali and the major cities across the country.

Another challenge is to provide affordable and easy to use devices to access the Internet content. New emerging technologies that bring Internet access to phones will help the region bypassing the need for a computer (including the need for electricity and access to the network) when connecting to the World Wide Web.

Finally, there is the challenge of the Internet content itself which is mostly irrelevant to local populations, not speaking about the fact that it is in another language. This will require Africa to start creating its own content that can help address local needs. An example of a new technology that makes content more easily accessible to underprivileged people while at the same time giving them the possibility to create their own content is the SpokenWeb developed in India.

It is now up to the African innovators and entrepreneurs to grasp this opportunity.

NB: Some of the information used in this post came from Yahoo News.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Africa needs to give itself the tools to protect against the impact of climate change

Everyone understand how agriculture is depending on the climate. But weather variability has even more impact in Africa. African farmers know too well how weather changes may affect their crops. A good weather prediction is critical for the productivity of tropical crops. Unfortunately good weather prediction is (or was) not easily available to African farmers. Now Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is changing that. The impact of ICT in Africa will be the subject of a future posting in this blog.

Going back to the weather impact, here is an extract from Fernand Bezy, "Demography and under-development", 1974:

"Tropical agriculture is unfortunately much more vulnerable than that in temperate regions. In Kenya, for example, sorghum has a yield of 1.7 tons per acre ifplanted before the rains, yield which reduces by 27% if one waits just four days after the early rains, and 50% at least for a delay of seven days. Maize, which produces between 1.5 and 2 tons per hectare depending on the season if planted before the rains, is losing 40% of its performance for a delay of six days. When nothing is done to remedy the drawbacks of agriculture in areas with highly irregular climate, crop size can vary from 1 to 8 depending on the years: in Libya, the barley harvest was 22,000 tonsin 1947, the year of drought, and 177,000 tons in 1949, the year of
plenty. When only one crop fails, the stocks carry from one year to another can enable a community to get away without too much difficulty. But should there be two or three years of drought, as in the Sahel, and then comes scarcity: people are being decimated."

It is this dependency on the weather and the need for immediate labor availability when rain comes that is one of the explanations of the large families making labor more easily available when required.

But there are other weather changes: the increasingly erratic weather patterns due to the climate change in the world, that also impact Africa. African countries are highly dependent on the exports of a few primary commodities, which render them extremely vulnerable to volatility in world prices. The recent drought in Russia has increase the wheat prices by as much as 92% since the beginning of June.

One way to protect against price volatility are world exchanges, in this case commodity exchanges. Unfortunately those are mainly based in Chicago and are difficult to access for Africans. This is why the Whitaker Group is advocating for the development of African commodities exchanges. Follow this link for a much better explanation than I can give.

I had a chance to meet with Rosa Whitaker during a Rwanda Development Forum in Washington DC in January. She impressed me by her strong will. The Whitaker Group (TWG) is the premier strategic consulting firm in the US creating sustainable prosperity in Africa. They facilitate trade and capital flows to Africa and believe in the capacity of Africa and her people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Their web site is always a good source of information about Africa and its challenges.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Can we impose our values to other cultures?

History is full of examples of civilizations trying to impose their values to other cultures. While it is often justified by "good values", what are those values criteria? In reality in most cases the goal is economic domination.

Allow me to share with you on that subject an extract from a book published by my father Fernand Bezy in 1974 on "Morality of Family Planning Policies in Developing Countries".

"If the problem of relations between people and natural resources belongs to economics, can we rely on economists to define those values? After all is this not simply a matter of optimization? Far from it. A pure product of Western civilization, economic science does not challenge its specific aims. There is no universal economic science: the one whose authorship is attributed to Adam Smith is based on data presented as based on human nature, while they are purely contingent and related to industrial societies’ culture. That is the case for example of the assumption of the homo economicus: the individual is assumed to be determined by his greatest material interest. That such a philosophy of life characterizes the West is all too true. But we can not say the same of Bantu, Muslim, Hindu civilizations.

In every society, the different structures (religious, social, economic) are more or less integrated, of course, but on different planes: they are hierarchical. And culture is nothing other than the identification of that hierarchy in the social mentality: it is a value system that imposes standards of behavior. And from one civilization to another, we observe fundamental differences in the order of importance of the structures which are the very expression of their specificity. In modern societies, it is the techno-economic structure that is predominant; in traditional societies, it is the religious structure, or the social and prestige structure.
Therefore the economic optimum is not the maximum possible use of production factors, but their use that best fit for the operation of each society in its specificity. This means that the rationality of intentional economic behavior of members of a given society is always aligned with the basic unintentional rationality of the hierarchical system of structures that characterizes that society. Therefore there is no rationality by itself, nor is there a final form, a model of economic rationality.

Nothing is less objective than the notion of well-being: each civilization has its own. In the West, growth in production has often been regarded, at least implicitly, as the growth of welfare or even happiness, so much so that recently it seemed to be the necessary and sufficient condition for human progress in all social systems. The West has been claiming to impose this design on the universe: to colonize was to bring back the world's diversity to unity of which two or three Western countries were then the models and the recipients. And everywhere there was an elite that swayed towards the West, which seemed the ideal model of all civilization and real culture.
But even here in the West, the dogma of economic growth is questioned. We begin to become aware, even if we are still confused, of the harm of growth and its fatal results: destruction of nature, abuse of the concentration of economic power, frustration due to growing inequalities, etc... Then a council of wise people advocated zero growth, under penalty of apocalyptic disasters, and the American economist JK Galbraith reassures us: "Fear not, St. Peter will not ask you how you have contributed to the growth of
national output!”. Finally some calming words!

This is the end of Eurocentrism: each culture has its own system of values and there is none that can boast of being superior. The comparisons are pretty useless, everyone being only able to appreciate each other's culture through its own, which removes any objectivity in the comparison. Suffice it to acknowledge that while economic growth will increase the control of man over his environment, and even increases its freedom, it is subject to a purpose that goes beyond economics and may vary from one society to another."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It is sometimes good to read bad articles

It is sometimes good to read bad articles, it allows you to understand how other people are thinking. Here is one about "The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility". The argumentation of this paper is quiet amazing. Here are some quotes from that article:
"Companies that simply do everything they can to boost profits will end up increasing social welfare. In circumstances in which profits and social welfare are in direct opposition, an appeal to corporate social responsibility will almost always be ineffective, because executives are unlikely to act voluntarily in the public interest and against shareholder interests."

How can we possibly imagine that corporations have no social responsibility and should only be driven by profit? Ask the people in the Gulf about BP social responsibility!

In Africa, they seem to be ahead of us in that regard. Social programs are an important element of corporations doing business in Africa. As an example, look at MTN social program in Nigeria .

In a recent panel organized by McKinsey about "Can Africa continue to grow?", one of the participants said: "The last point is that companies have to also understand that, in order for them to have a license to operate in Africa, they have to earn that license, not from the governments but from the consumers. And that license means that you’re doing things that support socioeconomic development in Africa. You have a role in doing things to support the improvement of the standard of living of Africans. It means that you have to invest in the communities in which you do business, be it in building plants, creating jobs, providing skills, providing business opportunities." I can't agree more, and this should be valid for any country, not only in emerging markets.

The best advocate for Social Business is Muhammad Yunus the 2006 Peace Nobel Prize recipient who brilliantly described the concept in his book:
In that book he makes the case for a new form of Capitalism: Social Business that would coexist with the current profit based model.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some interesting articles and books about "democracy" in Africa

- An interesting article published in The Economist: Efficiency versus freedom. Probably as interesting if not more are the comments by the readers at the end of the article.
- Two other articles on a similar subject in CNN: Can democracy thrive in Africa? and Why foreign aid and Africa don't mix
- Finally a book:  DEMOCRACY AND CULTURE: AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE by Lioba Moshi and Abdulahi A. Osman (Editors). I did not read the book yet (just ordered it from Amazon) but the review seems very interesting.
Here is an extract from the review: "The above (democracy) definitions are based on the Western concept of liberal democracy and they reflect specifically Anglo-American cultural bias. This bias tends to reduce the concept of democracy to elections, multiparty system and universal suffrage such that any deviation is seen as an anomaly. As argued, this style of democracy failed in many parts of Africa mainly because the Western political parties aggregate primarily along class interests, whereas in Africa an established class system is mainly absent. Thus, contemporary Western insistence on multiparty politics does not consider indigenous cultural values, which makes multiparty electoral politics to degenerate into ethnic or communal conflicts."

To me the basic idea I'm interested in is: why do western countries (US and Europe) want to impose their democracy models in Africa and make their aid depend on it?
Even beside the question of the appropriateness of the western democracy model for Africa, I would even question the quality of those democracies. Do I need to remind how G W Bush was elected for his second term? Or how in Belgium, it is the political party who decide who will end up being elected by ranking their candidates in their election lists. Only the top candidates of the list end up being elected if the list of the party has collected enough votes.

Just some food for thought and discussion. Enough for today...

Welcome to my Africa Oye blog

On this Saturday August 21, 2010, I decided to make the jump and start a blog where I can post my ideas and ideas from others that I find interesting with the simple purpose of sharing it with whomever is interested.
My mother language is French, so I hope you'll be kind about my English and possible spelling errors that may have escaped the spell check.
This blog is dedicated to Africa where I lived 11 years and where my heart still belongs.
My career has been and still is in Information Technology (IT). Many times I thought that if I wanted to make a difference in Africa, I needed to be a doctor, or a veterinarian, or an agriculture engineer. But in the last year, some major changes happened in Africa that give me hope that my IT skills can now be valuable in that continent. Later I may share with you a paper I just finished on that subject.
Some people speak about Information and Communication technology (ICT) for development, sometimes abbreviated as ICT4D.
While that will be a main topic for my blog, I want to extend it to the cultural, social, economical and political dimensions of Africa as they are all very interlinked and must be taken into account (I think) for ICT4D to succeed.
A lot of my ideas have been inspired by my late father who was a Professor in Economy of developing countries, specialized in Africa. I will also share here some of his publications and his innovative approach to the understanding of the African economy and even the global economy in general.
I hope to find friends who can help me create a web site to publish his work and make it easily accessible to anyone as he wanted and shared this wish with me. Most of it is in French but I have already translated some in English and maybe some of you want to contribute.
So as you can see, lots of ideas and things I need to do...I will now push the PUBLISH button for my first post!! How exciting!!!