Sunday, December 16, 2012

Africa must take IP protection seriously for its entrepreneurs to succeed

Last September I attended the Startup World event in Kigali Rwanda. Startup World is a global competition for startups based on a concept similar to American Idol to find the next startup idol. The difference is that instead of having all the startups coming to one location to compete, the Startup World team is organizing events in 37 cities worldwide on all continents recognizing the fact that Silicon Valley is not an exclusive source of innovation.

This is a great idea and the dynamic Startup World team is doing miracles to make this a success. We were lucky here in Kigali to host one event and it generated a lot of interest in the community. As one of the founding members of kLab, the new innovation center in Kigali, I helped some of our members applying and preparing for that competition. It is actually one of them who won the contest.

The winner will ge invited to travel to Silicon Valley to pitch before venture capitalists. And this is where I start to get concerned. When talking with the Startup World organizers, I asked them if they provided any protection for the Intellectual Property (IP) of the participants? They did not and said that it should be the responsibility of each participant. The reality is that generally these young African entrepreneurs have very little understanding about IP protection. How many times did I meet these young entrepreneurs and they would share with me their idea or projects without any protection. I know some who did share their good project with local telecoms. They asked for a meeting and naively shared their project with the telco representatives without any non-disclosure agreement (NDA) being signed or without any recording that such a meeting even took place!

There seems to be more and more of these competitions for innovators in Africa and so far I have not seen any of them explicitly addressing the IP protection problem. Then they send the winners in front of VCs in California!?!? Guess what will happen...

But the ones to blame are not these competition organizers, neither the VCs that will benefit from their efforts. What is needed here is for Africa to start seriously addressing the IP problem at the continent level. If Africa wants its innovators to succeed, it needs to provide them with the adequate protection for their inventions. Without that IP protection Africa may see one more time its resources, in this case its intellectual resources, exploited by foreign organizations. 

This is probably what happened with M-Pesa. Safaricom is being sued by the creator of M-Pesa for theft of his idea/invention. No patent was ever filed in Kenya, and none would have been issued because Kenya does not allow business method patents or software patents. Actually  it is Vodafone Group Services Limited incorporated in England that owns M-Pesa and not Safaricom as is the popular belief in Kenya. Strangely there is very little credible information about that case on the Web.

At the minimum, my recommendation for young entrepreneurs sharing their innovation with third parties, is to get them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) sometimes also called a Confidentiality Agreement. These can be found on Internet, here is an example. At the minimum, the agreement should include the definition of what information is shared, the explanation of the purpose of the disclosure and the identification of the people and company to which is it disclosed with time, date and location. This will at least send a clear signal to the third party that you are taking the protection of your IP seriously. If the third party refuses to sign such an agreement, it will also clearly indicate that they may not be seriously considering a partnership with you, in which case you should run away.

IP protection laws have been the foundation for the development of successful innovative corporations like Apple, IBM, etc. (see the recent Apple-Samsung patent dispute). 
The US has its own Patent Office, so does Europe and many countries in all continents...except for Africa. I could not find a patent office from any African country in this list of patent offices in the world, while I know there are some, at least here in Rwanda.

What is needed is to deploy one Patent Office for all of Africa. Patent Offices are expansive and most individual country in Africa cannot afford it. By coordinating efforts at the continent level Africa can reduce the cost and at the same time provide protection in all the countries in Africa at once.

Such a  Pan-African IP Organization has been in the works at the African Union but the project is already under criticism by experts and it may take long before it becomes operational. We need to find interim solutions. The World IP Organization (WIPO) has issued an interesting document about "Guidelines on Developing Intellectual Property Policy For Universities and R&D Institutions in African Countries". Next is the need for educating entrepreneurs about IP protection and providing them with the means of using it. Applying for a patent is a complex process. We at CMU-Rwanda are planning to have IP protection eduction for our graduate students with the help of WIPO.

Let's make sure that the next African innovation benefits its inventors and Africa.

Seeya later alligator... 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kigali the cleanest, safest, fastest and most liveable city in Africa

In the last couple of weeks, several reports came out ranking Kigali and Rwanda on top that I would like to share with you, particularly for those of you for whom Rwanda is still associated with the genocide memory.

1) Rwanda the safest place in Africa.

The Gallup’s World Poll — the only global study of its kind — spans more than 150 countries. Gallup typically surveys 1,000 adults in each country at least once a year, using a standard set of core questions that Gallup translates into the major languages of the respective country. In their last report "Global States of Mind: New Metrics for world leaders" published in October 2012, Rwanda tops the ranking of countries where people feel safe in front of Georgia, Qatar and Singapore. This is based on people's sense of personal security in their neighborhoods and their personal experiences with crime and law enforcement. One of our Chinese students who recently spent 10 weeks in Kigali said "I often worked in CMU Rwanda campus till about 1 AM and went back to my hotel. I felt it very very safe. I was no longer worried about security issue like in the US."

2) Kigali cleanest city in Africa

A recent report by CNN: "Kigali's clean vision for the future" is explaining why dirtiness does not need to be necessarily associated with poverty. It is a question of culture and sensitizing the population to it. It is also about country leaders and authority participating in the process. Here is another report from the Chinese CCTV about Kigali being the cleanest and safest city in Africa.

3) Rwanda tops Africa in broadband speed

Rwanda has the fastest broadband Internet in Africa, according to latest statistics from Ookla’s NetIndex, overtaking Ghana. Based on millions of recent test results from, this index compares and ranks consumer download speeds around the globe. The value is the rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles. The average download speed in Rwanda is 6.29 Mbps, the fastest in Africa. This does not describe the global download speed, but only the local speed (within 300 km). This is probably due to the fact that Rwanda has one of the densest optical networks in Africa, over 3,000 km of optical fiber in a country not larger than 300 km.

4) Kigali in the top 10 most liveable cities in Africa

In an blog posting, Kigali is ranked tenth most liveable city in Africa in a ranking headed as expected by Cape Town. A good city development master plan and road constructions have made Kigali a well organized city with very little traffic congestion, especially compared to its neighboring capitals like Nairobi, Kampala or Dar es Salaam where I spent hours in traffic jams with the taxi sometimes barely moving more than 1 km in one hour. In addition to 4-5 stars hotel like the Serena Hotel or the upcoming new Marriott hotel, Kigali also offers nice boutique hotels like the Inside Africa ranked in the best boutique hotels in Africa.

I hope you enjoy this posting and that someday I'll meet you in Kigali the safest, cleanest, fastest and more liveable city in Africa.

Seeya later alligator....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rwanda, the best kept secret of Africa

I live in Rwanda since September 2011 and work as the Associate Director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda. The brand of CMU is attracting many visitors to our offices: academics, media people, investors, IT professionals, potential students,. etc. When I meet with them, they are eager to learn about Rwanda and the reasons why CMU decided to invest here. That last question often comes with some irony in the tone like "why the hell did you come to Rwanda!?". And that is OK, it reminds me of the reaction from my well educated neighbors in North Carolina when I told them we were moving to Rwanda. For most of these people the image of Rwanda is still that of the 1994 genocide and they have very little understanding of what is happening in the country. Rwanda is still the "best kept" secret of Africa, and that is unfortunate because what is happening here is unique in Africa's history. So every time I can change that view it makes my day.

Recently I received the visit of Lee Razo. Lee introduced himself first via email as "an IT professional with about 20 years in the industry in both the Silicon Valley and in Europe" He is, currently, with a business partner, looking into the possibility of doing business in East Africa.

I'm always open to those visits as I learn from them and I hope so do my visitors. This time Lee was nice enough to report our conversation in his blog "Exploring Business in Africa". He clearly has a better writing talent than me, that is why I'm happy to share his post here with you as it captures most of what we discussed about.

Now many may think that my opinion about Rwanda is not objective and that may be true as I live here and I enjoy it both for the quality of life but more because of the work I perform here that contributes to this country's development, even if it is in a small way.

Therefore I'd like to share here with you testimonials I collected from several CMU students coming to Rwanda for an internship in local businesses or to perform some community services.

1)    Vivian Cheung
"My name is Vivian Cheung, and I am Carnegie Mellon student in the Master of Information System Management program. I participated in the TCinGC (Technology consulting in the global community) program in the summer of 2012, and had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda to work for a local furniture manufacturing company as an IT consultant. I can say, with absolute certainty, that over the 10 weeks I spent there, I have gained more experience and knowledge than I could have ever gotten from any class or intern-ship.  Rwanda is nothing like I had imagined. It is safe, friendly, and full of opportunities for IT students. Relative to other developing countries, Rwandans enjoy a very comprehensive education and stable political system. This, coupled with the fact that Rwanda is a country that is still growing, provides the ideal conditions for start-up businesses to flourish in the country. Rwanda is a definitely the place to be for anyone who has ambition, vision and a dream for their future."
2)    Yikai Zhu
"I am Yikai Zhu, Master of Information Systems Management in Carnegie Mellon University. In the summer of 2012, I took CMU TCinGC program (Technology Consulting in Global Community) and had the chance to go to Rwanda for a 10-week technology consulting project there. In the ten weeks, I was really impressed by Rwanda. Rwanda is totally not like what I imagined before.  It is super clean and safe, and the people there are very very nice and hard-working. When doing the final J2EE development project, I often worked in CMU Rwanda campus till about 1 am and went back to my hotel. I felt it very very safe. I was  no longer worried about security issue like in the US, Australia or China. People there are quite nice and simple and honorable. When talking with my colleagues (local) there, I felt they cared about their family very much, had close relationship with their relatives and neighborhood, and they worked really hard to get a better life. I cannot feel that in the US. I like Rwanda and the people there and I will go back there someday in the future."
3)    Sara Faradji
"My experience working with students in Rwanda was absolutely incredible.  Before the initiative began, I was excited to take on a number of new opportunities: this was my first time to travel to Rwanda, assume the formal role of a teacher, and communicate with locals in a variety of languages.  I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Kigali, but I was immediately impressed by the warm welcome we received from the Rwandan people.  From the generous Pallottine priests who provided us with our lodging to the eager children we interacted with at St. Vincent Pallotti School, the caring individuals we met in Kigali are sure to be our lifelong friends.
I especially admired the St. Vincent students’ resiliency in quickly grasping key concepts and making the learning activities uniquely their own.  I taught the creative arts section of the program, which involved lessons in theater, drawing, and storytelling.  It brought me great pleasure to see the students share their creative talents and demonstrate their class presentation skills.  Through their detailed artworks, they taught me a considerable amount about Rwandan culture and society.  From bustling markets featuring the finest local plantains to elaborate musical concerts, the students illustrated and reenacted a series of fascinating scenes from their daily lives.  I will forever cherish these touching and enlightening moments spent with the wonderful people of Kigali.  I cannot wait to share their stories with my friends and colleagues in the United States, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to return to Rwanda in the future!"
4)    Nicole Ifill
"I spent three months living in Rwanda working on a consulting project with CMU and ASYV Youth Village. During the week I was in a rural village (at ASYV Youth Village)  and on the weekends in Kigali. This trip was my first to Africa, so I had no idea what to expect. On my first day, we went on a tour of Kigali and I was totally impressed by the cleanliness and order in the city. As we got to know Kigali better, we would travel and explore restaurants, markets and visit friends. I always felt safe in the city and found fun and interesting things to do like bowling, partying, attending sporting events and going to concerts. I was really amazed by Rwandese people since initially they seem a bit reserved, but they are some of the most friendly people I have met in my life. I felt very welcomed and I was invited to dinner with several of my co-workers and their friends.
I found that the most challenging thing was commuting from rural Rwanda to Kigail using public transport. But the good thing was that friends and co-workers would go out of their way to give us a ride. It was also a bit frustrating to have water, power and internet outages. It would not be more than a 3-4 hours, so I would always find something else to do instead of stressing myself out. I felt like have the outages really made me more patient coming from the US and returning to daily life."

In the future I will share testimonials from visiting investors.

Seeya later alligator...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Good cloud, bad cloud for Africa

Recently I attended a cloud computing summit in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme was "Re-imagining the evolution of ICT technologies in East Africa”. While attendance to the conference was limited, it was interesting to listen to the cloud messages from the global IT vendors: CISCO, FUJITSU, MICROSOFT, etc. I'm always amazed to see how those global companies deliver exactly the same message in Africa than they deliver in the developed world, without any consideration for the differences in the markets.
But before I can share my opinion, I need to explain the difference between public and private cloud for those readers not familiar with the subject. It is mainly based on a difference in the implementation and business model.

Public clouds are based on large data centers owned by cloud service providers (CSP). They "rent out" IT resources on a "pay-as-you-go” or "pay-per-use" basis to the public. That public is basically anyone who has a credit card and can pay for the service. A good example of a public cloud is Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The key point with "public clouds" is that the cloud IT resources are shared by all the customers. You can have applications from different customers running on the same server with the appropriate security to prevent them to see each other's application. This is achieved by using a technology called "virtualization," which enables applications to be moved freely from server to server, and to run different applications on the same server.
It is this sharing of IT resources between a large number of customers that allows CSPs to offer their services for such a low rental price. Typically computer server utilization in a cloud runs at 90% of capacity, as opposed to the 10-20% of capacity typically seen in a traditional enterprise installation.  Private clouds, on the other hand, are reserved for a single enterprise. Their IT resources are dedicated to that enterprise, and no other enterprise or customer may use them. The reason it is still described as a cloud is because the enterprise itself uses the same virtualization technology as the CSPs to optimize utilization of their servers. The goal of a private cloud is primarily to reduce the cost of the IT resources (by reducing the number of servers required), along with a lower cost of management of the IT infrastructure through automation allowing users to allocate IT resources in a self-service mode. While the enterprise may also use the "Pay-per-use" business model through an internal billing system, that is generally not the primary reason for an enterprise adopting cloud technology.

The question then becomes: how does an enterprise choose between a public or a private cloud?

When the scale (mainly the number of servers units) of an IT infrastructure increases, the management cost per unit decreases. For a given scale (A), we have seen that the unit cost of a private cloud is lower than for a traditional infrastructure. We can then easily compare that cost with the unit cost of a public cloud, which is simply the rental price charged by the public cloud CSP for one unit of IT. The public cloud unit cost is lower, since they benefit from the economies of scale offered by their large IT infrastructure.  B is the scale at which the unit cost of a private cloud becomes lower than the unit cost of a public cloud. So if we just look at the cost factor, one enterprise should decide for a public cloud if their IT infrastructure scale is smaller than B.
Now let me go back to that summit and explain why I think the global vendors are selling the bad cloud to Africa with no shame about doing so!

Africa is a continent of SMEs, with only 20 enterprises in Africa making more than $3B/year (McKinsey Global Institute report 2010: Lions on the Move). That means the majority of enterprises in Africa have a small IT infrastructure (when they have one at all!), significantly below “Scale B” (above). The only viable solution for most enterprises in Africa, then, is the public cloud. Unfortunately there are very few public clouds in Africa. A few smaller CSPs are offering public clouds, mainly in South Africa, but none of the major CSPs have plans to deploy a cloud data center in Africa any time soon. The main reason is probably that the market is not large enough and not yet ready from the CSPs' perspective.  The Middle East-Africa market opportunity for infrastructure as a service (IaaS) (Gartner, Public Cloud Services, Worldwide and Regions, Industry Sectors, 2009 – 2014, June 2010) is unchanged from 2010-2014 at $100M/year which probably represents about $30M for Africa!!

The global IT vendors at the cloud summit were selling the private cloud to African enterprises using fallacious arguments to justify their private cloud offerings: "It is no longer a question of whether enterprises will use cloud computing - they already are". But that is in the West, not in Africa! As I have shown, this private cloud solution is inappropriate for African enterprises, because their IT infrastructure does not justify it. In fact, in Africa “Scale B” is probably larger than in the developed world because of the lower labor cost. IT labor being cheaper, IT teams can manage larger infrastructure for the same cost, pushing the limit B where a private cloud becomes justified even further away. But more importantly, the IT expertise to manage such complex technology is not available. That doesn't seem to bother those vendors, since they will be glad to offer those expert services in addition to the infrastructure even if that solution is inappropriate for most African enterprises.

The hope for Africa lies in two factors. First, the rapidly decreasing cost of broadband internet and the increasing speed of networks enables African SMEs to run their applications in public clouds located in the US or Europe.  Many African SMEs are doing this already today. As long as your application’s transactional data transfer is small (e.g. for an accounting application), this is quite possible.
The second factor is the emergence of smaller CSPs, who are willing to invest in cloud data centers in Africa. They have probably come to understand that the cloud financial model in Africa is different from that in the developed world, where all enterprises have invested in IT infrastructure along with the associated IT skills investment. A significant cost reduction is required for a developed world enterprise to justify the cost of moving to a public cloud. So CSPs in the West are building mega data centers in order to offer the lowest possible cost and convince enterprises to place their IT infrastructure in a public cloud. In Africa, the situation is different. Most SMEs have no IT infrastructure or a very limited investment in IT. For those enterprises, a public cloud is the only way to get affordable access to IT. So any CSP in Africa who can provide a good cloud service, even if it comes at a higher rental cost than their peers in the developed world, will be offering a good value to African SMEs, because those potential clients will be comparing the investment needed to acquire an IT infrastructure (including the skills acquisition) with the cost of "renting" an IT infrastructure from a public cloud.
Consequently, the African CSPs don't need to make major investments in mega data centers. In fact, a small data center will be able to offer acceptable renting prices. Furthermore, because most SMEs at this stage lack existing IT, they don't need much power or storage to begin with. So CSPs are in a position to serve more customers with the same infrastructure than they could in the developed world, where customers require more power and storage for their legacy IT needs.

African entrepreneurs should take this opportunity to offer public cloud services for SMEs, since the public cloud market has been abandoned by the major CSPs. Do so before the big players realize their mistake. African innovators can understand African needs much better than the Silicon Valley companies. Africa, this is your opportunity to take!

This posting was also published in NextBillion

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is ICT4D going to change Africa? or is it ICT4B

From Wikipedia: "Information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) is a general term referring to the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within the fields of socioeconomic development, international development and human rights."

ICT4D seems to be the new model for many organizations involved with disadvantaged populations anywhere in the world. Recently 170 delegates from 35 countries met in Kigali-Rwanda for the ICT4D conference organized by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Until now it was uncommon to see a humanitarian NGO like CRS organizing a technology conference. I must recognize that it was a very well organized conference and that I saw many interesting ICT4D projects presented. It is clear that ICT can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian agencies.

In general there is no question that access to ICT can significantly impact development, particularly in regions where there was no effective communication before. When mobile technology appeared in developed countries, it was a "nice to have", just another communication tool after post-mail, telegraph, fax, land-line phones, email, etc. and its impact was mostly marginal. It provided more flexibility in communication. For those regions the real value came more from smart phones providing mobile access to Internet.

For developing countries, and in particular for Africa, mobile phone penetration has a much more significant impact. The lack of effective communications infrastructure has traditionally been one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth in Africa. Mobile technology is now finally providing access to communication where there was NO communication before, in rural areas in particular.  This is one of the reasons why the speed of mobile technology penetration in Africa has been one of the fastest technology market penetration ever soaring from 2% at the turn of the century to more than 50% today.

The question is: will we see a major impact from it? By major impact I mean will ICT4D have an impact that will finally move the African economy out of poverty to prosperous communities.

The answer is not obvious. My concern, expressed in preceding blog postings, is that over the past forty years Western aid has not been correlated with a significant improvement in the African people’s standard of living and it is not evident that by leveraging ICT4D Western philanthropy will dramatically change that verdict.

The answer may be somewhere else. Africa is a continent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), only 20 African companies have revenues of at least $3 billion. SMEs are the heart of Africa's economy, they generate 74% of the employment. Until now in Africa SMEs had little or no access to ICT for reasons I explained in another blog post. As a result, their productivity is way below market average when compared with SMEs using ICT for the management of their business.

This is probably where ICT can produce the major impact I spoke about. Studies have showed that access to ICT can increase SMEs productivity in developing countries by a significant factor, sometimes  10 or more. If we can provide easy, affordable access to ICT solutions for the millions of SMEs in Africa, this may have a major economic impact on the continent.

First of all, Africa needs good business managers. While this should be addressed through education, ICT can provide access to business management best practices embedded in business management software. In addition the C of ICT can broaden the SME market for a very low cost. Internet access is becoming more affordable in Africa through a significant increase in broadband Internet cables installations. It can reduce the cost for SMEs to do business with their customers, suppliers, partners.

But the model of use of ICT in SMEs in Africa will be different than in developed countries. They will access the applications and information needed to manage their business as cloud services from mobile devices through Internet. I can already hear many of you saying that Africa is not ready for it, that the infrastructure is not in place. Instead of arguing, I'd rather like to look at the glass half full through a real example.

Usahibu is a Kenya based company delivering accounting solutions for SMEs as a Software as a Service (SaaS). Here are the reasons why I want to highlight that solution:
1) It is based on the mobile-Internet-cloud model that I described. The fact that there are no serious cloud service provider in Africa yet was not a hurdle. The solution is running from servers based in London, UK.
2) It is priced at an affordable 1000KES (12 USD) per month. No need for large upfront investments, neither in hardware or software, neither in IT skills to manage the system. They offer a free training seminar. What SME in Africa cannot afford that price? Subscription takes less than 5 minutes and you can start using it.
3) It was developed in Africa for Africans, which I always said is the only way to develop appropriate solutions for Africa. They will not be developed in Silicon Valley. It was developed specifically for the legislation and workflows present in Kenya. And all payments are done though Mpesa, the local mobile money, not credit cards!

This is not a lonely example, here are some more: African Liberty Card and Esoko in Ghana (running from servers in London, UK),  D-Tree International in Tanzania.

One problem in Africa is the informal private sector representing 40% of the GDP. For those SMEs we must ensure that the benefits of ICT exceeds the benefit" of staying in the informal market, meaning mainly that they don't pay taxes. Governments are trying to force those SMEs to register with variable success. Maybe instead of forcing them to register with no obvious benefits for them, government could offer them SaaS solutions in exchange for their registration. Why not offering them an accounting SaaS that can automatically do their tax return, saving them the need for an accountant? Just my $0.02... In addition, in doing so, the government can get a "real time" view of the business in their country providing them with valuable information. This will require some privacy protection for SMEs and using the data in aggregation only.

If more affordable SaaS solutions for African SMEs can be developed (this in itself is a major business opportunity for software vendors), they could become competitive, see a significant increase in their revenues, generating more employment and leading to the growth of an African middle class. This in turn will provide governments with the tax base needed for their development. This is the best way for them to free themselves from international assistance and being able to take control of their development.

So maybe in addition to ICT4D, we should bet on ICT4B, i.e. ICT for Business.

Seeya later alligator...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In memoriam...

This month of April 2012 is the 18th anniversary of the horrible genocide that took place in Rwanda.  The world and the UN in particular ended up deliberately turning their back against the genocide that was occurring in Rwanda where 800,000 to 1,000,000 were slaughtered in 100 days. It was the fastest paced genocide ever.

This annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide is important in fostering unity and reconciliation among Rwandans. Across the country memorial events are taking place starting with a major commemoration that the national football stadium, but also many smaller events are organized across the country from district to neighborhood level during one week. Messages which are disseminated during those commemorations help to restore hope for a better future which was the theme for this year events: "Learning from history to shape a bright future."

Many expatriates are leaving the country during that period and some advised me to do the same, because during that week activities are reduced and in particular "fun" activities like sports or entertainment in respect for the memorial.

I decided not to follow their advice and to stay in Kigali. I did not attend the major event in the stadium mainly because it being in Kinyarwanda, the local language which I don't understand. Instead I attended the event organized in my neighborhood (they call a neighborhood a village here). I always try to attend the meetings in my village and there is always someone helping translating what is said. This was the case again as someone sitting next to me translated all that was said in French for me during the three hours meeting.

It was a very simple meeting organized the African traditional way where everyone (about 50 of us) sat around a fire to discuss and listen. The ceremony started with the village chief explaining the objectives of the meeting and the theme of this year anniversary. Then a man explained the definition of a genocide and took us through a short historical review of the events that lead to the Rwandan genocide.
A woman survivor who lived in our village in 1994 shared her terrifying history with us relating it to places nearby that all of us could relate to. She was very animated and made us live through the fear she lived through for weeks, especially that she was eight months pregnant at that time. She told us how she was able to save her baby girl (now 18years old) from the massacre. She was helped by people that didn't even know her.
Then a group of 5 young people with two guitars chanted songs of sorrow and hope. Their soft voices covering the sound of the fire in the African night were very emotional.
Finally another woman spoke about the impact of the events on children, in particular the orphans who saw their entire family slaughtered in front of them. For months they would not speak, unable to express their feelings, thinking they were dead and living in another world. Many of them have been helped by NGOs. Often allowing them to draw their feelings has been helping them opening up.

It was a very emotional meeting for me. I was the only "white" person attending and many came to me at the end thanking me for attending and sharing these moments with them. In attendance were the mother of the president and the minister of health both living in my village and attending as simple citizens.

After the holocaust, the world said "never again" and yet it seems incomprehensible how this could happen again. And even now, the world is not helping much Rwanda bringing 65 genocidaires hiding mainly in Europe and identified by the government to justice. While Europe deployed many efforts to bring the people responsible of the Srebrenica killing of 8,000 Bosniaks during the Bosnian War to the International Court of Justice, they seem less interested in pursing the Rwandan genocidaires. It seems that once again we are turning our backs and that African lives do not have have the same value...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The need to send appropriate messages to African entrepreneurs

I was recently attending a Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Nairobi where I presented "The Link between Building Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and the Labor Market".
This was a good conference organized by the African Development Bank and UNESCO to discuss policies to promote STI in Africa and come up with practical recommendations to be presented to attending ministers.

One speaker was a Professor of Entrepreneurship from a US School of Business. She was a very excited (and maybe exciting for some) speaker, jumping all over the stage during her presentation, a presentation style often appreciated in the US but maybe not so much in Africa.
She presented some "facts" that I have seen before that many CEOs of successful companies are university drop-offs, the two more famous ones being Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. And thus she was offering the proposal that there are other venues to become a successful entrepreneur than the traditional higher education path.

I think that this is sending the wrong message and even more so to an African audience and I wish that my fellow citizens coming to Africa be more sensitive and adapt their message to their audience. This is the minimum respect you need to show when invited in another culture.

First about the fact itself,  it has been shown that university graduates get better jobs and as a result earn substantially more than people who did not completed higher education. That is the real statistic, and successful drop-offs do not represent the majority. Earning more is only a side benefit (but an important one in Africa) from university studies. Probably more important in good universities is the intellectual development and the broader vision acquired not only in the particular subject of the studies, but about the world in general through interaction with professors and colleague students from all over the world. It opens the mind's horizon and expand the limits of what you think is possible. In summary it prepares you becoming an entrepreneur.

Second, the famous drop-offs are not really drop-offs in the sense of people giving up on their studies. They dropped off because they were brilliant minds who felt slowed down by studies and had a passion and vision. Only a minority of drop-offs fall in that category. The others end up failing in their professional life.

Third, many of those drop-offs where sons and daughters of families where money was not a problem (Gates father was a wealthy attorney and his mother was a bank director) so that their family was able to support them. Obviously this is not the case for the majority of African students. In fact many times, their families has to go into debt to support their studies. Those studies are often the only hope for the family. Family in Africa has a different meaning than in the developed world.The social structure of African families is much broader, covering not only the direct family, but all the members of the large family including uncles and aunts, cousins, grand parents, etc. A typical family can exceed one hundred members who all depend and rely on each other. Often, the university graduate of the family who earns a better salary is providing support to the extended family. He or she will intervene in case of problem, e.g. if a member of the family is sick and needs hospitalization.

I'm sure that the professor's objective was to encourage people to pursue all paths to success and that she successfully teaches those paths. My only recommendation is to be more sensitive to the audience and I must recognize that her short speaking time made it difficult to be more appropriate but that is not a reason not to try.

Seeya later alligator...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rwanda to offer access to worldclass education to its neighbours

In September 2011 in Pittsburgh, Paul Kagame President of Rwanda and Jared Cohon President of Carnegie Mellon University announced a unique partnership between CMU and the government of Rwanda to deliver graduate education programs in Rwanda. It is unique because it is the first time that a top ranked research institution will deliver graduate programs in Africa with in-country presence and resident faculty. The plans are for 15 faculty from CMU to be resident in Kigali to deliver Master of Science in IT and in Electrical and Computer Engineering degrees.

Last week, in a very interesting and  visionary move, the government of Rwanda announced that it will provide scholarships for the CMU's programs in Rwanda covering 50% of the tuition cost for students qualifying for the programs. But what is extraordinary is that those scholarships will be available for students from all countries in the East African Community (EAC): Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. One can only acclaim this visionary move rarely seen in Africa.

The EAC represents a market of 130 million people connected in many ways: an open market, a common business language English (except still for Burundi), broadband Internet networks crossing all 5 countries. Good governance is being recognized in most countries. This EAC region is poised to become one of the major development poles in Africa.

While in Pittburgh, President Kagame made it clear that CMU would be part of a "regional" ICT center of excellence. The goal of his government, clearly explained in their public Vision 2020 plan, is to become an ICT hub for the region. This announcement can only help attract the brilliant minds of the region to come to Rwanda to get a world class education in the region helping slowing Africa's brain drain. Now students can access quality graduate education in Rwanda without the need to move to the US and will benefit from a curriculum adapted to the region's needs by resident CMU faculty.

I'm a strong believer in innovation developed by Africans for Africa in Africa. This is a great step in that direction.

Seeya later alligator...