National Geographic : 2017 Dec
110 national geographic • DeceMBer 2017 New technology spreading throughout the region allows residents to buy groceries, clothing, and other goods online. An app called iCow helps herders manage their cattle populations. Anoth- er, named Kytabu, makes it possible for students and teachers in underprivileged schools to lease textbooks on mobile devices. However unwel- come economic disadvantage may be, in Afri- ca it has sparked ingenuity. As Michel Bézy, the associate director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Kigali campus, observes, “When you and I need something, we go on Amazon. In the village they have to invent it. I see it with my students. They’re much more creative over here.” Nevertheless Bézy—who has also worked on campuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium, and North Carolina—is among those who fear that Africa cannot possibly meet the expectations raised by Silicon Savan- nah boosters. “Having an idea is fine,” he says, but “an idea has no value unless it’s executed.” Skeptics point out that some 60 percent of sub- Saharan Africans do not have access to electric- ity. Even for those who can find a way to power up a computer, there are limited opportunities for learning how to excel with it. Bézy notes that only eight of the thousand highest rated univer- sities are in Africa (one in Egypt and seven in South Africa), according to Webometrics, which ranks colleges by analyzing data available on the Internet. The effects of such deprivations are apparent throughout African society. “ The awareness of what information technol- ogy can do is very, very low in Africa,” Bézy says. “ The first time young Africans get computers in their hands is high school. In the U.S. it’s at age four. Company executives here have no idea what IT can do for their companies.” Knowing how to use their data has been the least of Peter Kariuki and Barrett Nash’s liabilities. Every week the SafeMotos founders email a news- letter to their investors with updated statistics that range from the percentage increase in the number of repeat customers to the safety scores of their drivers. When I visited the SafeMotos office on an unpaved and hilly road west of downtown Kigali, a large computer monitor tracked every trip from start to finish, logging each one for future analysis. Rather, the challenges facing SafeMotos illustrate the gulf between Africa and Silicon BRINGING ROBOTS TO CLASSROOMS is the objective of Fundi Bots, a company in Kampala, Uganda, that creates kits to encourage students to learn more about such subjects as mechanics and electronics.