National Geographic : 2017 Dec
africa’s tech generation 111 Valley in skilled technicians. “It’s been really hard to find programming talent here,” Kariuki says. “So I have to do everything.” After interviewing dozens of applicants and concluding that none possessed the requisite skills to assist in continually modifying the SafeMotos app, Kariuki and Nash resorted to hir- ing a team of three developers based in Poland. Similarly, in the marketing of their invention— to Kigali commuters, to investors, to potential advertisers on the app, to markets outside of Kigali—they are on their own. Their inability to find like-minded visionaries to join the Safe- Motos team speaks to long-standing deficiencies in education systems such as Rwanda’s. As Bruce Krogh, the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Kigali campus, says, “The whole experience of children in the U.S., almost from the day they’re born, is: What do you want to do? Education there culti- vates critical-thinking skills. Here it’s rote to an extreme. In this culture children are told to stay in their place and not make decisions at all.” But—as evidenced by the successful effort to lure Carnegie Mellon to Kigali six years ago— Rwanda is rapidly becoming an education suc- cess story. When Paul Kagame became president in 2000, he proclaimed that his country would have a knowledge-based economy in two dec- ades. “Most people laughed,” recalls the devel- opment board’s Mutabazi. “As recently as 2008 no place outside Kigali had fiber-optic cables. By 2010 the entire country was covered by a network of fiber optics. Twenty years ago the country’s entire higher educated population was 4,000. Now it’s 86,000.” That progress may not come soon enough to accommodate Kariuki’s timetable. Still, Kigali— the largest city in a country that, 23 years ago, was reeling from a genocide that killed 800,000 of its citizens—has become a hospitable incubator for innovations like SafeMotos. It is small, relatively free of corruption, and in a country with a high- ly proactive national government—different in nearly every way from Kariuki’s native country of Kenya, where, he says, “people succeed by hustling, knowing that the bureaucrats won’t help them.” in another KenYan farMing Village about 200 miles by road from Peter Kariuki’s birthplace, a child named Peris Bosire would sit in a field while her mother harvested maize and would strain to imagine any other sort of life. Everyone she met in Kebuse was a farmer, or a teacher who educated future farmers. Few made any money. The rough roads made it laborious for them to get their crops to market. They simply consumed what they grew and remained trapped in the village’s primitive sameness. But Bosire’s fate took a turn at age 10, when her parents sent her to a modest boarding school so that she would not have to make the three-mile round-trip walk to class anymore. Someone had donated seven used Dell desktop computers. The girl’s eyes were uncomprehending when she first beheld them. She’d never so much as seen a cell phone. She had no idea how to type. But she was uncommonly intelligent, and before long she understood what those computers represented: Peris Bosire’s ticket out of the village. As with Kariuki, Bosire’s grades qualified her for a superior high school, with a bona fide com- puter lab. She won a national science competition and a scholarship to the University of Nairobi. Her dorm roommate, Rita Kimani, was also from a poor farming community and had a similar way with computers. Bosire and Kimani became in- separable and a nearly unbeatable team on the tech-contest circuit. In mulling over their future, Bosire recalls, “we started looking back at how we grew up and how our parents did farming. And we realized that none of them had ever received a loan to improve their farming activities.” In spring 2014 the two friends began spending their free time interviewing farmers and bank- ers. While two-thirds of Kenya’s workforce is in the agricultural sector, less than one percent of commercial loans in Africa go to farmers. If Bosire and Kimani could convince risk-averse bankers that farmers are capable of using mobile phones to keep financial records and make loan payments, then the two women felt confident they could devise a digital bridge between the financial sector and a vast, untapped, and needy customer base.