Issue no 592 17th February 2012

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Top story

  • All too often the news is about what China or India are doing to expand into Africa. This week saw a Japanese company Hitachi Data Systems buy South Africa based IT company Shoden Data Systems. Isabelle Gross spoke to Tony Read, COO of Hitachi Data System UK, Ireland and Sub-Sahara Africa about the acquisition of Shoden Data Systems and what it means for a Japanese global company to expand its footprint in Africa.

    Shoden Data Systems is a long-time South African provider of data centre technology both in its home country and into Sub-Saharan Africa and it has been working for many years with Hitachi Data System. Shoden Data Systems designs, provisions, deploys and supports products and technologies that simplify and optimise data centres used by banks, telecommunication companies and retail companies. Its offering includes data storage solutions including solid state disks (SSD) for faster access to information, software to assist and improve server virtualisation and data protection solutions. Shoden Data Systems has a good market share in South Africa and has managed to expanded its footprint further in Sub-Sahara Africa by supporting its existing customer base’s roll out of services in other African countries.

    According to Tony Reid, the two companies have become very close business partners over the years to the extent that 75% of Shoden Data Systems’ activities are Hitachi related. As the partnership between the two companies was getting stronger, it was a logical step forward to tie the knot between the two of them. Hitachi Data System will carry on providing equipment and resources while Shoden with its good understanding of the Southern African markets (South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa) will provide the routes to market. Shoden and Hitachi have also expanded their activities into Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other SADC countries and the plan is to continue developing their activities in these countries.

    The acquisition of Shoden is a first in Africa for Hitachi Data System. For the large conglomerate with a global footprint, this acquisition represent a rather small drop in the sea but as Tony Read explains Hitachi has been investing for a while in emerging markets like China and Brazil and as time goes by they have been seeing good growth potential in South Africa and some other Sub-Sahara African countries.

    He is confident that the acquisition will be a success and will further strengthen Hitachi’s footprint in the region. When asked if Hitachi has any plans to move directly in the data centre business, Tony Read replies that this is not on the roadmap in the short term. He believes that going into this segment requires some other core qualities and he adds further that as African countries’ economies developed they will be more large organisations that will be looking for “in-house” data centre facilities rather then outsourcing the service.

    In Tony Read’s opinion, the data centre market in Africa has a good future. There are emerging solutions like cloud services that could make IT services more readily available to use by businesses. In Africa, enterprises are less well equipped when it comes to IT hardware and software and a business model based on a pay per use basis to access software and IT services would actually make sense and drive further the penetration of ICT services.

    Sooner rather than later, more telecoms operators will offer clouds services too and this is where Hitachi/Shoden will come in with the backend solutions and support. He believes that Africa has been pretty innovative in particular in the way that mobile telephones are used to carry out banking, transfer and payment services for example and so more innovations of this kind can be expected to develop.

    Of course the expected growth in the data centre business will not easily materialise if some nagging bottleneck issues are not dealt with. Tony Reid reckons that power as well as network bandwidth are still causing problems. There is also still a skill gap but it is shrinking fast in some countries and in particular in South Africa. 

    For now Shoden will carry on trading under the Shoden brand name in South Africa and in the other African countries where the company is doing business and depending on how things move forward it might later rebrand as Hitachi. As foreign investors are seeing potential growth opportunities in Africa more and more attractive compared to developed markets, it can be expected that more acquisitions of this nature will take place in Africa as the ICT market gets more mature and more diversified.

    To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

    This week on Balancing Act’s You Tube channel:

    Data centres and managed services

    Jonathan Tawiah, CEO, Ostec on providing managed services in West Africa


    Le Cloud en Afrique selon Hedera Tech (en francais)

    Robert Aouad, CEO Isocel on data centres in Benin

    Services that drive data centre use - M-Money

    Reg Swart, Fundamo on how Uganda’s Lake Victoria fishermen and the truckers who buy from them use m-money services

    Nadeem, Juma, CEO, Mobipay on the up-take and use of Z-Pesa in Tanzania

    Kamal Budhabbatti, Craft Silicon on integrating other day-to-day tools into into its m-money platform ELMA

    Correction:  In the story in last week’s issue about low-end social networking site Eskimi, we got our Baltic countries mixed up. Eskimi is a Lithuanian, not a Latvian country. Also other social media sites without a high profile in Africa include Pinterest and Spotify. Please also note the launch of the continent’s own Zing.

telecoms

  • Etisalat wants to acquire a licence in Libya or invest in one of the North African country's existing operators, its chairman told Reuters last week.

    Libya has two state mobile operators, Madar and Libyana, while another government-linked firm Lap Green Networks is active in several African countries including Uganda and Ivory Coast.

    "We have shown to the Libyan government our interest [in] the possibility to participate in the development of the telecoms market in Libya, either by a new licence or even by operating or investing in one of the existing mobile licences," Mohammad Omran said on the sidelines of an event in Tripoli.

    Etisalat bid for Libya's third mobile licence in 2009, but the licence was never awarded.

  • Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE should explain to Mobinil shareholders why it may sell part of its stake to France Telecom SA after rejecting a higher bid in 2009, Egypt’s markets regulator said.

    France Telecom said it reached a preliminary agreement to buy most of Orascom Telecom Media’s stake in their Mobinil venture at 202.5 Egyptian pounds ($33.56) a share. The same offer will be made to minority investors in the Egyptian Co. for Mobile Services, also known as Mobinil. That’s 42.5 pounds less than an offer by France Telecom in 2009 that Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, headed by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, blocked in court.

    Orascom Telecom Media should explain the agreement with France Telecom to its shareholders and those of Mobinil, the Cairo-based Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority said in a statement on its website today. France Telecom made the 2009 bid before Sawiris spun off Orascom Telecom Media from Orascom Telecom Holding.

    France Telecom owns about 71 percent of Mobinil Telecom Co., which controls Mobinil, and Orascom Telecom Media owns the rest. Orascom Telecom Media also holds a 20 percent direct stake in Mobinil, while about 29 percent is traded on the Egyptian Exchange. The shares jumped 10 percent today to 151.67 pounds, valuing the company at 15.2 billion Egyptian pounds.

    Sawiris opposed France Telecom’s 2009 bid because he said it offered minority shareholders in Mobinil less than the 273 pound price tag set by an international arbitration court for his stake in Mobinil Telecom, the holding company.

    Mobinil must appoint an independent adviser to assess France Telecom’s latest bid, the regulator said today.

  • Nokia plans to make Nairobi its global hub for research and investment for the India, Middle East and Africa region.

    The move is a big win for the country which will serve as a nerve centre for Nokia’s global research activities, bringing together application developers, businesses and software engineering eco-system from around the world.

    The company has research facilities in 13 locations worldwide, and Nairobi will be its nerve centre.

    The Nairobi Nokia Research Center (NRC) located at the Nairobi Business Park along Ngong Road previously served the African region only.

     “There is advanced development happening in Kenya. It is part of the reason why I am here. I am not visiting the 54 countries in Africa. I am only visiting Kenya and South Africa,” said Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop. He was speaking during a round-table meeting with the technology community in Kenya held at the iHub Nairobi, in what is his first visit to Africa.

    He highlighted the unique position of Kenya as a technology leader in the region, and said that the country’s track record in innovation informed the decision. The news comes at a time when Nokia has been in the midst of a global restructuring.

  • Burkina Faso has slapped three telecoms operators with more than $5 million in penalties for poor service, a regulatory official said Friday.

    "We decided to impose financial sanctions against the three mobile operators for their failure to comply with terms," said Bako Mathurin, the president of Burkina Faso's regulatory authority ARCEP.

    He added that the three companies--Telmob, Airtel and Telecel Faso--had two weeks to pay the combined total of 2.706 billion CFA francs ($5.36 million).

    Click here to find out more!Government officials and consumer groups regularly take the telecom operators to task for poor Internet service, as well as problems with calls and text messaging.

    But that hasn't stopped the government from recently awarding all three companies 3G licenses for XOF1.5 billion each.

    Telmob, a subsidiary of Morocco's Onatel, and the largest of the three telecoms with 3.5 million of Burkina Faso's 8 million mobile subscribers, was hit Friday with the largest penalty, at XOF1.086 billion.

    Airtel, owned by India's Bharti Airtel Ltd., was fined XOF894 million and locally owned Telecel Faso XOF724 million.

    The regulator has plans to allow a fourth operator into the Burkina Faso telecoms market.

  • Global wireless technology company, Qualcomm, announced on Thursday that Nairobi will be its regional business centre within the Sub-Saharan region. Qualcomm, whose offices span 75 countries, made the decision in response to the rapidly growing mobile market in Africa, which has been termed as the second largest mobile market in the world after Asia.

    "Qualcomm's new Nairobi office allows us to maintain close proximity to the people, governments and important industry events that are driving the regional telecommunications industry forward," said Billy Owino, Qualcomm's Director of Business Development in East Africa, during announcement of the company's new offices at a media briefing in Nairobi.

    According to Mr Owino, Qualcomm's presence in Nairobi is part of its long-term commitment to Sub-Saharan Africa, and will "continue to invest in strategic research and development.

  • Parliament has adopted the Subscriber Identity Module Registration Regulations, 2011 (L.I. 2006) to give backing to SIM card registration in the country. The Legislation provides that with effect from Saturday, March 3,2012, no SIM card can be used if not duly registered.

    Consequently, no mobile network operator shall be able to activate a SIM card for a new customer without it having been registered. In addition, existing subscribers who have either not registered their SIM cards or whose earlier registrations are invalid are required to re-register, failing which their SIM cards will be de-activated.

    This was contained in a statement issued in Accra on Thursday by the Director-General of National Communications Authority (NCA).

    It explained that the statement was to highlight the issue of the mandatory requirement that any SIM card in use must be registered by the deadline of March 3, 2012 after which any unregistered SIM card cannot be in use.

    The statement said on July 1, 2010, Ghana embarked on a SIM Card Registration Exercise which required users of mobile telephony services to register their SIM cards.

    The exercise was to run for a full year from July 1, 2010 to June 30 2011 at the end of which any SIM card that remained unregistered would be deactivated.

    At the end of that period, nearly all SIM cards in use had been registered. However, it quickly became evident that quite a

    number of subscribers had not followed the due process for the registration therefore, their registrations could not be validated.

    While some of the reasons for invalid registrations could be traced to the quality of subscriber information provided, others could be attributed to human error in the registration process, or plain deception on the part of subscribers and registration agents alike.

    At the time, the NCA announced the need for time to allow for invalid registrations to be corrected and indicated the Authority's resolve to ensuring that the exercise achieved a thoroughly sanitised and complete register.

  • Telkom will appear before the competition tribunal on Wednesday, in a case which may see the company go bust, SABC news reported on Tuesday.

    The Competition Commission has asked the tribunal to find Telkom guilty of excessive pricing and abuse of the market and wants the company to be fined R3.5 billion, the broadcaster said.

    Eight years ago, an investigation by the commission found that Telkom was guilty of charging excessive prices to smaller independent companies - which relied on the company's network infrastructure to provide data services like the internet and SMS.

    The commission also found that Telkom was discriminating against the independent service providers in that its charges were less for companies affiliated to it. The proposed R3.5 billion penalty has raised a few eyebrows, SABC reported.

    "Any fine of R3.5 billion is very big for any company in South Africa to pay and you could have a problem where the company's survival at stake," Mike Schussler, director of Economists.co.za, was quoted as saying.

    "When you look at that kind of fine in a company that's really got declining revenues, if you really look at it, it's really going to be difficult for it to survive under that sort of fine and I think we need to get the balance right between competition and the ability of a company to carry on."

    Telkom is expected to centre its argument around this when it takes the stand on Wednesday, SABC said.

    The company is expected to first argue for the case against it to be dismissed, failing which the penalty against it should be symbolic rather than punitive in nature.

  • Swaziland’s minister of ICT Winnie Magagula has publicly called for an end to the on-going hostilities between national telecoms regulator the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (which is also the incumbent telco) and the country’s sole wireless operator MTN Swaziland. Magagula told the Times of Swaziland that she hopes that the dispute – which relates to SPTC’s attempts to launch fixed-wireless services under the ‘One’ brand name – can be solved in the boardroom rather than the courtroom, arguing that the two entities cannot do without one another as they are ‘joined at the hip’. MTN believes that One contravenes the long-standing Joint Venture Agreement that forbids SPTC from competing with it, but SPTC maintains that it faces financial collapse if it abandoned the fixed-wireless initiative, on account of the substantial sum already invested in it.

    During a tour of MTN’s facilities this week, Magagula told board members and staff: ‘I have to see to it that there is harmony between the two companies. There is no way that the government can sit back and watch the fight. Swazi MTN is a child of SPTC and therefore there is no way you can run away from each other. You are a creature of statutes. You are stuck together. I also told SPTC the same thing. I urge you to harmonise your relationship. We have to move out of court corridors and to the boardroom. I urge MTN and SPTC to rekindle the relationship that existed from 1997. Once you harmonise you will give cheaper services to citizens’.

  • Four years ago, when Daniel Chiwinga and Kondwani Chimatiro met in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) lecture room at Mzuzu University, in the northern part of Malawi, they had no idea that they would be starting a journey that could turn into their life's work.

    The two young men, one from Kasungu and another from Lilongwe in the central districts of Malawi, have now developed a search engine they are calling ‘C-Finder’, spurred by the knowledge they have gained over the years that they have been studying.

    The search engine will prioritise information from Malawi when a user conducts a search, delivering relevant, local content first. Chimatiro says Malawi lags behind in ICT development. He feels those working in the sector need to be looking at Malawi in terms of what is needed as a country.

    “But first of all, for us (Malawians) to achieve what we need, in development, socially, technologically, we need information,” he says. Adding that this is why they came with an idea on how best they can deliver information to people, and how people can access information.

    He says they thought that the only way to deliver information is to centralise all Malawian information, that cuts across a wide range of disciplines like history, literature and more.

    “This is why we devised a search engine with a central hub for that information; all Malawians can be able to access that information from the central repository. The idea is to provide information to Malawians since information in Malawi is difficult to access,” says Chimatiro.

    His colleague Chiwinga agrees with him: “In Africa and Malawi in particular, many people do not access technology because it is expensive and we want to come up with ways of developing low cost technology so that everybody can be able to afford.”

    Chiwinga said the other thing is that a lot of information in Malawi which is being provided by Malawians themselves cannot be found on the internet. He says this is because nobody has put that information on the internet.

    “We have a lot of information concerning Malawi which is in hard copy so we want to digitalise that information so that it would be in soft copy and then we put it on C-finder so that other people can find that information by using C-finder search engine,” explains Chiwinga.

    He says anyone who is in the ICT sector must take up the responsibility of loading important information on the internet.

    Chiwinga said the difference between C-Finder and other search engines is that theirs is focusing on Malawi information. “For example if you search for a word ‘admission’ on Google it is going to bring you a lot of universities that are offering certain programmes but if you write admission on C-finder it is going to bring you universities and colleges from Malawi,” he says.

    He adds that then C-Finder will reduce the ‘hunting ground’ for those looking for information where as when one uses Google they are going to be overwhelmed with the amount of results that will appear.

    The other thing, Chimatiro says is that Malawian results on Google may be ranked very far because you can find over thousands and thousands of results but with C-Finder the search for terms about Malawi will be indexed at first.

    At the moment when one search for something, like ‘Gregory Gondwe’ using C-Finder handful results appear which is in contrast with thousands of results that will appear when using Google. Chimatiro says this is because at the moment C-Finder lacks enough space.

    “Currently we have got very small database which is handling limited information, but as we go on and with resources permitting we will handle almost all information in the world as well as Google is doing,” he says.

    The two university finalists say they are currently working on trying to increase space so that they can index more information about Malawi, so that once anyone searches for information they can get a lot of results.

internet

  • Nairobi — Millions of people in Africa and the Middle East will be able to benefit from free, unlimited access to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia through their mobile phone, starting later this year.

    The scheme targets the region's 70 million customers of the mobile network provider Orange, who will be given free access to Wikipedia on their internet-enabled 'smart' phones.

    The deal struck between Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organisation that operates Wikipedia, will allow Orange customers to read and download information from Wikipedia without the usual data usage charges.

    "Price is a strong barrier to people accessing the Internet, particularly in Africa," said Vanessa Clarke, spokesperson for Orange.

    But the project will face several challenges, according to local experts. Catherine Ngahu, chair of the Kenya ICT Board, said few people in the region own a 'smart' phone that can connect to the internet.

    "Although there is increasing ownership of smart phones, there is still a large number of people who cannot afford them," she told SciDev.Net. "In order to widen reach, Orange should consider marketing lower cost smart phones."

    Michael Njuku of the Kenya Revenue Authority said obstacles will range from low quality mobile handsets people own to a network provider's ability to handle the increased Internet traffic as customers try to access Wikipedia, sometimes millions at a time.

    "Governments in Africa must also do more to ensure that poor quality counterfeit gadgets are not imported into their countries," he said.

    Clarke said the scheme will be rolled out in mid-2012, initially in about eight countries, and by December some 20 countries will benefit.

    She said between seven and 15 per cent of Orange customers in Africa and the Middle East currently have phones that access the Internet, but the company plans to increase the proportion to 50 per cent by 2015.

    Kul Wadhwa, Head of Mobile and Business Development at the Wikimedia Foundation, said he expects the scheme to encourage more people in Africa to read, contribute and download information from Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia is the world's largest online encyclopaedia, maintained by a global community of volunteers. It contains explanations of many scientific terms and issues, and some have suggested it could be used to share scientific knowledge.

    More mobile network operators are expected to follow suit in the coming months, according to Wadhwa.

  • The hearing of the case regarding censorship of pornographic websites in Tunisia has been postponed to February 22nd, confirmed Olivia Gré, director of the Tunisian chapter of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

    Last year, a lawsuit was filed by three Tunisian lawyers, who found free access to pornographic websites in Tunisia to be dangerous to children and corrosive of Islamic values. The court's decision sided with the lawyers, yet the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) appealed the ruling on May 26th. On August 11th, 2011, the appeal was denied, but the ATI delayed implementing the decision, pleading technical and financial limitations.

    They appealed the decision again, to Tunisia's Supreme Court, prolonging the legal debate as to the acceptable extent of internet freedom.

    The ongoing trial has been handled with a good deal of discretion. During the February 1st hearing, reporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom, and afterward the ATI refrained from announcing the precise date of the subsequent hearing.

    Censorship of internet pornography is not new to Tunisia. Until the evening of January 13th, when Tunisia's ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali delivered his famous speech declaring that he would order an end to Internet filtering, access to pornographic websites was blocked in the country.

    On February 3rd, RSF released a statement, entitled "Internet Filtering: Risks to Stepping Backwards," in which it argued that blocking porn sites in Tunisia could mark a prelude to the return of old censorship practices of the previous regime. The statement recommended that internet providers promote tools of parental control.

    However, the statement maintained, imposing an automated filtering system would not prevent Tunisians from accessing pornographic websites since they "are perfectly aware of different techniques to deal with censorship."

  • The delays being experienced at Mombasa port and border points might end when an online cargo clearance system goes live later this year. The first phase of the National Single Window System is set to be implemented in December.

    It will also save the sector billions of shillings lost in the long and tedious clearance processes, said retired major general Joseph Kibwana, chairman of the Kenya Trade Network Agency. The agency was created to oversee the implementation of the system.

    "For a long time, the cumbersome trade processes have led to perennial congestion, delays in cargo clearance and long truck queues at the port of Mombasa and airports," he said,

    The system will create a platform for submission, receipt and processing of trade related cargo clearance documentation.

    The electronic platform will be the sole entry point for lodging trade transaction documents and will integrate over 24 government agencies including Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services and Kenya Ports Authority.

    Phase one will automate cargo documentation processes by integrating the systems of all the key stakeholders involved in cargo clearance in the public and private sectors.

    Phase two will involve integration of the single window system with the national payments system via a national payment gateway to ensure an end to end electronic solution in trade logistics, planned to be operational by mid next year.

    "The system will also solve the chronic problem of corruption and be the solution to the lengthy, manual and uncoordinated trade processes," Mr Kibwana told participants at a workshop for stakeholders at Whitesands Beach Resort.

    "At the moment, we are continuing with sensitisation campaigns among stakeholders to update them on the progres," said Mr Alex Kabuga, Kentrade CEO.

computing

  • biNu, a content rich, social networking platform optimized for mobile feature phones and low-end smartphones, today announced a partnership with Worldreader to deliver digital books to biNu users. The partnership provides a new distribution channel for Worldreader – a social enterprise whose mission is to transform reading in the developing world so that people can transform their lives.

    Worldreader makes digital books available to all in the developing world. The organization identifies schools, trains teachers, works with communities and local officials, partners with local and international publishers and other top-tier companies to bring e-books to under-served families in the developing world. By providing access to digital books, Worldreader empowers children and families to rise out of poverty.

    “Long-term, technology will help create a real culture of reading in parts of the world where that’s not been possible before,” said Worldreader co-founder Colin McElwee. “Mobile phones are central to technological and educational development in countries in Sub Saharan Africa– especially in rural areas, where there is little to no infrastructure.”

    biNu’s patented technology utilizes cloud computing to create a virtual smartphone experience that provides instant discovery, switching and sharing of apps, within a social network and messaging platform. biNu is 10x faster and 10x more efficient on data usage than standard mobile browsers and is an obvious choice for anyone looking to fully utilize their mobile phone – particularly in emerging economies where mobile phones are the primary Internet access device. The beta version of the Worldreader App for biNu is available immediately and gives biNu users instant access to a cloud-based library of digital books from local and international authors.

    “Worldreader improves the lives of millions of people in the developing world,” said Gour Lentell, CEO for biNu. “I am pleased we are able to extend their coverage and I hope biNu will play a part in their overall success.”

    With this announcement, biNu joins other Worldreader’s other forward-thinking partners like Amazon.com, Penguin Young Readers Group, and USAID.  Said Worldreader CEO David Risher, “Together with the some of world’s best-known organizations, Worldreader and our partners are bringing books to all.”

    Worldreader  is a not-for-profit organization whose aim is to put a library of books within reach of every family on the planet, using electronic book technology. Worldreader has established e-reader programs in schools in Ghana and Kenya, and Uganda with plans to expand throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

  • A newly-released United Nations report has revealed that West Africa is facing a significant increase in waste generated by electronic equipment which poses mounting health and environmental risks.

    About 85 per cent of the waste produced in the region comes from domestic consumption, the report revealed. However, the problem is further exacerbated by industrialised countries importing used equipment which often proves to be unsuitable for re-use and end up being discarded, it added.

    "Effective management of the growing amount of e-waste generated in Africa and other parts of the world is an important part of the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy", said Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

    The report assessed the situation over two years in five countries - Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria - and found that they produce between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tonnes of domestic e-waste each year, which can have a negative impact in the environment and increase the risk of health issues.

    As for waste coming from other countries, the report notes that the United Kingdom is the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and Germany.

    According to UNEP, although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.

    The report, which was prepared by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and partners, also documents the economic and environmental potential of building a resource recovery and waste management system for electronic waste, along with the risks of continuing on the present course.

    "We can grow Africa's economies, generate decent employment and safeguard the environment by supporting sustainable e-waste management and recovering the valuable metals and other resources locked inside products that end up as e-waste," Steiner said, adding that the report provides various strategies to limit damages and provide economic opportunities, something that is crucial for long-term sustainability.

    "E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream world-wide and a key waste stream under the Basel Convention," said Jim Willis, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention. The convention's secretariat is administered by UNEP.

    "Dealing with electronic and electrical equipment properly presents a serious environmental and health challenge for many countries, yet also offers a potentially significant opportunity to create green businesses and green jobs," he added.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Warid Congo SA, the leading telecommunication operator in Congo, has announced the launch of Warid Mobicash across its network. This offer is based on the Mobile Money technology from Mobicash.

    Warid MobiCash solution offers a refreshing approach to mobile payment that overcomes the challenges of cashless payment by using multi-factor authentication mechanisms (NSDT, fingerprint, NFC and Voice biometric) technology. The resulting mobile payment platform provides a powerful set of tools for efficient, effective, secure, and accessible mobile payment services.

    Warid MobiCash customers can make secure cashless transactions. All phones can make payments using Warid MobiCash no matter what phone model or network operator. Due to its simplicity, Warid MobiCash mobile payment has wide appeal, is easy to deploy and open to everyone – there are no complicated software downloads necessary and no restrictions to enrolment.

    P2P transfers alone, which typically end with a recipient converting e-money back to cash, are not enough to deliver on our vision of a cash-free ecosystem. Instead, Warid MobiCash position itself as “Much more than Money Transfer” and typically promote some combination of various services such as money transfer, airtime top-up, bill payments, and merchant payments. By doing so, Warid MobiCash provides consumers with options to use their electronic money rather than instantly converting it back into cash and can be termed as a “national payment instrument”.

    Commenting on the launch, Mr. Michel Elame, CEO of Warid Congo S.A, said, “The launch of Warid Mobicash is a true revolution on the Congolese market; we believed in it, and we did it! This new service is open to all Congolese and accessible through any local mobile network operator. The launch of Warid Mobicash confirms yet again, the status of Warid Congo as an innovator. We believe that this new born will strengthen our brand as well as our position on the market. So, “Make it happen” will not just remain as a simple slogan, but a true vision of our company striving to satisfy the users by always offering them exciting innovative services”.

  • The landscape of e-banking services in Nigeria is set to witness a major shift as two leading companies in banking and telecom sectors of the economy, FirstBank of Nigeria Plc (FirstBank) and Airtel Networks Limited have agreed to combine their strengths to provide seamless mobile money services to millions of Nigerians.
     
    Speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two companies recently in Lagos, the two companies promised to combine their strengths to provide secure, convenient and user-friendly mobile banking services to unbanked people throughout via mobile phones.
     
    Mobile banking is the use of mobile phones to remotely access bank accounts, primarily for account inquiry, mobile transfer, retail payments, micro insurance, savings remittances, mobile top-up, utility bill payments and government collections among others.
     
    In his speech, The Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Airtel Nigeria, Rajan Swaroop, said, "Partnering First Bank to bring mobile financial services to all corners of country further demonstrates Airtel's commitment to Nigeria and supports the concept of borderless mobile telecoms services across the country.
     
    “Indeed, we are excited to partner with one of the biggest financial institutions in the country. This partnership will, without a doubt, assist us in realizing our vision of empowering more Nigerians with innovative and affordable mobile financial services. At Airtel Nigeria, we are committed to creating value propositions that will delight, enrich and benefit our customers regardless of their income level and location.”
     
    Commenting on the initiative, FirstBank’s Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Bisi Onasanya said mobile banking is hinged on three planks which are defined in terms of financial inclusion for the unbanked and the underbanked, person to person transaction in terms of sending and receiving money as well as retail payment for the purchase of goods and services. He added that “With over 600 branches and thousands of business partner outlets in strategic proximity to the people, coupled with over 1,500 ATMs including cash deposit ATMs, cardless and biometric ATMs, over 5million active accounts and more than 1,200 Point of Sale terminals, FirstBank has always been at the forefront of innovative financial services solutions.
     
    In addition to the mobile money services, Onasanya said FirstBank has in place a world-class IT infrastructure to drive its e-payment services across transaction touch points. These services, according to him, include: Internet banking services, FirstOnline, FirstBank Visa Gold Credit Card, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Point of Sale Terminals (POS) FirstBank MasterCard, FirstBank Classic Card, FirstBank Naira MasterCard and Cash Deposit ATMs amongst others.
     
    The Group Managing Director further assured that FirstBank will continue to lead the innovation drive in mobile banking through progressive and robust upgrades that will enable mobile money customers perform actions such as salary lodgement, pension and other types of payments and disbursements. Onasanya further affirmed that with a rich heritage, dependability and innovative dynamism, FirstBank is naturally the best partner for any telecom company to provide this novel initiative.
     
    The mobile money initiative, an integral part of the broad objectives of the FSS 20:2020 was conceived by the Central Bank of Nigeria because of its critical nature to achieving a “cashless society which is fundamental to the nation’s goal of becoming one of the top 20 largest economies in the world by the year 2020.

  • The theme of this year’s AITEC Banking & Mobile Money Conference is “Showcasing the region’s banking and mobile payment innovation successes”. The intention is to use this the region’s leading annual banking event as a platform to promote the region’s exciting new payments innovations and technologies to the numerous industry delegates that will be attending from throughout the world.

    To give the region’s innovators and software developers a prominent profile at the event, AITEC has introduced two special features: An Innovator Showcase in the exhibition and an Innovator Fast-track Theatre in the conference. The Innovator Showcase will provide emerging enterprises with new innovations for the banking and payments sector with low-cost demo areas to promote their products and services to potential customers, partners and investors. And in the Innovator Fast-track Theatre they will be given an opportunity to make product presentations to attract further interest.

    Announcing these special features at the event, Sean Moroney, Chairman of AITEC Africa, emphasised the importance of nurturing and promoting the region’s emerging ICT innovators. “We have a unique opportunity to build on the hype of the M-PESA success story to develop a world-class payments innovation industry in East Africa and AITEC is fully behind this growing specialised industry, which have the potential to give us a real eadge in the world market. This is why we are sponsoring the NaiPay industry association initiative to promote co-operation, high standards and wider knowledge in the industry, as well as using our annual Banking & Mobile Money Conference to promote emerging enterprises in this space.”

    The Showcase and the Fast-track Theatre will be organised in partnership with NaiPay, mLab, iHub, Digital Age Institute and the Kenya ICT Board.

  • South African mobile services company Oltio has been nominated in the "best mobile money innovation" category at the annual GSMA Global Mobile Awards for its payD platform, which turns a user's mobile phone into a remote point-of-sale device.

    Oltio is a joint venture company between pan-African mobile network operator MTN and Standard Bank.

    Through the payD platform, launched in August, consumers can purchase products and services online and use their debit cards to pay for the purchase while making use of their mobile phones to enter their PINs.

    The technology is also used by Oltio parent company MTN for its Eazi Recharge pre-paid airtime top-up service, which already has over 110000 users.

    "Just being nominated is an honour for us," Oltio head of new business development Dave Parratt said in a statement this week. "It is recognition that our commitment to innovation and in particular, making e-commerce accessible to more South Africans, is paying off."

    He added that the company believed that payD had the ability to fundamentally change how consumers conduct online transactions, with more than 170 merchants who make use of the platform.

Digital Content

  • Mariana Diouh, is a Mozambican migrant domestic worker in Johannesburg. She has just received a phone call from her elderly grandmother in a village close to Xai Xai, Mozambique. Their farm produced very little and they do not have enough food to feed Mariana’s three young nieces, Mariana’s younger sister and her sickly father. The drought was severe and they cultivated little; the family has barely survived, and the food that Mariana sends back home on a monthly basis is what they have been surviving on. The village food seller has increased the price of the basic foodstuffs and it is too costly for the family to make the journey to the bigger town of Xai Xai.

    The urgency of the situation prompts Mariana’s grandmother to make this expensive international call – something that is considered an unnecessary luxury. Mariana understands the urgency of the situation as her father must get food if his medication is to work. But how can she get food to the family quickly?

    Mariana is concerned, as she does not have free time for another week and will not beable to get to the shops until then, and even so, the journey into town is costly and tedious.  She also needs to have extra money to organise and pay for the transportation of the parcel to her family in Xai Xai. Sometimes the coach driver does not take her parcels and she also never knows how much ‘hawala‘ he will ask her for taking the parcels (every time he wants a different amount as he says he is risking his job taking the parcels without the companies approval). This worries Mariana, but using the crossborder taxi driver also has its risks: sometimes the goods are confiscated at the border crossing because the taxi driver refuses to pay the required custom duties but more recently, she has heard of taxi drivers being held up at gunpoint and all of their goods being stolen.

    She talks to the neighbour’s Zimbabwean domestic worker, Nkosi, who tells her about a company: moWoza, mo for mobile and Woza – a Zulu word meaning running.

    Nkosi’s friend is an agent and she helped Nkosi become a registered account holder and within ten minutes complete her first purchase, with her family receiving the parcel after three days. moWoza offers a product range that includes basic foodstuffs, and a guaranteed service. Through SMS messages, moWoza notifies the family that a parcel needs to be collected. Once it is collection, moWoza confirms with the customer that the transaction is complete. Mariana agrees with Nkosi that moWoza’s service is good.

    Mariana sends an SMS to Nkosi’s friend, the moWoza’s agent, who agrees to come later to register Mariana and help her with her first purchase. Mariana notices that the moWoza service is fast, secure, and very cost-effective – it is no more expensive than if she had done this all herself. Soon, the agent is also showing Mariana how to connect onto the World Wide Web through her mobile phone. The agent explains that Mariana will be able to order moWoza products directly through her mobile phone.

    The possibilities seem endless for Mariana; she can open a bank account, become an agent and even learn how to download information from the World Wide Web. Ah, she reflects she can show her nieces at home how to use mobile internet…

  • Price-monitoring computer software that will produce monthly updates of staple food prices is being developed for East and Central African countries. The tool is under development at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), whose headquarters are in Uganda.

    It is expected to increase competition and resilience to price volatility, and will begin with the monitoring of prices of maize, the major regional staple food.

    Michael Waithaka, manager of the Policy Analysis and Advocacy Programme at ASARECA, told SciDev.Net: "We will be giving monthly updates of food prices and balances. We will also be trying out a forecasting model, so that we can be more prepared, but this may take some time to adapt adequately."

    The monitoring tool, to be launched imminently, will use food price indices generated by each country's bureau of statistics every month.

    The information gathered by ASARECA through its networks in ten East African countries will be amalgamated, analysed and distributed to the governments of all the relevant countries to create price awareness.

    It is hoped the data generated will help to enable the flow of food from surplus to deficit areas, and from markets where the prices are low to where prices are high, thus reducing food shortages.

    However, observers have pointed out that the lack of integrated regional markets also needs to be addressed for food security to improve, as high price volatility is associated with the weak integration of food markets.

    High food prices have had a negative effect on trade for the African continent, a net food importer that spends about US$20 billion annually on food imports, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

    For instance, according to FAO statistics, 45 per cent of rice and 85 per cent of wheat consumed in Africa is imported. Waithaka warned that the tool will not be the sole solution for food price volatility as causes vary.

    Since 2010, the East and Central African region has suffered volatile food prices because of a combination of global causes and region-specific factors. Export bans were the most prominent trade policy measures in 2011.

    Joseph Karugia, the coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa, said: "In the 1970s and 1980s we complained about low prices, but now that they are high we continue to complain. A regional response would be an opportunity to address the food price crisis."

    High food prices, he added, would prompt exploitation of regional diversity and facilitate regional trade with priority actions, including removal of export bans, elimination of non-tariff barriers and upgrading infrastructure of main regional trade corridors.

    Godfrey Asea, head plant breeder of the cereals research programme at Uganda's National Crops Resources Research Institute, said the tool will equip farmers, traders and consumers with market information for decision making.

    The key remaining problems would be how accessible the information is — and adequate infrastructure so that food can move from areas of surplus to areas of deficit, he concluded.

  • While Facebook access has been the preserve of those with Internet access or a data plan, France Telecom Orange plans to bring a simple version of the social network to mobile phone users across Africa.

    Facebook via USSD will offer users of even the most basic phones access to key elements of the social network, such as status updates and friend requests.
    While Facebook access has been the preserve of those with Internet access or a data plan, France Telecom Orange plans to bring a simple version of the social network to mobile phone users across Africa.

    The service will be based on unstructured supplementary service data (USSD). Orange says it forms part of its strategy to provide mobile access to services to the “widest possible range” of customers and to open up digital services in emerging markets. USSD is commonly used in Africa for call-back services and accessing account information. The technology is found in all GSM mobile devices to send information across a 2G network.

    “As USSD is familiar in the region, and as there is no barrier in terms of handset requirements, even users with older or very basic handsets will be able to stay in touch with their family and friends on Facebook through a simple and affordable text-based service,” says the company.

    The service was initially launched by Orange in Egypt at the end of last year for Mobinil customers. The operator says 350 000 customers connected to Facebook via USSD in the first month. Orange is now taking the service to Côte d'Ivoire this month, and it says it will extend it to other African countries in which it operates throughout the year.

    Orange is confident the service will garner over a million users in its first year, many of whom it anticipates will be using social networking for the first time. The USSD service will let users search for friends, accept and deny friend requests, update statuses and comment on and like other friends' statuses.

    Explaining how the Facebook service works, Orange says: “No special applications are required to use Facebook via USSD. Customers only need to type a specific code into their phone to open a Facebook via USSD session and enter a PIN code to access the service securely.” Customers can choose between four pricing options, namely per session (10 to 20 minutes), daily, weekly and monthly. Orange says exact bundles and tariffs will be confirmed by each country as the service comes to market.

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  • Orange Announces Community Innovations Awards for Young Developers

    Orange Uganda is providing a platform on which young student developers can exploit their talent and show case their innovations. Orange will support mobile applications that benefit communities where we operate, focusing on the areas below:

       1. Agriculture
       2. Health
       3. Education

    Application should be made by finalist students to enter the competetion. The entry should be endorsed by the project supervisor to authenticate ownership of the mobile application.

    Submit your entry by 25th May 2012 to  ciawards@orange.co.ug. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and stand a chance to win:

       1. 1st prize: 10 million shillings towards the application pilot and internship for 12 months
       2. 2nd prize: 5 million shillings worth of support towards the deployment of the application and internship for 12 months
       3. 3rd prize: internship for 6 months
       4. an android phone for each qualifying app

    Selection criteria

    The winning application will be selected by a panel of experts based on the following criteria:

       1. best innovation
       2. will improve/ support communities
       3. practical and easy to deploy into a live environment
       4. has economical potential

    Each entry should have:

       1. A full presentation on the application highlighting how it will benefit the community
       2. demonstration of how it works
       3. Phased planning of how it will be implemented

    The wining application will be announced at the Orange Community Innovations award ceremony, date to be announced.