Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt on Women in Tech

During a public talk held recently in Washington DC, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, said that the impression that the tech industry advances minorities and women is because the hidden biases that drive white male behavior are difficult to hide in the tech industry.

IMG_0117

Continue reading

Advertisements

Saving Journalism’s Soul: It’s All Storytelling, You Know

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | February 12 2014

Much has been written about how the field of journalism is being disrupted and threatened by technology. In the digital age, anyone can be a journalist, so the story goes. Technology has brushed aside gatekeepers so the playground is now a free for all, reads the narrative.

Granted, the economic model that sustained traditional journalism is undergoing major disruption but that doesn’t mean there’s no validity in the practice. No matter how technology evolves journalism’s essential core of storytelling still matters. If anything, the soul of journalism remains the same. Continue reading

Social Media Not Everything for Zimbabwe’s Democracy

ImageA MONTH prior to the recently held elections in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s social media space went through an upsurge of activity.  In fact, there was such a hullabaloo around social media with political, civic organisations and mostly Zimbabwean urbanites turning to the medium as if it were also casting votes.

Countless pages cropped up on Facebook focused on the Zimbabwean elections. Baba Jukwa, undoubtedly emerged as the poster child of Zimbabwe-elections related social media activity garnering over 300,000 followers within two months leading up to the plebiscite.

Political parties and civil society also jumped onto the social media bandwagon generating some conversation about their respective agendas. Much of the social media activity related to the Zimbabwean elections occurred within a month of the actual vote. So, in a way, many of the social media actors in Zimbabwe came too late to the table.

Without a doubt, the just-finished elections were the most watched since Zimbabwe won its independence from colonial rule in 1980. Social media played a significant in ensuring the flow of information and keep citizens aware.

However, a key lesson from the just ended elections is it is important not to overstate social media’s potential for transforming governance in Zimbabwe. While it is true that social media websites offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way for citizens to engage in conversation about democratic governance, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to enable social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilize a mass public.

From a technological standpoint, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. According to estimates, only around 4,1 million Zimbabweans mainly in urban areas or 30 percent of the population can claim they have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is limited, as is web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe. Despite a significant rise in the number of website that were established to focus on the elections, access is still limited.

Affordable access to communications networks is a basic requirement for the effective functioning of governance, civil society as well as for economic development.

Social media’s impact in that sense has been largely to expose the Zimbabwe electoral process to the outside world. Among Zimbabweans, social media has had an impact especially on urbanites and the diaspora. Lack of connectivity continues to hamper access to information for many people in rural areas.

In terms of implementation of social media, many of the political and civil society institutions came too late to the table. To make matters worse, efforts to mobilise voters especially were rather disjointed. There was somewhat a knee-jerk approach to the way that social media was utilized. Overall though, the Zimbabwe elections 2013 were by far the most hyper-connected. More youths could have been captured and encouraged to participate in the process if a more holistic approach had been employed.

Suffice to state that, there are about 1.1 million Zimbabweans on Facebook, with most accessing the platform via mobile internet which is still exorbitant.

With regards to content management, most of the social media activities were like shooting in the dark. Take, for example, no one knows how many Zimbabweans are on Twitter despite its huge potential. There was very little measurement of metrics to assist in determining messages to establish a conversation with the electorate. Instead, much of the social media activity was much like a conversation among the converted.

To emphasize, social media did bring a spotlight to the elections but mostly for the benefit of those in urban areas and outside Zimbabwe. Many of the young people still had to rely on traditional methods. There was a need in social media efforts to integrate online and offline efforts. This was certainly not the case. The process of involving more youth in the next electoral process via social media should begin now.

Mobile internet access is growing exponentially. In recent years, there has been significant growth in this sector. Nonetheless, in a country with exponential unemployment, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains an obstacle to greater growth. The more an individual is income-less the more the probability to be excluded digitally. Digital poverty is more prevalent in rural areas where the majority of the population – approximately 62 per cent of the population – resides than in urban areas.

Many experts believe that democracy in the 21st century will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology. But in Zimbabwe, the potential of new technology to influence political governance in still a factor for the future trajectory of politics in the country.

In the future, the internet, and thus social media, is likely to play a greater role in Zimbabwe’s politics and culture. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fiber-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

What social media has shown in the Zimbabwean elections is that sometime in the not too distant future, social media tools like Facebook could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately owned media. The tech-savvy younger generation could play a leading role.

Africa’s Growing Mobile Market

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Africa is the fastest growing mobile market, according to a new report released by the industry group GSMA, or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association. 

The report titled, Africa Mobile Observatory 2011, states that for each of the past five years, the number of subscribers across Africa has grown by almost 20 percent and is expected to reach 738 million by the end of next year. It further stated that voice service is predominant but the use of data service is increasing steadily.

Nigeria now has the most mobile subscribers in Africa, with 93m connections. This represents 16% of the continent’s total. SA, with its more developed infrastructure, leads the way in terms of broadband penetration, at 6%, followed by Morocco at 2,8%.

The mobile ecosystem in Africa generates about US$56bn or 3,5% of total GDP, with mobile operators alone contributing US$49bn. The report says the mobile industry contributes $15bn in government revenues

“In releasing its report, GSMA called on African governments to allocate more mobile broadband spectrum and cut taxes on mobile operators to further spur expansion. Citing studies by the World Bank and others, GSMA says that in developing countries, for every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration there is a 0.81 percent increase in GDP,” reported the Associated Press.

“The mobile industry in Africa is booming and a catalyst for immense growth, but there is scope for far greater development,” said Peter Lyons, a GSMA policy expert.

According to the Associated Press, Africa has been described as the Silicon Valley of cell phones because of the innovative ways they are used on the continent.

“Cell phone networks have been set up to help health care workers in remote villages consult with doctors in cities. Researchers have used cell phone technology to track animals for wildlife studies. Africans use cell phones to make payments across borders,” it reported.

The benefits that mobile services have already brought to hundreds of millions of Africans can be extended to those who have yet to connect. By so doing, the African continent can continue to bring not only communication services, but also improved financial services, healthcare and education to its people and drive an increase in the economic wealth and development.

BarCamp Zimbabwe scheduled for August 3

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s inaugural BarCamp event will be held on August 3 at the at the Keg & Maiden at Harare Sports Club.

The theme of the event is “Technology and Entrepreneurship: We Are Stronger Together” and is aimed at promoting the need for converged thinking and collaboration among individual start-ups, developers and others.

According to the technology blog site, TechZim.co.zw, the event is targeted at tech startups, geeks, entrepreneurs and generally the whole tech community in Zimbabwe.

“The conclusive aim of a BarCamp is to get likeminded people interacting and mapping a way forward. Zimbabwe’s BarCamp is historic as it is the first startup focused event to happen in the nation,” reads a statement on the BarCamp Zimbabwe website.

“BarCamp Zimbabwe is a FREE event for anyone who is interested in using their skills, talent, and resources to benefit Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.”

Zimbabwe Online (ZOL), which is the main sponsor of the event, will award successful startups will with US $25,000 in cash and internet services.

A BarCamp  is an international network of user-generated conferences (or unconferences). They are open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants.

The first BarCamps focused on early-stage web applications, and were related to open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats. The format has also been used for a variety of other topics, including public transit, health care, and political organizing.

The name BarCamp is a playful allusion to the event’s origins, with reference to the programmer slang term, foobar: BarCamp arose as an open-to-the-public alternative to Foo Camp, which is an annual invitation-only (for Friends of O’Reilly) participant-driven conference hosted by Tim O’Reilly.

The first BarCamp was held in Palo Alto, California, from August 19–21, 2005, in the offices of Socialtext. It was organized in less than one week,[1] from concept to event, with 200 attendees. Since then, BarCamps have been held in over 350 cities around the world, in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australasia and Asia. To mark the first anniversary of BarCamp, BarCampEarth[2] was held in multiple locations world wide on August 25–27, 2006. The second anniversary of BarCamp, BarCampBlock,[3] was held in Palo Alto at the original location, but also over a three block radius on August 18–19, 2007, and was attended by over 800 people.[4] The largest recorded BarCamp happened in February 2011 with over 4700 confirmed registered attendees in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). The previous year (January 2010) BarCamp Yangon attracted over 2700 attendees (confirmed with registration forms) Barcamp Yangon in Global Voices.[5]

Europe Seeks to Harvest African Sun

Harvest of the Sun

Harvest of the Sun

According to a news report recently published in the United Kingdom’s Guardian, European nations are planning to harvest the sun in the Sahara desert in Africa to “provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe” but there is no mention of how such a development will also benefit Africa.

Vast farms of solar panels in the Sahara desert could provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe, according to EU scientists working on a plan to pool the region’s renewable energy,” reports the newspaper.

As the world continues to investigate energy sources that are environmentally friendly, there is a need for developed countries to promote the transfer of both technology and skills to poorer nations. The fact is that the problem of climate change is a sum of its parts. If one part of the world lacks appropriate solutions, the problem will still come back to haunt even those countries that have access to perceived technological solutions.

Continue reading

Low Cost Technology Saves Poor

 

Most Zimbabweans –  about 70 per cent of the population – live in rural areas and are engaged in smallholder agriculture. These smallholder farmers, particularly in the country’s low rainfall areas, are extremely food insecure and have little or no access to new technology.

 

They suffer from low incomes and a generally low standard of living, poor health and nutrition, poor housing and an inability to send children to school. Soil degradation and outdated farming methods have kept rural families trapped in poverty.

 

Inadequate and unreliable rainfall and the recurrent threat of drought also restrict the potential of rain-fed agriculture, on which the livelihoods of most smallholder farmers depend. In a word, access to water for irrigation is one of the most critical constraints that small farmers face.

 

Making matters worse, AIDS is undermining agricultural systems and affecting the nutritional situation and food security of rural families. As adults fall ill and die, families face declining productivity as well as loss of knowledge about indigenous farming methods and loss of assets.

 

The devastating consequences of the epidemic are plunging already poor rural communities further into destitution as their labour capacity weakens, incomes dwindle and assets become depleted, with the latter affecting mostly women and children who have few property rights.

 

According to a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, agricultural output in communal areas has declined by nearly 50% among households affected by AIDS in relation to households not affected by AIDS. Maize production by smallholder farmers and commercial farms has declined by 61% because of illness and death from AIDS.

 

Women and girls are especially vulnerable. They face the greatest burden of work – given their traditional responsibilities for growing much of the food and caring for the sick and dying in addition to maintaining heavy workloads related to provisioning and feeding the household. In many hard-hit communities, girls are being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load.

 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) describes household food security as “the capacity of households to procure a stable and sustainable basket of adequate food” (IFAD, 1996). It incorporates: (a) food availability; (b) equal access to food; (c) stability of food supplies; and, (e) quality of food. All aspects of this are affected by both the household-level impact of HIV/AIDS and the wider impacts of a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic.

 

In households coping with HIV/AIDS, food consumption generally decreases. The household may lack food and the time and the means to grow and prepare some food. For the patient, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS can form a vicious cycle whereby under-nutrition increases the susceptibility to infections and consequently worsens the severity of the disease, which in turn results in a further deterioration of nutritional status.

 

The onset of AIDS, along with secondary diseases and death, might be delayed in individuals with good nutritional status.

 

Nutritional care and support may help to prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies, loss of weight and lean body mass, and maintain the patient’s strength, comfort, level of functioning and self-image.

 

In effect, the nutritional status of HIV/AIDS patients can also help improve the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy, when it does become widely available to poor rural people.

 

In such a context, labour-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by HIV/AIDS can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death.

 

Drip-irrigation is a low pressure, low volume irrigation system suitable for vegetables, shrubs, flowers and trees, and can be helpful when water is scarce or expensive.

 

Already popular in countries such as Israel and India, drip-irrigation has been gaining attention because of its potential to increase yields and decrease water use, fertilizer, and labour requirements, if managed properly.

 

Drip irrigation (sometimes called trickle irrigation) works by applying water slowly and directly to the soil. It is the slow drop-by-drop, localised application of water at a grid above the soil surface. Water flows from a tank through a filter into lines then drips through emitters into the soil next to the plants. The high efficiency of drip irrigation results from two primary factors. The first is that the water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run-off. The second is that the water is only applied where it is needed (at the plant roots), rather than sprayed everywhere as in sprinkle or furrow irrigation systems.

 

Nutrients can be applied through the drip systems, thus reducing the use of fertilizers. Soil is maintained in a continuously moist condition. With a 100 square meter garden, equipped with low cost drip kit technology, a family of five can grow nutritious vegetables for consumption throughout the year.

 

This inexpensive kit offers a 50 per cent savings on water, over 80 per cent yields, and better quality vegetables and herbs. Because of its minimal labour requirements, the kit is well suited to serve HIV and AIDS affected households headed by orphans or their grandparents, where labour maybe in short supply.

 

In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, HNGs are widespread, yet they are largely neglected in spite of their potential to cushion disadvantaged and AIDS-affected families from food insecurity. Ordinarily, a HNG is cultivated close to home, thus eliminating the need for farmers to travel to distant fields.

 

HNGs can play a significant part in enhancing food security in several ways, most importantly through: 1) direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods, 2) increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and sales of garden products, 3) availability of food throughout the season and especially during seasonal lean periods, and 4) savings on water, time and labour.

 

Improving household gardening requires the optimal use of land and irrigation, as well as a dynamic integration of additional crops and crop varieties with specific value and uses. A well developed HNG has the potential, when access to land and water is not a major limitation, to supply most of the non-staple food that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tuber, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices.

 

Roots and tubers are rich in energy and legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and yellow-or orange-colored fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal, and are highly recommended for people living with AIDS

 

Smallholder farmers generally grow three cycles of crops per year. Typically, this includes at least one cycle of vegetable crops during the winter months, and an early maize or bean crop that can be harvested in December. The exact cropping cycles and systems will depend on regional climate, soils and input availability, in conjunction with the specific skills and nutritional needs of the household.

 

Farmers are encouraged to grow locally available indigenous crops that are highly nutritive but often neglected. The crops contain good nutrients and often require low labour-input. They represent a flexible source of food supply and can be easily preserved. Besides providing a source of income, they are adapted to cultural dynamics and local food habits.

 

They produce ample seeds without creating a dependence on external resources. Because the technology is new, smallholder farmers require technical support and training to help them tap into the full potential of the kit.

 

By strengthening the capacity to produce food at household level using low-cost technologies, negative impacts can be mitigated for AIDS-affected communities. Labour saving technologies and improved seed varieties can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death, and assist farm-households to survive prolonged crisis, such as that caused by AIDS. Through agriculture and rural development, resilience against HIV can be built.

 

Drip irrigation technology offers much promise for landholders in the communal areas of Zimbabwe, where water application has traditionally involved the use of surface irrigation and “bucket watering”. Both methods are inefficient and waste a lot of water. Using the bucket involves hard work especially when the water is far away and scarce.

 

With drip irrigation, communal farmers, especially women, who are the primary carers and pillars of the community, can be able to maintain their gardens with ease, efficiently and at a low cost.

 

Also, drip technology will give quick returns on a small investment, and growing vegetables will provide both nutrition vegetables and year-round incomes.

 

As the old Chinese saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”