Jumpstart – To the beat of Africa

“I’ve never really wanted to go to Japan. Simply because I don’t like eating fish. And I know that’s very popular out there in Africa- Britney Spears

On that note, here’s a random mix of things actually happening in Africa

Kenya (via San Francisco)

Soko innovates with style
Photo: Soko means “marketplace” in Swahili; Source

Artisanal, curation and social entrepreneurship are some of the trendiest trends out there these days. So, when I stumbled upon online, artisanal marketplace, Soko, it sounded very much like trend heaven. The San Francisco- and Kenya-based business was created by women, for women (primarily), with the goal of improving the financial lives of African women who make the majority of the continent’s goods but get very little back in terms of remuneration. Using Soko, artisans can create an online store through which they sell their accessories (such as necklaces and earrings) without having to go through the traditional middleman, export model. So far so standard, you might say. It gets better.

Soko also gives artisans the ability to create and manage their online profile with a basic feature cell phone – no need for a smartphone. A clunky, mid-1990s era cell phone is enough to upload pictures and product information. This is all thanks to Soko’s technology which is able to take standard SMS text and transform it into metadata that the appears on the artisans store. Technologically and socially speaking, it all sounds pretty interesting.

But of course it’s not all rosey. Doing business in Africa also means dealing with sudden power outages and limited access to amenities that are standard in the West. And orders can take anywhere from 5 to 25 days to arrive at their destination. But of course these are all details that don’t seem to be standing in the way of the team who are focusing on their big picture of empowering women


iCow logo and texts
Photo: iCow to the rescue; Source

Everywhere you turn these days, it seems somebody is hosting yet another hackathon. However, an Agri Hack, well that’s a new one. At least it is for me. An agri hack, as it turns, is a hackathon for technologies aimed at the agricultural industry. And right now, from November 4 – 8, there’s one happening in the Rwandan capital city, Kigali. It’s all part of the CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation)’s ICT4Ag conference, which brings together entrepreneurs and innovators from the world of Information and Communications Technology For Agriculture.

So what exactly is ICT4Ag? Well, it’s award-winning applications like iCow, which aims to improve the productivity of small-scale dairy farmers by providing them with personalized information for each of their cows. Upon signing up for the service, farmers receive an average of 3 SMS messages each week containing a personalized vaccination calendar for each animal, best practices for rearing calves, and even personalized gestation calendar tailored to each heifer. The goal is to help the farmers take proper care of their animals (and not lose them to disease and illness, for example) and produce the optimum quality (and quantity) of milk that they can then sell.

ICT4Ag is also projects like Low-Cost Video, which allows any farmer to make a video demonstrating time/money/crop-saving techniques, for example. The video is then added to an online library that other farmers can consult and learn from. Or if someone has a tip on how to negotiate the best selling price for a crop, well, (s)he can make a video and share the information with the community of farmers. The idea is for the community to learn from each other, and more importantly, to see it rather than just hear about it.


No way I was going to write about Africa and not talk music! After all, the continent boasts such richness and variety of sounds. But I never expected death metal to be part of the mix. But that seems to be what is happening in Angola, which apparently has a growing death metal scene. There is even a documentary called Death Metal Angola, which has been making the rounds of film festivals (sadly I missed it when it came to Paris). The documentary follows orphanage owner Sonia Ferreira and her death metal guitarist boyfriend Wilker Flores, who uses the throbbing sounds of metal as a path to healing from the many struggles that Angola has seen over the decades. The documentary is still touring around the world so keep an eye out for it where ever you are. As one who believes in the universality of music, I am much intrigued by the notion of African/Portuguese death metal!


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