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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Mobile Tales: Part 2 - Mobile Monday Lusaka Launch

Gilbert Mwiinga, BongoHive member and App developer, unveiling his Zambian Draft 
Constitution Android App which he has since put on the Minister of Communications' 
mobile phone.  Photo by Silumesii Maboshe, Pencil Case Studios
On Monday 21st May, I attended the Launch of Mobile Monday Lusaka: MoMoLsk at TopFloor's Elunda 2, Rhodespark premises.  The building is beautiful and TopFloor's facilities are amazing! They have a first and world class set-up with great conference facilities and a generally cool, hip, modern, innovative, youthful vibe which  I'm sure helps to foster their goal to provide "business and technical Human Capital Development in Zambia."  I digress, but what is new ;}. I will continue down this road of diversion as I need to get this off my chest before I continue.  MoMoLsk sounds like a stammerer struggling to say mollusc and now all I can think of is snails while giggling to myself every time I say, write or read the acronym.  For more about my love of silly, giggle-worthy and/ or witty names, read this post about Innocent Mugabe (yes that is the name of a real person).

MobileMonday is a global organisation that seeks to provide an "open community platform of mobile industry visionaries, developers and influential individuals fostering brand neutral cooperation and cross-border P2P business opportunities through live networking events to demo products, share ideas and discuss trends from both local and global markets.  Originating in Helsinki, Finland in 2000, events are organised by some 300 dedicated volunteers from around the world and it has become an industry leading mobile platform.  Chapters have held events in over 100 cities worldwide and [continues] to launch new locations monthly." The month of May was Zambia's turn to launch MobileMonday in Lusaka.  The event was headed by Lead Organiser Gustaf Engstrand of Goe Consulting and was sponsored by BongoHive,  Airtel Zambia, and TopFloor who hosted the event.  Speakers included Airtel Zed's head honcho, former MD of Afri-Connect and one of the co-Founders of BongHive.  

First we were treated to Airtel's charismatic Fayaz King, who absolutely marvelled with his presentation about how it's all about personalisation and the mobile phone being a lifestyle device with little calling and mostly entertainment and social media driving usage.  As we move to 4G and beyond, it's all about getting a smartphone into Zambian hands that is less than $50 in order to migrate basic phone users who can't currently afford fancy communication technology. If you can read the sarcasm in my recounting, you are not imagining things.  Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation and his urging idea people and developers to come up with applications to give to Airtel and in return he would make them Appillionaires (millionaires from apps, get it, wink wink) with access to the 4 million customers in Zed and the 100+ million in Africa and the 250+ million in Africa and Asia if the App is really cool (I may have those numbers wrong, I am recounting all this from memory.)  I write with sarcasm as I am talking about AirFAIL, I mean Airtel.  

Unfortunately, because the presentations were so engaging, we weren't able to ask the panel questions as time ran out.  If I had had the opportunity I would have asked Mr. King how exactly all this would happen, especially if he expects this to occur on his network which can't even make it to 4G, it's at 3.75 which is just weird.  If I need internet access to develop my App and I use an Airtel dongle/ router that keeps cutting in and out how long will it take for me to get my work done?  And all those customers he was talking about, will they even be able to access and use the App when even internet access directly from a phone is also prone to unreliability? If they are as frustrated as me by Airtel's blatant abuse of its customers, especially in Zed because Zambians are so complacent and are fine with being shafted and getting crap customer service, then Mr. King is deluded.  So I say to Mr. King, you are a very passionate and smart man so can you please trickle some of that down to your irritatingly nonchalant people whom I've stopped talking to because they either don't answer the phone at Customer Service or say without shame or enthusiasm to make change that there is nothing they can do in-person at stores.  Thanks.  Then I will believe all you said in your presentation can happen...

The next presentation was by Mark Bennett: a hilarious and clearly ridiculously passionate and smart man who has been involved in the Zambian Telecommunications industry since 1985.  He brought Africonnect to Zambia and recently resigned as Managing Director to focus on his medical, agricultural and educational websites.  My favourite is iSchool, "a comprehensive online multi-media eLearning package designed to cover the whole of the Zambian School curriculum.  This includes both full plans for teachers and interactive learning for students.  iSchool has been built in Zambia using entirely local examples and all early grade material is available in 8 local languages as well as English.  iSchool can provide all the resources necessary to make full use of the material anywhere in Zambia, including IT equipment, internet access, teacher training, mentoring and technical support." What's not to love: teachers having easy and free access to quality resources to teach our kids better, students of all  ages being able to access material and the option to go back and catch up after years without schooling and most important, localisation of examples and voices.  Local languages means that more of the population are included in education.  Hearing a Zambian voice narrating in English is also really important as it helps to reverse the characterisation that if you have a certain accent then you are smart and if you don't you aren't.  There are many a dumb person walking around speaking in posh British accents and some of those are faking it which is even worse. It also helps to show that we can do things we think can only be done overseas.

Simunza Muyangana, who co-founded BongoHive with Lukonga Lindunda, then gave a history of how the organisation started, and how it has expanded and spawned a sister organisation, Asikana Network, which launched two weeks ago.  It is scary that in Zambia people who say they are interested in technology do not know definitions of key terms.  You want to be an App developer and you don't know what Android is?! As Simunza said, it was imperative to create a space to root out people with technological expertise to be able to pass on their knowledge and foster innovation and talent incubation for Zed to become an ICT hub.  BongoHive, Asikana and MobileMonday are all great efforts to do this.  I also liked his emphasis on Zambians finding solutions to our problems and utilising our resources.  It is clear that Africa is the place to mine for content to put on the Internet and to pursue new opportunities due to our positive economic growth despite the global financial climate and the fact that we are underserved with regards to services.  He went on to say we shouldn't complain if someone from the outside comes in and creates and exploits opportunities and consequently lament we have been robbed because we allow this to happen by not being proactive.  There is so much potential, and we live in an era were you don't need much to start-up something due to the affordances of technology and mobile in particular. This ability to create solutions through technology was best exemplified by Gilbert Mwiinga, who then demonstrated his App.  

Last week on Facebook I had posted this link about the Naija Constitution App and thought it would be great if a Zed version for the Draft Constitution was created. The Technical Committee and various other interested parties have been complaining that citizens are not engaging and it is because they either have to trudge to some office to get a hard copy or have to access a soft copy on a computer via the Internet.  Luckily we have Gilbert Mwiinga, who even though has confessed to not having read the document, (and to be honest though I have posted it on Facebook, I have only read the parts that people have highlighted in posts),  has now made the Draft Constitution easily accessible thanks to his App.  It breaks the Constitution up into lovely bite-sized chunks that you can ingest if you are only interested in particular parts or you can read the whole document at your leisure.  You can even search and it will bring up all the sections of the Constitution pertaining to your inquiry.  You can also share chunks with your friends on social media platforms, through email and good old sms.  Just brilliant!  Such stories make me optimistic about my country.  For all the people who continue to feed the problems, (such as the ones I mentioned in my mini Airtel diatribe above), there are people like Gilbert creating solutions and making things happen.

The event was the best function I have ever attended in Zambia.  I was engaged the the whole time and each speaker handled themselves with charisma and aplomb.  And the people who attended were equally engaging and I enjoyed networking afterwards, something I really do not enjoy doing.

Here are more pictures of the event taken by Silumesii and check out his website Pencil Case Studios.
You can connect with MoMoLsk (he he he he he he, I canna help myself), BongoHive, Asikana NetworkTopFloor and me, Mwana ba Afrika on Facebook.  If you haven't already read Part 1, about my BlackBerry's demise and my ludicrous attempts to use it even after it was beyond salvation, you can find it here.

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