Innovation and Technology business thriving in Zimbabwe

By Paul Ndiho
Internet penetration is growing in many parts of Africa. Although the economy is struggling in Zimbabwe, tech entrepreneurs say investors are jumping in to lay the foundation for what experts say is an untapped market opportunity in the region.
When webdev – a Zimbabwean it startup opened here just over 10 years ago, its founders never expected things would go well as they have. Hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe was at an all-time high and the international monetary fund estimated that it peaked at 500 billion percent in December 2008.Zimbabwe Tech PKG
But perhaps one can argue that webdev was at the right place, at the right time and it developed into a successful technology solutions business just as Zimbabwe was emerging from an economic crisis.
Today the organization is one of the leading it firms in the country. Webdev runs four businesses – Zimbabwe’s first online payment solution – pay now, custom software development, web hosting and their most profitable venture is an online classifieds platform. Vusi Ndebele is one of the company’s directors.
“Our target market is very much dependent on which of the businesses we are talking about, we have our largest public facing business which is the classifieds business. It’s a double-sided business model, so our aim as is to provide a platform whereby consumers and businesses can search for products and services that they need or want on the internet.”
The value of business generated online in Zimbabwe is worth over 500 million U.S. Dollars annually as internet penetration grows, buoyed by mobile phone penetration, which is around 40 percent, according to technology commentator, Techzim.
The revenue comes from social network advertising, e-commerce, online ventures led by Zimbabweans in the diaspora and foreign entrepreneurs.
Markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya lead the way in tech business growth in Africa. But for webdev, their focus is on tapping new streams of revenue in places like Zambia and Botswana where they can grow and improve the customer experience.
“We enjoyed a lot of success when the economy could sustain the development of such big solutions. As the economic activity has kind of faulted in Zimbabwe, we are seeing less of those big projects coming to us for custom software development,”
Independent economists say less than 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s residents are in formal employment and economic growth is flat lining due to shortages of electricity and capital. For many citizens, the only options for survival are petty trading or chancing it as an illegal worker in neighboring South Africa. Forced to play catch up on development issues, many engineers hope Africa can jump to the front of the technology revolution. Internet analyst Limbikani Makani says the time to invest in Zimbabwe’s tech startups is now.
“I think it’s a good opportunity now, I think for people that come in now into Zimbabwe and invest into startups are able to invest into startups at a learning phase, but also at a very low cost phase,” he added.
Ndebele says the tech market will benefit from a concentration of skills and resources on particular needs in the market.
“As technology providers, I believe that we can do better and i think where we are right now although we have a bright future with a lot of the young entrepreneurs that are coming into the space; we still have the issue of specialization in Zimbabwe. Everybody is a generalist because we have needed to survive tough economic times,”
Zimbabwe is currently rolling out its fiber cable, which is primarily allowing residents of the capital, Harare, an opportunity to connect to the internet. But, the economic conditions in the country mean that the profits from internet businesses are not likely to reach the masses for years.

Modern farming in Uganda

By Paul Ndiho
Agriculture is Uganda’s most important economic sector, employing over 80 percent of the work force. Now, some of the nation’s small scale farmers are rethinking agriculture, investing in modern farming method that improves productivity Uganda Small Scale Farmer -1

Agricultural experts say that Africa’s small-scale farmers can play a key role in ending food insecurity on the continent – if they are included in the value chain. Even though there is still a lot to be done to increase both food and cash crop production. This can only be completed through improved agriculture. In Uganda, one small scale farmer is investing in new farming methods. Rebecca Pearl Tumwebaze, is part of this growing community of farmers giving agriculture a second chance. Based in the Mukono district of central Uganda, she’s been able to utilize about 10 arches of land, to practice modern agriculture by raising pigs, dairy cows and chickens.
“All my food comes from here. I pick my banana from my plantation; i get my vegetables here. If you walk around this farm, you’d notice we have all vegetables. We have tomatoes, we have onions, we have greens, we have cabbages, we have green pepper-everything is grown here. And it’s for the reason that we save.”
Like many farmers, Rebecca Pearl is optimistic about the opportunities in agriculture for young people in Uganda. She understands the hard work and commitment it takes to find success, and knows that many young Ugandan’s are instead looking for quick money.
“I got interested in farming because I could see that there’s a chance in farming. If you look at the statistics, the population of Uganda is going up and up and up. We have a lot of the urban population-all these need food. So who is going to provide that food if we all run for the white collar jobs? Well, I decided to start this so I can be able to tap into that market.”
Pearl says that since adopting modern methods, her farm has been able to increase yields and earns her in about 3,500 us dollars a month. Lately, she has started to zero-grazing — genetically improved cows. They’re kept in stalls and fed with fodder cut and carried to them daily.
“The glory with zero grazing is that this cow rests a lot. It sits here, its food is right there…its water is right there. So it is able to drink. And when it drinks, the more it drinks, it is able to rest and its body can form the milk that we want to get from it.”
But she also admits that after noticing the rapidly evolving pork culture in Uganda, she felt the need to take advantage of the potentially huge market for pork and pork products.
Despite the success of orchard farm, Uganda’s agricultural sector faces various challenges, such as traditional cultivation methods, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, limited technological application and low productivity. Rebecca pearl is currently perusing her PhD in business information systems — looking at how to use ICT – To enhance business process, monitoring and decision making among farmers.

Ugandan Sculpture Artists Are Making Their Mark in East Africa

By Paul Ndiho
In western Uganda, a new award-winning sculpture gallery and art center called “Rwenzori Founders” boasts of a unique collection of high end bronze sculptures. The costly and rigorous casting process is rare in Uganda.Uganda Sculpture Art PKG
Started nearly a decade ago, the Rwenzori founders’ art center is located in the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. The gallery sits in harmony with recently the restored natural landscape. Emmanuel Basaza is the director.
“Rwenzori founders is a beautiful place. We started in 2004 slowly; we got it built by us three people going to train in England. And then from there, we came and started the project itself here on the ground in 2008, and that is the bronze casting process.”
So this is bronze. It’s very precious. But the way to sell is actually to penetrate it right. Now, penetration is a process of oxidation where we now use chemicals on bronze. This is an example. This is black and green put together. Black is potassium sulfate or ammonia Sulphate. Green is copper nitrate. I hate chemistry but i had to learn it. It’s part of the process. So, you get those put together to achieve the colors. Now the catching thing about penetration is the waxing.”

Tourists are treated to a stunning display of works cast in the gallery by a group of 16 permanent craftsmen. Pure white Ugandan marble carvings rub shoulders with soapstone and the bronze pieces created by diverse local artists.
A series of more than 30 animals in bronze are permanently on display, capturing the glory of the native species … elephants, lions, buffalos, colobus, and hippos.
“Well 15 groups of people coming in a month, we might make a few sales, about 10 sales a month and on average, a basic client totem sculpture would go for $1200.”
Mr. Basaza says that these remarkable pieces of art are a reflection of the people, culture, wildlife and the beauty of Uganda.
“All of us are local to this area apart from 1 or 2. So the rest of the team is actually from this village. So we have actually promoted the same culture of bronze casting, starting with our village mates.” “This is pure bronze unhampered with. And now, this is classified as finished.”
The Rwenzori Sculpture Foundation supports the sculpture gallery, enabling cultural and educational exchanges between artists in Africa and the United Kingdom. The gallery is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, showcasing the best of modern African art.

Ugandan start up — Oribags Innovations

By Paul Ndiho
A start-up firm is turning various forms of waste and natural fibers into useful products. It has quickly becoming the leading producer of environmentally-friendly paper bags in the country.
Oribags Innovation is a family-owned business and one of the leading distributors Eco-friendly paper bags in Uganda. The company recycles agricultural and paper waste – along with natural fibers – and transforms them into paper bags and other useful products that are sold in shops, hotels and supermarkets. Oribags Innovations PKG-1

Oribags Innovations PKG
These colorful bags are handmade, through a low tech – zero carbon production process that emphasizes cleaner production and natural beauty. Oribags provides a better and eco-friendly alternative to the environmentally hazardous and non-biodegradable plastic bags says Rusia Orikiriza, CEO, Oribags Innovations.
“The products that we get out of this waste we make bags such as these sizes that you can see. This is Oribags mega, where in case you have a bigger gift like form a supermarket or if you have a special function and you need something tailored to your occasion. This is what we can offer you from Oribags mega.”
Oribags are diverse and can be used for a variety of uses, such as packaging bags, shopping bags, corporate marketing bags, workshop bags, gift bags and souvenirs. The bags can also be personalized to the client’s needs…
“This is how it looks so depending on if you have your brand name and what you wanted printed on the bag. For example, we put your address then if you have an e-mail address, telephone contact and the tag name that you have for your business.
Since its founding in 2008, the company has substantially expanded its presence outside the local community.
“They are people who will come they want something that is recyclable not printed on plain. For example, this is Oribags small plain. Then there are those special shoppers, people with boutiques they need something with flowers, something that is trendy, and of course with the fashion needs of the Uganda market. They want something that can freshen their eyes shout in colors.
Oribags Innovative products are not only helping the environment, but the company is helping to empower women through skills development programs.
Oribags has been recognized as a eco-friendly company by the united nations environmental program and the international union for conservation of nature. Its future in the competitive marketplace looks promising.
“We have super markets. We are in over now thirty super markets and beginning with large supermarkets like local markets whenever they grow, we grow with them. We give them to every brand. To us those are our largest markets and then we also have a hospitality sector especially hotels, whenever someone is checking out from the hotel, the person must go with a souvenir item from the hotel.”
Environmentalists have long pushed to ban plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash. Especially in the capital, Kampala — where more than half of the garbage in the city is left uncollected by understaffed and underfunded city authorities. The uncollected trash often ends up in drainage channels, natural water sources, undeveloped plots and along on the roadside.

Zambia’s New President Edgar Lungu Takes Over from Acting President Guy Scott

Zambia’s ruling party candidate Edgar Lungu secured a narrow victory in last week’s presidential poll. But the opposition claims the election was “stolen.” Independent observers say the ballot was conducted in a fair manner.
Zambia New President A54 PKG
Patriotic front’s Edgar Lungu was sworn in as Zambia’s new president Sunday. He garnered 48 percent of the vote against his closest rival Hakainde Hichilema of the united party for national development, who received nearly 47 percent for the vote.
Speaking after being sworn in at a colorful ceremony at the national heroes’ stadium, Lungu says his government’s policies will remain consistent and predictable.

“Our country will continue to maintain and improve a conducive environment for investors both local and external. Our policies will be underpinned by consistency and predictability. Recently we had restructured the revenue system for the mining industry, from a corporate based tax, to a royalty one which is simple and final tax. The government’s desire to ensure companies pays the right taxes will continue.”

The election was called after former president Michael Sata died suddenly last October. Another election scheduled for late next year when Sata’s term had been due to end. Lungu will have little time to turn around a sputtering economy in one of Africa’s most promising frontier markets. The United Nations has called for post-election unity.
“For those candidates that fought and lost, this is the time to turn to constructive engagement, constructive engagement and support national development in the country and hold the government accountable for delivering.”
Turnout for the election was just 32 percent as heavy rains disrupted voting across much of the country. Observers say the ballot was conducted in a fair manner.
In recent years, Zambia has enjoyed political stability and has annual economic growth rates of 7 percent. The World Bank now classifies it as a lower-middle-income nation rather than low-income, meaning its gross national income per person has risen above about 1,000 U.S dollars.
But Africa’s second-largest copper producer, home to 14.5 million people, is still struggling with poverty, and high unemployment.
“I am very happy that Edgar Lungu is new president of Zambia, I know he will do great things for us.” said one Lusaka resident
James Musonda, another Lusaka resident shares the same sentiment.
“I really accept my president who is in, so i am just congratulating Edgar Lungu for becoming a president.”
The Patriotic Front or PF has led Zambia since winning an election in 2011. That vote ended the 20-year rule of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy Party. The new government is vowing to support small-scale farmers and create jobs to fight poverty and the enactment of a new constitution as a top priority.

The Ebola Crisis In West Africa And The Road To Recovery

U-S lawmakers and public health experts gathered in Washington, DC on Tuesday to discuss the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and the road to recovery. Many expressed optimism, saying that the rate of new Ebola cases in Liberia has plunged. Sierra Leone is beginning to turn the corner in dealing with the deadly virus, and health officials are now focused on Guinea.
More than 20,700 people have been infected with Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Since it began a year ago and at least 8,200 people have died, according to World Health Organization figures. The rate of transmission has slowed in Guinea and Liberia and there are signs it is starting to recede in Sierra Leone. U.S Congress member Karen Bass invited top experts to speak at a hearing on Capitol Hill. Ebola Hearing Capitol hill PKG
“What we’re doing this morning is hearing from the designated federal agencies about exactly what they’re doing to address the Ebola crisis in the 3 affected countries, but then thinking beyond the crisis. So after the crisis is over, what do we do in the United States to strengthen the health infrastructure in Africa and we have over 200 people here –many of them representing many of the affected countries.
The Ebola epidemic remains the largest in history — and the virus is still spreading. America’s top infectious diseases official, Dr. Tom Frieden was keen to stress he was optimistic, that “zero cases” of Ebola can be achieved in West Africa.
“A weak spot anywhere or a blind spot anywhere, is a risk to all of us everywhere. As we work to get to zero the next stage will be staying at zero and the next stage will be staying at zero not only in these three countries, but all over where we may face an additional or new risk such as Ebola.”
USIAD, International aid agencies and other charity organizations have played a leading role in the fight against the virus. Dr. Rabih Torbay, international medical corps said training staff and putting in a place a surveillance system is extremely important.
“We need to start rebuilding the healthcare system now; we need to revive the primary and secondary healthcare in those countries now, because people are not just dying from Ebola. People are dying from malaria, people are dying from diarrhea, and women are dying from child birth.
Since December of 2013, when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa, NOG’s in the region have been working around the clock to educate, sensitize and help to combat the epidemic. Saran Kaba Jones, Founder and CEO of Face — Africa has seen firsthand the impact, Ebola has had on community, on lives, and on people.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of strengthening and building infrastructure-not just the health infrastructure, but also basic infrastructure like water and sanitation and that’s what we at are hoping to continue to do.”
Although many people have survived the disease, Health officials have cautioned that there is still a long way to go to eradicate the disease.

I Survived Ebola App Campaign in West Africa

By Paul Ndiho

A campaign dubbed “I Survived Ebola” is generating a lot buzz on social media. last week VOA’s on the line show, featured the creators of the campaign, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States and others on the front lines of the fight against Ebola.Isurvived Ebola Campaign PKG
Since December of 2013, when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa, countries affected by the deadly disease have been working around the clock to combat the epidemic. The world health organization reports more than 20,000 people have been infected with the virus and slightly more than 8,000 people have died from the disease.
A new campaign called I survived Ebola is trending on social media, where Ebola survivors in three west African countries worst hit by the epidemic can share their stories through a mobile application as part of a UNICEF-backed campaign to inform and fight stigma around the disease. Sean Southey is the CEO of PIC-media impact, the creators of the campaign.
“We are focusing on a special dimension on the fight against Ebola, helping survivors tell their stories. We think we’re having a big impact by sharing survivor stories in Sierra Leone, in guinea, in Liberia, on TV, on radio, on print media. We are allowing actual survivors to inspire people to do the right thing, and to challenge stigma.”
Although many people have survived the disease, they still face rejection from their communities due to lack of information and denial, according to the w-h-o and other health organizations. Appearing on the VOA show “on the line”, Bokari Steven, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the U.S. The said the stigmatization of Ebola has done colossal damage on the streets of the three countries.

“It’s a tremendous amount of impact apart from the stigmatization of it. The world today, we are all joined together by common commerce, transportation, and things like that. And when you have four or five transport companies, air transport companies boycotting a nation, it is almost like snuffling the life out someone. We now have only two airlines flying into Sierra Leone, and our president has appealed again today to the international community that they should not isolate Sierra Leone because that is disaster for us.”
I survived Ebola campaign is funded by the Paul g. Allen foundation. Paul Allen is a U.S philanthropist and co-founder of the tech giant, Microsoft. The foundation has committed $100 million to fight the disease. UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s agency is collaborating on the project.
Southey says that survivors in guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia will be given smartphones to document their stories and exchange tips on how to cope with the disease.

“So the app is to help the survivors themselves tell their stories and connect with each other. It’s a very simple app we gave with the help of a wonderful little NGO — global here in New York, each of the survivors a smartphone so they can talk to each other, but they can also share their stories over time.”
Two survivors who have agreed to contribute include, camera “Fanta” Fantaoulen from guinea, who lost six members of her family to Ebola, and Decontee Davis, a 23-year-old Liberian who overcame Ebola, but, sadly, she lost her fiancé. Ambassador Stevens says that his country along with Liberia and guinea has made some strides against Ebola, but the fight continues.
“We have to defeat Ebola as a tripartite way because if there is Ebola in guinea, there will be Ebola in Sierra Leone. If there is Ebola in Liberia, it will come to Sierra Leone. So we all have to coordinate our efforts and make sure that we eradicate Ebola from the basin.”
The Ebola epidemic remains the biggest story on the continent — it’s the largest epidemic in history — and the virus is still spreading.