Author Archives: Paul Ndiho

Transitions to Democracy in Africa

By Paul Ndiho

Africa has seen a decline in the number of authoritarian leaders since 2010.  Multiple countries witnessed significant political change due to popular uprisings, but the number of democracies has not noticeably increased. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 7.42.21 AM

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies says a large number of African governments are in a “democratizing stage” and still have a long way to go. So far this year, voters in Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Malawi voted in general elections, but there was no transfer of power.
It’s a new era in Sudan.  Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the new chairman of Sudan’s newly-formed sovereign council.  Nine other members were also sworn at the presidential palace in Khartoum.  Under the deal, the sovereign council comprises 11 members, including five military members, five civilian members chosen by the opposition alliance, and one civilian selected through consultation by the two sides.

The sovereign council was the result of tense negotiations between the countries pro-democracy leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of former president Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.
Political analysts say western-style liberal democracy is being tested, especially in countries where some of the world’s longest-serving leaders continue to hold power.  In some cases, a so-called constitutional coup to remove or circumvent presidential term limits by some leaders is alarming.

For example, long-time leaders have exploited ambiguities in the law to extend their terms. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has ruled for 40 years, since August 1979.  He won a fifth seven-year term in 2016.

In Cameroon, 85-year-old President Paul Biya extended his 36-year-rule. Biya is also one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers. In 2008, the Cameroonian Parliament voted to change the constitution, to remove term-limits, so President Biya would be eligible to extend his time in office.

Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is still going strong.  In December 2017, Uganda’s Parliament voted to lift the age limit for the presidency, setting the stage for Yoweri Museveni to rule indefinitely. Museveni pushed to change the constitution in 2005, to abolish the term limits.

Idriss Deby has ruled Chad, for 28 years. He won a fifth term in 2016. And without term limits, he could keep running until he dies. In Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso repealed term limits in 2015, was re-elected on March 2016 for another seven-year term.

In 2017, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, won with nearly 100% of the vote, securing a third term in office. Kagame’s re-election followed a constitutional amendment which ended a two-term limit allowing him to remain in power until 2034. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza is widely expected to take advantage of recent changes to the constitution that would ideally will enable him to stay in power until 2034.
Perhaps more importantly, not all of Africa is dealing with the lack of democracy syndrome. Other countries are building stronger governance and leadership institutions.  Ethiopia is rebranding and building stronger institutions. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms since taking office in April 2018.  Elsewhere, tens of millions of Africans are using the ballot box to deepen the quality of democratic governance and bring about political transitions.
On January 24, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as the Democratic Republic of Congo president, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after multiple bitterly-disputed elections.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall easily won re-election. Senegal has long been viewed as the region’s most stable democracy, with peaceful transitions of power since attaining independence from France in 1960.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari easily won re-election, securing a second four-year term.
New South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is vowing to create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption.  Malawian President Peter Mutharika was sworn in for a second term after a contentious election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

Finally, Liberian President George Weah and the President of Sierra Leone,  Julius Maada Bio were both democratically-elected through an open and transparent process.


By Paul Ndiho

A Malian entrepreneur has created an app for people that can’t read.  It works with voice instructions in several of the languages spoken in Mali and it’s helping small businesses market their goods and services. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 7.40.11 AM

Ada Tembeli sells fruits and vegetables on the street in Bamako, Mali’s capital. Tembeli is among a growing number of entrepreneurs who are illiterate, but have found a novel way to do business through social media. It’s called the Lenali vocal app.

Tembeli attracts customers by sending a voiced message in Bambara with her stall’s location, as well as photographs of the fruits and vegetables she has available on the day.

“Here are your lovely fruits. We have nice ripe oranges, apples, bananas. Without forgetting to mention the pineapples. Today we have almost everything to keep you satisfied. To find us go to the third bridge and you will see me.”

She says the app works for her because she didn’t go to school and doesn’t understand French. Tembeli, also said her earnings have tripled since she  starting using the app, which, just like Facebook, provides users options such as ‘likes’ and ‘posts.’  The app’s interface is also available in different local languages.

Lenali was developed by Mamadou Gouro Sidibe, an internet technology engineer from Mali.
Sidibe got the idea to create the app when the manager of a shop he regularly visits asked him to read a message in French on the chat application Viber.

Sidibe took years to develop the app. He left his career in French start-ups to work on what he says is the world’s only voice-based network available in different West African languages such as Bambara and Soninke that are spoken in Mali.
He says he wanted to create an application that could be used by people who could not read or write, as well as help those who need to share information in French but haven’t gone to school to learn it.
” I needed to allow people like him  to understand what they were doing when they try and install it. A lot of people get applications installed for them because they can’t do it themselves. So it was with that in mind that we created vocal guides, vocal instructions in the local language so people can understand what they are doing. Right up to doing up your profile vocally. If you know how to write, you can put it in writing and if not you speak into the application and record it. And after that you can publish vocally, you can comment vocally, and you can do everything in this application without ever having to write a single word.”

Before the application was developed most small business owners in Mali relied on friends, family, and word of mouth to keep them going.  Now they can reach out further afield and attract a wider net of customers through the vocal app and sharing network. Motorbike sales at Boubacar Sidiki Goita’s shop in Bamako are up this year after he started using a vocal social media application to promote his goods and share information with customers who can’t read.

Goita is literate, but many of the people he is trying to reach are not. He says Lenali is popular with young people.

“Since I have been using Lenali, my turnover has gone up 5 percent, and now I can sell 20 motorbikes a day whereas before it was hardwork selling just five a day.”

Only 33 percent of Malians are literate, according to the United Nations.   Sidibe says the free app, available since January 2017, now has over 73-thousand users.   He expects the app to become profitable when it reaches 200,000 users.


By Paul NdihoThis a fascinating story about a young electrical engineer whose cutting edge innovation has won him the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. E5B86799-1730-44A1-BBC4-A9C3ECA27851.jpeg
A South African has become the first person from his country to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize, after designing a Pele-Box smart locker system that dispenses medicines to patients with chronic illnesses.

Pelebox was created by electrical engineer, Neo Hutiri, who won $25,000 in prize money for the British-based award.  Hutiri told VOA he decided to develop the technology after realizing patients were spending too much time in long lines, waiting to collect medicines at various healthcare facilities.

In 2014, Hutiri was being treated for tuberculosis and had to wait for at least two hours each time he went to refill his medication.

“I was trained to build solutions and product. The idea was to then say, ‘Can we build a product that is patient-centric?’ That speaks to us first as patient, while still adhering to all the regulatory requirements, and all of the, framework that the department of health wants to exist to improve access to care,”

The smart-lockers are regularly stocked with prescription drugs by health workers. Patients then receive a notification on their smart-phones and use an ATM-like machine and a personal identification number to access the medicine. Gontse is a pharmacist at Stanza Bopape II clinic in Pretoria.

“The machine makes it easier because some patients would say coming to the clinic is stress already for them – and then waiting again for medication, it’s another stress,”

South Africa launched a similar vending machine last year called the “ATM pharmacy” that also dispenses medicine in public hospitals. Hutiri says winning the award came as a surprise. He is now working on channeling the prize money into developing Pelebox further and manufacturing more units.

“It was very rewarding for us, it was very inspiring seeing that actually, the work that we do is on a global level and it can compete, it can scale…”It has multiple country applications. It was this, almost an endorsement of saying: we see you,”

Created in 2014, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is the continent’s biggest award that is dedicated to innovation in engineering. The prize encourages ambitious and talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to apply their skills to develop elite solutions to local challenges, while highlighting the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development.




By Paul Ndiho
Perhaps you’ve heard of the saying, “If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough.”  Well, that doesn’t apply to 15-year-old, Hope Frank, a self-taught mechanical engineer who once dreamt of building his own excavator — and now he’s done it.


Nigerian teenager Hope Emmanuel Frank is a budding, self-taught engineer, who lives in a remote town in southern Nigeria.   His ability to invent earth moving equipment using wood, and syringes are remarkable.  Frank used his passion for inventing, to design this mini-caterpillar excavator.  He discovered his love for engineering when he was just five years old.  Frank manually controls his excavator using syringes, plungers, and wires as hydraulics, to get his home-made machine to scoop and dump sand.

“I like creation; I like people who are inventors. They say that inventors try many times and still failed. I did this for one year before I succeed it.”


Frank’s latest invention has made him a mini-celebrity in his neighborhood, and it’s paying off as a sign of their support.

“They told me this boy is trying to build an excavator. This is something that I see in Europe, and I am now seeing it here, so I am very grateful and happy for this small boy.”

Frank wants to study engineering, but he lacks the necessary funds and there is no college or university nearby where he can study to realize his dreams.  But, despite the challenges, he remains optimistic.

“There are no materials here in Uyo. We don’t have materials here in Akwa Ibom state, so you need to import, you create your account online to import the materials, so my biggest challenge is money.”

Hope Frank’s mini-excavator isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but he believes with the right support and opportunity he can become one of Africa’s greatest innovators.  And his dream can one day become a reality.



By Paul Ndiho

Demonstrations led by young adults, the unemployed, professional organizations and religious groups are now a driving force for political change across Africa.


Africa’s political leaders are paying more attention to changes in their ranks due to popular uprisings, despite deadly crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters by government security services.   In recent years, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, have all witnessed major political change due to sustained mass protests.

After lengthy and difficult negotiations, Sudan’s ruling military council and pro-democracy leaders signed a constitutional declaration on Sunday, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule after more than seven months of demonstrations and violence.  Under the agreement, signed in the capital, Khartoum, a joint civilian-military ruling body will oversee the formation of a civilian government and parliament to govern for a three-year transition period leading to democratic elections.

“We have entered these negotiations as partners in national justice. And we have exited these negotiations as one team.  Our concern is the whole of Sudan. We have come out after the national will has been victorious. The result is that there is no winner or loser because the interest of the nation stands above all in this agreement.”

Protest movement leader Ahmed Rabie signed the declaration at a ceremony attended by African Union and Ethiopian mediators.  The declaration was the result of tense negotiations between the leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of President Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.

“This constitutional declaration, which has just been signed, opens a new page in the history of our nation. It constructs a new milestone for this revolution. It constructs the atmosphere and path for the making of the establishment of a transitional government, which will look to the demands of the revolution, to which Sudan has given the blood of its dear sons and daughters.”

Hundreds of people celebrated in the streets, dancing, chanting revolutionary songs, waving national flags and sounding horns.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, 95-year-old was forced to resign as President in November 2017. His resignation came a week after the army, and his former political allies moved against him, ending four decades of rule by a man who turned from independence hero to typical strongman.

Wild celebrations broke out in the capital Harare – People danced and cheered as they heard the news, alongside members of the military.

In the Gambia, a similar popular uprising in January 2017, triggered the exodus of long-leader time leader Yahya Jammeh, after he refused to step down and hand over power to Adama Barrow who won the 2016 presidential election.    Under “Operation Restore Democracy” — The Economic Community of West African States decided to intervene militarily in the Gambia.  The intervention ousted Jammeh, who had seized power in a 1994 coup — and had vowed to rule the West African nation of 1.8 million people for “a billion years.”  Before fleeing into exile in Equatorial Guinea, Jammeh ruled the Gambia with an iron fist, amassing unexplained wealth, while the majority of the population lived in poverty.  In his wake, Jammeh left a fleet of presidential planes and luxury cars.  Now the government is looking to sell those items to raise millions of dollars for the country’s health and education systems.

In Burkina Faso five years ago, a popular revolt played out on the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, as thousands of protesters and activists stormed the country’s parliament as MP’s prepared to vote to allow long-ruling President Blaise Compaore extend his 27-year-rule.

The mass demonstrations lasted two days and marked a turning point in the country’s history, which ended with Compaore being ousted and forced to flee.  He currently resides in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast, where he has become a citizen.  Ivory Coast refuses to extradite him to Burkina Faso.


By Paul Ndiho
Commuters using Google Maps while navigating through traffic in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, can now hear travel advice in a local voice.  Google Maps Nigeria -1
Uber driver Maxwell Edet has just received a request to pick up a client on a busy Lagos route, the Lekki-Epe Express Way.  He relies heavily on Google Maps to avoid the city’s infamous congested streets and also to accurately locate his clients.
Until now, Edet says that for the three years he has been at the wheel, he has often struggled to understand the accent used by the app to describe local destinations.  But now he hears travel advice in a local voice on Google Maps, under new features aimed at attracting more users in Africa. The local accents feature, unveiled recently at an event in Lagos, is also available on Google Assistant.   It’s the first move by the U.S. technology giant to offer such a service in Africa.
“It is better now because most of our drivers were not understanding most of the English that the woman was speaking, but now that the woman is speaking typical Nigerian English, I think everyone can enjoy it. It is better,”

Rapidly expanding populations, increased mobile phone penetration, and crowded cities that often have poor sign-posts have led technology firms to identify African countries as potential growth areas.  They are now offering transport features from detailed maps to motorcycle ride-hailing services. Google says it motorcycle directions is set to become available in Benin, Ghana, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda.
The technology behemoth says it is aiming to capture new users and expand its appeal beyond just drivers.  Jeff Albertson is a Google senior product manager who worked on the new development.
“We heard from users that when moving around Lagos, external factors like weather, the traffic situation and the overall business of the Danfo, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) buses may affect decision making so to help users make an informed decision when planning their travel, I am thrilled to announce a new traffic tap just for Lagos.”
Google partners with local startup Road Preppers Technologies to gather data on different routes and aims to tell users the best options available based on traffic, weather, and road conditions.
The map will include information on the expected fare, travel time, and even photos of the bus stop to help guide commuters. Outside Lagos, Google is expanding its street view imagery to Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, and Ibadan.
“The Nigerian accent, it will help because it is not everybody that understand the American accent sometimes like what is this person saying.  So the Nigerian accent version could like help you know help the common man in the street,”
Rabiat Aparalara, a youth corp member, says he hasn’t picked-up a distinction between the different Google voices.
“I have not noticed this, and I have not noticed the difference between the Nigerian voice and the American voice. I still feel it is still the same thing,”
Google is working hard to expand in West Africa, especially Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with an estimated 190 million citizens.
Google unveiled WiFi hot spots across Lagos last year — and in 2017, it launched a program to teach millions of Africans technology skills in order to make them more employable.


By Paul Ndiho

A new global report, Barometer Africa 2019, released jointly by corruption watch groups Transparency International and Afro-Barometer, reveals that corruption is getting worse on the continent.  STA Africa Corruption Report 2019 CLEAN

Winning the fight against corruption continues to be an uphill battle.  A majority of citizens surveyed in 35 African countries think that corruption is getting worse and that their government is doing a poor job of fighting the vice, according to a new report on global corruption.

But the situation appears to be looking more positive, as the leaders of some countries take measures to address corruption.  The presidents of Nigeria and Kenya, are making clean governance a priority.  Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is waging a battle against corruption, but it remains rampant under his leadership.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, while speaking to VOA last year, also pledged to stamp out corruption.

“I believe we’re going to win this war. There is tremendous commitment.  I believe now we have an institutional framework that will be able to deliver reliable results. The political commitment is there. The will of the people of Kenya is committed to seeing an end to corruption. And I believe that this time we shall succeed in that endeavor.”

Kenyatta is making fighting graft a top priority, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high profile convictions have occurred since he took office and some activists are very concerned.

“My message to the world concerning corruption in Kenya, we have a serious accountability issue, and cartels are protected, thieves are protected, and we have to bring that to an end.”

On the streets of Nairobi, many Kenyans have their doubts that any graft investigations will see looted funds recovered or culprits prosecuted.

“Unless we see the big fish, given thorough jail terms, for example, five years ten years, then we will say that the government is working, at the moment that has not happened.”

Kenyan Finance Minister, Henry Rotich, has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges linked to the construction of two dams, a rare example of a sitting minister facing prosecution in the East Africa nation.  The country’s top prosecutor ordered Rotich and 27 other officials are arrested and charged over a multi-million dollar contract procurement scandal.

“Given the international nature of these crimes we realize that we cannot fight corruption on our own, and as a strategy to fighting economic crimes, the office of the director of public prosecution has prioritized the tracing of proceeds of crime, benefits, and instruments of crime, asset confiscation, and forfeiture.”

Over 50 Kenyan civil servants were charged in court in May amid an investigation into the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds, in a rare move to hold officials accountable for graft in a nation where it is widespread.

“It is an important step forward, it could be a defining moment, but I would say that it is still too early to say that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Of course, opening charges against the person who has been in charge of public finance policy in this country is a significant step.”

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