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What’s happening on the continent?
What political concerns do you have today? Is it what appears to be a recent coup in Guinea Bissau, new developments at the International Criminal Court, or a lack of good governance in your region? On the next edition of Straight Talk Africa, we will discuss the news that is dominating the headlines and your conversations.
Join us for this live one-hour television and radio call-in simulcast when guest host Shaka Ssali opens the telephone lines to the audience. You can help set the agenda and discuss any question that may be on your mind.
Minister of Gospel
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Revival of Pan-Africanism Forum
Voice of America
By Paul Ndiho
April 17, 2012
In an age of technological marvels, it may not be a surprise that a young Congolese inventor is behind Africa’s first homegrown tablet computer that is selling for 300 dollars. It’s the first of its kind, invented in Africa by 26 years old student, Verone Mankou; it’s called the Way-C, meaning ‘starlight’ in a dialect of Northern Congo.
It’s part the technological revolution that is sweeping across the continent – where almost every free hand; and nearly every face pinched in concentration, focused on a hand held device like a tablet computer, ipad’s or smartphone.
In other parts of the world the Apple iPad is often the innovation of choice, but in Africa, it’s an innovation of necessity – And in Brazzaville, Congo, it’s the Way-C, Africa’s very own tablet computer is designed to bring cheap technology and internet connectivity to the masses.
“This is primarily a Congolese product. I had to buy it because it was made by a Congolese, and after I wanted to see and I had some doubt like everyone thought, if this product would last? But I was proved wrong and I am pleased I bought it.”
The Way-C’s designer and engineer, Verona Mankou, says his goal was to create affordable computers and to bring internet access to millions of Africans. The device is designed in Congo, the Way-C is assembled in China, to keep the price low and because the Central African Nation lacks facilities to manufacture in the tablet.
“At the beginning, the idea was to come up with a computer tablet that wasn’t expensive, to allow as many people to have access to internet. Over the years, the computer has evolved and is no longer just accessible in the office. So our project also changed in 2007, and we moved towards making a computer tablet. After years of research and technology, as well as financing for the project, we managed to finish the product in 2011, we then presented it, and it has been on the market since January 2012.”
The Way-C was created by Mankou’s company, VMK and went on sale for the first time this year in Congo at 300 US dollars. VMK forecasts its domestic sales to reach over 100 thousand tablets in one year within one year, before it launches to neighboring countries in West Africa.
It is a little smaller than Apple’s iPad, with a 7-inch screen and weighing in at 380 grams. It runs on an Android operating system, with 4GB internal memory and 512MB of RAM compared to iPad’s 1GB but Mankou says its technical features put it on the same page as other tablets in the market.
“It’s also an electronic book because with it has a memory of 4 gigabytes, which for some may appear too little, but it can contain up to 3000 ebooks. Basically it is an ideal companion that you can use anywhere. You can surf the internet and be in touch with relatives via applications like facebook, share information on application as twitter, basically it is a computer, which can be used on the move.”
The Way-C is retailed in Congo by Indian based mobile phone company Bharti Airtel and has sold over 2000 units in Brazzaville alone with more orders streaming in.
“From the customers’ experience, meaning those who have bought the product and those who have used it, they have seen its efficiency, speed and capacity, and the customers have also quickly realized that the product is on par with those on the international market, which is why we have seen the product quickly selling off the shelves,”
Africa is the fastest growing mobile market in the world and will be home to 738 million handsets by the end of this year, according to a survey by GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. The survey says the rise of smartphones has also given millions of African internet access for the first time.
Mankou says that with a product like the Way-C the opportunities to get people connected are high, because it is a reliable and reasonably priced device.
“For many people, it was a surprise because they did not expect to see a product with such quality and reliability. I personally think that the product is reliable because if the product was not reliable, we would not put have put it on the market if it was not reliable, a great partner like Airtel would not have wanted to attach its name on something that is not legit”.
Technology experts are dubbing Verona Mankou as the next “Steve Jobs of Africa” and that he’s among a growing class of technology developers. The popularity of his locally engineered product is even more enticing for the tech-savvy youth than internationally known brands as Africa increasingly relies on homegrown innovations.
“Even iPad and the other products were made with good quality, but they were not made in seconds. Those behind the Congolese computer tablet started it bit by bit, so yes I still think that it’s a solid product. Over time, there will be more expertise and progress, and the product will have better quality,”
At 26 year old, Verona Mankou, is wasting little time creating his next product. His company already is working on a Congolese smartphone that he expects will launch later this year.
Electronic giants like Samsung are already aggressively courting African consumers with “Built for Africa” smartphones that feature energy-saving electrical appliances purpose built to withstand high temperatures and erratic power supply.
A UGANDAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER ACCUSES THE GOVERNMENT FOR NEGLECTING FAMILIES COPING WITH THE NODDING DISEASE
By Paul Ndiho
April 10, 2012
A Ugandan Opposition politician is accusing the government for not declaring parts of Northern Uganda affected by the Nodding Disease as disaster areas. Several thousand Children in the North Uganda are afflicted by nodding syndrome, which affects the neurological system and has no known cure.
The World Health Organization says the mysterious Nodding disease in Uganda is afflicting over 4,000 children and has caused the death of more than 200 Children since it was first reported by the country’s ministry health in 2009. Victims tend to have seizure-like episodes and constant head nodding. Nancy Lamwaka is twelve years old, and suffers from a mysterious disease known as nodding syndrome.
Her father ties her to a tree outside their grass hut in Northern Uganda for her own protection.
The disease gives Nancy seizures and has diminished her mental capacity – She has lost the ability to talk and often wanders away. Nancy once went missing in the bush for three days.
“It hurts me so much. In our tradition it is a taboo, it is not something heard of that you would tie someone to a tree but because I want to save her life, I don’t want her to go to the bush and get burnt, I don’t want her to go and drown in the river nearby and I don’t want her to fall in fire. As you have seen, the wounds on her fingers are from falling in fire.”
Beatrice Atim, an opposition Member of Parliament (FDC – Party), from Kitgum, District in Northern Uganda accuses the government neglecting families coping with the disease and calls on the government to declare the affected area a disaster zone.
“If there’s a problem, a sickness of that magnitude, the government should be free to let it be examined and tested for a result. But you find children who are being brought from the villages to a National referral Hospital, being arrested, and the issue was that they are going to shame the government. We have asked the President to declare a disaster area. The government has refused. The suspicion you have among the communities is that during the war, probably the missiles which were used, and the war machinery which were used, could have been poisonous. Or even the same food items which were distributed could have had some chemicals or poison in it. And of course empirical evidence, the burden is upon the government to come out and prove that what the people are suspecting is not true.”
The Ugandan Government has dispatched a team of experts from nation’s ministry of health to the region, along with officials from World Health Organization W.H.O and the U.S Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C) to focus on finding a treatment for the disease. The group plans to conduct trials on several different types of seizure medication as well as supplements of vitamin B6.
A doctor at the regional World Health Organisation (W.H.O) says children are finding it difficult to eat because of the seizures, which are often triggered by food. Many children who have nodding syndrome become affected in many different ways.
“The issue is that there is a general effect in their neurological system to the extent that some can be impaired in vision, in eating even mere recognition of their immediate environment, so that is why we are calling it a syndrome, because not all are really manifesting in the same way, some may have just a few of these features.”
Researchers and experts from C-D-C have been examining and searching for the origins of the disease. They say there is a possible link between the Black-Fly borne parasite that causes River Blindness, and Nodding syndrome.
“We have done extensive laboratory investigations trying to find the cause for nodding syndrome, in fact we have ruled out three dozen different possible causes for nodding syndrome, including some of the most recent results looking for 18 different viral families encompassing literally hundreds of individual viruses all negative for nodding syndrome.”
While the effects of the disease – first documented in Tanzania in the 60’s – are well known, researchers are still confounded by nodding syndrome, and the search both for its origins and a cure continues.
By Paul Ndiho
April 5, 2012
The second annual international festival of drawing known as “pencil lead” brings together artists and cartoonists from Benin, France, Ivory Coast and Togo. The workshop aims to promote various forms of drawing and encourages young artists to use their work to help address social issues.
Emmanuelle Gabled, is working on her latest drawing at the French institute in Lome Togo. The 35-year-old is a cartoonist and designer who works for the country’s weekly ‘Pipo magazine’, and likes to use subjects around her to bring out ideas in her drawings and caricatures.
Emmanuelle says she would like to see more upcoming artists joining the field because, compared to other professions, it is not getting enough attention.
“I think it’s great, it’s good for all young people and for those who think that women can’t draw or those who think they are useless at drawing; they should know it’s for everyone.”
The festival brought together artists from West Africa and Europe to share ideas, and showcase some of their best work. The event attracted both amateur and professional artists; art work exhibited included graffiti, music, comics and paintings. Washington-based artist Kristopher Mosby says that artists from this region of West Africa need to keep studying, drawing and sketching to perfect their skills.
“It takes certain energy and dedication that the youth have and i remember being young and having that kind of drive, that kind passion and it’s good to see it amongst them because they are only going to get better at their craft. Even the ones that are very good right now would be even better three, four, five, six years from now and that great. It’s really wonderful to see that.”
Many participants were particularly taken by classes in caricature drawing and spent time exploring techniques.
Donald Aklassou an editorial cartoonist says cartoons appeal more to readers in Togo because they summarize ideas well.
“Editorial cartoons can easily express what we mean, given that many readers are lazy, they do not read, cartoons are short, they can have what they have on one or two pages in a drawing. i think in fact that the newspaper cartoon has its place in the world press.”
Organizers also want to bring about 30-thousand students across the country to their workshops to help nurture talent and hold courses on artistic entrepreneurship.
“I really think Togolese artists are very talented but that talent must be accompanied and promoted in order for them to make a living. So what they have here is fabulous, it’s very interesting.”
Kristopher Mosby also stresses the need for African artists to do more to promote their work abroad, take advantage of internet and eliminate the middle-men because they don’t need big companies to sell their art work.
“Well, just get your name out there, it’s a competitive field like anything else and to make money from it that’s a challenge. A lot of people nowadays go independently, which is a little bit of an advantage. Twenty, thirty years ago, you really had to be with some type of a company. Maybe a big company or a small company because it was very difficult financially to go at it alone whereas nowadays with the internet you can do web publishing, or you can do print on demand and you can literary just sell it yourself.”
The workshop organizers emphasized that cartoonists should be respected, because they play a key role in forming public opinion, bringing about desired change and promoting peace.