Sentech Africa Tech Week 2022: Connecting Africa for a Digital Future

Africa Business

Skyline of Johnnesburg at sunset from the Carlton Tower. Getty Images. Image for illustrative purpose.

Sentech Africa Tech Week 2022 made its fourth consecutive appearance this year, providing a platform where 5,000 attendees came together – in person and virtually – to learn, be inspired, and meet those in the industry who are making a remarkable impact on solving Africa’s unique challenges.

Held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on August 31st and September 1st, various panel discussions were held sharing insights across topics such as the Internet of Things, broadband connectivity, cloud services and blockchain technology – to name a few.

The CEO of Topco Media, Ralf Fletcher, believes that Africa is facing unique challenges that can only be solved by Africans. He shared that Africa Tech Week saw an explosion of excitement about current products and services that are being deployed at an accelerated pace in Africa. These include drones assisting police in safety and security, as well as leading robotics applications being deployed to legacy manufacturers. The eyes of the world are on Africa, and our companies certainly stack up amongst the very best and most innovative in the world.

Africans are embracing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data, IoT and cryptocurrency to lead innovation and digital transformation. This is making Africa more prosperous and resilient.

Poverty is a major issue that affects everyone. However, with all the progress made in the advancement of technologies, we can use this to tackle this issue. Bobby Brown, broadcaster, journalist, thought leader and tech enthusiast posed this question during a Fireside Chat on Day One.

Statistics SA reports that 54% of South African households don’t have access to the internet, which poses a major challenge. This lack of access, especially in rural communities, means that many people can’t participate in the digital economy and earn a living. Another issue that was highlighted by the panel was that many students and learners can’t access valuable resources online, as the internet only extends to administrative offices in schools and institutions.

According to Dumisa Ngwenya, Head of Research and Innovation at Sentech, there is still a big rural versus urban divide in South Africa. He adds that a big percentage of Africa is rural, and that we can no longer turn a blind eye. It is therefore imperative that we, as a collective, plan accordingly to illuminate any gaps.

Shireen Powell, CEO at Project Isizwe comments that the internet has created massive opportunities. If we just look at the sort of jobs that have originated just by being connected. Just imagine if we all had access to the technology and infrastructure and how it will be able to alleviate poverty.

Collaboration is key to success in Africa, and should be an integral part of every organization’s DNA. The ‘Investing in Africa’s Silicon Valley’ panel discussion explored the mergers and acquisition space and how investing in Africa’s tech startups and businesses can accelerate opportunities for the world’s youngest population and fastest growing economy. It was highlighted that all involved in the ecosystem should pull together on the strengths of the different centres of excellence.

In Cape Town, the unofficial technology hub of South Africa, there is a need for knowledge sharing among key players in order to scale businesses and improve access to markets. Cross-border collaborations are important for the economy to benefit, as seen through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Establishing an integrated approach for innovation is critical for economic growth.

The panel further discussed that for Africa to achieve a ‘Silicon Valley’ status, the continent must adopt an enabling legislation. This can be done by focusing on inclusivity and diversity. We need to build up the skills, the talent pool, and build up entrepreneurs. We also need more stakeholder participation which can be achieved through various platforms and networking.

One way to focus on inclusivity and diversity is to ensure that legislation is in place that allows for all people, regardless of background or circumstance, to have an opportunity to participate in the tech industry. Additionally, it is important to provide resources and support for entrepreneurs. By building up a pool of skilled workers and entrepreneurs, Africa can create an environment where innovation thrives and businesses can grow. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to have active engagement from all stakeholders. This can be done through various platforms and networking opportunities.

Web3 represents a paradigm shift in how we think about money and financial institutions. With the rise of blockchain technology, we are seeing a move away from traditional systems and towards new, innovative ways of conducting business. One example of this is the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are linked to real-world assets. This represents a major change in how we view ownership and participation in the digital world.

As an example, Momint has a YouTube channel that shares educational videos. They started to make money from the number of views, but this wasn’t part of their business model. So, they have now tokenised the channel and anyone who now owns a token can make some money from every view.

With blockchain technology being the underpinning component of Web3, Ian Putter, the Head of the Blockchain COE at Standard Bank Group says that “Blockchain is a paradigm shift. It represents value being transferred over the internet and facilitates the removal of hurdles and barriers of entry for smaller enterprises so others can’t govern control. It puts the control back in the hands of the community to facilitate truth and trust.” This makes it easier for content creators to monetise their content, without having to rely on third-party platforms like YouTube or Facebook.

This just goes to show that Web3 presents many opportunities for businesses, new and old. It presents an opportunity where people are not merely products or beneficiaries of technology-powered business models, but are builders and owners of digitally unique assets.

Africa Tech Week Award Winners and Runner-ups Announced:

● Africa Tech: CEO Award

Analytics Advertising – Talifhani Mamafha (Runner-up)

DataProphet – Frans Cronje (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Leader of the Year Award (Small-Med Business)

Lokal – Reshigan Govender (Runner-up)

IT Varsity – Bilal Kathrada (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Leader of the Year Award (Large Business)

Turner & Townsend – Wendy Cerutti (Runner-up)

Vodacom – Nkululeko Thangelane (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Women in Tech Award

Job Crystal – Sasha Knott (Runner-up)

LexisNexis – Videsha Proothveerajh (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Fintech Award

Eclectics International (Runner-up)

SnapScan (Winner)

● Africa Tech: AI Technology Award

Aspire Solutions (Runner-up)

JUMO (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Digital Transformation Award

WeThinkCode_ (Runner-up)

Turner & Townsend (Winner)

● Technology Innovation of The Year Award

Informed Decisions (Runner-up)

Absa (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Technology Company of The Year

LexisNexis (Runner-up)

Jendamark (Winner)

● Africa Tech: Best Technology Start-Up

Kena Health (Runner-up)

WeThinkCode_ (Winner)

US Pledges Support for Cleaner Energy in Nigeria

Timothy Obiezu

FILE – A technician works on solar power panels at the Atlantic Shrimpers farm in Badagry, Lagos, Nigeria, July 5, 2022.

ABUJA, NIGERIA — U.S. special envoy on climate John Kerry has pledged U.S. support to help Nigeria mitigate the effects of climate change, saying Africa’s most populous nation would benefit from a $12 billion fund for climate action.

Kerry began a two-nation West Africa visit Monday in the Nigerian capital, where he met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. In Abuja on Tuesday, Kerry met with top government officials including ministers of environment, petroleum resources and agriculture, and signed the Clean Energy Demand Initiative.

He said the agreement allows the U.S government to assist Nigeria in developing technologies for cleaner fuel sources, including gas, wind and solar energy.

“Nigeria is a very important, if not one of the most important, countries in terms of the direction of dealing with climate for all of Africa, because Nigeria is a major producer of gas and oil and how Nigeria approaches the climate crisis will send a message to the rest of the continent, will help set the direction of our dealing with the climate crisis,” Kerry said.

But Abba Ali Yarima, co-founder of the Green Panthers Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for those affected by climate change, said the gesture was long overdue.

Africa is a continent of 55 countries, but its carbon emissions account for no more than 3.8 percent compared to the global north, Yarima said. “We believe there should be reparations by all these developed countries who have emitted more carbon gases than we did here in Africa. Even the $12 billion is quite small.”

Nigerian authorities have been making efforts to address climate change issues.

In November of last year, authorities passed a climate change bill targeting net zero emissions by 2060. Last month, authorities launched an energy transition plan focused on greater use of solar power and doubling natural gas generation.

However, Yarima worries any funds given by the U.S. will be mismanaged or stolen.

“I’m also looking at other aspects of accountability when it comes to Nigeria,” Yarima said. “We’re still battling with corruption and how we’re very good with policy papers but not very good when it comes to implementation. So I’m just scared with this huge amount of money, I suggest there should be a mechanism in place that will help checkmate how this money is going to be spent.”

Kerry, a former U.S. secretary of state, said the world needs to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

He will complete his visit in Senegal, where he’ll be attending the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN).

Voice-Operated Smartphones Target Africa’s Illiterate

Agence France-Presse

A woman chooses an African language on the ‘Superphone’ made by Cerco at their showroom in Abidjan on Aug. 25, 2022.

Voice-operated smartphones are aiming at a vast yet widely overlooked market in sub-Saharan Africa — the tens of millions of people who face huge challenges in life because they cannot read or write.

In Ivory Coast, a so-called “Superphone” using a vocal assistant that responds to commands in a local language is being pitched to the large segment of the population — as many as 40 percent — who are illiterate.

Developed and assembled locally, the phone is designed to make everyday tasks more accessible, from understanding a document and checking a bank balance to communicating with government agencies.

“I’ve just bought this phone for my parents back home in the village, who don’t know how to read or write,” said Floride Jogbe, a young woman who was impressed by adverts on social media.

She believed the 60,000 CFA francs ($92) she forked out was money well spent.

The smartphone uses an operating system called “Kone” that is unique to the Cerco company, and covers 17 languages spoken in Ivory Coast, including Baoule, Bete, and Dioula, as well as 50 other African languages.

Cerco hopes to expand this to 1,000 languages, reaching half of the continent’s population, thanks to help from a network of 3,000 volunteers.

The goal is to address the “frustration” illiterate people feel with technology that requires them to be able to read or write or spell effectively, said Cerco president Alain Capo-Chichi, a Benin national.

“Various institutions set down the priority of making people literate before making technology available to them,” he told AFP.

“Our way skips reading and writing and goes straight to integrating people into economic and social life.”

Of the 750 million adults around the world who cannot read or write, 27 percent live south of the Sahara, according to UN figures for 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

The continent also hosts nearly 2,000 languages, some of which are spoken by tens of millions of people and are used for inter-ethnic communication, while others are dialects with a small geographical spread.

Lack of numbers or economic clout often means these languages are overlooked by developers who have already devised vocal assistants for languages in bigger markets.

People look at the 'Superphone' Cerco's showroom in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Aug. 25, 2022.
People look at the ‘Superphone’ Cerco’s showroom in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Aug. 25, 2022.

Twi and Kiswahili

Other companies investing in the voice-operation field in Africa include Mobobi, which has created a Twi language voice assistant in Ghana called Abena AI, while Mozilla is working on an assistant in Kiswahili, which has an estimated 100 million speakers in East Africa.

Telecommunications expert Jean-Marie Akepo questioned whether voice operation needed the platform of a dedicated mobile phone.

Existing technology “manages to satisfy people”, he said.

“With the voice message services offered by WhatsApp, for example, a large part of the problem has already been solved.”

Instead of a new phone, he recommended “software with local languages that could be installed on any smartphone”.

The Ivorian phone is being produced at the ICT and Biotechnology Village in Grand-Bassam, a free-trade zone located near the Ivorian capital.

It came about through close collaboration with the government. The company pays no taxes or customs duties and the assembly plant has benefited from a subsidy of more than two billion CFA francs.

In exchange, Cerco is to pay 3.5 percent of its income to the state and train around 1,200 young people each year.

The company says it has received 200,000 orders since launch on July 21.

Thanks to a partnership with French telecommunications giant Orange, the phone will be distributed in 200 shops across Ivory Coast.

Chinese taikonauts to hold ‘out-of-this-world’ chat with African students

By Jerry Omondi

Chinese taikonauts to hold ‘out-of-this-world’ chat with African students

The three Chinese taikonauts carrying out the Shenzhou-14 mission are scheduled to hold a dialogue with African youths on September 6.

Tuesday’s dialogue, hosted by the Mission of China to the African Union, the China Manned Space Agency, and the African Union Commission, will draw African students from Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, Somalia and Algeria.

The three taikonauts; Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, are on a half-year stay at the China Space Station.

Chen and Liu already have history with Africa, having visited Namibia to share their stories with students back in 2019.

At the time, Chinese astronauts had only made three official overseas visits, and two of those were to Namibia.

Chen and Liu in their visit paid a courtesy call to President Hage Geingob, affirming the strong cooperation between China and Namibia on astronomy.

The Southern African country has enjoyed cooperation with China on astronomy, with the Asian country hosting Namibian technicians in space technology for training programs.

With such support, space exploration has grown in stature in Africa, with other countries taking part.

Tuesday’s dialogue involving Chinese astronauts and African youth will be live streamed on CGTN Digital from 11GMT.

Google Wallet launches in South Africa as digital payments boom

Reuters

The logo of Google is seen at the high profile startups and high tech leaders gathering, Viva Tech,in Paris, France May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) launched Google Wallet in South Africa on Tuesday, as the tech giant tries to gain a foothold in the country’s rapidly growing digital payments space.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital transactions and people increasingly prefer making contactless payments via their smart devices. High smartphone penetration has also helped adoption rates.

The Google Wallet app stores a consumer’s credit or debit card information and allows shoppers to pay for goods by tapping their phone against a retail store’s point of sale at the checkout counter.

From Tuesday, cardholders of FirstRand Bank (FSRJ.J), Discovery Bank, Investec (INLJ.J), Standard Bank (SBKJ.J), ABSA (ABGJ.J) and Nedbank (NEDJ.J) will be able to add their cards to Google Wallet, Google said.

They will then be able to pay with their Android phones or use OS devices where contactless payments are accepted.

Last year, rival Apple Inc (AAPL.O) launched its Apple Pay mobile payment system in South Africa.

First smartphone made in Ivory Coast caters to local users

Reuters

A woman wearing a protective face mask holds a mobile phone while the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 19, 2020. Image used for illustrative purpose.

An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has created the country’s first locally-made smartphone, which aims to improve accessibility with voice commands in local languages for users who can’t read and write.

The phone, called “Open G”, went on sale last month in the West African country. It can understand commands and respond in 16 of Ivory Coast’s approximately 60 spoken languages, including Dioula, Senoufo and Bété.

Founder Alain Capo-Chichi said he wanted to create the phone to help people like his parents, who are illiterate, use features like transferring money and sending messages.

“In Africa the problem we have… is that reading and writing is not accessible to everyone,” he said. “People can use their smartphones much more easily by simply speaking to them.” (Reporting by Media Coulibaly and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Africa Tech Week 2022: driving economic growth in Africa

Staff Writer, Bizcommunity.com

particle earth with technology network circle over the photo blurred of cityscape background, technology and innovation concept
Getty Images/Getty Images

With African innovation igniting a technology boom, trailblazers from across the continent will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, on 31 August and 1 September 2022 for another edition of Africa Tech Week, sponsored by Sentech – the continent’s sought-after technology conference, exhibition, and awards ceremony focused on promoting the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Africa.
Image supplied

Taking place both virtually and at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), this year’s event focuses on ‘Bringing Tech Closer to Africa’ and will convene an array of industry leaders, and tech-entrepreneurs, decision-makers, and tech ecosystem players from across the continent.

Together, they will unpack the various challenges, scenarios, and mind-blowing economic opportunities 4IR can deliver for organisations looking to adopt the next wave of cutting-edge technology.

Delegates can expect two days of expert panel discussions, keynote addresses, case studies, live-demo experiences, and networking with leaders in the private sector, government, civil society, investors, and academia – all with their unique insights into the different ways artificial intelligence (AI), cryptocurrency, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect the future of Africa’s development. This includes breakaways and focus sessions with world-leading authorities on the 4IR’s effects on individual industry sectors, specific fields of production, and different areas of commerce.

Says Ralf Fletcher, CEO of Africa Tech Week: “It is with great excitement that we announce this year’s programme. With innovation advancing at an exponential rate, now is the time to capacitate African businesses – big and small – with the learnings, strategies, and connections they need to spur their development through the 4IR. It’s time for Africa to take a leading role in shaping the disruptive world of technology and harness it in a way that drives progressive and inclusive change.”

Africa Tech Week 2022 will culminate in an awards ceremony which aims to celebrate and reward companies on the African continent that have demonstrated excellence in the areas of innovative product development. Categories include: Innovation of The Year Award; Technology Company Of The Year; CEO of The Year; Leader of the Year; Women In Tech Award; Best Technology Start-Up; Fintech Award, AI Technology Award and Digital Transformation Award.

Commenting on the importance of this year’s event, Mlamli Booi, CEO of Sentech, says: “The digital world is transforming at an unprecedented rate. Ensuring that Africa remains ahead of the curve requires a multi-layered platform of cooperation between companies, government and civil society – and Africa Tech Week provides a unique opportunity for exactly this sort of dialogue to take place.”

With only 300 in-person passes available to the public, interested attendees are encouraged to secure their spot by going to Africa Tech Week

NASA details plans to bring back Mars rock samples

By AFP

This photo provided by NASA shows a rock collected by the Perseverance rover on Mars. /NASA-AP

NASA plans to bring 30 Martian rock samples back to Earth in 2033, the agency said Wednesday and is sending two small helicopters to help the mission.

The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, has so far collected 11 samples as part of its hunt for signatures of ancient life.

But bringing them back for detailed lab study on Earth is proving to be a highly complex task.

Up until now, NASA was planning on sending another rover to Mars to pick up the samples from Perseverance and then bring them to a robotic lander equipped with its own rocket, called the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

This in turn would fire the samples into orbit where they would be collected by a European spaceship.

Now, however, the second “Sample Fetch Rover” has been scrapped and Perseverance itself will deliver the precious cargo directly to the lander, which will use a robot arm to extract it.

But since NASA always plans for contingencies, it has a backup plan in case Perseverance becomes immobilized.

The lander, which should launch from Earth in 2028 and land on Mars in mid-2030, will also carry two mini helicopters.

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. /NASA-AP

Perseverance brought with it its own helicopter, called Ingenuity, which carried out the first powered flight on another world, and has now made a total of 29 sorties.

The two new helicopters will be a little heavier, equipped with wheels to be able to move on the ground as well and come with a small arm allowing them to recover the samples.

In this scenario, Perseverance would first drop the samples on the ground, the helicopters would pick them up, then place them next to the ascent vehicle.

The orbiter would be set to return to Earth in the Utah desert in 2033.

Cape Town hospital uses robot at forefront of surgery in Africa

Reuters

South African surgeons Dr Tim Forgan and Dr Imraan Mia use a robot called DaVinci to perform delicate operations at the Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, July 15, 2022. REUTERS/Shelley Christians

A surgical team led by Dr Tim Forgan uses the da Vinci Xi robot to assist in removing a cancerous rectal tumour from a female patient at Tygerberg public hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.

The robot, which has four ‘arms’ and is controlled in real time by Forgan via an immersive 3D consul, is the most advanced surgical robot in Africa. It is one of only two such robots in use on the continent, both of them found in South African public hospitals in Cape Town.

The platform is currently used mainly for complex urological, gynaecological and colorectal surgeries at these hospitals.

The first operation using the newly-acquired robot was performed at Tygerberg hospital in February, with dozens more successfully completed since then.

Autonomous boats and robot battles: Young engineers face off at Egypt robotics contest

By CGTN Africa

The third and final day of the 13th Arab Robotics Championship in the coastal Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh saw several first-time contestants rise to the winners’ podium. The four-day competition, which concluded Monday, was aimed at encouraging young people to engage with advanced tech in hopes of boosting the region’s robotics and engineering sectors.

Despite the dire conditions in his home country of Libya, Khaled Al Warfeli and his team managed to find a local sponsor to support their trip to join the competition in Egypt. Concerned about biodiversity in the region, the team created a robotic boat that can help clean lakes.

The Libyan team’s design is equipped with cameras and GPS systems to locate waste at the bottom of lakes and uses robotic arms to pick it up.

“The judges liked our prototype, not only because it overcomes an environmental challenge, but also because it is ready for immediate production. Made out of simple components, it can be easily assembled and programmed for mass implementation,” Al Warfeli told CGTN.

The Libyan project won first place in the innovation category of the competition.

Abdallah Mohamed from Egypt was another first-time participant. His design clinched the win in the contest’s “Follow the Line” category. It’s a challenge where robots must follow a line from beginning to end in a field full of obstacles. The challenge is to program robots to figure out how to find their way around the obstacles and finish the course in the shortest time.

“This is one of the most competitive disciplines in the championship, Mohamed said. “Every participating country holds a domestic competition in Follow the Line. The winning teams come here to challenge each other. We had to study electronics and review robots designed for previous editions, in order to ensure ours could fully operate autonomously.”

The access the championship gives to its archives aims to build up an accumulative body of knowledge for the region’s young engineers to learn from. This way, students participating get empowered to introduce more advanced technologies than those used in previous editions of the contest.

In the ‘Collect the Ball’ category, competitors control robots racing to pick up a ball and score it in an opponent’s goal. The challenge requires speed, precise control over the robot and skill to hold the ball while keeping the opposing robot from snatching it back.

The winners in that challenge came from Qatar. They say that, while battling it out for control of the ball is fun and exciting, these robots can also be used for practical, real-world applications.

Team member and first-time participant Hussein Alnaema said, “It’s a game but, using the same concept, we can build robots to pick up litter from cities and collect them at designated locations, thus saving a lot of manpower in cleaning the streets.”

Hussein’s teacher, Abdullah Al Musleh said that the experience his student gained during the journey from creating an idea to winning the competition was remarkable.

“Our school has been competing in the robotics championships for seven years. Robotic technology is a fast-growing field. So every year the requirements for the competition are completely different from the one before. The innovations are inspiring. The number of countries and participants continue to grow,” he added.

The Arab Robotics Championship was established in 2008. It focuses on school and university students, aiming to create a regional foundation for advanced technologies and smart solutions.