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Africa: Internet Creativity

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 17, 2004 (040217)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

According to latest estimates, Africa still has the lowest level of internet access among world regions, accounting for only 1.4% of the estimated 700 million people online worldwide. The 10 million in Africa estimated to have internet access are only a tenth of the 100 million that would match Africa's share of the world population. But the African internet public is large enough to provide much scope for an abundance of diverse ventures to make creative use of new technologies.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin highlights several such ventures, taken from African projects that placed among the finalists in the Stockholm Challenge, a program that annually honors innovative use of information and communication technology. The projects summarized below include free nationwide internet access in Egypt, new marketing opportunities for Batswana basketweavers, and innovative cellphone services for Senegalese farmers and fishermen and Ugandan villagers. I have also added several related references to ongoing projects of continued interest.

For estimates of global internet access, including African countries, see According to this site, some 31% of Africans with internet access are in South Africa, followed by Egypt with 19%, Morocco with 7%, Tunisia and Zimbabwe with 5% each, and Nigeria and Kenya with 4% each.


Many thanks to those of you who have already sent in your voluntary subscription payment to support AfricaFocus Bulletin. If you have not yet made such a payment and would like to do so, please visit for details.

For a recent mention of AfricaFocus Bulletin in the U.S. press, see the Indianapolis Star for February 16, 2004. Professor Philip Rutledge, professor emeritus at Indiana University, begins his opinion column:

"What do The Washington Times and the AfricaFocus Bulletin have in common? In editorial policy, they are miles apart. Yet, both published articles during this Black History Month likely to kindle heated discussion about a controversial but curious link between reparations for American descendants of African slaves and cancellation of African debt."

For the full text of Professor Rutledge's opinion column:

For "Africa: Who Owes Whom," featuring the AFSC's Life over Debt campaign:

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Stockholm Challenge Finalists

Note: The following summary descriptions, of projects in Senegal, Botswana, Uganda, and Egypt, are unedited extracts from the pages on each project on the Stockholm Challenge website. The full list of finalists from around the world also includes other African projects in Egypt (Archaeological Map) and South Africa (Tele-Health in Eastern Cape, and three additional projects in Western Cape).

Multimedia Market Information System for Senegalese Farmers

Dakar, Senegal

Farmers in the field and artisans and fishermen on the sea can use their mobile phones to check prices before they set off and find out where they will get the best offer for their produce

Manobi is a Mobile & Internet added value services operator for the agri-business sector and rural communities. Manobi had developed the T2M, a system that enable producers and as well as exporters and public regulatory agency to use their mobile telephone, a PDA or Internet in order to know in real time (i) the price and arrival status of their products at the markets, and (ii) the availability of the same products in the production sites. The price and arrival changes of the products on the markets are collected by Manobi twice a day. The data (45,000/day) which are sent and stocked at a centralized base, are analyzed in real time before they are broadcast to the users through a multi-channel platform specially developed by Manobi to provide value added data services at lower cost with the mobile telephony operators' first generation classical vocal networks. Thanks to this system, Manobi has created a win-win ecosystem where all the users are increasing their efficiency and their revenues, the market is better supplied and the operators is encouraged to better deploy its network in rural areas

Lack of access to live information on market prices and conditions one of the main obstacles facing the producers, fishermen and intermediaries supplying the Senegalese urban and rural market suppliers. It is one of the causes of impoverishment of the rural populations who produce fresh products. Because people are not well informed, they can neither well sell their products nor optimize the management of their farms or fishing activity or efficiently plan their work schedule. Furthermore, the rural populations are not generally supplied with sufficient means of communications; in particular, the mobile and fixed telephone networks cover a very little part of the rural areas. ...

Botswana Basket Weavers on-line

Gaborone, Botswana

Botswana basket weavers formed a group to market their products on the internet with help from Botswanacraft Marketing

As experienced art class baskets weavers we felt the prices we were getting for our work was not enough and did not justify the work we put into weaving. Weaving baskets is a lot of hard work and it can take months or even a year to finish a large basket. we were tired and ready to stop weaving! Botswanacraft suggested we form a group and try to market our artworks directly on the internet. We now have 24 women in our group and we are able to sell most of our artworks to collectors from many different countries. We are keen to continue with our weaving skills and if we can find more customers we will allow more women from the community to join the group. Maybe one day we can have the world university of basket making here in Etsha!

The objective is to develop a world wide market for the intricate art of the unique baskets woven in Etsha, Botswana. Using the internet this group of 24 rural women can access and service a world-wide market for their art-works.

Digital photos of the baskets are put on the web for clients and customers to see and select for purchase. Orders are made by email and the selected art-work is delivered within 14 days from date of order.

Enables the weavers earn a living wage as there is no local market for the quality baskets that they weave. Without this e-based sales initiative the women would not be able to earn a living weaving baskets.

AfricaFocus Bulletin additional note:

The designs in the online gallery of this coop are an extraordinary visual treat, while the prices, including international express mail, range from $20 for basic baskets to $200 and up in the Basket Art Gallery [].

The intricacy of the patterns are illustrative of a subject that also well represented in sources on the web: the history of mathematics in Africa. See, among the many sources:

(1) African Mathematical Union, Commission for the History of Mathematics in Africa

(2) Plaited strip patterns on Tonga handbags in Inhambane (Mozambique), by Paulus Gerdes
Non-mathematicians can enjoy the patterns and skip the math.

(3) Review of Women, Art, and Geometry in Southern Africa, by Paulus Gerdes

Village Phone Uganda

Creating new partnerships to provide low-cost telecommunications services to poor rural Ugandans.

Grameen Foundation USA has formed a partnership with MTN-Uganda, Uganda's premier mobile phone communications company, to create a new company in Uganda called MTN VillagePhone. MTN VillagePhone is partnering with microfinance institutions in Uganda to bring low-cost telecommunications services to poor rural villages in Uganda. Micro-entrepreneurs purchase a mobile phone, power solution, and prepaid-airtime with a small loan from their microfinance intitution. They then sell use of the phone to members of their community on a per minutes basis. Over 100 phones have been deployed to date and the program is on track to be fully sustainable. The initiative has four simultaneous goals: 1) provide the rural communities of Uganda with valuable communications services to enable them to break the cycle of poverty; 2) to establish a general replication model for the Village Phone program; 3) to validate, measure, and document the model in a single country; 4) Disseminate this learning to the commercial telecommunications sector and the worldwide development communities so as to establish a global Village Phone movement. Over five years, we plan to introduce 5,000 new Village Phone business in rural Ugandan villages.

Although cellular phone network coverage extends into a majority of rural Uganda, very few people in rural areas can afford to purchase a mobile phone. Cut off from easy access to information, poor rural Ugandans are placed at an economic and social disadvantage. For example, middlemen who come to purchase their goods often charge exhorbatant rates. With access to telecommunication services, rural farmers can receive fair market value for their goods, entrepreneurs in neighboring villages can consolidate their buying power for raw materials and services, and friends and family can be quickly contacted. A partnership with a telecommunications company is essential to provide rural telecommunications services. Discounted airtime to the Village Phone operators enables them to have adequate business margins to simultaneously repay their loans and offer competitve rates to their customers. The telecommunications company receives a benefit from the increased volume from these Village Phones. The microfinance institutions provide a channel to market with unique access to rural areas. This innovative partnership has been made possible by Grameen Foundation bringing the players together and developing a business model specifically for the Ugandan business environment.

The project's greatest impact is enabling people with no access to information services to reach out to the world outside of their village for all manners of information. While voice communication is the most common, a new exciting innovation has now been made available. Current market price information for popular products are available via SMS. For the low cost of 150 Ugandan shillings (US$0.07), a rural farmer can learn the price of corn in the capital city to negotiate a fair price with their local middleman.

The most obvious benefit of the village phone program is the economic impact that this communications tool will bring to the entire village. There is clear evidence of this impact from Bangladesh, including higher prices paid to Village Phone users for their goods and better exchange rates when repatriating funds. For the cost of a phone call, a family is able to save the expense of sending a productive member to deliver or retrieve information by traveling great distances in person. Some creative and entrepreneurial users of the technology identify new business opportunities, including the resale of information to others in their communities. The technology also serves to link regional entrepreneurs with each other and their clients, bringing more business to small enterprises. Phones have even been used in emergency situations, accessing medical assistance during natural disasters and, recently in Uganda, calling the police to enable the capture a group of criminals. Grameen's experience in Bangladesh has shown that information technology has enormous potential for increasing local economic activity and business opportunities as well as the health and safety of people in the community.

We plan to deploy 5,000 village phones over five years, bringing telecommunication services to over 10 million rural Ugandans.

Egypt's Free Internet Project

Cairo, Egypt

Egypt's Free Internet Project is an initiative by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in Egypt, to provide everyone nationwide with easy and affordable access to the Internet at the cost of a local call and with no addtional subscription fees.

In its effort to make technology more affordable, Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology launched, on the 14th of January 2002, the Free Internet Initiative. A unique Egyptian experience, where Telecom Egypt, in cooperation with the majority of Egypt's Internet Service Providers, started offering subscription-free Internet services to users in Cairo via dialup to special-prefix numbers starting with "0777" or "0707". During 2002, an ambitious roll-out plan was implemented and as a result, in September 2002, "Free Internet Services" were available nationwide. Today, Internet users all across Egypt, are only charged for the price of local phone calls associated with connecting to the net.

The Free Internet Initiative is based on an offloading / revenuesharing model: Where ISPs are allowed to co-locate their access equipment at Telecom Egypt local exchanges. Thus customers' Internet calls are serviced at the closest local exchange and re-routed to the ISP data backbone, resulting in major offloading of Telecom Egypt PSTN network. In return for offloading, revenues from the Free Internet calls are shared between Telecom Egypt and the service providers.

The Free Internet Initiative represents a success story of public-private-partnership, which has resulted in higher quality and reduced prices of Internet dial-up services in Egypt, to the best interest of the Egyptian citizen.

The Free Internet Initiative aims at laying the foundation for Egypt's Information Society. Increasing the number of online users, their usage patterns and boosting the infrastructure as a whole are building the base for future e-Government projects. Before the project launch in December 2001, Internet users were estimated by 1 million and International Internet capacity was 400 Mbps. Todate statistics indicate a significant increase in the number of Internet users, usage patterns,

International capacity and dialup infrastructure:
* Ports Installed Nationwide: 63 Thousand.
* Total Internet Minutes per Month: 700 Million.
* Number of Users Nationwide: 2.4 Million.
* Total International Capacity is: 845 Mbps.

Other objectives of the Free Internet Initiative include providing high-quality affordable dial-up Internet services to users. Introducing strong competition and continuous monitoring of service quality by the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, has driven ISPs and Telecom Egypt to expand their infrastructure all across the country to serve citizens in urban as well as rural areas.

The Free Internet Initiative has increased the Egyptian citizen's quality of life by providing an easy and affordable model for online services:

  • Users are offered a variety of Free Internet numbers to choose from. Currently 225 Internet number, all starting with the same prefix: 0777 or 0707.
  • ISPs provide their customers easy-to-use dial-up services: no authentication and no subscription fees, via the same numbers nationwide.
  • Competition between 8 NSPs, with large investments in network infrastructure, and competition between 145 retail ISPs, are resulting in high-quality reliable Internet service: with no busy tones, no service interruption and good download data rates.
  • Telecom Egypt, having specifically invested to upgrade its billing system, provides the user with an easy billing model, where Internet dialup usage-charges are collected with the user's regular phone bill.


The Free Internet Initiative, having proved itself successful by all measures, provides a model for replication in other countries. The associated technical solutions, business models, and regulatory frameworks are clearly defined by the various players and can be copied by other countries and modified according to their specific Internet market conditions and needs. This especially applies to developing countries with moderate Internet penetration rates and an emerging Internet market. Some countries of the Arab region such as Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Iraq as well as other countries such as Pakistan, have already expressed their interest in studying Egypt's Free Internet Initiative. Some of them have also signed agreements with Free Internet Initiative partners, for replicating the model, some have requested official consultation on the issue, while the others have requested enough information to study the project.

Since its launch in January 2001, the Free Internet Initiative has demonstrated substantial effect on increasing Internet use in Egypt. Present statistics indicate that the number of users has increased by 140% reaching 2.4 million, International capacity has doubled to 845 Mbps and the total number of Internet dialup minutes has grown up to 700 million per month. The objective in 2004 is to reach 3 million users served by 1 Gbps International capacity. Increasing Internet penetration rates and the number of online users is expected to stimulate more e-government and e-business applications. It is also expected to drive more online local content as well as online local services, which will in turn boost the Internet market of broadband services.

Additional Recommended Links and Resources

(1) Inclusive Information Society

Documents from the Association for Progressive Communications. Includes links to Schoolnet Namibia, still one of the most innovative ventures in building internet capacity in African schools. See and try your hand at the interactive Africa map at

Schoolnet Namibia is also among the hosts, with the AllAfrica Foundation and others, of the African Free and Open Source Software Developers Meeting, taking place in Namibia in March. See

(2) Africa ICT Policy Monitor

Current news and reports. See also the January issue of Chakula, the APC's Africa Internet Rights ICT Policy newsletter, available at

(3) Digitial Solidarity Gap

(4) Time To Get Online

Learning resource for civil society on effective use of the internet, from Kabissa, which also provides free internet hosting for African NGOs.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

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