Category Archives: Highway Africa

Absa and the Spirit of Highway Africa

My first trip to South Africa was back in 2006 to attend the combination of Highway Africa, and the inaugural Digital Citizen Indaba which was Africa’s first-ever major blogging conference.  Highway Africa, billed as the largest gathering of African journalists, was run by the Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. It was supported by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s Department of Communication, Absa bank, Multichoice, MTN, South African Airways, Sunday Times, among others.

So it was a pleasant surprise this month to encounter the spirit of Highway Africa and reconnect with those  pioneer conferences. This was at a data journalism masterclass, at Enashipai Resort, in Naivasha, Kenya. Absa has been sponsoring the data class that aims to assist financial journalists to report on complex financial matters since it was a part of the two-decades-long Highway Africa that is now on hiatus.

In 2019, the classes have been held in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and  Tanzania. Four more countries will be covered in November. The program is done in conjunction with Rhodes University and is led by Peter Verweij.

The masterclass had themes of finding and scraping data, and also analyzing, mapping, and visualizing data for presentations that enrich stories. This was done using free tools and diverse data sets to infer correlations on subjects such as sub-Saharan African debt, sovereign ratings and financial inclusion.

There were also sessions about the ongoing plans at Barclays Africa which is rebranding to Absa in twelve African countries. Barclays has been operating in Kenya for 103 years, and the bank which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, remains one of the top-performing banks this year in terms of capital efficiency and returns to investors.

Tech Tuesday

SABC – Highway Africa Awards 2007 for Innovative use of new media technology in Africa. Awards are given in three categories: 1) Individual/Student, 2) Non-profit and 3) Corporate.
– Individual and Non-profit category: communications which find innovative ways to overcome the limitations of the existing African infrastructure.
– Corporate category: creative adaptation of global technologies in an African media context.
– Other criteria (which apply to both categories)is the use of new media to benefit press freedom in Africa and encourage social empowerment in African communities. Also the functionality of websites/blogs/wikis is an absolute must, interactive features, design and use of mobile technology in an innovative way is encouraged.Entries to be submitted online or via fax by 20/8

Digital Village Concept opportunities
(i) Own manage digital village center/kiosk (there will be one in each constituency). Applicant’s must have experience in running cyber cafe, computer lab and already have electricity, steady clients, premises and qualified staff. Details here and deadline is 20/8
(ii) Supply products/services such as hardware/software, loans/finance, stationery, furniture, and supplies. Details here and deadline is 20/8.

Threat to ISP’s: Safaricom has applied for a 3G license to offer broadband wireless through their extensive base station network to subscribers.

Congratulations to TED Global Fellow Paul Kukubo who has been appointed as chief executive of the Kenya ICT Board

No Apologies

Years ago there were Africans, say Kenyans, who excelled at Alliance High School, then at Nairobi or Makerere Universities. Then opportunities beckoned for many of them – for some, it was jobs in the colonial or the new African governments. But for others, they yearned to learn more, and applied for or won scholarships to the West or East for further learning. Maybe there was a CIA or underhand motive behind the generosity of these governments i.e. give us your best leaders and we will mould/educate them to do our bidding after they return home.

You have all seen some of those class pictures from prestigious universities with one black or brown or yellow face staring back among the sea of white faces. They may have been subjects of curiosity or hostility, but these students had been hard workers in their countries who had excelled, and many continued to excel at their new institutions. Afterwards, some returned home, some chose to settle there, while others disappeared in the vast north.

The Digital Indaba of 2006 was not like that, however.

First thing to know about it was that it was not a solitary conference in the wilderness. It came at the tail end of Highway Africa, Africa’s largest annual gathering of journalists, now in its 10th year. The conference this year addressed several topics including MDG’s, access to knowledge, web 2.0, corruption, EASSY, community media, among others.

Running through all these was the theme of new media – in which journalists and the media continue to embrace the challenges and opportunities brought by digital technology and the internet. This year the organisers formally added on bloggers forum aka the digital indaba that covered the last two days of the conference.

Some raw numbers: There were more black faces than white faces, speakers and delegates, at Highway Africa because there are more black journalists than white journalists in Africa. There were more white faces at the Digital Indaba because there are more white bloggers in Africa and the world. And yes – white South Africans are Africans.

At the conference, we learnt that countries like Egypt and Iran have many thousands of  blogs while India and China have millions of blogs. At any meeting, it is impossible to get a truly representative sample, something even organisers of blog conferences in the last two countries admit.

The organisers selected some bloggers from Africa to attend. From Kenya, these included Mentalacrobatics and Kenyan Pundit who were both Kaybee award winners this year.

According to the daily newspaper, which was published each day of the conference, there were 36 Kenyans invited. That’s only behind Nigeria, Algeria and of course South Africa. We met and got to know many of them, who work at the Nation, Standard, KBC and several other media houses in Nairobi. They too had applied for scholarships and won for their work this year. For many, it was not their first time at Highway Africa. Unfortunately, many of them left before the Indaba started, but I am sure you’ll see more of them staying on next year to discuss their new blogs.

Yes, we bonded, we did not sell out. Elsewhere, others have eloquently written about the lessons drawn from the week in SA. I was very happy too meet, hear, talk, or interact with Adam Clayton Powell, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Alec Hogg, Andrew Kanyegirire, BeckyIT, Bheki Khumalo, Ben Akoh, Brenda Zulu, Chris Kabwato, Colin Daniels, Dali Mpofu, Emeka Okafor, Ethan Zuckerman, Guy Berger, Henry Chasia, Kenyan Pundit, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Marazzmatazz, Mentalacrobatics, Mike Stopforth, Neil Jacobsohn, Ramon Thomas, Vincent Maher, among others from both conferences. They have all influenced Bankelele in a positive way and I hope the results will become apparent shortly

There will be more indabas in future, TED Africa (in Arusha) and others, which I hope to attend if I feel they will add value and I am still keen on blogging. If there are scholarships I will apply for them, if I am still keen on blogging. I may win some, or I may not. I hope others Kenyans win/get these opportunities and also draw some positives.

Mentalacrobatics has thrown down the gauntlet to Kenyans bloggers to organize their own meetups like South Africa, India or China. We have had several mini-conferences at Buffet Park to celebrate the bond of blogging, but maybe it’s time to have a formal one, with serious discussion, but will we exclude White African, Kikuyumoja, Kenyan Cricket, or others on the basis of race?

That would be stupid because in the online world we don’t even know half of who we are. We are largely anonymous, using pseudonyms to draw ourselves out. I hope we can draw some corporate sponsors, educational and government institutions like South Africa has done. Otherwise, without that, there are no scholarships, prizes, dinners and concerts.

EASSY: The Masai – Zulu battle of 2006

Had nice week which started with an unplanned tour of snow-capped crater on Mt. Kilimanjaro courtesy of a South African Airways pilot to a Yvonne Chaka Chaka concert, among other fun activities in South Africa.

My comfort is that if the Highway Africa / Digital Indaba conferences’ were held in Kenya, the delegates would be drawn from Ministers, MD’s, and other senior corporate and government officials, and not ordinary journalists or mere mortals like myself.

Kenya vs. SA
One of the sessions covered this week was the controversial EASSy project which appears to have been now reduced to a Kenyan vs. South African affair.

South Africa traces its history, not to 1994, but to 1957 when Ghana become the first African country to gain independence. South Africa identifies with that milestone and thus immerses itself as a being proudly African and wanting to take the continent forward together though NEPAD and the African Union (AU) as a way to better all African lives and be more competitive with other continents. EASSy is NEPAD’s flagship project which is intended to bring down the cost of communication for the whole of Southern, Central and Eastern Africa.

SA’s leaders are largely drawn from the freedom-struggle movement are proudly African and strive to combat Afro-pessimism in all at forms. In economic terms, they are disciples of Joseph Stiglitz, who are wary of foreign aid and other donor-championed programs such as privatization, having seen how devastating they have been to many other African countries over the last 50 years.

South Africa proudly champions African solutions to African problems e.g. through NEPAD. It also proudly champions media coverage of Africa by Africans, not western media agencies. The South African Broadcast Corporation (equivalent of KBC) has spent 8 million rand and sent a staff crew of 60 to cover the recent elections in the DRC and already has foreign bureaus in Africa, Middle East, US and Europe and soon to open new ones in the Caribbean and China. Such coverage of the continent is something Kenyans may find unsettling.

Kenyans, on the other hand, have seen the OAU, East African Community (EAC), Preferential Trade Area (PTA), COMESA and other regional groups come and go with little impact. They are used to having neighbouring countries who are basket cases mired in wars, famines, or other problems and are happy to offer assistance militarily, hosting peace talks, foodwise, or hosting refugees. They are used to having to do things alone and the EASSy is just the latest example of this.

They view South Africa as new to the party, but eager to assume a superpower role and both economically and strategically dominate the continent. Thus they revel in small victories like when Kenya Breweries defeated Castle Breweries (SA) in the beer wars of the early 2000’s, denying MTN a cell phone license, or frustrating any South African company that tries to take over Uchumi.

Likewise, ordinary South Africans see Kenyans as having a problem with them. When I told an MTN employee that South Africa’s Telkom had been shortlisted to bid for the second national operator license in Kenya, she said Kenyans would never let a South African company win.

Also on Monday, the City Press a prominent black newspaper had two business headlines on Kenya titled Stock trading noise to end (referring to electronic trading on the NSE)and “Kenya credit rating hit by risk and corruption scandals” – an unfortunate spin on an otherwise positive assessment of Kenya by global markets.