Alfred Sirleaf is an analog blogger. He take runs the “Daily News”, a news hut by the side of a major road in the middle of Monrovia. He started it a number of years ago, stating that he wanted to get news into the hands of those who couldn’t afford newspapers, in the language that they could understand.
Alfred serves as a reminder to the rest of us, that simple is often better, just because it works. The lack of electricity never throws him off. The lack of funding means he’s creative in ways that he recruits people from around the city and country to report news to him. He uses his cell phone as the major point of connection between him and the 10,000 (he says) that read his blackboard daily.
Not all Liberians who read his news are literate, so he makes use of symbols. Whether it’s a UN or military helmet, a poster of a soccer player or a bottle of colored water to denote gas prices, he is determined to get the message out in any way that he can.
Advertising works here too. It’s $5 to be on the bottom level, $10 to be on the sideboard and $25 on the main section. He doesn’t get a lot of advertising, and but he manages to scrape by.
His plans for the future include decentralizing his work, this means opening up identical locations in other parts of Monrovia, and in a few of the larger cities around the country. I don’t put it past Alfred either, he’s a scrappy entrepreneur on a mission to bring information and news to ordinary Liberians. He’s succeeded thus far, and I would put my money on him growing it even further.
(Also, read the NYT piece on him from 3 years ago)
(note: title for this post stolen shamelessly from Rebecca’s Pocket. I also first posted this at WhiteAfrican, because I couldn’t decide if it was an AfriGadget story or not…)
She uses ordinary size D batteries that are readily available in the village to power radios and torches. She wraped five (5) batteries together, then removed the plug from the phone charger and attached the bare wires to the + and – terminals of the batteries.
Mrs. Muyonjo is a housewife in a remote village of Ivukula in Iganga district, Eastern Uganda. She had a bad experience with a local mobile phone charger, so decided to hack her own solution in response. Read the full story on the Women of Uganda Network’s site.
Morris Mbetsa, an 18 year old self-taught inventor with no formal electronics training from the coastal tourist town of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean in Kenya, has invented the “Block & Track”, a mobile phone-based anti-theft device and vehicle tracking system.
The system, that Mbetsa created by combining technology from projects that he has completed in the past, uses a combination of voice, DTMF and SMS text messages over cell-based phone service to carry codes and messages that allow control of some of a vehicles’ electrical systems including the ignition to manage vehicle activation and disabling remotely in real time.
Another feature of the system is the capacity to poll the vehicle owner by mobile phone for permission to start when the ignition is turned in real time as well as eavesdrop on conversation in the vehicle.
Mbetsa is now looking for funding to commercially develop his proof of concept and bring it to the market as reported on this video carried on the Kenya Television Network earlier this year.
This is quite an honor especially in light of the fact that AfriGadget is run entirely by volunteers. Good news though, our posting frequency should go up shortly as we have a team in the field sourcing stories right now.
This last week I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my favorite bloggers, Jan Chipchase, while we spoke together on a panel at the Global Philanthropy Forum. Jan works for Nokia as what can best be described as a design and usability ethnographer. He explores the way mobile phones are used worldwide and reports that back to Nokia’s design team. He’s a fascinating person to talk to, and I thought I might highlight some of the stories he’s come up with while exploring in Africa.
One of the consistent themes of Jan’s message is that it in each country he visits there is a booming market of hackers and mobile phone mechanics who are doing all kinds of interesting things. They are taking the designs of the West and applying them to their lives, modifying them and making them work for their local needs. From Accra to Nairobi, there is always a “cell phone alley” for you to buy, repair or customize your mobile phone.
In a post titled, “Recycled, Upcycled: Remade” he tackles the question of whether it is possible to create a phone completely of recycled parts.
Of all the internal concepts I’ve followed this year this is one I keep returning to, not least because sustainability is a pressing issue in a billion+ products-per-year industry – but also because the team tackled a number of related weighty issues in what was a far reaching project. I hope that in due course more of their design thinking makes it into the public domain, not least to stimulate critical feedback from people like your good selves.
One of the more interesting innovations is the development of a dual SIM card hack so that users can access multiple carriers.
This product has two SIM card slots in a single phone – primarily to support price sensitive/prudent consumers who wish to optimise their call costs by maintaining SIM cards from two different phone operators. As in many countries – calls to a customer using a different Ghanaian operator cost slightly more than those on the same network.
There are many more examples of mobile phone use in Africa and the ingenious solutions that locals come up with for their particular situations on Jan’s blog. The last image that I want to show is of the Village Phone project (by Grameen Bank) happening in Uganda. Jan has taken an excellent picture and annotated it with the important facts about this project in a rural Uganda.
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