Five least applicable technologies that should (but don’t) work in Africa


Am taking an exciting adventure into exploring technologies that are flourishing in the western world specifically the U.S but don’t “work” in the most parts of Africa. Most technology is brewed in the west and directly applied in Africa. However, in this post, I will show you that copy and paste just won’t work. If you are a tech entrepreneur here or you’re new foreign tech investor in Uganda, this will help put things in perspective. So in no particular order, lets get started.

1. iThings

I am probably risking being shot by some apple fan boys who are happily using their iMacs, iPhones, iPads and other iThings and may even be reading this blog post using them.
However, the fact is, very few Ugandans except executives and graphics, Ad and Media companies own or use apple products. Their prohibitive cost is rational reason for their unpopularity given Africa is a price-sensitive market. To put it in context, a 2.4 GHz quad 17″ MacBook Pro goes for $2,499.00 (~ Shs 6.5M) which is a 50 x100 ft  plot of land with Jomayi property masters.

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What works
There’s a resounding presence of PC vendors like Dell, HP, Acer, Sony in computer stores around the country. You can get a PC  equivalent of a Mac at half or less the price. Coupled with that,  windows and some scanty bits of Linux are the most popular operating systems that most Ugandans use, let only aware of in the computer industry.

2. Landlines
Landlines are so strange that I personally had a hard time understanding some of the landline technology concepts back at Engineering school. Occasionally I by pass dangling or cut telephone wires along some roads and wonder whether there’s a functional landline telephone network in the country.

What works
Mobile or cellular networks based on GSM standards is really what is more prevalent here. When the telecom sector was liberalized, Telecom companies like Celtel then – now Airtel and MTN saw rolling out cellular networks as the best alternative for Ugandans to communicate. Today a mobile phone is a house hold item even in rural Uganda.

3. Netflix

So how would you like laying back on the couch of your living room and rent any movie of your choice with just a click of a button? Netflix is a subscription-based movie and television show rental service that offers media to subscribers via Internet streaming and via US mail.With it, you have access to a vast database of media that your home Media library can never have. That’s cool.
However you(as a single user) need a continuous downstream bandwidth of 1.5 Mbit/s(which is what most medium sized Ugandan companies have) for which you get  stereo audio and video quality comparable to DVD. For  “better than DVD quality”, you need 3 Mbit/s and 5 Mbit/s for 720p HD with surround sound audio. I can confidently put internet TV, video conferencing and other video streaming services in this category.
Those broadband internet speeds at affordable rates for Ugandans are simply not available yet.

What or what should work
If there’s or was a Netflix equivalent of audio Media with content tailored for Ugandan audience like local music, then perhaps that would work. Audio streaming requires considerably less bandwidth like 64-128Kbs depending on quality and audio compression technologies which, I can say for sure is within the reach of some Ugandan internet users.
YouTube much as is a video based service also works.

4. NFC for mobile payments
What exactly is NFC? It’s a short-range wireless communications technology. A standard that allows electronic devices to communicate with each other. For example, to make a cellular payment using a short- range radio frequency, an NFC reader can read data from a tag or another device placed very close to it.
Now Analysts anticipate a booming market for NFC technology, predicting that the number of annual cellular electronic payments will increase five-fold by 2013, with mobile phone users spending more than $300 billion worldwide each year on digital goods (such as music, tickets and games) and physical goods (such as gifts and books). There are already players like Google through Google wallet that are promising seamless mobile payments. But there’s one problem; you need a cell phone equipped with an NFC chip. Those that ship with NFC chips are high end smart phones like  Nexus S,  Samsung galaxy SII which have not infiltrated the Ugandan market fully probably until 5 to 10 years from now.

What or what should work
A solution that is not dependent on specific hardware components NFC chips both on existing mobile handsets and at points of sale would really work. For instance USSD platform which is currently enjoyed by Telecoms, is handset independent and works across any handset Chinese or rather fake phones inclusive. The only question is whether telecoms will allow local banks also to use such a platform.

5. Online payments using credit cards
First of all, I have a hard time writing about credit cards because I have never used them. Currently a few financial institutions offer credit cards like Crane bank which means very few Ugandans own them. What we have though are Visa enabled debit cards that work fine with ATMs  and are accepted in a few selected retail stores, hotels, restaurants across the country but don’t work for making online transactions. At least my Stanbic bank Visa debit card doesn’t. Now, the absence of working online payment systems really is a bottle neck for an emerging  E-commerce industry.  For instance lets imagine a Ugandan online store that sales Ugandan digital items like local music to a Ugandan market. If i wished to buy the latest Isaiah Katumwa jazz album for which i would be happy to part with Shs 20,000, how would i be able to pay for that?

What or what should work
Online transactions require an eco system of various parties which include banks, payment processing service providers or payment gateways and consumers/account holders. If our local banks work with payment gateway service providers with authorization of account holders, then I think a home baked credit card free solution that will enable me buy my jazz album from Isaiah is very much possible.

However, there are already noticeable online payment service providers like Yo Uganda that instead of banks are partnering with Telecoms to enable consumers and online retailers make electronic transactions using Mobile money with just a click of a button. Telecoms are step ahead of banks because they are releasing their mobile money APIs(Application Programming Interface ) to third party payment gateways like Yo Uganda and others coming, so that they can directly access and process online payments for Mobile money account holders. Of course no credit card and no visa required! That said, am waiting for any enterprising Ugandan to open up shop with Isaiah’s collection. By him incorporating Yo Uganda’s or any other payment service provider on his store, I’ll achieve my dream of acquiring Isaiah’s jazz piece from the comfort of my living room.

  • 1 Isaiah Katumwa coming up!!! 🙂

  • Great analysis, but I think the iThing is fairly used around especially after the introduction of iPhones, iPods and iPads.

    Wislon Kutegeka

  • Pavic Vincent

    Lots of Ugandans have complaints on the Visa Debit Cards provided by most of our Local Banks and the so called international banks, I my self had issues with the local Visa Cards, all I wanted in the first place, was linking my Barclays Local Currency account to PayPal, Ohhhh Gosh.. That felt like a Night mare.. It wasn’t happening and never it did! Early last year on a Business Trip to Nairobi, I learn’t of Equity Bank, David it’s the best Bank that can offer you Visa services with no Hustle, that I’m pretty sure, coz I’m a big customer of theirs. Thanks to Equity Bank, I can now do my Online Shoping, Send money to Partners in the UK, US, and Denmark with just a few clicks. Hmmm.. Hmm.. Can’t tell when I last used Money Gram and this thing called Western Union! David, there is Equity Bank for you.
    Hmm.. I think I should get Paid for this Write-up! Equity here I come with David.