Local solutions to local challenges

Nairobi day 3: In 1996 Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote a sharp profile of former Danish Prime Minster Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

Charles Obbo

Charles was in Copenhagen to participate in the Images of Africa festival and the profile was for Jyllands-Posten. I did PR for the festival – and after reading his profile I became an instant admirer of Obbo as a writer, observer and political commentator. At that time Charles was the Editor in Chief of the Ugandan Daily Monitor; a job he left after more than 100 court cases within 5-6 years, where the government were trying to restrict the newspapers freedom of expression.

Since 2002-3 Obbo has been with the Nation Media in Nairobi. He holds the title Executive Editor for the Africa and Digital Media Division while he in addition turns out a number of sharp, witty, insightful weekly columns which probably at times also are very uncomfortable reading for the regions powerful men and women.

Since 1996 we have been in touch on phone, email, FB but only once in Kampala we had a chance for a coffee. It was a pleasure to chat with Charles after 15 years! and pick his brains for where he sees innovation, creativity and growth in the region and what social media means to the traditional news outlets.

We are dying, he immediately confessed with a big laugh showing that the death definitely is not tomorrow; Our editorial values make it impossible to run with rumors; we wait until a story can be confirmed.

Journalists all over the world do not necessarily wait, they tweet the news immediately and the rest of us follow them keenly instead of waiting for the news wires, papers, TV etc. to get their act together.

Though it’s not only a matter of being first. Apparently Sheng.ke.co has millions of visitors every week, while the Kenyan traditional Kishwahili newspaper Taifa, sells only 25.000 copies a day. Sheng is a hybrid language of English, Swahili and vernacular and originates back to the 1960s. Anno 2011 it is the young peoples language in Nairobi. Taifa is written in pure Kiswahili, edited traditionally, printed in a traditional newspaper format  – and obviously dead boring to the youth of today. 25 years ago the newspaper sold 80.000 copies a day. Its sister paper, the Daily Nation feels the crunch as well. Its obvious how the younger generation wants to shape its own communication, the means of it and its form. The Daily Nation’s Facebook has 10 times more activities than its TV-guide! One wonders when the traditional news outlets, in East Africa and everywhere else, will wake up and smell the coffee.

Some others in town seem to have smelled it long ago.

Developers, Virtual City

Virtual City started in 1999 and last year the company won Nokia’s global Growth Economy Venture Challenge Prize and 1 million USD. Virtual City received the prize for a solution called agrimanager; developed and pioneered in 2004-5.

Conrad Akunga, Virtual City’s Production Manager explains that agrimanager solves the problem of tea-farmers being cheated at the weighing stations. With Afrimanager the weight of the farmer’s tea is transmitted straight to a central register and everyone avoids recording anything on paper were it is easy to fiddle with the numbers and fugues. Agrimanager is one of the clear cut examples of local solutions for local challenges; almost a punch line for everyone in the tech-world of Nairobi. What they are all saying, including Oscar is that to come up with solutions as agrimanager to a local problem the developers have to be very familiar with the local context.

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