Thursday, 26 April 2018

W is for WiFi ...and...Wallets... and...Well, just one more sip of Wine

is for

Fadhili Williams (1938-2001) – This is the oldest recorded version of ‘Malaika’ available online, Williams was the first person to record this song with his band ‘The Jambo Boys’ in the early 60’s. The authorship is controversial. Many think it was written by a Tanzanian musician called Adam Salim who was never credited in the recordings and did not make any money off the song. He wrote it for his girlfriend whose parents didn’t approve of the match and forced her to marry someone else. But Williams also claimed the same experience and inspiration, and the song. The authorship was contested legally and settled in favour of Williams in 1986, however many Tanzanians continue to believe that Salim was the rightful owner. Miriam Makeba was taken to court by Williams also for singing it. Read more about the history of the Wrangling over this song, and/or enjoy listening!

Wazimbo – is the stage name of Humberto Carlos Benfica, the most famous singer of a genre called Marrabenta, a fusion of Mozambican traditional dance rhythms with Portuguese folk. Enjoy!

And Wizkid who is huge in Nigerian music, here’s one of his tracks featuring the famous Fela Kuti.

I know I said yesterday I’ll tell you about South African wines, but really, their history and reputations are so well-known I don’t want to waste your time. If you want a quick refresher go here, or here.

What I do want to tell you about is -

WiFi and Wallets. And Which part is on the Wrong side exactly?

If one looks at the current data available, Africa is the continent with the lowest internet access - definitely on the wrong side of the digital divide. A continent that has the highest rate of poverty – well, the natural assumption is that no-one’s beating down the doors of service providers to demand internet access. Is there a hierarchy of needs theory, or not?! Nah, they’d be queuing up for safe drinking water or food handouts and stuff like that, down to the very last person. And like with most things African, that assumption would be way of the mark.

The most wired up nation in Africa - Kenya, has an internet penetration of 85%, equivalent to Europe, more than the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Mauritius all have penetration rates higher than the world average, while Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, and Nigeria are close to the global figure.  In short, all of Africa isn’t on the wrong side, there are pockets that are wired, if not to the gills, then to the shoulders at least. And not all of them are the big beefy economies. Have a look here for an interesting infographic on the history of the internet in Africa. 

Access has grown overall from 16% in 2012 to more than 35% in 2017, significantly ahead of the projected curve, which was estimated to be 40% in a decade from 2012/13. In other words, net access has grown at a dizzying pace and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, not least because several governments have undertaken programmes to provide free WiFi to citizens, South Africa taking the lead among Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal. And why are they doing it hotfoot? Because the World Bank says that for every 10% broadband penetration, a country’s GDP grows by 1.28%%. As of five years ago, Africa’s overall iGDP (which measures the component of GDP that the internet contributes) stood at 1.1%, lower than many other emerging economies.

However, Kenya had an iGDP of 2.9%, and Senegal led the pack with 3.3% which could compare with nations such as Germany, France, Canada and China, nothing to pooh-pooh there! This is possibly going up in the next decade to a 5-6% for Africa, that implies a cool 300 billion USD will add on to the GDP because of the internet. This, whenever it happens, will be a gamechanger. And given the trends in the smartphones market, is likely sooner rather than later.

Let’s take smartphone penetration. It’s increased from less than 5% in 2012 to around 25% at present, and according to McKinsey, is likely to hit 30% by 2022 (Read that report here). However, retweaking the projected uptake based on 2017 data, experts now feel that a 40-42% penetration is more likely. Models have become increasingly cheaper, with several Chinese brands being targeted specifically for the African markets, and people are moving away from the expensive brands.  Taking laptops and tablets into the mix, already half the urban African population has internet capable devices.

This sizeable chunk of wired population - young, urban, educated, supremely techsavvy and growing at a fast clip – will drive a paradigm shift in the ways Africans live and work.  Coupled with the governmental thrust on free WiFi access this implies a huge impact on retail, medical, education, agriculture and financial sectors.

Right now, around 80% of Africans do not have bank accounts. However, a major slice has mobile devices and this set of circumstances seems the perfect recipe for a shift to mobile wallets. That is exactly what has happened, and cashless transactions through mobile wallets are becoming more and more popular. Mobile wallets have been introduced in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt, Mozambique and Lesotho. Kenya with its M-Pesa introduced by Vodafone has been very successful.

The internet reduces transaction costs and digital technology can dramatically increase the outreach of banking services to remote rural areas – and take the banked population from 20% to 60% according to McKinsey. A cashless economy increases transparency and reduces corruption, something that many governments in Africa need to address. The potential is massive. And Mckinsey estimates that by 2025 90% of Africans will be using mobile wallets for day-to-day transactions.

We can quibble about whether or not Africa is on the wrong side of the digital divide. And I’m not for one minute saying it is, because wherever I went in Kenya on the recent safari, we had access to WiFi almost everywhere, except in the lodge at Lake Nakuru, which was in a hilly location (quite spectacular!). At least one pocket in Africa is on the right side. And I saw M-pesa emblazoned all across the countryside, in the remotest rural hamlets.   I know that the South African economy is more sophisticated than Kenya’s and is in a better position to exploit digital technology to go cashless. All nations in Africa can’t be lumped together on one side of that divide.

And even if some of Africa is on the wrong side right now, it appears to be poised to climb over to the other side sometime in the next decade.

From the Safaris

~ Thank you for watching! ~

Books n Stuff

Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina (1971-) – is one of Kenya’s most well-known contemporary litterateurs - short fiction writer, essayist, memoirist and journalist. His short story Discovering Home was awarded the Caine prize for African writing in 2002. His debut book, a memoir – One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011.  His articles and essays have been published in Bidoun, Guardian, New York Times, Granta, and National Geographic among others. He is the founding editor of Kwani? an East African literary magazine, many of the writers published there have gone on to winning the Caine. He has been awarded by the Kenyan Publishers’ Association for his work in Kenyan literature. In 2014, after a spate of anti-homosexual legislation were passed in Kenya, he came out as gay, first writing a short story titled I Am Homosexual, Mum as a ‘lost chapter’ to his memoir. He has been included in Time Magazines list of the most influential 100 people. I haven’t read his book yet, but am familiar with his writing in some of the journals mentioned. A very powerful, richly moving and unique voice. Click to read I Am Homosexual, Mum.

Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784) – just typing in that birthyear and deathyear makes for spontaneous combustion through frustration. So unfair! Each of us leaves an unfinished life. True...But…so conflicted – sometimes I think, even so, even with the imperfect timings and the general messiness, each life is still perfect, still beautiful, even if it is incomplete. Okay, enough off-topic rambling. Let me tell you about Phyllis Wheatley instead.

She was born in Senegambia and was captured by slavers and brought to America at the age of 7/8 years. Susanna Wheatley, the wife of a prominent Boston tailor, bought Phyllis because she was in need of a ‘domestic.’ Phyllis joined the family and as was usual at the time, was baptised and adopted her employer’s surname. The Wheatleys did not excuse her from her domestic duties, but, as was not usual at the time, allowed her to join the Wheatley children in the schoolroom. She got a rich and varied education, the classics, history, literature, the works.

She published her first poem at the age of 13. Later, an elegy for the well-known personality of the times – Reverend George Whitefield, got her international acclaim. By the time she was 18, she had put together a poetry collection, but could not find a publisher in America, even with the help of Mrs Wheatley. So they looked to London, where she was published in 1773 – the first female African-American poet of modern times.

She was manumitted by the Wheatleys shortly before Mrs Wheatley died in 1773, which was followed by the death of her husband –  both deaths devastated Phyllis. She married a free black man, but both she and the marriage struggled in the harsh realities of the free-black existence of the times. They degenerated into grinding, squalid poverty. Phyllis worked as a charwoman to make ends meet, her husband drifted in and out of debt, jobs, jail, leaving her mostly to fend for herself. Even during the harshest of times, Phyllis kept writing, kept up with her international correspondents. She died alone and destitute, unable to find supporters for a second volume of her work, most of which is now lost. Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness upon the desert air.  Our species is so dense sometimes! So good at being that ‘desert air!’

Read more about her life and work here and here.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018


  1. Hari OM
    Thank you for bringing Phyllis Wheatley to our attention - had not heard of her and will take a look at those links. The wifi connection (no pun) to economy was interesting reading; similar happening in India of course, the key point of interest being the cut in corruption. Definitely good evidence for it - still a ways to go! Thanks, too, for Wizkid - surprised myself by quite enjoying that track. Well outside my usual! YAM xx

    1. She must have been an amazingly forceful woman - being a char by day and a poet by night. To keep poetry alive under such crushing circumstances - epic spunk!

    2. Hari OM
      Agreed - those links were good and the poem - sublime. Yxx

  2. Wanderlust! That just takes my brain out of my body. You have so much on your blog that's Wonderful, but I end up fixated on the Safari. Excellent Words and pictures....White Rhinos...those thorns on that bush -Yikes, Wildlife!!!!!!, and Water......indeed a hot point everywhere. Thank you for this journey. It's Wonderful

    1. Gosh I missed out on using Word! but Wanderlust is definitely a fav...

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  4. We in the USA usually think of the Southern states when we think of slavery, but there were many slaves in the North as well. In fact, in the Massachusetts town where I grew up, there is a slave buried in the cemetery behind the church I attended as a boy. Her grave reads "DINAH, A faithful slave. Died 1829. Supposed to be over 100 years old."

    1. So poignant! Thank you for telling me about her.

  5. Such a sad story about the origins of Malaika. A song which has given so much happiness whose beginnings where in grief and with wrangling and dishonesty to boot.
    I am learning that almost any assumption (particularly a broad generalisation) that is made about Africa is , charitably speaking, WRONG.

    1. True that! about Malaika. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

  6. I was so surprised to find Phyllis Wheatley here! Pleasantly surprised to find her linked back to her beginnings.

  7. Hi Nila - this one I will need to read anon - and will be back ... you're so good at all these - love them - cheers Hilary

  8. Love those waterwheels in the video, Nila! Thanks for including the wildcats, too. (The cat in my lap may have asked me to type that.)

    Emily In Ecuador