Tanzania – TEDGlobal Conference

From fostering innovation in one of the world’s harshest environments to novel ways to repel mosquitoes and map the world, here are some highlights from the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

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Seeds of a Somali tech scene

Somali scientist Abdigani Diriye believes that at some point, his country needs to do more than devote all its resources to fighting piracy, Al-Shabaab and famine.

So about six years ago, he returned from the UK, where his family fled civil war in 1989, to his home in Somaliland to create the country’s first start-up incubators and accelerators.

So far they have trained more than 25 start-ups. Diriye realises tech won’t solve all of Somalia’s problems, “but it is a great vehicle to address many other challenges” such as healthcare, unemployment and education.

Others have since followed in his footsteps such as the iRise innovation hub which launched in June in Mogadishu.


Meet you at ‘prices.slippery.traps’

UK-based company What3Words has developed a new system of mapping the world by dividing it into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and giving each square a three-word address – so instead of complex co-ordinates, you could find someone at “prices.slippery.traps” – a specific spot around the Eiffel Tower.

Postal services in Mongolia, Djibouti, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have adopted the system while the United Nations (UN) uses it in disaster areas, where like billions around the world, people may be living without an address.


Mosquito-repellent sandals

Tanzanian scientist Fredros Okumu and his team at the Ifakara Health Institute are working on new ways to repel and eliminate the carriers of malaria, dengue and Zika.

They are currently mapping mosquito breeding spots so they can identify and destroy swarms, while a repellent that can be worn in sandals or placed under chairs, protecting several people in the immediate area for up to six months, is currently being tested in Tanzania and Brazil.

david sengeh

Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh – CC 2016


Algorithms to detect diseases

Infectious diseases are fast being overtaken by afflictions such as cancer as the biggest health problem in Africa, where some countries have only one pathologist per 1m people.

Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh is working with his team at IBM Africa on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that can predict a cancer’s progression.

AI software can be trained with a database of images to detect colour changes inside the cervix that point to patients at high risk for cervical cancer, which can be treated if caught in time, but which kills 60,000 women in Africa a year.


‘Eye-phones’ and mobile hearing

American ear surgeon Susan Emmett is currently testing South African-developed mobile screening technology in rural Alaskan communities that has replaced the need for an audiologist and permanent equipment and costs 10 times less than traditional solutions.

The audience was also shown a video by eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous who won a Rolex Award in 2016 for Peek, an “eye-phone”, or smartphone app he developed for use in Kenya, which uses a low-cost clip-on device to take images of the back of the eye to test sight.


Drone blood delivery

In Rwanda, a system launched in 2016 to fly blood via drones from a central distribution centre to hospitals around the hilly nation has saved numerous lives, said robotics entrepreneur Keller Rinaudo, whose company Zipline runs the system.

The drones now deliver 20% of blood supply outside the capital Kigali.

In July, Tanzania’s health ministry announced they would use the same technology to deliver a variety of medical products in what is set to be the largest autonomous delivery system anywhere in the world. (AFP 31/8, 1/9 2017)

Nile Basin – No Deal After Summit


Discussions between Nile Basin countries fail to reach agreement as many leaders boycott talks.

The Nile Basin Summit from June 20-22nd was convened to provide an opportunity for the ten countries reliant on the River Nile to agree on the equitable use of the resource. Tensions around the vital water source have persisted for many decades.

Initial signs, however, were less promising as a number of leaders chose not to attend. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kirr notified the delegates that they would skip the event.

The summit brought together all countries along the River Nile and was attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, South Sudan Vice President Joseph Wani, Burundi’s 2nd Vice President Joseph Butore and Sudan’s Vice President Hasabo Mohammed Abdul Rahman.

The leaders of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania also turned down invitations to attend at the last minute, although no clear reasons for the decision were given by the respective embassies.

It was clear during the meeting that an agreement on the equitable use of resources was proving difficult as stakeholders repeatedly walked out of meetings at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda.

Led by Sudan, water security experts walked out a meeting at 10pm on June 21st, while Ethiopia followed suit. In the large the summit was organised to nudge Egypt, the biggest beneficiary of the Nile basin, to join the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

However, Egyptian Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources Mohammed Abdel-Atti said that his country would only rejoin if some provisions in the draft Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) were changed.

Al-Sisi reportedly said that his country was suffering from a water deficit of 21.5 billion cubic metres per year. However, although Egypt hasn’t yet rejoined NBI, it will engage in development projects in the region.

Speaking to journalists, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he and his colleagues discussed development issues. Despite only three heads of state being present, Museveni said they decided to meet as leaders to discuss the ‘strategic issues of the Nile.’ reported the Observer. 

Nile Basin – Source: Africa Water.

According to Museveni, prosperity for the Nile Basin countries is the best way to protect the river and other vital water systems in Africa. He pointed out a number of key threats to water systems.

These threats included the growing population, lack of electricity supply, lack of industrialisation, over-reliance on primitive agriculture and the destruction of the environment on which the Nile depends.

He said that industrialising the Nile Basin would resolve the problems of the bulk of the population engaging in primitive agriculture, pushing many into the industry and service sectors. He added that this would reduce the strain on the environment through the invasion of wetlands and destruction of forests for agriculture, reported the Uganda Media Centre.

Of course this sort of solution is denounced by others who note how industrialisation will lead to further environmental degradation and pollution, and raise levels of inequality as groups are incorporated, often on adverse terms, as labourers in the service or manufacturing economy.

Further, a deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in December 2015 whereby the three countries agreed to end tensions over River Nile water, is also facing an unclear future due to ongoing tensions between Egypt and Sudan.

The two downstream countries at the end of April agreed to de-escalate tensions and end counter-accusations as well as import bans and deportations had brought relations between the two countries to tipping point.

Meanwhile Ethiopia continued its quest to bring Nile Basin countries on its side as its Grand Renaissance Dam nearing completion.

With electricity as a bargaining chip observers say Ethiopia will have an edge over Egypt which claims the majority share of Nile waters, given to it by a colonial agreement put in place by the British, reported the East African.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

Grand Renaissance Dam Project
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 3, Pp. 20795A–20795B

POWER: Egypt – Ethiopia – Sudan
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 51, Issue. 8, Pp. 20543C–20545C

EGYPT – ETHIOPIA: Nile Dam Problems
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 50, Issue. 10, Pp. 20154B–20155B

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Africa – GMO Debate Reignited


As a number of countries debate the use of GMO crops to address food security, others have stressed opposition to profit-driven agribusiness.

Recently, in August, Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto announced a move to lift a ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) imports by the end-of October, with a wide-ranging selection of Ministers supporting the move. GMO crops are now free to be field tested in the county with sites already set up at Kalro field stations.

Currently there are trials for a virus-resistant transgenic cassava at Alupe; a vitamin A-enhanced cassava at Alupe; biofortified sorghum at Kiboko and virus-resistant cassava at Mtwapa, explained the East African.

The Daily Nation reported that the decision to lift the ban has reignited the debate around GMO crops with farmers groups protesting across the country; one group, the Kenya Small-Scale Farmers has sought an order from the high court to reverse the decision. Some have even called for investigations into the funding for organisations involved in the sector.

Some scientists do see GMO crops as the answer to stark situations of food security across much of the ‘developing world’; the Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff) stated that the country needed modern technology, of which GMOs are a part.

Kenaff CEO John Mutunga, said that such technology would need to be backed by sound scientific evidence, to dismiss claims that such crops cause adverse health impacts, and to remove the vested interested and donor-oriented policy that dominates the sector.


Cassava Seed (CC)

Tanzania is also planning trials for a GMO Maize variety for April 2016 in Makutupora area of Dodoma, conducted by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public-private partnership led by Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The government recently revised its GMO laws to allow confined trials of maize and cassava, reported the East African.

Similarly the Director-General of the Nigerian National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Rufus Ebegba, has said that the safe application of modern biotechnology will trigger an agricultural revolution in Nigeria.

“Modern biotechnology has the huge potentials to enhance the agricultural sector, promote industrial growth, and the medical sector; and it can also be used for environmental sustainability; but our agency is not to promote modern biotechnology or its products but to ensure the safety because we are aware that this technology has that potential for adversity especially in the agricultural sector” he said, reported Leadership.

Only South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan have officially adopted GMO food on the African continent . However the recent and ongoing drought across much of Southern Africa – with five districts in South Africa declared disaster zones–  and the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon more widely across sub-Saharan Africa, has raised the urgent need for inclusive solutions to the problem of food security, particularly for the very poorest.


Sorghum Market Ethiopia (CC)

A 2013 report accused scientists of conducting research that favours seed companies; the study by Canadian Professor Matthew A Schnurr claimed that GMOs could jeopardise the livelihoods of local farmers by supplanting locally derived and often resilient seeds, for new supposedly high yielding varieties.

The research, entitled Biotechnology and bio-hegemony in Uganda: Unravelling the social relations underpinning the promotion of genetically modified crops into new African markets, was based on over 70 interviews in Uganda with research scientists, policy experts, lobbyists, and promotional organisations between 2009 and 2012.

In relation to GMO cotton, the report details that the crops are resistant to species of bollworm. However Schnurr claims that bollworm is of limited problem in Uganda, and the crops still continue to be affected by black arm disease and other pests. According to Schnurr the market is supply rather than demand driven, and BT Cotton finds a ‘solution to a non existent problem’, report the East African.

The report also throws doubts on the ability of farmers to pay for the new SureGrow 125, a cotton variety from the United States (US), with evidence from South Africa showing that farmers are paying 30-40% more for their seeds. The variety, which is suited to American climate and mechanised picking, may be unsuitable for the Ugandan context.

It is important that the aims of improving food security and livelihoods for the most vulnerable people do not get lost amidst the rhetoric of a profit-driven agricultural sector. GMOs are likely to be a useful resource in some contexts, but it is important to also remember the wide-variety of foodstuffs, non cash-crops, and farming activities undertaken as livelihood strategies across Africa, which have a tendency to be forgotten in the privileging of monoculture, cash-return GMO crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on November 10th, launched its 2016 International Year of the Pulses, to “raise awareness about the protein power and health benefits of all kinds of dried beans and peas, boost their production and trade, and encourage new and smarter uses throughout the food chain”, reported the UN News Service.

“They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries…yet, their nutritional value is not generally recognised and is frequently under-appreciated” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: Growth Slows, Food Insecurity Rises 
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20979A–20980C

CEREALS: Southern Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20896C–20897B

FOOD: FAO Report
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20752A–20753A

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Tanzania – New Port to Boost Regional Status


New port initiative aims to place Tanzania as a transport hub, putting pressure on other regional facilities to compete.

The Tanzanian government has started work on a new US$10bn port and special economic zone (SEZ) in Bagamoyo, which aims to transform the area in to a transport logistics hub and act as a catalyst for international and regional trade.

The project is backed by China and Oman and when completed will dwarf the Kenyan port of Mombasa, putting pressure on the Kenyan government to expand their own facilities. With the new port, Tanzania hopes to be able to efficiently exploit new oil and gas finds.

The total project consists of 800 hectares of the Bagamoyo Port Project and around 1,700 hectares of the Portside Industrial Zone; developed under an agreement between the Tanzanian government – represented by the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) –  China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI) and the Oman State Government Reserve Fund (SGRF), explained a report by Tanzania Daily News.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, stated on October 16th that the construction work was aimed at “brining about an industrial revolution” in the country, reported the East African. The port itself will cater for ‘mega-ships’ with a container vessel size of 8000 twnety foot equivalent units (TEUs).

The project, which will include roads, railway and the SEZ, is expected to take 10 years to complete, but when finished it will have an annual capacity of around 20m containers, compared to 600,000 in Mombasa.

Tanzania is also targeting increased capacity of its main port at Dar es Salaam to 28m tonnes a year by 2020 from the 14.6m tonnes it handled in the financial year 2013/14.


Mombasa Port: (CC)

Tanzania Daily News explained that hours after the laying of the first foundation stone there was an announcement of the new Mapinga Satelitte City just 2km from the Bagamoyo site, and will include modern housing technology, amenities and recreational facilities.

Kenya is currently constructing a  $274m container terminal in Mombasa, in a bid to handle increasing volumes of trade, which is being driven by a construction boom, infrastructure development and an emerging middle class.

Kenya and Tanzania are caught in a head-to-head race to become the preferred regional transport hub amid massive expansion projects in sea ports, connecting railway and road networks.

“The sheer capacity of the Bagamoyo port should be a concern to Mombasa port managers because capacity is key in port efficiency which many traders look up to,” James Kinyua a cargo dealer in Nairobi said, reported the East African.

Tanzania, like Kenya, wants to capitalise on a long coastline and upgrade existing rickety railways and roads to serve growing landlocked economies in Africa. Recent oil discoveries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have catalysed swathes of exploration in the region, but transport infrastructure still lags behind.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.21003A–21003C

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.50, Issue.5, Pp.19994B–19995B

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.49, Issue.7, 19633B–19634A

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Africa – Pastoralist Knowledge Hub


Online hub for pastoralists to help address issues that face some of Africa’s most vulnerable communities

The Pastoralist Knowledge Hub, launched by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) aims to provide pastoral communities with a space to discover solutions to common challenges, discuss agricultural innovations and nominate and select representatives for global forums.

It will bring together institutions including the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World bank, alongside NGOs and pastoralist civil society groups.

Pastoral communities are important producers of livestock, meat, milk and animal products, and according to the FAO produce more than half of agricultural GDP in many countries. Through habitat provisioning, nutrient cycling and control of bush encroachment, livestock grazing helps to support the African rangeland ecosystem, however despite this they have often been marginalised in decision making that affects range-lands and migration routes.

According to a UN press release, the new global forum is an attempt to overcome a global policy gap in discussions of pastoralism and the challenges faced by transhumant communities.  Helena Semedo, FAO director-general said that “pastoralists are able to produce food where no crops can be grown. Yet, their concerns are poorly heard by the international community”.


In Kenya, the Maasai community have faced the failure of seasonal rains in November and December; Kakuta Maimai, a farmer from Kajiado County and member of the Maasai Association, said “it’s nearly a year without rain and many people lost lots of cows to the ongoing drought”, reported Kenyan news outlet The Star (18/4).

In Tanzania representatives of 16 pastoral communities gathered at Kwa-Idd in Arusha city to discuss issues related to changing weather patterns. Edward Porokwa, Director of Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Government Organisations Forum, said that “pastoralists are the most vulnerable group when it comes to effects of global warming and climate change”, reported Tanzania Daily News (6/4).

The International Crisis Group, in an April 1st report, document security issues facing pastoral communities in Central Africa, including a deteriorating regional security situation, global climate change, multiplication in migration roads and expansion of cultivated areas, which is leading to increased  competition for resources, particularly water.

In Chad, due to limited bilateral cooperation on pastoralist issues with the Central African Republic (CAR), there has been an increase in violence especially on migration roads and the emergence of new pastoralist groups with different motives and access to weapons.

In CAR violence between by Christian Anti-Balaka militia has caused many Mbororo herders to shelter in a UN camp and only to venture out after months of talks, according to Reuters.  Thibaud Lesueur of International Crisis Group said that, “it’s very likely that if the pastoralists restarted their herding in the bush a few kilometres from town, they would once again be targeted by militia and bandits.”

Similarly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the migration of Mbororo herdsmen from several surrounding countries has caused tension with the local populations. According to the International Crisis Group,  DRC and CAR do not regulate transhumance and are unable to deal with the violence between communities, whereas some countries such as Niger and Chad receive financial support from donors to regulate pastoralism.

In many parts of Africa conflicts and tensions between pastoral and sedentary communities are increasingly complex, extending beyond national borders and interweaving with other regional conflicts and security issues. It is hoped that the Pastoralist Knowledge Hub will facilitate and contribute to the strengthening of pastoral livelihoods through worldwide sharing of information, stories, solutions and knowledge.

Find out more the Africa Research Bulletin:

Livestock: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 10, Pp.20611b-20611c

IGAD: World Bank Support for Pastoralists
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.3, Pp.20333B

Pastoralists Vs Pollution
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.43, Issue.11, Pp.17173A

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East Africa: Investments in Rail Infrastructure


Members of the East African Community pledge to use Central and Northern Transport Corridors to unlock the region’s economic potential

East African Community (EAC) member states, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda are hoping to implement joint infrastructure projects to further boost regional trade and growth. Tanzanian President and Chairman of the EAC, Jakaya Kikwete is quoted by Tanzania Daily News as saying “it is my wish to see the Northern and Central Corridors infrastructure to be one in the future”.

Following a Northern & Central Corridor Investors Forum in Dar es Salaam on March 25th, EAC members launched the construction of the US$14.2 billion East African Central Corridor Railway. According to Transport Minister Samuel Sitta the project will be “the single biggest project ever to be implemented by the Tanzanian government since our countries independence”, report Reuters.

The project will involve constructing 2561km of standard gauge railway to connect Dar es Salaam to landlocked neighbours of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia and eastern DR Congo,  costing around $7.6bn, while two other additional lines will be constructed to serve mining regions in the southern and northern Tanzania, at a cost of around $6.6bn. The main line will contain spur lines that will connect to Kigali, Rwanda, Bjumbura in Burundi, and Masaka, Uganda, explain Tanzania News Daily.


Landlocked countries in Africa are reliant on rail and road links through to main coastal economic and commercial hubs; in East Africa particularly Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. In direct competition to the Tanzanian railway plans, Kenya is also constructing a standard gauge railway, funded by China Road and Bridge Corporation, from Mombasa-Nairobi to Kampala.

The Kenyan government has claimed the new railway from Mombasa to the Great Lakes region will boost economic growth by 1.5% per year, report Ventures Africa, eventually extending to replace the ageing colonial-era narrow gauge railway that reaches towards DR-Congo. The initial 609 km section from Mombasa to Nairobi has been started with a finish date set for 2017.

China has agreed to finance part of a $3.2 billion Uganda rail plan, report East Africa Business Week; construction of the Eastern and Northern Standard Gauge Railway that will connect Kampala, Malaba on the Kenyan border and Nimule in South Sudan, while joining the wider standard gauge network, giving fruitful economic benefits from links to Kenya’s coastal commercial hub.

AFKInsider comment that Kenya and Tanzania are vying to be the preferred regional transport hub and with recent oil and gas discoveries in the region, the area has become a hive of exploration. Transport minister Sitta said “We are in competition at all times with the Mombasa port…its a competitive business so we need to be efficient”.

Both countries are also planning to invest in new port projects at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Lamu in Kenya, report Tanzania Daily News. The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project was first proposed in the 1970s to provide Sudan and Ethiopia access to the Indian ocean. In 2013 China Communications Construction Co Ltd won the US$445 million contract for the first three berths of the port and according to the Kenyan government the LAPSSET project is nearing advanced stages. The project includes an economic corridor comprised of road networks, oil pipelines, three airports and a standard gauge railway network from Lamu to Juba, South Sudan and Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia (shown on map below).


The majority of financing for large infrastructure projects across East Africa, and large parts of the African continent as a whole, is stemming from China, who have recently signed agreements with the African Union (AU) for a network of high-speed rail links in the next few decades.

Chinese companies and banks are financing a variety of railway projects across the region  including the Addis-Ababa Light Rail Transit System in Ethiopia. In 2014 China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation completed the reconstruction of the Benguela railway connecting Angola, Zambia and south-eastern DR Congo, and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) is constructing the $4 billion, 740-km electric railway that connects Addis Ababa and Djibouti.

Open database, Aid Data, provide a useful visual mapping of Chinese-financed projects in Africa, available here.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Roads & Railways: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.1, Pp. 20715B-20716A

Ports & Shipping: Tanzania
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.10, Pp. 20607A-20608A

Roads & Railways: Uganda
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.8, Pp.20536B-20537C

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Islamic banking continues rapid growth

Already a rapidly expanding sector in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria, Islamic banking now looks set to develop elsewhere, too, as the governments of Ghana, Uganda, Ivory Coast, and Somalia begin making strident efforts to introduce the system.

The practice has been identified as having huge growth potential in Africa, where Muslims constitute 51 percent of the population.  More than 250 Islamic financial institutions, including Islamic banks, Takaful companies, Islamic Funds, Modarabas, and Islamic Microfinance, are already operating in Africa, according to research by MicroFinance Africa.

A recent article by the Nigerian Daily Trust newspaper suggests that the growth of Islamic banking may owe partly to the failure of the Western banking system that precipitated a worldwide financial crisis that is yet to end.

“Non-Interest (Islamic) banking may be seen as a recent financial system improvised as alternative to tackle the turmoil inherent in conventional banking system. However, there were earliest references which suggest that Islamic banking came into the picture first in Egypt in 1963. This pioneering effort was achieved by Ahmad El Najjar who brought the idea into existence, whose key principle was profit sharing (non-interest based philosophy of Shariah). By the end of 1976 there were 9 such banks in Egypt alone. These banks neither charged nor paid interest but their activities were mostly limited to trade and industries where these banks invested directly or as partners of depositors.”

Indeed, the reasons appear both numerous and complex, but the rise of Islamic banking is a trend to keep an eye on.