|From: TimF||12/11/2018 8:36:51 PM|
|The Good News From Africa|
The continent is mostly at peace — and is reaping the economic, political and social benefits.
By Tyler Cowen
November 27, 2018, 2:30 AM EST
There’s a general feeling of optimism about Africa these days. And the good news, which runs deeper than rapidly improving health and quality-of-life indicators, deserves a closer look.
Perhaps most significant, a relatively high proportion of sub-Saharan Africa is at peace today. It is more stable and less prone to conflict, relative to previous decades. Violence in the Congo region and Rwanda, for instance, killed millions in the 1990s. There is nothing comparable going on today. This general move toward greater peace has been detailed in a recent report from the Institute for Security Studies.
This peace will also pay a demographic dividend, as the aging of Africa’s population, and the marrying off of many of its young males, will decrease the potential for conflict. Older, more settled populations are less likely to go to war.
The costs of war are far more numerous than death. War can cause malnutrition, long-term damage to infrastructure, polarization and ruined politics, and the traumatization of entire populations. So the likely ongoing diminution of war in sub-Saharan Africa should bring many collateral benefits, boosting an overall positive dynamic. Not only have Ethiopia and Eritrea stopped fighting, for example, but they have also resumed open trade and travel, to the benefit of both countries.
As long as peace holds, African nations should be able to continue to import new technologies from the rest of the world, and of course develop some of their own. That will lead to a virtuous circle of greater education, higher productivity, and more contentment with living standards, reinforcing the basic dynamic toward peace.
A second dynamic is harder to measure or prove, but is also likely positive: greater national unity. It is a longstanding concern that the colonial powers drew African national borders that did not sufficiently correspond to the underlying ethnic and linguistic groups. That in turn boosted the probability of conflict and instability by making many nation-states prone to bickering over the nature of the regime. Furthermore, the colonial powers made this problem worse by instituting “divide and conquer” strategies in their territories. The Belgian rulers drew people’s attention to the underlying ethnic divisions — such as Tutsis and Hutus — in what is now Rwanda, for example, and the British did something comparable in Nigeria.
One source of gain is simply that the colonial era is receding ever further into the past. In the meantime, a wide array of media outlets have helped to further African notions of national unity and cultural coherence. Soccer and other athletic teams compete on the world stage, and African players competing in Europe are portrayed as representatives of their nations, not particular ethnic groups. Commercial brands and celebrities help define national identities. Exposure to international media, most of all through smart phones and the internet, cements the notion that these regions are indeed perceived as nations by the outside world and that such designations are likely to stick. Mobile phones have knit together different African regions, and ethnic groups, in closer economic ties.
The notion of a nation as an “ imagined community,” to use a term from political scientist Benedict Anderson, is under accelerating construction in many parts of Africa. Cultures and cultural expectations are adapting to current borders, even given earlier injustices, thereby contributing to falling rates of violence and conflict.
Unfortunately, Africa is exposed to a lot of “ fake news,” perhaps more than Americans are. The good news, if you would call it that, is that Africans seem to be relatively skeptical of social media as a news source, and they put a relatively high degree of trust in international media.
Better yet is that most Africans say that the internet has improved their politics and economics. For instance, 64 percent of Nigerians reported in 2017 that the increasing reach of the internet was good for Nigerian politics. That number compares to just 43 percent in 2014, and positive impressions of a similar nature are common throughout Africa. For all the talk about social media creating divisions (such as in Myanmar), the net effect of modern technology seems to be greater unity, including with respect to national borders.
Many serious problems remain with respect to national identity — in places such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Cameroon — so a celebration would be premature. But, to pose a simple question, if you were asked to trade the Africa of the 1970s or ’90s for the Africa of today, the right answer would be pretty obvious. There has been so much net progress on the ground. The simple truth is that today’s Africa is still underrated.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||2/22/2019 5:04:15 PM|
|Abiy Ahmed in a nutshell|
by Tyler Cowen
February 22, 2019 at 12:46 am
He is the Prime Minister of Ethiopia:
In that time, he has overseen the swiftest political liberalisation in Ethiopia’s more than 2,000-year history. He has made peace with Eritrea; freed 60,000 political prisoners, including every journalist previously detained; unbanned opposition groups once deemed terrorist organisations; and appointed women to half his cabinet. He has pledged free elections in 2020 and made a prominent opposition activist head of the electoral commission. In a country where government spies were ubiquitous, people feel free to express opinions that a year ago would have had them clapped in jail.Here is more from David Pilling and Lionel Barber at the FT. Don’t forget that until the ascent of Abiy Ahmed, the internet was basically shut down for most of the country.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||4/12/2019 8:04:42 PM|
|Jumia, founded in 2012, is the first African unicorn to go public.|
The 'Amazon of Africa' soars more than 75% on its first day of trading
Maggie Fitzgerald | @mkmfitzgerald
- The largest e-commerce operator in Africa, Jumia Technologies, surged more than 75% on its first day of trading at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
- Jumia Technologies has created a platform to make it easier for sellers and buyers to do business in places where traditional retail can be difficult for consumers to access, CEO Sacha Poignonnec tells CNBC.
- Some of Jumia's biggest customers are Apple, HP and Huawei.
Published 6 Hours Ago Updated 3 Hours Ago CNBC.com
Richard Drew | AP
Jumia co-CEO Sacha Poignonnec, left, applauds as Jumia Nigeria CEO Juliet Anammah, center, rings a ceremonial bell when the company's stock begins trading, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Friday, April 12, 2019.
The largest e-commerce operator in Africa, Jumia Technologies, ended the day with its stock up more than 75.6% on its first day of trading at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
The stock ended the day trading at $25.46 per share, above the opening price of $14.50. It has a market cap of about $3.9 billion.
"The Amazon of Africa" has 4 million active customers as of the fourth quarter of 2018, the company said in its S-1 filing. Jumia operates in 14 African countries, including Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Egypt.
Jumia, founded in 2012, is the first African unicorn to go public.
As of December 2018, the company has accumulated losses of nearly $1 billion. Similar to Amazon, its initial shareholders will have to be patient on the path to profitability.
Jumia's platform lets customers buy a smartphone, a pair of shoes or a load of groceries. Its logistics segment lets you book travel and hotels, and the fast-pay segment lets you pay your bills or order a pizza.
The difficulty for e-commerce in Africa is for the sellers because of the inefficient infrastructure of the continent, Jumia CEO Sacha Poignonnec told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Friday.
"Its provides a lot of inclusion for consumers who have not necessarily the right access to retail," Poignonnec said.
Poignonnec also said there's a big opportunity in Africa because so many people haven't yet experienced online shopping.
"When we ask the people who have never used online shopping yet, the No. 1 reason that comes out is, 'I don't know how to shop online,'" said Poignonnec. "That tells you it's not about infrastructure, it's about consumers getting used to it."
Jumia, headquartered in Germany, works with local entrepreneurs and logistics companies to deliver the products. Half the packages are going into the major cities, and half into the secondary cities and rural areas.
Some of Jumia's biggest customers are Apple, HP and Huawei.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||6/23/2019 11:43:27 AM|
|The future of AI research is in Africa|
In the last few years, the machine-learning community has blossomed, applying the technology to challenges like food security and health care.
by Karen Hao
MIT Technology Review
Jun 21, 2019
Sitting in a hotel lobby in Tangier, Morocco, Charity Wayua laughs as she recounts her journey to the city for a conference on technology and innovation. After starting her trip in Nairobi, Kenya, where she leads one of IBM’s two research centers in Africa, she had to fly past her destination for a layover in Dubai, double back to Casablanca, and then take a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Tangier. What would have been a seven- to eight-hour direct flight was instead a nearly 24-hour odyssey. This is not unusual, she says.
The hassle of traveling within the region isn’t the only thing making things difficult for Africa’s research community: the difficulty of traveling out of the region has often left its researchers out of the international conversation. While these issues have affected every scientific field, they are amplified in AI research. The pace of innovation means, for example, that repeatedly missing conferences over visa problems—which have made it hard for African scientists to attend some of the world’s largest AI events in the US and Canada—can easily cause a researcher to fall behind.
Despite the odds, the African machine-learning community has blossomed over the last few years. In 2013, a local group of industry practitioners and researchers began Data Science Africa, an annual workshop for sharing resources and ideas. In 2017, another group formed the organization Deep Learning Indaba, which now has chapters in 27 of the continent’s 54 countries. University courses and other educational programs dedicated to teaching machine learning have burgeoned in response to increasing demand.
The international community has also taken note. In late 2013, IBM Research opened its first African office in Nairobi; it added another in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016. Earlier this year Google opened a new AI lab in Accra, Ghana, and next year ICLR, a major AI research conference, will host its event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The shift is a positive one for the field, which has suffered from a lack of diversity and, in many ways, a detachment from the real world. Many of the academic and corporate research labs that dominate AI research are concentrated in wealthy bubbles of innovation like Silicon Valley and China’s Zhongguancun, outside Beijing. That limited purview shows in the scope of the products these hubs create. Africa, on the other hand, might offer a context with which AI can return to its original promise: creating technology that tackles pressing global challenges like hunger, poverty, and disease.
“I think for anyone who’s looking for tough challenges,” says Wayua, “this is the place to be.”
The African model of innovation
Both IBM Research’s offices in Kenya and South Africa and Google’s AI lab in Ghana share the same mission as their parent organizations: to pursue fundamental and cutting-edge research. They focus on issues like increasing access to affordable health care, making financial services more inclusive, strengthening long-term food security, and streamlining government operations. The list is not unlike that for a lab located anywhere else in the world, but the context adds nuance to the objectives.
“Research cannot be detached from the environment in which it is performed,” says Moustapha Cisse, the director of Google AI Ghana. “Being in an environment where the challenges are unique in many ways gives us an opportunity to explore problems that maybe other researchers in other places would not be able to explore.”
Before founding its AI lab in Ghana, for example, Google began working with farmers in rural Tanzania to understand some of the struggles they faced in maintaining consistent food production. The researchers learned that crop disease can significantly reduce yield, so they created a machine-learning model that could diagnose early stages of disease in the cassava plant, an important staple crop in the region. The model, which works directly on farmers’ phones without needing access to the internet, helps them intervene earlier to save their plants.
Wayua gives another example. In 2016, the Johannesburg team at IBM Research discovered that the process of reporting cancer data to the government, which used it to inform national health policies, took four years after diagnosis in hospitals. In the US, the equivalent data collection and analysis takes only two years. The additional lag turned out to be due in part to the unstructured nature of the hospitals’ pathology reports. Human experts were reading each case and classifying it into one of 42 different cancer types, but the free-form text on the reports made this very time-consuming. So the researchers went to work on a machine-learning model that could label the reports automatically. Within two years, they had developed a successful prototype system, and they are now striving to make it scalable so it can be useful in practice.
“Technology is only half of the equation,” Wayua says. “The other half is being able to understand the problems that we see and being able to define them objectively in a way that science and engineering can address.”
Once a research project is ready for the real world, then comes another hard bit: getting buy-in from the intended users. “Relationships really matter in driving change,” says Wayua. It’s easy to collect data and design a perfect system in a vacuum, but that’s pointless if no one wants to use it. “It’s the relationships that you continuously build over time that help you can understand why what you are trying to implement is not really working,” she adds.
Responding to the needs of users also helps drive fundamental advances in the technology’s capabilities. Google AI Ghana is now working on improving natural-language understanding, for example, to accommodate the roughly 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. “It is by far the most linguistically diverse place on Earth,” says Cisse. “There’s a lot to learn and to research from that.”
The next generation
Cisse and Wayua share similar career trajectories. Each left Africa for higher education before coming back, hoping to apply their skills in ways that would maximize their impact. Cisse worked at Facebook in Europe while he waited for the right opportunity to return.
Now, both are deeply invested in developing more local educational opportunities for youth interested in AI. Cisse founded and directs the African Master’s in Machine Intelligence, a one-year intensive program that operates learning programs around the region and brings in some of the best AI researchers around the world. Wayua’s lab hires high-performing undergraduates to work alongside full-time staff and pays for them to take the online master’s program in computer science offered by Georgia Tech University.
“The main resource for doing research is talented people, and you will find more talent in Africa than anywhere else,” says Cisse, pointing to the disproportionately young population. “The energy for tech here is just amazing. The question is how do you equip those talented people with the skills so that they own the transformation of the continent and build their own future?”
When Cisse teaches his students in the master’s program, he tells them that in five years’ time, they will be the ones leading the field and returning to teach the classes. Of this, he has no doubt.
“The future of machine-learning research is in Africa,” he says, “whether people know it or not.”
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