African Tech Story of the Year

Technology is increasingly touching people’s lives and the workplace in different ways, meaning even the most subtle changes or developments can have big impacts on millions of people. The HumanIPO team pick their stand-out stories of 2012.

Robin Okuthe: Thirty-five-year old Juliana Rotich’s groundbreaking website Ushahidi (“testimony” in Swahili) has helped ordinary Africans take control of their lives. The Ushahidi model, which uses updates from ordinary people via emails and text messages that are then plotted on an interactive map, has helped document the scale of disasters in humanitarian crises worldwide – it was credited with locating survivors under the rubble following the Haiti earthquake aside from finding a variety of other, less dramatic, uses, including a recent application in mapping small UK businesses during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Gythan Munga: Self-taught 16-year-old Kelvin Doe, aka DJ Focus, from Sierra Leone, became “the youngest person in history” to be invited to the “Visiting Practitioner’s Program” at MIT. Doe created batteries and generators using acid, soda, and metal parts he scavenged from trash bins to power up his neighbourhood.

Gabriella Mulligan: The revelation that the DRC’s M23 rebel group was using Facebook to update sympathisers on its campaign of mass crime and to build a global network of affiliates provided a poignant platform for debate around the potential role of Internet censorship in the combatting of hate and violence incitement.

Kamau Mbote: The Kenya ICT board signed a deal with Carnegie Mellon university to develop the first ever certification for developers globally. This allows Kenya to have the first ever certified developers in the world, opening doors to global multinational IT corporations. The move by the Kenyan government will also attract IT companies to the country due to availability of much needed human resources.

Elly Okutoyi: Aisha Mustafa, a 19-year-old Egyptian university student, invented a propulsion device intended to offer spacecrafts a new method and cheaper means of energy consumption. According to Mustafa, the propulsion device promises chances of using quantum physics and chemical reactions in artificial satellites, instead of the current radioactive-based jets and ordinary rocket engines. The story created a lot of buzz, especially from the scientists who openly expressed their doubts over the ‘African’ invention.

Vincent Matinde: 2go’s growth in Africa. In September this year, 2go announced that their platform outran Facebook numbers in Nigeria. It had 10 million users in Nigeria compared to the five million Facebook membership. 2Go also announced they surpassed the 20 million user mark in May this year.

Paul Adepoju: This is a hard one because there were so many great stories this year. If I must choose, then I will go for the official launch of fibre optic cable in Banjul, Gambia. The Africa to Europe Cable (ACE) project will bring further high-speed internet capability to the continent and improve international telecommunications options.

Brandon Gregory: The controversial e-tolling system implemented by the South African government in Gauteng continues to be a hot topic in the country. Before Judge Vorster ruled in favour of e-tolling, trade union Cosatu and citizens took to the highways of Johannesburg to audibly protest against e-tolling. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) have promised the fight is not over.

Tefo Mohapi: Alan Knott-Craig Jnr’s sudden departure from Mxit when everyone in the industry thought all was well at the company.

Richard Cutcher: Africa’s commitment to migrate from analogue to digital by 2015 had governments across the continent scrambling for cover throughout 2012, with no sign things will get any easier next year. South Africa has found itself embroiled in a court battle over set top boxes, while its communications regulator ICASA continues to give out mixed signals as to how confident they are of hitting the target.

Tom Jackson: Innovator or thief? Nothing has been proven, but questions continue to be asked about whether Safaricom truly came up with the ideas for their M-Pesa and M-Shwari products. This one looks set to rumble on and on.

Nanine Steenkamp: South Africa won the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope in May this year. This establishment will be the world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope. The telescope will be based in the Northern Cape, which is also home to the MeerKAT, a predecessor of the SKA innovation. A responsive telescope will be built in Western Australia.

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