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All posts by Erik Hersman: In Kenya

Erik Hersman: In Kenya
I grew up in Kenya and Sudan. I’m one of those guys who’s much more “at home” in Africa, and I currently live in Kenya. I’m happily married and have 3 beautiful little girls that keep me on my toes. I write two main blogs: White African is my personal blog where I write about high-tech mobile and web technology change in Africa. AfriGadget is a team blog I started a couple years ago, where we talk about low-tech ingenuity and microentrepreneurs in Africa.
  • Ethiopia’s tech landscape: unique challenges, massive potential

    Having recently visited Addis Ababa, I thought I might write down some of my impressions. The last time I was here was over 20 years ago, as I would fly between Khartoum and Nairobi for boarding school. Needless to say, much has changed, except for the warm hospitality of the Ethiopian people. Experiencing Ethiopia Mobile carriers and their spam advertising It's non-existent here. I was shocked when I landed at the airport, since there were no billboards or ads for any mobile operators (only the phone manufacturers). I didn't realise how much mobile operator advertising there is in the world until I...

  • Carey Eaton: remembering an African tech genius

    This article by Erik Hersman originally appeared on White African, a Burn Media publishing partner. If you would like to share your tributes and memories of Carey, please do so on there. Carey Eaton was one of the true sparks of genius in Kenya’s tech ecosystem… in Africa’s. Carey Eaton was a friend. He grew up here in Kenya, went to Hillcrest and then bounced back to Australia to eventually become the CIO of SEEK. Back in 2011, when the iHub was just one year old, he came ambling into the space and we grabbed a coffee together. Right away we...

  • A Kenyan makerspace: meet Gearbox, iHub’s latest project

    We’ve been talking (and talking, and talking) about a rapid prototyping space here in Nairobi for ages. Without the resources to do it, the community got things started on their own with the iHub Robotics Group, who does all kinds of cool meetings; from training newbies like me and my daughters on Arduino and Raspberry Pi, to events where they showcase locally made solar tracking systems and help to run kids hacker camps. This week we’re announcing Gearbox – our makerspace in Nairobi. What is a makerspace? A makerspace (or hackerspace) is where a community of people who like to make physical...

  • Duties, supply and cost: the problem with making hardware in Africa

    Recently I wrote about the making of our mobile internet router, the BRCK, here in Nairobi, and I alluded to some of the issues around doing hardware in Africa: Making things is hard. It’s harder in Africa. I can’t overnight an order of processors, boards or 3D printing filament here. There isn't an over abundance of local fabrication facilities or tools, and the milling machine you find might be in disrepair and take you two days to calibrate. We’ve got our work cut out to create the right spaces for prototyping and small-scale fabrication on the continent. I just had another...

  • Building BRCK: the story behind Ushahidi’s mobile internet router

    Why do we rely on equipment made for Berlin, Orlando and Tokyo when the conditions we have in Nairobi, Lagos or New Delhi are completely different? That's why we need something like the BRCK: the easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity. It's currently on Kickstarter, where we’re asking for your on taking it from prototype to production. The BRCK is simple, and it came from us asking: “How would we design a redundant internet device for Africa?” It would need the following: A router for 20 people With 8+ hours...

  • The need for both makerspaces and incubators in Africa

    I’ve long been a proponent of getting more spaces set up for hardware prototyping and making of things in Africa. I wrote about it first in 2010 (Hardware hacking garages), then again in 2012 (Fab Factories: Hardware Manufacturing in Africa). I’m one of the founding organizers for Maker Faire Africa and the founder of AfriGadget. I’m not just writing about it either, as we have plans to open up a makerspace in Nairobi this year, which will compliment the FabLab that we already have at the University of Nairobi. Well managed makerspaces are a missing component in the...

  • Startup from Ghana pitches at TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 [Video]

    I'm on a Ghanaian email tech list and, opening my email recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Ghanaian team was pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt. Saya is an app for texting. That mixes SMS, Facebook chat and hyperlocal findability to get in conversations with those near you. They’re on Android, BlackBerry and waiting for their iPhone app to be approved. Robert’s pitch revolves around the 5.8 billion non-smartphones in the world, and how that market has needs that need to be addressed by apps like their own. It provides ways to communicate via SMS in a much more elegant...

  • Tech startups in Botswana are tackling transport and health challenges

    This week finds me sitting in Botswana. I’ve talked to a couple of startup entrepreneurs; Pule Mmolotsi who is testing out an Oyster-like payment card for public transportation in the country, and Katy Digovich who is creating mHealth apps for the Ministry of Health. While only a small sample, they do a good job of representing what I continue to see around the continent; a new generation in Africa trying new ideas and taking to technology to cut the way forward. Five years ago in Tanzania we had TED Africa, where George Ayittey coined the term “cheetah” to represent the...

  • What tech businesses need to survive in a time of flux

    The theme of the 2012 Skoll World Forum is "Flux: seizing momentum, driving change", which I think is a fantastic one. We’ve never had such upheaval in the way businesses work, in how citizens interact with government, or in how information flows in the world. It’s about change, and survival in a time of flux is best done through agility and creativity. "As an operating paradigm, it expresses the fluid nature of relationships, policies, institutions and human beings which are ever-changing in non-linear ways." Thriving on acceleration The world we live in today is accelerating, in just about everything we’re seeing disruptive...

  • 4 Factors shaping social impact investment in Africa’s tech scene

    I recently took part in a panel discussion focused on “investing in tech in Africa”. It was a good session, as it was very much a discussion between the audience and ourselves. There were a number of points that came up illustrating both the current difficulties and future opportunities when it comes to investing in the African tech space. Using what's there There are a number of tech hubs and labs coming up across the continent, and each have a different focus as we all try to experiment in our space to see what works. The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of...