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NDEMO: Africa should fully embrace emerging technology

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By BITANGE NDEMO
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At the invitation of Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, and IMF Managing Director Madam Christine Lagarde, I travelled to Accra to speak at the Future of Work Conference on Infrastructure and Driven Technology World. The following were my remarks:

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am greatly honoured to share with you my thoughts on Infrastructure and Technology Driven World. Before I get into the details of my speech, allow me to briefly contextualise the importance of emerging technologies that will define our future.

During the 1st Industrial revolution, Africans largely provided slave labour. This continued into the 2nd Industrial revolution until the unions stepped in to fight for their social protection. 

During the 3rd industrial revolution underpinned by Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), Africa immensely benefited from especially mobile technology. 

As the 4th industrial revolution beckons, we have a chance to leapfrog the rest of the world. 

This is not farfetched considering the fact that during the third industrial revolution we have had more people move out of poverty than any other era. 

Mobile Money has enabled greater inclusivity. In Kenya, for example, less than five percent of the people had bank accounts barely 10 years ago compared to 95 percent today.

The 4th industrial revolution will be driven by largely two emerging technologies, namely, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI).

Let me begin with real life cases that underscore the need for infrastructure in Africa today.

Just four weeks ago in Nairobi, the Kenya Red Cross presented findings from a pilot project on use of blockchain for humanitarian aid in the northern part of Kenya. 

This semi-arid region, occupied by mostly pastoralist communities, is prone to drought and whenever it rains it floods much of the areas where the people live. 

In the past, whenever the government and relief agencies responded to a crisis, they are often criticised for having intervened too late or supplied food that is incompatible to the diet of residents. 

Mobilising resources and feeding the affected often cost millions of dollars.

The pilot project registered households and provided them with mobile phones in most of the affected areas. 

When drought struck in 2016, Red Cross simply sent mobile money to affected households. Local businessmen saw the opportunity to supply foods, mostly protein rich meats and milk that form the diet of the people. Residents were happy and there was less criticism from the media. 

In total, what Red Cross spent amounted to a fraction of what they previously spent on humanitarian activities in the area.

The challenges they encountered were lack of connectivity in some areas. Residents had to travel far to cash in on the funds.  Although the area is a boon for solar energy, residents had no energy to recharge their phones.

AGRICULTURE, EDUCATION AND HEALTH

My second case is in agriculture. Working with Twiga Foods, a Kenyan fast-moving consumer goods start-up, IBM has managed to fuse blockchain, AI and big data to develop credit profiles for hundreds of small-to-medium businesses to access non-collateralised loans. Many of these businesses are owned by female vegetable vendors.

Under normal circumstances, these businesses would not be issued credit from any banking institution due to lack of a credit history and inadequate documentation for KYC purposes.

Without the use of blockchain and AI to digitise, process non-traditional data, such an inclusive solution would not have been possible.

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My third case is in education. M-Shule, a start-up in Kenya, leverages AI to provide an adaptive learning engine that continuously analyses each learner’s abilities to track and build skills, and generate personalised learning.

M-Shule solves a major problem that normal schooling has not been able to address. Educators understand that different students possess different abilities and, consequently, exhibit different requirements, strengths and objectives. The AI systems can be employed to identify each individual child’s competency and deliver the right lesson at the right time.

My fourth case is in Health. The ratio of doctors to patients in especially Sub-Saharan Africa remains high. 

Recent pilot programmes on AI applications at Kenyatta National Hospital show promise of alleviating the problem of shortage of medical workers.

Whilst many hospitals have radiology technicians to take X-rays and scans, there are no doctors (radiologists) to interpret the scans and offer the patient the treatment plan. If broadband and energy infrastructure were available, it would not matter whether the doctor is in New York or in Mumbai. 

It has been demonstrated that AI can provide a comprehensive assessment to guide and help doctors evaluate the patient and give the required prognosis.

EMBRACE EMERGING TECHNOLOGY

I am sure that you all agree with me that the emerging technologies favour Africa. Africa, however, must deal with the problem of infrastructure. 

Broadband infrastructure must be elevated to become a human rights issue that every human being must have access to it. It follows therefore, that access to energy that is abundant in Africa must become one of the priority infrastructures. 

As technology streamlines supply chains and so governments must develop access roads to rural farmlands such that produce can move to urban centres where the markets are. It defeats logic when Africa’s food import continues to rise because we lack among other things infrastructure. 

Lastly, we need to identity infrastructure. In my first case, Red Cross had to register beneficiaries by itself. We need to learn from India and register every citizen biometrically.

In addition to infrastructure, we need to develop human resource capacity by seeking to collaborate with multinationals such as Google, which has set up a research lab here in Accra. 

I played a key role in bringing IBM Research Lab to Kenya and the original deal we had was that we share funding of research as well as the intellectual property rights on a 50/50 basis.

The deal also included developing human resource capacity for at least five PhDs every year. The lab has had more than 50 patents since its inception and was instrumental in developing the credit scoring mechanisms I reported earlier.

Sub-Saharan Africa has one more chance to leverage technology and leapfrog into the emerging 4th Industrial Revolution. 

To do so, we need infrastructure and collaborate to develop the necessary human resource capacity.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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