The Mobile Applications Bubble – will it pop?

is missing the point when it comes to technology.

Kenyans sometimes forget that they are still in a third world country. But for tech developers and those in the tech industry, to forget this is unacceptable.

A at Work

Application developers in the country are getting carried away by and losing sight of the big picture. The “mobile revolution” has gained momentum.

Add to this the number of companies setting up shop in Kenya, numerous competitions, hackathons, conferences and bootcamps being held, and you have a flurry of activity, with little to show for it especially since the first fibre cable landed in the country three years ago.

As of February 2012, Kshs14,617,720 ($174,020) has been given out in tech competitions in Africa.

Blogger Erik Hersman (whiteafrican.com) got it right on a blog post he wrote 2 years ago titled: A Rising Tide: Africa’s Tech Entrepreneurs. The post provided some insight into the then burgeoning mobile development eco-system. His call to technologists then was:

“… build for what people need, not for what tech pundits in the West and upper class Africans idealize about.”

Erik’s argument was that the digital landscape is wide and there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to use technology to build what people need.

It seems that developers in Kenya missed this point.

As a developing country we lack basic utilities and face inefficiencies: traffic jams, high urban population in poorly planned cities, ineptitudes in government, frequent blackouts and insecurity.

It is okay to build apps to help one find the nearest restaurant and the like, but who is building large-scale systems that can help solve our major problems?

Can we build a system that allows the ministry of urban planning and housing to visualize the current state of urban cities and let them plan and simulate how the city will grow in coming years, allowing them to plan accordingly?

Who is building systems that allow our police officers to be where they are needed and in time? Can we build a system that allows detectives to map crime zones and adjust their strategies accordingly? Can we build for them a system that profiles criminals including where they’re likely to attack and help them plan busts?

Why? Because the eco-system within which the potential of technology can be utilized to solve large-scale problems is full of opportunities and apps are only a part of it. Harnessed effectively technology, which is cross-cutting, can be the driving force through which African countries can solve their problems.

Technology is crosscutting and if the full potential is demanded of it problems that Kenyans have long complained about, can be solved. With a government that understands this potential, a lot can be achieved.

Rwanda’s Case

Take the example of Rwanda: – a small country in the middle of the African continent with a population of only 10 million people and a dark history.  Rwanda’s government has recognized the potential that technology has in accelerating its growth and development. It has turned to technology to maximize what little the country has, focusing on its use for mass efficiency. Those who were following Twitter hashtag, #Rwanda2020, might have come across the interesting discussion that was going on between Kenyans and Rwandese on the latter’s progress in ICT.

According to Rwanda’s official government country information site, www.gove.rw/Infrastructure-ICT, the government has invested in developing ICT infrastructure to enable improved service delivery in both public and private sectors. The best example from this is business registration time – it only takes six hours to register your business because the whole process has been digitized.

That is only one example of how ICT can be effectively utilized to drive a country’s growth and spur development by minimizing inefficiencies and maximizes on the scarce resources available for maximum use.

How much more then can a country with more resources, a bigger budget and skilled labour do with what it has?

As a collective technology community, we are not yet thinking big enough. Due to all the Kenyans winning global competitions, Kenyan developers (devs) are beginning to think that they’re actually better than they really are. There are exceptional devs out there, no doubt. What is most needed though is a re-focus of activities to start centering on developing mass systems and applications that solve real needs for real people – citizens and businesses (and governments!).

What would people pay for?

I’d pay not to go to Sheria House or City Hall to apply for things. And there are services I’d pay for, not only for myself, but also for others. – Conrad Akunga.

When you look at innovations on Kickstarter , TechCrunch or Mashable, it dawns on one just how far we have to go as developers to reach a smidgen of the potential that IT is capable of.

Perhaps the winners of the recently concluded Imagination Cup 2012 Africa might have rightly stumbled upon this concept, with WinSenga.

WinSenga is a simple device that looks like a traditional Ugandan midwife’s ‘horn’ used to monitor a fetus’s heartbeat that is attached to a smartphone that records the sound.

The potential of this device was obvious to many – it is simple, and solves a real need – better maternal healthcare. Win Senga is fully scalable, and with enough funding the device can achieve this scalability.

 

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