East Africa’s enterprises and innovators had a unique opportunity on their doorsteps last week to learn new techniques in web content development at the East African Local Content Innovation Summit held in Nairobi over 7-8 August. The Summit was being hosted by Ignite Consulting and AITEC Africa in response to the urgent need that is to develop local content relevant to local interests and needs, especially with the region about to link to the world via undersea fibre cables that will deliver much faster and cheaper Internet connections.

Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t attend the conference thanks to the ridiculously high rates they were charging, which begs the question, do those ignite folks think that nascent internet entrepreneurs like myself have nothing to contribute to these sessions!? But that’s a story for another day.

The advert about this exclusive event on the aitec website says, “…The danger is that East Africa will now become swamped with international web content and users and enterprises alike will lose focus on the need to develop their own content that serves their own needs and projects their products, profiles and services to the outside world.” They were quoting Ross van Horn, Managing Partner of Ignite Consulting and one of the facilitators at the Summit. I think id’ like to correct Mr. Horn here, we are already swamped with international web content, and have most likely lost focus already.

And now I launch into my in-depth analysis of the crisis that is in my opinion one of Africa’s main undoing, and the 3rd world in general. We are the only section of the world that is renowned for simply devouring whatever the advanced world throws our way, from culture to fashion to relief food, and now apparently, internet content. For years we have remained passive as far as internet and desktop technologies and related content is concerned. The tendency has been to wait for the next software to come out of the U.S or Europe so we can pirate it (heck, we can’t even pirate! Hackers from the western countries still have to crack these software for us and send us the code!). Isn’t it a pity that even for such common place issues such as socializing, relationships, money and fashion we still remain the most ardent visitors to western websites?

We now have fibre optic on its way, and progressive souls such as the ones at ignite consulting are trying to sensitize us about developing local content. I think this is a good step in the right direction. I was very impressed to read that China has now developed its own operating system to run on the earlier developed micro processor (www.asiansecurity.org). They call it ‘Kylin’ and it is known to be hardened against external access by a hacker or automated malicious software (or US intelligence forces), according to US security experts. I think the US Congress is really mad at this development, wonder why?

And this is not the only thing they have. China has its own social networking websites such as Zhanzuo.com which attract way more of their 300 million internet users than Facebook and the other usual suspects. So much such that Facebook is apparently offering Zhanzuo $85 million to acquire them. Myspace is ranked 13th in China by the way, and Facebook is a distant 15th. All the ones in the top 12 are Chinese websites, beat that!

According to Techcrunch.com, western networks have trouble adapting to Chinese culture and user expectations. Which leaves me wondering; don’t we in Africa have a culture or local expectations that can only be met by local content developers? Someone please answer me.

Not to mention, thanks to our extreme hunger for free stuff, most of these western websites are reconsidering serving this market because we don’t give anything back. Last year, Veoh, a video-sharing site operated from San Diego, decided to block its service from users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, citing the dim prospects of making money and the high cost of delivering video there.

“I believe in free, open communications,” Dmitry Shapiro, the company’s chief executive, said. “But these people are so hungry for this content. They sit and they watch and watch and watch. The problem is they are eating up bandwidth, and it’s very difficult to derive revenue from it.”

“It’s a problem every Internet company has,” said Michelangelo Volpi, chief executive of Joost, a video site with half its audience outside the United States.

“Whenever you have a lot of user-generated material, your bandwidth gets utilized in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America (and im sure even Africa), where bandwidth is expensive and ad rates are ridiculously low,” Mr. Volpi said. If Web companies “really want to make money, they would shut off all those countries.” What the #@$%!?

Few Internet companies have taken that drastic step, but many are exploring other ways to increase revenue or cut costs in developing countries. Facebook is in a particularly difficult predicament. Seventy percent of its 200 million members live outside the United States, many in regions that do not contribute much to Facebook’s bottom line. Possibly you and I belong to this group. Isn’t it just sad?

For more sad tales on this you can visit http://futuresphere.wordpress.com/ and also pay a visit to http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/05/chinese-social-networks-virtually-out-earn-facebook-and-myspace-a-market-analysis/ to see how Chinese sites are kicking American sites straight in the crotch as far as visitors and revenue is concerned.

I am a strong believer in Africa’s potential. South Africa, just like always is again leading the pack as far as local content is concerned. When you have time please visit http://www.mygenius.com, http://www.blueworld.co.za/ and http://www.myspot.co.za/home.php to see south africans taking internet matters into their own hands. We can do the same in Kenya, we have too many sharp brains not to.

At least I know I will, will you?


  1. 1 ghahnet August 12, 2009 at 9:39 am

    this is one fact that i have been waiting for someone else to speak it out………..i thought i was wandering in my own world but thanks to intervangelist for this article……….i would love to answer the questions but ‘ironooooo’ it kinda sounds like rhetorical questions so the answer will be irrelevant.
    thank you

  2. 2 CB August 19, 2009 at 5:33 am

    I have a slightly different take on this. The reason for Chinese innovation is to counter western influence. It’s strictly an attack, cyberwarfare so to speak, 21st century cold war. We – as Kenyans – have no such beef, hence why struggle to [excuse the cliche] reinvent the wheel? If there’s sth good out there [read western software, technology etc] then why fix what isn’t broken?

    Yes, kenyan minds are sharp, but i think we are using them pretty well to survive – and even thrive despite the recession. Food prices have trebled, industries have collapsed, yet somehow we’re still going strong. i think we’re doing plenty right, even if we haven’t invented our own windows, yeah? 🙂

    That said, it took the west several centuries to get where they are, and at least 5 decades to fully utilise the internet. Our problem as 3rd worlders is that we try and cram 6000 years of development into six seconds or less, so we end up being lost and confused, like bleach-blonde sheep. We need to slow down a little rather than picking up the pace.

    Also, it’s taken, what, five years for local TV content to be considered ‘cool’ [just think: Njia Panda —> Makutano Junction; Tahamaki —> Cobra Squad; Mix them gather them —> Tahidi High] and another ten for resident radio to take off. Patience my dear, localized internet will catch up soon enough. Especially now that our six year olds are savvy online. Just my twenty cents 😉

    • 3 amuriu February 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

      Please tell me how promoting western websites will help any Kenyan to solve the problems we face in this country. It’s not much of re-inventing the wheel as much as it is customizing the wheel to suit our own needs. Think about the role that the internet played in sending relief support to Haiti after the earthquake and how much role it played in helping the victims of the recent floods in Kenya.

  3. 4 George August 22, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    I could not agree more. Kenya has more potential than we dare to exploit. Great article!

  4. 5 Paul K. September 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Its sad that this disease is now transmittedto the internet. When will we learn? Very insightful.

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