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Explore Africa in virtual reality

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One of the most innovative virtual reality exhibitions that the African continent has seen is to run at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg from 29 to 31 October.

Viewers will be able to step inside a number of 360-degree mini universes. African artists and filmmakers will also get the chance to engage with the new technology in a virtual reality workshop and create new footage.

From following a 12-year old Syrian refugee from a camp in Jordan  in “Clouds Over Sidra” to joining a fantasy land of mutant creatures in “Kaiju Fury!” (both created by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk), the show entitled New Dimensions: A Virtual Reality Exhibition, the show promises to build a firm foundation for a pan-African multimedia platform for the continent. It is free and open to the public.

The project is part of the wider African Futures Festival, organised by the Goethe-Institut . African Futures and explores the continent’s engagement with ideas around the future through artistic expression in literature, fine arts, performance, music and film. The virtual reality show is curated by Ingrid Kopp and Steven Markowitz with further support from Blue Ice Docs and SDK Digital Lab.

In a closed workshop, the use of 360-degree audio-visual software accessed by viewers through state-of-the-art headsets will also be experimented with by well known film-makers, writers, animators and other artists from across Africa from 24 to 27 October 2015, before the exhibition opens.

The aim of the workshop is to deepen and expand the African footprint, according to the exhibition organisers – Big World Cinema and the Goethe Institut, who say that this will be followed up by the opportunity for participants to be commissioned to produce a piece in their country for exhibition across Africa and to showcase at various international festivals.

According to the organisers, virtual reality can be used to heal, escape, entertain, inform, enrich, inspire and educate its virtual inhabitants by transporting them into different worlds. Until now, the vast majority of such projects have been produced outside Africa and the narratives have largely been seen through Western eyes.

For example, at the exhibition, In Strangers with Patrick Watson (created by Felix Lajerunesse, Paul Raphael, Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski) viewers get to share intimate moments with the celebrated Canadian musician Patrick Watson at work in his studio. While in Way To Go (by Vincent Morisset) they can dance with their own (Western) destiny in an interactive voyage of self-discovery.

As Steven Markovitz explains, “the continent now runs the risk of falling behind unless it starts to innovate its own virtual reality experiences. It must start to nurture and promote its own truly unique journey in all its multi-pronged glory. We are therefore seeking not just to showcase virtual reality but to build VR capacity among its African writers, photographers, film-directors, poets – to create a vibrant platform for the continent.”

Taking part in the workshop from Kenya will be Ng’endo Mukii, an award-winning film director most well-known for her documentary Yellow Fever on African women’s ideals of beauty, collaborating with acclaimed 3D animator Andrew Kaggia from Nairobi, who has worked on numerous popular television shows.

Also participating from Kenya will be prominent film director Jim Chuchu, whose latest award-winning film Stories of Our Lives, was banned in his home country for “promoting homosexuality” but is soon to be screened in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

South Africa,will be represented by Bogosi Sekhukhuni, a renowned conceptual artist and creative director selected by the Mail and Guardian newspaper as one of the country’s Top 200 Young South Africans .

Paul Sika from the Ivory Coast,is going to fuse ground-breaking photography , filmmaking and digital techniques,  collaborating with fellow Ivorian Brissi Ziagnon, a leading web and graphic designer artist and software designer.

From Ghana, Jonathan Dotse, an Afrofuturist and writer will be collaborating with photographer and film-maker Kabiru Seidu who says that his interest in the field of virtual reality stems from his desire to recreate African history and imagine possible futures. The two Ghanaian artists recently formed NubianVR, an Accra-based virtual reality studio which produced Pandora, their first 360 degree short film which is being showcased at the exhibition.

From Senegal, avant-garde fashion designer Selly Raby Kane, known for her unbridled visual creativity and artistic influences, will collaborate with Moustapha Diop, a leading 3D graphic illustrator with a background in animation and passion for artistic creativity.

“If you want to have any idea of the world that is coming, the world ahead of us look at Africa,” says Afropolitan author and critic Achille Mbembe.

While the future may not be ours to hold, who better to push the boundaries forward, than experimental artists across the continent whose unique expressions of culture and creation help to define, enrich and restore the complex reality that makes up African lives.

Africa News

IoT’s answer for Africa

IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.

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With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose  as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.

Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.

The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks

It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.

We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.

The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization

One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.

Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water.  IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.

In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was  used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.

Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.

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Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain

Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

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African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain fro­zen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s. 

So its population uses Hawala; an infor­mal value transfer system based on the per­formance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a cen­tral country clearing house, then onto a clear­ing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.

Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually be­come a replacement for Hawala and other exist­ing forms of international remittances. Cryptocur­rencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks. 

International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, par­ticularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.

At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging tech­nologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and servic­es. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s soft­ware developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.

Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infra­structure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.

We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Up­lus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding plat­form. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.

A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of block­chain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for Afri­can communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.

Regulation can nurture or constrict the tech­nology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Ken­ya, I’m proud to see how proactive the gov­ernment has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Com­munications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself reso­nating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.

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