Monday, July 20, 2009

Mindspeak with Professor Calestous Juma

The Nairobi lecture circuit has many forums which have yielded some interesting talks - such as from the leadership forum (run by British Council) that hosted Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph, and Nairobi Town Clerk John Gakuo, Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA), NCBDA which had British High Commissioner Edward Clay and also the Nairobist/tujuane entrepreneurship entrepreneurship series.

I made my first attendance at the Mindspeak series which had Harvard’s Professor Calestous Juma give a talk in Nairobi on July 17 2009. It was hosted by Aly Khan Satchu of and the professor was making a return talk to one he gave about a year ago.

The theme today was Rebooting the Economy – Technological Innovation & Africa’s Growth Prospects - on how Africa can use technological innovation to stimulate economic recovery, spur economic growth and spread prosperity. It was timed to coincide with the landing of the Seacom Fibre Optic Cable (to be launched ion July 23) which, at a cost of $700 million he called the largest foreign investment in east Africa since the Uganda Railway.

some notes from the talk in an A to Z sequence

Drivers of economic growth
1. Infrastructure – roads, electricity
- large continent of Africa has very little infrastructure (roads, railroad, power distribution) yet despite this has grown faster than most economies (except Asian) this has mostly been driven by mineral
- China has great interest in Africa minerals, but in order to move minerals, they also build up infrastructure, which is why African leaders have been cozying up to china. They are also admitting more African students to Chinese universities (building engineering capacity) and they always plan for these students to return to their countries
2. Technical education – build capacity in the engineering sciences
3. New business creation in the private sector

Technological abundance
- we must acknowledge technical abundance in a world today where technical knowledge doubles every 14 months now
- There are 880 satellites in space as at April 09, and cell phone use, GPS would not be possible. Also planned other3b network spearheaded by Google could go live in 2011 will cover most of Africa and the tropics a series of satellites design do
- first cell phone in Kenya cost as much as a 4 bedroom house in buru buru according to information PS bitange ndemo (then about Kshs. 250,000)
- What will Fibre will change? Right now it takes about 40 seconds download the wall street journal homepage from Africa, this will reduce to 15 seconds – and bandwidth cost which are as high as $8 per mbit in west Africa can’s compare to the $0.12 that US universities pay. Fibre also costs 1/10 to install compared to what it costs 10 years ago, and storage has gotten much cheaper (emergence of cloud computing, and OLPC has no hard drive).

technological advance are not just in IT but also other sectors

Education sector Links
- Moi University bought the (collpased) rivatex factory, and its now operating at 10% with the main challenge being lack of cotton. Move departments there, students spend time at factory, updating curriculum
- Pontifical catholic university of Rio de Janeiro has a genesis institute that is a business incubator – and they graduate companies alongside with their students
- Pohang Science & Technology University in South Korea is the best in Asia is an example of how business can create universities
- Kenyan ministries have training institutions that should be upgraded to universes (but only at post-graduate level so as not co compete with basic universities)
- Give young people technical literacy, such as with the $100(OLPC) laptop. Rwanda has become the global learning center for the OLPC, which was unfortunately bad mouthed by competitors which scared off other African leaders from embracing it

- wind power can have great impact, and peaceful Somalia has the potential to supply a lot of wind power to the east Africa region, there are new wind power turbine and technology 9suc as Canadian Kite)
- solar also had great potential over next few years, and European countries plan to build solar farms in Sahara desert for their power, while Taiwan plan to launch a 1-passenger solar taxi later this year. Best technology for solar is from Israel engineers and firms, and African countries should learn from there
- Genetically modified foods which resist pests, require less chemical and drought resistant (so far SA, Burkina Faso, and Egypt)
- advance in fish breeding, add a growth hormone (not GM) to salmon, and soon tilapia, and will see fish mature faster
- European countries concerned about GM foods are also big investors in that area, so African should target agricultural products that are relevant to Africa

Going Green
- used to mean paying more, but it is becoming pay less
- The future is sustainable, renewable energy, use of nano technology etc. Africa is not tied to polluting technologies and can start afresh using green technologies. e.g GM seeds – farmers don’t have to buy pesticides, don’t have to weed (turn over their farms) which means soils hold more carbon & moisture

I.e. Africa has still very high maternal mortality
- Costs of ultrasound come down from $20,000, to $2,000 in a few years, and plans to cerate cell phone device that cost just $100 (and this is replacing the doctor’s stethoscope)
what do these mean for Africa?
These are not innovations unless they spread in the market place

Innovations Waves have occurred in the history of the world

1st 1785-1845: water power, mechanization, textile industry
2nd 1845-1900 steam power, steel industry, and cotton industry
3rd 1900-1950 electrification, chemicals, internal combustion engine
4th 1950-1990 petrochemical, aviation, space
5th 1990-2020 digital networks, biotechnology
6th ---- (should incorporate Africa, renewable energy, nano technology, Fibre)
With each, with the periods getting shorter and with more countries are drawn into the world economy each time if they utilize the chance to add knowledge to their economies (upgrade their software)

Military Links
Private sector can’t do it alone. African countries must explore us their militaries to do infrastructure - building roads, irrigation channels, dams, – they have the capability, discipline and knowledge (roman roads were build by the military)
- Military colleges should expand curriculum to be engineering colleges

Other aspects of growth
- venture capital – linking those with capital to those with ideas
- international trade – out exports under AGOA have been limited
- regional integration –enable close regional trade, otherwise we will not be bale to export to far countries
- Security – many countries spend a lot of productive resources on idle military. A controversial proposal was to embrace AFRICOM (whose tenets are defense, diplomacy and development), also equip diplomatic missions to identify emerging technologies that can benefit their countries.
- Executive dynamism – to link the business, academia and government to work together and transform economies. E.g. Rwanda has a minister of science who operate from the office of the president

- How is Kenya doing? Creation of national economic social council (NESC) good start. Needs to be specific; many forums are held in Kenya achieve nothing because they are too general - and vision 2030 will only work if driven by executive not ministries
- How can Diaspora contribute to development? African absorptive capacity of Diaspora returnees is still low – countries need to have office dedicated to harnessing the efforts of their Diaspora to meaningful economic development, and also give those structures that resemble what they are used to. Kenya now has a Diaspora department in ministry of foreign affairs. Also don’t try and get Diaspora to contribute to Kenya simply because they are from Kenya - treat them as professionals, and shield them from petty politics
- Change from innovating in wants to needs like food, water, electricity? Professor argued that innovations like ultrasound, mobile phone, GM foods were no loner wants but needs
- Food production in Africa? president of Malawi was cited, took over as president at a time that country was in famine. Set out to fix sector, and controversially made himself minister of agriculture, shift in subsidy from consumers to subsidy of farmers enabled them to transform in two years and produce surplus harvest. Prof Juma that more African presidents should also hold the agriculture portfolio in charge of food security) later also became minister of research as he realized that country had reached limits of production under the current methods/processes
- How can Africa improve governance? Train our leaders (model institutions based on the Kennedy school) as some bad leadership comes from ignorance not malice. Also More information and transparency (media & exposure) will make corruption more difficult,
- How have other African countries (SA, Nigeria) used the fibre? Other countries have fibre in West Africa but business model was wrong, targeted at expensive customer and SAT3 has about 5% utilization. In this case give free access to bandwidth to universities to enable them to digitize their records. Wants to see a local animation industry in Kenya, wants to see Kenyan university lecturers teaching other countries on African history and culture to the Diaspora, beam signal right form here in Nairobi
- Any intellectual property rights in Kenya? Professor Juma and others wrote industrial property rights in Kenya yeas ago (KIPI)

Want more?
- Prof Juma has set up a multi-media centre in Kisumu with KCA University
- He will be a giving a talk targeted at the education sector on July 21 at the Kenyatta International Conference Center at 4 PM


Hana Njau-Okolo said...

Thanks so much for this review, summary. I had seen this on FB and being in ATL of course could not attend.

PKW said...

Banks, I almost feel mad that you didn't put this up before it actualy happened coz I'd have liked to attend, if it was open to the public. Nothing personal. Was home for the larger part of last week, relocating to K'la. I feel like I miss out on so much for not living in Nairobi. Every time I come to Nai, I just want to move there coz it seems like there's a lot going on there than here. Almost missed my flight jana night.

Incidentally, my uncle and I were talking over the weekend about the fibre-optic cable and things technology and concluded that if one uses it (technology) to do business better in the village, there'd be no need to move to a congested, dirty and polluted urban environment (think Kibera). Electricity just 'landed', we're looking into ways of making this real.

Btw, is it only our village that is 'deserted' or have most young people moved into towns?

Anonymous said...

pretty enlightening and to the point...I guess there is so much to be done!!

Anonymous said...

For those interested there is another meetup coming up July 30.

coldtusker said...

OLPC = $100 (not $1,000)

bankelele said...

Mama Shujaa: you're welcome, i'm always on the lookout for talks of intesest

PKW: I should have, but my schedule was unclear. also check nairobist, ratio-magazine and kenya buzz for events
- we hope fibre will eventualy make an impact in the village, but for now looks like big towns only

Anons: good luck with meet-up. Nairobi sorely needs an active VC community with links

coldtusker: thanks correction noted on the OLPC ,

Aly-Khan Satchu said...

Thanks Bank for coming and producing such an in depth review. Its appreciated. This is a Free to attend session once a Month and all you have to do is Bring Your Mind. The next Guest at MindSpeak is Caroline Mutoko of Kiss Radio.

Aly-Khan Satchu
Twitter alykhansatchu

bankelele said...

Aly Khan: thanks to you, and of course to @TerryanneC for reminding me about the day. With Carol Mutoko, you'll have a full house. Keep it Up

gathinga said...

I attended this session. you have a way of putting it across that no one else can.

Peter Mwendwa said...

Mazee this is great. Instead of doing a review, i have linked to this at

Well done and keep the content flowing. I like your blog, it's futuristic.

Unknown said...

Excellent summary of my talk. Keep up the good work! Calestous Juma


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