Archive for the Future Category

technology-cityWork is due to start this year on the construction of a technology city on 5,000 acres of land some 60 kilometres south east of Nairobi. Konza Techno City is being built in four five-year phases under the oversight of the Konza Technopolis Development Authority. Some 15 firms and institutions have expressed interest in the first phase of the project, and the government is expecting many other partners and investors to join.

The project aims to create an enabling environment for world-class research, education and business. Anchor tenants recruited so far include a car manufacturer seeking to create a training centre for its African operations and a large American company seeking to establish a data centre. The city is also expected to provide IT-enabled services and business process outsourcing services for export to Africa and the rest of the world, in competition with India.

In the first phase of the project, around 100 acres of land has been set aside for residential buildings and around 50 acres for universities, with around 30 acres for offices and 30 acres for hospitals. Other space will be allocated to schools, hotels, retailers and public spaces. Fibre optic networks will be laid, and an offsite power substation constructed.

church-closingsThom Rainer recently wrote a post entitled 13 Issues for Churches in 2013. The issues include an increased emphasis on small groups, multiple-venue churches, growing prayer emphasis, fickle commitment, innovative use of space, heightened conflict, adversarial government, community focus, cultural discomfort, organizational distrust, and reductions in church staff. But the issues I would like to discuss are the impact of people with no religious affiliation and accelerated closing of churches.

According to Thom, some 20% of the US adult population claimed no religious affiliation in 2012, up from 15% in 2007. This compares with 22.3% of Australians who said they had no religion in the 2011 census, up from 15% in 2001. Thus, assuming the figures are comparable, Australia still has a slightly higher proportion of atheists, but the US has a faster no-religion growth rate. Interestingly, amongst the 0.7% of couples that reported themselves as same-sex couples in the Australian census, 39.9% said they were Christians and 48.2% said they had no religion.

Thom says that, as the “builder generation” (people born before 1946) declines, the rate of church closures will increase. He even predicts that the number of closings in 2013 could be 8,000 to 10,000. That seems an extraordinarily high number to me. It would be equivalent to all of the churches closing in Australia, and would represent about 10 times as many closings as are expected in the UK.

invasionForeign military intervention rarely works well in restoring a country to peace and good government. The interventions by Western coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided salutary lessons over the past decade, indicating that military intervention:

  • tends to be vastly more expensive than initially estimated
  • is usually a long-drawn-out process because of the enormous difficulties of guerrilla warfare
  • typically results in weak governments which are subject to significant corruption
  • results in security dependency, making it very difficult for intervening parties to withdraw

Thus members of the international community find it extremely difficult to decide when to intervene in a conflict situation, such as the conflicts which have been occurring in Sudan, or, more recently, the invasion of Mali by al-Qaeda Islamist forces. France has now taken action, sending in troops and aircraft on Friday in an attempt to drive back the invaders. The UN Security Council approved the intervention on Monday.

A small West African force was due to arrive in the country by the middle of this year, but that intervention was clearly going to be too late. France hopes that it will only have to be involved for a few weeks, but foreign interveners hoping for quick results often fail to achieve them. If the Islamists hold their ground for an extended period, France will be in a difficult position.

barriers-to-tradeUnder plans agreed to a number of years ago by the members of the East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), East Africa was to become a common market and non-tariff barriers to trade were to be abolished by the end of 2012. The end of 2012 has come and gone, but non-tariff barriers to trade remain. According to the East African Community Secretariat, 71 non-tariff barriers were identified, 36 of these have been resolved, 35 remain, and 10 new ones have been created.

The main non-tariff barriers to trade are weighbridges, roadblocks, poor infrastructure, unnecessary delays at border posts, and lack of harmonised import and export standards, procedures and documentation. Because of barriers to trade, the amount of trade between countries (other than by smuggling) is tiny, and economic growth suffers significantly as a result. Last year, Kenya’s imports from India and China were $15 billion, but its imports from neighbouring countries were just $320 million.

Tanzania has imposed a visa charge of around $200 on business people from Kenya and Uganda. Kenya is imposing a levy on agricultural products imported from Tanzania. Kenya is imposing quotas on fresh cut flowers from Tanzania for re-export to Europe and Russia. Beef and pork products from Kenya are being charged 25% duty by Tanzania. It is apparent that the benefits of free trade are still a long way off.

growth-chartThe East African has published a detailed list of trends for Africa in the coming year and beyond. The highlights include:

Oil: Recent discoveries of oil, including many from last year, carry the promise of great wealth, but also give rise to territorial disputes, including those between Malawi and Tanzania over resources in Lake Malawi, between Kenya and Somalia over offshore oil discoveries, and between Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya over oil-resource-affected borders.

Mobile money: Kenya’s pioneering efforts in mobile payment systems continue to spread to other countries in Africa.

Urbanisation: The populations of African cities are rapidly increasing, although Africa continues to be the least urbanised continent.

Green energy: Renewable energy projects are booming in Africa, with substantial solar energy installations, and a large wind farm and geothermal wells under construction in Kenya.

Economic growth: In the past year the economies of sub-Saharan Africa have grown by an overall amount of 5%, high inflation rates have been brought under control, and trade with China has grown by just over 20%. A similar level of economic growth is expected for 2013, although current account deficits and government budget deficits are high.

future-aircraftIt is now more than 65 years since Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in a rocket-powered aeroplane. There are plenty of very expensive military aircraft that travel faster than the speed of sound, but apart from the ill-fated Concorde, the promise of faster-than-sound travel still eludes the ordinary traveller. In the past 50 years commercial air travel has certainly become less expensive, but it has not become faster.

Aircraft designs have not evolved much in the past half century, but the rate of change could accelerate as the demand for air travel increases and the requirements for fuel efficiency and noise minimisation become more stringent. One suggested design which potentially increases fuel efficiency involves long narrow flexible wings. Another design involves a wider fuselage which generates its own lift, rather than being a dead weight relying solely on lift from the wings. Other suggested designs have an integral triangular wing.

The most energy-intensive part of a flight is the take-off, and one proposal involves reducing fuel consumption by using a slingshot-like approach to launching aircraft. An aircraft would be mounted on the back of an automated carriage vehicle, which would accelerate down the runway and fling the plane into the air. This could enable take-offs from shorter runways.

future-cityOn the western coast of Africa, just south of Cameroon and north of Gabon, lies a small country just 200km in width and 130 km in height, called Equatorial Guinea. With a population of 700,000, the country is one of the smallest countries in Africa, and yet following the discovery of oil reserves in 1996 Equatorial Guinea has become the wealthiest country per capita in continental Africa, although the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, while 75% of citizens live below the poverty line.

President Teodoro Obiang is less interested in the poverty of the majority of his citizens than in the construction of Africa’s city of the future.  The new city of Oyala has as its centrepiece the new International University of Central Africa. A six-lane highway has been built, as has a championship golf course, and a luxury hotel with 450 rooms, a theatre and a convention centre, is under construction.

According to the city’s plans, up to 200,000 people will live in Oyala when it is finished, including the president. The new city, which is located in a remote forest part of the country, will become the capital of the country. The current capital is Malabo, which is located on the island of Bioko, some distance north of the mainland part of the country, and closer to Cameroon and Nigeria than to mainland Equatorial Guinea.

It is now more than eight years since Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania agreed to establish a Common External Tariff pursuant to the Protocol for the Establishment of the East African Community Customs Union. Burundi and Rwanda joined the Customs Union in 2008. The Common External Tariff was to have a minimum rate of 0%, a middle rate of 10% and a maximum rate of 25%. All tariffs on goods transported between the countries were to be phased out within five years.

Those five years have come and gone, and the deadline for phasing out internal tariffs and phasing in the Common External Tariff has now been extended to 2015. Officially, differences between the countries in rules of origin and lack of funding for negotiations are hindering the progress of implementation. Unofficially, tariffs provide an important source of revenue for governments and a lucrative source of extra income for those who administer them.

However, the delays in implementation are slowing economic development in the East African countries. Whereas trade between African countries should be a significant contributor to GDP in those countries, most legal inter-country trade is stifled by high tariffs and protectionist policies which favour a small number of people at the expense of the countries as a whole.

Piracy in the waters surrounding Somalia continues to be a problem for the world’s shipping. Each year ship owners have paid millions of dollars in ransoms to Somali pirates who have captured their ships and crews, and as a result the pirates have become increasingly well-equipped, with advanced weaponry and fast motorboats, and this in turn means that it is harder for ships to prevent and repel pirate attacks.

It is obviously not permissible for ships to use lethal force against suspected pirates in their vicinity, so ships have had to resort to less effective means of self-protection, such as the use of water cannons. However, the worries of ship owners may soon be over if the WatchSander system developed for the US navy becomes standard issue. The WatchSander system uses a combination of light cannons, sound cannons, laser cannons and pepper dispensing projectiles.

If the WatchSander system does not entirely succeed in preventing piracy, at least it treats all of the participants to a sound-and-light spectacular. It also includes technology for distinguishing pirate boats from non-threatening boats, so that the sound-and-light show is not launched against the wrong people. It is fully automated, so the show may come as a surprise to all participants.

War is again underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the M23 rebel forces having seized the city of Goma. The March 23 Movement (M23) is a rebel group formed in April 2012 by a group of around 300 soldiers protesting against the Congolese government’s failure to implement the peace agreement signed on 23 March 2009 between the government and the National Congress for the Defence of the People.

There is also an ethnic dimension to the conflict, with the M23 rebels being primarily Tutsis, and the Rwandan and Ugandan governments being accused of supporting them. While there seems to be no adequate justification for the rebels’ military actions, they do seem to have some legitimate grievances, including the government’s failure to abide by its promises and the widespread fraud in last November’s elections.

The question now is what the future holds for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some commentators argue that the conflict threatens President Kabila’s grip on power. Kabila is sufficiently concerned that he has sought out talks with President Kagame of Rwanda and President Museveni of Uganda, the countries which are supposedly sponsoring the rebels. The rebels are demanding direct talks with Kabila, while the political powerbrokers in the country are adamantly opposed to such talks.