Archive for the Future Category

delicate-balanceKenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was inaugurated yesterday, faces some awkward moments in handling the country’s international relations. Kenyatta is one of the three Kenyans currently being tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed after the 2007 Kenyan elections, and his election campaigning used anti-Western rhetoric, the argument being that the ICC and Kenyatta’s main opponent were tools of the West.

Now that he has become president, Kenyatta needs to decide whether to court or antagonise Europe and the US, bearing in mind the extent to which Kenya relies on those countries for funding and as major export markets. India and China are the main sources of Kenya’s imports, but they both receive no more than a tiny proportion of the country’s exports. The US, UK and private foundations contribute 100 times as much to Kenya’s health and education sectors as does China.

If Kenyatta decides to cease cooperating with the International Criminal Court, it is likely that Western countries will start imposing sanctions, at significant cost to the Kenyan economy. The country is already facing considerable financial challenges following lower than expected revenue and numerous unexpected expenses in the current budget year, and the level of private investment has been low for some time in anticipation of the elections.

plastic-wasteWhile used plastics create an environmental problem in developed countries, that problem is reduced by efficient waste disposal and recycling systems. In countries which do not have efficient waste processing systems, the problems created by plastics are much greater. In many developing countries, used plastics just accumulate by roadsides, blocking drains, destroying visual amenity, and creating hazards for wildlife.

At refuse dumpsites, impoverished scavengers hunt for recyclable materials in order to eke out a living sufficient to pay for food. At the Kiteezi tip in Kampala, scavengers are able to earn 6 cents per kilogram of recyclable plastic waste collected. Driven by the necessity of abject poverty, whole families are engaged in scavenging at landfills across Africa, with great detriment to their health and personal safety.

Various governmental measures have been taken in East Africa to address the plastics issue. A meeting of finance ministers in 2007 resolved to ban plastic bags with a density below 30 microns. Rwanda has in fact banned plastic bags and has a control regime which requires importers to return plastic wrappers to the Customs office before subsequent imports are allowed. Other East African countries have no enforcement regimes.

patent-poolAbacavir, an important pharmaceutical for the treatment of HIV-infected children, will become available for low-cost manufacturing through the Medicines Patent Pool, according to ViiV Healthcare, a specialist HIV company established four years ago by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. Another HIV pharmaceutical for treating children, dolutegravi, will also become available once regulatory approval is gained.

The Medicines Patent Pool was set up three years ago by UNITAID and the World Health Organisation, with the aim of encouraging patent owners to make their patents available to others in order to ensure the supply of low-cost medicines for a range of diseases including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. A royalty may be charged, but the system enables generic manufacturers to produce pharmaceuticals without infringing patent rights.

At present there is a shortage of treatment options for children, who typically resort to using adult anti-retrovirals, having to cut the tablets into parts to reduce the dosage, which often leads to inaccuracy in the quantity administered. The Abacavir patent licence will be royalty-free and will cover 118 countries.

African-technologyThe successes of mobile phone entrepreneurs in Africa are reasonably well known, and African mobile phone payment systems are becoming well known, but Africa has other lesser-known technology entrepreneurs, like Verone Mankou, whose company VMK has launched a smartphone and tablet computer designed in the Republic of Congo.

The VMK Way-C tablet computer is billed as the first African touchpad, designed as a low-cost high-quality product to give many people access to the Internet. The name Way-C is derived from Congolese words meaning “light of the stars”. Another African entrepreneur, Saheed Adepoju from Nigeria, has created the INYE tablet, and several other Africans have designed mobile Internet devices in attempts to fulfil Africa’s need for more pervasive Internet access.

Another Nigerian company, Websoft, has produced the Vantium tablet computer, which runs on the Android Gingerbread operating system. A Nigerian bookstore, Debonair, offers its own tablet computer in two different models, the Bamboo D300 Tablet PC (“for men”) and the Bamboo Sugarcane Tablet PC (presumably for women). Another Nigerian company, First Atlantic Semiconductors and Microelectronics, produces an Ovim tablet computer.

difficult-choicesOn Saturday Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of Kenya’s presidential election, surpassing the required 50% total of votes by a slender margin. This means that the country is in for interesting times in the immediate future, given that Kenyatta is currently on trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed by him in the aftermath of the last presidential elections.

Firstly, there is the upcoming challenge to the election results by the runner-up, Raila Odinga. Opinion polls prior to the election suggested that Odinga was the most likely winner, albeit by a narrow margin. Kenyatta’s win was well outside the bounds of expectations, and Odinga’s party allege foul play. The particulars of the alleged foul play are unclear, given that so far there has been little evidence impugning the integrity of the voting process.

Next there is the challenge of how other countries react in dealing with a president who is an alleged perpetrator of crimes against humanity. The Kenyan public were well informed about the allegations against Kenyatta, yet a majority of them seem to have voted for him. It will be interesting to see whether Western countries seek to impose some sort of sanctions or adopt a pragmatic approach, perhaps ultimately letting Kenya’s culture of impunity continue.

jubileeCounting was continuing yesterday following Monday’s general election in Kenya, with much of the interest focused on the race for the presidency, with the two leading contenders being Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the country’s first president, and Raila Odinga, the son of the country’s first vice president. As at lunch time yesterday, with results from 37% of polling stations counted, Kenyatta was leading with 55% of the vote, followed by Odinga on 41%.

If Kenyatta does win, the country will be in for some interesting times. Kenyatta and his running mate, vice-presidential candidate William Ruto, have both been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed in the wake of the last Kenyan elections. At that time, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides, and they are alleged to have sent their tribesmen to butcher each other. Now they are drawn together as partners in the Jubilee alliance.

If Kenyatta and Ruto are convicted by the ICC, the country may face the embarrassment of having its president and vice president sent to prison. If, on the other hand, they use the power gained through success in the elections to avoid appearances at the ICC, the country may be subjected to sanctions by other countries. However, it is still too early to call the result of the elections, as widely varying results are received from different regions.

raising-cropsAgricultural development efforts in Kenya have largely be concentrated on the 20% of the land which is fertile and has good rainfall. As a consequence, the people who live on the good land have prospered, while the people who live on the poor land have suffered from low crop yields, droughts and poverty. However, that might be about to change with a new policy for the development of arid lands.

One of the factors influencing the new policy is Kenya’s continuing population growth and the need to provide food security for a greater number of citizens. Another is the recent discovery of oil in the arid Turkana region of Kenya, meaning that funds from oil revenues will be available for development in the region, and the presence of economic activity associated with oil extraction will also drive development in the area.

Israel has managed to turn desert land into productive orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens, and Kenya is hoping to achieve similar results, through efficient irrigation, recycling of wastewater, and various other horticultural techniques. Major railway and road projects are planned to bring affordable transport to northern Kenya, and these should provide a significant boost to the economic viability of agriculture in the region.

difficult-choicesAs Kenya’s elections approach in less than a fortnight, there is a real possibility that two people currently on trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity following Kenya’s last elections could end up President and Vice President of the country. If this happens, Western countries will have to decide how to react, and in particular whether to apply sanctions and if so what sort of sanctions.

The US is in an awkward position because it is not a member of the International Criminal Court; if it were, some of the military actions by US leaders over the past decade might become the subject of ICC scrutiny. On the other hand, it would be a grave affront to Western sensibilities if those accused of being the ringleaders in Kenya’s post-election violence were not only to escape any form of punishment but were in fact to take over as rulers of the country.

Zimbabwe has been reduced to penury as an international pariah because of the international community’s distaste for Robert Mugabe, and a similar form of isolation could be applied to Kenya; however,  the US and Europe have strategic military and commercial interests in Kenya, and it is unlikely that they will be keen to abandon them.

future-technologyA post last week on Catablog described 10 major trends for 2013 – and they are nearly all related to technology. Here are the first five of them, together with my comments:

1. Content on demand. To draw people’s attention, you need to be producing or curating content that people find interesting. Marketing has now become all about producing interesting and valuable content rather than producing promotional messages. Sometimes it is possible to sell content, but mostly people expect to pay the usual Internet price: nothing.

2. Tech in everything. Expect to see more Internet-and-bluetooth-enabled watches, wearable devices, appliances, cars, etc.

3. Smart phone as the centre of your world. In the past you left your phone at home and people left messages on your answering machine. Now you take your phone with you and your answering machine and your email computer and your street directory and your news service and your social network, so that you are always in contact with everyone and everything.

4. Integrated social media. Social media is no longer something you dabble in; it has become an integral part of how you relate to the world.

5. We are all leaders. No longer are we condemned to sitting back and absorbing what the TV tells us. Now everyone can build a social media platform on which to gain influence and compete for attention with everyone else.

desertClimate change and desertification are increasing the amount of the earth’s surface where there is insufficient water to sustain human settlement. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the country of Qatar, where there is no water, and 90 percent of food requirements must be imported. Fahad Al-Attiya, who is responsible for the country’s food security, explained how it works in a TED talk given in Doha in April last year.

Qatar in the 1940s had a population of around 11,000, with no water and no energy. Life expectancy was around 50 years. The commercialisation of oil led to urbanisation. The population is now 1.7 million, the annual economic growth rate is around 15 percent, and average lifespan is around 78 years. This growth is achieved in a country which has an annual rainfall of 74mm, less than 5 percent of that of many other countries.

The country’s water is provided by a large desalination plant. Desalination is made possible by the abundance of energy that the country has, oil and sunshine. Still, food production is problematic, as less than one percent of the country’s land is farmed. The answer is to build bigger desalination plants, powered by sustainable solar energy, to produce water to make more land farmable.