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WF in Nairobi: mLab East Africa, OSM and iCow

Stéphane Boyera · November 7, 2010

Max and I spent most of last week in Nairobi. The primary objective of our visit was to meet with our colleagues from iHub, eMobilis, and University of Nairobi with who are associated with in the mLab East Africa initiative funded by infoDev.

mlab meeting at iHub
Erik Hersman, Max, Ken Mwenda, Jessica Colaco (left to right), Steph (behind the camera)

It was the very first time we were all meeting face to face.  During the three days of meeting, we had very interesting discussions, and were able to define the roadmap of the project. We had the opportunity to visit the future mLab space that should be ready early next year.  We also started to  define in detail the type of services that the lab will offer, as well as the content of future training courses, and testing environment.
For me, it was essential to have this meeting and define a shared view between all members of the consortium.  In this regard, it was a great success. Now the next big step is to complete the process of hiring the mLab manager who will drive the project on a daily basis. It will also be important in the near future to start discussions with a sister initiative, the southern Africa mLab, to share ideas and collaborate more closely.

This project is is similar to our Mobile Entrepreneur in Africa project in Ghana. With our project in Ghana, which started a few months ago, we have gained experience that we were able to share. However, it is very interesting to also realize that the context in Kenya is different than in Ghana. It is clear that Kenya is a bit ahead in terms of available services, understanding of the potential in the developers and IT companies communities, and so on. On the other end, with Safaricom having something like 80% of the mobile market in Kenya, it is not clear that developers the are getting as much support from the operators as possible, and thus their opportunities may be somewhat restricted relative to Ghana.  Being involved in these two projects enables us to understand better similarities and differences between regions and countries, and how to address them more efficiently.

Mlab futur space
Peter Waiganjo Wagacha, Dan Orwa and Erik Hersman visiting mLab futur space

Related to dynamism and excitement of developers in Kenya, I was amazed by iHub, and how it has become a gathering place for developers, companies, etc. Every day, something is happening, and the place is almost always full. It is impressive, and this creates synergies between people. For instance, as we were there, we had the opportunity to meet Charles Kithika who is part of the company Green Dreams who won the recent Apps4africa competition with their service called iCow which is a voice-based application to help farmers manage their cows. I’m glad to see that voice-based services are now getting more attention, as I’m a strong believer in this technology. As I would expect, iCow is for now based on Asterisk and Charles was not aware of VoiceXML (see a post I wrote on that issue few months ago). I will work with him to show the beauty of VoiceXML and hope to convince him!!

Finally, we had also a meeting with Mikel Maron who is working for Open Street Map, and focusing particularly on helping communities in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, to map their area (see the Map Kibera website). We had a great discussion with Mikel about the importance for communities to help mapping their area as a support for services, as well as the issue of convincing them to do without direct impact, i.e. new services that are useful for them. The aim of our discussion with Mikel was about our W4RA project in Burkina Faso, and how to develop the map in the region we are planning to work in to provide more localized service. Updating a map is not so easy.  We are going to gather training materils and try to integrate better mapping activities and service development. This was a very inspiring discussion!

Meeting with OSM
Mikel Maron with Max

As you can see, this was a very useful week! Now Max is back home (lucky you!) and I’m in Kampala for another week for the Mobile for Development conference (M4D), starting tomorrow with Mobile Monday Kampala, aka MoMoKla. Report on that event to come soon!


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