Sunday, 17 December 2017

Quartz Africa/Yinka Adegoke: Calestous Juma, Swahili Wikileaks, DRC’s closed textile factories

Quartz Africa

Calestous Juma, Swahili Wikileaks, DRC’s closed textile factories  
Quartz Africa -

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!
Calestous Juma

Three years ago, when we started discussing what an Africa edition of Quartz would look like it didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that telling the continent’s stories through a lens of innovation would be the most rewarding approach for our readers.

The truth is that while we knew this instinctively we weren’t always certain if it would work. But soon after we started publishing stories in June 2015, one name kept popping up as a huge influencer, sharing our stories on Twitter and adding commentary to drive more conversations about them. It was, of course, Calestous Juma, the Kenyan-born Harvard Kennedy School professor, who passed away on Friday (Dec. 15) at the age of 64 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Late in 2015, one of Quartz’s Africa Innovator honorees, Sara Menker, introduced us over email and I was immediately struck by his openness and generosity. Many other tributes have noted his generosity. He was just incredibly keen to support a project that shared his world view on the promise of African innovation. He also agreed innovation wasn’t simply about nuts and bolts technology or the internet, but about innovative thinking and challenging new ideas.

Being a former school teacher and then journalist, Juma was a pleasure to edit and publish. He completely understood what a young digital publication like Quartz Africa needed and he broke down complex concepts into easily digestible ideas.

As our Nairobi correspondent Abdi Latif Dahir notes in this piece on Juma’s work as a prolific author:

    Much like Carl Sagan was a science popularizer and Oliver Sacks was a lyrical writer on neurology and mental health, Juma made stories about global and African innovation accessible.

Going back through Juma’s articles for Quartz, his almost schoolboy enthusiasm is self-evident. He suggested investment in the emerging bioeconomy industry to transform agriculture and aquaculture and wanted Africa to open up its intracontinental trade. He also promoted the reinvention and diversification of university education to boost creativity and African excellence. Prof Juma didn’t just focus on science and technology, he also emphasized the need to support the humanities and social sciences and called for the development of a curriculum that encouraged exploration, tinkering, and application.

It’s important to note that Juma wasn’t a sappy romantic about the promise of innovation or technology for Africa. In this piece, I reviewed his paper on how much of the talk about “leapfrogging” and mobile revolution was overplayed without African governments developing basic infrastructure.

Like other great thinkers, professor Calestous Juma was a person ahead of their time. We’ll forever be grateful for the role he played in proving the concept and always supporting Quartz Africa.

May he rest in peace.

— Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor
Stories from this week

Israel’s foray into Africa is driven by more than just geopolitics. In just under two years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Africa thrice in the hopes of improving diplomatic and security relations. But this strong play for Africa is much more than just deepening political relations with African governments.

Tanzania’s government is stifling the “Swahili WikiLeaks.” Since coming to power in 2015, president John Magufuli’s government has vigorously battled corruption in both the public and private sectors. Reporting from Dar es Salaam, Abdi Latif Dahir explains how the government’s heavy-handedness has now turned on newspapers and whistleblower sites.

How DR Congo lost control of the fabric of its culture and economy. The brightly colored and graphic print of the kanga fabric was once produced in droves in factories in DR Congo. In Lubumbashi, Lynsey Chutel met with artisans from the old factories who explained how the influx of cheap Chinese imports and a disregard for patents gradually undermined an entire industry.

Ethiopia is doubling down on gagging its citizens—both at home and abroad. With fresh Oromo protests engulfing Ethiopia in recent days, the government blocked social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Yet the long arm of the state extended as far as the US, Canada and Germany, where authorities used commercial spyware to surveil and sabotage Ethiopian dissidents abroad.

Beijing is training Africa’s next generation of elites by flying them to China. Over the last few years, China has hosted thousands of African politicians, students, and businesspeople as a way to engage and connect with the continent’s young population. Reporting from Juba, South Sudan, Lily Kuo documents how China is training a generation of African elites comfortable with its way of doing things.

Can a Nigerian AI health startup save thousands of babies’ lives with a simple Android app? Ubenwa, a Lagos-based AI-based health startup, has developed a machine learning system that helps analyze a baby’s cry to help with early detection of baby asphyxia, the third highest cause of under-five child deaths. Paul Adepoju spoke with the startup’s founders.
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Chart of the week

Airbnb is opening up once rarely visited tourist opportunities in Africa. In the last five years, more than 2 million people found holiday accommodation in Africa through Airbnb. From a penthouse in Western Sahara to a renovated bus in Kenya, the listings are providing affordable listing and disrupting the hotel business.

Other Things We Liked

Investigating a ritual murder in Liberia. Cephus was a 17-year-old who was killed and found dead in a sugar cane farm in the outskirts of Ganta, a commercial center five hours north of Monrovia. Through court transcripts and interviews with family, Ashoka Mukpo reveals a story that has the signs of an occult or ritual murder orchestrated by rich elites.

Kenya’s forty billionaires and forty million beggars. In late November, Kenya concluded an intense electioneering period that saw the sons of Kenya’s first president and vice president square off for the nation’s top job. And while ethnic animosity, marginalization, and corruption were at the heart of the campaign, Matt Carotenuto argues in Jacobin that inequality between rich and poor is crucial to explain the nation’s political fissures.

Watch: Why AI is vital to the future of Africa. Speaking at TEDxEuston in London, tech entrepreneur Tom Ilube warns African countries need to start working on a plan to invest for a stake in a global future that will be driven by artificial intelligence. As Ilube sees it, no country or continent has a distinct advantage today because the world is at the start of the fourth industrial revolution.
Keep an eye on

ANC Policy Conference (Dec. 16-20). After the election of a successor to president Jacob Zuma, there’s so much at stake for the African National Congress in uniting the country and bolstering a flagging economy.

US vice president to visit Egypt, Israel (Dec. 20). US vice president Mike Pence is set to visit Egypt and meet with president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. His trip will be overshadowed by Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, your favorites Calestous quotes and moments to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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