September 29, 2022

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‘Local is king’: Africa’s online platforms take on Silicon Valley

2 min read

Plan a funeral, call out corruption or start a business – tough jobs all now made easier by a generation of tech-savvy Africans tackling local problems beyond the grasp of Big Tech.

It was frustration that pushed Tanzanian engineer Maxence Melo to launch an anonymous, online whistleblowing platform after his appeals to media to investigate an array of questionable mega-project contracts were met with silence.

His JamiiForums website launched in 2006, unmasking the murky money trails of Africa’s rich and powerful, and now has more than 3 million visitors daily.

It is just one of dozens of African digital platforms that innovators say are doing what tech giants cannot – designing bespoke solutions for domestic needs.

“Local is king, we know what local solutions we need for our own contexts,” Melo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by video from his office in Dar es Salaam.

Despite challenges such as scarce internet access, funding gaps and intermittent electricity, African entrepreneurs are harnessing the potential of digital engagement, from online funeral services in Egypt to voice-based messaging in Mali.

“Homegrown innovations reduce reliance on foreign technologies,” said Kathleen Ndongmo, a Cameroonian digital rights researcher and advocate, in a video interview.

“We have the local talent and these homegrown solutions help with job creation so talent can stay on the continent instead of leaving to work for the tech giants.”

 

DIGITAL MOURNING

Egyptian entrepreneur Ahmed Gaballah never thought he would work in the death business, but the stress of helping a friend plan a burial led him to rethink the funeral industry.

“It took us a lot of time to get the burial permit and we got lost on our way to the burial site. It was a frustrating experience,” Gaballah, 40, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

His funeral-planning website SOKNA, which means tranquility in Arabic, launched in 2019 as a one-stop shop that can ease some of the pressures after…

Jino Nicolas

2022-06-01 01:13:19

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