CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

Kenya: Microsoft Launches 'Mawingu' At 4afrika Initiative Kick Off

Microsoft on Tuesday morning launched a three year African initiative to harness power of innovation among young people. Dubbed "Microsoft 4Afrika", the initiative running in partnership with various technology vendors aims at improving economy competitiveness of different countries in Africa by improving access of information to young people through mobile phones. For starters the initiative will run in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Ivory Coast.

During the same event, Huawei who are Microsoft's partners 4Afrika launched its Huawei4Afrika, a low cost Windows Phone device (Approximately priced at Ksh. 13,800 or US $150). Louis Otieno, Louis Otieno, Legal and Corporate Affairs Director for Africa Initiatives says the aim is to put millions of devices on the hands of young people to access research to information and help turn Kenya into a knowledge economy".

This technology collaboration is said to accelerate intra - Africa relationships for growth and development. Microsoft aims at bringing 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, up-skill 100,000 members of Africa's existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employ-ability, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs.

In line with this, Louis Otieno, Regional Director Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Africa Initiatives says powering networks is usually the most expensive part in broad bands. They have partnered with Indigo Telcom Ltd. to launch "Mawingu", swahili word for cloud, a solar power broadband base station to deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for the African Continent.

The project is the first deployment of TV white space technology in Africa targeted at communities without access to broadband or electricity and a result of a Memorandum of Understanding that presents a framework of cooperation between Microsoft, the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and industry partner Indigo Telecom. To date, work in this space in Africa has exclusively focused on demonstrating the technical feasibility of using TV white space technologies. This project takes an important next step forward by instead focusing on assessing the commercial feasibility of delivering low-cost access using TV white space technologies.

With guidance of Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet Service Provider, Microsoft will run a "Mawingu" pilot project in Nanyuki and Kalema for the next 12 months. The initial installation near Nanyuki includes five customer locations: the Burguret Dispensary (healthcare clinic), Male Primary School, Male Secondary School, Gakawa Secondary School, and Laikipia District Community Library. The installation in Kalema will begin with a base station that connects to a Government of Kenya agricultural extension office. Fourteen more locations to the network will be added in the coming months. The network will also feature white space radios manufactured by Adaptrum.

To help empower African SMEs, Microsoft announced a new online hub through which African SMEs will have access to free, relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners. The hub will aggregate the available services which can help them expand their business locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geography, and help increase their overall competitiveness. As a "welcome offer," Microsoft will provide free domain registration for the period of one year and free tools for qualifying SMEs interested in creating a professional web presence. The hub is expected to open in April initially in South Africa and Morocco and will expand to other African markets over time.

In the next 3 years Microsoft will spend US $75 million in the 4Afrika initiative.

Simultaneous launch events to kick off this New Era in Africa are being held today in five locations spanning the Continent: Cairo, Egypt; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; and Johannesburg, South Africa. In all locations except for Egypt, Microsoft is also hosting separate developer workshops in the coming weeks to facilitate and accelerate the development of new and innovative Windows applications for Africa, by Africans.

Peter Nalika

Peter generates technical content for CIO East Africa and the International Data Group News Service, he also contributes to PC World and Computer World. Peter is classically trained in computing and information management. Follow Peter on twitter @peternalika

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