The Future of Humanity Is Increasingly African

By Nash Barrett

Nash is the co-founder of Kigali based SafeMotos. Originally coming to the African continent in 2009, Nash’s quest for technology as a means of empowerment has had him work with OLPC and Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, founded three technology startups and had him visit 15 African countries.

Mar 9, 2015 | Smart Cities | 2 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

A Unicef report recently proclaimed that “The future of humanity is increasingly African.” The report estimates the African population will more than double to 2.4 billion people by 2050.

The clogged roundabouts of Accra, ruined roads of Congo and dangerous highways of Uganda are the day to day reality for most Africans. The dream of being the next space age Singapore or quirky Portland seem unattainable as a flood of urbanization into cities built for a fraction of their populations makes transportation in Africa worse and worse.

While traffic congestion is decreasing the quality of life in more and more African cities, with a forty mile trip from the Benin border to Lagos taking twelve hours, the danger of inadequate traffic infrastructure is even more insidious. Today, due to poor safety regulation and lax driving standards 612 people die every day across the continent from road deaths. Road deaths are set to surpass tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to become the greatest killer across the continent by 2030.

Africa’s streets need to become less clogged and more safe. New and innovative thinking of city design, modes of transportation and behavior of motorists need to be brought to life so that Africa with its exploding population avoids the pitfalls that sees India suffocating beneath 53 cities that have more than one million people and Chinese cities covered in a fog of pollution.

What is exciting is that instead of being a lesson in idealism, things can progress differently in Africa. The Director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, Professor Bruce Krogh, speaks of the benefit “Of present African infrastructure being largely a blank slate. We are building on a green field and don’t have to deal with the legacy systems of the past, instead we can use the best technological opportunities of today.” Rural villages are getting access to the internet faster than they are getting access to electricity, smart phones are more pervasive than televisions and online freelancing services give entrepreneurs the ability to work from anywhere.

My company, SafeMotos, benefits from this new techno-generated era of possibility. We are making motorcycle taxis safer, which is important since they account for 80% of traffic accidents in Rwanda and 50% in Kenya. We are doing this by equipping drivers with smartphones which gives us telematic data from the phones accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS data. We know if the driver is safer or more dangerous than average and let customers use an Uber style app to hire drivers by their safety ranking.

To accomplish this we rely on pervasive high speed internet, cheap and powerful smartphones and the Uber business model. When I first arrived to the continent of Africa in 2007, the area I was living in Ghana didn’t have 2G internet connection, the original iPhone hadn’t been released and Uber was years away from even being thought about.

It is exciting to be on the forefront of a new chapter of innovation. The business models and new ideas that could unlock success in Africa are business models that don’t exist yet.

SafeMotos is fortunate to be based in Rwanda, a place I would highly suggest as a base for any group looking to innovate in Africa. Many people choose to be in Kenya or Nigeria, they are large markets with many consumers. However, they are also very messy to run a startup or pilot in. Corruption is endemic, infrastructure is shoddy and bureaucracy a cruel form of punishment. By the time you actually are able to launch a product or service more time will have been spent playing chess with leviathan than product development or research. Rwanda, on the other hand, has the second lowest corruption rate on the continent, perfect highways that crisscross the tiny country and is a leader worldwide on ease of doing business with the ability to set up a company free of charge in less than thirty minutes.

Rwanda is like a laboratory for the continent where innovative ideas can be tested before they are brought to the rest of the continent. For myself when I started SafeMotos, I was able to secure an ICT entrepreneur visa, register my business while I waited for a coffee and be able to work for free from the local tech hub kLab.

I feel privileged to be working in an area with both such need and such opportunity. I believe that SafeMotos will be using technology to save lives and that our success will be a part of the story showing that Africa is open for business. I believe that it is possible for a radically better future for Africa and would say that anyone who cares about positive impact, innovative thinking or high growth markets should be hopping on planes to Kigali to begin the creative process of imagining just how much is possible.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

2 Comments

  1. Much appreciated!!! I more than anything else like the fact that you employ Rwandans

    Reply
  2. Waoooh very pleased to read through this ferterizing article about ma 1000hills Mum Rwanda; thanks #Nash B

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.

The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This