While on my daily browsing I came across this article talking about the remarkable explosion of ICT activity in East Africa since the landing of the SEACOM fibre-optic cable. Reading on I was struck by the fact that no Kenyan media outlet has reported this story. Kenya unfortunately is addicted to cynicism, negativity and an ever improving skill in floccinaucinihilipilification.
While some of the reasons for this despondency may be understandable it seems Kenyans have lost even the art of appreciating good for what it is - GOOD. Intellectual honesty has been thrown out and replaced with the national pasttime of whining. In this blog I try to steer away from politics because it is evident that political views are not always rational. However it is important for Kenyans and by extension other Africans to recognize the enormous opportunities that are staring us in the face and make the best use of them.
Experience has shown that any society that is determined to succeed usually does. This is actually a fact because it never fails to succeed. It is when a people sink into despondency & hopelessness that things begin to fail and degenerate into chaos. Kenya however has alot of things going in it’s favour and if the people can be made to see this then they will find something positive to work towards. It is also important to realize that development of a people is an incremental process. Here it is important to look at our development. We did not learn everything we know today in a single day or within a week. It follows that a country cannot be expected to develope into a first world country within a year or even a single 5yr term. So here are a number of positive developments that I think will have a tremendous impact on Kenya and the wider East African Community. SEACOM and Altech sign Alliance on Bandwidth.
JSE listed Allied Technologies Limited (Altech) and SEACOM have announced a strategic alliance for the mutual acquisition of bandwidth capacity. The agreement sees Altech procuring two STM-16s from SEACOM (equivalent to 5Gbps), with the option to upgrade, within 3 years, to double this capacity, to an STM-64 (10 Gbps). SEACOM will in turn purchase 6 STM-64s throughout the East Africa region on the terrestrial backbone network owned by Kenya Data Networks (KDN), a subsidiary of Altech.
Altech has a very strong focus on East Africa in the telecoms space, and has already acquired 10% in the TEAMS undersea cable through KDN which will provide the company with 10 Gbps of international bandwidth. According to Venter this makes Altech the second largest bandwidth holder on the African continent.
According to both Venter and SEACOM CEO Brian Herlihy the utilization of bandwidth in East Africa exceeded expectations. Herlihy said there has been a 200% increase in data usage in the region after SEACOM went live, and that 3G users in Kenya are experiencing 5 times the download speeds since the new submarine cable was lit.
The same massive bandwidth uptake and consumer benefits are not seen in South Africa, something which Herlihy said is disappointing. According to Herlihy there have been some announcements locally, but much slower than SEACOM would have liked.
LION Fibre-optic Cable.
Many Kenyans are aware of SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSy. However not many have heard of the 4th cable known as LION which is an acronym for Lower Indian Ocean Network. This is the cable system that links the tiny but progressive island nation of Mauritius with Madagascar which then connects to the SAFE cable system an older fibre-optic cable system that connects South Africa to Asia. The first phase of the cable linking the two countries has already been completed at a cost of €7 Million.
The second phase is the one that is very exciting for Kenyans. The plan intends to link the LION cable to the coastal city of Mombasa where the cable will link up to SEACOM and TEAMS which effectively makes Kenya a communications node while also adding a 4th fibre-optic cable which provides further redundancy and bandwidth to Kenya and the wider East African region. For further information on the proposed plans you can it read here.
N-Soko and Craigslist.
In a further indication that Kenya is moving into the digital realm the famous American online classifieds’ firm Craigslist announced that they had established a presence in Kenya. Though many Kenyans may not be aware, Craigslist is a huge online advertising firm that is a household name in the United States. Their entry into Kenya is further indication that the Kenyan economy is an attractive market for foreign investors and has enormous potential.
The Nation Media group obviously the largest media house in East Africa also announced the establishment of an online platform similar to Craigslist which will help launch their classifieds section into the digital realm. N-soko as their website is called is quite an attractive portal as you will find out when you visit their homepage here.
RTGS introduced in Kenya.
Real Time Gross Settlement as the name suggests is an electronic payment system that processes large cash transactions instantaneously or in real time as it is known in technical jargon. Whereas many Kenyans may already be using EFT otherwise known as Electronic Funds Transfer this is not yet real time and still results in some significant delays.
Though Kenya has a relatively well managed financial sector that is quite conservative in it’s business practises, many have called for local banks to be faster in adopting information and communications technology. This was demonstrated when Mpesa took the local banking sector by surprise and almost rendered them obsolete. Since then banks have reacted by adopting mobile banking solutions and products which have radically altered the banking sector.
The adoption of the RTGS is occuring after our East African neighbours Uganda & Tanzania who have already adopted the system. The system has been in testing in Kenya for the last 4yrs and was rolled out in stages. The first step saw the introduction of [MICR] Magnetic Ink Character Recognition technology in processing cheques which reduced instances of cheque fraud and also resulted in shorter processing times of approximately 3 working days.
RTGS will apply to amounts of K.sh 1 Million and above initially before being rolled out for lesser amounts. This will see the elimination of cheques for large transactions and result in quick money transfer which will greatly boost efficiency. It will certainly be a very welcome development from having to wait 3 working days to receiving your payments instantaneously. This is actually a very good development for Kenyans. In the Netherlands where I live I have to say I haven’t seen a cheque for a very long time. Most payments in the Netherlands are settled by bank debit cards. Infact all supermarkets and places of business have EFTPOS which is EFT at Point of Sale. The system works very efficiently and the same should happen in Kenya when majority of the people move to it.
Finally RTGS will prove very important in ensuring smooth cash transfers for the wider East African region because it is also being implemented for foreign exchange transactions. Europe has already perfected it’s version of RTGS for the entire European Union. If 27 countries with different cultures can pull it off so can 5 East African countries with a largely harmonized culture. For further reading on RTGS in Kenya and East Africa read it here.
Social Networking Websites.
An increasing number of Kenyans have taken the concept of social networking like a duck takes to water. Most middleclass urban youth have a facebook presence. An increasing number of professional and upwardly mobile Kenyans are on Twitter and the numbers are growing everyday. Many Kenyans are also active in blogging. Infact Kenya is the third African country with the largest amount of blogs  on Afrigator. It lies fourth after the inclusion of general blogs on Africa. All this interest in the online world which is a goldmine of information can only portend good things for Kenya in future.
The government has demonstrated that it is intent on moving most of it’s services online. Recently the govt has ordered all it’s ministries to submit their tenders and procurement details on to a single govt portal. The immigration department has also improved it’s services online and the introduction of biometric passports and ID’s will boost this. There are also plans to digitize medical records, digitize land records, do digital villages and the KRA the tax agency has already moved to online collection of taxes. Recently the govt also moved to establish a website that would handle business licenses which would greatly boost efficiency and reduce corruption. There are also plans to have an electronic drivers’ license which would also increase the amount of information available to traffic police which would improve traffic management.
In conclusion all this developments indicate a country intent on modernizing it’s activities. The desire for this is driven by the need for efficiency, eradication of corruption, need for socialization and most importantly a voracious need for information which will greatly boost literacy levels and hopefully lead to innovation and a more civil society. Kenyans need to have a positive attitude, realize that they have a beautiful country, intelligent people and sufficient natural resources which they can utilize to provide a high quality of life equivalent to any advanced nation on Earth. Kenyans, Yes You CAN.
In the last month several exciting technological products and innovations have been launched in the market. Being a technophile who believes Africa can benefit immensely from the adoption of technology I voraciously watch such developments. What has been very surprising and exciting for me is the fact that despite the global financial meltdown technological innovation hasn’t taken a downturn. Infact quite the reverse seems to be happening. More and more technology is being discovered, developed and launched in the market. One of the most important developments is that Africa is increasingly embracing technology and even beginning to lead in some areas.
Experience has shown that the early adoption of technology can lead to an exponential increase in productivity, greater efficiency, boost market share and in the case of governments reduce the space for corruption. This is why I continue to advocate for the adoption of technology in Africa. Many corrupt and inefficient practices exist because of the lack of technology which increases personal interactions and hence space for corruption. Nevertheless it is important to understand technology is not a panacea for integrity or ethical practices and management. Without further ado here goes.
Mac OS X version 10.6 “Snow Leopard” is the seventh major release of Apple Inc.’s desktop operating system. It was shipped to the general public on August 28, 2009. This version of Snow Leopard focusses on increasing speed, efficiency, reducing it’s overall memory footprint and generally improving performance. It was designed for Macintosh intel based computers already running Leopard. Most reviews indicate that most Mac OS users are very happy with the new upgrade which costs a paltry US$ 29 for users who already have the older Leopard running on their system. The operating system is based on the Linux platform which makes it extremely robust and very resistant to hackers and malware. The development of this OS with additional memory for minimal price is quite exciting for African consumers because it offers a very efficient product with the possibility to save money in the long term.
Nokia N900 & Maemo
Maemo is a software platform developed by Nokia. Maemo is mostly based on open source code, and has been developed by Maemo Devices within Nokia in collaboration with many open source projects such as Linux and Gnome. Last month Nokia released the latest version of this internet tablet OS known as Maemo 5 on it’s new smartphone the Nokia N900. The Maemo update brings an overall more touch-friendly interface and a customizable home screen which can mix application icons with shortcuts and widgets. It supports Flash 9.4, and has a new touch-friendly media player as well as similar applications. The Nokia N900 supersedes the N810, it will enhance or bring 3G/HSPA capabilities. It will be the first Nokia smartphone device to use the ARM cortex A8 core & TI OMAP3 microprocessor. The Finnish company of Nokia continues to be a market leader in cellphone technology and should provide competition to other brands such as Apple’s iPhone.
Solar Panel Nano Technology.
In recent months discoveries have been made in the area of cheap production of solar panels. As many of you may be aware the greatest impediment to the widespread adoption of solar energy is the high cost of solar panels. The answer to developing low-cost solar panels may lie in the creation of tiny 3-dimensional fibers that are 1,000 times smaller than a human hair. The potential for developing cheap solar panels out of the nanopillars stems from using aluminum as a substrate-rather than silicon-as is currently used in the roll-to-roll process that creates a solar cell, said lead researcher Ali Javey, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley. “If we can make such a roll-to-roll process with the nanopillars then our projected cost is 10% lower than projected”. Already the prices for solar panels are on a downward trend following the entry of Chinese producers who are now driving down prices.
Energy from Algae
Another very promising development is in the field of biofuels. Many of you are already aware of the controversy caused by the rising costs of foodstuffs following the desire of the USA to generate fuel from corn to achieve energy independence. Sometime last year worldwide protests were witnessed as people decried the rising cost of basic foodstuffs. This caused a rethink of the biofuels debate. Scientists have now discovered a potentially important breakthrough. Algae defined as primitive chlorophyll-containing mainly aquatic eukaryotic organisms lacking true stems, roots and leaves are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular plants.
American scientists have embarked on an ambitious plan to grow Algae in the deserts of Colorado. Given the right conditions, algae can double its volume overnight. Unlike other biofuel feedstocks, such as soy or corn, it can be harvested day after day. Up to 50 percent of an alga’s body weight is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees—currently the largest producer of oil to make biofuels—yield just about 20 percent of their weight in oil. Across the board, yields are already impressive: Soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons. But algae is expected to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and eventually even more.
If this technology becomes efficient and cost effective it could revolutionize the airline industry which is currently facing difficult technological hurdles in turning green. Continental has already experimented with a blend of Algae and the African weed Jatropha. The results have already shown great promise and even outperformed normal jetfuel in some parameters. Below is a picture of the proposed Colorado’s Solix Biofuels bioreactors farm.
Drip Irrigation Technology
As the world undergoes climate change some areas especially in Africa are increasingly facing drought and desertification. This makes it increasingly difficult to produce food and other agricultural poducts. This has necessitated the need for innovative technologies.
Drip irrigation is the most efficient method of irrigating. While sprinkler systems are around 75 – 85% efficient, drip systems typically are 90% or higher. What that means is much less wasted water. For this reason drip is the preferred method of irrigation in the desert regions of the World. But drip irrigation has other benefits which make it useful almost anywhere. It is easy to install, easy to design, can be very inexpensive, and can reduce disease problems associated with high levels of moisture on some plants. If you want to grow a rain forest however, drip irrigation will work but might not be the best choice!
Drip irrigation (sometimes called trickle irrigation) works by applying water slowly, directly to the soil, bloop, bleep, bloop, bleep. The high efficiency of drip irrigation results from two primary factors. The first is that the water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run off. The second is that the water is only applied where it is needed, (at the plant’s roots) rather than sprayed everywhere. While drip systems are simple and pretty forgiving of errors in design and installation, there are some guidelines that if followed, will make for a much better drip system.
Africa has made great progress in cellular telephony, this has opened up new opportunities for the further development of communication technologies. As we speak Africa is building a number of submarine fibre-optic cables some of which have already been completed [SEACOM & TEAMS]. This means that Africa is looking towards the development of broadband on the continent something that will propel a massive leap forward in education and technological innovation. The adoption of technology is integral in Africa’s development. Many scholars and ordinary people can foresee a future of hope despite the numerous problems Africa encounters. Indeed Africa whose population has now reached 1 billion people is the next frontier in opportunity.
Let me begin by adding my voice to a growing chorus of voices stating Kenya is in a crisis. I do so reluctantly not because I doubt there is a crisis but because I don’t believe in dwelling on whining but prefer to ask what shall we do? As human beings all of us have faced various crisis situations. Now when you are faced with a crisis you may dwell on how stupid you were to have let the crisis hit you. You may analyse how you got into it or even vociferously blame those who got you into the crisis, but eventually you have to face it and come up with solutions.
We all know the world is undergoing a financial crisis. Some have blamed all manner of people and institutions as having been responsible. Many have done forensic studies of how the financial crisis arose and who caused it, but the world has moved on. People have made decisions to introduce stimulus packages and bailed out banks and other financial institutions. Now some have argued that was not the best way to solve the crisis but in the absence of an alternative idea then I think it is better to make a decision rather than let a problem fester.
So let us examine the situation in Kenya. True the situation is grave. The country is undergoing a power rationing schedule because the water that powers it’s hydroelectric dams is low due to an ongoing drought. The country is facing a water shortage due to the same reason and off-course there is a shortage of food due to the same drought. At the same time the destruction of forests is getting centre stage coverage. All Kenyans are aware of this problems. To add my voice to this would be repeating what everyone already knows and it would not be helpful.
The best that I can do and anyone else for that matter is to offer suggestions on how we can solve the problems that bedevil us. So let’s do that and get over the constant whining. Essentially to solve this crisis requires both short term measures and longer term measures. Let’s examine some factors that I believe would go along way towards achieving some fundamental change. This include but are not limited to;
Farming Methods & Facilitation.
As a short term measure the government will have to allow unlimited food imports into the country. Though this measure is already in place I would suggest that some procedural and administrative measures be reconsidered. Here I would like to suggest to the government that they make all food imports tax exempt. Further to this they should remove all taxes that would go into the logistics and distribution of this food. For example all fuel that is used by trucks or aircraft transporting such food should also be tax exempt. This would ensure reduced costs for private companies and greatly improve the food logistics redistribution. However care should be exercised in ensuring any food imported is not contaminated and is of the right quality. The government should be lauded for mobilizing the disciplined forces to help in distributing food to needy areas.
As part of a longer term measure land reform should be urgently undertaken. The cabinet has already approved a proposal to harmonize the current land laws into a land code that reduces all land law into only 3 acts. This land code proposes far reaching reforms in the management of land. Another area that would have far reaching impact would be the digitization of all land records and the creation of a digital map of all land in Kenya. This would allow anyone to check the status of a particular parcel of land by entering the LR209/00/000 no. You would instantly get a global position of the parcel and would be able to detect if it is part of a forest, road reserve or nature reserve. You would also immediately see the owner and the history of ownership and whether it is leasehold or freehold and how many years remain in it’s leasehold. This would greatly improve land transparency & eliminate the corruption that comes with land allocation. Off-course even further reforms are envisaged in the proposed constitutional reforms.
The Prime Minister has launched a Green Energy Facility which aims to increase energy generation by an extra 2000MW. This will be achieved by wind energy projects in Lake Turkana and Ngong, solar energy projects and geothermal. Energy is a capital intensive process and requires massive injections of financial resources. Given the unreliability of hydroelectric power due to the ongoing drought Kenya needs to have an energy mix that is diversified and reliable. Here the government should seriously consider nuclear & geothermal because they are the most reliable in terms of electricity generation. We should consider an energy mix that is as follows to mitigate the danger of unreliability.
Wind power 20%
Solar Power 20%
Such an energy mix would greatly increase reliability and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions ensuring that Kenya generates 100% green energy. It would also save us billions in oil imports which would increase our foreign exchange position and allow us to invest the forex in other areas.
The Mau forest saga has revealed the importance of conserving the environment. Though the political situation is that it has been greatly exaggerated to mean that the drought affecting the whole of Kenya and other parts of East Africa is somehow caused by Mau forest. The truth is that though there are many rivers and lakes directly affected by the destruction of the Mau forest the energy and water shortage in Nairobi is not necessarily caused by it. Nor is the drought in North Eastern province linked to Mau. Having said that environmental conservation is absolutely important. First the government needs to fully map out all our forests and ensure no excision or allocations of them occur under any circumstances. They need to be treated as national resources same as our game parks. Additionally more reforestation needs to be undertaken to bring the forest cover to at least 10% of land mass.
Kenya already has a functional agricultural commodities exchange known as KACE. Whereas this organization is up and running more needs to be done to attract investors and farmers to increase the turnover and production within this and the entire agricultural sector in Kenya. With the recent arrival of the fibre-optic cables and the enormous interest now being shown in digitization KACE can benefit immensely by digitizing it’s platform and using other platforms such as the cellphone. The recent unveiling of an sms service by Google, MTN and Grameen in Uganda could be useful to Kenyan farmers especially if it were incorporated by KACE. Offcourse further development of agricultural markets would strengthen the financial capability of farmers. The issue of middlemen also needs to be addressed to ensure farmers reap the maximum possible price for their produce. Finally there is need to encourage a shift in Kenyans eating habits to emphasize on traditional food crops and not imported corn or rice. Sorghum, millet, cassava, arrow roots and sweet potatoes offer good alternatives.
Farming Methods & Facilitation.
Finally Kenya has depended for along time on rain-fed agricultural production. The current drought demonstrates clearly the danger of over reliance on unpredictable weather patterns. The fact that the government has now fully realised this and has moved urgently to address this by reviving failed irrigation schemes is an indication that the current drought may actually be a blessing in disguise. This illustrates what I have always believed and that is every problem or misfortune presents us a chance to come up with a solution that could open even greater opportunities than the prevailing situation. In addition the establishment of a fertilizer plant could greatly reduce the costs associated with farming inputs. As an agricultural country Kenya should seriously consider the establishment of agro-processing industries to add value to our produce. Even more important the establishment of an agricultural inputs industry such the manufacture of tractors, irrigation pipes, pesticides, animal feed e.t.c. could go along way towards faster industrialization and self sufficiency in food and agricultural materials. Conclusion.
In conclusion the adoption of drip irrigation technology is important because it conserves valuable water resources which can then be used to extend the acreage under irrigation given our high temperatures. Israel could be very useful in this regard. It has always surprised me that Kenya can export vegetables yet we have a shortage of corn. With the right diets Kenyans could diversify their food away from corn and rice and go for the traditional food crops. Another good source of food is fish farming which has very high yields for a small piece of land. Malawi has shown that it is possible to transform from drought to exporter of food in just 4 years. Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa [AGRA] founded by Dr. Kofi Annan has also brought resources and much needed attention to Africa’s agriculture which is already recording some successes. The big debate right now is whether Africa should go with genetically modified foods [GM] or go the organic foods route. The USA is pushing for GM agriculture while the EU is pushing for organic food crops. Both methods are acknowledged to have real benefits. In my opinion Africa has room for both technologies to be implemented. Kenya has already allowed for the implementation of both technologies. My parting shot is that Kenya can do it and so can Africa.
On Thursday the 23rd of July the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], Dr. Mohamed El Baradei met President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. During that meeting Dr. ElBaradei made what to some Kenyans was a startling remark, and that was to pledge his agency’s support to Kenya to help in developing nuclear energy. He actually went on to suggest that despite many other forms of energy generation Kenya had to consider the nuclear option in order to industrialize.
Prior to this statement many in the media while covering the looming shortage in power generation had hinted that the nuclear energy option was completely impossible for Kenya given it’s instability and the danger of proliferation. Many of you who have been following this blog already know that I am a huge supporter of development and try to keep away from this notion that we Kenyans can’t do something, either because it is too difficult and dangerous or, that we dont as yet have the right climate political or otherwise.
However let us remind ourselves what the IAEA does and how it came to be. Towards the end of the second world war, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order which authorized the bombing of the city of Hiroshima [Japan] on monday, August 6th 1945. The nuclear device used on this day was an atomic weapon code-named “Little Boy”. Three days later on August 9th 1945 another nuclear device this time code-named “Fat Man” was detonated on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. The two detonations led to the deaths of 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 people in Nagasaki by the end of 1945 though many more continued to suffer long after following the effects of radioactivity.
On July 1, 1968 the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty [NPT] was established and opened for signature to the countries of the world. It was proposed by Finland and Ireland and currently has 189 countries who are party to it. Four recognized and sovereign countries however have either refused to sign it or withdrawn. This are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Within the NPT there are five nuclear powers namely, the USA, Russia, China, France & the United Kingdom. There are therefore 9 countries in the world which possess nuclear weapons.
The Non Proliferation Treaty has a preamble and 11 articles. It has three main objectives expressed as pillars for easier understanding.
Non Proliferation of nuclear weapons & technology
The right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
In a nutshell after the use of nuclear weapons during world war 2 a Pandora’s box was opened. The USA argued that it’s use of the nuclear weapon had saved many more lives by forcing the Japanese to surrender. However when other countries begun to develope and master the technology to make nuclear weapons, a tricky problem arose, the USA realised that one day another country could make a similar argument after bombing a USA city.
This is why the NPT has become such an important and sometimes controversial treaty. However despite initial concerns many of the world’s countries have abided with the provisions of the treaty especially when you consider that to develope nuclear weapons costs alot of money and you can never really use them without suffering serious consequences in return.
On 29th July 1957 the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] was established under it’s own international statute with the aim of promoting peaceful uses of nuclear technology and discouraging the use of such technology for military purposes. In a way this agency enforces the NPT and gives non nuclear states the incentive to continue to remain free of nuclear weapons.
In 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the creation of this agency in his “Atoms For Peace” speech to the UN General Assembly. This was in response to the Pandora’s box conundrum I alluded to above. Implicit in both the NPT and the IAEA was a solemn promise by the nuclear weapons states never to use nuclear weapons on non nuclear weapon states. Secondly they would try as much as possible to assist non nuclear weapon states in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
This is why I think Dr. ElBaradei made the statement he made in Kenya. Many of you are aware of the controversial issue of nuclear power that has been generated by Iran. Alot of people in developing countries now feel that the western world is out to prevent them from enjoying the benefits of nuclear technology whether peaceful or otherwise. After the developments of September 11 the USA is fearful of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands and that is a legitimate concern to have given that Kenya has suffered a number of terrorist attacks.
However governments do not fall into the category of wrong hands. Nevertheless it is understandable that it is important to be extra vigilant when it comes to nuclear technology. So the question then arises will the west allow Kenya to use this technology especially given that we are really desperate for reliable, cheap electricity to power our growing economies? The answer is offcourse already obvious, Kenya is a signatory of both the NPT & IAEA. Kenya has never done anything that would arouse suspicion that it intended to use such technology for ulterior motives. Kenya has a right to develope peaceful nuclear technology to enhance the quality of life of it’s citizens.
Immediately after the meeting at Statehouse between the President and Dr. ElBaradei some of the more cynical Kenyans begun making very negative comments. This is despite the fact that the same Kenyans blame the government for power rationing and even lack of vision and foresight. They are also the first to blame government for the high cost of doing business in Kenya. Nuclear energy could add to our energy mix and help bring down the cost of electricity which is currently very high compared to our competitiors and is having a negative effect on manufactured goods from Kenya.
Some also pushed the argument that nuclear energy is somewhat unsafe and dangerous for the environment. To counter this argument it is important to realize that France generates 78% of it’s electricity from nuclear power. The USA is offcourse the largest producer of nuclear power. It also currently uses nuclear propulsion for some of it’s aircraft carriers and submarines. This are fully manned meaning that nuclear power can be safe and reliable. I would not advocate for nuclear to account for such a large percentage as the French but I would support for it to generate upto 35% of our energy. This would replace the thermal component which we have to import in terms of oil and which is also very polluting in terms of greenhouse gases.
For those who are worried about security the IAEA would supervise the plant and the Kenya government would provide backup by placing it’s security under military watch as a strategic Kenyan facility. We could also ask for additional security resources from the UN, EU or NATO. We also have some British and American security agreements that would further bolster the security of the plant or plants.
Let us now examine some technologies that are possible for Kenya’s adoption in this sector. Dr. ElBaradei offered his agency’s help in training Kenyans in the area of nuclear energy. This is indeed the right first step in gradually and sustainably developing the capacity needed in establishing a viable nuclear power industry in Kenya.
Nuclear power is defined as any technology that is designed to extract usable energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions. In nuclear technology there are two processes that lead to the generation of nuclear energy. These are:
Presently all nuclear power plants use fission technology to generate energy. Despite the obvious advantages of fusion the technology hasn’t been fully developed to date. It is believed a third process that of radioactive decay could also in future be used to generate energy from spent fuel rods but it too is not a fully developed technology.
Nuclear fission is defined as a nuclear reaction whereby an atom is split into two or more parts thereby forming a new substance, releasing neutrons, gamma rays and a significant amount of energy. Fission can be done in two ways. The first method is a controlled fission which is typically done by nuclear power plants and leads to the release of usable energy which is then transmitted as electricity. The second fission is uncontrolled and is currently employed in nuclear weapons and leads to tremendous explosive release of energy in the form of heat & kinetic energy which is usually destructive followed by radioactive fallout.
Nuclear fusion on the other hand refers to the process by which multiple like-charged atomic nuclei join together to form a heavier nucleus. It is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy which allows matter to enter a plasma state. Nuclear fusion occurs naturally in stars and it is what powers our sun. Human attempts at controlled nuclear fusion have been limited at best. The technology to generate electricity from nuclear fusion has proved to be difficult though research continues. Artificial methods of inducing an uncontrolled nuclear fusion process has succeeded in producing hydrogen bombs or what are known as thermonuclear weapons.
Possible Nuclear Plants for Kenya.
To ensure that Kenya produces nuclear energy safely and reliably it is important that we reduce the risk of proliferation, enhance safety, minimise the problem of reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear material and invest in the latest technology in a cost effective manner. To do this let us examine four possible technologies that may meet this criteria.
Floating nuclear power stations.
The Russians have developed a floating vessel that contains two self contained nuclear reactors that produce upto 70MW of electricity enough to power a city of 200,000. It is possible to upgrade this generation capacity to 325MW. The vessel is 144 metres long and 30 metres wide. It has a displacement of 21,500 tonnes and a crew of 69 people. It also could be modified to act as a desalination plant able to produce 240,000 cubic metres of fresh water a day. Imagine how important such a vessel would be to the coastal city of Mombasa. It could produce clean water for drinking or irrigation. It would be built in Russia and then towed to Kenya and after serving for a number of years all the nuclear waste would be returned to Russia. Cost of this is estimated at US$ 336 million. Below is a picture of the proposed vessel which will be ready next year 2010.
This is an acronym for the Small Sealed Transportable Autonomous Reactor. This reactor can produce upto 100MW of electricity. It is designed by the USA and is what is known as a passively safe nuclear reactor. It comes with a self contained supply of fuel usually uranium 235. The 100 megawatt version is expected to be 15 meters high by 3 meters wide, and weigh 500 tonnes. Crucially, SSTAR is also meant to be tamper resistant, which would prevent the leasing country from opening the reactor to use the generated plutonium for nuclear weapons. The tamper-resistant features will include radio monitoring and remote deactivation. The leasing country will therefore have to accept the capability for remote foreign intervention in the facility. A prototype for SSTAR is expected by 2015, and they are being researched as a possible replacement for today’s light water reactors and as a possible design for use in developing countries, which would use the reactor for several decades and then return the entire unit to the manufacturing country.
Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor
This is a passively safe generation 3+ nuclear reactor that can in case of an accident, remain stabilized for 72 hours without any operator action. Below the vessel, there is a piping structure which allows for cooling of the core during a very severe accident. These pipes divide the molten core and cool it with water flowing through the piping. The probability of radioactivity release to the atmosphere is several orders of magnitude lower than conventional nuclear power plants, and the building cost is 60-70% of other light water reactors. It can generate upto 1600MW.
Pebble Bed Modular Reactor
Finally this is one of the most exciting nuclear technologies to come out of Africa. The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a particular design under development by a South African company PBMR (Pty) Ltd since 1994. The project entails the construction of a demonstration power plant at Koeberg near Cape Town and a fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. Although it is not the only gas-cooled high-temperature reactor currently being developed in the world, the South African project is internationally regarded as the leader in the global power generation field. The PBMR is characterised by inherently safe features, which mean that no human error or equipment failure can cause an accident that would harm the public. Heat from the PBMR can be used for a variety of industrial process applications, including process steam for cogeneration applications, in-situ oil sands recovery, ethanol applications, refinery and petrochemical applications. The high temperature heat can also be used to reform methane to produce syngas. It is capable of producing upto 400MW.
It is my hope that Kenya will take advantage of this technology to improve the lives of Kenyans by providing clean, reliable and cheap electricity to power our growing economy. Some of this technology is between 1yr to 5yrs away. During this time Kenya should embark on training it’s personnel in preparation for the possible future implementation of this project to introduce nuclear technology to Kenya. Kenya has successfully hosted the United Nations Environment Program for many years and there is no reason it cannot host a nuclear power station with the necessary safeguards. Kenya Yes We Can.
Thursday the 23rd of July 2009 will go down in history as the day Kenya got to commence the enjoyment of highspeed broadband internet. After years of waiting in anticipation and theorizing on the benefits of highspeed internet it is finally here. In a highly publicized and coordinated event SEACOM turned on the switch which instantaneously beamed Terabytes of bandwidth at the speed of light through highly polished and engineered strands of glass.
This was the moment that the countries on the eastern seaboard of Africa have been preparing for in more than a decade. In a single day the telecommunications paradigm has shifted dramatically. Whereas just yesterday a telephone call from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam would have first travelled to a satellite in outer space before bouncing back to Tanzania, now it will simply travel a few kilometres under the sea and arrive in a fraction of the time it took to do so before. Whereas to watch a 5minute youtube video took almost 10minutes to download now it should take just under 6seconds. Opening an internet page will be instantaneous as opposed to before when to open an e-mail account took you almost 10 minutes to access your first mail if not longer.
Beyond this however is the fact that with all this improvement in service the costs will actually go down instead of up. We are normally made to believe that when you want higher quality you should be prepared to pay more. In this case however the opposite is the reality. There is alot of debate as to whether the costs will drop by 90% or 20% – 30%. What is not in doubt is a price increase is not even considered despite the massive investment the various players and SEACOM have put into the project. Some are now wondering how will the players recoup investment?
The answer is actually to do with the concept of less price attracts greater demand. So less is more in the new economics of telecommunications. If internet access is made more affordable then many citizens will naturally want to enjoy the benefits. The more subscibers join the internet also known as uptake in technical jargon the more the firms stand to benefit. Why is this considered workable?
The answer lies in a study done by the World bank on an actual cable called SAT3 which is a fibre-optic cable along the western seaboard of Africa. This cable was a closed access system which eventhough it provided some bandwidth to the west Africans ended up being as expensive as satellite so that some countries such as Nigeria actually opted to use satellite. This is why internet speeds in Nigeria were almost as pathetic as the ones in Nairobi despite the presence of a fibre-optic cable. It has to be said though that SAT3 has only a tenth of the bandwidth that SEACOM is offering to us now i.e. SAT3 had about 120Gb/s as opposed to 1.28Tb/s for SEACOM.
Fibre-optic cables have a lifespan of between 20 – 25yrs. During that time they have to recover their investment costs and generate profit. Now if you keep prices high and no one uses your cable the bandwidth you have will be useless. Your cable will not generate any sales and return on investment will be minimal. This is why it is better to keep prices as low as possible to encourage heavy use which will then generate revenue and also hopefully create an addiction for the internet which will mean people cant do without it.
SAT3 demonstrated that artificially high price amounts to a denial of service to consumers and therefore it is like there is no cable. Hence it is in SEACOM’s interest to keep prices low. That will also have major implications for other facets of life in Africa. This will lead to monumentous change in the way Africans view information.
From a purely commercial angle m-commerce & e-commerce will take on added significance. Small and medium sized business will want to take advantage of the internet to sell their goods to the world. With cheaper access and more bandwidth they will be able to invest in content rich websites which will hopefully attract customers. Gamers will be able to upload and design games using open source software. Companies will be able to take advantage of new internet phenomena like cloud computing which could save them millions in expensive databases.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes will come when the government fully digitizes it’s services which will improve service delivery and reduce incidences of corruption. Most notable of this will be for example the ministries of justice, health, lands, education, agriculture and government procurement. It has been said 90% of the governments corruption occurs in procurement. If this aspect becomes automated and removes personal negotiations and manipulations it will be virtually impossible for corruption to occur undetected. Think of it if tenders are submitted online and payment done online and the selection is done based on mathematical scientific models it will not be possible for government officials to influence the system.
In addition our universities and institutes of higher learning will benefit tremendously from the enormous bandwidth and the greater possibilities to share and acquire access to massive amounts of information. This will mean that our academic institutions will not only be consumers but will also be able to upload valuable information into the global superhighway and therefore introduce a potentially valuable source of revenue. Searching the internet today you notice the lack of African content whether in business or cultural or literal works. This is set to change with digitization and easier access to the internet.
There are also numerous opportunities for our academics and students to participate in global projects aimed at enhancing or finding solutions to humanity’s problems through global participation on scientific projects such as wolfram alpha or medical, agricultural, meteorological, biotechnical and engineering projects.
There is also the potentially promising field of BPO [Business Process Outsourcing] which is a potential generator of employment for our youth. It may also be the conduit on which Kenya will develope other competitive and potentially more valuable IT skills. India has shown what is possible to achieve in this sector and where the future is headed. Kenya which has a relatively well educated youth has the potential to excel in this new sectors which could revolutionize Kenya’s economy.
Finally before I let you guys living in Kenya go I would like to suggest you do a historical experiment to test your current internet speed before switching to the fibre-optic cable. To do this go to speedtest.net and choose a city of the world say Washington DC or Amsterdam and test your current speed before switching to SEACOM or TEAMS. Do the test 3 times and divide the result by 3 to get an average speed. Keep those results in safe place and then when you effect the change do the test again and see the difference. You will also be able to compare your speed with other places in the world. The site tests your download, upload and ping speeds. So you should have 3 different speeds to test for. If you have already switched, it will be interesting to see how you compare to Europe which currently has the highest speeds eventhough South Korea enjoys some of the highest as a country.
In conclusion the completion of this project is the first among almost a dozen initiatives to build fibre around Africa. In Kenya which is a mobile technology phenomenon technologies such as WiMAX and the deployment of 3G & 4G networks will lead to a richer mobile experience. Africa is truly transforming as the number of undersea cables under construction means that West Africa may end up with almost 7 cables the largest of which is the proposed WACS with a whopping 3.84Tb/s while East Africa may see upto 4 cables. This may truly turn out to be the beginning of the age of Africa. Africa, Kenya Yes We can.
Now that the submarine fibre-optic cables SEACOM & TEAMS have arrived on Kenya’s shores the focus has shifted to terrestrial networks and infrastructure that will finally deliver last mile broadband to the bandwidth hungry African consumers. To do this various technologies are being implemented. One of the technologies that offers great promise is WiMAX.
What is WiMAX?
WiMAX is an acronym that comes from the initials of Worldwide interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX is an IP based telecommunications technology that provides wireless transmission of data using a variety of transmission modes from fixed point to multi point links to portable to fully mobile internet access.
At its heart, however, WiMAX is a standards initiative. Its purpose is to ensure that the broadband wireless radios manufactured for customer use interoperate from vendor to vendor. The primary advantages of the WiMAX standard are to enable the adoption of advanced radio features in a uniform fashion and reduce costs for all of the radios made by companies, who are part of the WiMAX Forum™ – a standards body formed to ensure interoperability via testing.
WiMAX is divided into two standards known as fixed WiMAX & mobile WiMAX. They have their technical names known as
802.16 – 2004 is often called 802.16d, since that was the working party that developed the standard. It is also frequently referred to as “fixed WiMAX” since it has no support for mobility.
802.16e – 2005 is an amendment to 802.16 – 2004 and is often referred to in shortened form as 802.16e. It introduced support for mobility, amongst other things and is therefore also known as “mobile WiMAX”.
Will WiMAX be a Global Standard?
Yes. WiMAX is a Global Standard that has certified products shipping worldwide and interoperate with gear in the same frequency range and power range. It is important to note that different countries utilize different spectrum frequencies for broadband delivery. For instance, the licensed band 2.5 GHz range in the US is also widely used around the world. However, the widely used international broadband spectrum range in the 3.5 GHz channels is not available in the US, although the FCC has recently opened a small slice of lightly regulated spectrum in the US at 3.65 GHz that uses the same WiMAX radios. The early waves of WiMAX products are not intended to function in multiple WiMAX spectrum ranges simultaneously. However, some of the early WiMAX radio sets may incorporate WiMAX/GSM or Wi-Fi dual connectivity from the beginning as several vendors appear to be engineering this capability into some Mobile WiMAX radios. A dual WiMAX/GSM handset is already on the market in Russia.