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From #CycloneIdai to #DurbanFloods: The Internet Plays the Blame Game

A similar high alert for dangerous weather has been sent out in Tanzania, Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe

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durban floods
A local tow truck company removing a car from a local river destroyed during torrential rains and flash floods in Chatsworth, south of Durban. The death toll from floods and mudslides that crushed homes in the South African port of Durban has risen to 51. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Just over one month into the aftermath of the calamitous natural disaster that was Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, the region was hit by a second tragedy in the form of torrential rains in Durban, South Africa.

The floods caused by the heavy rainfall have claimed a death toll of 70 people so far, and have left a devastating trail of destruction. The South African Weather Service has asked residents to remain on high alert, as more abnormally heavy rainfall has been forecast.

A similar high alert for dangerous weather has been sent out in Tanzania, Mozambique, and parts of Zimbabwe as another tropical cyclone, Cyclone Kenneth has been forecast to make landfall today. Cyclone Kenneth has already stormed through the Comoros Islands.

The quick succession of these events and the magnitude of the negative impact they have left behind has generated intense conversation, people want to know why we aren’t prepared for when nature strikes.

With the hashtags #CycloneIdai and #DurbanFloods trending continuously on Twitter, the conversation has shifted its focus from the damage done by these unstoppable forces of nature. Citizens on social media are seeking to understand why our nations are not prepared for these types of incidents.

In the case of #DurbanFloods, the government is coming under fire for allegedly creating substandard settlements which left locals vulnerable to the extreme weather elements. “Human Settlements has much to answer for over the appalling placement and conditions of RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses that collapsed in many areas.

The damage to roads and bridges as a result of the storms could have been prevented if the appropriate preventive measures were put in place,” said Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Kwa-Zulu Natal based political party, Inkatha Freedom Party.

On Twitter, Marketing Practitioner @ms_tourist wrote:

In the case of #CycloneIdai, similar questions were fired towards the government via social media.

@zenzele tweeted at Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information:

durban floods

To which the Ministry of Information responded:

durban floods

This year’s #DurbanFloods are a recurrence of a similar incident in 2017 when parts of the area were devastated by torrential rain. In comparison, cyclones of such magnitude as #CycloneIdai have been extremely rare in the history of both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In both cases, it is understandable that citizens would be emotional about the immense losses endured and would want to hold someone responsible.

As the continent waits on the landfall of Cyclone Kenneth to storm, all are hopeful that these heartbreaking experiences have been practical teachers.

According to AFP, some shacks have already been destroyed in the capital of Comoros Islands, Moroni. Uprooted trees and power lines are currently the only incident reports as citizens heeded calls to take shelter in safe areas.

Africa News & Updates

Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to by-pass an internet blackout imposed by army rulers.

“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut-off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.

“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.

The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilisation of protesters, according to users.

“They cut the internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.

Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule. 

Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.

“My parents live abroad, the internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.

“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.

‘Gross violation’ –

At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.  

Here, an hour of internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.

Generally across Sudan, the internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fibre optic cables, and the connection is erratic. 

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access.

At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones. 

“Cutting the internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader, Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters this week.

The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation”.

“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.

For the generals, the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.

And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the internet blackout.

‘People still communicate’ –

Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.  

Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the internet.

“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.

“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”

“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself… but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”

Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.

“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now, it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent, Hoiam whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.

The main factor was the “very poor” internet connection at her office, she said.

The internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.

“But still, with or without internet, people manage to communicate.”

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Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women’s Day

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups.” -Delphine Remy-Boutang

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Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
(File photo)

Barcode health cards, mobile apps for victims of violence and an online legal platform are just some of the ideas showing the direction of female digital pioneers in Africa, with Senegalese innovators in the spotlight.

The Senegalese capital, Dakar this month hosted the first African edition of “Digital Women’s Day”, which for the previous seven years had taken place in Paris.

More than 650 people and 26 corporations attended the event where innovators displayed technology creations, often to tackle daily problems women face and inspired by their own circumstances.

Organisers say Dakar — one of the first African cities to offer free internet access — has ambitions as a budding start-up hub with plans to create 35,000 direct jobs in new technologies by 2025. 

Related: An app is helping reunite South Sudan’s ‘lost’ children with their families

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups and major investors,” said Delphine Remy-Boutang, the event’s founder.

Among the participants was Nafissatou Diouf, who at 22 already heads a start-up with 10 employees.

Her firm, Senvitale, creates QR codes for wristbands, pendants and cards enabling doctors or first responders to instantly access patients’ health data.

Moved by her aunt’s sudden death after a failed treatment of an allergic reaction, Diouf gave up her studies in industrial chemistry and food technology to launch her digital enterprise.

Senvitale, launched in 2017, won best Senegal start-up prize last year for its free platform, which also allows patients to manage their medical appointments.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day

Related: Using drones to provide life-saving medication in Ghana

The concept was to “help doctors and emergency workers… to act quickly”, the young Senegalese businesswoman said.

For now, the project is waiting on authorisation from the Ministry of Health because of the sensitive data that the company handles. But Diouf says she is already considering development of the business internationally.

Victims of violence –

Diariata N’diaye, a 36-year-old artist who grew up in France in a Senegalese family, turned her focus on another problem — helping to fight domestic violence and abuse of women.

Through her activism travelling to schools in France to educate young people, she became aware many victims did not realise there was help out there. 

In 2015, she launched a mobile application “App-Elles” — a play on words in French that translates into “She-Calls” — that allows victims to alert three contacts in case of danger. It records and transmits the sound of the incident to the recipient and sends the GPS location.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
Photo credit: Jérôme Fouquet/Ouest-France

“I began with a very basic observation: everyone has a phone and so if there is going to be a tool for victims, it should go through their phone,” N’diaye said. 

An optional wristband, costing 30 euros ($33), can be used to issue the alerts via a Bluetooth link to the mobile, so the victim does not have to draw attention to herself by switching on her phone. The free platform also allows abused women to contact associations or learn about their rights.

The App-Elles creator claims 8,000 downloads of its application and a presence in 10 countries, including France, Canada, Morocco, the United States as well as Senegal.

“We have a lot of people using App-Elles when they go out,” says N’diaye. “Women who start early in the morning, who come back late at night.”

Legal resources –

When Nafissatou Tine, a 34-year-old Senegalese-French lawyer left Brussels in 2016 to settle in Dakar, she struggled to find reliable sources of information on Senegalese law.

So with the Sunulex platform, which brings together all of Senegal’s digitised laws as well as decisions of jurisprudence, she sought to fill a gap for law students, lawyers and even citizens.

Related: Technology is helping Kenya’s herders adapt to climate change

Sunulex has placed 800 texts on a publicly accessible free platform — a small portion out of the total of 60,000 — which gets 1,700 hits a week.

The company, which already has eight employees, hopes to launch a version next month that will pitch to 10 countries in French-speaking Africa. 

“It’s an African platform made with African resources, by Africans, for Africans, and for lawyers around the world,” she said.

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Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo’s megacity

During peak time, commuters jostle to board creaking buses or taxis at the risk of tolerating body odour reeking from fellow commuters

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Commuting nightmare takes over Kinshasa | News Central TV
Yellow taxis clog up the streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Cities almost everywhere have transport problems — just ask people stuck in traffic jams or overcrowded trains for their opinion.

But daily travel in Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), may well have the best claim on World’s Worst Commuter Nightmare.

In a mega-hub of 13 million, the ride to work is a battle with choked, pot-holed streets and jam-packed buses, yellow taxis and motorbikes, to the backdrop of blaring horns, pollution, hawkers and accidents.

In short, a transport hell…and in a sauna-like heat.

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
Yellow taxis clog up the streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

During peak time, commuters jostle to board creaking buses or taxis where they will become intimately familiar with the anatomy and odour of their fellow humans for the next hour or two.

“Every day, we’re packed in like sardines. You get there exhausted,” sighed law student, Esperant Kashama. 

At rush hour, it is not uncommon for average speeds to be well below 10 kilometres (six miles) per hour.

In poorer areas such as Lemba, Matete and Ndjili, it can take up to two hours to reach Gombe, the city’s business heart.

Weak infrastructure –

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
(Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Like Africa’s two other megacities, Cairo and Lagos, Kinshasa has failed to successfully manage the twin challenges of a growing population and weak infrastructure.

The task is only going to get worse in the coming years, for, by 2030, Kinshasa will rank as the 10th most populous city in the world, according to UN estimates.

Lacking a suburban rail network, the city is fatally dependent on the road. 

President Felix Tshisekedi has floated development plans to widen vital bridges spanning the Congo River, but the scheme is already under fire, with critics saying they encroach on public spaces.

His initiative adds to a string of attempts to free up the capital’s clogged roads.

These include solar-powered aluminium robots equipped with cameras and lights to regulate the flow of traffic and send real-time images to police.

The government has also purchased dozens of buses from foreign firms to make the ride more comfortable — if not necessarily speedier — for commuters.

In the past, battered local buses were nicknamed “Spirits of Death” due to their shoddy maintenance. 

The new vehicles have been baptised the more optimistic-sounding: “Spirits of Life.”

Kickbacks –

Some transport startups have been working to address the issues, with the development of Uber-style taxi apps.

One of these, Ubizcabs, is squarely aimed at the middle classes with air-conditioned saloons costing around $40 for a run to the airport — out of reach for the vast majority of Congolese. 

“We began with the middle class. We wanted to keep the same standards with different models of vehicle in order to meet the needs of the whole population,” company head Patricia Nzolantima told reporters.

The authorities have also attempted a crackdown on dodgy cab drivers in a bid to reduce robberies and abductions.

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
(Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Last year, owners of taxis and taxi-buses were ordered to repaint their vehicles yellow and make sure licence plates were clearly visible.

Now the city has a wave of yellow vehicles, but Sonia — not her real name — was still a victim of a crime.

“I got into a collective taxi at the same time as some other guy. I thought he was a client. But he was an accomplice,” the student and model said.

On the back seat, the young woman was throttled and robbed of her telephone and $130 (115 euros), before being thrown out of the taxi.

“I filed a complaint,” she said. “The police asked me to pay (the equivalent of) $100 to open an investigation.”

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