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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy
Hundreds of local traders gather each day at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi
On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul.
The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay.
But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll.
Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third-largest body of freshwater.
“We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat… but I’m afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers,” port manager Alfred Banda told reporters staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand.
“Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling,” he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300.
Bordering three countries — Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique — Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometres (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish.
The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood.
“Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019, it is different. There’s no fish in the water,” trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told reporters as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal.
“The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce,” Male said. “Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can’t find the money.”
‘No alternative to fishing’ –
For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future.
The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats.
Senga community leader, John White Said says increasing gale-force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake.
“Our men can’t catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before,” he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake.
“The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well.”
According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the country is likely to decrease — but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods.
The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead.
On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said.
“There is no alternative to fishing.”
One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels.
“I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money,” he said.
‘Unsustainable fishing practices’ –
By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices.
Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market.
“Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices,” said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group.
“Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi (but) there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers.”
Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with “increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes.”
That leaves Malawi’s agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment.
Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.
“I’m worried,” he said. “In Malawi, most people depend on fishing financially and as a cheap food source.
“The men have to cast their nets further and further away from the beach.”
South Africa’s “nyaope” heroin and the dangers of addiction
Heroin has been wreaking havoc in South Africa’s cities and rural areas since the early 2000s
After helping an elderly woman load her bags into a mini-bus taxi at a busy intersection in Soweto, a scrawny and strung-out young man is rewarded with a few coins for his efforts.
High on “nyaope”, a street drug whose main ingredient is heroin, he is determined to make R30 within the next two hours before withdrawal symptoms start to creep in.
“It has been 11 years straight up, just smoking non-stop,” he told reporters, as he drew on a cigarette (tobacco) with his trembling hands.
“The thing that made me start smoking nyaope was stress, I had too much stress in my life. So I ended up relying on nyaope to calm me down,” said the frail and distant-eyed 28-year-old.
Heroin has been wreaking havoc in South Africa’s cities and rural areas since the early 2000s, according to a recent report by ENACT, an EU-funded project against cross-border organised crime.
Highly addictive, the nyaope cocktail is made of heroin cut with methamphetamine, codeine, and other substances reputedly ranging from anti-retroviral drugs to even powder from flat-screen televisions.
Smoked in a rolled joint laced with marijuana, or else liquidised and injected, it often leaves users with zombie-like sleepiness.
“That is why you find guys at street corners always sleeping. From the moment when you get the fix, you forget all the problems,” said the nyaope user in Soweto, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
The drug is known as “unga” in the Western Cape, “spices” or “whoonga” in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, and “nyaope” in Gauteng, the province that is home to both Johannesburg and Pretoria.
‘Underpinning criminal economy’ –
The ENACT report — “Hiding in Plain Sight: Heroin’s Stealthy Takeover of South Africa” — estimates there are more than 100,000 regular heroin users in South Africa and a trafficking market generating about R3.6 billion in annual revenue.
“Heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy,” report author Simone Haysom said.
“The drug trade has had the most destructive effect in poor communities,” she added.
Heroin moves from Afghanistan, which is the world’s top grower of the poppy from which heroin is produced, across the Indian Ocean to east Africa, down through southern Africa and then inland for distribution.
“For 50 metres (yards) around us here, you can buy any drug. It’s a known fact,” Robert Michel, the frustrated director at the non-profit Outreach Foundation, told reporters at their offices in a churchyard in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow district.
Shaun Shelly, founder of the SA Drug Policy Week awareness programme, agreed, saying “as a total stranger you could probably get heroin there in 15 minutes on the street.”
In Hillbrow, one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighbourhoods in downtown Johannesburg, heroin peddling is mostly done by gangs, organised crime syndicates, and corrupt police.
“The worst part of it is that the police is not really doing anything. In many cases, what we hear is that the police and the drug dealers are working hand in hand,” Michel said.
Child addicts –
The scourge has reached many children around age 15, and even some as young as nine, according to Hillbrow social worker Sizwe Bottoman.
“Others have stopped at school as it affects their brain so badly to an extent that they don’t concentrate,” she said.
Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that a “national drug master plan” would reduce demand, cut off supply and “ultimately free our young people from the harm that they cause.”
He said he was alarmed that “the average age of a drug user is getting younger and younger.”
“Drugs such as nyaope… are fuelling violence, crime, suicide, and risky sexual behaviour,” the president said.
South Africa’s drug problem is also exacerbated by poor social services and its youth unemployment rate of over 50 per cent.
Having previously beaten addiction to crystal methamphetamine and the drug Mandrax, Cape Townian Ashley Abrahams, 38, said he regrets the day he started using heroin 10 years ago.
“It’s not easy to stay clean. You have to be busy, you have to get work,” the homeless man told reporters as he whipped out the teaspoon and lighter he uses to get high.
“Somebody who is on drugs, goes into rehab, comes back onto the streets, and has no prospect of finding a job — and within days gets back into using drugs,” the Outreach Foundation’s Michel said.
“It’s a terrible cycle to break out of.”
Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt
A team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back some 4,000 years ago.
Egypt on Saturday opened two ancient pyramids south of the capital Cairo and unveiled a collection of newly found sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummies.
Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told reporters the Bent Pyramid of King Sneferu, the first pharaoh of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, and a nearby pyramid would be reopened to visitors for the first time since 1965.
He also said a team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back to the Middle Kingdom some 4,000 years ago.
The finds were made during excavation work in the royal necropolis of Dahshur on the west bank of the Nile River, in an area home to some of Egypt’s oldest pyramids.
“Several stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi were found and some contain mummies in good condition,” the antiquities ministry said in a statement.
The ancient wall stretches some 60 metres and is situated south of the pyramid of 12th dynasty pharaoh King Amenemhat II, also in the Dahshur necropolis.
The finds also included funerary masks as well as tools dating back to the Late Period — which spanned almost 300 years up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC — used for cutting stones, the ministry said.
Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism, which took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.
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