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Egypt’s new Ramadan series-streaming app scrutinised by critics

Egypt’s Watch iT aims to snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giants.

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Image credit: Ramadan Media

Egypt’s first video-streaming app, Watch iT, launched this month just in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The religious season is also the high season for the television industry, but the app’s debut has been panned by critics for high prices and technical failures.

Chilling thrillers, sentimental dramas and classic comedies – Egypt’s famed Ramadan TV series have long united millions of families from the breaking of the fast in the evening until dawn.

In recent years, many have taken to streaming episodes of their favourite shows on YouTube after they first broadcast on television.

Egypt’s Watch iT, which launched on May 1, aims to grab hold of this trend and snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giant.

The platform is owned by the Egyptian Media Group and offers 15 exclusive series produced in Egypt especially for Ramadan, for a monthly fee of 99 pounds ($5.80).

“It’s way too expensive,” said Youssef Ahmed, a 48-year-old father shopping in Cairo during the first days of the fast.

Half-year subscriptions go for 555 pounds, with a year costing 999 pounds — a tall order in a country where the average monthly salary is around $220.

“Anyway, it’s better to watch the series on television as a family,” Ahmed commented.

Watch iT facing challenges

Google’s Play Store service has logged more than 10,000 downloads of the app since its launch – far below the projected figures.

Those who have forked out the money for the platform have run up against technical difficulties, sparking a wave of criticism.

Local media said the site was the victim of “hacking” and the Egyptian Media Group did not respond to questions.

CEO Tamer Mursi boasted shortly after the app launched that his media group had played a “modernising” role in Egypt’s television industry and furthered “the protection of (intellectual property) rights”.

His company owns several television channels, prominent newspapers and production companies, drawing accusations from critics that it runs a monopoly.

Surviving competition

In the age of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the moment is right for such a switch in Egypt, but critics say the Ramadan series industry is not up to the challenge.

“When such a company launches such a service, it is supposed to test it well before it enters the market,” said Ahmed Hamdi, a journalist with the business newspaper Al Mal.

Hit by general disorganisation in recent years, the industry’s latest products have been characterised by rushed filming and sloppy scripts.

“Watch iT is a new experience in the Egyptian market and fully justified in terms of both its functional and financial aspects, but it faces many challenges,” said Ahmed Adel, a telecoms research manager at Beltone Financial.

One of the biggest difficulties, he said, is that it cannot compete with international platforms.

Netflix from the United States and Wavo out of the United Arab Emirates are both technically superior and offer dozens of Western, Arab and Turkish series and films at a lower price.

Watch iT will also have to jostle for screen time with the pirated content widely available across the Arab world, Adel added.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and more than 40 percent of its 100 million residents have internet access.

Nearly three-quarters connect with their mobile phones, according to the latest figures from the telecommunications ministry.

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Somalia’s floating restaurant and beach provide fun refuge

We considered that pirates could hijack it, and use it to attack cargo ships -restaurant owner

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Somalia's floating restaurant and beach provide refuge
The luxury La Lanterna Bar restaurant boat, sails in the Indian Ocean near Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Few restaurateurs consider the threat of piracy in their plans but Abdulkadir Mohamed did so for his La Lanterna floating restaurant now moored off Mogadishu’s popular Lido beach.

“We considered that pirates could hijack it, and use it to attack cargo ships,” he said on the top of the double-deck boat as it bounced on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean a short distance from the Somali capital’s coastline.

“We made it slow,” he explained, so pirates would not see it as a prize vessel to seize and use in any of their attacks.

Pirates were once the scourge of the region, chasing oil tankers and other ships and demanding ransoms for those they captured. But as Somalia has regained a semblance of stability after almost three decades of conflict and chaos, piracy has faded, even if sporadic bombings still strike the capital.

A modicum of calm means Somalis are seeking out more leisure activities outside their homes, and the Lido beach, with its bleach white sand, is drawing the crowds.

Somalia's floating restaurant and beach provide refuge
Young boy walks along the seashore on the Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia.

With extra security and checkpoints to protect the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) stretch of sand from possible Islamist attacks, the beach offers a place to escape from the battle-scarred capital.

“Sitting on Lido Beach, having tea or coffee in the evening, you can see different colors and feel sometimes that you are in another world,” said Omar Abule, the manager of travel agent Visit Mogadishu, describing the cobalt waters and orange sunsets.

Families plunge into the water – the women from this religiously conservative country still wear their headscarves and loose garments as they sit or swim in the sea.

Visitors feeling more adventurous can don a life jacket and take a small launch to La Lanterna as it bobs near the beach. After clambering aboard, they can have a coffee or cold drink and order a snack, an opportunity to forget challenges ashore.

“I am happy to get on board such a boat,” said Samira Mohammed on La Lanterna. “Coming to Lido beach gives you big hope.”

Abdifitah Mohamed Siyad, director of tourism and investment in Mogadishu’s local government, said the city had been ruined by wars and most people had “stories of grief”.

“The remedy for the people is to create happiness for them, create an environment for tourism, a time for them to tour, a time for them to chat and forget the past,” he said.

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Coding for kids: A necessity for basic knowledge

Coding for children should be part of every teaching curriculum, or at least an extra class to be prioritized by savvy parents

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Coding for kids: A necessity for basic knowledge | News Central TV

Equipping children with the knowledge and an understanding of coding is arming them for everyday life. In this age, technology is a basic necessity. This is why coding for children should be part of every teaching curriculum, or at least an extra class to be prioritized by savvy parents.

Coding in itself boosts problem-solving and analytical thinking. Learning coding techniques help children develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities that are not only important in computer science but in life generally. This ‘procedural literacy’, which is the ability to think about and understand processes in the world, will be an invaluable asset to them.

Some nations have made great strides in making coding a part of a child’s education. In Nigeria, there are programmes for children that teach them to code in fun and engaging ways. One such institution is the 9jacodekids Academy, a STEM education institute that provides coding and robotics programmes for children aged 4 to 16 years.

Since 2016, the Academy has taught more than 1,500 students from across Nigeria to develop core coding skills in web design, mobile app design, game design, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Recently, two of the academy’s students, Fathia Abdullahi and Tobiloba Owolola, were featured on BBC Africa for building robots that solve everyday problems.

Fathia built a robot that folded T-shirts, while Tobiloba built a robot that senses objects and removed them.

Coding is not for the future; it is part of the present.

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Central Africa

DR Congo’s Josephine Uwase Ndeze wins Miss Geek Africa competition

Her mobile platform that enables expectant mothers to monitor their progress

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DR Congo's Josephine Uwase Ndeze wins Miss Geek Africa competition

Josephine Uwase Ndeze of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the winner of Miss Geek Africa 2019, the third edition of the competition.

She is a Congolese innovator who clinched the award for her mobile platform that enables expectant mothers to monitor their progress, check any symptoms they might be experiencing and connect them to their healthcare providers in case of an emergency.

She received the award at the closing ceremony of the fifth Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. According to The New Times newspaper, the platform is connected to a smart bracelet which checks the woman’s vital signs and sends them to an emergency service provider in real time. This allows expectant mothers to monitor their progress and check up on symptoms if any are present. It will also connect them to their healthcare providers should the result necessitate an emergency response.

Owing to her contribution to bringing down maternal mortality, Ndeze will receive Rwf3 million in cash, a certificate and a technical membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). As a member, she can access essential technical information and networking opportunities globally.

Other winners on the day included the first runner-up, Gladys Wairimu of Kenya, who received Rwf2 million for her drone surveillance technology that seeks to tackle illegal poaching in game parks, and second runner-up Ndeye Fatou of Senegal, who received Rwf1 million for SOS Sang, a web platform that links healthcare providers with blood banks to ensure that they have efficient access to blood.

The contest was created to inspire girls in Africa to solve challenges on the continent using technology and to encourage them to pursue careers in technology, science, mathematics, and engineering.

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