First African-designed smartphone and tablet hit market. By Dave Mayers
When 26-year-old Congolese entrepreneur Verone Mankou followed up the introduction of the first African-designed tablet with the announcement of the first African-designed smartphone, some within the local tech community looked on skeptically. This was Africa after all, and other tablets and smartphones claiming to be “African” were shown to be little more than Chinese designs with only superficial unique traits.
It also didn’t help that Mankou’s company, VMK, was based in the Republic of Congo.
Speaking at the third annual Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg last month, Mankou touched on the difficulties of running VMK from Congo. He also stressed, despite the hurdles, why he thought it was important for an African company to invest in the local smartphone and tablet markets. “Only Africans can know what Africa needs,” he said.
“Apple is huge in the U.S., Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa.”
His products, the Way-C tablet and Elikia smartphone are part of an effort to take on the technology giants in his own back yard.
The Way-C, or “the light of the stars” in the local Lingala language, is a small tablet roughly the size of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. It measures 7.4″ x 6.7″ x 0.5″ and weighs 13.4 ounces. Wi-Fi connectivity and 4GB of internal memory come standard. While its specs aren’t eye-popping, the price is. At $300, it comes in less than the iPad mini.
The Elikia (”Hope”) is an Android-based smartphone with a 3.5-inch display, rear and forward facing cameras, 512MB of RAM, and a 650MHz processor. It retails for $170 without a contract.
The aim, says Mankou, is to get these products into African hands by making them easier to afford.
There has been some negative reaction on local tech blogs, and much of it seems to come from a belief that these products are made by what is called an original equipment manufacturer, or OEM. A few years ago, Africa’s “first” tablet was found out to be an OEM product available not only in Nigeria, but throughout the world sold under different names. Its claims of being African were shot down, and the company was regarded as just another merchant pushing foreign products on local consumers.
Mankou’s VMK is adamant that this is not the case with its products, even devoting a page on its website to address the accusation.
Brazzaville, the capital city and home base for VMK, is known more for being an entrepôt to the nation’s huge oil reserves than a home for innovative business. The World Bank ranks Congo-Brazzaville as the 183rd worst country to do business in, out of the 185 nations measured. It often takes more than half a year to start a company in Congo-Brazzaville, compared to just 13 days in the States.
But this is where Mankou chooses to do business.
“Congo has the same problems as all sub-Saharan African countries: it’s difficult to get funding, so it’s difficult to create big projects,” he told local technology blog TechCentral.
After spending nearly two years fundraising, Mankou finally had enough to start making African-deisgned tablets and later smartphones for his countrymen.
Some of the first images of Elikia show an engraved “Designed in the Republic of Congo, assembled in China,” intentionally mirroring Apple’s “Designed by Apple in California.” Much of the marketing behind the Elikia and the Way-C seems like an attempt to ape the products’ Apple counterparts.
Like Apple, VMK has had to answer for manufacturing its products in China, a country with a higher per-capita GDP than the Congo.
Earlier this year Mankou told the AFP that VMK wanted to keep as much of the phone African as possible, but decided to manufacture it in China “for the simple reason that Congo has no factories and for price reasons.”
Yet some question the wisdom of manufacturing high-priced items overseas and marketing them to what remains a wealthy elite in Congo.
Mankou plans to sell his products outside of Congo in the near future, and has already moved into 10 other West African countries and even Belgium, France and India.
Conflict Minerals in Your Mobile—Why Congo’s War Matters. By Sri Jegarajah
Global financial markets don’t pay much attention to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They should. The central African country produces major quantities of tin and tungsten, about half of the world’s cobalt output and about three percent of the world’s copper and gold, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Consumer electronics makers would also be well-advised to watch developments in the war-torn nation, which is a key supplier of columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short—a mineral ore used to manufacture capacitors found in cellphones, tablet computers, laptops and practically every mobile device on the market today.
Like Sierra Leone with its notorious ‘blood diamonds’, DRC Congo has been blighted by the stigma of ‘conflict minerals’ ’ where the proceeds from resources extracted from mines controlled by government or rebel forces are used to fund war. ‘Conflict-free’ certification programs and legislation have sought to reduce market share of resources mined in war zones but convoluted supply-chain networks have allowed buyers to exploit loopholes in the system.
Legislators in the U.S. have sought to close those loopholes.
On August 22, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to require companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the DRC or an adjoining country.
Under the rules, companies are required to disclose their use of conflict minerals that include tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten if those minerals are ‘necessary to the functionality or production of a product’ manufactured by those companies, the SEC said.
Bu the industry has been slow to respond, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.
The “vast majority” of U.S. companies are not yet ready for the new rules that go into effect in less than two years, IHS isuppli pointed out in an exhaustive study released on October 25. “The industry appears to be unprepared, given that about 90 percent of firms so far have not produced the data, declarations, or documentation that will help fulfill regulatory requirements detailing the presence of such minerals in their supply chains,” the firm said.
As of August, the percentage of electronics component manufacturers with available conflict minerals information amounted to only 11.3 percent of the peer group, according to the IHS Parts Management Service, accounting for just 17.1 percent of active electronic components on the market.
IHS estimates that 15 cents’ worth of tantalum was contained in every smartphone shipped when Dodd-Frank was originally signed in 2010. In 2012, this would amount to $93 million worth of tantalum in smartphones alone. The firm has been gathering information on conflict minerals for more than two years from a database on more than 300 million electronic, electromechanical and fastener components used in commercial and military applications.
$24 Trillion Mineral Wealth
A striking endnote from IHS estimates the value of DRC Congo’s mineral wealth at as much as $24 trillion, which stands in stark contrast to almost three-quarters of the population who live below the poverty line — a clear case, some might argue, where a developing country’s resources wealth has morphed into a resources curse.
A question for the immediate term is to what degree the unrest will affect production from major assets run by listed global miners.
Though the most recent bout of unrest in Congo threatens the eastern minerals-rich Kivus region near the Rwandan border, any impact will likely be limited as M23 rebels, reportedly backed by Rwanda, may have achieved their “primary strategic and commercial aims” by capturing Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, said Philippe de Pontet, Africa Director at political risk advisor Eurasia Group, in a report on Nov. 22.
“This limits the immediate commercial impact to the Kivus region, the world’s largest source of coltan – also known as tantalite, a crucial input in many electronic devices,” de Pontet said. The region is also home to Toronto-listed gold miner Banro Corporation’s Twangiza gold mine which entered commercial production on September 1.
“Absent a major escalation, or a plausible but unlikely army mutiny (or assassination) that topples President Kabila, we do not envision direct impacts on copper/cobalt producers concentrated in (southern province of) Katanga,” de Pontet added.
However, AngloGold Ashanti’s Mongbwalu gold asset is a “bit more exposed should conditions worsen,” the risk consultancy said. “The threat of escalation beyond North Kivu, while not our base case, cannot be discounted.”
AngloGold has held the Mongbwalu concession — with proven reserves of 2.5 million ounces — since 1998 and has had a presence there since 2004, but insecurity has hampered work, meaning that construction is only now getting under way, Reuters reported in April.
The world’s third-biggest mining firm partnered with Congo’s government to build the industrial gold mine in a vast zone deep in the hills of Ituri, a district in the central African state still recovering from a bloody ethnic conflict that ended in 2003, Reuters said.
The bloody conflict you didn’t read about this week is in Congo, and it threatens to redraw the map of Africa.
PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images
KIGALI, Rwanda — One of Congo’s biggest eastern cities fell to a powerful rebel force on Tuesday, Nov. 20, in a war that may redefine the region but has produced little political action by the United Nations, the United States, and international powers that heavily support neighboring governments — notably Rwanda, a Western darling and aid recipient — that are backing the violence, according to U.N. experts. The fighting has displaced nearly 1 million people since the summer, and the battle for the city of Goma marks the latest episode of a long struggle by Rwandan-backed rebels to take control of a piece of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a struggle the rebels are now decisively winning. The fighting has also highlighted the ineptitude of the United Nations mission, one of the world’s largest and most expensive, charged with keeping Congo’s peace.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Saturday “to request that he use his influence on the M23 [rebels] to help calm the situation and restrain M23 from continuing their attack,” as the U.N.’s peacekeeping chief put it. And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius affirmed that the rebellion in Congo was supported by Rwanda, expressing “grave concern.” But the violence has only escalated since. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session over the weekend, but its condemnation of the violence, demanding that the rebels stop advancing on Goma and insisting that outside powers stop funding the M23 rebels, have all simply been ignored. The Security Council announced it would sanction M23 but did not even mention Rwanda, the main power behind the rebellion. And even as the fighting has intensified, the U.N. mission in Congo has been making public pronouncements about new access to drinking water for people in eastern Congo — producing a surreal image of the war.
The well-equipped and professional M23 fighters, perhaps better armed and organized than any rebel unit in Congo in the past decade, put on a remarkable show of force over the weekend to move within a few kilometers of the provincial capital, Goma. The rebels not only withstood heavy shelling by U.N. helicopter gunships, but simultaneously gained ground and forced back the Congolese national army on two other fronts, according to reports. The Congolese army and U.N. peacekeeping forces subsequently stayed out of the rebels’ way, allowing M23 to capture large parts of Goma with virtually no resistance. In the end, some 3,000 Congolese soldiers, backed by hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers with air power, were unable to contain M23 forces numbering in the few hundreds.
This unprecedented military capability of the M23 rebels in a country of ragtag militias has led to many credible claims — backed by findings from U.N. experts — that Rwanda is providing weapons, soldiers, and military guidance to the rebels, with orders coming directly from Rwanda’s defense minister, Gen. James Kabarebe. Human Rights Watch says it has extensively documented Rwandan troops crossing into Congo to support the M23 rebels. Uganda, too, is accused of providing M23 with a political base, though on a request from the Congolese government it recently closed a key border-crossing point that had been helping to finance the rebels. Both Rwanda and Uganda are relatively ordered countries — in stark contrast to Congo — with well-entrenched authoritarian governments that receive significant military and financial aid from the United States and the West.
Such powerful backing means the rebels can deliver on their far-reaching threats. As Goma fell, M23 spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama told me that rebels intended to “capture a good part of eastern Congo,” including its other major city in the east, Bukavu. The rebels have demanded that Congo’s government negotiate with them — without specifying precisely what they want. But Congo has said it will only speak with Rwanda, “the real aggressor,” and not to a “fictitious” group that is serving as a cover. For now, the M23 rebels are regrouping in Goma. And there may well be a calm interlude in the war, as parties attempt to negotiate. But given the rebels’ history, at the back of their minds is likely an old dream — of a place of their own in eastern Congo — that has become distinctly more real with Goma’s capture.
TALKS | TEDX
Bandi Mbubi: Demand a fair trade cell phone
Your mobile phone, computer and game console have a bloody past — tied to tantalum mining, which funds the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Drawing on his personal story, activist and refugee Bandi Mbubi gives a stirring call to action. (Filmed at TEDxExeter.)
Bandi Mbubi grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, experiencing first hand the political unrest and oppression which have since worsened there. As a student activist, Bandi suffered persecution and fled the country, seeking political asylum in the U.K. But Mbubi has kept his home country on his radar, noting how the mining of tantalum — a mineral used in cell phones and computers — has fueled the ongoing war there in which 5 million have died.
While Mbubi sees the cell phone as an instrument of oppression for this reason, he knows that phones can also bring great freedom. And so he has formed CongoCalling.org, a campaign to inspire both the public and companies that make electronics to pay attention to how tantalum used in consumer electronics is mined and traded.
Mbubi is also the Director of the Manna Society, a center for the homeless in South London, and a Trustee of Church Action on Poverty.
If your company is anything like mine, you probably have been in this situation (or something like it):
ME: Well, I just reset my active-directory login, but doing so caused my computer’s keychain of passwords to stop working, since it has a different password than what is now the new active-directory login.
TECH: Oh, that’s pretty easy to fix. Do I have permission to take over your computer for a minute?
At which point, my screen flashes, I click on “agree” when asked if I will share my computer, and the cursor begins to be controlled by a tech somewhere in North Carolina while I sit in Manhattan. I watch as she opens windows, scrolls through menus and types information into various fields and forms.
And everything is again right with my computer.
Let’s compare that with another tech-support phone call that many of us encounter:
MY MOTHER: Hi honey, it’s me. Something’s wrong with the computer.
ME: Oh? What’s the problem?
MOM: I used to have Safari in my dock of applications, and now it’s gone.
ME: O.K. Start by going to the Go menu and open your Applications window.
MOM: I don’t understand anything you just said.
ME: O.K. Um, do you see “Go” at the top of your screen?
MOM: I’m looking … Finder, File, Edit, View, Go!
ME: O.K., click on that.
MOM: I’ve clicked on it. What do I do next?
ME: Click on “Applications.”
MOM: Got it.
ME: Scroll down until you see Safari.
MOM: O.K. Scrolling…
I’ll spare you the rest. Suffice it to say, as a technology advice columnist, I get a lot of questions like this — and not just from my mother. You have the same problem, right?
I’ve found that it’s easier to take control of someone’s computer and fix problems myself than try to talk somebody through an elaborate solution. Not to mention that the person seeking help gets the added benefit of being able to see what I did on the computer. Having seen my handiwork, they may be able to repeat the same fix later, without needing to call me for help. (I can dream, can’t I?)
Fortunately, it is possible to do this remotely for the computers of loved ones and friends, in much the same way that your corporate I.T. department can. Generally categorized under the term “remote access,” these services let you view and control another person’s computer (or your own machine) from any computer with an Internet connection.
Before you worry that these services expose you to hackers, scammers and outright thieves, know that in order for any remote-access service to work, you have to take specific steps to enable a computer, and that access is controlled through a system of passwords. Using remote access is as much a security risk as logging in to your bank’s Web site, giving your credit card number to a phone operator at a catalog retailer, or walking outside with your wallet in your pocket.
If you use popular communications software like Skype or iChat, you already have some remote capabilities. Those applications have screen-sharing features, which allow you and another user to agree to see what is on your or their display.
That’s helpful, but it still requires a detailed phone conversation in which you direct your friend/family member/colleague around their desktop and hard drive as they retain control over the computer (“Just click once and wait for the label to be highlighted. No, you just clicked twice and opened the folder, go back…”)
What you really want is the ability to look at another person’s display and take control of their computer (is there a way to say this that doesn’t sound sinister?). There are several services that provide this feature, but the one I prefer is LogMeIn.
LogMeIn offers a range of products, but my favorite is LogMeIn Free. That’s because it’s free.
LogMeIn Free is designed and marketed as a way to set up your own computer for remote access, but it can easily be used to set up someone else’s instead. First you set up an account at logmein.com. Then you download a small piece of software onto the computer you wish to control and use that application to link that computer to your logmein.com account. You can add as many computers to your account as you wish.
Once you’ve linked a computer to your account, you’re able to view and control it from any Web browser after logging into your account and entering the password you assigned to it. This is another reason I prefer LogMeIn to some other services. It doesn’t require you to have any special software on your end — just a computer and an Internet connection. Or you can use an Apple smartphone or tablet and a free app; Android support is coming soon, the company says.
When you take over another computer, it will appear in a window on logmein.com. You have the option to view that window in full screen, effectively turning your keyboard and mouse or trackpad into the other computer’s. That’s not to say that, for example, my mother is locked out of using her machine when I access it; her computer will accept inputs from her or me, so we can switch off if need be. If we both try to do different things at the same time, the computer gets a little confused and the cursor doesn’t really move, so you have to work in turns.
LogMeIn Free allows the host computer to control some of the parameters of remote access. You can set it so whoever is requesting access has to get your consent before they can control your computer, or you can grant them automatic access. When your computer is being controlled remotely, LogMeIn will display a small window on your screen letting you know it’s been entered. A user can also turn LogMeIn off at any time, making remote access impossible. You also have the power to cancel a remote session if you’d like.
There is a little bit of lag time when you’re controlling someone else’s computer. Don’t expect the cursor to move perfectly smoothly, as it will jump and stutter a little bit. LogMeIn is great to change a setting or find a misplaced file, but the connection it uses isn’t very robust, so accessing Mom’s computer to, say, watch a video she has stored on it is not going to be a satisfying viewing experience.
There are some other limitations to LogMeIn Free. You can’t drag a file from your desktop and drop it into Mom’s; for that, you’d have to upgrade to LogMeIn Pro, which costs $70 annually. Copying and pasting text between machines is not always available, either.
But those are small quibbles, to be honest. What LogMeIn has done for me and my family is better than any therapist. Frustrating phone calls are a thing of the past. Inconvenient house calls are also in the rearview mirror. Now, when there’s a problem, I can quickly and easily get online, assess the situation and do my best to remedy it. Familial tranquillity has been restored.
Well, at least when it comes to the computer.
The world is becoming increasingly open, and that has implications both bright and dangerous. Marc Goodman paints a portrait of a grave future, in which technology’s rapid development could allow crime to take a turn for the worse.
Marc Goodman works to prevent future crimes and acts of terrorism, even those security threats not yet invented. Full bio »
Using tablets and customized keyboards, bonobos can become great communicators
[Top: Two-year-old Teco, shown with the author [left] and researcher Susannah Maisel, uses a simplified 25-lexigram app. His first lexigram was grape; Left: Kanzi, a 31-year-old bonobo, can converse with humans by selecting “lexigram” symbols on his Motorola Xoom tablet; Right: When Kanzi presses a lexigram on the touch screen, the computer speaks the word and shows a corresponding picture.]
Have you ever watched a toddler play with an iPhone?
Most likely, the child was completely captivated and surprisingly adept at manipulating the tiny icons. Two-year-old Teco is no different. Sitting with his Motorola Xoom tablet, he’s rapt, his dark eyes fixed on the images, fingers pecking away at the touch screen. He can’t speak, but with the aid of the tablet app I created for him, he’s building a vocabulary that will likely total several thousand words. What’s more, he’ll be able to string those words together into simple sentences and ask questions, tell jokes, and carry on conversations.
Such talents wouldn’t seem exceptional in a human child, but Teco is an ape — a bonobo, to be precise. To the uninitiated, bonobos look very much like chimpanzees, but they are in fact a separate species with distinct physical and behavioral traits. More collaborative and sociable than their chimp cousins, bonobos also seem to be more adept at learning human language. And they are endangered, found in the wild only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recent estimates put the wild bonobo population at between 10 000 and 50 000. Fewer than 150 live in captivity. Along with the chimpanzee, they are our species’ closest relatives.
For more than three decades, researchers have been working with a small group of bonobos, including Teco, to explore their amazing cognitive and linguistic abilities. Teco’s father, Kanzi, is the group’s most famous member: Anderson Cooper has interviewed him, and he’s played piano with Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel. Animal lovers worldwide have marveled at his ability to communicate by pointing to abstract symbols. He recognizes nearly 500 of these “lexigrams,” which he uses to make requests, answer questions, and compose short sentences. The spoken words he understands number in the thousands.
Even so, many people question these abilities. Indeed, for more than a century scientists have debated whether apes could ever truly comprehend human language. Many researchers argue that language is the exclusive domain of humans, and several influential studies in the 1980s concluded that supposedly “talking” apes were merely demonstrating their capacity for imitation, with lots of unintentional cuing by the animals’ handlers. Linguist Noam Chomsky has likewise argued that the human brain contains a species-specific “language acquisition device,” which allows humans, and only humans, to acquire language.
But the bonobo research I’ve been involved with, led by primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary, in Des Moines, strongly suggests otherwise. Today, the wide availability of touch screens, tablet computers, digital recording, and wireless networking is giving researchers the world over powerful new ways to study and unambiguously document ape communication. The results of these studies are in turn helping to spark a renaissance of technology-aided research into primate development and cognition and shedding light on the origins of culture, language, tools, and intelligence.
The Man With The Iron Fists is an over-the-top kung fu flick starring Lucy Liu. What more needs to be said?
Fine — here’s the plot, as if it matters: In feudal China, a blacksmith who makes weapons for a small village is put in the position where he must defend himself and his fellow villagers.
Produced by Quentin Tarantino, RZA’s directorial debut also stars Russell Crowe. Out October 26.
(Not Safe For Work — red band.)
Bray’s recommendation is that when access to a website is denied for legal reasons, the user is given the status code 451:
We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech. On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently; for example, most civilized people find Britain’s system of superinjunctions loathsome and terrifying.
While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the Internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death.
The proposal will be considered in July by the Internet Engineering Task Force, the body that makes such decisions.
Colombian downhill mountain biker Marcelo Gutierrez is back, this time taking us on a Red Bull Downhill time trial that descends some 2,000 meters and includes more than 1,000 stone steps.
Dennis Spiegelman, “I Should Live to Be a Hundred”
- Digital Overlord
- Creator of Happiness
- Retail Jedi
- Wizard of Light Bulb Moments
- Dream Alchemist
- Chief Chatter
- Change Magician
- Accounting Ninja
- Chief Biscuit Dunker
- Direct Mail Demi-God
- The patient refused autopsy.
- The patient has no previous history of suicides.
- Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.
- Note: patient here?recovering from forehead cut. Patient became very angry when given an enema by mistake.
- Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
- On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.
- The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
- The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
- Discharge status: Alive but without permission.
- Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert but forgetful.
- Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.
- She is numb from her toes down.
- While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.
- The skin was moist and dry.
- Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
- Patient was alert and unresponsive.
- Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.
- She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.
- I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.
- Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circu sized.
- The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.
- Skin: somewhat pale but present
- Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities