Calling bullshit on "leapfrogging"

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Technology cheerleaders love to talk "leapfrogging," the idea that developing regions that haven't adopted traditional technology (like an electrical grid or banking systems) can jump straight to the newest, "better," thing more quickly. Occasionally, that's true, like in parts of Africa where empowering mobile phones took off long before most people had landlines. Now the big idea is that drones will negate the need for roads, and save lives in the process. The Economist presents a more measured view:

...Such caveats hardly dampen the mood at business conferences in Africa, where you find hundreds of investors gushing about their plans to help the poor with new technology and make big profits while doing it. “Within the next few years you’ll really see leapfrogging taking off,” says Ashish Thakkar, a British-born, Ugandan businessman whose Mara Group, a business-services firm, is setting up tech businesses across the continent. Perhaps, but tech booms based on leapfrogging have been wrongly anticipated in the past. Americans who turn up in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam with millions of dollars hoping to buy startups that have risen as part of the so-called “Silicon Savannah”, an east African cluster, for example, frequently leave empty-handed because there isn’t all that much to buy.

African tech types often think they can quickly copy rich-country products and sell them to the urban middle class. But then they discover that there is no getting around complex tax laws, a dearth of engineers and fragmented markets. The Western investors who back them have even less grasp of just how dysfunctional basic infrastructure can be, notes Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan investor and a political activist.

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Shot in the '70s, North African Villages shows medieval villages unchanged by modernity

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

North African Villages: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia by Norman F. Carver Documan Pr Ltd 1989, 200 pages, 9 x 10.5 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $24 Buy a copy on Amazon

In the 1970s an architectural student drove a VW van around Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and northern Africa, recording the intact medieval villages still operating in their mountain areas. The hill towns at that time in Italy, Spain, Morocco and Tunisia kept a traditional way of building without architects, using indigenous materials, without straight streets, producing towns of uncommon attractiveness. The architect, Norman Carver, later self published a series of photo books documenting these remote villages which had not yet been interrupted with modernity. They looked, for most purposes, like they looked 1,000 years ago. All of Carter’s books are worthwhile, but my favorite is North African Villages. Here you get a portrait of not just the timeless architecture, but also a small glimpse of the lives that yielded that harmony of the built upon the born. It’s an ideal of organic design, that is, design that is accumulated over time. Read the rest

100 African science fiction writers you should be reading

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Canadian/British science fiction and fantasy author Geoff Ryman, author of the incredible novel WAS, has begun a series in which he profiles 100 working science fiction and fantasy writers in Africa, place by place, starting with Nairobi. Read the rest

Children and babies are dying in Nigerian military detention, where they're buried in mass graves

Photo: Nigerian Army solders. Amnesty.org.

Amnesty International says at least 149 detainees have died "in horrendous conditions" at a military detention site in northeastern Nigeria this year. Among them were 11 children under the age of 6 years old, and four babies who are said to have died of untreated measles.

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Children in Uganda watch a hobbyist's drone fly for the first time, and totally flip out

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The way these schoolchildren in rural Uganda react to a hobbyist's drone flight demo is so delightful. Honestly, my reaction when I first saw a friend navigate his UAV into the air was about the same.

Mark Brandon Smith shot this wonderful video, and tells the tale behind it.

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Ten of 2015's most notable African science fiction and fantasy stories

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Wole Talabi, a Nigerian sf writer who lives in Malaysia, has rounded up his ten favorite African science fiction and fantasy stories of 2015. Like Africa, the stories are wildly varied, each as different from the other as they are from the sf you're likely to read coming out of Europe and North America. Read the rest

Carnage returns to Nigeria as Boko Haram terrorist attack kills 30, wounds 80 or more

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An overnight blast blamed on the Islamic extremist terror organization Boko Haram killed 32 people and wounded 80 Tuesday at a truck stop in northeastern Nigeria.

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China plans to ban ivory trade “within a year or so.” US official: Yes it's a “huge” deal.

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During his visit to Washington last month, China's President Xi Jinping vowed to stop the commercial trade in ivory in his nation, but didn't say much about when or how.

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In Uganda, a white German aid worker becomes an unlikely local pop star

Photo: Spiegel
Student Deena Herr, 22, has recently become a very unlikely superstar in the East African nation of Uganda.

Meet Homo naledi, the distant ancestor you never knew

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In South Africa, scientists have unearthed a humanoid species from what appears to be a burial chamber hidden deep inside a system of caves. They discovered 15 partial skeletons, with evidence leading researchers to believe the hominids had enough intelligence to conduct rituals. This is the single largest discovery of its kind ever in Africa, and scientists claim it will change our ideas about our human ancestors. More on the findings in the journal Elife.

BBC News:

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong. The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived - but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

The team of scientists who discovered the Homo naledi remains pose for a picture

Here's the abstract:

Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology.

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Lion-killing dentist vs. Donald Trump's sons: spot the difference

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The GOP front-runner said, "My sons love to hunt. [...] Eric is a hunter and I would say he puts it on a par with golf, if not ahead of golf. My other son, Don, is a hunter. They're great marksman, great shots, they love it." Read the rest

Minnesota kids get creative to protest lion-killing dentist

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Kids in the Twin Cities asked their families what they could do to express their feelings about local lion-killing dentist Walter Palmer. Star-Tribune's Glen Stubbe got some great shots during protests at Palmer's office. Read the rest

US dentist blamed for killing beloved lion in Zimbabwe

Cecil the lion and his alleged killer, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer.
Palmer is said to have paid $50,000 for the privilege of killing the big cat with a bow and arrow.

Cameras embedded in rhino horns to fight poaching

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Researchers developed an anti-poaching system for Rhinos that integrates a camera embedded in the rhino's horn with a GPS and heart rate monitors that switch on the camera and guide authorities to the animal's location. Read the rest

Journalists arrested in Zambia for publishing allegedly classified documents

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A spokesman for police told reporters that both journalists were denying that the letter was classified.

Map shows where world's oldest and youngest populations live

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The world’s 15 youngest countries are all in Africa.

Europe, China, India & US comfortably fit into Africa's landmass

The most common way of representing Africa on maps and globes dramatically understates the size of the continent. Read the rest

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