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A Week of Africa

After a week of business meetings in the cities of sub-saharan africa, we can surely say three things are new for the continent:

a) the despotic leadership in Africa from the 1970s and 1980 is in decline, replaced by younger and more democratic leaders
b) a huge youth demographic boom is underway, with a majority of the population of 25, or even under 20
c) mobile phones are everywhere, and the Internet in Africa will be primarily a mobile one

Many of the older problems are still severe, including a lack of electric power, the general trend of rural to urban migration, and pervasive corruption.  Every country we visited had an internal security problem, or a significant border problem, and the elites are sheltered from this pervasive concern behind guarded walls, hotels and restaurants with gates and security checks, and ubiquitous guards.  I try to imagine what the US would be if we had the types of security problems in Africa.. how would WE deal with such threats?

Connectivity is much more important for security than many analysts think.  Societies who are not connected lack opposing viewpoints and are much more subject to easy radicalization.  The virtue of having more connectivity is that people will have more choices, and more choices lead a better understanding of the value to go to school, the need to treat women equally, the choice to not demonize others, etc.

Nairobi has emerged as a serious tech hub and may become the African leader.  A combination of relatively stable politics, the British legal system, and a benign climate seem to attract a significant share of foreign investment.  Incubators are hosting potential solutions to many problems, including connecting M-Pesa (their mobile money solution on simple phones using SMS) with payment systems for local stores.  If they manage to get through the upcoming March elections without significant conflict, they will grow quickly.

Rwanda is a jewel with a terrible past.  High economic growth and the development of a significant middle class is threatened by the withdrawal of aid due to UN complaints over the Congo.  Rwanda feels like Singapore, an island inside of Africa whose small size allows great focus and a dynamic, stable government.    A visit to the Genocide Museum in Kigali, and a trip to the Volcanic National Park where eight groups of eight can trek to see the gorillas made famous by Diana Fossey, are well worth it.  Gorilla treks are also available through Uganda and the Congo, over the same mountains.

After fifty years of war, South Sudan is the worlds newest country.  In a country where every issue is an urgent one, mobile networks can unify a poor country with isolated villages, significant flooding in the rainy season, and the constant threat of attacks from rebels from the north.  A courageous group, the Satellite Sentinel project. uses satellite data and other sources to document ethnic cleansing in remote areas of Sudan (the northern Sudan) and serve as a record of the terrible ongoing violence against innocents.

Chad is a poor petro-state, with a long history of conflict and one pipeline and one fiber link.  Africa has submarine fiber cables on the west and eastern side.  Landlocked countries are at the mercy of their neighbors, and all have learned that competition with multiple fiber connections from differing borders dramatically reduces costs.  Chad like some others, has determined that future spectrum should not be auctioned as that only increases the eventual mobile costs and are simply allocating it to a set of competitive carriers.  Less than 1% of Chad has electricity.

Nigeria, known as a land of oil corruption and the ubiquitous 419 email scams, is the biggest surprise to a first time visitor.  Nigerians are entrepreneurial, stylish, educated, and have the belief that their country can emerge as the next Brazil.  With 170 million citizens, and a record breaking eleven years of civilian elected government, the compound growth and the shared memory of real internal conflict almost guarantees their short term success.  Future growth of Nigeria should help with its international image problem, as the real story of its success gets out.

The emergent model of the African internet is a set of competitive fiber suppliers to the capital, a set of fiber rings owned by local telco's, and 3G and 4G networks.  Some of the countries are late with licensing plans for 3G and 4G, a costly delay for countries that have very little residential broadband.  Solar charging can help with the power needs of handsets, but the electricity needs to be more reliable or costly backup systems will be built at each tower.  Many of these countries have telecommunications as a major contributor to their GPD (Cote d'Ivory is about 12%) and even Somalia, which we did not visit this time, has a profitable competitive telecommunications industry.. the most profitable legal industry in that country.  Some countries are reluctant to turn on the data portion of their telecommunications industry, another costly delay to their future digital commerce, education and entertainment industries.

Many Africans will be last, unfortunately, to be connected to the rest of us.  For them, the best short term outcome will be feature phones (inexpensive voice and SMS phones) and a private network of microSD cards that can be traded behind oppressive authorities to get information in and out of trapped, occupied and remote locations.  Information is power, and more information means more choices.  Documenting abuses, getting pressure from outside to fix real problems, and solving illiteracy are just a few functions of even the most limited of feature phones.

The demographic dividend in Africa of young people is their greatest hope, in my opinion.  Today high rates of unemployment show an economy underperforming to its true potential.  This new generation expects more, and will use mobile computing to get it.  Optimism is appropriate for Africa, as the people we met will do much more with less than we can imagine, and the devices and systems built in the first world will be used in the most creative ways in the emerging new world of Africa.  
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"Trading microSD cards", such a foreign and crazy idea, but makes complete sense. Thank you for the write up, some very interesting tech-related insights; not the usual reading (in my life, at least) about Africa.
Nice article and great optimism for Africans! Thanks.
Clearly not using nexus devices if they are trading microsd cards! 
I'm curious, as a "connected" citizen in South Africa, of your opinion as an outsider of our country.
Mark L
Very intrigued as to why you didn't pay a visit to Ghana whilst you were in the region - generally regarded as one of fastest growing and most stable and democratic West African nations, for many of the same reasons you cite for Kenya; the country is achieving GDP growth rate of 10-14% a year (best in Africa) and has an embryonic (but growing) tech sector.

Regarding your emerging model of African internet - my experience in Ghana would suggest that at the moment there is only money / interest in laying fiber to expat / commercial neighborhoods. We have heard anecdotes of four companies separately digging up the same road in a year to lay fiber, whilst other roads remain untouched.

For the country's economy to grow further, a more inclusive approach to connectivity is needed. Whilst 3G / 4G networks could offer the solution, step outside of the Airport City / Commercial districts of Accra, and you'll find yourself on 2.5G very, very quickly. 
Pleased to know:) thank you for the info
Thanks +Eric Schmidt for representing #Nigeria as you saw it and showing the contrast with what is perceived.
By the way, did your daughter go with you? I enjoyed her witty expose' on North Korea. I'd love to hear her take :-)
Fascinating. Loved the insight on Nigeria especially.
Well your not old enough for thevrace riots if the 60s? Like balimorevand others...
Correction to eric so ars you old enough to remember the race riots of the 60s? Or know some of africas leaders like in uganda under ide amin the arch bishop? Or the same story over and over? So currious question what country do you call not only home but citizen of?
And since your supose to be fro califoria. Tell us did you growmup with say ignorts a tribe in the p
I. Or of any tribe.? Heard this all before and still the killing does continue. Or the elite....
+Steven Wright sounds like the Western "sneakernet" concept to me. Not foreign, just less necessary here.
Very well written and the insight is much appreciated. Thank you. 
Would be great if world community unite to stamp our endemic corruption in Africa. It is a cancer that is debilitating Africa's economic development.
As we have in a few cases e. g France, seizing assets and enforcing money laundering of public funds, should be more robust & concerted.
The number of failed states on the continent may rise, encouraging the likes of Al Qaeda to fill the void created by democracies struggling to find roots.
Don't put down the african use of "feature phones".  They now supply client side services for banking (send money to family/friends), medical supply (buy medicine for family in rural areas), medical services (health monitoring and advice for pregnancy), etc. etc.  Even though the phones are limited to call and SMS, the services just have to be adapted to the hardware.  Like SneakerNet using SD-cards now.
Interesting story. We should have more reports like that. They provide a nice background picture to the daily news flashes. The use of micro SD cards is interesting. Looking at solutions adopted in Africa can also be beneficial to us in the West, serving as a source of ideas that could trigger new applications or uses in the West based on what is going on there. 
Sy Nick
Please get in touch as I have something you will be very interested in.
Kind regards
This is a very interesting write up. Especially since I have 50,000 used feature phones to sell every month. I focus on Latin America but now will spend some time looking into Africa as well.
Thanks for the insight. 
Thanks for the info. Hope investors are reading.
Sounds like things are progressing.  I am saddened to see many American "televangelists" and religious frauds taking advantage of the African people's hunger for the truth about God.
Thanks for sharing, +Eric Schmidt 
Good point about feature phones, +Henrik Laursen . Until the bandwidth concerns are gone, feature phones provide the right mix of price efficiency, connectivity and applications (particularly in healthcare and money transfers). It would make sense to supply the African markets with feature phones that have 2 microSD slots, so that information (e.g. books, etc) could be readily copied over, backed up, etc. and hand-cranking/solar charging stations.
I forget the name, but at least one US startup already runs software (health, etc tools) off a thin SIM-like card that gets sandwiched between a standard SIM card and the phone's SIM slot connectors.
+Kevin Corrigan  , the Latin American market will evolve into smartphones way before India and Africa. So, there will be plenty of used handsets around.
Passion n determination has made Nairobi a world techie hub. Nairobi is changing the world. Remember we spent no money on Landlines. Technology growth will truly raise the status of the sub-Saharan. Thanks +eric schmidt.
+Eric Schmidt - Thanks for the article...the need for Africa is quality education & use of renewable alternative energy sources...of course all of this van only happen if there is a concentrated effort
..Africa needs something like European Union (EU) ...where problems and more importantly solutions can be found in the same group...of course coupled with good governance.
Starvation exists on a large scale. Little children starving and dying while the rest of us ignore their needs. The cost to provide food to all they are lacking is than the cost to advertise the iPhone. The need to provide, food, clothing and shelter have been replaced by the need to have the got next phone. 
Your report has opened a whole new view for me. Thank you
I feel Africans will face the embrace of technology without evolving. They are gonna feel the thrust of delivery. This is the same analogy of stem cells. Evolving is a must.
+Renee La Chaux starvation is not solved with money or by sending food. Those countries do not lack the capital needed to feed everybody, they lack the willpower. Corruption is the reason why there's starvation, and why sending money to aid organisations is almost pointless. They need to change the political system if they are to survive and thrive.
After spending the last 7 years in Africa working on Internet infrastructure issues, I can say this analysis is spot on!
even old democracies like Spain, Greece and Portugal seem to have fared better under kings and emperors. changing political systems may not be the answer.
Thank you Eric, for this objective summery.  As you said, information is so important for understanding and we, need more good information like this.  Again, Thank You!
Good article, but Rwanda's appearance of wealth is probably a product of the huge amount of aid it's received in recent years.
+Flavio Zanda This is true, most of the money these countries receive is taken by corrupt government officials, who keep the vast majority of the money from themselves and their families. If you look into the amount of exclusive properties and offshore bank accounts these officials own around the world its sickening. Their wealth is vastly disproportionate to their actual salary's.
Well done, Eric.  More industry leaders might consider sharing their personal insights/impressions of places they visit.  I like that you balance the geopolitical with personal impressions of "the people".   
+Laja Fowokan
the reason for the corruption is that the people who are supposed to run the system are corrupt so any new ideas or efforts to curb corruption will be run by the same people or similar thinking people unless they get some foreigners to implement the new harsher measures. It would be quite a disaster if corrupt officials are given more authority.
+Renee La Chaux
it hasn't replaced the need for food. it helps in providing the food by fighting corruption, one of the biggest causes of poverty. If people spend money within an economy they help create jobs and provide food. it's the hoarding of black money and other wrong practices that creates the poverty not technology.
Thanks for visiting +Eric Schmidt I'm sure it was mind-recalibrating as much as a visit to the west will be for most Africans.
Bring on the Nexus-es! As you can see, we've got the market!
Still wondering why Ghana was shunned. The real progress in Africa is here
Exactly right. These people that run these countries employ family members
throughout the government, so they control the legal systems and all the
departments that deal with decision making. Meaning any investigation is
pointless unless carried out by governing bodies from neutral countries
with no vested interest in that particular country . For example, Norway.
There was a programme ," dispatches" I think, that exposed some of these
countries that had received 100's of millions in aid and only about 2%-7%
was said to have actually reached the people it was intended for. Why on
earth don't they get people, like I said before, to oversee the
distribution of this money.
+Flavio Zanda
I like ur reply but changing the political system isn't the answer. Spain and Portugal seem to have been far better under kings and queens. It's raising the honesty levels which helps a system run efficiently. The system doesn't raise the honesty levels.
No matter how much of an education a person receives it doesn't help change his religious beliefs (like the caste system in India which is practiced by even the educated elite). In fact those who flew the planes into the world trade centre may have been quite educated. Very often (in fact almost always) it's the religious beliefs of a place that govern how people frame their laws and abide by them. I don't believe the barbaric western world were civilised (to some degree) by mobile phones or education (who were their teachers?).
+Nathan D'Souza You have a point. I suppose, however, that by "education", you mean what's taught (overtly, as part of the curriculum) in schools, because manners and values are part of education, though they're mainly taught at home.
Thank you for the detailed write up! Very fascinating to see how technology is transforming the lives of people and nations outside of our first-world bubble. The mobile web is going to change everything :-) 
Good to hear positive feedback from the region. Not all of Africa is going the Somalia, Mali route.
Thank you very much for all these precious info's about Africa's connectivity preview. I really hope best future for Africa and peace for all countries. 
i live in kenya and would like to give a picture of how legislation propagates more corruption i will give an example in matatu industry. The gvt has a plan of phasing out 14seaters for 26 ones so 14seater hv not been coming in, but then investors are not buying 26 seaters, so we are left with 14 seaters that are old and costly to maintain, dont fool yourself tht pple in administration cant figure tht out. Its an elaborate scheme for sme dons in the administration to mint more money from traffic police roadblocks coz older the car is the more foulty it is and thus more bribes. Recently they passed harsher penalties for traffic rules offences but they only serve as incetive for the drivers to pay heftier bribes. The sysm in kenya is skewd more thn pple care to thnk. Pple at the bottom of the pyramid like me wrk their ass off to sustain these fat cats. 
You spent a week here? I have been here 38 years and one thing I know the governments here fear the educated masses. It a mushroom leadership here keep in the dark and feed them bs.
Good looking E! I appreciate the detailed description. The Motherland is on the come up! 
Lagos is not Nigeria Eric... You met with the Lagos governor but you should have been to CC Hub in Lagoa +Eric Schmidt ... That's where our future techies are...and not the governor's office
i'm thinking about the offer of going to Lagos for work, but sincerily undecided; any foreinet willing to share its experience?
Thanks, +Eric Schmidt for doing and writing about ALL the things you explore.   It is both refreshing and hopeful to see you continually investing your time in learning/sharing our exciting world.
Slightly biased insight but I guess it's ok for an American
+Luca Piccardi working in Lagos is awesome. You will have a blast... its devoid of Nigeria's challenges... it does have traffic... :D. You will enjoy it... I can guarantee that. We are hospitable
We hv been asking pple like u when wil they come out.weldone brother
I pray to God that we have peaceful election n we will be very far.pray for our country Kenya.
Thanks! Would have loved to know your take on Uganda.
All they need now is a United Africa and thier own central banking system for the African people so they can distribute thier own price for resources on thier own sovereignty while kicking out oppressive obstructionist who pay little and has crutched the motherland like the poles,europe,America,china,isreal,and the middle east 
Africa could one day be free of the queens personal Pharisees in a land that's suffering from usury from many nations
I know 100% truth that in the system of usruy for cheap labor and rare resources you must control the drugs,guns,prostitution,bio warfare,psychological warfare for political power and also if you can control the debts you can control the nation and its people through debt slavery
If Africa was rejuvenated in unification it would be very powerful and have an army of its self not allies who use them for solving thier problems with the middle east
I pray for the day Africa can choose its allies/enemies it is progressing but yet the feudalism is being funded by constant intreast
Remember kings and queens are the reason we where all being screwed over long ago this class of thinking should be obsoleted
+Darius Neal I respect your passion for African wellfare, but a united Africa is a fairytale. African mentallity is simple ...use the masses to get you in to power, and then use the military to keep them quiet. The ANC government in South Africs is destroying the legacy of Nelson Mandela. They are out of touch with the people on the ground.If in a democrassy like South Africa is crumbling, how in your life can a united Africa benifit the people. The biggest winner will be China, they are allready sistimatically colonizing Africa.
Ruan thank you china has been struggling for food and due to pollution but It's very amazing how china realized you don't need war and rape to make economic growth just control the debt and be the landlord by cheap labor
I just pray it won't be another Katanga event due to Asians from china and Japan have a apathetic view of Africans especially if they have sex with the women then want the baby killed for It's not favorable in thier societies
Is it possible to visit all those places in only one week? And also do primates tracking and visit museums? Awesome Mr. Schmidt! 
I'm glad you've realized the truth about Nigeria. The funny thing is that we Nigerians traverse the world doing our thing, and being entrepreneurial, making moves, making things happen and doing well (you should read the piece I did on Africans in New York who are really influential in business: many are Nigerian) and the rest of the world meanwhile just talks about 419. It's both sad and hilarious! We're a very entrepreneurial, focussed, and education-obsessed people. 
+Renee La Chaux Current needs are important but over the long haul the largest benefit comes from overall economic growth.  The United States had a lot of poverty in its early years but a steady growth 2% per year has had the cumulative effect of making it the wealthiest country in human history.  The benefits to be gained by the growth opportunities Eric Schmidt highlighted are important. 
Thanks +Eric Schmidt for saying the truth about Africa and especially Nigeria as it is...i am sick of always hearing foriegn news channels potray us as fraudulent...glad u saw that we are very educated and hope more people visit there for themselves before they judge...i am also surprised you noticed we are stylish
Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

One point: I don't think rural to urban migration is a "problem", like lack of electricity or corruption are. If agriculture becomes more efficient, as it must, then urbanisation is inevitable. The problem to solve is how to make it fair, etc. Not to stop or slow it.
Micah C
+Kevin Corrigan There is a barely touched market of 90 Million potential consumers ready for their fist feature phones. 12 Million new customers last year alone. Add me if you are interested in prospecting this market.
Micah C
+Renee La Chaux I don't think Africans are interested in your food hand outs. They are patronized enough as it is with Western patriarchy. They only want a fair chance and to be afforded the dignity to feed themselves without food donations from western nations decimating local agriculture, which can't compete with "free."
Hey next time you visit Nigeria make an announcement. There are lots of young techies who will be encouraged by your visit. The Google Fest in Nigeria is evidence to that..#just saying
Dave Ho
If Google is a country, it certainly would be one of the most corrupt if not, the most corrupt one in the world.


1. Biggest tax evasion and tax scam corporation in the world.

These people love their greenback so much until they need to resort into this kind of tax evasion schemes.

They are now pretending to be doing humanitarian mission and revolutionizing the world to gain positive publicity image using this venue.

You gotta be naïve enough to believe their deceptive book cover but deep inside them their behavior are not any different than Lucifer.

2. Most manipulative and corrupt business practices in the world. Period. Refer to my previous comment post.

3. Biggest violator of Intellectual Property Laws, piracy and copyright in the world. Nuff said about this.

DON'T you even go and do humanitarian survey if your internal organization is still so bloody CORRUPT!!!

Get back to Mountain View HQ immediately and lock yourself inside the building, do some internal CSR first before karma is going to get Google destroyed!
hello.  what is the best way to send you google suggestions Eric?
Thanks +Eric Schmidt for sharing and helping make the world more aware of what is taking place in Africa. You're insight on #Nigeria  is spot on! Nigerians are extremely driven, industrious, resourceful, and resilient. Nigeria is ripe for investment and the potentials are limitless. There is no doubt that we will be a success story!
I'm really impressed on your views on Nigeria. I think you are right too. Many people do not know much about the country except 419 email scams. Hopefully this will change pretty soon. 
Very interesting observations. A very different #Africa we are used to reading about. And as a brazilian is kind of fun imagining that any country wants to "emerge as the next Brazil". We and the world have changed...
Bringing connectivity to the youth will open the pipelines to creativity and innovation. Incubators are the place that will create the interaction needed to help develop the next generation of solutions. The solutions, work in progress, can be available globally thru a portal that can encourage contributions by all. Similar projects may be in progress at different incubators and a review of the work in progress at all incubators will bring forth faster solutions. Monitored by Technology and Business professionals this will become the bridge that connects all community concerns and ideas anywhere. Global connectivity and solutions to a lot problems we are not aware of will be resolved. 
I believe the only way Ghana and Africa as a whole can make giant strides in technology is to introduce kids to microcontrollers just as you have done with the UK citizenry. Looking forward to meet you soon. Just give me a call on +233201593481 and lets talk
one thing i know for sure is that Africa is changing, and is changing rapidly, very soon we will be competing with the best
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This is just an awesome overview of Africa by a Westerner. So objective and incisive .
David B
I hear Swaziland is developing quite fast as compared to other African countries.
Excellent information. Thanks
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