How Big Data is changing Africa

Posted on August 18, 2014 12:05 am

It’s no secret that Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world. But it’s not just the beaches, mountains and forests that make it shine, it’s the impact it has on tackling extreme poverty that affects more than half of its 1 billion population.Having been to more than a dozen countries in East, Central and Southern Africa, I have generated enormous amount of data through my trips especially photography and videos, shopping etc. Probably not a lot compared to other regular travelers, but when I actually consider facts, we’re creating more data as individuals than ever before and sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it. By reading articles online, you’re creating data in doing so and even you make a call, send messages on Whatsapp, Viber or even SMS. Whenever you search for something on Amazon or eBay online or when I pay a visit to the local shop, I am generating data. Believe it or not, even when am couching watching television or going to the gym still am creating data. The unprecedented volume of data we’ve been creating has been labelled “Big Data”, by experts who are raking billions from our own generated data and Africa has not been left behind.

Data is for geeks and businesses and to be precise the Big Data is moving society to places it’s never been before and Africa is where this article want to focus. Through increased data analysis Africa is about to embark upon a new era of capabilities, which will revolutionize each and every aspect of people living in Africa, and in some cases already is with notable countries being South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Mauritius. Whether Africans don’t care about all this data now, they will definitely care about it very soon.  Take healthcare, for instance the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and other parts of west Africa, the Big Data is reshaping medical practices to deliver more accurate and effective treatments hoping to bring to control the deadly virus that has taken more than 1,300 lives as of 16th August 2014, which has rapidly developed at lower risks and costs by health experts. Previously, medical experiments on Ebola were lengthy and costly processes. Today however, medical professionals for example are able to rapidly conduct an increasing range of experiments using the volumes of current and historic data available to deliver improved results.

When the US-Africa summit was held a fortnight ago, African countries were left with hard choices between America and China  but one key outcome was the announcement by United States of America backed Power Africa initiative that has more than $26 billion targeted at Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Liberia. Power Africa has an ambitious goal of adding more than 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient energy generation capacity in sub-Saharan Africa with off-grid, small-scale, and on-grid solutions. That led me in thinking of data analysis will be used in empowering Africa to be more “green.” Big Data will allowing African countries under the Power Africa initiative to improve energy efficiency to ensure the wellbeing of Africa’s environment for future generations. There is no doubt the money will help in installing a range of “smart” technologies, such as sensors, metering systems and home management systems, across the entire power grid from generation to delivery utility companies are gathering unprecedented volumes of data delivering a comprehensive insight into network performance and that will provide value to those American investors who increased the funding from initial $7 billion to $26 billion.  This not only allow African countries better management and use of the precious resources, it will empower utilities to deliver an improved service to customers which will be a win-win situation for all involved.

Across African cities, traffic congestion is worsening and can recall one traffic jam in Tanzania three years ago that lasted four hours and few months back, Kenya media reported of traffic jam that lasted 12 hours in the coastal city of Mombasa! Nairobi is notorious for traffic gridlocks that are common in densely populated African cities like Alexandria, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Lagos, Abuja, Cairo, Big Data can address traffic problems, and encouragingly, it already is. Nairobi, the biggest city in the East and Central Africa is working with IBM to build a “smarter city” based on Big Data solutions. The city will have a new traffic control center allowing metropolitan officials to monitor traffic and control the city’s traffic light system through a dashboard, while software and sensors will be embedded in roads, highways and on buses to track whether there are traffic jams and if the buses are running on time.  In one of the example given when the idea was mooted, is that if there’s an accident causing traffic congestion, traffic lights can be adjusted allowing more time for cars caught up in the jam to pass through. It also means motorists in Kenyan capital as well as passengers can be quickly told of changes to their bus or train timetables and routes. Big Data is already changing the continent once dubbed “the hopeless continent” by London based Economist’s Magazine for the better, and with volumes increasing the transformations are only going to get better, bigger and more innovative. The possibilities in Africa are incredible, the opportunities are immense, and I believe those who are providing open software solutions and hardware infrastructures across the content to that deliver the Big Data insights will make a real difference to the continent with one of the fastest growing economies.  If you thought the mobile changed Africa, then it’s time to get really excited about how Big Data is improving African lives.

Contador Harrison