Wednesday 14 December 2016

The African Smart City

“Smart people, places, communities, businesses and governments work together to use the modern technologies that are changing our world to make it fairer and more sustainable in the process, giving everyone a better chance of a longer, healthier, happier and more fulfilling life.”
- Rick Robinson

Now Is The Time For Africa To Join The Smart Cities Revolution!

Which of these future scenarios would you prefer?

A) One future where the super rich politicians in the highest levels of government in Nigeria are chauffeured around in luxury cars that drive themselves while a robot nanny babysits their children at home?

Or B) Would you prefer a future where even the poorest people in Mushin (rugged town within Lagos, Nigeria) enjoy the most comfortable air-conditioned public transport buses that run, not on petrol or diesel, but run mostly on the energy gotten from the refuse that is collected day to day in that very town?

I would go for the second scenario. 

But it is not like I have something against robots or self-driving cars. Nor do I have anything against the super-rich merely for being rich (I hate the kleptomaniac politicians in Nigeria though). 

It is because I agree with the Smart Cities ideology that technology should improve the quality of life for all people.

Smart Cities Are About People

Along with renewable energy and storage, the Semantic Web, and the future of farming (powered by data); the concept of building smarter cities has become one of the topics I am most interested in. 

I strongly believe that African political and business leaders should be incentivizing business and entrepreneurship around these and other areas in transformative technology. 

And as usual, in the spirit of Africa Rising, I am here to help stimulate the discussion for smart cities in Nigeria and all around Africa. This indeed falls into the mission of those of us who care about a Digital Africa, since the process of planning and implementing smart city projects would certainly cause a tremendous increase in employment, skill acquisition and prosperity for the African youth. 


But first, we must understand the reality and the prevalence of the problem

Defining The Problem: 


Man can control how he plans a city. But man cannot yet control how people migrate from rural areas into any city they want to migrate to.

When urbanization gets out of control, no matter how well the city was planned, bad things start happening.
Slums develop. Then crime. Costs of housing, transportation, and food go up. Collection and management of refuse (or waste) gets increasingly difficult. A lot of strain is put on clean water resources. It's all pretty bad. 

It would be wonderful if we could build cities with infrastructure that can be functionally "elastic" enough to stretch to fit the challenges of urbanization, wouldn't it?

Defining The Solution: 

Smarter Cities

A Smart City is planned primarily to improve the quality of life of the citizens that dwell (and will dwell) in it. It is judged to be "smart" because it relies on the use of digital technology to bring about such life's qualities.

Each smart city should share this common objective, yet different smart city projects would be planned and implemented differently from one another.
However, most smart city projects commonly focus on 5 main areas:

Transport, Waste Management, Energy, Food and Water Supply.

I should also mention that so far, I haven't come across any smart city project that doesn't assume that a smarter city must be a green city (i.e. powered primarily by renewable energy). I would imagine that climate change skeptics may not be quite as big on that particular pre-requisite of smart cities though.

Smart Cities Should Convert Refuse To Energy

Mitchell Joachim, an architect at Terraform One, considers the most crucial technological piece for a smart city to be a central system for converting waste (or refuse) to energy.

When you really think about this (especially those of us who live in Lagos, Nigeria), that would be a fantastic solution to have at the heart of our cities. We would be killing two really really ugly birds with one stone. 

Anyway, this "spirit" of getting power out of waste, or of bringing good things out of not-so-good things, is what smart cities are ultimately about.

Cheong koon Hean compares a smart city (or town) to a human body. She likens the buildings where activities take place to muscles, the roads to the veins and arteries which move traffic (like blood) from building to building. She also compares trees and parks to the human lungs which help to cleanse the air and give oxygen.  

Mrs Cheong then compares the sensor layer of a data-driven intelligence system to the five senses of the human body, which works with our central nervous system and brain by providing information about what happens in the environment so the human being can learn how to adapt.

Then there is Dr Rick Robinson (The Urban Technologist)

The Social Scientist Not Forgotten

I first got interested in the topic of smart cities through my friend, an architect and a lecturer at the University of Lagos, David Adio-Moses. Yet, it was while reading Dr Robinson's blog that my eyes truly opened to the necessity of the idea.
This article from Robinson's blog could open your eyes as well. 

It is possible, perhaps, that the main reason why I like Dr Robinson's guide to smart cities so much is because of his regard for social scientists (of which I myself am a natural progeny).
Indeed, like the professor and father of artificial intelligence's Deep Learning, Geoffrey Hinton, Robinson favours a world where social scientists take more significant roles in the advancement of our species.   

The fact that the problem of urbanization, slums, crime and the spread of diseases are human problems means it is a social problem. I would say it is certain that no amount of technological magic would truly solve social problems without a strong participation of those who truly understand those problems. The social scientists. 

So in conclusion, we are now no longer indifferent; in that we realize that the problems that come with urbanization are real. We also know that there can be solutions that can help our cities adapt and learn how to tame these problems of urbanization. 

It all requires lots of planning and smart technology to get on top of these problems. And the best way to begin this planning and to learn to use this technology properly is to join the global smart cities conversations. 

I will be writing more about smart cities in the future. I will also be thinking of ways in which the technologies that I am interested in, like the Blockchain and the Semantic Web can help solve some of these problems. 

Thanks for reading. 
Please offer your contributions to this topic below. Also link up with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter.
You already know where to find me on GooglePlus.

I leave you with this video for more on smart cities.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

What Is A Blockchain? Really!

If you have read my article that introduces Nigeria to Bitcoin, then you have a decent foundation for understanding this article.

So I am continuing in that introductory spirit with this piece on the blockchain, which is a crucial part of the Bitcoin universe.
I will try to keep this article short and reduce the jargon.

What Is The Bitcoin Blockchain?

The Blockchain is a publicly accessible ledger.
Or you might call it a kind of account book.

An account book that is open to anyone anywhere in the world

And yet, eventhough it is openly accessible to anyone for scrutiny on the Web, all of the records kept on this particular type of account book (unlike normal account books) do not carry the names or addresses of the account holders displayed within the rows of the ledger.  

The Blockchain merely organizes the accounts with identifiers known as public keys. And since an individual can own as many public keys as they like, this makes it possible for account holders on the Blockchain to be largely anonymous.

Now even though this may sound somewhat "shady" to some people, there are several reasons why anonymity of account holders can be a good thing. 
But I will look into that aspect of the Blockchain in later posts. So if you are more interested in that, then ensure that you let me know in the comments below, or simply follow this blog.►Click Here.

The Good Stuff

So now that you have an overview of the original Blockchain, or the Bitcoin Blockchain, let me give you an idea of the why this particular Blockchain is important, and why you must keep this in mind....

Unlike the other imitation "blockchains"- that I would talk about in a moment, the Bitcoin Blockchain has sparked an unprecedented phase of proliferation of financial literacy and knowledge in online security. A phase that is rapidly becoming an era. A new era of enlightenment that could easily lead to a new age of innovation. 

World famous Bitcoin expert, Andreas Antonopoulos says it this way: 
"We are on the verge of a new transformation of money. The verge of creating the first completely global, completely borderless, completely decentralized and completely open form of money"

The innovation is heading in a direction where we will build applications because this money is programmable. The Bitcoin Blockchain is about the "internet of money". 

Think about this for a minute.

You don't need to ask anyone's permission to launch an application on the internet of money anymore than you need permission to launch an application on the internet.
And this is happening on a global scale. 

Antonopoulos insists that the other blockchains cannot cause this kind of exponential innovation.
I tend to agree with him. 

The Growing Blockchain Brouhaha

Even though there might be many blockchains today, the first ever Blockchain came from Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin whitepaper
The ones that I refer to as fake blockchains are those that were launched by and for the benefit of the existing big banks of the developed world. The good news though, is that of recent, they have stopped using the word, "blockchain" for those contraptions of recent. Yet, during those days of the financial sector's frenzy, they made it very clear what they were trying to do. You often heard them say things like, "Bitcoin is dead, the blockchain is the future" or the most popular one, "the true genius of bitcoin is not bitcoin itself - it is the blockchain".

Talk about wishful thinking...


The Bitcoin inventor did not actually use the term, "blockchain" in his paper, but it is easy to see how it caught on when you read through the 9-page document.

Nakamoto actually uses the words "block" and "chain" separately and frequently as he tries to explain his proposed system of using a highly secure, chronological order of transactions on a global public ledger.
He created this publicly accessible, decentralized global account book to ensure that no government could issue more of the currency or impose restrictions on it. 

I know that may be confusing, but do stay with me, let me simplify it.

It was important to Nakamoto that his new digital cash would not need to go through a financial institution to pass from person to person. He believed it was crucial to develop a system that behaves more or less like physical cash in the sense that it would not require people needing to use a third party (financial institution - who, themselves use another party - Interswitch in Nigeria) to confidently carry out a transaction.

You don't need to trust a complete stranger if he paid you 350,000 Naira for your old and dying Toyota Corolla.
All you need is to count the money and see that the notes are not fake naira notes. Right?

Of course.

But in this case, if the bitcoins come into your public bitcoin address (or account), and then you choose not to deliver his car to him, then that becomes another matter. Just as such a scenario is also possible with real cash. 

The Blockchain And Timestamps

"Commerce on the Internet has come to rely almost exclusively on financial institutions serving as trusted third parties...What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party"
- Satoshi Nakamoto

But after Nakamoto had successfully created a way that cash value would pass from person to person (peer to peer), he needed to ensure that the money could not be duplicated, or that the already spent money would not be spent again by the payer.

"The problem of course is the payee can't verify that one of the owners did not double-spend the coin...We need a way for the payee to know that the previous owners did not sign any earlier transactions"
"The solution we (Nakamoto) propose begins with a timestamp server. A timestamp server works by taking a hash of a block of items to be timestamped and widely publishing the hash, such as in a newspaper...The timestamp proves that the data must have existed at the time, obviously, in order to get into the hash. Each timestamp includes the previous timestamp in its hash, forming a chain, with each additional timestamp reinforcing the ones before it" 
Please, if you don't understand what is meant by "hash", you can ignore that for now. Only keep in mind that by using the highest technology in internet security to ascertain the exact time a transaction was done, they are able to create this innovation known as the Blockchain.

So here is the layman's summary of all of these:

The bitcoins that people will be sending and spending are generated by the Bitcoin software. That software ensures that they had to be timestamped onto the global account book known today as the Blockchain. All of these processes are open to scrutiny by all (auditors, software developers, account holders, and anyone who cares).

The Bitcoin software, with help from the its network of users (or nodes), manages the Blockchain and ensures the integrity of the bitcoins on it.   

So bitcoins need the Blockchain, and the Blockchain needs bitcoin. This is an important statement to keep in mind going forward, as you come across other blogs and articles that will want to teach you about "blockchains". Of which many of them will try to first dazzle you with eloquent speech and bragging of years of experience in international banks mixed with PhDs in computer science and all that.

The truth is, regardless of their qualifications, these big tlkers cannot build an aircraft using concrete as a primary component and then expect it to compare with one that was well thought through from the start.

Nakamoto was motivated to invent Bitcoin's Blockchain to solve a problem. These other so-called blockchains are coming from those who created that problem to start with.

I took this rant a bit further in my LinkedIn Post. See it here ► My LinkedIn Rant

Saturday 10 September 2016

A Nigerian Introduction To Bitcoin

If you are reading this article, it means you are probably interested in learning more about Bitcoin or its Blockchain.
And if you are a Nigerian, or any English speaking African for that matter, then you have come to the right place.

Here, I will be crunching all of the technical jargon and explaining the plain facts about Bitcoin in layman's English.
Much later on, I will go slightly deeper in explaining the Blockchain. (That article is now available by the way - click here)

Meanwhile, beyond that, I will be exposing how Bitcoin relates to the other transformative digital technologies that I have been following (including the Semantic Web, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, etc).

But for now, let us talk about Bitcoin....

What Is Bitcoin?

First of all it is not a coin.
It is a cryptocurrency. It is also a kind of software with its own game changing platform.
It is really important you understand that second part if you want to benefit as a young African entrepreneur or computer programmer.

Here is a funny way to look at it:


I am sure you all know how incredibly beautiful Hausa girls are, right? Okay, I am not saying that Ibo or Yoruba are ugly - only that I went  to secondary school in Zaria, and anyway, you get the picture.
So now, imagine you meet a very beautiful Hausa girl. Then imagine that, for whatever reason, you never tried to get to know her.

So now you are chatting with your friends about this lovely girl you just saw, and you are only talking about her incredible eyes and the way she looked at you with them.
You mention how you could easily tell what her lovely dark skin would feel like. You also had to mention her great round.......okay this is not that kind of story.

My point is that because you did not take the time to dig deeper, you missed out on the fact that this chick has a Masters Degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics, she owns a 1,000 hectare farm in Kaduna where she employs 500 young farmers, and she feeds hundreds of kids everyday; for free, while providing computers and smart phones for them to get an education. 

This is what is happening with Bitcoin today. 
And that, my brethren, is an OPPORTUNITY for YOU!

Most people constantly debate and postulate about what the  value of the currency is, or should be, or whether or not is has any intrinsic value.
This is so foolish! 
Very few people actually pay attention to what is happening underneath...... 
And what is hapening underneath is what is so huge about Bitcoin!

So stick with me, by following my blog.   Click here to ► Follow DigAfrica

But for now, let me just give you a few ideas: 

Bitcoin : Cash & More, Much More

Started in 2009, Bitcoin was meant to bring to the world, an anonymous, person to person transfer of money on the internet. It was designed to behave very similar to the way actual cash behaves. 
It is also meant to do this while bearing very low transaction costs for the sender, in comparison to current online banking transactions.
They call it the Money Transfer Protocol of the internet.

But before I come to explain the meaning of cryptocurrency, let me first of all mention that there are two distinct ways to look at Bitcoin:

There is bitcoin the currency (spelled with a small 'b').
And there is Bitcoin the software and protocol
So kindly take note of the difference in the usage of either small or capital letter 'B'.

The Bitcoin Software

The Bitcoin software was originally designed by a computer developer known as Satoshi Nakamoto. He designed it to manage a very high security peer to peer network using a technique known as public key cryptography

It is this cryptographic technique employed by the Bitcoin software that gives the bitcoin currency a very high level of security from hacking or theft as it is transferred from person to person throughout the internet. This cryptographic technique usage is the reason why it is called a cryptocurrency.

What Is a Cryptocurrency?

It is a kind of virtual currency that mostly tries to behave like cash, but with other programmable functions. On the internet, bitcoins can be sent or transferred from person to person like cash moves from hand to hand, without the need of a bank or  any other middle-man. 

Everyone understands how cash works: We see our naira notes, South African rand and US dollars as currency.
They are legal tender each within their respective countries.

You can confidently hand over the keys and the documents of your old car to someone if they give you raw cash.
As long as we can tell that the cash notes are not fake, we readily accept them as payment for anything.

However, whenever we have gathered lots of this cash, we no longer trust ourselves enough to keep all of it safe. Therefore we take most of it to the bank (a middle-man).
This is because we trust those banks, and we trust our government's central bank to protect the value of our money.

Trusted Third Parties 

Nevertheless, some people have argued that all the trust we place in these third parties (like banks) is a little too much, and therefore easily abused. Bitcoin was invented to remove this need to trust any human being or organization with our money.

This is why bitcoins acceptance is growing around the world at an increasing rate, and its value is increasing along with it. Many bitcoin users around the world no longer trust their government or their banks. Instead they trust the Bitcoin software because of its cutting-edge security and faith that its global value will continue growing in future. 

Meanwhile cryptocurrencies have much more functionality than normal money. For example, bitcoins are designed to be spent anywhere in the world. This is because it is completely decentralized and has no ties to any one country's central bank. 

As emails are to letters, so are bitcoins to cash

We know that emails do exactly what posted letters do, but also that emails can do a lot more than paper letters.
Apart from the speed of an email and the fact that you can send the same email to many people at the same time, emails can also have attachments in them, which can be videos or other digital media. 
Letters cannot do anything like this. 

So also cryptocurrencies have several functionalities that paper cash does not have. And I will look into these in a future post. But for now, some of those include assigning additional values to your money, ensuring the money behaves in a specific way, creating and enforcing legally binding contracts without the high cost of lawyers, etc. 

Not A Ponzi Scheme

Now, for those who are asking whether Bitcoin is a ponzi scheme, some zealous websites out there are selling ponzi schemes while using the word 'bitcoin' to draw attention to themselves.
It is very important to note that Bitcoin has nothing to do with these ponzi schemes or any other kind of network marketing schemes. 

Ponzi schemes are fraudulent businesses that use multi-level marketing (MLM) strategies that give the early investors a hope of getting rich quickly by inviting other investors (or down-lines). Ultimately, the business isn't selling any product of actual value, and at the end of the day, only the earliest investors earn any profit.  

Investing in bitcoins on the other hand, means that you are simply collecting virtual currency that has been increasing in real monetary value (it started as $0 in 2009; now worth $624 as of today), and allows you to spend and receive money from across international borders without needing a bank, or Western Union, and their typically exorbitant transaction fees.

This can be very good for Africa.
But also take note that I am not saying that Bitcoin is perfect, or that you should go and invest everything you have in it.
No. Certainly not. Please always be careful with how you digest information. 

What I am really saying here is that I think it is quite important to, at least, pay close attention to it, as Bitcoin looks like a world changing technology in the making. 

Bitcoin And The Blockchain

Now, Bitcoin is primarily a software that secures the bitcoin currency. It also sets it immutability.
By this I mean that once a bitcoin has been spent online or transferred, it cannot be reversed. 
The only way you can get a bitcoin back after sending it to someone is if that person agrees to send it back to you in another transaction.

The Bitcoin software governs this highly controlled and secure behavior of bitcoins thanks to the blockchain
The blockchain is a kind of database or ledger that records and stored all bitcoin transactions and is protected by cryptography, and is publicly and transparently maintained by the entire growing Bitcoin network of users.

I will write more about this blockchain and other blockchains in the future. I will try to explain some of its technical aspects in simple terms and also show examples of where the technology is already being used. This is because I believe that Africa needs an early invitation to come and learn one of the likely leading technologies of the next digital revolution and fourth industrial revolution. Blockchain technology is in my opinion, perhaps even more important than the Internet of Things, than Smart Cities, or than the Semantic Web.

What's Next With Bitcoin?

A lot!
As though the future wasn't already promising a lot of major digital technological wonders, Bitcoin has come and added a new dimension.

The recent success of Bitcoin across continents has not only raised the value of the currency and its usage and acceptance, it has also sparked off the development of other cryptocurrencies, each with their own blockchains. 
And of course, you can expect that I would be following these trends. 

Some have argued that the value of one Bitcoin could eventually reach $ 1 million by 2025. But such speculations are not my concern. I focus on understanding and analyzing the technology and especially how it can be useful to Africans and to Nigeria. 

Again, I will encourage you to follow this blog if you wish to learn more about the future of money. Or you can also find my other articles in newspapers by searching on Google for "Rotimi Orimoloye Bitcoin News" or "Rotimi Orimoloye Digital Africa". 
if you are interested in other digital technologies and how such information and knowledge can improve the quality of life of Africans.

So what are you waiting for? Go and start getting your bitcoins!
And if you don't have enough money to buy the minimum of $10 worth of coins, the good news is that there are a few websites that give out free bitcoins. Not much, but enough to get you started with Bitcoin and to transfer small change among your friends, just to know how Bitcoin works. Here is one of such websites

If you have any questions about this topic or anything to add to this article, please feel free to use the comments below. 
I am always happy to engage in the conversations that can more Africans forward. 

If you liked this, kindly re-share on social media so that other Africans will get a headsup.

Thank you so much.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

The ZMOT And The Angry Salesman

Many people have come up with various definitions of the zero moment of truth. And perhaps some of these characterizations are more “equal” than others
But for now, let me convey to you the one that I consider to be the most significant.

Google’sJim Lecinski describes the ZMOT as “a new decision-making moment that takes place a hundred million times a day on mobile phones, laptops and wired devices of all kinds. It’s a moment where marketing happens, where information happens, and where consumers make choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every brand in the world”.

Try to imagine this scenario: A woman on her iPad at home, going through different web pages, trying to learn about the features of different models of electric cars to know which one would be most suitable for her.

Or try to guess why a man would type the following words into a search engine; “high quality HD web cams for video conferencing”?

Now, if you were the marketer for a company like Tesla Motors (which manufactures electric cars) or Logitech (who make web cameras), you really should be doing something about these kind of searches, shouldn’t you?

Ever since I was studying Mass Communication at the University of Lagos (Nigeria) I’ve been hearing people use the cliché, “Information is power”. (Perhaps even before I got into college)

But if you pause to really think about it, I would ask you, “why exactly is information powerful?”
What can you do with it when you have it?
And is it under every circumstance that being informed is powerful?

In my opinion, in marketing, it is using the right information with a proper mix of previous knowledge and skills that gives you true power, and a clear advantage over the rest of your industry.

Once upon a time, in the earliest days of  color tv, television advertisements were very entertaining to viewers. There were not so many options of tv shows or channels, and therefore the commercials themselves were part of the enjoyable variety. 

Fast forward several decades, and some of these ads became annoying and interruption to most tv viewers. 

And yet, these days, people can actually go deliberately looking for a particular advert if it contains some specific information they are looking for.

A marketer has to be able to THINK in the proper context and in the spirit of the times he is living in. 

Now, permit me to give you an example as to why you can no longer afford to think like you used to do in the past.

This is a true story by the way:


Sometime at the end of January last year, I was with a client at her office. She had gotten information about some man who had just returned from the US and who was looking to sell a Canon Rebel series camera.

My client is in the tv production business, so she wanted to learn more about the capabilities and the features of the camera, so she called him and she asked him some questions in order to learn more.

Then at a certain point during their conversation, it suddenly occurred to my client to ask me to help her do a Google search on the particular model of the camera that the man wanted to sell. So the man read to her the specific model inscription on the device.

Now, while I was doing the search, she was still asking the man if the camera could handle HD video recording and some other things. She had even sent one of her staff cameramen to drive all the way to the man’s house, to take a look at the camera on her behalf.

In anycase, the man couldn’t answer her questions because he didn’t really know much about cameras or about filming. He was just some guy who bought some camera from the US and wished to sell it at a profit.

Yet, I was answering her questions for her by reading the online reviews and specifications of the particular camera. 
All we really ever needed was to get him to read to her the EXACT model description of the camera he had with him, which he did, and that was all I needed to get all of the information she needed.

But as soon as he found out that my client had been checking-up the camera online, he suddenly got really angry, and started to yell at my client, saying that she was wasting his time. This in-turn made my client upset, and because of how the man was acting, she lost interest in buying his camera altogether.

Now, do you think the man was right to act that way?

I think he was not very mindful of the Zero Moment Of Truth.
I also noticed that he had failed to realize that his product was actually a top of the range model - it was a Canon EOS 700D / Rebel T5i.

Sadly for him, he was trying to sell it off as just a mere “Canon Rebel” camera. At least that was what he kept saying until my client dug for more details from him.  
If he wasn’t so foolhardy, he could have made a quick sale, as all the things my client was looking for in the camera (which he couldn’t answer) were right there in the list of specifications and features online.

He failed to realize that there just aren’t that many people left today, who would just up and write you a cheque without first doing some of their own home work about what you are selling.

Worst of all, he had no way of knowing that I was actually telling his potential customer (my client) that his camera was in fact a great bargain for her, based on my online searches at that point. 

His ignorance of the reality of this ZMOT behavior caused him to lose his temper; which in turn, caused him to lose a sale.

So, the moral of the story?

Always expect your potential customers to do their homework about whatever it is you're selling. Stop assuming that you can sell stuff by merely insisting, "Buy it, because it is the best, and I want you to." 

Allow them do their homework, but try as much as is in your power to be the there, whispering in their ears, wherever they are doing this homework. Most of the time it will be on the internet at a conceptual place called the zero moment of truth. 

For more reading on the ZMOT, kindly check out my other post with Nigerian examples. 

Thursday 14 April 2016

Bill Gates & Africa's Energy Poverty: Good Intentions; Dangerous Interpretations

This is one blog post where I really seek feedback. 
Whether contrary points of view (preferably), or corrections, or any kind of contribution on this critical topic affecting our continent. So please feel free to share your thoughts at the end....

Bill Gates To Help The Poor Get Energy

"These days, I don’t take energy for granted. I know what a difference it can make in the lives of the poorest [people], and I’m committed to helping them get it."                                       - Bill Gates

The above quote came from Bill Gates' blog post entitled "Powering The Fight Against Poverty" and I couldn't be happier with him for it. ♥

I find myself sharing opinions with the legendary computer scientist and entrepreneur on many other thoughts from his blog; like Africa being the least to blame for climate change and yet the most likely to suffer the greatest causalities to its effects

I also loved Mr Gates' kind advocacy for Africa where he says,
"Instead of putting constraints on poor countries that will hold back their ability to fight poverty, we should be investing dramatically more money in R&D to make fossil fuels cleaner and make clean energy cheaper than any fossil fuel."

That one came from another 2014 blog post by Mr Gates.  
In fact here is a scrumptious video bonus for you here ► Bill Gates speaking at TED.

Bill Gates' "Faulty" Argument?

Nevertheless, I am going to very respectfully disagree with Mr Gates on one particular point. And emphatically as well because of the gravity of what is at stake:

"We should not try to solve the problem on the backs of the poor. For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them to wait for the technology to get cheaper." 

This is indeed very nice and thoughtful from the philanthropist, but I warn against very likely misconceptions that such a statement could very easily generate and has very possibly already generated.

Not all of today's clean energy solutions are too expensive for Africa (And I am referring to sub-Saharan Africa). Solar energy is MOST certainly NOT too expensive for us! 
The rate at which costs of renewable energy solutions is falling is too dramatic to make such dismissive statements at this point in time.

I am very confident that solar will actually be cheaper for us, not just in the long term (beyond 2030), but even in the mid term (from 2020 to 2030) as well. So why wait? Why not begin building capacity right now? 

Feeling The Full Blast Of Africa's Energy Poverty

But before someone gets irked by that claim, and accuses me of being an insensitive son of an ex-military ruler that spends most of his days living lavishly in the UK, let me quickly add that I fit perfectly into the category of those people who Bill Gates says are in desperate need of electricity right now!

I do not currently earn enough to power my home any much more than the average Nigerian does. Despite that, I am certain that I have, by far, more need of electricity than any human being I ever met, by reason of the amount of time I spend everyday on the Web - improving my knowledge and skill on Semantic Web technologies, Big Data, digital marketing and Google Analytics. I also obsessively do research on electric vehicles, battery technologies, micro-grid distribution, and most of all, renewable energy generation - including solar, geothermal, biomass, solar thermal, and emerging sustainable energy trends.

Yes, you could argue that all of this boils down to simply powering a laptop, and yet recently when both my laptop battery and my UPS backup system both went bad, I suddenly realized how desperate such a situation was, and how terrible it must feel to live like this all year round.

Add to that the fact that I have to deal with teaching a small (but growing) group of young people to help them acquire digital skills and learn code, yet who live in much harder circumstances than even I ever imagined (and cannot even afford their own laptops).

Side note:
 I didn't start obsessing over renewable energy because I was an environmentalist that wants to save the world (even though I have NOW indeed began to care).
I do it because my commonsense tells me that Africa has to key-into the knowledge economy at some point in our existence, and we can not go back to begin at the stage of the industrial revolution.
I realize that we simply have to START FROM THE FUTURE! And renewable energy, for me, is clearly that future. So as strange as it sounds, our present wretched state of electricity supply is an opportunity for us....

So I can safely say that I am many times more awake to the electricity horror than any other Nigerian right now, and YET, here I am, INSISTING that solar energy should be our NUMBER ONE priority!!! (without necessarily abandoning our natural gas projects of course).

So how could Bill Gates' statement generate misconceptions? 

"... They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper."

First recognize that I actually found Bill Gates' article during a spirited debate with a fellow Nigerian who had completely bought Mr Gates' argument. Which at the time, wasn't really Mr Gates' argument. But he (Bill Gates) had actually given some sort of endorsement to a certain Bjorn Lomborg. Find that here. 

During the course of our argument, I kept referring him to data from energy related sources (like the US EIA, World Economic Forum and US.DOE). He on the other hand kept referring to statements made by Bill Gates. 

You see, the dynamic at work here is that when the richest man in the world appears to say that Africa should leave clean energy to the developed world, the danger is that many Nigerians would probably not bother with any kind of confirmatory or contradictory research on the matter any longer. Many would just simply fall in line

They could very likely dismiss the idea of renewables altogether; in fact some of the elite already are dismissing it.
And knowing my society the way I do, I can guess that even if solar became a hundred times cheaper than fossil fuels, Nigerian policy makers would then still probably need to be struck by lightning first, in order to revisit the argument again. 

Here are two tweets from Nigerian billionaire, Tony Elumelu during the World Economic Forum at Davos 2016:

Again, this kind of talk will leave many not-so-informed people with the idea that renewable energy is a kind of luxury that will never be able to replace fossil fuel sources. 

Similar comments have come from Jim Ovia and Aliko Dangote (Nigeria and Africa's richest man) who appears to have been getting very friendly with Bill Gates since the latter brought his admirable fight against polio to Nigeria in 2011. 

Now, compare Koffi Annan's comment:

I should point out that Alhaji Dangote is among the many billionaires who joined Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Coalition that was announced at the Climate Change Conference (COP21) .

Would it be a surprise me to see Dangote team up with Bill Gates sometime in the near future, trying to sell his TerraPower travelling wave nuclear reactor to Nigeria? 
Not likely.

Follow The Truth; Follow What Is Abundantly Clear

The truth is, I have nothing against people who "follow" Bill Gates (I don't mean on Twitter). I just think these issues are much bigger than one man. Regardless of how smart, or how rich, or how generous that man is. 

Africans need to have their own thinkers.
Other parts of the world are fast becoming knowledge economies. Innovation always trumps maintaining the status-quo.

So why must we be different?

Figuring out how to convert all of the free knowledge available to us into location-biased technology, and that technology into location-biased solutions is our only challenge. 

We can overcome this challenge through the use of clear focused government policy that makes solar power generation and solar technology research very attractive in sub-Saharan Africa, and more importantly, attractive to young Africans. If we do not incentivize it, it will never get a fighting chance against the traditional sources (like oil, gas and coal).

I cannot say that I am 100% certain that Bill Gates is wrong, but I personally prefer Elon Musk's "sleeves rolled-up", value-chain thinking approach to the CO2 problem. Musk and several other "hands-on" entrepreneurs are tackling the issue from many angles, eventhough they are not all multi-billionaires like Bill Gates and Alhaji Dangote. 
In my opinion, their drive to defeat global warming will soon catch up with our hunger for energy. 

It only makes logical sense that a technology that requires a raw material that is absolutely and abundantly free ( the sun, heat and the winds) will surely become cheaper than the alternatives that need to be extracted and processed before being used to generate power.

So whether it is for Climate Change, or for reducing Energy Poverty, these people's (Elon Musk and co) continuous ACTION will keep doing exactly what the world needs: persist in driving down the cost of solar panels, other renewables and energy storage. 

So Nigerians must quickly realize that we must choose to prioritize on sustainability. And start putting in the necessary action now!
Coal is not sustainable, and I doubt that gas is either. 
America and Europe may have gotten their opportunity with coal during the famous industrial revolution, but things are different now....

Solar is the "new coal". It is also the "new oil". 
We must see this as a revolution for us as well, not just a means of generating electricity. 
We must not utterly fail this lesson!
Sooner, rather than later, we must understand that this is an excellent opportunity for us to aggressively gain a bit of lost ground on that exponentially increasing technological gap between us and the Asians (not to mention Europe and the US). 


What I am saying is not meant to take anything away from Africa's traditional power generating projects, like our natural gas projects in Nigeria.
I strongly suggest that we continue to grow our generating capacity with gas, rather than flaring it. 
But why should this slow down any solar aspirations we might have?  

Again, I repeat that the main reason why I am strongly advocating for solar energy is not because I am trying to save the planet but actually because I am convinced that it will not be any more expensive than the traditional sources that Africa is used to.

Let us consider the Grand Inga Dam Project which African leaders came up with. Consider that $80 billion is to be spent on this project that should bring 40,000 MW of power between 2020 and 2025. This number (40GW) is no doubt very good news for Africa, and even more so that that price includes the cost of transmission lines as well. But Africa has only one Inga falls. 

Now, obviously there is no way that any solar project can dream of that 40 GW output number. The largest solar project currently, is in the Mojave Desert in California and it's output is presently less than 400MW. 
Now, It cost $2.2 billion, but there are reports of bigger projects coming up around the world that would be proportionately bigger and cheaper. 

But my real argument is that if we quickly add very large solar projects to this Grand Inga Dam thing, it will start us off on a path that would definitely bring down the cost of future renewable projects in sub-Saharan Africa and in each respective individual country. 
Concentrated Solar Thermal Plant in Mojave Desert, California
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a concentrated solar thermal plant in the California Mojave Desert. It has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts.

Let us take a look at the relentless drives being made by developed nations, confederations and agencies (like the IEA and IRENA), and realize that we must also gear up for the future. The world is certainly not playing around with renewable energy, and neither should we. They are not only worried about global warming, they are ALSO aggressively trying to break their shackles from oil exporting nations. (Nigeria, does that mean anything to you?)

We must understand the potential implications of the strides achieved by the State of California, and more recent ambitious goals by China, Oman, Morocco and the City of Vancouver.
Back in 2012, the Barack Obama of the US made a deal with auto manufacturers to reduce fuel consumption to 50 miles per gallon. This is part of a long term goal to reduce fossil fuel consumption of US vehicles by 80% before 2050.

It is sad that at such a time when (reliable) information is free on the Web, many Africans seem to be intellectually lazy. But we must encourage our children to read extensively for their sake, and their children's. 

It is really upsetting every time I read about possible plans to build more HVDC transmission lines that would potentially carry power generated in African deserts to Europe. It doesn't upset me because I think Europeans are greedy - after all, the existing lines have been bringing power from Europe to North Africa anyways. What upsets me is the fact that Europeans have seen the huge potential of Africa's sunny deserts for ages, while we refuse to open our eyes.

I am not an engineer but I have done a lot of research into this power crisis for a few years now. And I have made my conclusions that decentralized distribution is one of the biggest solutions that sub-Saharan Africa will need to truly overcome our energy poverty.

Part 2 of this post will continue with my ideas on decentralized Micro-grids, battery storage, and how sub-Saharan African governments (like our North African counterparts) can attract the best solar energy deals to the continent, and also build local skill and capacity in the process. It is now ready. Find it here.

Now it's time to hear from you.
Do you have any contrary points of view (preferably), or corrections, or any kind of contribution on this critical topic affecting our continent? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments....