Google winner gets his??freedom

2014-04-06 14:00

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Singer who eked out a living on rubbish dumps wins top award for using the web to transform his life and work

Freedom. This is what Africa Connected winner Eric Obuh says he will call his award.

Obuh was one of five winners announced during the awards ceremony?–?which is backed by technology company Google and a range of partners?–?in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday. Along with the award, each winner bagged $25?000 (R266?000) and six months’ expert assistance from Google to make their initiatives greater.

Obuh was eking out a living as a scavenger on rubbish dumps in Lagos, Nigeria, when the BBC captured him on camera singing and featured him in a documentary, Welcome to Lagos. The clip was placed on YouTube and proved popular with viewers. The documentary became a hit and his music sold online.

In an interview after the event, Obuh said: “I’m calling this award Freedom. Freedom from excuses. If I can make it, they too can make it.”

In a video of the finalists that had delegates at the Africa Connected summit in stitches, Obuh said: “If your name is not on Google, I don’t do business with you because I can’t find you.”

But Obuh said he was being serious.

“Are you really a businessman if you don’t have a website or online presence?” he asked. “With no website, every day you’re losing money.”

He said consumers searched for service providers on Google if they were looking for something.

In a keynote address earlier that day, Pierre Dandjinou, vice-president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which coordinates the internet’s global domain name system, urged delegates to treat the web like a business.

Obuh plans to use his winnings to promote his music and his foundation, Ghetto Love Empowerment, which teaches skills to residents of Ajegunle, a Lagos slum.

All five winners are from east and west Africa, and three of them are women.

Kenya’s Sitawa Wafula won for her multiple-award-winning blog, My Mind My Funk.

She is a three-time rape survivor and lives with epilepsy and a mental condition. “From my personal experience, I haven’t seen easily available information on mental health conditions,” she said.

She plans to use her winnings to localise her website and provide more general information on mental health issues to different African countries. For example, Kenyan users will know where to access services to manage their conditions when visiting South Africa.

Eunice Namirembe, a physician running Uganda’s Medical Concierge Group, was the first winner announced at the event.

Her group?–?using Google’s application programming interface dashboard and Google Maps?–?focuses on expanding access to healthcare and information on health to rural Ugandans.

It offers a 24-hour call centre and ambulance service, and can track patients’ locations using Google tools.

Namirembe plans to grow the medical business with her winnings.

“We’re also looking at making money?...?You can’t really commercialise it because you are providing medicine to people,” she said.

From Lagos, Eseoghene Odiete runs a handbag and shoe company called Hesey Designs. She has seen her wares sell as far afield as Mozambique, something she credits to her company’s presence on the web.

The website,, has an e-commerce component. Buyers select as many items as needed, which they add to a virtual cart and then pay when they check out of the page.

Odiete learnt how to design handbags just from using Google search and YouTube. The line has already featured in the 2011 edition of Lagos Style Week, which aims to provide a platform for new and independent fashion designers to showcase their work.

She plans to use her $25?000 to build a mobile app for Hesey Designs.

Ghana’s Christopher Panford runs Technol Services in Accra. It is a vehicle-tracking company that works with Google Maps to monitor vehicles used to make a living from financing loans, assuring financiers?–?who will otherwise not grant loans?–?that their vehicles are safe.

He said: “I was doing business with them already, so I had to come up with this idea. The struggle was actually to prove to them that their loans were safe.”

On his winnings, he said he would reinvest them in the business. “I am going to involve many more drivers and develop my website,” he added.


Tap your phone and enjoy the stress-free ride

Taxi commuters are forced to carry coins to pay their fares. If they pay in large banknotes, they risk being sworn at as the taxi driver or other commuters scramble to make up change. But this could change soon.

Google has launched BebaPay in Nairobi, a payment system using near field communication technology.

It is similar to the system used on the Gautrain, but is not limited to smart card readers. BebaPay cards can be tapped against Android smartphones fitted with smart chips to pay fares on matatus (minibuses) or other modes of public transport.

Google Kenya boss Joe Mucheru said the company realised that most commuters had cellphones.

So BebaPay was launched a year ago using technology already available to commuters in Nairobi.

The BebaPay app is installed free for merchants on their phones and commuters get a free card from participating agents. They top up the smart card at the agent or use mobile money services like M-Pesa and Orange Money.

When commuters tap the card, the payment reflects in the merchant’s account and commuters receive an SMS receipt.

Google has entered into a partnership with Equity Bank, which has 8?million customers across Africa and holds nearly half of all bank accounts in Kenya, according to its website.

BebaPay has handled 1.5?million transactions since launch. It is being used on bus routes in Nairobi, but Mucheru said Google was gauging the uptake before expanding.

The International Data Corporation, a market intelligence company, says the value of mobile payment volumes will exceed

$1?trillion (R10?trillion) by 2017.

Maake was hosted on her trip to Kenya by Google

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