Angola Seeks to be the new Atlantic Hub

Angola is banking on its unique geographical location to establish its position as the technology hub connecting the Atlantic coast of Africa and South America.

Angola Cables, the leading ICT infrastructure provider in Angola has invested in various submarine cables, in its efforts to increase connectivity in West and Southern Africa. As a Lusophone country with deep relations with Brazil, there is another cable connecting to the South American country.

“Angola has the advantage of our strategic and geographically position serving both Africa and South America; the country is also investing heavily in carrier neutral Datacenter facilities,” ,” said Darwin Da Costa IP Product Manager, Angola Cables.

Angola Cables currently has Points of Presence (POPs) in Angola and Portugal but the number is set to increase to seven, with the addition of POPs in Spain, France, Germany, South Africa and UK.

“Our main strategy is to minimize high latency between Africa and Brazil to our IP and transmission customers; with one Hub in Luanda and the other one in Fortaleza, Angola Cables is aiming to provide a high quality services and accelerated web speed access,” added Da Costa.

In Southern Africa, Cape Town and Johannesburg have already established hubs while Lagos and Accra handle most of the connectivity in West Africa, offering stiff competition to Angola.

“Competition is always good in order to keep us innovating and deliver better services into the country and the region, the advantage of creating an Hub from scratch is that we can learn from previous mistakes and make the right choices in our core projects,” Da Costa said.

Angola Cables is an international carriers’ carrier with focus on wholesale business, built in 2009 by five major Angolan Telecom Operators. The five are; Movicel, MStelecom, Unitel, Startel and Angola Telecom.

In order to reduce the latency to Angola Cables customers, AS# 37468 is peering openly at: Angonix, Gigapix, LINX and DE-CIX Frankfurt. In addition Angola Cables plans to be connected at least into De – Cix Marseille, De- Cix Madrid, Espanix, France – IX, AMS – IX and Nap Africa soon.

“These new peering agreements will further enchance the performance and reduce significantly the latency for our customers.” Da Costa said.

Angola Cables is partnershipping the major CDN´s ( content delivery networks ) in order to serve the Angolan and regional market. The company IP strategy is now being supported by the WACS ( West African Cable System ) infrastructure whereby Angola Cables is one of the major investors.

“Our global IP strategy is driven by our customers demand, these demands are going further than exepected so far. Having said Angola Cables has two main projects SACS ( South Atlantic Cables System ) and Monet connecting Brazil up to Miami, in order to minimize the latency from Africa to South and North America and vice versa,” added Da Costa.

Angoloa Cables has established partnership with major CDNs such as Google, Akamai and Cloudflare, and is seeing increased demand for global content in the region. With the ICT infrastructure investments, Angola is expecting to be a major player in Southern Africa as well as West Africa coast.






Do local, smaller companies stand a chance at Safaricom?

For the better part of this month, we have been treated to stories of blackmail and extortion at Safaricom. While that is the bigger story, the amounts that were paid to suppliers were out of reach for many. Think of Scangroup and sh. 2.1b for media services, Huawei and sh 800m for Mpesa platform upgrade and God knows how much more for network services.

For many, this provided a platform to entrench our belief that business at Safaricom is done by a small clique of men (haven’t heard of many women paid these figures, maybe one). There is also another group that wondered, how can these guys be talking about these figures when I can barely make payroll or hit target revenues? Others wondered how to get into this business and make some money.

Given that Safaricom provides a wide array of services, and the CEO has been quoted saying how they welcome new suppliers, I sought to know whether local companies can break into these clique of big money or the talk is just like Kenyan politics, where we are told to wait our turn forever.

To get some of these things on record, its always good to get it from the guy making promises, you just never know, you may break it big at Safaricom.   I posed some questions to Bob, in the hope that he will shed some more light for those looking to get into Safaricom supply chain. Read on…..

  1. What does it take to do business with Safaricom?

We typically partner with like-minded companies who uphold the same values and those who can do their part in ensuring that they enable us to achieve our strategic objectives.

We borrow heavily from the UN Global Compact, who call for companies to align their strategies and operations in line with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals. This means that we take a zero tolerance approach to issues like corruption or ethical misconduct.

2. Over the years, how many local companies have benefitted from doing business with Safaricom?

If you had asked this question 15 years ago when Safaricom started operations, our response would have been just a small handful, as the network was managed by a significant number of foreign technology suppliers.

Since then, we have made a conscious effort to engage in mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships with local business partners in an environment of equity, mutual respect and honesty. We are committed to growing Kenyan businesses and offer preferential support to innovative local businesses. We also invest in heavily in building local expertise in the critical mobile sector – and this includes everything from partnering with local universities to ensure talent is equipped with the right skills to enabling the growth of the small business owner.

We currently work with 830 local companies who form 84 percent of our supply chain.

We have many examples, but companies such as Linksoft, Broadband Communications, Netsol and Adrian (who started literally from scratch years ago) have now grown on the back of Safaricom’s business to become multi-nationals operating across several countries in East and West Africa.

KPMG recently found that the value that Safaricom created for the Kenyan society in one year (2015) was estimated at around 10 times greater than the actual financial profit the company made in the same period. This was measured in actual impact on small Kenyan businesses who now exist solely because of Safaricom.

  1. How are the procurement procedures? (Pre-Qualification, Distribution of work to panel of approved suppliers, Evaluation of work)

At Safaricom we have an open invitation to any supplier who wants to be considered for business with us in a relevant areas. That is why we have published on our website, comprehensive information on how to do business with us. In addition, the applications for pre-qualification are all done online on a robust platform which has automated much of the evaluation and scoring with a fully auditable document trail.  See

Sometimes if a specific business need is identified, we will put out a Request for Proposals, which seeks to invite all qualified suppliers to bid for the work. Once received, these are examined for suitability to the request, after which we go through a rigorous process involving several steps of review, pitching and qualification to identify the right partner for the job.

We then vet the partner to ensure they meet the basic criteria; this includes examining their track record for human rights, criminal activity or ethical misconduct. At this stage, it is not uncommon for a supplier to meet all commercial criteria but to be disqualified because there is evidence that they have not met some of the ethical guidelines. Contracts will then only be offered to the supplier for their consideration once all these factors have been satisfied.

Once on boarded, our performance management process is equally open and transparent to the suppliers. All our contracts contain service level standards that the supplier is supposed to achieve, and the performance reviews are done according to these agreed standards. Our review process includes a feedback stage where we sit with the supplier and the agree the level of performance that has been achieved and the improvements that are necessary.

This process is overseen by Supply Chain Management Department and the supplier gets formalized feedback to help them in continuous improvement. This system has enabled suppliers to gain useful feedback to improve their systems and processes.

  1. What would you say to businesses wishing to do business with Safaricom?

As local company committed to this market, we have a deep appreciation for Kenyan businesses and are keen to enable their growth in any way we can. I am pleased that there is growing community of like-minded companies who have joined the local chapter of the Global Compact, as well as the fact that many more have committed to not work with any company black-listed by the government. We absolutely will not work with any companies that have known track records for unethical behaviour.


Safaricom internal audit leak deepens further

It is not everyday that the CEO of Safaricom calls a press conference to complain about blackmail and extortion. Being the telecom giant it is, you would expect it to be insulated against such acts and also expect that the person(s) doing this have to be ballsy, politically connected or both.

In the last two weeks, the leaked internal audit by KPMG dealt with the sh. 2.1 billion pay out to ScanGroup for various media services and then emerged that the bigger battle was more about the lost tender by Transcend media and then the bigger fight over frequencies allegedly led by lawyer Kenneth Kiplagat and his drive to have the report well publicised.

Oliver Mathenge has done a nice analysis on how and who may have leaked the report and the motivation. Manwa Magoma had written why Safaricom may be a target; he also serialised the tweets for those allergic to long reads. John Kamau covered why Transcend Media lost its tender.

From the media advert placed by Safaricom, it was clear that the matter will drag for long. Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO indicated that the matter had been reported to the police and given that the leaked report was hard copy, we can only wait and see whether the police will arrest the culprits.

It was also clear that heads will have to roll. Safaricom insisted that the report was only draft and the mentioned employees were yet to be given a chance to respond, but the die might be cast for employees mentioned. No matter how good the defence is, this one may be hard for the people adversely mentioned.

This whole saga has left everyone at Safaricom on edge, people holding the trigger have become twitchy because everything is under the microscope. Whatever decision taken from now on, it may not be fair but will look justifiable.

Safcom advert

ScanGroup also felt the need to explain why sh. 2.1 billion was not a lot of money, given that the company handles sh. 33 billion business annually. Here is the advert.

WPP advert

The question of risk

Sometimes back, I had a conversation with an American company with a huge contract with the government, and they are milking the public. I wanted to know more how they select local partners and the answer was that they depend on media coverage, the more you are covered, in good light I presume, the more you are likely to get partnership.

I suggested that the selection process may be flawed because there are so many companies doing good work but not necessarily covered in the media. The argument is that they need to calculate the risks and a known and famous company offers lesser risks.

Back to the Safaricom story, different companies have a different way of calculating risk and for Safaricom, Transcend’s adverse media coverage was a risk they were not willing to take. Maybe they didn’t want to be caught up in the same trajectory but we may never know. We may never know the actual reason for the tender decline but maybe soon enough, given the trends.

Risk is a double edged sword; the same way companies seek to defend themselves, it can also be an excuse to exclude certain parties from the bidding process. This is where that discretion clause in those tender documents comes in.

Even in government tendering, the issue of risk is part of the tender documents, but this mainly relates to court cases. The documents ask one to state the cases pending in court or decided, as a way to tell the litigious types or the vexatious litigants. This ground can make you lose your tender, regardless of performance. But do our public institutions cite risk as a reason to decline the tender?

Ethical and corporate governance

This is cited as one of the reasons for the internal audit commission and is also a common reason for some tenders to be declined, and there are several court cases pending on that front.

Whether there were valid reasons on the ethical front, details will surely emerge.

The big question still remains, can smaller companies be part of Safaricom chain?





What can we expect from Mucheru, Kyalo in ICT?

There is no doubt that the appointment of Joe Mucheru and ICT Cabinet Secretary and Victor Kyalo as PS is expected to provide new impetus to the ICT sector.


For the last two years, Kenya’s ICT sector has been uneasy over the rate of progress, much of which was blamed on unsupportive government officers and changing global trends.

The unease stems from the fact that seven years ago, there was a lot of hype, government support and international goodwill that resulted in competitions, grants and general investments in the sector. With this progress, Kenya seemed to be taking its place as a bonafide contender for Africa’s top technology hub.

That momentum seems to have slowed since the appointment of Dr. Fred Matiang’i as the head of Ministry of Information and Communication. The concern was that Dr. Matiang’I lacked deep understanding and appreciation of the ICT sector because he was an outsider in the ICT sector. In some cases, outsiders bring about change and development and in other cases, it doesn’t happen.

For those who know Kenya’s tech scene, these are the leading lights in policy and technology in the last 17 years; since the Kenya Communications Amendment Act took effect. Mucheru is probably well known for his role in growing Google in Africa, he was the first hire, when the content giant decided to set up offices in the region.

Mucheru and Kyalo were involved in policy advocacy and ICT sector involvement  through the Kenya ICT Network (KICTANET), an online forum that allowed members to contribute to government policy,  and the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), a private sector lobby group.

However, those who have transitioned from private to public sector know that it can be tough. You need the workers at the ministry to help in delivery of promises, the supporting team usually determines the success and can sabotage or support, just like the private sector.

One of the arguments for sector challenges is lack of support for the government front, usually blamed on clueless leadership. Now you have people at the top who understand the challenges and opportunities in the sector. For once, the PS and CS are industry insiders, if they fail, then its not because of appointment of “wrong” or clueless leaders who don’t foster growth in the industry.

For those old enough to remember the “dream team”, we know that success in the private sector doesn’t always translate to success in the public sector. Success will be hinged on culture change for some of the characters who are set in their ways and may not be too happy with regime change. Kyalo has already navigated the murky waters, let us see how Mucheru deals with crocodiles.

So, what should we expect?

Leadership and direction- E.g Safaricom dominance

One of the biggest controversies relates  to the issue of Safaricom dominance and the best way to support Orange and Airtel to turn around profits and find a way to compete with Safaricom.

When asked about this topic by the parliamentary vetting committee,  Mucheru promised to work with the Communications Authority and explore ways to help the other telcos to be more competitive. He mentioned infrastructure sharing as one area that could promote more competition.

He was quick to mention that Safaricom is valued at $ 5 billion, which is lower than Whatsapp ($19b) and Uber ($60b). Of course there is no correlation between market capitalization and market dominance but I got his point to be that we must grow more billion-dollar companies before curtailing their growth. The fact that the committee didn’t pin him more means that they were either clueless or will allow Mucheru to bullshit around, as long as he can drop big names and jargon.

The CA and Matiang’I have been at odds with Safaricom, writing to parliament and promising to implement measures that cut Safaricom’s growth instead of helping others competing and catching up. Mucheru had constructive suggestions, let us see if he will implement/

The problem is that whether we like it or not, Safaricom supports other smaller companies and in cutting its growth, the government is eventually cutting the growth for other smaller companies. For instance, Mpesa depends on smaller local software developers to innovate, if the revenues drop,  this jobs go to India, where the costs are way lower. Of course, market forces could force similar results but its better than government doing it. That is why this fight makes more tech companies jittery.

It will be interesting to see how Mucheru handles this balancing act between the government and its largest tax payer.

Leadership and direction- Blockchain, bitcoin, etc

Every time new technology comes up, there is usually apprehension from the incumbent; mainly it borders on the economic effects but is usually masked as public interest; to a larger extent that is…… for instance, when Mpesa entered the market, banks complained to the Central Bank, arguing public interest and demanding that Safaricom be licensed as a bank and comply with all the rules if it wants to handle money. It was a convoluted battle that Safaricom finally won and banks had no choice than to partner.

Countries like Japan, Tunisia and many in the EU are exploring how to use blockchain. It will probably take another 10 years for it to go mainstream. You can read about bitcoin in Kenya here. CBK has already cautioned the public on its usage.

In this respect, Mucheru and Kyalo should offer leadership and insights on the best way for Kenya to go.  Whether CBK recognizes the opportunities provided by blockchain or not, will be down to the approach and guidance from the ICT ministry.

Restoring the vibrancy

There was a time Kenya’s ICT sector was vibrant, with competitions here and there, which provided opportunities for new ideas and career “app competition winners”. People say that the tech ecosystem doesn’t benefit from competitions but for the young guys from school, it can offer some motivation and a way to set up.

Its funny how some people vilify app competitions, even if they are well known or found their footing in those competitions. I recently read some WhatsApp messages from some guys saying how competitions spoil the industry. The irony is; the two loudest characters have won the most money and were a mainstay in those competitions. They ran professional start ups; being know just by pitching in those competitions.

For the people entering Kenya’s tech space now, you missed a boom of unaccounted government money, forget about the $1,000 Barclays is giving, this was money 🙂

There is so much we can expect, but this is all I can think about for now; read what Mucheru promises in this article.



African Union Project Helps Set Up IXPs in Six African countries

Six African countries have set up Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), after two years of the Arfican Union’s African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) project, managed by the Internet Society.

Under the project, the Internet Society was to provide technical training to AU member countries. The initial engagement involved building a local stakeholder driven process to start the dialogue for countries without IXPs with an end goal of establishing a national IXP based on global best practices. The second part involved  initiating a regional process to support the growth of existing national IXPs and ISPs to become Regional IXPs (RIXPs) and Regional Internet carriers (RICs) respectively. Technical training was held in 28 countries, attracting more than 500 participants.

“This is the first major initiative in Africa that has utilised the multi-stakeholder approach towards the implementation of IXPs. Governments have played a facilitative role towards the establishment of IXPs in five countries launched in 2014 and are actively involved in the 3 preparing to be launched in 2015. As a result, there has been more IXPs launched in the last 12 months than in the 5 years before,” said Michuki Mwangi, Internet Society’s Senior Development Manager for Africa.

The new IXPs are in Namibia, Burundi, Swaziland, Gambia, Gabon and Seychelles  . Africa currently has 33 IXPs and according to Packet Clearing House (PCH), Africa’s domestic bandwidth production grew by 145 percent, from 113Gigabits in April last year to 277 Gigabits in April this year.

The engagement in countries involved bringing together government representatives, ISPs, content, research and education network operators, amongst others likely to be peering at the exchange. The countries also received, technical trainings that involved assessment of technical preparedness for networks expected to participate, discussion on benefits of setting up an IXP and benefits of getting Internet resources IP addresses and Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) from AFRINIC.

“The five workshops at the regional level achieved their goal, which was to enhance interconnectivity within the region, encourage local content development and data localization by promoting investments in data hosting infrastructures and data centers as well as through cost-saving peering and content distribution mechanisms,” said the final report forwarded to the AU.

In terms of availability of technical experts in the area of IXPs, Africa is still considered lower than other regions, which means AXIS training has produced a high number of experts.

“The number of people trained and countries covered in the project was more than in the entire history of Africa and IXPs,” said Michuki Mwangi “Through the project we have developed a pool of subject matter experts in the African region. In addition, the process has enabled us to attach regional and international experts, to continue supporting the respective countries through their efforts to establish the IXP.”



Africa records major increase in domestic bandwidth production

African Internet Exchange Points have recorded a big increase in domestic bandwidth production, as a result of growth in sharing of Google cache, e-government services, local hosting infrastructure and services.

According to Packet Clearing House (PCH), Africa’s domestic bandwidth production grew by 145 percent, from 113Gigabits in April last year to 277 Gigabits in April this year. The number of IXPs also grew from 25 last year to 37 this year, a 48 percent increase.

“There is a general observation of significant traffic increase at IXPs where members have mutually agreed to share Google Cache and other CDN cache traffic; there is also considerable traffic being generated from e-government services, growth of local hosting services supported by the availability of local hosting infrastructure,” said Michuki Mwangi,

One of the fastest growing IXPs in Sub-Sahara Africa is NAPAfrica,. It has three locations in South Africa; Johannesburg  (Est. 2012), Cape Town (Est. 2012) and Durban (Est. 2014). NAP Africa Johannesburg records 20Gbps peak traffic, Cape Town has 5Gbps, while Durban has 100Mbps peaks traffic. Two NAPAfrica IXPs have recorded significant growth within a very short period. On the other hand, the INX operated by the South Africa ISP Association (ISPA) and also hosted in data centers in Johannesburg (JINX est. 1996), Cape Town (CINX est. 2009) and Durban (DINX est. 2012) have equally high traffic at JINX (14Gbps peak) and CINX (3.8Gbps peak) by the regions levels. However, it is of interest to observe that NAPAfrica’s two facilities have achieved higher traffic levels over a shorter time compared to the INX in similar locations.

“NAPAfrica is an IXP located in one of the few carrier neutral data center facilities in Africa operated by Teraco. As a result, NAPAfrica is in a prime location to attract membership from a diverse range of businesses collocated inside the carrier neutral facility. I believe that, the carrier neutral data-center factor has played a significant role in the impressive growth seen at NAPAfrica over a short period,” added Mwangi.

Considering that most carrier neutral CD’s are often served by major operators. It is likely that NAPAfrica’s growth is buoyed by its ability to easily connect and cross connect providers within the data centre and at high speed, without the need for procuring additional links with infrastructure operators.

According to preliminary data from research being conducted by Africa IXP Association, 35 percent of the IXPs charge port fees (monthly/annual) which is considered a global best practice to ensure sustainability of the IXP operation. This position is enforced by the fact that 35% of the IXPs that do not charge are planning to implement fees in the future. If this would be considered it would be safe to say that soon, at least 70% of all the IXPs in region would be self-sustainable and capable of establishing themselves as regional hubs.

The survey also highlighted that majority of the IXPs (55%) have small networks and content friendly peering policies. This policies appear to be in line with the current level of development where most of the IXP members are small networks and are looking to attract content providers. Fifteen percent of the IXPs have bilateral peering which is friendly to large networks, that prefer to have the choice of whom they interconnect with at the IXP. The remaining 30% of the respondent IXPs have less favorable peering policies that enforce peering for all IXP participants. The mandatory peering policies are often favored by startup IXPs to develop the peering culture. These policy tend to be reviewed as the IXP grows and members have a better understanding of the benefits of peering.

AFIX was formed in 2013, to provide an enabling environment for IXP operators and to help IXPs maximise their value, to improve connectivity within the region and increase Internet’s value for all.

Even though the research shows growth and stability in terms of power back up and security in the IXP facilities, many IXPs are struggling to grow the number of networks peering and the capacity exchanged locally.

“To grow their capacity, the African IXP operators need to consider expanding the target market of the IXP membership to include a diverse range of non-traditional members such as banks, government networks, media, academia, research and education networks,” said Mwangi.

With the massive investments in ICT infrastructure, Mwangi says IXPs need to develop strategic partnerships with terrestrial infrastructure and submarine cable operators to provide suitable  ackages for connectivity to the IXP facility. This will serve as an incentive to connect the new diverse range of (local and cross-border) businesses to the IXP and with higher capacity.

Mwangi concluded that the notable growth in traffic exchanged at IXPs is a clear indication of the regions potential and future growth potential is dependent on the stakeholders ability to nature and leverage on the relationships formed within the IXP’s ecosystem.



AMS-IX and TESPOK end Mombasa Internet Exchange partnership

After one year of joint operations, Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX) and the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK) have terminated the agreement for operations at the Mombasa Internet Exchange, a Point of Presence (POP) based at the SEACOM landing station.

The decision to terminate the agreement was reached after the POP failed to attract more users to exchange content, commonly known as peers. Google, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is currently peering in Mombasa, exchanging content with three other Kenyan networks.

“Since the exchange point went live in mid 2014 it has proved difficult to attract parties to participate in the exchange. This has led to the difficult decision to close the East Africa Exchange Point as of June 1st. This doesn’t mean that the development of the Internet infrastructure in East Africa has reached a standstill,” said a statement posted on AMS-IX website.

In response, TESPOK sent out a statement saying it had launched the Mombasa Internet Exchange Point in August 2009 at the SEACOM Landing station. The partnership with AMSIX was to support the growth of the already existing POP in Mombasa and add value to the region.

“This partnership has seen the location attract several international operators and at the same time brought to the fore some of the challenges of the set up in Mombasa,” said Fiona Asonga, TESPOK CEO.

In the statement, Asonga blamed the failure of the partnership on the challenges of set up in Mombasa, such as; lack of appropriate local government support for ICT infrastructure investment, absence of carrier neutral data centers in the region and the costs of transit between Nairobi and Mombasa to facilitate peering at both the Nairobi and Mombasa locations.

“TESPOK is determined and will continue to run Mombasa Internet Exchange Point as it had began in 2009 and with the standards it has used to operate  the Nairobi Kenya Internet Exchange Point POPs since 2002,” added Asonga.

On its part, AMS-IX promised to continue supporting peering and interconnection in Africa through forums such as Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) through sharing of knowledge and experience, and the provisioning of equipment to developing Internet exchanges.



Online University launched, to use cloud platform in teaching

Just like many sectors of the economy, the adoption of innovative approaches and technological advancement is revolutionising education across the globe and challenging the way schools operate. This technological advancement has seen investment in virtual infrastructure that enables convenient, on demand network access to information and a host of other shared pool of resources.

Newly established Edulink International College with their Instructor led training, now is one of the forward looking institutions that has introduced a cloud-based learning resources platform as part of its teaching methodology through a partnership with APTECH. APTECH is a world leader in computer education has trained over 7 million people worldwide. Edulink International College will deliver a range of courses such as ACCP (Software Development) and Arena Multimedia programme (Multimedia & Animation).

Dubbed ‘onlinevarsity’, the platform is a unique collaborative platform through which APTECH students will have an opportunity to go beyond classroom learning (Classroom lectures and notes).  They have accessibility to dynamic learning material including expert videos, industry articles, job market trends and industry best practices.

“With the world constantly shifting to the virtual platform, we believe that education too should move beyond the classrooms. Onlinevarsity is APTECH’s collaborative cloud-based learning resources platform for all its students. In addition to learning from the experience and knowledge of faculty members, students receive all their study material on the portal. Students gets deeper understanding of subjects through interactive ebooks, and relevant articles and blogs, Collaboration with expert tutors from around the world,” said Sudhir Gupta, Academic Manager, Edulink International College

The platform also saves on cost and time for both the students and institution. “There is no headache of ordering/shipping and storing of books. Student get the flexibility of reading material as per their convenience of time,” Gupta added.

Onlinevarsity is only  available to the students who enroll in the Multimedia and Animation (ARENA) and Software Development (ACCP) courses through the Edulink International College which was recently named the APTECH’s Centre of Excellence in Kenya.

Mr Gupta explained: “APTECH / ARENA students get their user account on onlinevarsity after they enrol with us.  After confirmation their login details, they can access resource available on site. Onlinevarsity is now accessible on your mobile, giving you the true freedom to access anything, anywhere and anytime.”

The platform is can also be accessed on android phones and also by using the OnlineVarsity app and plans are underway to make it available to non APTECH students.

Other features of this platform include the ability to take down notes/queries while reading ebooks or watching videos, watching or downloading experts’ views/tips about various course-related topics during any downtime as well as the Onlinevarsity App which keeps a student connected to onlinevarsity on the move.

The reception of the platform is very positive with Edulink International College envisaging that they will enroll about 300 students in the first year.

Citing the success of M-Pesa (a mobile money service) and Ushahidi (a non-profit platform that crowd sources information during disasters, Gupta reckoned that Kenya, already a trailblazer in the introduction of out-of-the box technologies, is ripe for more home grown solutions to local challenges. Such initiatives, Edulink believes, will help to facilitate the shift from the traditional methods of learning to the blended learning system.

“People want to know more about technology and look for solutions that are convenient and save time. With the increase in the use of mobile apps to do shopping, payments and even bank transactions. Onlinevarsity offers the same to students- they will be able to use the same app to study and solve problems using IT,” Gupta concluded.




Of Airtel, Safaricom dominance and Competition issues

In December last year, Airtel wrote to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) seeking its intervention in repressing/curtailing/cutting the legs (insert your own interpretation) of Safaricom. I thought Airtel was arguing that the public needs more choices, that the public is robbed etc….. but its just business tactics.

I have been looking for details of that letter by Airtel to CAK but now it has been published and almost verbatim. Please read it with a business mind and get to understand what Airtel is asking for. There is no way to write this without looking like I am defending Safaricom, so, now you know.

The gist of it is that Airtel wants Safaricom to spin off its businesses like Mpesa and cede their competitive edge which is pricing, its marketing campaign to be scrutinised before it hits the market, Safaricom base stations to be sold out to a third party, Safaricom to pay its competition higher for call termination, and Safaricom to allow national roaming free.

For many of us who operate a side hassle or a corner shop, think of the many times you have wished there was an authority that could knock your biggest competition out of their perch and give you a chance to run away with their business? Unfortunately for many, you don’t have that chance that Airtel seems to have gotten.

First, let us get it out of our heads that Airtel is a broke company, it is the fourth largest mobile company globally, and it brags about it locally in this Standard article. Here is the quote from that story.

 “ Airtel is the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. Airtel is the second largest in Africa in terms of size and the largest in terms of 3G network in Africa,” he said adding that Airtel was one of the first to launch 4G network in Africa. “I launched it (4G network) in Rwanda, and in Seychelles,” 

You don’t get to be fourth largest by being broke, but I am sure Airtel will also say that the Kenyan unit is independent from the parent company.

Without favouring Safaricom or Airtel, let us take the business angle and evaluate what Airtel is asking the regulator, and say a prayer, hoping that we also get to demand of the same from our competition. I can do with a version of this regulator, to just ask/demand my competition, that is doing so well, to cede their ground to me. Forget whatever effort or time they took, I just need it.

I was a bit disappointed that Airtel was raising the issues, a company that has been operating in Kenya for the last 15 years. At some point in the early 2000s, the two companies were head to head, then per second billing came up and Airtel/Kencell was slow to react…

So, what are the salient issues in that letter?

1. Market dominance

I think its time that we got to know who has market dominance in what areas. There is a process set out in the new Act, that stipulates what a dominant player should or shouldn’t do. I don’t think that it will be a death sentence if Safaricom is declared a dominant player, they are, in GSM voice and SMS, that is from sector statistics in Q3 last year.

But to be declared a dominant player, the CAK must do a sector wide survey and identify the players that dominate areas like Internet provision, voice etc. That takes time and there is no regulator that would make a declaration of dominance without an attempt at a survey….That will take time.

While discussing the issue of dominance, we can also ask whether Airtel has done the same in a market like Zambia where they are dominant with 80 percent of the market share. Are they allowing the competition to use their national infrastructure free, coz in such cases, the competition would have no motivation to invest in network expansion- why when you can use free?

2. Innovation

From the story, it seems that Airtel has a problem with Safaricom’s innovation as demonstrated in products like Mpesa and marketing promos like Tetemesha, but the nerve to say that the public or the regulator to scrutinise the marketing or campaign budget is amusing.

This maybe construed to mean that Airtel is devoid of innovation, and that their teams tasked with market acquisition do not work. Airtel seems to think that Safaricom has reaped more advantages from its innovation department.

We can start by reading this piece on how Airtel was stealing Safaricom’s thunder with the mobile money platform.

Airtel has been very innovative and from the days of sharing infrastructure with KDN, they have taken the market with some unique products.

Let us re-read this story of Access Kenya and Airtel partnering to provide affordable E1 lines via fibre. Think of E1 lines as the digital equivalent of old Telkom lines. It provides affordable communication for small and big companies and its a real virgin market.

That story was in 2011, when Safaricom was struggling with JTL fibre and didn’t even have a chance to even think of providing voice via fibre. By 2012, Safaricom was dealing with problems of not investing in fibre when it had to discontinue its unlimited bundle, a service Airtel was still offering. You can read my take. Safaricom has since laid its own fibre and is busy offering E1 services for the corporate market.

I can go into the details of interrelation between fibre and GSM voice but the upshot of it is that the sales from AccessKenya and Airtel would amount to Airtel lines and companies will spend on the network if you show value.

So, if by 2011, Airtel had a chance to beat Safaricom in one area it was still limping, why hasn’t it? Why hasn’t its partnership translated to more business?

Mpesa is also a big talking point, I think Airtel had lowered its mobile money transfer rates earlier than Safaricom, so what happened?




3. Infrastructure sharing

Airtel is suggesting that Safaricom spin off its base stations like it sold to Helios last year. Usually, mobile operators spin off or sell their towers if they are unable to make a business case out of it, or feel they can make more money. If a company feels that they are able to make money even with the passive infrastructure, it is in their place to do so; they must be assured that the company taking them over will make better use and more money that the company is doing.

Is it in Airtel’s place to direct the regulator to order/direct Safaricom to sell of its towers?


4. Marketing budget

Airtel has an issue with Safaricom marketing budget like Tetemesha promo, saying that none of the competition is capable of competing….even the fourth largest mobile provider?

Try telling one of the Tetemesha winners that Safaricom is bad…..or should be stopped from marketing….


What is the problem with Airtel?

My main problem was that in the lengthy letter, Airtel didn’t ask for anything practical, like the revision of spectrum fees. That is something the CAK can do, without involving Safaricom or whacking their legs in any way. Even though Safaricom’s threat that they will reduce investment is also smelly.

The regulator gets a lot of money in spectrum fees annually, ask for help there. There is also the Universal Services Fund, ask for help in expanding your network. That is something the CAK can do without passing the buck.

Let us explore the problems…..

1. Lack of investment over the years

There was a time Safaricom struggled with congestion, and Airtel was as clear as can be, but at some point, that must have stopped. In marketing, Airtel was there with promos and marketing activations, that has dwindled over the years.

Why would the network that was struggling with congestion, with poor call completion and handover rates according to the regulator, be the one that is expected to bail out in terms of national roaming services? Roaming is an agreement between two companies, does Airtel need regulation in that bit too because if the regulator allows free use, no guarantee that Airtel will invest in network expansion.

2. Too many expatriates

Sometimes back I was involved in a conversation with a former or disgruntled employee, who claimed that since Airtel entered the market, Indian bosses streamed in, even if they didn’t have to. It is their investment yes, but you can imagine doing market activation in Abothuguchi or Kendu bay and the guy leading the team is from India, yes, India has had lots of success but this is a different market that may require locals.

There is no guarantee that the locals will turn over profits but if there were any lessons with the South African expats in KDN; expats don’t equally have the magic portion, no matter the success they had in their home markets.

Leadership has a direct consequence to performance and stability. Maybe Airtel needs to look in before looking out for answers.

3.  Group mentality

Yes, Airtel is a large group that has operations in several countries. But that is where it should stop. Marketing should be country specific. Some of those ads they run are Africa wide and may not resonate with users in some markets.

How about go back to the old ways of taking country specific approach?

4. Hopeless communication team

I don’t know what criteria Airtel uses to interview in their communication department but even village cattle dip operators have better response and communication from this department. These guys want to just bombard me with rubbish press releases but when I ask serious questions no response. You try to push, they send you an irrelevant speech that has nothing to do with what you were asking.

Yes, Airtel has a budget to entertain journalists and bloggers but how about they try answering questions and make sure there is another consistent telco voice in the media apart from Safaricom and at times Orange?

Airtel has made significant investment but they have also outsourced customer care and their bas stations, so technically, their risk is minimal in this country. Asking for regulatory capture/ curtailing of a publicly listed company is well within your rights.

Let us wait and hear what the regulator says…..



88mph responds to issues of fluff in Kenya tech scene

Thank you for writing about this topic.

First let me point out that I did say in my email that I was busy and not able to answer before early this week. So I’ll just respond directly here instead of emailing you. I hope that is ok for you.

I’ll try to be brief but some of this is fairly complex as you can imagine and does require more than a one liner. Also, by now there have been so many blog posts about 88mph and our model and most of the time the information is straight up wrong. We are often too busy to answer all these posts, but this time I’ll try to expand a bit so readers can refer here in the future. If you want me to expand on any topics, please reach out and I’m happy to do so.

1) 88mph is not closing down its Kenyan operations. We are indeed taking a break from investing in Kenya this year, but there are many reasons why:

One reason is that most of our small team was busy running our first accelerator program in Nigeria this fall. We are a small team, operating in 3 different countries with 43 startups under our wings.

Another reason is that we are focusing on the companies that we have in our Kenyan portfolio now rather than stretching ourselves thin. We are actually very involved with our startups and help them long after the official 3 month program. You can reach out and ask our portfolio companies.

Another is that we are fully invested with our first Kenyan fund and would have to set up a new structure and raise a new round to do more investments in Kenya. We didn’t have time to do this.

2) 88mph normally invest up to $100k per startup, though we have gone higher on one occasion.

3) We are not moving to Nigeria and shutting down Kenya because there’s too much fluff in Kenya. When you look at the two markets then yes, Kenya has more NGOs, more pitch competitions, more awards, more grants, more journalists writing stories about Silicon Savannah, more of all the stuff I referred to as “fluff” in the interview. I think it’s hard to deny this. Nigeria has little of all of this compared to Kenya. But that has nothing to do with our decision to start a program in Nigeria. We are doing Nigeria because we found an awesome partner in our joint venture ( and we got an amazing opportunity to enter a market we find extremely exciting.

4) I’m very sure I’ve never said that we wanted to fund companies to “hype them, get clicks and eyeballs then sell”… We have always wanted to invest in great entrepreneurs and yes, because we are a commercial investor, one day sell and make a return. We don’t want to hype silly ideas. Our model isn’t to flip startups. We want to build solid companies. I have never claimed that this model works because I “studied” it. I studied music :)

5) You are right that success for the investor is ultimately an exit and a return to shareholders. But it takes many years to build a solid company and we have never expected to exit any companies in our first 3 years in Kenya. We have made some investment that just didn’t work out, but that’s the name of the game. That said, we have made some really great investments in Kenya. Many have products, revenue and some are even profitable already: Ghafla, Futaa, Mdundo, Movas, Yum, Hivisasa, Nanovas, BookNow, just to name a few of the ones we’ve invested in in Kenya. We are far from saying that we haven’t picked any winners in Kenya.

6) Whether or not 88mph provides valuable advice and assistance beyond our money is a valid question. However, I think this question can only be answered by our portfolio companies. I encourage you to reach out and ask what they think. But please do ask more than just the one we decided to shut down. It doesn’t give a very full or nuanced picture.

7) We don’t hire or use “western consultants”. We have experimented (with varying success) having Entrepreneurs in Residence, who for instance, do all the graphic work for the startups doing the program (if they want the help). We don’t force the startups to take office space at the Startup Garage (88mph’s home). We do require them to work from the garage for the length of the program, but we actually pay for that. They don’t. And after the program they are free to move elsewhere. Some companies move to find cheaper space, be closer to home, etc. Some companies stay.

8) I’m happy you think PesaTalk was such a great idea. We thought so too :) But for many reasons, we didn’t have time/energy to really get if off the ground so we decided to shut it down. I strongly encourage to set up a financial blog and run it as a business. Maybe you’ll have an exit here!

9) I fail to understand the argument about facebook. I’m talking about individual angel investors looking for investment opportunities and you are talking about a massive global corporation, extending it’s developer program to the regional capital. I don’t see where the connection is here.

Summary: Investing in startups is a tricky business everywhere. Also in Kenya. Kenya has ups and downs, like any market. We are happy with our investments in Kenya. We have met some great entrepreneurs whom we have helped build cool companies. There is fluff in Kenya. But that is a separate discussion (which has already been beaten to death on Kenyan blogs) and has nothing to do with out decision to run a program in Nigeria.

I hope this helps people breathe again before they get all up in arms about how horrible it is that some investors want to make risky bets on entrepreneurs in Kenya.