Saturday, March 13, 2010

Change, change it's gonna come...

Those very words once left me numb.

I think most people's impression of Africa is of a place stuck in a rut - a place where war, poverty and corruption are the immutable facts of life. A place where children die of preventable diseases, and yet nothing can really be done because "some things never change".

All of these exist in Africa. But things are changing, and faster than most people realize. For example, I'm writing this blog post using a cellular modem from Orange on a brand new 3G network (and probably get better data rates than in NY or SF on AT&T!). This wasn't possible until just 3 months ago. Before that, I crept along on a mind-numbingly slow modem on the dominant MTN network. And even then, cellular modems weren't even available at all until just two years ago. Roads are improving too - the road to Kampala is still a complete mess, but large stretches are smooth asphalt. Each month it gets a little better. And the road to Kabale (2.5 hours away) has gotten much better since I arrived in April 2009.

Like in the developed world, consumer adoption of new products is spotty - but it's there. If something improves your life, there's a market for it. For example, the Uga Stove is an energy efficient wood or charcoal stove introduced a few years ago. I see them all over the place now, at least in shops. It appears to be a small part of the market, but there is definitely consumer demand there. And mobile phone adoption stands head and shoulders above any other consumer product - a 30% adoption rate in Uganda, a country with per capita income of $1300 (PPP, 2009 est.).

Things are changing across Africa - now is a time of opportunity. The continent's classic problems pose challenges, but are receding. Those of an adventurous sort may find their expectations far out of line with the reality they discover.


  1. Nice blog Alex! I volunteered for ACTS last year and was wondering what was happening to the Bwesumbu project and the various other GFS leads we looked at. It's so nice to be able to read about the current state of affairs. Please say hello to Asaph for me - and keep up the good work.


    Mike Gill

  2. Hey Mike? I assume you're Mike of "Mike & Wes". You guys are famous around here. I spent the last month and a half with Asaf looking for sources. We've found one that just came back clean from the lab in Kampala, so it looks like we have Lifewater III (just need to, you know, apply for funding and all!).

    Bwesumbu is going mostly well. All tanks are finished except for the Soso reservoir. Trenching has started, though the going's slow. The community is less motivated here than on previous projects, mostly likely due to sub-par leadership. But it's coming along, and should be done mostly on schedule.

  3. Yep, Wes, Asaph and I were the team - it's good to be remembered! Excellent news about the clean source - what's the name of the source and sub-county? I especially loved your comment about what the locals call "big".

    I'm not sure you'd be interested, but my blog from last year is still up. It has a few references to the sub par leadership which you may find relevant:

    Wes had a blog too, but I can't seem to find it anymore. Good luck!