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Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women’s Day

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups.” -Delphine Remy-Boutang

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Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
(File photo)

Barcode health cards, mobile apps for victims of violence and an online legal platform are just some of the ideas showing the direction of female digital pioneers in Africa, with Senegalese innovators in the spotlight.

The Senegalese capital, Dakar this month hosted the first African edition of “Digital Women’s Day”, which for the previous seven years had taken place in Paris.

More than 650 people and 26 corporations attended the event where innovators displayed technology creations, often to tackle daily problems women face and inspired by their own circumstances.

Organisers say Dakar — one of the first African cities to offer free internet access — has ambitions as a budding start-up hub with plans to create 35,000 direct jobs in new technologies by 2025. 

Related: An app is helping reunite South Sudan’s ‘lost’ children with their families

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups and major investors,” said Delphine Remy-Boutang, the event’s founder.

Among the participants was Nafissatou Diouf, who at 22 already heads a start-up with 10 employees.

Her firm, Senvitale, creates QR codes for wristbands, pendants and cards enabling doctors or first responders to instantly access patients’ health data.

Moved by her aunt’s sudden death after a failed treatment of an allergic reaction, Diouf gave up her studies in industrial chemistry and food technology to launch her digital enterprise.

Senvitale, launched in 2017, won best Senegal start-up prize last year for its free platform, which also allows patients to manage their medical appointments.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day

Related: Using drones to provide life-saving medication in Ghana

The concept was to “help doctors and emergency workers… to act quickly”, the young Senegalese businesswoman said.

For now, the project is waiting on authorisation from the Ministry of Health because of the sensitive data that the company handles. But Diouf says she is already considering development of the business internationally.

Victims of violence –

Diariata N’diaye, a 36-year-old artist who grew up in France in a Senegalese family, turned her focus on another problem — helping to fight domestic violence and abuse of women.

Through her activism travelling to schools in France to educate young people, she became aware many victims did not realise there was help out there. 

In 2015, she launched a mobile application “App-Elles” — a play on words in French that translates into “She-Calls” — that allows victims to alert three contacts in case of danger. It records and transmits the sound of the incident to the recipient and sends the GPS location.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
Photo credit: Jérôme Fouquet/Ouest-France

“I began with a very basic observation: everyone has a phone and so if there is going to be a tool for victims, it should go through their phone,” N’diaye said. 

An optional wristband, costing 30 euros ($33), can be used to issue the alerts via a Bluetooth link to the mobile, so the victim does not have to draw attention to herself by switching on her phone. The free platform also allows abused women to contact associations or learn about their rights.

The App-Elles creator claims 8,000 downloads of its application and a presence in 10 countries, including France, Canada, Morocco, the United States as well as Senegal.

“We have a lot of people using App-Elles when they go out,” says N’diaye. “Women who start early in the morning, who come back late at night.”

Legal resources –

When Nafissatou Tine, a 34-year-old Senegalese-French lawyer left Brussels in 2016 to settle in Dakar, she struggled to find reliable sources of information on Senegalese law.

So with the Sunulex platform, which brings together all of Senegal’s digitised laws as well as decisions of jurisprudence, she sought to fill a gap for law students, lawyers and even citizens.

Related: Technology is helping Kenya’s herders adapt to climate change

Sunulex has placed 800 texts on a publicly accessible free platform — a small portion out of the total of 60,000 — which gets 1,700 hits a week.

The company, which already has eight employees, hopes to launch a version next month that will pitch to 10 countries in French-speaking Africa. 

“It’s an African platform made with African resources, by Africans, for Africans, and for lawyers around the world,” she said.

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Culture & Tourism

Morocco’s renowned “Critical” cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrids

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable

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Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"

Morocco’s rugged Rif Mountains have long been renowned for their cannabis but traditional varieties are being smoked out by foreign hybrids offering higher yields and greater potency.

The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the kingdom.

Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.

Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”

Major cannabis producers decide what to plant and “hybrid plants have become a market all on their own,” said Moroccan anthropologist Khalid Mouna, who has written a thesis on the economics of Ketama’s cannabis production.

READ: Morocco’s last woman-potters hope on social media for survival

Critical, which Mouna said comes from the Netherlands, is the latest hybrid created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco.

With names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla”, hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability. 

Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo, while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told reporters. 

Buoying production – 

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Morocco has long been a leading producer and exporter of hashish — refined cannabis resin — even though the production, sale and consumption of drugs is illegal in the country.

READ: Sand Miners threaten Morocco’s coastline

A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.

In 2003, 134,000 hectares were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion programme, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) of hashish per quintal, a traditional unit of weight equivalent to 100 kilos, compared to a single kilo for kif, as local cannabis is known.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.

Livelihood –

In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.

Producing it and smoking it are tolerated by the authorities and its cultivation provides a livelihood for 90,000 to 140,000 people in an otherwise deprived region known for its poor soil.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

People in the area told reporters that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.

READ: Lesotho is pioneering Africa’s medical cannabis industry

Hicham divides his time between his cannabis field and a cafe, where he and his friends smoke joints and watch satellite TV — a distraction from unemployment, he says.

In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.

Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.

Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.

Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.

Environmental cost –

The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost, however.

The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT.

Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas. 

“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.

To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.

Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain. 

Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.

To legalise, or not –

Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical. 

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.

READ: Kenya denies it has given a US company licence to produce cannabis

“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels,” Mouna said. 

“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation.”

Cannabis decriminalisation remains controversial in the conservative country. 

Proposals to legalise cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.

For Mouna, legalisation could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.

And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya.

“The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”

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Culture & Tourism

Wizkid News: Four latest news on Wizkid you probably missed

Wizkid has not only been on the news for music but also for the many controversies hanging around his name

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portrait of singer and songwriter Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly called Wizkid
People sit beside portrait of singer and songwriter Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly called Wizkid painted on a pillar under the bridge at Ojuelegba in Lagos. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The famous Afro Pop sensation, Ayo Balogun popularly known as Wizkid has had his fair share of celebrity controversies. Ranging from his cold relationships with his baby mamas to his alleged affair with Tiwa Savage, the list is endless. It will be safe for anybody to conclude that he has not only been on the news for music but also for the many controversies hanging around his name.

Wizkid and Tiwa Savage

Relationship rumours sparked off between the star boy and the ‘kelekele love’ crooner, Tiwa Savage as the two started attending events and appearing on music videos together all of a sudden. With many bashing Tiwa Savage for dating a much younger guy. But the interesting thing is, since the rumours started making waves, neither Wizkid nor Tiwa Savage has come out to refute the many claims of amorous relationship between them. In the usual Wizkid manner, he has greeted these rumours with absolute  silence. 

Pay Attention: A musical tribute to Nigerian mothers

It got to a point where Tiwa Savage’s ex husband, Tee Bills had to come in on the matter and made it clear to anybody who cared to listen that, Wizkid could not have anything to do with the mother of his child, as according to him, Wizkid respects him just so much to ruin such a wonderful relationship they have. But what is interesting is, Tiwa Savage has opened up on their relationship during a recent interview with Beats FM, saying that they are ‘friends with benefits’ because they accompany each other to events.

Joro – Wizkid’s latest jam

Wizkid’s latest single ‘Joro’ has attracted a lot of reactions. Both positive and negative. While some said it’s a spiritual song that goes straight to one’s soul, others have trashed the song as being lyrically empty. It has been further criticized on the basis of the timing of its release as many said it’s insensitive to release such a song at the time Nigeria was celebrating her independence, which should be a time of sober reflection for Nigerians.

The artist Wizkid during the MAMA 2016,
The artist Wizkid during the MAMA 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 22nd, 2016

However, since the release, the song has enjoyed hundreds of views and downloads on various music sites and platforms. it garnered 1.7 million views on YouTube just after 4 days of its release.

Wizkid and Jada Pollock

Recall that a few months ago Wizkid’s third baby mama and manager Jada Pollock announced on instagram that she has called it quits with the singer on the basis of domestic violence. She announced that she would no longer be working with the father of her baby as things would no longer flow well between them, courtesy of Wizkid’s abusive nature. 

Pay Attention: Nigeria’s apex bank partners Lagos on ₦22 billion national theatre renovation

However,in a funny twist of events, Jada Pollock completely denied ever making such accusation against Wizkid. She claimed the accusation which was made via her Instagram account @_jada.p did not come from her as she alleged her account was hacked by an intruder. Her subsequent denial of authoring the post  amused as well as infuriated a lot of Instagram users who were of the opinion that she was such an unintelligent liar!

‘Starboyfest’

The much anticipated StarBoy Fest is barely 2 weeks away. The event which is expected to record large turn out of fans and music lovers all over England, will take place on the 18th and 19th of October 2019  in Manchester and London consecutively. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster

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Environment

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar’s plastic tide

In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing

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Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A canoeist delivers plastic waste and other items collected by scuba divers from a bay during a 'clean-up day' campaign of the ocean off the coast of the capital Dakar on September 15, 2019. - President Macky Sall, sworn in for his second term in April 2019, has proposed turning Senegal into a "zero waste" nation. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

When the sight of plastic bags, bottles and other debris littering the seabed becomes too much, there’s just one thing to do: don your diving suit, strap on an air tank and fish out the stuff yourself.

That is the solution adopted by Oceanium, an association of amateur divers in Senegal.

In a few hours last month, divers removed hundreds of kilos of plastic rubbish in the waters around the island of Goree off the capital Dakar — the jewel in Senegal’s tourism crown.

In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing.

But it provided temporary relief for local biodiversity — and gave a push for environmentalism in a country where green issues trail far behind the drive to ease poverty.

“We’re here to clean up,” exclaimed Ndeye Selbe Diouf, a young woman who took up diving two years ago and said she had lost count of fish she has seen trapped in bottles near the shore.

Oceanium’s diving director, Rodwan El Ali, 36, said the problem of plastic rubbish in Senegal was acute.

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A man empties a sack delivered by a canoeist who picked up the sacks of plastic and other waste collected by scuba divers from a bay during a ‘clean-up day’ campaign of the ocean off the coast of the capital Dakar on September 15, 2019. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

“People go to the beach and drink and party, and if there are no rubbish bins, they leave it on the beach and it’s swept into the sea with the tide,” he said.

Ali, a member of the ethnic Lebanese community that has been in Senegal for generations, took over Oceanium with his sister after its founding by their father, Haidar, a former environment minister.

“When we see fishing nets tangled around shipwrecks or plastic littering the sea bottom, we organise a cleanup,” he said.

Their first operation took place in 2017 and is moving towards a monthly cleanup dive — even weekly, if funding becomes available.

‘Dustbin’ –

“People throw everything into the sea because they think it’s big,” said Mamadou Ali Gadiaga, who has been a member of Oceanium since it was founded 35 years ago.

“It’s a hard job but you have to make people aware of the problem. The sea is not a dustbin.”

Twenty-two divers took part in a cleanup in mid-September, using two boats for operations and a third as a floating bin for the rubbish.

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A handout image made available by Oceanium de Dakar shows scuba divers collecting plastic and other waste from a bay during a ‘clean-up day’ campaign of the ocean off the coast of Goree island on September 15, 2019. (Photo by HO / Oceanium de Dakar / AFP)

By the close of the operation, they had hauled up 1.4 tonnes of debris — mainly plastic but also rusty drink cans, torn clothing and other discarded items.

This gesture for the environment has to be weighed against the realities.

Even though Senegal is in the upper tier of developing economies, it has no recycling facilities.

The rubbish that was so arduously brought up from the bottom of the sea was sent to a huge garbage tip at Mbeubeuss, where household waste from Dakar’s three million people is discharged.

According to the UN, globally, around eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea, providing a deadly hazard for birds and marine mammals and breaking down into microscopic waste that also enters the food chain.

Around nine billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the substance was produced on a large scale after World War II, but just nine per cent of this has been recycled.

In Senegal itself, environmental awareness remains low compared with the rising swell of campaigning in the rest of the world. Only a few dozen young people turned out on September 20 for the planet-wide environment rallies.

President Macky Sall has said he wants the country to be “zero waste” but discarded plastic containers and bags are an eyesore in many towns and villages, and a 2015 law to restrict the use of plastic bags is a dead letter.

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