State seeks mentors for Apps4 Africa contest

Competition seeks IT government solutions leveraging mobile phone technology

The State Department is inviting information technology specialists and developers to serve as mentors to their African counterparts in the Apps4 Africa application-development contest the agency is sponsoring in Nairobi, Kenya.

The goal is to develop technology solutions to help build infrastructure, foster civil society and education, reduce corruption and ensure access to capital, Elana Berkowitz, innovation adviser at State, wrote in a July 29 White House blog entry.

“These are all complex challenges that will require complex solutions. However, it is increasingly clear that technology, entrepreneurship and innovation will be part of the solution,” Berkowitz wrote.

About 25 percent of Africa’s population has electricity and 37 percent have mobile phones. Developers in Kenya have created Ushahidi, a crisis-response system, and M-pesa, a mobile money application. Technology incubators are operating at Hive Colab in Uganda, the  iHub in Kenya, and Limbe Labs in Cameroon.

State partnered with Appfrica Labs, SODNET and iHub to initiate the Apps4 Africa competition.


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The competition is open to developers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. However, IT-savvy professionals are welcome to sign up as mentors for the African programmers, Berkowitz wrote.

Ideas are being sought in many areas in which government can improve economic and social life. For example, to prevent duplicate voting, governments in East Africa are working to publish voter registration databases.

“One idea generated was to develop an app that allows election commissions and authorized election observers to keep a real time tally, geo-located by constituency, of who has voted, to ensure that the final tabulation does not exceed the number of votes actually submitted,” Berkowitz wrote.

Another application idea was to develop a mobile phone application that could quickly assess the quality of math education in primary schools in rural areas.

Ideas may be submitted on the Apps4 Africa Web site, through Twitter or by text message.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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