Sunday, May 06, 2012

West Africa Rising

While learning Clojure some years ago I stumbled upon a project that used Clojure and Arduino. Immediately, I wanted to try it out, I searched for where to get a board within my city(Port-Harcourt) or my country. I was disappointed , there was not a single distributor within the whole West Africa. It occurred to me that I may not be the only one facing this challenge and for my subcontinent to reduce poverty, we need to be part of Arduino world. How would they hack if there is no prototype board to play with? Who would supply boards when there is no distributor? These were the questions that came to my mind. Thereafter, I seized this wonderful opportunity and approached Arduino manufacturing team for distributorship. I was surprised that my application was approved. They even encouraged me to have online presence which they would link to.

Being infinitely lazy and undecided(whether this venture worths my time and energy), I opened a mailing list hoping to use it to create awareness and exchange of information among would-be buyers. However, after 12 months , I could only sell just three Arduino boards. I was disappointed.

Last November(2011) I saw a Google advert encouraging Nigerians to get their businesses online. I used GNBO platform to setup a basic and crude etailing. I got help from a New York based Web designer while designing the header of my site. I was impressed that 70% of my visitors are coming from Nigeria and other West African states. Orders started pouring in within and outside Nigeria. However, I noticed that Arduino boards alone would not take me too far, the best thing for me is to build a one-stop shop. This led to the addition of Sparkfun, Digilent and DIYdrones in my list of suppliers.

West Africa is still not a place for startups, basic things are pretty expensive or are not there all. Hear this, it would cost around 100USD to ship 0.5kg to Lome, Togo from Nigeria. Same item from Thailand to Nigeria , using the same courier would cost about 40USD. I have also noticed that the minimum(courier cost) within Nigeria is 25USD. This means that I cannot go full throttle, I have to mix old and new. I have located a shop in Lagos , I use there as my outlet(80% of my market is in the Lagos axis).

Now the good news, school kids in faraway Ghana are using Arduino boards in their Physics practicals. This is amazing! Thanks to a dutch volunteer who asked for Arduino boards in order to engage his pupils. Another wonderful story , very close to my heart is that of a secondary school kid from a privileged home(in Lagos) whose hobby is to hack Arduino board. One may ask what about Electrical/Electronics engineers? Well, we have them, and they have started showcasing their “unique capabilities”. Most University kids in Nigeria do not spend enough time with Micro-controllers and Microprocessors or should I say that they are intimidated. But they still yearn for a simple platform to help them get started. Arduino for now seems to be their answer, they are “loving it”. They are happily playing with Arduino boards, and their programming skill is impressive. In my next writeup I would showcase their projects and the effect Arduino is having in the development of Nigerian Techies.

Satajanus, Nigerian-based Arduino distributor

4 comments:

uchmok said...

Hi Emeka,

I work for a software consultancy, ThoughtWorks, and we will be in Accra next week. Interested in investigating ways to build ICT capacity in both Ghana and Nigeria. Will you be in Ghana next week, and are you interested in meeting up? Even a skype call would suffice.

Cheers,

Uchenna
www.thoughtworks.com

Emeka said...

Hello Uche,

I won't be travelling to Ghana because of my schedule is a bit tight over here. However, I would prefer a skype call.
skype_id: ofjanus
email: emekamicro [at] gmail.com

Alex Ott said...

Hi
I added your blog to Planet Clojure by the "Clojure" label, so please use it when you'll post Clojure-related stuff - it will be automatically synced to Planet

Emeka said...

@Alex,
Thanks so much.

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