Category Archives: Post-Soviet

Nairobi gets smart mobility, one trust-building app at a time

a version of this interview first appeared on Smart City Africa blog

​Last week we spoke about ways in which city authorities and national governments in Africa solve congestion through mass transit innovation. Now we invite you to look at private initiatives that aim to enhance mobility experience in African cities. Jason Eisen of Kenyan Maramoja app sat down with Smart City Africa’s Andy Kozlov to look at the role of trust as we criss-cross our cities.

Jason Eisen of Kenyan Maramoja app
Jason Eisen of Kenyan Maramoja app

Andy Kozlov: You say that Maramoja is not just a smart mobility app. It’s rather about building trust in a community. How so? What are the applications that you promote apart from connecting citizens with their trusted taxi driver?

MARAMOJA is absolutely about smart mobility. We just happen to believe that facilitating trust is the most important contribution we can make to the mobility (and eventually) larger on-demand economy. Many of the challenges people face when trying to move around Nairobi and other cities are about interactions between people – trust. Do I trust this motorbike taxi to be a safe rider with a well-maintained bike? Do I trust this taxi driver to charge me a fair price and get me there safely? Do I trust this person to carry my son?

As for other applications of our trust engine, you could think of it like this – MARAMOJA the mobility solution is an open product – our trust engine is in limited beta with our mobility clients but we have big eyes to the future and see ourselves playing a key role as the “trust” infrastructure layer for the on-demand economy. 

screencapture-maramoja-co-ke-1460959916123

Andy Kozlov: For many from the international crowd, when you talk about Kenya and mobile tech, it is Ushahidi that springs to mind. Has Ushahidi had any influence whatsoever on Maramoja and the values behind your app?

Ushahidi is definitely one of the great success stories from Kenya but that is 2007 already. There have been so many great technological advances out of Kenya in the 9 years since that there’s really no shortage of places to look to for inspiration. I would say that the values behind Ushahidi very much reflect the general values of the startup culture in Nairobi – which if I had to put into words I would say is about technology for people – technology that builds on our humanity and the bonds between us, rather than replace or diminish them. MARAMOJA is no different. We reconceptualized the taxi app from the ground up to be about relationships and trust. Human concepts. In doing so, we have built something in the trust engine that we believe will also have global application.

Unlike Uber, Maramoja app uses zone-based pricing to eliminate conflict between driver and passenger
Unlike Uber, Maramoja app uses zone-based pricing to eliminate conflict between driver and passenger

Andy Kozlov: How different are you from Uber?

Our basic mobility service offering is similar, transport on-demand through an app, but the similarities end there. I think most of our core differences stem from our values. We are built around people and relationships. As such, we always try to align incentives of ourselves, our drivers, and passengers. Take pricing – Uber uses time & distance which immediately puts the driver and passenger at conflict. We use zone-based pricing because it eliminates this conflict between driver and passenger. We also recognize that not every car on the market here is newer than 6 years old, so rather than excluding many great drivers we find that allowing our users to choose between the various available drivers that have accepted their ride, based on their proximity, their relationship with the driver, their car, credentials or any other factor that the client personally cares about.

Polina Kazak, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Maramoja, comes from Belarus
Polina Kazak, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Maramoja, comes from Belarus

Andy Kozlov: Superficially speaking, any other IT group in some other African city can come up with a solution similar to Maramoja. Still, what makes you stand out? Why are you convinced there is room for expansion for your app into other African countries?

Perhaps some other IT group could devise a similar solution but our UX and technology will set us apart from copycats. Trust is an incredibly emotional concept that relies great design to convey that human quality through an app. Co-Founder and Creative Director Polina Kazak has been with the company since day one. She creates that emotional connection with our users that gives the feeling of comfort, and security that can only come with working with trusted service providers. The company hit a major turning point when we met Bastian Blankenburg, PhD, who serves as MARAMOJA’s CTO. Bastian is a brilliant computer scientist with tremendous expertise artificial intelligence and machine learning as they pertain to trust. In short, I suppose I can say it will be our people that set us apart. I couldn’t imagine a more purpose-built team to build the future of trust and on-demand than the MARAMOJA crew.

Andy Kozlov: In what African cities can we expect to use your app by early 2017? Will the first solution on offer always be trusted taxi service-related?

You’ll have to wait and see…but don’t be surprised when we show up near you.

Andy Kozlov:  How come your team of developers has a German and a Belorussian specialists?

There’s no particular reason our CTO is German or our Creative Director Belorussian any more than there’s a reason that the CEO is American. Our first CTO was Kenyan, it just so happened to not work out with him. Each of our team members have their jobs because they are the absolute perfect people to fill them – nothing to do with origin. But one of the great things about the Nairobi tech scene, is that the talent pool really is global. We can draw the best from around the world and will continue to do so.

Andy Kozlov: Did they get attracted to the project specifically because of the exciting prospect to help urban communities in Kenya?

No doubt, each of is inspired by and believes that our work has a positive impact on Kenyans. I think they got attracted to the project for the enormity of my vision, of where we could go, and the revolution we could bring to the global on-demand economy. And they brought their own visions too – we were lucky enough that our visions really jived with each others and we instantly began making great strides together. There’s no feeling in the world like being part of a great team.

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Africa’s film markets and video content distribution trends (1/2)

by Andy Kozlov (@KozlovAndy)

It’s not a film unless it has a distribution plan.

How about a multi-decade distribution deal?

Distributors are in the game to profit from films that are easy to sell, not to nurture filmmakers. By this logic apparently, an independent film will languish on the shelf indefinitely if it is not marketable.

The same will be true for most of you aspiring TV producers.

Get into the habit of attending African content markets

So where do you look to make yourself marketable? Experience shows, attending content markets is a must. And every month you can be part of one or even a bunch of them, depending on the season.

As you do that, make sure you get to know your buyers’, co-producers’ needs, address their concerns in the bud. In a nutshell — be love-able.

Get both global and local in your narrative. Avoid contrived situations — they suck

Some TV format ideas can make you super famous  more than others. But the general trend is for your narrative to be both global and local at the same time. As Wangeci Murage, managing partner at Nairobi, Kenya-based Media Pros Africa, explains commenting on Russell Southwood’s Netflix in Africa – Three reasons why it will not conquer everything any time soon:

Netflix do acquire content but their main aim is to build their inventory through original productions. Their [January 2016] entry into the “world” market signals an upsurge in local content production, to which they will own full rights.

Content developers have also started shifting their mindset and have began producing content with global appeal and local relevance. This is true of the four African countries [mentioned by Mr Southwood in descending order they are Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya;] so they will find a market.

Russell Southwood is the CEO of Balancing Act, a consultancy and research company focused on telecoms, internet and broadcast in Africa. He is one of those people you can often run into at media markets across Africa.

Speaking of South African film industry, veteran producer Jeremy Nathan estimated in May 2012: we are making 25 to 30 films a year now which is really very impressive. Ten years ago we were only making five or six films a year.

And as Balancing Act points out:

There are currently some 136 VoD platforms in Africa, both local, regional and international.

Outside Africa, Thema TV was the first provider of ethnic TV channels in Europe, particularly in France, with the successful launch of “The African Bouquet“, “The German Bouquet” and the “Indian Ocean Bouquet”.

In Africa, take M-Net, the Naspers-owned terrestrial pay TV channel. In 2008, M-Net’s AfricaMagic, one of the leading channels on the DStv bouquet,  launched Africa Magic Plus the growth of which further prompted a flowering of additional channels that catered for culture and language-specific African communities, inclusive of Yoruba, Hausa and Swahili speaking groups.

In 2013, in Africa there were some 535 local TV channels, each responsible for the transmission of up to 1,000 hours of fresh programs annually.

So on the one hand, the distribution channels are expanding. But so does competition from other African content producers. Mind you, even Ukraine in Eastern Europe now shoots Nollywood films. However that also means that Zimbabwean film distributors get to network with their Slav peers at the likes of Kiev Media Week.

As of 2013, African content production ranged from 3-4,000 hours per year. During the 1990s, this figure was lower than 100.

For African content producers concerned about growing competition, Media Pros Africa’s Wangeci Murage paints a picture as bright as it can probably get in the world of unkown unkowns:

This is an age-old phenomenon that is much welcome in our industry. The likes of DSTV’s Showmax and Buni TV would not be in existence if it wasn’t for forward thinkers such as IROKO TV. They saw a gap and went out to fill it. There may be a few holes in the service delivery but nonetheless, they serve a majority of African and International markets in search of Nollywood content.

€3,000 to 30,000 checks handed directly to directors and producers at the Marché International du Cinéma Africain in Ouagadougou undoubtedly makes a good news story.

But this is where those of you who prefer to think long-term should ask themselves:

Is it worth giving away the exclusivity rights on any broadcast on the African continent for a quarter of a century ?

Whatever your decision is, you also want to avoid becoming totally dependent on the international festival circuit for the distribution of your content.

In Tanzania they say 70% of the population do not have access to TV.  If you feel passionate about reaching out to the rural folks who are underserved by cinemas, have limited mobile internet access (2G?); if you feel like you are called to bridge the gap between indigenous people, rural and urban Africans, consider going it alone. Well..not totally alone:

The global list of your outdoor movie partners is growing like never before

FilmAid International  is committed to a participatory approach, teaching skills and involving local communities with the media making process.

Open Air Cinema with its world’s premiere outdoor cinema systems and inflatable movie screens

Short & Sweet with its largest inflatable screen in South Africa

Sunshine Cinema is a mobile cinema that converts solar power to social impact. Through various short films, facilitated workshops and “how to” videos they address social and environmental challenges through community facilitated engagement.

Cine Vagabundo (The Wandering Cinema), a Colombian non-profit that has recognized the fact that with only 5% of cities and townships that have cinemas, the Latin American nation is not an exception, that something needs to be done to link content producers with their digitally divided audiences on a global scale. And locally — glocally.

The author can be reached on andreakozlov@gmail.com

Steppes in Sync 2016 Selection of Global Content Events

June and September are the busiest months (with 4 events), followed by November

JANUARY

NATPE (Miami)

January 19-21

FEBRUARY

European Film Market  (Berlin)

February 11-19

 

BBCWShowcase

February 21-24

MARCH

DISCOP Istanbul

March 1-3

 

SXSW 
(Austin, TX)

March 11-20

APRIL

MIPTV

April 4-7

MAY

LA Screenings

May 16-27. Canadian Screenings: tba

JUNE

DISCOP Africa Abidjan

May 31-June 2

 

World Content Market (Moscow)

May 30 – June 1

 

Sheffield DocFest

June 10-15

 

 

NATPE (Budapest)

June 27-30

AUGUST

DISCOPRO (Nairobi – Kalasha Festival)

August 24 – 26

SEPTEMBER

Toronto Film Festival 

September 8-18

 

International Broadcasting Convention (Amsterdam)

September 8-13

 

Kiev Media Week

September 19-23

 

Smart City Africa Abidjan

September 27-29

OCTOBER

MIPCOM

October 17-20

 

Frankfurt Book Fair

October 19-23

NOVEMBER

DISCOP Africa (Johannesburg)

November 2-4

 

American Film Market (Santa Monica, CA)

November 2-9. 2017: November 1-8

 

German Screenings (Graz)

November 27-30

Kramatorsk passengers get a timely glimpse of fulfilled promises via the newly laid trolleybus Route #6

updated on January 20, 2016

Ever since Donetsk oblast administration was moved to Kramatorsk as a result of war in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine (2014-) hopes have been higher on the side of probable as opposed to possible for a new trolleybus line to connect the Old City (including railway station) with central Kramatorsk.

Yesterday, local media followed one of Eastern Ukrainian town’s public transportation vehicles on its test ride along the newly laid trolleybus route #6.

With free fare for the pensioners and US5 cents (0,1% of minimum wage) per ride for the rest of the passangers, many Kramatorsk residents are happy with the prospect of saving a bit more as they travel to the railway station-adjacent market that offers cheaper food items than the other two major food marketplaces in the newer part of the Eastern-Ukrainian town of of this 150,000+.

Kramatorsk-brewed beer label from the second half of the 20th century. The plant that used to produce this brand of beer -- reportedly popular as far as Soviet Moscow , some 1,000 km to the north -- is now out of operation, same as the municipal bakery and milk plant. Courtesy of Kramatorsk Historical Club
Kramatorsk-brewed beer label from the second half of the 20th century. The plant that used to produce this brand of beer — reportedly popular as far as Soviet Moscow , some 1,000 km to the north — is now out of operation, same as the municipal bakery and milk plant. Courtesy of Kramatorsk Historical Club

Kramatorsk residents both in online and offline discussions express their surprise at the speed and efficiency with which a project with concrete, positive implications for the everyday life of the town dwellers was completed. Some experts reportedly estimated that it would take the municipal services up to a year to bring the project to completion.

They did it in 25 days, having reportedly saved 16 million hryvnia (USD 672,280) from the budgeted 35 million (USD 1,470,614). Almost like the proverbial Stakhanovites. Though, hopefully without the bad quality implications of the term.

250 coulmns were set up along the route. A power substation brought back to life. It used to cater for the Old City tram  connection. That line was discontinued some 20 years back for fear of the Torets River bridge deterioration as an alleged result of trams crossing it.

17 kilometers of power cable laid in the same period. Ten passenger stops refurbished and two high-voltage towers erected instead of the previous ones that posed public safety risk.

Kramatorsk municipal transportation authority people testing the new trolleybus line to the old city. December 28, 2015. Photo: Vitaliy Vyholov, Obshchezhytiye
Kramatorsk municipal transportation authority people testing the new trolleybus line linking the Old City with downtown Kramatorsk. December 28, 2015. Photo: Vitaliy Vyholov, Obshchezhytiye

Back in the day, plans to lay this trolleybus line were voiced by the local city authorities as a subsistitute for the tram line that used to serve local passengers up till 1990s.

In the early years of Ukraine’s independence, the tram line to the Old City was discontinued and — as per local gossip — the rails dismantled, sold and the proceeds of the deal pocketed by local bonzos.

Privately owned — and some argue, Kramatorsk elite-linked — marshrutkas have been serving the old tram route all the way till today, at current price per ride 3+ times higher than the municipality-subsidized trams and trolleybuses.

Out of 40-45 trolleybuses that Kramatorsk needs for an adequate mass transit service, only 25 are currently operational. In the 1980s (last Soviet decade), the trolleybus park consisted of 60 vehicles.

Some local residents say that throughout all these years post-independance the trolleybus line did not really interest those in power because — unlike, say, road construction — one can’t steal much public money from a trolleybus line — all the key construction costs are there on the surface.

So why did the city council eventually deliver what it clearly owed to the people of the Eastern Ukrainian town for all these years post independence?

Some cite the post-Euromaidan climate of greater public responsibility and transparency.

In 2014 Ukrainian municipalities purchased 117 trolleybuses. Only half of them are new units. The rest are second-hand vehicles from the EU.

As Ukraine moves into its third year as a nation that insisted on its EU course, it remains to be seen what other timely social infrastructure improvements the national trend towards decentralization will bring to the Eastern Ukrainian communities.