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At TEDGlobal: Somali start-ups and a new kind of map



ARUSHA: From fostering innovation in one of the world’s harshest environments to novel ways to repel mosquitoes and map the world, here are some highlights from the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania.
Seeds of a Somali tech scene

Somali scientist Abdigani Diriye believes that at some point, his country needs to do more than devote all its resources to fighting piracy, Al-Shabaab and famine.

“We also need to plan long term,” he told AFP on the sidelines of the international version of the prestigious TED conference, devoted to “ideas worth spreading”.

Tech companies wage war on disease-carrying mosquitoes

So about six years ago, he returned from the UK, where his family fled civil war in 1989, to his home in Somaliland to create the country’s first start-up incubators and accelerators. He had already seen interesting products and ideas mushrooming out of a system broken by decades of conflict.

It was not easy, his organisation has had to work with universities and government to make start-ups ‘cool’ and convince people it is a viable career option.

“We hand-pick the most exciting and promising innovators and start-ups and provide them with training, investment and mentoring,” he said. So far they have trained more than 25 start-ups.

One of his favourites is Muraadso, a start-up which struggled to establish an online shopping system before realising that Somali customers wanted to see and feel what they were buying as in a real life market. So they set up an online-offline business model and now have half a dozen stores employing about a dozen people.

Diriye realises tech won’t solve all of Somalia’s problems, “but it is a great vehicle to address many other challenges” such as healthcare, unemployment and education.

Others have since followed in his footsteps such as the iRise innovation hub which lanched in June in Mogadishu.

Meet you at ‘prices.slippery.traps’

When you look at a map of a Brazilian favela, or township in South Africa, you may see a few streets and a lot of empty space, whereas a satellite image shows an area packed with homes and shops.

Like billions around the world, these are people living without an address, meaning they cannot get post, an ambulance or even have a pizza delivered.

In 2013 Chris Sheldrick of UK-based company What3Words developed a new system of mapping the world by dividing it into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and giving each of these squares a three word address which will be the same today or in 10 years. So instead of complex co-ordinates, you could merely find someone at “prices.slippery.traps” – a specific spot around the Eiffel Tower.

Sheldrick said postal services in Mongolia, Djibouti, Nigeria and Ivory Coast have adopted the system while the UN uses it in disaster areas.

In recent months the British embassies in Yaounde, Cameroon as well as Mongolia have adopted their own three word addresses. And in the Caribbean, Domino’s pizza is using it to finally find their customers before their dinner grows cold.

Mosquito-repellent sandals

At ‘Mosquito city’, as Tanzanian scientist Fredros Okumu affectionately calls his lab – the world’s biggest mosquito farm – he and his team at the Ifakara health Institute are working on new ways to repel and eliminate the carriers of malaria, dengue and Zika.

Through a rare study of the mating habits of mosquitoes they discovered that male mosquitoes gather in swarms in the exact same location, at the same time, year in and year out to wait for females. They are currently working to map these breeding spots using volunteer villagers so they can identify and destroy the swarms.

While mosquitoes are the deadliest and most studied animal, the best line of defence is still bed nets and insecticides – to which resistance is growing.

Okumu and his team have developed a repellent that can be worn in trendy “mosquito-repellent sandals” or placed under chairs, that can protect several people in the immediate area and last for up to six months.

This is currently being tested in Tanzania and Brazil, he told AFP.

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Somalia’s new telecom regulator takes control of top-level domain



MOGADISHU, March 9 (Xinhua) — Somalia’s newly established telecom regulator on Friday took full control of the country’s top-level internet domain (dotSO).

The National Communications Authority (NCA) took control of the domain from the Somali National Information Center (SONIC) and Cloudy Registry, who ran the operations and the management of the domain Registry.

“Effective immediately SONIC will become a functional unit within the NCA and its technical operations personnel will report to the NCA management,” the minister of Posts and Telecommunication Technology Abdi Ashur Hassan said in a statement.

“This is an important milestone for the ICT industry in Somalia and another achievement for the ministry on the heels of the passage of the Communication Law and the establishment of the regulatory authority,” he added.

The NCA has inked a deal with Cloud Registry, which provides registry and hosting services to the DotSO Domain. The agreement establishes a contractual relationship between the NCA and Cloud Registry.

“DotSO is a national asset and the 2017 Communication Law charges the NCA with its stewardship,” Abdi Sheik Ahmed, NCA general manager, said, adding that the domain will be managed in the interest of the public and the internet community.

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Swish for Migrants’ One of Sweden’s ‘Fastest-Growing Companies’



So far, SEK 200 million ($24 million) has been transferred abroad using the Transfer Galaxy service, but soon it could be a matter of billions.

SPUTNIK — Transfer Galaxy, a company founded by Somali immigrants for cheap and handy money transfers is expanding rapidly and has acquired SEK 30 million ($3.6 million) in venture capital, the Dagens Industri economic daily reported.

The company was founded by Somalis Yosef Mohamed and Khalid Qassim in the migrant-dense Vivalla district in the city of Örebro, which is present on the police list of blighted areas as “extremely vulnerable.”

Before Transfer Galaxy arrived, Somali immigrants had to avail themselves of a local representative’s services for money transfers, which spurred the entrepreneurial duo into creating “Swish for migrants” as a cheap alternative.
“Send money to your loved ones,” the front page of the service’s website says.

The aim of the $3.6 million support from the company Backing Minds and the Alfvén & Didrikson investment company will allow it to grow internationally. Earlier, the company grew by customers recommending the service to others, now extra staff will be employed to speed up the growth.

According to Susanne Najafi, one of the founders of Backing Minds, Transfer Galaxy is one of the fastest-growing companies in Sweden.

“I believe this company will be valued at over one billion kronor in the future,” Najafi told Dagens Industri, pointing out that the company is growing by a double-digit percentage each month.

The company was started in 2015 and subsequently grew to attract 600 loyal customers. Since then, the company has grown considerably and after acquiring a license from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, helped its customers from 25 European nations to send almost SEK 200 million ($24 million) abroad via mobile or computer.

“We want to become a global company and Vivalla’s largest employer,” Transfer Galaxy CEO Yosef Mohamed told Dagens Industri.

At present, unemployment in Vivalla is three times higher than in the rest of Orebro.

According to Transfer Galaxy, $605 billion is being sent to immigrants’ home countries every year internationally. Therefore, the company aims to specifically address those two billion people in the world who do not have access to a regular bank.

“For example, in Somalia, the founders’ home country, 73 percent use mobile money, compared with only 15 percent of the population who use a traditional bank,” the company wrote in a press-release.

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Briefing Room

How the U.S. is using terrorists’ smartphones and laptops to defeat them



USA TODAY — Smartphones helped terror organizations grow and communicate. Now the devices are contributing to their downfall.

In a nondescript, highly secured building in this Washington suburb, a group of U.S. government technicians and linguists are downloading massive amounts of data from phones, hard drives, CDs and other devices, providing a huge boost to the U.S. intelligence community as it hunts terrorists.

Many of the devices have been captured from battlefields in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State has lost virtually all the territory it captured in 2014.
“This is the future,” Kolleen Yacoub, director of the National Media Exploitation Center, told USA TODAY in a rare interview at the center’s headquarters.

It was the first time the center, which also supports law enforcement and other agencies, has allowed a journalist into the facility, providing insight into a critical but little known part of the intelligence community.

The center grew from a handful of employees when it was established in 2003 to about 700 today, including offices overseas. It has about 100 linguists.

“The ability to exploit captured electronic hardware is a great capability that we have adopted and expanded and improved tremendously over the past 15 years,” said Jim Howcroft, a retired Marine intelligence officer and director of the terrorism program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

The center in Maryland, managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reviews paper documents as well as electronic items.

But it is the proliferation of laptops and cellphones that has fueled the growth in this type of intelligence gathering.

Smartphones hold massive amounts of information critical to intelligence analysts, including photos, telephone numbers, GPS data and Internet searches.

Users generally assume the device won’t be compromised and don’t take precautions to protect the data, Yacoub said.

“What they’re saving on their devices is ground truth,” Yacoub said. “We tend to treat our digital devices, our mobile devices … as personal items and we don’t lie to them.”

“The adversaries don’t lie to them either,” she said.

The data include videos and photos that help identify militants and their leaders.

Even when a device is damaged or information is deleted, the center’s technicians recover 60% to 80% of the data. “Deleted does not mean lost” is one of the center’s mottoes.

The amount of data coming into the center has skyrocketed in the past two years, Yacoub said, mainly because of the campaign against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The data analysis has been particularly helpful in giving intelligence analysts an unprecedented look at how the radical group operated in Iraq and Syria because of the ubiquity of smartphones and the meticulous way ISIS kept records in areas it controlled.

The data include tens of thousands of personnel records on foreign fighters and their families with dates of birth, aliases, phone numbers, jobs and other valuable intelligence.

“They have their own central government in a sense,” Yacoub said.

ISIS had departments that developed drone technology, chemical weapons, finance and propaganda operations. It also kept detailed records on the bureaucracy it created to provide services in areas it controlled.

Some of the terror leaders have been captured fleeing the battlefield with reams of information in the hopes that they can use it to keep the group active or to regroup after the loss of territory.

“If you’re committed to sustaining this organization and you’re going to take your show on the road … then you’re taking everything you can with you,” Marine Brig. Gen. James Glynn, deputy commanding general of the Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in an interview from Baghdad.

The intelligence is helping analysts map out how the Islamic State may try to evolve.

“If you don’t have a clear understanding of how ISIS is operating today, I don’t think you can really understand where they are going to next,” said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threat Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are not going to disappear.”

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