Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma.
Burma's president is aware that his reforms have so far failed to bring material benefits to the general public. Speaking to his cabinet in May, President Thein Sein said: "Our government must make a drastic improvement in addressing people's needs, including residential housing, water, power, transportation, and jobs." He seems to understand that his government's failure to deliver basic public services can lead not only to electoral losses (as exemplified by the opposition's sweeping victory in the April 1 by-elections), but also to instability and potentially to the reversal of the reforms themselves. There have been street protests demanding basic labor rights, stable supplies of electricity, and the reinstatement of confiscated land. Thein Sein recently urged his administration to avert street protests "by addressing the issues of the people at the lower level."
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Three Ugandan pre-university students, Alvin Kabwama, Nigel Kinyera, and David Tusubira, have designed a bomb detector and detonator prototype. The design was announced at a press conference and has since made headlines, but it has been met with mixed emotions. While some people applaud the students' initiative, the majority of Ugandans are skeptical of their work.
Some have gone on to denounce a prototype car created last year by students from Makerere University as part of an MIT partnership. The argument is that the design was unoriginal, using parts from other car models. Such critics fail to see that this is exactly how most industrial innovations come about. Prototypes like this one are how you get to the developments that revolutionize societies.
Makerere University's College of Computing and Informatics Technology is trying to get its students to create solutions to real-life problems. On its website, the department praised one team, Cipher 256, for winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup (in the East and South Africa Region). Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma make up the winning team. In July, they will travel to compete at the world cup finals in Sydney, Australia. Their college has won this honor for its students five times in a row.
The winning concept is a mobile phone device that can detect ectopic pregnancies in women and monitor the movements of the fetus inside the mother. The application can be used at home, since the user only needs a mobile phone to carry out the scan. Uganda has over 14 million mobile phone users; today, people have phones even in remote villages. The group took its inspiration from the UN Millennium Development Goals for cutting maternal mortality.
I'm excited about this innovation because it can potentially do a lot to detect complications during the early stages of pregnancy. By picking up on these sorts of problems early, mothers will have the time to contact a medical professional who can offer therapy. Maternal mortality rates in most African countries are still far too high, of course, and an innovation like this seems like a great way to reduce them. The application, which is called WinSenga, can be found on both facebook and twitter.
We already know that drones are powerful weapons. In "Predators for Peace," Jack C. Chow depicts a not-too-distant future in which airborne robots can be used to boost humanitarian relief efforts and good governance.
As governments cut back on foreign assistance budgets, Peter Passell makes the case for a smarter approach to development aid.
Alina Rocha Menocal, noting that Latin America still suffers from gross inequality, sees the answers in sound public policy.
Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images
In last week's paper, I was delighted to come across a profile of Abdu Ssekalala, a young and upcoming software development engineer at Makerere University's school of Computing and Informatics Technology (CIT). The article credits Ssekalala with developing nine internationally recognized mobile phone applications. His most successful application is Wordbook, a dictionary application that provides its user with a randomly chosen word of the day, including definitions, examples, and a selection of related words. The app costs the equivalent of $1.25 per download, and it's been downloaded over 300,000 times on the Nokia Ovi store.
I spent last fall taking courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and I couldn't help noticing the relative paucity of African tech developers there. Most of the non-U.S. students came from Asia. During my stay in Cambridge I was also struck by Soledad O'Brien's October show on CNN, Black in America: The New Silicon Valley. It followed eight African-American tech entrepreneurs who are trying to build names for themselves in Silicon Valley. The show sought to explore why black tech entrepreneurs haven't featured much in Silicon Valley's success story.
It reminded me of some of the discussions of similar topics back home. We, too, have been asking questions about the lack of innovation in Uganda and the support for such initiatives. Stories like Ssekalala's show that once young tech brains get the right training, support, and opportunities, they can compete ably with their counterparts in the rest of the world.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.