A presentation by Brenda Burrell, Technical Director of Freedom Fone, on how Freedom Fone can be used as a tool for receiving and dissemination election-related information using interactive voice response (IVR), short message service (SMS) and voicemail.
Visiting Kenya a few weeks before their March 2013 elections I took advantage of the long delays on Nairobi's congested roads to chat to our taxi drivers about their opinions regarding preparations for the elections and the presidential candidates contesting it. They shared their thoughts willingly and not unsurprisingly had different perspectives.
Today Tina and I were scheduled to fly back to Harare from Nairobi. We’d had a busy, productive few days: interviewed staff at 3 organisations currently deploying Freedom Fone, visited communities in the field and installed v2.S.4 with a Huawei dongle for a user whose service had gone down due to a damaged MobiGater.
Things started well enough this morning, getting up in good time to catch our 6.15am taxi to the airport. Only it didn’t arrive as expected…
Freedom Fone faces a number of challenges in 2013 as it transitions from a donor funded development model to a community supported software project.
Historically, Freedom Fone was developed to help activists quickly set up automated voice menu, voicemail and SMS information services independent of the Internet and with a minimum of reliance on mobile network operators.
Freedom Fone trainers, Bren & Tich, traveled up by road this month to run user training in Lilongwe, Malawi. It’s a day’s drive that takes you through Nyamapanda, Zimbabwe’s north east border post with Mozambique, then through Tete province and later through the Dedza border post with Malawi. Much of the road through Tete is littered with potholes and besides the city of Tete, there’s not a lot in the way of service stations to help you out if you hit trouble. The good news is that the border posts are well managed and the traffic fairly light.
Tich and I are recently back from Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city. We were there to run a Freedom Fone user training workshop for six organisations involved in community mobilisation and 2-way information sharing.
2 borders, 2 temporary import permits, 2 car insurance licences, 3 currencies, 10-12 hours and countless bags of charcoal lie between Harare and Lilongwe if you travel by road. Tich and I are on this road trip because Air Malawi have canceled their flights between Harare & Lilongwe and we have a training workshop to run before the end of the month.
OK, so there are still some hurdles to jump before the 40 finalists in the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) are whittled down to the 20 or so winners in this prestigious competition. Still, the next round should be really productive and interesting as the finalists meet in Zanzibar to work on their pitches and products ahead of the November 10 announcement of winners in Dakar later this year.
I'm in a very different head space at the moment and I've got close friends at Kubatana– Bev & Amanda– to thank. This past month has been an amazing collaboration with them to try and get Freedom Fone onto the Unreasonable at Sea voyage next year. They have made a remarkable effort, and in response to their challenge I feel like parts of me have come alive again. It's been part business boot camp, part market research and a large chunk of personal reflection.
Freedom Fone trainers have been in Nairobi this month to assist with the first deployment of the platform for a reproductive health hotline.
Thanks to support from Women on Web / Women on Waves, reproductive health activists from Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were able to use the opportunity to gather in the east African city to learn how to use the Freedom Fone software and discuss its potential as a channel for sharing information with mobile phone users.
As part of the Quality Assurance testing of Freedom Fone's new Dialer version, Kubatana engaged citizens in Zimbabwe around the thorny issue of billing by the country's sole energy supplier - the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).
Bart Sullivan is affectionately known as 'Captain' by the team of ICT officers who work at Farm Radio International's regional offices in Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia and Tanzania. In my eyes, Bart earned his stripes today when he pulled off an audacious first for Freedom Fone and Farm Radio at Radio 5, a busy commercial radio station in Arusha's Njiro suburb. All round nice guy, Bart is also sharp and innovative... and as this story shows, very persuasive too.
Tich Siguake and I arrived in Arusha on the weekend to prepare for the start of our training workshop for ICT officers at Farm Radio International's HQ in Tanzania. We flew in to the exotic sounding Kilimanjaro airport at about 7pm where we were met by FRI's ICT and Radio Specialist, Bart Sullivan.
Having lived through the hyperinflation years in Zimbabwe, you would be forgiven for assuming that I'd be inured to biggish numbers. Not so. Tunisians have the unusual practice of adding an extra zero to the decimals following their numbers. So 127.000 Dinar is actually 127.00 Dinar in the Zimbabwean numbering system - not 1,270.
Media practitioners and activists gathered in Tunis for World Press Freedom Day were shocked to hear that Nabil Karoui, head of Nessma television station, has been fined for broadcasting 'Persepolis' the award-winning Franco-Iranian film about a child's account of the Iranian revolution.
Karoui was prosecuted for broadcasting the film on TV even though it had previously been approved for distribution in cinemas.
Old hopes are still alive in some quarters that Information Technologies (IT) are the magic bullet for development and social change. This sentiment has been most obvious amongst commentators who suggest that the successes of the 2011 Arab Spring were built upon new media in the form of Twitter and Facebook. Hard working grassroots activists in Egypt and Tunisia have been quick to challenge these assumptions.
Wow, it’s hot in Dar, and this is winter in Tanzania. My ankles are swollen and it helps to sleep with a fan on at night. The city seems to be booming...buildings are going up in the city centre, bill boards compete for consumer shillings and the morning rush hour(s) is a force to be reckoned with. The most prominent products for sale are mobile related services – Tigo, Airtel (previously Zain) and Vodacom compete through vibrant advertising for a share of this lucrative market. Thanks to the competition, call and SMS costs have become very affordable in Tanzania.
As an information activist working in Zimbabwe, I've found the role of digital technologies in Egypt's revolution fascinating. Here are some observations surrounding the 18 days of protest, which successfully challenged President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30 years of rule.
The AMARC10 conference held in November 2010 in La Plata, Buenos Aires brought together a colourful cross-section of people, places and passions. Plenary sessions provided a platform for theory, philosophy and utopian imagining. Workshops rooted the conference in the real world of illiteracy, intolerance, poverty, crisis, community, co-operation and hope.
Nelly's networking and linguistic prowess delivered a meeting room equipped with projector and professional simultaneous translation in Spanish. She handily filled the role of impromptu simultaneous French translator, making it possible for many more people to follow my presentation.
In late May, Amy & I went down to Bulawayo to run a hands-on Freedom Fone training workshop for 11 participants based in Zimbabwe's City of Skies. The workshop was hosted there by a vibrant community radio station called Radio Dialogue. That will sound like a contradiction in terms as Zimbabwe has yet to award a broadcast licence to any community radio station in the country.
I've spent time recently testing the pre-release version 1.5 of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe. Lots of little bugs have presented themselves but for the most part this version has been a revelation. The closest tech support has been Alberto in freezing Stockholm and Giovanni somewhere in Italy. I am sweating it out in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Freedom Fone's ability to fulfill it's promise as a must have tool for bridging the digital divide has yet to be determined. Millions of poor people have access to mobile phones, but with tariffs as high as they are in countries like Zimbabwe, experimentation in this field is still costly. And of course, for our project these are early days.
Kubatana, a Zimbabwean non-profit organisation committed to democratising access to information, was awarded a Knight News Challenge grant in May 2008 for its Freedom Fone software development project. The Freedom Fone project aspires to help civic organisations extend their information in an audio format to mobile phone users.
Open source telephony platform, Asterisk, has been used for years as an inexpensive alternative to proprietry PBXs, democratising this previously closed service industry. Why then did Freedom Fone choose to use FreeSWITCH as its telephony component instead of Asterisk? Our Project Architect, Alberto Escudero Pascual, will answer that question in the new year, but until then clues lie in this comment from Telecom Monthly:
Here I am in Doha, Qatar with my jacket on inside a spectacular building on the Carnegie Mellon campus. I’m seated amongst hundreds of others listening to elevator music whilst we wait for Bill Gates to give his keynote address to the ICTD 2009 participants.