IBM to open its first research lab in Africa

IBM last heroThe Kenyan government has pledged an investment of US$2mn per year for the next five years to help the project. (Image source: last hero/Flickr)Africa will soon have its first IBM IT research lab after the technology giant teamed up with the Kenyan Information Ministry to make the project a reality

The research lab will be opened within the next few weeks in Nairobi and will be expected to solve problems relevant to Africa, like traffic congestion and automation of some government sectors.

The Kenyan government has pledged an investment of US$2mn per year for the next five years to help fund the project.

IBM East Africa general manager, Tony Mwai, said one of the goals of this research lab was to help people make better use of public sector services and allow the government to digitally manage huge amounts of data.

Mwai added, “In many countries services are delivered over the Internet. This often leads to assumptions that many people have computers and they can log in, and apply for a driver’s license or passports or other kinds of citizen services that are available.

“However, it’s not readily prevalent, and Internet access is not as prevalent here in Africa, and certainly in Kenya, than it is in other parts of the world,” he added.

In 2011, IBM conducted a survey indicating that 35 per cent of Nairobi drivers had spent three or more hours in traffic.

Since fixing or constructing infrastructure has not been possible, Mwai said that technology would be able to help alleviate some of the problems of traffic congestion.

Mwai added, “A thing that can be of help is the ability to predict how long it’s going to take to get from Point A to Point B in the city. This can be achieved by real time knowledge of where traffic is building up, so that people can find an alternate route to get to where you’re going. The lab will help in finding solutions of similar kinds”

IBM programme director for technology and strategy for research in the growth markets, Kumar Bhaskaran, said that although the main objective of the research lab was to find solutions for daily problems in Africa, the benefits would not stop just at that.

“It’s not simply bringing in technology from outside, it’s also fundamentally having innovations spawned here and applied elsewhere,” he added.

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