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State Dept. Calls for Apps for E. Africa, By E. Africans

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, July 1 2010

The U.S. State Department and local entrepreneurs announced the launch of an Apps 4 Africa contest in Nairobi earlier today.

Hours ago in Nairobi, the U.S. State Department and members of east African social-tech entrepreneurial community announced that they were, in partnership, launching a contest aimed at enticing developers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda to build digital tools for the benefit of the region, its people, and its civil society organizations. They're calling it Apps 4 Africa:

Apps 4 Africa is a regional competition with the goal of promoting local technology entrepreneurs as they build tools to serve the needs of local NGOs and the local community. This unprecedented partnership meshes civil society with developers and designers to create technical solutions to local challenges. The competition will ask civil society and citizens throughout the region to submit local community challenges on issues like transparency and better governance, health, education and more where technology can be a part of the solution. The burgeoning ranks of innovative techies in the region will then use this list of community challenges as the basis of their work, thus creating "an app for that."

The Apps 4 Africa logo.

Partnering with the State Department's public diplomacy arm and the U.S embassy in Kenya are the local organizations iHub, AppAfrica Labs, and SODNET. Winners will get "a small bit of fame and fortune -- cash prizes, gadgets (iPhone 4G, Android phone, etc.) and a chance to hob nob with our judges panel of tech luminaries and civil society leaders at an awards ceremony in September." Those judges include Ushaidi's Ory Okolloh, Expert Labs Anil Dash, O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly, and Google's Sub-Saharan Africa lead Joseph Mucheru. There are also plans to have tech-savvy folks around the world mentor local developers through the project. You can find more details on the project here from the State Department's new media director, Katie Dowd, and on You can also watch the Apps 4 Africa launch on iHub's Ustream channel.

Given that cell phone penetration is considerable in east Africa -- they note on the contest site some 50 million subscribers in the region -- there's a good chance that we'll see some creativity on the mobile platform as the contest unfolds. Apps 4 Africa is scheduled to run for about two months, wrapping August 31st.