Daily Archives: April 12, 2017

Carnegie Mellon University Africa Students Traveling to Facebook F8 After Winning Bot Party and Hackathon in Kigali, Rwanda

PITTSBURGH, April 12, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Four students from Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa) will be traveling to San Jose, California to attend the Facebook Developer Conference F8 on April 18-19. The students–Lenah Chacha, Aimable Rwema, Joshua Ocero, and Davy Uwizera–were selected to attend the conference after they distinguished themselves during a Facebook Messenger bot party and hackathon competition that occurred on CMU-Africa’s campus in Kigali, Rwanda in March. At F8, the CMU-Africa students will have an opportunity to showcase their messenger bots alongside the world’s top tech developers.

A bot for Messenger communicates with customers using the Messenger platform and combines aspects of artificial intelligence to learn from that interaction. Bots typically perform tasks that are structured and repetitive at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human, such as Sephora’s Virtual Artist, which matches an image sent by users through Messenger to the lipstick closest in color in Sephora’s stock.

The bot party and hackathon at CMU-Africa in March was one of 33 taking place in Africa and the Middle East, but the only bot party followed by a 24-hour hackathon in the entire region. During the bot party, students were able to interact with the team from Facebook, which included Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook US Jennifer Fong and Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook South Africa Proud Dzambukira, and gain insight on the Messenger technology. In the hackathon competition that followed, the students had 24 hours to come up with their own bot for Messenger that would address a local issue.

The winning team was Chacha and Rwema, both of whom are pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa. The two built a bot that enables merchants, who do not have access to expensive inventory software, to catalogue their inventory on their platform and connects them with buyers. The bot also facilitates the buying process by presenting buyers with all available options for items they are looking for on demand.

Ocero, who is working towards a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in software engineering, and Uwizera, pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in data science and software engineering, emerged as the runner ups. Their bot connects farmers (or cooperatives) and buyers to sell or purchase produce while estimating a market price based on the bot interaction.

“The bot party and hackathon showed me the importance of building a business or idea on a social media platform,” says Rwema. “Messenger is used by over a billion people worldwide, so building your business model on something that accesses such a huge market is something that will help you reach your goals once you start a company.”

The winners, as well as the other fifteen teams who participated from CMU-Africa, will have the opportunity to submit their bot for Facebook’s global Bots for Messenger Challenge on April 28.

“Attending F8 is a great opportunity to mingle with Facebook developers from around the world and to view their perspectives–but even more exciting is having the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley, where people’s dreams become reality,” says Ocero.

Since 2011, CMU-Africa has contributed to enhancing the quality of the engineering workforce in Africa. This effort has addressed the critical shortage of information and communication technology (ICT) skills required for Africa to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution where physical, cyber and biological systems converge through information, computing and communication technologies to transform the lives and livelihoods of citizens around the world in unprecedented ways. To date, CMU-Africa has graduated 70 students, the majority of whom are working in their home countries, making an impact in the private sector, government and academia, and the rest are creating startup companies and pursuing doctoral programs.

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon (www.cmu.edu) is a private, internationally ranked university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 12,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small faculty-to-student ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real world problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon’s campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It has campuses in California’s Silicon Valley, Qatar, and programs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. For more information about Carnegie Mellon, visit www.cmu.edu. Follow us on Twitter @CarnegieMellon

About the College of Engineering: The College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University is a top-ranked engineering college that is known for our intentional focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration in research. The College is well-known for working on problems of both scientific and practical importance. Our “maker” culture is ingrained in all that we do, leading to novel approaches and transformative results. Our acclaimed faculties have a focus on innovation management and engineering to yield transformative results that will drive the intellectual and economic vitality of our community, nation and world. For more information about CMU-Africa, please visit: www.cmu.edu/africa

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Contact: Tara Moore;  412-268-9673; tararaemoore@cmu.edu

Nedlac meets to discuss challenges facing SA

Pretoria- Challenges facing South Africa were discussed at a Special Executive Council meeting of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on Tuesday

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa chaired the meeting that was held to assess and respond to the current challenges facing the country following the recent downgrades of the country’s investment status.

The meeting expressed concern about the impact the downgrades would have on the economy in general and the quality of life especially for the poor and working class. It also discussed the impact of the downgrades on job creation, sustainability of business, including small businesses and the ability of big companies to grow and create jobs, infrastructure projects and social reforms.

According to the Presidency, the Deputy President chaired the meeting at the invitation of the social partners comprising senior leadership of labour, business, community and government.

In addition, Nedlac social partners agreed to establish a high-level task team to be briefed by National Treasury, on an ongoing basis, to co-ordinate all-round efforts to respond to the current challenges.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and his Deputy Sfiso Buthelezi as well as Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant attended the meeting alongside other senior government officials.

The social partners welcomed the new Minister and the Deputy Minister of Finance who were attending the NEDLAC Special Executive Council in their new capacities. The social partners also took the opportunity to acknowledge the sterling contribution of the outgoing Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile, said the Presidency.

The meeting expressed hope that the transition to the appointment of the new Director General will further contribute to the stability of the Treasury.

The meeting received a briefing from the Minister of Finance on government’s assessment of the context in which the two recent sovereign downgrades by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings occurred, including steps that should be undertaken to avoid a further downgrade and a return to investment grade.

Informed by the country’s past experience in dealing with the 2008 challenges of the global economic crisis, the meeting expressed confidence in the ability of Nedlac social partners to act together and constructively assist the country to mitigate the impact of the downgrade.

The meeting agreed on the need for a consistent and confidence-building message that demonstrates South Africa’s commitment to accelerated inclusive growth, said the Presidency.

Source: South African Government News Agency

Captain of Boat Seized by Somali Pirates Says Crew Held for 9 Days

The captain of an Indian boat hijacked by Somali pirates told VOA that eight of the crew were held on land for nine days before they were freed by Somali security forces in an operation near the village of Dugulle in the Mudug region on Wednesday.

Captain Salim Osman, who was among those taken to land, said the pirates separated the 10-person crew just three days after hijacking the boat.

Two of the sailors had been found on the boat after security forces took it over during the early hours of Monday.

Osman said he was happy to be free. VOA’s Somali service spoke to him while he was riding a vehicle with the mayor of Hobyo, Abdullahi Ahmed Ali.

“Now I feel better,” said Osman, who is from the Kutch district in western India’s Gujarat state.

Ali said security forces detained four pirates who were holding the crew after moving them from their boat off the coast of Hobyo.

Osman, 31, says the boat, Al Kausar, was traveling from Dubai to Bosaso when the pirates attacked it April 1. Earlier, maritime sources said the boat was headed for Kismayo.

“This date I will never forget it, this was April Fools’ Day,” he said.

Osman said the pirates asked for money. He also said they talked about the release of suspected Somali pirates being held in Indian jails.

Osman said the pirates did not mistreat or threaten them, but that the main challenge was not getting enough food and drink.

“No person hit me but we have not eaten for three days, two days, no drinking. We have been in the jungle,” he said. “Jungle does not have any food, and not any water.”

He said the pirates holding them were tired after being chased by security forces for several days.

Osman said this was the first time his boat was attacked by pirates in the 13 years that he has been sailing to Somalia from the United Arab Emirates.

Asked if he will continue sailing to Somalia, he replied, “No; maybe one year I will relax to home and after that I will decide.”

He said he has a wife and an 18-month-old daughter who live in Gujarat.

Maritime experts say piracy is reemerging in Somali waters following an increase in illegal fishing, but Somali regional security forces appear to be better prepared this time to face the challenge.

On March 16, pirates also abandoned a Sri Lankan-flagged ship, Aris 13, after Puntland security forces briefly exchanged gunfire with pirates.

Source: Voice of America

Environmental Affairs strives to improve plastic bag recycling in South Africa

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has noted with concern an article reporting that millions of branded plastic supermarket carrier bags claimed to be recycled are not, as published in the Sunday Times edition of 9 April 2017.

The article further alleges that to cut costs, the plastic manufacturers, known as converters, started adding chalk (calcium carbonate) as a cheap filler to the mix, sabotaging the mechanical process used to recycle the bag.

The Department takes the allegations contained in article seriously, and will be liaising with the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to ensure that manufacturers of plastic carrier bags comply with the regulatory requirements and standards of their products.

In 2003, South Africa introduced plastic bag regulations in a bold move to address the challenge of plastic bag litter. The regulations essentially made the provision of thicker, more durable plastic bags compulsory. The compulsory specification was subsequently developed prescribing that only plastic carrier bags and flat bags of the minimum thickness of 24 microns can be manufactured or imported into the country at a levy of 3 cents (now 6 cents) a plastic bag. In terms of the regulations, the plastic bags ought to be recyclable, thereby making them more environmentally friendly. The new thickness also made them more reusable.

Since the inception of the levy in 2004, the National Treasury has been collecting the Plastic Bag Levy. The money collected goes into the National Revenue Fund and National Treasury allocates a portion of it to the DEA for regulation of the thickness of plastic bags. The collected levy is not ring-fenced and can only be allocated to recycling programmes following submission to the National Treasury of an approved and clear business plan on the implementation of such programmes.

The money is also used to support recycling initiatives through the establishment of necessary infrastructure for recycling in the country and the implementation of the Compulsory Specification for Plastic Bags (VC8087) through the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications. A contribution of R22.4 million will be allocated the NRCS for research on plastic bags over the next three financial years. As part of its mandate, the NRCS conducts compliance and enforcement of the specifications.

The DEA is implementing initiatives aimed at improving the regulation of the development and implementation of Industry Waste Management Plans in an effort to fast-track effective implementation of the National Waste Management Strategy, which promotes waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and recovery of waste in South Africa. As part of the strategy, and in terms of section 34A (1) of the National Environmental Management: Waste Amendment Act, 2014 (Act No. 26 of 2014), the Department has established a Waste Bureau which monitors the implementation of Industry Waste Management Plans.

The Department has published a call for the development of among others Industry Waste Management Plans for recycling purposes and diverting waste from landfills. The Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan is one of these Plans and comprises various waste streams, including plastic bags. The Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan provides effective and efficient ways through which plastic bags can be recycled, thereby ensuring that they are diverted from landfill sites.

It is for this reason that the DEA has allocated a budget of R155 million towards regulation of the thickness of plastic bags, and to support recycling initiatives for a period of three financial years. The funds are administered through the Waste Bureau.

The waste recycling economy will not only eliminate threats to the environment, but also positively contribute to the growth and development of South Africa’s economy. It is through this economic ingenuity that the DEA will also contribute to sustainable development and inclusive green economic growth thus facilitating employment creation, infrastructure and skills development, and strengthening Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in the waste management sector.

Source: Government of South Africa

Minister Faith Muthambi calls for innovative measures for efficient service delivery

Minister for the Public Service and Administration calls for innovative measures for efficient service delivery

The Minister for the Public Service and Administration Ms Faith Muthambi has today met with the Accounting Officers and Senior Managers of the National School of Government (NSG), the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) and the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS) for a handover briefing. The Acting Principal of the National School of Government Mr Botshabelo Maja, CPSI Executive Director Ms Thuli Radebe and GEMS Principal Officer Dr Gunvant Guni Goolab led their Executive Committees at the meetings which were held at Batho Pele House, Tshwane.

“It is imperative that as Minister for the Public Service and Administration intervene and assist these entities in addressing the challenges which remain a stumbling block to deliver efficient public services as well as implementing the correct training programmes for public servants across the public service at large,” said the Minister.

The National School of Government (NSG) is mandated to provide or facilitate the provision of training to public servants. As a national training provider, the National School of Government must act as such and intensify training and provision of required skills to the public service to deliver on the National Development Plan goals.”

The Minister added that the National School of Government remains critical in achieving an effective public service. “The NDP acknowledges that although government has massively expanded access to basic services, backlogs remain and the quality of services is uneven. The challenge is therefore to improve the quality of services which requires the improvement in the performance of the public service.”

The CPSI is a cross-cutting facility of government aimed at entrenching and driving the culture and practice of innovation in the public sector to address service delivery challenges.

“Innovation in the public service is paramount and thus the CPSI needs to reassert its place and ensure that its work benefit public service institutions such as hospitals, clinics, schools and other frontline service points,” said the Minister.

The CPSI was established as a Government Component in April 2008 in line with the Public Service Amendment Act 30 of 2007. The CPSI functions as an autonomous entity with its own Accounting Officer reporting directly to the Minister. Up to 31 March 2015 the CPSI shared essential service such as human resources management, supply chain management, legal services, internal audit and financial management services with the DPSA.

The Minister commended the Government Employees Medical Schemes for carrying out its mandate efficiently. Through GEMS, many public servants and their dependants, who could not afford to have medical aid, are now able to access this service. A healthy public service bodes well for efficient service delivery, said the Minister.

Government is empowered through GEMS to provide more employees with an opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing – in turn impacting positively on improved productivity levels in the public service.

Source: Government of South Africa