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Solar electric tricycles give Zimbabwean women a lift

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Danai Bvochora says the tricycle changed her life
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For years, selling eggs was a joyless business for Danai Bvochora, as most of the money she made went to cover minibus fares to the market in a rural area of Zimbabwe.

That was until an earth-brown solar-powered electric tricycle changed her life.

“We used to carry loads on our heads before. The tricycle has lessened the burden,” said the 47-year-old from Domboshava, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

She carefully loads eggs onto the tricycle’s trailer before embarking on a bumpy eight-kilometre journey to the market.

“We even use it to go to church and worship,” Bvochora said, explaining a single trip to buy chicken feed from a local business centre used to cost her $12.

But charging her new solar-powered vehicle sets her back only $2.50 every two weeks, and the mother of two is now making a profit.

Bvochora is among groups of women in Domboshava, a district renowned for its picturesque hills and giant boulders, who received a tricycle last year as part of a European Union-funded project to assist small-scale farmers.

Assembled by Harare-based social enterprise Mobility for Africa, the  three-wheelers were first introduced in Zimbabwe in 2019 to help women develop their businesses, said the company’s director Shantha Bloemen. 

Transport has historically been inadequate in sparsely populated rural areas of Zimbabwe, where women often have to walk long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads to trade products — which sometimes spoil on the way in the heat.

– Electric push –

Yet the idea of addressing that with electric three-wheelers raised a few eyebrows at first, said American-born Bloemen, who is a permanent resident in Zimbabwe and lived in the country in the 1990s when she worked for UNICEF. 

“It was very lonely when we started,” Bloemen said, explaining her team had to work hard to prove to funders that the idea was viable. 

“No one was talking about electric mobility in Africa let alone for rural women.” 

Three years later, the social enterprise is planning to more than triple its current fleet of 88 motorised vehicles by the end of 2022.

It operates three solar-powered stations, where drivers can come to swap their lithium battery for a fully charged one when running low on energy — and foots the bill when something breaks.

Zimbabwe has for more than two decades faced tough economic conditions, with rural areas particularly hard hit. The country’s economy is mainly driven by the informal sector, to which Domboshava women farmers such as these belong. 

While some of the three-wheelers — nicknamed “Hamba” or “go” in the local Ndebele language — were bought by the EU and then gifted to locals, others are rented out for $5 a day.

Phyllis Chifamba, a 37-year-old mother of four, uses her rented vehicle as a taxi.

Her clients include sick people going to a clinic, pregnant women going for medical checks, and villagers and farm dwellers going to do their shopping and other errands.

“I am able to provide food for my family and pay school fees for my children with the money I make from using the Hamba,” she said.

Mobility for Africa said it was planning to expand operations to other areas. 

“African women are the most entrepreneurial, most productive but no one takes them seriously,” said Bloemen. “If we solve the transport problems, rural economies will work. Small farmers will get more produce to the market.”

Beneficiary Frasia Gotosa said her small business has improved since she has been driving to the market as her vegetables no longer rot while waiting for the bus or pushing a wheelbarrow. 

“Now I get to the market while my produce is still fresh,” she said.

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Instagram sidelines TikTok-like features following complaints

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People unhappy with changes on Instagram have been urging the company to 'make Instagram Instagram again'
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Instagram will pause features that users have campaigned against and complained make the social network too much like TikTok, according to a report in the Platformer tech newsletter Thursday.

Celebrity sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner were some of the most vocal users to have posted messages on social media this week calling for the company to “make Instagram Instagram again” and stop trying to be like TikTok.

The slogan sprang from a change.org petition that had received more than 229,000 signatures as of late Thursday.

“Lets go back to our roots with Instagram and remember that the intention behind Instagram was to share photos, for Pete’s sake,” the petition read.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri had responded to the controversy earlier this week with a video on Twitter in which he said the features were a work in progress, and being tested with a small number of users.

Changes included playing up short-form video, displaying it full-screen the way TikTok does, and recommending posts from strangers.

“I’m glad we took a risk,” Mosseri was quoted as saying Thursday in an interview with Platformer’s Casey Newton.

“But we definitely need to take a big step back and regroup.”

“If we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough,” Mosseri said.

Mosseri argued that the shift to more video would happen even if the service changed nothing, as users increasingly share and seek video snippets.

“If you look at what people share on Instagram, that is shifting more and more to video over time,” Mosseri said.

“We are going to have to lean into that shift.”

Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg backed that position during an earnings call Wednesday, saying people are increasingly watching video online.

Both Meta and Google are among companies facing increased competition from TikTok for people’s attention, and have launched their own versions of short-form video sharing.

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European satellite firms eye tie-up to create ‘global champion’

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Eutelsat already provides some internet services through its network of 35 larger satellites
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French satellite operator Eutelsat said on Monday it was in talks with British counterpart OneWeb for a tie-up to create a “global champion” in broadband internet, rivalling US operators such as Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Satellite broadband promises to bring coverage to the most remote areas of the planet and supply connectivity on aeroplanes and to products like connected cars.

Starlink heads the market with more than 2,000 tiny satellites in lower-earth orbit (LEO), just a few hundred kilometres above the Earth.

Eutelsat already provides some internet services through a deal with telecoms firm Orange, using its network of 35 larger satellites that operate thousands of kilometres from Earth in geostationary orbit (GEO) that are more commonly used for TV and other communications.

But Eutelsat said its tie-up with OneWeb, if it goes through, would be the first of its kind allying GEO and LEO satellites — OneWeb has 428 in orbit.

The French firm said it would be “uniquely positioned” to exploit a market that it expected to be worth $16 billion by 2030.

The “potential all-share combination” would “create a global leader in connectivity”, Eutelsat said in a statement.

– ‘Logical next step’ –

However, the European firms face stiff competition.

Musk is not the only tech billionaire with plans to dominate the market — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently announced he intended to launch some 3,200 satellites.

Money is pouring into the sector, with Bezos apparently pledged $10 billion to his so-called Project Kuiper.

Public institutions are also looking to get in on the act.

The European Union wants to deploy roughly 250 satellites by 2024 and China has a plan to launch 13,000 of its own.

The British government owns a stake in OneWeb.

Eutelsat already holds 23 percent of OneWeb’s shares and the transaction would represent a “logical next step in the successful partnership”, the French firm said. 

The potential deal has several potential hurdles to clear though, including the need to be approved by Eutelsat shareholders and regulators. 

“There can be no assurance that these discussions will result in any agreement,” said the French firm.

Eutelsat’s shares plunged by more than 17 percent in early trading on the Paris stock exchange.

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New AI tool that turns words into art enters testing phase

Artificial intelligence research firm OpenAI is conducting a wide-scale test of software that creates images from textual descriptions.

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A photo illustration shows the DALL-E website on a cellphone
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A million people eager to dabble with a new artificial intelligence tool that lets them create images simply by describing them with words will soon get their wish, its creators said Wednesday.

Artificial intelligence research firm OpenAI is conducting a wide-scale beta test of DALL-E, a cutting-edge software that creates images from textual descriptions.

Although the arrival of AI has led to fears of humans being replaced by machines in fields from customer care to journalism, enthusiasts see the technology more as an opportunity than a threat.

A video showcasing the tool on the company’s web site showed DALL-E generating an image of a polar bear playing a guitar, a photo of a koala dunking a basketball, and the famed Mona Lisa painting but with the subject sporting a mohawk hair style.

“We’ve already seen people use DALL·E to make music videos for young cancer patients, create magazine covers, and bring novel concepts to life,” the company said in a post.

OpenAI said invitations will be sent in coming weeks to a million people on a waiting list to try the tool’s latest version.

Amid concerns that this and similar tools could be misused in disinformation campaigns, OpenAI said it worked with researchers and developers to build in safeguards to curb abuses such as DALL-E being used for deception.

“We reject image uploads containing realistic faces and attempts to create the likeness of public figures, including celebrities and prominent political figures,” Open AI said.

Filters built into DALL-E block violent, political, sexual or other content barred by its policies, and the system is designed to avoid assumptions about race or gender, Open AI said.

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