African culture is joyful, expressive and vivid, and intrinsically linked to color – from rallying shades of liberation to evocative hues of optimism, color is embraced as an unspoken language. With a vibrant palette and gift for storytelling, as Africans, we tell powerful stories through color, and it is this unique phenomenon that led to the development of the ‘Colors of Africa’ project. This ambitious initiative shares stories from Africa by Africans.
Design Indaba collaborated with Google Arts & Culture on this brand-new, cross-continental project. In order to tell the full story of such a diverse continent, we approached 60 African creatives and asked them each to create a unique work that depicts their home country through the symbolism of color.
At the same time we asked what being African meant to them. The resulting works and thoughts offer personal insights into African lived experience and add the ever evolving kaleidoscope that is the African continent.
The stories of each creative have been woven into a colorful tapestry which is available on Google Arts & Culture. And this bespoke, online exhibit dives into the artist’s experience of their country – as well as navigating the intricacies of life as an African. In addition to the exhibits, you can spin the kaleidoscope to explore and collect the colors of Africa. Experience the different countries and travel through Africa guided by the eyes of local artists.
Each work is a personal and completely unique experience of a country. Discover some of the colors of Africa below:
Editor’s note from Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation:The GNI Innovation Challengeprogram, is designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas for the news industry. The story below by Mungo Soggot, CEO of Scrolla, is part of an innovator seriessharing inspiring stories and lessons from funded projects.
The costs associated with paying for mobile phone data in many African countries are often incredibly high, making it prohibitive for lower income readers to access news. As our mission is to bring high quality news on mobile phones to underserved communities, we set out to create a new product for Scrolla.Africa which is light on data use. The new platform is called Scrolla Data Lite.
Our core readers are pay-as-you-go mobile users, who make up about 75% of the market in South Africa. We found that people on these expensive pay-as-you-go data services were extremely cautious about downloading anything or surfing online. So beyond using data for messaging services, the idea of browsing on mobiles for news is regarded as a privilege.
As a mobile-only investigative and political reporting outlet, we were operating on a shoestring budget when we launched, so the data use issue was not something we had the technical capacity to address. We decided it had to wait until we had evolved the prototype and our editorial colleagues — Everson Luhanga and Phillip van Niekerk — had established Scrolla’s editorial ethos.
Our big break came when we were selected for the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa in 2021. We had a rough outline of how we would design a separate “Data Lite” site, which we used as the basis for our application. The Data Lite site doesn’t contain video or audio, and has stripped back features allowing for faster scrolling. The goals were to compress stories and images as much as possible and to automate the process so that our small team didn’t have to learn a new Content Management System (CMS). As a recipient of funding, we could build a Data Lite site far quicker and better than would have otherwise been possible, and bring in external engineering expertise to design the new platform.
The site ended up saving readers 90% on the data costs of our “full fat” site, when we compare the 100 kilobytes on page downloads on Data Lite to our usual 1 megabyte. And this meant the Data Lite site gave us about a sixfold increase in traffic compared with the full data site. We couldn’t use video or audio on the new Data Lite site, which remains its only drawback. When it came to images, we gave the editorial team strict guidelines to minimize data use without compromising user experience. This left room for error, so we then built in additional automated safeguards which ensured that uploaded images didn’t risk leaving readers with a spike in data costs.
Alongside data costs, language is an additional barrier in South Africa, so we publish in Zulu as well as English. Crucially, the GNI funding allowed us to design a system where we could include our Zulu content, together with English (a second language in South Africa), on one platform. The site had to be super easy to navigate and allow users to toggle between English and Zulu.
A screengrab of the Scrolla app featuring the Zulu language.
The biggest lesson we learned is it’s impossible to underestimate what a big deal these data costs are: to the extent that many readers are wary of downloading apps or touching the sort of advertisements which typically require a lot of data such as those with video. The GNI enabled us to build the site, and we're open to sharing the technology with other like-minded publications in Africa and beyond.
Editor’s note: Last week Google hosted the annual Google For Africa eventas part of our commitment to make the internet more useful in Africa, and to support the communities and businesses that will power Africa’s economic growth. This commitment includes our investment in research. Since announcing the Google AI Research Center in Accra, Ghanain 2018, we have made great strides in our mission to use AI for societal impact. In May we made several exciting announcements aimed at expanding these commitments.
Yossi Matias, VP of Engineering and Research, who oversees research in Africa, spoke with Jeff Dean, SVP of Google Research, who championed the opening of the AI Research Center, about the potential of AI in Africa.
Jeff: It's remarkable how far we've come since we opened the center in Accra. I was excited then about the talented pool of researchers in Africa. I believed that by bringing together leading researchers and engineers, and collaborating with universities and the wider research community, we could push the boundaries of AI to solve critical challenges on the continent. It’s great to see progress on many fronts, from healthcare and education to agriculture and the climate crisis.
As part of Google For Africa last week, I spoke with Googlers across the continent about recent research and met several who studied at African universities we partner with. Yossi, from your perspective, how does our Research Center in Accra support the wider research ecosystem and benefit from it?
Yossi: I believe that nurturing local talent and working together with the community are critical to our mission. We've signed research agreements with five universities in Africa to conduct joint research, and I was fortunate to participate in the inauguration of the African Master of Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program, of which Google is a founding partner. Many AMMI graduates have continued their studies or taken positions in industry, including at our Accra Research Center where we offer an AI residency program. We've had three cohorts of AI residents to date.
Our researchers in Africa, and the partners and organizations we collaborate with, understand the local challenges best and can build and implement solutions that are helpful for their communities.
Jeff: For me, the Open Buildings initiative to map Africa's built environment is a great example of that kind of collaborative solution. Can you share more about this?
Yossi: Absolutely. The Accra team used satellite imagery and machine learning to detect more than half a billion distinct structures and made the dataset available for public use. UN organizations, governments, non-profits, and startups have used the data for various applications, such as understanding energy needs for urban planning and managing the humanitarian response after a crisis. I'm very proud that we are now scaling this technology to countries outside of Africa as well.
Jeff: That's a great achievement. It's important to remember that the solutions we build in Africa can be scalable and useful globally. Africa has the world's youngest population, so it's essential that we continue to nurture the next generation of tech talent.
We must also keep working to make information accessible for this growing, diverse population. I’m proud of our efforts to use machine translation breakthroughs to bring more African languages online. Several languages were added to Google translate this year, including Bambara, Luganda, Oromo and Sepedi, which are spoken by a combined 85 million people. My mom spoke fluent Lugbara from our time living in Uganda when I was five—Lugbara didn't make the set of languages added in this round, but we're working on it!
Yossi: That's just the start. Conversational technologies also have exciting educational applications that could help students and businesses. We recently collaborated with job seekers to build the Interview Warmup Tool, featured at the Google For Africa event, which uses machine learning and large language models to help job seekers prepare for interviews.
Jeff: Yossi, what’s something that your team is focused on now that you believe will have a profound impact on African society going forward?
Yossi: Climate and sustainability is a big focus and technology has a significant role to play. For example, our AI prediction models can accurately forecast floods, one of the deadliest natural disasters. We're collaborating with several countries and organizations across the continent to scale this technology so that we can alert people in harm's way.
We're also working with local partners and startups on sustainability projects including reducing carbon emissions at traffic lights and improving food security by detecting locust outbreaks, which threaten the food supply and livelihoods of millions of people. I look forward to seeing many initiatives scale as more communities and countries get on board.
Jeff: I'm always inspired by the sense of opportunity in Africa. I'd like to thank our teams and partners for their innovation and collaboration. Of course, there’s much more to do, and together we can continue to make a difference.
In Lamwo district, in northern Uganda, providing access to electricity is a challenge. In a country where only about 24% of the population has a power supply to their home from the national grid, the rate in Lamwo is even lower. This is partly due to lack of information: The government doesn’t have precise data about where settlements are located, what types of buildings there are, and what the buildings’ electricity needs might be. And canvassing the area isn’t practical, because the roads require four-wheel-drive vehicles and are impassable in the rain.
Ernest Mwebaze leads Sunbird AI, a Ugandan nonprofit that uses data technology for social good. They’re assessing areas in Lamwo district to support planning at the Ministry of Energy in Uganda. “There are large areas to plan for,” explains Ernest. “Even when you’re there on the ground, it’s difficult to get an overall sense of where all the buildings are and what is the size of each settlement. Currently people have to walk long distances just to charge their phones.”
To help with their analysis, Ernest’s team have been using Google’s Open Buildings. An open-access dataset project based on satellite imagery pinpointing the locations and geometry of buildings across Africa, Open Buildings allows the team to study the electrification needs, and potential solutions, at a level of detail that was previously impossible.
Our research center in Ghana led the development of the Open Buildings project to support policy planning for the areas in the world with the biggest information gaps. We created it by applying artificial intelligence methods to satellite imagery to identify the locations and outlines of buildings.
Since we released the data, we’ve heard from many organizations — including UN agencies, nonprofits and academics — who have been using it:
- The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has been using Open Buildings for survey sampling. It’s common to do household surveys in regions where people have been displaced, in order to know what people need. But UNHCR needs to first have an assessment of where the households actually are, which is where the Open Buildings project has been useful.
- UN Habitat is using Open Buildings to study urbanization across the African continent. Having detail on the way that cities are laid out enables them to make recommendations on urban planning.
- The International Energy Agency is using Open Buildings to estimate energy needs. With data about individual buildings, they can assess the needs of communities at a new level of precision and know how much energy is needed for cooking, lighting and for operating machinery. This will help with planning sustainable energy policy.
We’re excited to make this information available in more countries and to assist more organizations in their essential work. As Ernest says, “By providing decision makers with better data, they can make better decisions. Geographical data is particularly important for providing an unbiased source of information for planning basic services, and we need more of it.”
Last year our CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that Google would invest $1 billion in Africa over the next five years to support a range of initiatives, from improved connectivity to investment in startups, to help boost Africa’s digital transformation.
Africa’s internet economy has the potential to grow to $180 billion by 2025 – 5.2% of the continent’s GDP. To support this growth, over the last year we’ve made progress on helping to enable affordable access and on building products for every African user – helping businesses build their online presence, supporting entrepreneurs spur next-generation technologies, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across the continent.
We’d like to share how we’re delivering on our commitment and partnering with others – policymakers, non-profits, businesses and creators – to make the internet more useful to more people in Africa.
Introducing the first Google Cloud region in Africa
Today we’re announcing our intent to establish a Google Cloud region in South Africa – our first on the continent. South Africa will be joining Google Cloud’s global network of 35 cloud regions and 106 zones worldwide.
The future cloud region in South Africa will bring Google Cloud services closer to our local customers, enabling them to innovate and securely deliver faster, more reliable experiences to their own customers, helping to accelerate their growth. According to research by AlphaBeta Economics for Google Cloud, the South Africa cloud region will contribute more than a cumulative USD 2.1 billion to the country’s GDP, and will support the creation of more than 40,000 jobs by 2030.
Niral Patel, Director for Cloud in Africa announces Google's intention to establish Google's first Cloud region in Africa
Along with the cloud region, we are expanding our network through the Equiano subsea cable and building Dedicated Cloud Interconnect sites in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi. In doing so, we are building full scale Cloud capability for Africa.
Supporting African entrepreneurs
We continue to support African entrepreneurs in growing their businesses and developing their talent. Our recently announced second cohort of the Black Founders Fund builds on the success of last year’s cohort, who raised $97 million in follow-on funding and have employed more than 500 additional staff since they were selected. We’re also continuing our support of African small businesses through the Hustle Academy and Google Business Profiles, and helping job seekers learn skills through Developer Scholarships and Career Certifications.
We’ve also continued to support nonprofits working to improve lives in Africa, with a $40 million cash and in-kind commitment so far. Over the last year this has included:
- $1.5M investment in Career Certifications this year bringing our total Google.org funding to more than $3M since 2021
- A $3 million grant to support AirQo in expanding their work monitoring air quality from Kampala to ten cities in five countries on the continent;
- A team of Googlers who have joined the Tony Elumelu Foundation for 6 months, full-time and pro-bono. The team helped build a new training web and app interface to support the next million African entrepreneurs to grow and fund their businesses.
Across all our initiatives, we continue to work closely with our partners – most recently with the UN to launch the Global Africa Business Initiative (GABI), aimed at accelerating Africa’s economic growth and sustainable development.
Building more helpful products for Africa
We recently announced plans to open the first African product development centre in Nairobi. The centre will develop and build better products for Africans and the world.
Today, we’re launching voice typing support for nine more African languages (isiNdebele, isiXhosa, Kinyarwanda, Northern Sotho, Swati, Sesotho, Tswana, Tshivenda and Xitsonga) in Gboard, the Google keyboard – while 24 new languages are now supported on Google Translate, including Lingala, which is spoken by more than 45 million people across Central Africa.
To make Maps more useful, Street View imagery in Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria has had a refresh with nearly 300,000 more kilometres of imagery now helping people virtually explore and navigate neighbourhoods. We’re also extending the service to Rwanda, meaning that Street View is now available in 11 African countries.
In addition to expanding the AI Accra Research Centre earlier this year, theOpen Buildings Project, which mapped buildings across the African continent using machine learning and satellite imagery, is expanding to South and Southeast Asia and is a great example of the AI centre creating solutions for Africa that are useful across the world.
Delivering on our promise
We remain committed to working with our partners in building for Africa together, and helping to unlock the benefits of the digital economy for more people by providing useful products, programmes and investments. We’re doing this by partnering with African organisations, businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s the talent and drive of the individuals in the countries, communities and businesses of Africa that will power Africa’s economic growth.