Tuesday, 09 June 2020

Insights from International Data Corporation (IDC) reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to one of the largest quarterly dips in Africa's smartphone market since 2015.

The global technology research and consulting firm's latest Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker shows that Africa's smartphone market saw shipments decline 17.8% quarter on quarter (QoQ) in Q1 2020 to total 20.1 million units.

The overall mobile phone market totaled 46.8 million units, down 20.5% QoQ, with feature phones accounting for 57.1% share of total units versus smartphones at 42.9%.

COVID-19 had a two-stage negative impact on smartphone shipments in Q1 2020. The pandemic initially restricted the supply of shipments into the region in February as manufacturers in China closed their doors. Then in March, the situation worsened as consumer demand was hit by local measures and lockdowns to combat the spread of the disease.

The pandemic adversely impacted all African countries, particularly the continent's three major markets of South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt, which suffered declines of 22.9%, 13.6%, and 6.3%, respectively.  

Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) continued to lead the smartphone space in Q1 2020, with a combined unit share of 36.7%, followed by Samsung and Huawei with respective shares of 18.8% and 11.1%. "COVID-19 severely disrupted the industry in Q1 2020, while consumer demand also showed signs of a mild decline," says Taher Abdel-Hameed, a senior research analyst at IDC. "In such an environment, consumers are moving towards more affordable entry-level and mid-range devices. Xiaomi benefited from this trend and was able to drive growth over the quarter while most of the other popular brands reported declines."

Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa's smartphone market to decline 9.1% year on year in unit terms for 2020 as a whole. "A significant portion of mobile phone channels are closed in the region and economies have slowed down quite significantly during Q2 2020, which will lead to a weaker Q2 performance," says Ramazan Yavuz, a senior research manager at IDC. "While we expect to see a recovery in the second half of the year through normalization efforts undertaken by governments, the heavy impact of the pandemic on the economies will be felt on the overall 2020 smartphone market."

Published in Telecoms

Academic freedom is supposed to enable academics to conduct scientific enquiry and produce knowledge to be used for the public good. Academics need it so that they can meet their obligation to society. And the state has a corresponding duty to respect this freedom and protect it from abuse.

Academic freedom in Ghana started well with the establishment of the University of Ghana in 1948. Special measures were put in place to insulate the academic staff from governmental interference.

This trend was continued into independence. But it began to deteriorate when respect for liberal democracy, embodied in Ghana’s Independence Constitution, started to wane simultaneously as the country morphed into a one-party state and later into military rule.

In 1992, Ghana passed the Fourth Republican Constitution, which explicitly recognises “academic freedom”. This makes Ghana one of only 14 African countries to do so. The constitution bars the president from taking the position of chancellor of any public university. It also gives universities the power to set up their own governing councils.

But the constitution also grants the president the power to appoint a national council for tertiary education to coordinate the functioning of the public universities.

The current government is attempting to circumvent a key aspect of these constitutional provisions meant to promote and protect academic freedom in its attempt to overhaul the running of the universities with a new Public University Bill.

The bill

A memorandum accompanying the bill states, in part, that it is designed to curb “grave improprieties in the utilisation of resources” in public universities.

Based on this claim, the bill seeks to grant the president the power to appoint the chancellors of all public universities. The same applies to the appointment of chairs of all university councils. The council is basically the board of the institution. Currently, chancellors are appointed by university councils whose heads are appointed by the president.

The bill also whittles down the composition of the councils from about 21, depending on the university, to 13. The majority – eight – would be appointed by the president.

The new bill allows councils to appoint vice-chancellors. But the president’s majority stake in council membership means that vice-chancellors would in practice be presidential appointees.

Consequently, all three principal officers of a public university will be beholden to the president.

The president will also have the power to dissolve a university council if he deems there’s an emergency on the campus. The president can replace it with an interim council of his choice.

The universities’ freedom to control their own admission processes is to be replaced by a centralised application board.

These and many other provisions of the bill intrude into the university’s autonomous space.

Flawed logic

These attempts by the government to control public universities are unjustified – not only in law but also in fact.

The country has laws that are strong enough to control financial management in the universities. And the ministers of education, finance and others have roles to play in ensuring compliance.

The solution does not lie in making a new law which seeks to control university governance through the back door.

The bill will create more problems than it seeks to solve. For example, it will mean that the minister of education will have to approve applications for grants and even the purchase of equipment to furnish a lecture theatre.

The respected Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, in its memorandum to parliament, noted that among the effects of the draft bill will be:

  • The introduction of direct executive control over public universities, both as corporate bodies and as academic institutions, and

  • The constriction of space for differentiation among public universities, for innovation, and for the drive for excellence.

It concluded that “the proposed draft Ghana universities bill is unnecessary” and should not be allowed to pass.

The University Teachers Association of Ghana, on its part, noted in its memorandum that it opposes

the enactment of a harmonised act and statutes to regulate all public universities under one platform.

In its opinion, the bill sins against fundamental provisions of the Fourth Republican Constitution and if passed in its present form, it will not hesitate to institute legal proceedings to challenge them before the Supreme Court.

The government has already shown itself to have little regard for academic freedom. Recently, its brusque interference in an impasse at a public university led to the dismissal of a vice-chancellor and dissolution of the school’s governing council. It also tried to control the conversion of polytechnics into technical universities by setting up a state education agency as the de facto governing council for the technical universities.

The bill also reflects tensions around perceived governmental interference in the removal from office of a vice-chancellor at the University of Education, and the appointment of a new one.

What will be lost

The Public University Bill, if allowed to pass, will take the country back to the 1960s. It will result in the loss of institutional autonomy, self-governance, collegiality, tenure and individual rights and freedoms of academics and students. This will in turn impact negatively on the congenial atmosphere required to promote creativity, innovation and competition on university campuses.

Ghana is considered a bastion of democracy in Africa. It has a large measure of respect for human rights and the rule of law compared with many other African countries. Its democratic credentials will suffer great harm if the bill becomes law.The Conversation


Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, Associate Professor of Law, University of Ghana

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published in Opinion & Analysis

GOOGLE MEET has previewed a brilliant new feature that sounds like it could revolutionise your next family catch-up or work meeting. Google clearly wants to tempt users away from the likes of Zoom and WhatsApp ...here's how.

As millions of people work and take classes from home, video conferencing solutions have become an increasingly important part of everyday life. Enterprise-focused solutions like Zoom have seen their share price skyrocket as families and friends turn to the app to keep in touch, while social media giants like Facebook and Google have raced to adapt their messaging apps so they're fit for the increased demands for video calls.

While Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently doubled the maximum limit for video calls, Facebook introduced an entirely-new service – known as Messenger Rooms – where up to 50 people from Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger can video call one another, Google has decided to open-up its Google Meet service to everyone for free.

Previously reserved only for those with business or education accounts with Google, Meet can host up to 100 people at a time. That's a lot of relatives in a single call. And while Zoom limits free accounts to 40-minutes at a time (you'll need to pay a subscription fee to talk for longer, or have to kickstart a new call with the same people), Google Meet won't enforce any limit for the time being. The free Google Meet option will be limited to 60 minutes – still more generous than the 40 minutes allowed by rival Zoom –when the time limit is enforced from September 30, 2020 onwards.

But that's not the feature that could convince you to make the switch from Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook or FaceTime for your weekly family quiz or daily check-in with colleagues and friends. Google has previewed a new feature – known as noise cancellation – that will be rolling out to Android, iOS and online users in the very near future.

As the name suggests, noise cancellation will remove any background sounds – like tapping on a keyboard, the soft hum of a desk-fan, or the rustle of a crisps packet during a mid-meeting snack. To do this, Google will use its clever AI to remove these troublesome sounds and add clarity to your voice.

This all happens in the cloud, so shouldn't be taxing on your laptop or phone – no matter how tired or underpowered it is.

When it launches, noise cancellation will be enabled by default. Although, if you feel the need to regale your colleagues with the sound of your fingers hammering on the keys or the gurgle of the central heating kicking in, Google Meet users will be able to switch it off.

Google is leveraging its AI to bring a number of changes to video call users. Using facial recognition, Google Meet can identify your facial features and use software to lighten them – even if you've chosen to sit in-front of a window, casting yourself in shadow.

This feature is out now on iOS and Android. Those who join on laptops will not be able to use this benefit quite yet. Since there's not a dedicated image signal processor built into the webcam of most laptops, it's a little tougher for Google to roll out this feature quite yet.

Google Meet is available to anyone with a Google Account (these are free for anyone and you can sign-up with an existing email address if you'd rather not commit to Gmail) at Meet.Google.com.



Published in Telecoms
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