PICNIC 08 – Surprising Africa
A presentation by Ethan zuckerman; co-founder of Global Voices, a research fellow at the Berkman Centre and a prodigious blogger interested in the impact of technology on the developing world.
The presentation took place between 17.20 and 18.00 at the E-Art Dome in Amsterdam on 26 September 2008. It was an eye opener on the vibrant and fast-moving technological and creative developments in cities and rural areas across Africa, from mobile banking to new communication patterns.
In a fast paced tone, Zuckerman explained what surprising Africa is all about. He explained that it is not about disease, war, conflict as portrayed by the media, but about the new innovative and profitable Africa.
He used many examples of nations in Africa on the move. Madagascar, he claimed was the third largest island in the world with special wildlife and people. He informed the audience about a young Madagascan boy who dropped out of school because his parents could not afford US $90 per year fees! The boy went ahead and invented a windmill using a bicycle dynamo which now powers his parent’s house. A Malawian blogger uploaded this story and it was picked by a Kenyan-American blogger. The story was picked from there by the West and the boy was invited to the US.
This shows that out there are many such stories that go untold!
Well meaning white guys like U2 singer Bono and Sir Bob Geldof, long advocates for international aid to Africa, have led international effort to focus on Africa.
The world of African bloggers is quite active. There are thousands of Kenyan bloggers. They are influential and their postings are popularly used by radio talk shows. During the presidential elections in Kenya, there was a media blackout- except blogs. Bloggers documented the election fiasco and posted on their blog.
In Africa, there exist 3 groups of people. Group 1 includes leaders, despots and aging politicians. Group 3 are the kids and group 2 the new generation. The latter are the group with disposable income. They are producers not consumers. Their symbol is the mobile phone. This is an important phenomenon for the whole continent.
Everyone in Africa can now access a phone. In Tanzania, 97% of the people interviewed can make a telephone call. The mobile telephone infrastructure is shared in Africa. This is the beginning of solving Africa’s problems.
Cash is now sent via the telephone by way of telephone credits. Someone in the city can now send his/her relative in the village cash via the mobile. This system was developed in Uganda. It is called sente local language meaning money.
In Kenya a cash transfer system called pesa Kiswahili for money is now well developed to international standards. One can now pay his tax and other payments using a mobile phone. Kenyans in the Diaspora exploit this means of transfer and thus avoid the exorbitant charges by western union and other money transfer agencies.
This system is also available in Zambia.
In Nairobi an 18 year old built a car safety system with a mobile phone. A stolen car can be disabled by a mobile phone. A recording of the conversation of thieves can also be made.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabe was forced to share power because rigging could not take place. The opposition used the mobile phone to report results at their headquarters. They compiled the results before the electoral commission. There was therefore, no way could Mugabe’s party rig the elections in their favour. Mobile telephony can now fix elections.
Zuckerman advised the West to invest in infrastructure in Africa and stop trade in cash crops, human beings and other smaller imports. The way forward is to invest in mobile telephony, power generation and roads. The returns from Africa are more than 50% on stock markets.
China is busy investing in infrastructure in Africa and will reap big in future. They will be able to access minerals and oil more cheaply.
Africans in the Diaspora are also an inspiring lot. They have answered the call to go back and develop Africa. A Ghanaian formerly working with Microsoft Corporation returned home and invested in a university. It is now one of the most respected in Ghana. This is replicated elsewhere in Africa.
At this point Binyavanga Wainaina Kenyan and Helen Omwando came in. Helen discussed the corporate perspective. She highlighted the fact that almost 30% of the African countries have reported a more than 6% GDP growth rate over the last 5 years unlike western countries. However, she averred that out of the 26 billion Euros annual Income for Philips only 1% comes out of Africa!
Wainana was optimistic of the future of Africa saying presently, platforms are being created around things like governance. He asserted that people are wilfully finding their way around.
When asked how Kenya recovered so quickly after the election fiasco, Wainana admitted that the violence shocked everyone. On the other hand, he said the system simply buckled, yet everyone had confidence in it. Nonetheless, the politicians quickly pulled their act together, talked and the systems were revived.
Wainana claimed the difference between Africa and other countries was that Africans live in tribes, well as the rest of the world lives in states, nations and realms. This therefore is the big problem for Africa.