Google Meets Mark

On: September 29, 2008
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About Wouter Dijkstra
I am concerned with ICT for accountability, awareness and transparency. I am doing research on traditional, local and popular communication structures in Uganda and will see how New Media technologies can be used effectively as a tool within these structures. My aim is to find ways in which citizens can take on a more active role within political structures in Uganda and how ICT’s can help in this process.


Mark Kamau speaking on behalf of Nairobits (project initiated by Butterfly Works)

The most rewarding speech during the ‘Surprising Africa’ special at PICNIC came (according to me) from Mark Kamau. A former township dweller who came into contact with Butterfly Works trough the Nairobits project. Mark told us about his past and the road to a better life out of the Mathare townships in Nairobi where he was born to a single mother. After his initial career as football goalkeeper came to an end due to corruption by the team manager, he was chosen by Butterfly Works to take part in their project.

By participating in the Nairobits project he learned about the opportunities of New Media and got schooled in digital design. Nairobits exists to promote positive change in the lifestyles of less privileged African youth by equipping them with multimedia skills and promoting cross-cultural exchange. The project started in 2000 and has been awarded several international awards.

When he started, Mark knew nothing about computers and was facing a future like many of his peers, jobless with a risk of turning to crime or drugs. After his 1 year training in Nairobi, Mark went on to start his own company which recorded tourists climbing the Kilimanjaro. The revenues he collected by selling the DVD’s to the tourists made him a successful entrepreneur and gave him the esteem to develop more managing skills. He is now general manager of the Kilimanjaro Film Institute. This organization trains disadvantaged Tanzanian people coming from disadvantaged circumstances in different disciplines of film making, in order to help them gain the necessary skills to find employment.

I found this a striking example of the success which can be obtained by grassroot organizations in planting seeds for organic development. The opportunity which Mark got from his participation in the Nairobits project is well worth the effort for it flows back into new initiatives with similar aims.

This Bottom up approach not only reaches the right people by sidestepping a great deal of bureaucratic corruption, it also endows future progression with a positive cooperative intentions.

In his speech, addressing the PICNIC audience, Mark stressed the importance of the mindset of youths growing up in slums. It is less the material poverty than the feeling of having no meaningful future that makes youngsters get involved with crime or drugs. The ambassador for Nairobits -and in a way the less privileged African youth- made serious impact with his words and, after he finished his talk, was assured of a great round of applause.

In a symbolic gesture, Butterfly Works let Mark present their new book ‘Butterfly Paper No. 1‘ to Gisel Hiscock of Google Africa. Who, after Mark had left the stage, contrasted his lively speech with a Corporate overview of the mega projects Google is pursuing on the continent. However; If these two extremes could find a way to cooperate in the future, Africa could connect to the global information flow in a manner that benefits the entitled population.


Surprising Africa

Wouter Dijkstra

Master New Media

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