Thursday, May 07, 2009

Africa should just stop whining!

It is considered automatic that Africa lags behind all other continents in technology adoption. So, whenever there is an international meeting African representatives find a story to tell; the digital divide.

It has become so bad that leaders just fail to do the right things and just blame it on the digital divide. The government heads fail to adopt technology and blame it on the digital divide.

Some Africa representatives attend meetings and instead of striking collaborative deals to benefit their countries; they are busy shopping or just filling numbers in the meeting rooms. And when you ask, they blame it on the digital divide.

I recall there was this guy who represented his country at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meetings for three years, and during the time, he did not share any outcome or notes from the meeting with technology forums.

It was embarrassing that at one point, a senior government officer attended one of the technology related meetings and had no clue that hi country was represented within ICANN.

The representative had just been attending meetings and not even sharing with the tech community or government officers on the recommendations and outcomes of such meetings.

What would you call that? The digital divide?

There is no doubt that there exists a gap between developing countries and developed countries within ICANN.

This gap is specifically manifested when it comes to Africa delegates, they hardly contribute meaningfully to the public forums. ICANN deals with the names and numbers, the technical aspects but Africa is still grappling with elementary issues such as access and policy issues.

For instance; when the business group is discussing issues of e-commerce and the amount of information that should be availed online or whether the security agents should be given such information, how does someone with no e-commerce in their country contribute to the debate?

But does that mean that Africa has no place in international technology meetings? Why then does Africa fail to take advantage of some of the opportunities?

At a recent technology conference, Maua Daftari,Tanzania's Deputy Minister in charge of science and technology expressed her fear that if the Conficker worm hits Africa, it might wipe out the few steps made.
What was confusing was that I did not hear her say what Tanzania is doing to promote use of open source technology, if the the reliance on Microsoft products poses the danger she was quoting.

In some cases, innovative youth ventures have been stifled by uninformed officers heading important government heads.

I recall last year, I had an interview with Laban Mwangi, one of Kenya's most progressive and innovative techie. He shared his frustrations in trying to convince mobile phone companies in Kenya to adopt his point of sale gadget by selling to him airtime in wholesale, which he can then sell to traders in remote areas through his gadget. The idea was shared with the power and lighting company among other important service providers.

With the gadget, Mwangi wanted people to sell airtime from any company, pay water and electricity bills among other services. His attempts did not bear much fruit then.

You can imagine my shock when I entered one of the corner shops in London earlier this year and found that they use Mwangi's concept.
So, Mwangi failed to get them to adopt his technology but do not be shocked if a few years down the line, you hear that one company has been awarded a huge contract to supply what Mwangi would have supplied at a fraction. If we adopted that technology last year; we would have been far by now.

So, it is clear that Africa's appreciation of young techie minds is lacking, technocrats have specialized in attending meetings and their technology vision is blurred and most of all; we have mastered the art of whining.

We should just get the solutions and stop that digital divide song, how come Africa does not talk of the digital divide when it comes to military hardware and other state-of-the art warfare gadgets?

How comes African militaries have one of the highest budgets and are quick to adopt latest technology? Does that mean there is no digital divide in military terms?

I think Africa should just stop whining and act!


Hauke Plambeck said...

Interesting point. It shows, that the private sector in Kenya needs to put action onto the agenda. Do it yourself instead of leaving all to politics, and hoping for fate to turn out the right way to support technological development.
Everything is possible and I have seen and accomplished many African achievements in other sectors, most of them were driven by initiative of the private sector who sees the needs and acts much faster. I believe Kenya can face these challenges, Kenya has all it needs: a high level of very good educated young people, a growing ICT infrastructure and good ideas. But people have to stand up from their cosy couches and stop leaning backwards, waiting for others to do the work. Gladly the younger generation does this.

Anonymous said...

Becky, you have certainly hit the nail on the head with your analysis. We spend most of the time telling ourselves how we cant make it, and finding somebody to blame. Even for the simplest things. The debate about digital or information divide has been on since the 1960s...but we still find currency in using it today. It is not different from the way you hear our people blaming colonialism or government for even the absence of a toilet in a homestead! surely?

John Karanja said...

Entrepreneurism in Kenya and Africa is killed by a deadly combination of Crony Capitalism and AID dependency. These two breed corruption and ethnic strife/power games.

For more please see

Chelsea Larosa said...

yes indeed, african enterprenuer has been dependent for some time now. they should learn how to stand even without Kenya.

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