Where Africa and Technology Collide!

On Being a White Blogging Techie from Africa

The last two weeks have been a hotbed of flamewars and accusations across the blogosphere over race and gender issues. As a rule, I generally distance myself from these topics. This time however, I think I have something to add to the discussion. (please excuse the abnormal length)

It started off with the MMK declaring the Digital Indaba on Blogging taking place in South Africa as a potential play by whites trying to take hold of the upper ground in African blogosphere. The week prior, Chippla had posted thoughts on whether White Africans are actually Africans. On top of all that, the African Womens Blog had some interesting articles on racism, a particularly good one was the one talking about how as whites we don’t even realize we are privelaged. So, this whole debate was brewing and coming to a head.

Future of Web Apps - SpeakersToday, Seruyange referred me to Dare Obasanjo’s blog post on white males being overly prominent in most technology conferences. Funny enough, the one everyone is pointing to is the one I was at last week, “The Future of Web Apps” (speaker list image attached).

I’m trying to step outside of the normal racial issues we deal with, and just talk about technology and conferences here. In particular, I’ll boil it down to the type of conference that I am used to attending.

It’s about Ideas and Networking
Conferences are designed for two purposes: Ideas and Networking.

A good conference will have a speaker list of people with good ideas and thoughts, and they are generally good at actually presenting as well. Technology ideas are agnostic. For example, a good product or even a theory, on social bookmarking does not care whether you’re black or a female.

Networking is the other component that I look for in a good conference. I want to meet and share ideas with others. This is where the demographic makeup does have an effect. If those we actually get into conversations with are all spouting the same stuff from the same perspective, we miss out on a lot.

In Summary
Ideas are agnostic, they don’t care about your skin color. Networking, however is not, but you don’t do yourself any favors by NOT going to a conference because you don’t think you’ll be well represented in the types of speakers.

Those putting together conferences could easily have more women and non-whites as speakers – I love Dare’s examples of who to switch out by the way. Does it matter who the speakers are though? I don’t think so. I think it matters who you actually meet and talk to.

MMK has a point that those who are chosen to speak at the conference tend to be seen as the “experts” and can gain a certain amount of influence. However, I absolutely hate any talk of quotas for conferences. Let’s not make this an issue where we are all dancing around the “politically correct” issue. So, is there a balance issue that needs to be addressed by organizers? Maybe.

Final Thoughts and a Challenge
The Perfect Tech ConferenceI think the more important issue is not the speakers at these conferences, it’s the general groupthink that you get out of Silicon Valley and the Western-centric tech community. Dare decided not to attend any more conferences because:

I realized I was seeing the same faces and hearing the same things over and over again. More importantly, I noticed that the demographics of the speaker lists for these conferences don’t match the software industry as a whole let alone the users who we are supposed to be building the software for.

Let’s be proactive and think about what would the makeup would be of the perfect web technology conference. If you could put together the speakers, ones that would entice attendees, have cutting-edge ideas and be great speakers, who would you choose? Why? If you think about the ideas and projects that they’re working on first, without looking at color, would you still have an overly generous sampling of white males?


  1. The Perfect Technology Conference:
    Q. Who should speak?
    A. This should be broken into two categories. Tech developers and end users.

    A1. End users should bring real-world examples of using technologies in everyday life, INCLUDING its affect on communities from all over society and all over the world, and from all different economic backgrounds, bringing value to the use of technology in development work.

    A2. Tech developers should then be given ample opportunity to display the savvyness to address end user concerns, including its value to society as a whole.

    Q. Why?
    A. Technology is generally a fairly lucrative profit making business. That being said, it can also be used to empower more entrepreneurial and innovative economic opportunities to meet the needs of all parts of society regardless of race, creed or colour. In other words, expanding the technology world into social areas of life will only increase the bottom line and will bring in the appropriate representation of all people groups.

    If technology conferences continue to parlay ONLY (I am not saying stop this, but to expand) with high-level, on the edge technology, we run into a very minute group of end users who can actually afford the price. Once technology expands into more reachable arena’s, more diversity will result as a consequence.
    Just so no one mis-interprets what I am saying; yes, whites are generally well-off, I am not saying non-whites are generally econimically worse off, there are more non-whites (by vitrue of the numbers) who are just as well off as whites. The problem then is that most technology is not relevent in the non-white communities. It can become relevent by it use in a social development forum, including education.

  2. Ta for a cool post. I was at the DCI conference in Grahamstown, and I arrived a little unprepared with regards to all the huff that had gone before it regarding the white vs. black issues and “African” identity argument. Bottom line – I thought I was going to a South African version of your Future of Web Apps-type Silicon Valley vibe.

    That said, I think it went really well. Despite the furore that preceded it, the conference did it’s best and opened the eyes of both white and black bloggers (as if there’s a difference), but specifically from these angles:

    I think the black guys realised us white guys are not trying to overwhelm the African blogosphere with white faces in an attempt to rule it absolutely – in fact I think they realised just how innocently stupid we (especially white South Africans) can be to the rest of Africa. I hope they forgave us for that but it’s a harmless fact.

    Secondly, us white dudes realised the black dudes are not just into blogging because it’s cool, progressive and fun. Some are in it because it’s a lifeline. An escape. A voice where there are no other means to speak. I realised just how important blogging can be from an activism standpoint.

    The conference, ultimately, was about connecting human beings better through technology. Regardless of colour or intention.

  3. Hey Mike, thanks for the feedback on the Indaba. I think this event, if it becomes an annual thing, will become quite the place to be in the future. It would be great to see them hold it in some other African nation and invite some more people like AB&H, Sokari and such.

    I really appreciate your candid response – I know others will too.

  4. One of the issues here is that to use a pun – these are not black and white issues and frankly it is very difficult to have a discussion that is really meaningful in the blogosphere as opposed to being in a face to face forum. Things get muddled and lost, some comments dont get responded to whilst others do. There is so much more I feel I could say or could have said but you get side tracked. Also here you are talking about the Indaba and also about who is African and then racism – i think these are all inter connected but huge areas. I had issues with the conference as you know and have nothing more to add on that. However on this thing about who is African – I think the answer lies in removing colour from the equation and looking at how people live their lives, how they approach their fellow Africans, how they relate to the continent and witin their own national boundaries and the political and social aspects of those national boundaries.

    The bottom line I believe is that majority of people in Africa are black people. As such it is reasonable to expect anything to do with the continent to be proportionally represented but it isnt. We need to acknowledge why that is so and only by doing that can we then begin to address that issue. I dont agree that technology is neutral. It is embedded with the social, political and cultural mores of the dominant world ideology. That is why the work you are doing in terms of developing technology for Africa is so important because you are trying to take it and shape it to the specific needs of Africa and Africans – not just the elite but everyone.

  5. Sokari, that was very eloquently spoken. I agree that the fact that more than one topic is trying to be debated at one time makes it difficult to follow. Their interrelation makes it both a hot and complicated area to discuss, and the platform on which it is happening makes it easy to misread.

    Technology, though I agree it does have cultural undertones to it, is the easiest to separate from cultural issues. For instance, that monstrocity of a social network called Myspace is a very western invention. However, the technology behind creating way for people to interact on a macro level is not. In fact, you could argue that Africans are more socially connected than westerners and that a technology like that would be better utilized in Africa than the US.

    Now that takes us directly into the mire that you so nicely spoke of – that very platform that makes Myspace a success is not even available to 90% of Africans. 🙂 You’re right, that’s the problem I’m trying to address. If it can be figured out, it’ll be a huge boon to everyone Africa-wide.

  6. Great blog entry Eric.
    Okay with regards to MySpace et al, those sites are used predominantly in societies with el CHEAPO bandwidth. Right? Lets see what transpires in another year or 2 and revisit this. I’m sure once bandwidth goes down by 70% next year here in Kenya that there’ll be more diversity in the Net’s makeup in these parts. But honestly, a lot of people over here are also unfamiliar with how truly POWERFUL the Internet is aside from a Yahoo or Hotmail email account – seriously.

    “Funny enough, the one everyone is pointing to is the one I was at last week, “The Future of Web Apps” (speaker list image attached).”

    Wow!!! I would’ve LOVED to be at that conference to rub elbows with those legendary web gurus. Who gives a “flock” that they’re WHITE?? I find that people who are in the Tech industry are some of the most forward thinnking peeps on the planet – regardless of race.

    Once again, I say lets revisit this whole topic in another year or 2 when EVERYBODY over here adapts and learns to take advantage of the Net.

  7. Dear Sir,
    It’s interesting how you talk about how race is not an issue, yet your blog is titled WHITE AFRICAN.

    For anyone and everyone to consider. Race will be an issue so long as the situation exists where white men enter countries and CONTINENTS as conquerors rather than explorers and participants.

    It’s in your nature. Is it bad. Well 7/8ths of the world’s population that is not white would say yes it is bad. And honestly, no other group of people has ever used the atomic bomb but white people.

    So it’s really hard to deny color as an issue when it is so obvious that much of the world’s destruction and lack of peace was caused by white men. At least it’s true over here in the USA, South Africa, Japan, South America, Australia, India, and more.

    I just wish that white men could learn how to be friendly neighbors.

    For the record, I am married to a handsome Napoli, Italian man.

    I thank you for allowing me the chance to be honest with you. And also hope that you recognize that a white man and a black woman (myself) will disagree on racial issues because you are seeing things through your African eyes and I am seeing them through my African eyes.

  8. KenyaSpeaks, thanks for your thoughts. It is somewhat ironic (maybe hypocritical?) that what I’m saying is that skin color shouldn’t matter, yet I named my blog “White African”. In my defense, I will say that I didn’t quite know what this blog would turn into when I first started writing it over a year ago.

    Either way, I understand that my lens on life will never be the same as yours. However, I believe that that fact doesn’t mean we can’t work together, and make our world a better place. I do that through my understanding and knowledge of technology – is it completely colorblind? No, but it does give all of us a chance to operate on a platform that itself doesn’t know or care if we’re black or white.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate hearing your opinion.

  9. eh, KenyaSpeaks, are you speaking for all of kenya? i hope not!
    you say all white people have a nature that 7/8ths of the world say is bad. why do you generalize white people like so? surely you would not allow white people to generalize non-whites in the same way, so why do you do so yourself?
    second, do you claim to speak for 7/8ths of the world? you are very bold to do so; if you claim to see the world through “your” eyes only, then do not pretend to see the world through everyone else’s eyes.
    third, this gentleman has opened up communication and dialogue on a very sensitive issue, and has done a good job of getting people to talk things out; so why are you abusing him like this? you attack the very thing that will help to get past these racial issues, and in doing so become only a roadblock yourself, stuck in a certain rut on the road.
    if whites are not good neighbors to you, i wonder if the reasons are not because of them, but rather someone else…..

  10. Hash, I appreciate what you have done with this site. It is clear that no matter the color of your skin, you have a heart and passion for Africa and long to see it advance in a way that is healthy and beneficial to the people of Africa. Well done!
    Swoosh, good points and well-spoken.

  11. Hello,

    I’m trying to set up a blogging platform for africain people.
    I am looking for swahili translator to adapt the platform into african langages.

    Do you have any contact ? If not, you can however visit my website at http://www.akopo.com/summary.php

    Sorry for my english, I better write in French 😉


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