Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Lessons on Community From The African Blogosphere

I’ve been learning a few lessons on community over the past few months. This has come primarily from my interaction with the African blogosphere and my observations of how people communicate. Having a weekend away from technology has given me time to ponder some of these thoughts, without further adieu…

Africa: Think LocalYou would think, with this international world and the power to network with people from varying cultures, that we would all reach out and try to come to know others. Get outside our own box, our own way of thinking. Why not get to know the bloggers from Madagascar, Chad and Namibia?

That is not what happens.

Instead, we see a lot of independent voices (the true power of the internet) that coalesce into communities of like-minds and like-backgrounds. These communities tend to operate, grow and strengthen within their own echo chamber. If enough noise is made, they grow. If enough independent thought is encouraged and a lack of centralized control is maintained, it is healthy. Kenyan, Nigerian and South African communities are all testaments to this, while others like Uganda and Madagascar are growing.

Can There be an African Platform?
Africa’s PCWhen I first started talking about Zangu, a mobile platform that I envisioned would connect Africans, I thought of it on the global scale. I was wrong. The strength Zangu (or any technology like it) will not be found in the connecting of Africans on an Africa-wide scale, but in the creation of a platform that connects people on the local level.

It’s not that we don’t want to connect, or wouldn’t be friendly and helpful if the need arose. It’s that we are all to busy and have enough on our hands just trying to get by. This is true whether you’re a local bicycle repair man or an international business leader. We use technology for convenience when the need arises.

Lessons Learned
When I first began blogging about Africa and technology, it was natural for me to fall in with my East African bretheren as I naturally felt like I belonged there. We each need to find a place from which to operate and gain acquaintances and friendship throughout the blogosphere, and mine was Kenya. On top of this, because of my web technology background, I started communicating and talking to a lot of South African bloggers – South Africa being the biggest technology sphere in Africa, this made sense.

I found myself watching what was happening on Muti (a social news site for Africa) and resenting the fact that only South Africans seemed to be taking part in the conversation. Why? Why did other Africans not utilize this platform to its true potential?

The answer lay in my earlier observation that we all need to feel connected and part of a group. The platform we use is only as powerful as the people who use it. Muti gains popularity daily because of the attention and use by South African bloggers. As that happens, others don’t feel as “at home” there. Since there is no other alternative for say, the Cameroonian bloggers, well they just don’t go there. Instead they end up frequenting message boards and their own blogs.

Final Thoughts
This has yet to be proved, but my guess would be that the person who developes the “social software for Africa” will not be following in the footsteps of past giants like Africa Online. Instead, it will be someone who creates a platform that allows local (and hyper-local) communities to develop when and where they need to be. In other words, it cannot be something predetermined by the creator of the platform.

So, where does that leave me with my thoughts on Zangu, mobile connectivity and the web one year after I first published my initial paper? Interestingly enough, I think a platform like Zangu is still needed even though the premise on which I first wrote it was wrong. It’s not just about Africa, it’s about being useful in the lives of individuals where they live (local). Africa just happens to be where it’s at and so it needs to be customized for groups within it.


  1. Think Local, Act Global

  2. Excellent piece Hash!
    A pan-African platform must be able to foster intra and inter group interactions. A one-size-fits-all mentality will not work for Africa. Africa is heterogeneous, and this must be addressed in the design of any “pan-African” site.

  3. The resulting cliques are a by product of our psychological make-up, I feel technology adoption exposes the underlying fact that ‘Africa’ does not really exist in the mind of the African. Kenya, Ethiopa and Ghana does exist but the concept of Africa is way to divers with no apparent ties for people to wrap their minds around.
    I read a stories about Kenya, India or Ireland with the same level of intrest, this should not be so if there is indeed an Africa. Its more apparent to me because I grew up in 3 African countries and I still don’t feel Ivorien or Tunisian.

  4. bonsoir Africain blanc, comment allez vous ? I have been an avid reader of your blog and I am constantly amazed at the unfoldings in Africa’s nations.
    Could you cover a little bite more countries such as Senegal,Rwanda,Ivory Coast so that we see what is going on in the francophone countries.

    Merci ,tres cordialement


  5. Yes, I feel you on this one, bro.

    Maybe it’s about time you start renaming this site to whitekenyan.com? 😀

    Seriously, feeding the local community instead of some “African” sphere – which apparently doesn’t exist, or at least only in the heads of those who talk about “Africa” – should be the way to go.

    What I am hoping for is a regional level. Like in our example the East African Community. Maybe through technology ppl will find each other in future – just as the European Commission in Europe “forces” us to cooperate with other european neighbours on a common constitution and similar local law.

    Let’s take Celtel for example, who introduced a single tariff in all EA countries (yes?). Giving the technology incentive for people to come together.

    Also, I agree with the mobile phone networks being the best technological plattform, and that they work as “PCs” for those who cannot afford their own. Expanding those communication channels is the way to go, I think.

  6. JKE/Imnakoya/Omodudu – That’s the crux of the issue, that Africa is not a community, but subsets within Africa are.

    So, is there a magic bullet to allow these communities to interact through technology? I don’t know, but I think that many of them can be served with the right type of mobile/web platform. It’s something that others are working on now too. Quite frankly, I don’t really care who develops it, as long as it’s done right.

  7. I believe as heterogeneous as the constituent African groups are that they can still interact via technology. A web platform will work for some of the media contents, but not all, and it’s most appropriate for those within the continent, not in the Diaspora.

    As versatile as this platform is very few service providers have enabled the use of the mobile technology as an efficient and effective tool in this regard. So getting them to buy the idea or facilitate the process and open their airwaves to this concept is very crucial.

    In the meantime, Africans in the Diaspora and those in places like S. African are ready audience for anyone with sound and innovative ideas.

  8. Hash:

    I like….good read here. The concept of “Africa” , to me, only seems to exists in the minds of a small group of folks: those not born on the continent and a smaller group comprised of folks born on the continent who adhere to the precepts of past leaders like Nkrumah and Kenyatta of a Pan-African unit. When it comes to how people socialize you are right, it is very much along the lines of common experiences, languages, and etc. However, when it comes to purely business oriented pursuits, recently I have been bumping into larger numbers of people from one African country doing business in other African countries, like Kenyans doing business in West Africa or Nigerians in South Africa, and etc.

    How does this apply to online social platforms…I think that one guess is as good as another. But I lean towards your idea that some larger platform supporting various smaller ones organized around similiar regions makes sense..

    Great job!

  9. I seems that eventhough Europe is not homogeinous, you can talk about an european blogosphere.
    That doesn’t meant that every body speak the same language, or talk about the same things.

    The African sphere doesn’t exist because it hasn’t be created now, or because it can’t exist ? The difference makes sense..One asnwer or another doesn’t imply the same thing.

    For Muti, a problem can be marketing..You cannot form Cameroon (for example) discover Muti, just like that. There should be something triggering this (mailing, advertising, etc..). If not, you won’t know about it.
    And, the Internet is not widely distributed through Africa to allow easy surf, and discover social platform like Muti.

    Muti is young, it will grow; and Zangu is a good idea…


    PS: Sorry for my english if unreadable

  10. I agree with Nino. I think Muti’s problem is marketing. I think an African vehicle is a marketing vehicle too. Yahoo! or the ugly Myspace for example is successful not because it works for the US but because it serves a specific function within a user’s life.

    Any “African” site first has to be more than African to work. If Muti or any other site such as African Path is marketed as an African site/business, then it has to stand for more on the user’s mind.

    You recognize CNN or BBC as world leaders in news not because they presented news but because they marketed it, they taught their employees to act like it and then sold you that product. Soon enough, the image is built in you and you see it that way. Any successful African platform has to be more than just an African platform. The brand has to extend to the intricacies of our cultures, languages and unique backgrounds.

    When Coke sold in new countries that spoke different languages, they tailored their offerings to serve these markets. But Coke is an American product. I grew up drinking it and never thought of it as American. We need to do that. I think the big issue here really is marketing and the funds necessary to get the idea to sell to all groups quickly instead of it being an issue of demographics and culture.

  11. Interesting article and very true, but to note muti’s .co.za domain name has far reaching implications.
    Even Americans find it hard using UK .co.uk domain names. Even in nigeria the .co.ng is only slowing to become accepted.

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