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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Why the African Digerati Can Make a Difference

Goat HerderSome of the greatest insights on this site have come from the individuals leaving comments. Someone by the name of “Goat Herd” left one of those comments today, on one of my favorite blog posts “The Dark Continent: It’s Still Dark” from over a year ago. Thank you “Goat Herd”, and thanks to everyone else who enriches all of us by leaving comments and keeping the discussions going here.

This comment is worthy of a post entirely to itself, it’s well worth the read:

I strongly disagree with most of Ishtar’s and Yishlie’s views. I grew up in rural Kenya. I went to school barefoot. After classes, I’d till the land, herd the goats, then walk miles to fetch water and find firewood. There was no electricity, No TV, No phones … just an old transistor radio that had VOK (Voice of Kenya). The nearest hospital was miles away and was poorly manned and stocked. If it rained … the roads were impassible… If it did not… starvation was imminent. … Yes, we did not try to subdue the environment, … The Environment subdued us. We were at its mercy.

Although by local standards were not that poor … by global standards we were very poor. Our lives were uncluttered by modern technological advances… but, like our forefathers we spent a lot of our time just providing for our subsistence. It was a hard life with no rest in sight.

Later I moved to the city and then on to America which exposed me to very different experiences. Some bad, many good. I witnessed systems that work (or at least work better than any that I had known in the past). I realized that some of the problems we face today had long been solved by others. All that was needed was for us to adopt (and customize) those solutions to suit our particular circumstances. And here’s my big disagreement with Ishtar and Yishlie. …

There is nothing romantic or idealic about being poor. Only a person who has never been poor can entertain such a notion. Ishtar also seems to suggest that human warmth and material prosperity (or technological advancement) are mutually exclusive. I think the people that Ishtar talked to in Niger, would be just as warm even after rising out of poverty.

It is true that the West (and the rest of the world) can learn valuable lessons from Africa. But it is also true that Africa NEEDS to learn a whole lot from the rest of the world (Not just the west). In Africa, there are still too many systems that don’t work, too too many children dying of curable and preventable diseases, too many “involuntarily” iliterate people and too many people living hand to mouth their entire lives. Other societies have faced these same problems and overcome them. We need to borrow a leaf from them.

I am not saying that we should adopt everything western… No. We shouldn’t “copy” from them, we should “learn” from their experiences. There’s no shame in adopting solutions from others. This is not a contest to see who is “better” or who is more “original” between the west and Africa. This is about adapting to a changing world. … And we must adapt or perish.

Yes, I believe we can be prosperous and technologically advanced while still retaining our human warmth.

Ishtar suggested that we should get rid of corrupt governments and psychopathic bankers… I agree that we should … but …How do you do that ?

  1. You can have a bloody revolution …
  2. or

  3. You can find ways to circumvent the corrupt government and psychopathic bankers

…. I believe that “White African’s” main point was that … The “African Digerati” is in a position to cause change by finding ways to circumvent corrupt governments, unnecessary red tape, bad banks and other barriers …

I will enumerate afew of the “projects” that i am currently aware of that a section of the African digerati is trying to implement.

  1. Promoting the use of “Open Source software” in Kenya.
    A group of Kenyans here in the US are currently recording video lessons on how to obtain and use various open source softwares. They intends to distribute the DVDs for free (or almost free) to high schools, colleges and cybercafes. The goal is to expand the awareness and expertise in such software to a level where most business would be comfortable ditching their expensive softares for the cheaper open source.
  2. Another group of Africans from Ghana has set up a money transfer system that allows them to send money back to Ghana for way less than they would using regular banks… The results… the local banks have had to lower their charges.
  3. There’s a Kenyan selling organic food in Kansas. The food is grown by his fellow villagers in Kenya. Due to the ease of communication and funds transfer made possible by modern technology, he’s managed to start a mini-industry all alone without involving the government.
  4. … and many others

… White African’s point … We can no-longer continue blaming corrupt African government and “evil ” multinationals for Africa’s woes without doing anything about it.

Now, at an individual level, we have the very real potential to cause significant positive social- economic changes . The beautiful part is that we can achieve this without having to make monumental personal sacrifices.


  1. wow you took the time to respond to that post. But, I doubt if he/she (author) bothers to read answers/posts after dive-bombing a blog site

  2. Bankelele, you could be right on that. Though, I did send the commenter an email letting them know I appreciated the comment and wanted to make it more visible.

    One of the things that I’ve done to ensure that people do continue taking part in the conversations that they’re having on my blog is to add a “notify me by email” button for follow-up comments.

  3. Beautiful post. Way too large for a comment, but I’m glad the person submitted it anyway.

    ‘Learning from “the rest of the World”‘ and circumventing corrupt government systems, both African and non-African, are the two most important paradigms that we all must remember when we’re vetting ideas towards The Cause of African development.

  4. Wow, what a powerful comment. Thx for reblogging this and kudos to the author. Good points.

    As for Niger: I think the atmosphere in a capitalistic Kenya is a bit different from the one in Niger, but that’s just my take on it which may be too biased. In this perspective, though, it will be interesting to see which countries or even regions on the African continent will prosper in each respective sector, and how much the African Digerati on the other hand – the ones at home and in Diaspora – will be involved in building IT knowledge/infrastructures.

    Are there any more details on the FOSS DVD story? Sounds like a perfect idea to me…

  5. Good choice to re-blog this comment – it’s worth being read. Too sad, that many good comments fall apart just because they are made too late, not because they are too bad.

  6. Interesting read – I am sure all those reading White African have strong feelings and different views about this issue – it’d be great if this develops into a big discussion.

    We have a small open source project ourselves – http://www.opencafe.co.za – we experiment with various types of things – art projects, making OpenICDL exams accessible locally, open source internet cafes, currently we are working together with the local university as part of a science competition – we help high school kids design 3D images with OpenOffice which they will “print out” in the local Fablab and create a finished product in the end. I do think open source projects can play a big role in development – and it’s vital to make sure that all successful initiatives are documented in detail online so that others don’t have to invent the wheel again.

  7. Great post. I have always believed that there is nothing new under the sun. You can find a way to make an already existing thing better or a better way of doing it but can’t come up with something entirely new.

    We need to learn to take the best from all other places (including different regions/countries/provinces) in Africa and applying the same solutions to our lives (possibly modified and better if not the same). To continually sit and blame others casts you in the same field and light as those you blame.

  8. The more I read from you Hash, the greater the differences I see between us. You believe in technology, while to me, it is the means for improvement, not a solution.

    That said, Niger and Kenya are world’s apart, like Joshua said. I have lived in Niger since 1986 and I know what it’s like to live in the least developed country in the world. Goatherd thinks I don’t know people in my country and that I have no clue what it’s like to be poor. Oh believe me, I know what it’s like. I know I’m fortunate because I am white and I have a different citizenship and I know that should things ever go crazy like they did in Rwanda, there will be a chopper or and airplane coming to bring me “home” just because of the color of my skin. I know that.

    Now, seeing my name so frequently mentioned in Goatherd’s comment, I had to come over here to respond. Didn’t know Hash had made a new post about, so so much for the information. But then again, I’ve been too busy with our work amongst the people of the least developed area in the least developed country in the world to have the time to read about the new gadgets that have come out. Sorry, my mistake.

    We live in the same continent, but we are worlds apart. Goat herd in all honor, but like he puts it himself, he does not even live in Africa anymore. So he likes Western society. Good for him! He’ll probably make a better Westerner than I ever made.

    Goat herd writes : “There is nothing romantic or idealic about being poor. Only a person who has never been poor can entertain such a notion. Ishtar also seems to suggest that human warmth and material prosperity (or technological advancement) are mutually exclusive.”

    I never said that. But I do maintain that your article Hash was written about Africa through a Western perspective. I don’t think electricity makes people happy. I think food on the table, which you have grown yourself (in contrast to aid that has been handed out) is something precious. And when our families in Tanout for the first time in their lives start to have a surplus of fruits, they take it to the market, and sell it. For the money, they buy whatever they want. A radio (with batteries), clothes, things for the kitchen etc etc. And I am thrilled. I am not the least against development nor technology, I just like to see it coming from their own heart’s desires; not ours. And I don’t want to push them into a society that after all comes at a very heavy cost.

    I don’t romanticize about being poor. My mother is dying of cancer right now and I know that is a rare price to pay in Western society. For my friends in Niger, its part of every day life. My colleague lost his little daughter after two weeks because she was born in the middle of the harmattan. Do I romanticize about poverty? If I have made it seem that way, then my fault. I don’t. I wouldn’t be in Niger working my ass off in 45 degrees of heat in a country that stands still and computers melt, if I thought there was anything glamorous to it. No, if I believed that poverty was glamorous and cool, I would be studying elephants in Southern Africa or work to save cheetahs or something which would give me more of an immediate kick than working with a longterm sustainable solution with drought tolerant fruit bearing trees. As it is, I chose to work with people – FOR people, and according to their own values.

    The funny thing is that the more “developed” our world becomes, the more complicated solutions do we look for. All over the blog world, I see people striving to make Africa a more Western place. “Let’s bring development to Africa!” “Let’s bring education and technology!”

    To me, it’s not my job to change the habit of culture. That is for Africa to do on its own. If it wants our Western lives with lonely patterns, then fine, by all means, go ahead. But I won’t push for it. In fact, it would only make me very, very sad. My job however is to allow for people to lead a sustainable life. To have food on the table and the freedom to develop in whatever way they want.

    Somehow, the Western world got confused about aid; thinking it was about directing people in whatever manner that would suit their politics. You hold an enormous power when it is your hand that distributes the bread – perhaps it is a human fault to never be able to withstand the temptation of commandeering over others. Perhaps we have so low values that we only measure ourselves in our ability to control others. I don’t know.

    What really saddens me however is when I see the intellectuals of Africa striving for Africa to make a name for itself on the global scene. As if Africa would even want to compare with the Western World.

    People may say that I am romanticizing, but my take on the issue is very simple. When people no longer go hungry, they flourish. They rise and they start to act. Let them develop in their own way according to their own heart’s desires and do not meddle for the sake of your own recognition.

    * * *

    We just deal with very different issues, Hash. You work with computers and gadgets and conferences. Eden’s work is about helping parents of underdeveloped malnourished children get the means to fend for themselves. I think that’s a basic right, and the very first to start with. Lol, I love teaching, and people ask me about education. Well, in Niger, in the city where I live (Zinder), the unemployment rate in 80%. 99% of every Nigerien that gets an education abroad never comes back to the country again. And so forgive me Goatherd and all you others if my main issue here is helping Nigeriens be able to live off Nigerien land – a country which is three times as large as Sweden, but has only 7% arable land – with 90% of the population living off agriculture and husbandry. What exactly is education and technology going to do? The people I work with are happy with life, something that Swedish people are not. Swedes have among the highest suicidal rate in the world, and yet it is one of the most developed countries. It’s great, materially! But people have forgotten why they’re living. Nigeriens have not. They do not have the best material life, but they have life quality nonetheless. And I just don’t want any of us to trample on that.

    Ah, maybe I should go and write my own post about it.


  9. Ishtar, I’m sorry if you were offended by my posting this comment as an article. I don’t think Goatherd was trying to offend you, and I certainly wasn’t. Discussion is not always people agreeing to each others views, but debate doesn’t mean a devolution to name-calling is in order either.

    If I dissect your comment (and the post on your own blog) – past the unnecessary barbs and incriminating personal jabs, I think there is a good discussion to be had.

    You believe that the most important thing to do is continue to educate and work their land more efficiently. That’s a noble cause. You believe that Africa would be better left alone and kept un-technical. That very well might be so, but it’s not reality.

    I’m sure you play a very important role in your community and working on your projects. However, it’s worth nothing that other Africans have wildly different lives beyond the rural farm, and technology CAN help them. There are even cases to be made for how technology is helping rural farmers – and that’s a good thing.

    So, when Goatherd wrote:

    “The “African Digerati” is in a position to cause change by finding ways to circumvent corrupt governments, unnecessary red tape, bad banks and other barriers”

    He was absolutely correct.

    I wasn’t casting doubt upon your type of work, I was stating that technology can help bypass government and institutional inefficiencies.

    We’re not dealing with a continent where only one type of initiative is important – there are many. The aid worker still can play a role, as well as the Africans with technical knowledge.

  10. Well; seeing one’s name brought up stating things one never said has never had the most positive impact on me – true.

    I never took a stance on “corrupt governments, psychopathic bankers”. I just got drawn into that because someone confused me with someone else, and then the post was taken out of its originally context and give a post of its own.

    I have never said that I want to keep Africa un-technical. I just don’t want it forced down their throats. If people come to me for computer lessons, hey, I give them freely. I’m not against technology and I agree that there is a vast difference between rural and urban communities. I’m just frustrated when the world looks at Africa through a Western grid and looks for answers. There’s always an element of “what worked for us will work for them” (which was the main argument behind the green revolution – a topic I compared your original post with on my blog) but Africa IS different and if you strive for the perks of Western society, you also have to pay the price for it, and to honest, I don’t know anybody in Niger would really want that.

    What I reacted on in the original piece was that your article should be written from an African perspective (you didn’t say that; a reader did). I didn’t think it was; and still don’t think so. But I never said it was boring writing, Hash. Anyway, yesterday saw me frustrated seeing my name brought up in contexts I have not involved myself in (and reading that I romanticize about poverty), but if I have offended you or anybody else in anyway, then I’m very sorry because that was never my intention.

  11. I think the two of you are talking about different things, and I think that both perspectives are needed. I think this is the kind of problem that arise when people talk of Africa, instead of looking at particular countries. The situation in Niger is quite different from the situation in Kenya, and so I don’t think that it makes any sense to think of the two of them in the same light. When we realise this then we know that there is no need to take personal jabs at each other….

    Let the open source projects go on, but don’t forget that in some places people need to be able to put food on their tables, they need to be able to make their choices – whatever those are – by themselves, not by some politician in a European/ North American country who is thinking about re-election…

  12. Ishtar. No offense, but you are being contentious: “I just don’t want it forced down their throats.” Is like saying, “I just don’t want money forced down their throats” or food, or HELP.

    Technological goods are HELP. It’s evil of you to say, and you are are saying it, “I just don’t want to force HELP on these desperate poor people dying for HELP.”

    Do you get it? It’s also stupid to say period that you don’t want to force… because who in the hell would admit to being an idiot who illegally forces something on someone else? I’m not saying forcing in and of itself is wrong but if someone is not your kid and your not a police officer or gov official then duh, you have no business forcing. Did someone accuse you of trying to lob computers and solar panels at some poor person?

    I’m poor. I sure wish someone would help me out with some technology.

  13. that’s cool i would like to learn more about the africans and there culture your all are soooooo sweet

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