Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Thoughts on Barcamp Africa

There has been a lot of talk in the Kenyan tech backchannels over the upcoming Barcamp Africa. Kahenya has a posted the email thread from the Skunkworks email list into his blog for further reading – it’s worth reading for context alone.

The two biggest points of contention seem to be over the name “Barcamp Africa”, with the conference being held in the US, and the fact that Google has agreed to sponsor the facility for it to take place in.

On the Name

The first thing I’d say is, don’t get caught up in the nomenclature on this one. Barcamp Africa happening in Silicon Valley is being put on by a couple people who are from Africa, or have a vested interest in what happens here.

From what I understand, it’s really only about drawing attention to African projects and initiatives in the world’s largest tech mecca: Silicon Valley. Could one/should one be held in Africa? Of course, but at a local, level like we already see in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, etc. I’d also be interested in seeing one at a continental level, but so far haven’t seen anyone step up to take charge on that idea.

I know for a fact that Kaushal and Ellen specifically didn’t want to be the “owners” of Barcamp Africa as a name. From my conversations, they are hoping that other Barcamp Africa’s happen around the world (inside and outside of Africa). In fact, they wouldn’t even spend the $10 on registering the domain name, so I did that in their stead to make sure that no squatter would jump on it (it’s available to anyone who wants to use it).

On Google Sponsorship

As anyone who has put on a Barcamp knows, it does take having a couple sponsors to put on a free conference. They’ve been talking to almost every tech company in the Silicon Valley trying to get them to sponsor the event – by either providing facilities or money for food, etc. After a lot of work, Google finally came on board to sponsor the facility (and they’ve got one of the best facilities around), so it’s a big win.

Speaking of Google sponsorship of free tech events outside of the US, it should be noted that they happily sponsored our own Barcamp Nairobi in June, and showed up to participate in Barcamp Kampala in August. If anything, it should be the African tech companies who should be ashamed for not sponsoring their own local talent at these events.

On Africans in Africa Taking Part

I’ve added my two cents in with the Barcamp Africa team of creating some way for people from around the African continent to take part. One of those ideas would be to set up a live stream of what they’re doing, but that’s not truly interactive. What would be even better is for them to setup one of the rooms where people from Kenya (or elsewhere) could signup for a 20-30 minute spot to address everyone in the US. Then, when your slot came up you could give a Barcamp talk just like everyone else. It would require a certain amount of bandwidth of course, but might be just the type of thing to get everyone involved.


  1. totally agree hash, the live streaming would be in keeping with the barcamp spirit of sharing..the bandwidth though might be a hindrance.

  2. It will be nice to have interaction (especially a 20 minute presentation) with geeks in Africa. I like that idea.

  3. this sounds like somthing that might go

  4. Hash, Thanks for the post. I would like to address the Africans in Africa taking part – I have always been a strong advocate of Africans defining their story rather than the popular media. In fact one of the agitators of the conference was the need to give voice to great work done on the continent by African Entrepreneurs.

    The BarCamp is an opportunity to build that bridge between the Tech community in Africa and the Silicon Valley – I have always been committed to a two-way dialogue and have already reached out to several sources on how to engage the community before, after and ON the day of the event. Ideas are welcome.

  5. Interesting comments. Why can’t we have all, side by side?

  6. good call – For all those who have been to a barcamp, you will agree that barcamps are never about the sponsor – rather they are about the community & the sponsors are just enablers.

  7. Hey Hash,
    Thanks for the post. We appreciate it fully. I think that you answer all of the main points with clarity. I know that, as one of the organizers and an African, I want this event to include the participation of the community in Africa – from Kenya to Cape Town and across to Nigeria. We are working on ideas on how to do this. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
    Our goal, as is one of my goals in life, is to further strengthen the connections between those who are working on issues relevant to Africa and those in Africa that are working towards solutions and creative possibilities. BarCampAfrica is about this – connecting, sharing and furthering the positive and pro-active conversation and action taking.
    I lie awake at night dreaming about a BarCamp held in Africa that is continent wide and includes the whole community. We hope that this event will lead to and enable many, many more localized BarCamps in Africa and helps to drive the conversation towards opportunities and solutions and away from problems and barriers.
    We hope to see all participate and welcome any feedback and input.
    Thanks again.

  8. Thanks to everyone who cares about this topic enough to comment.

    One thing is pretty clear in Silicon Valley–there are plenty of people who want to learn more about what’s happening across Africa today, who want to find ways of connecting with opportunity across the continent, of connecting personally through travel or hands-on experience there…and we often don’t know where to begin.

    As one of the event’s founders (for lack of a better word), I’m just hoping to create a space where people can come together to learn more, ask questions and decide on next steps–business or personal–to engage a bit more closely with life, people, opportunity in Africa.

    How cool that Google is creating a space where we can gather and open up the conversation about, and ultimately BETWEEN Silicon Valley and Africa…a great new starting point. The new connections we’ve already made on Twitter, on Facebook, in the “real” community here, all prove to us that there is enough interest here to carry some good momentum forward. And these new connections? They’re not “ours,” from any geographic sense…they belong to the conversation, which WILL be amplified globally (we have a great team on this, people who have lived and worked in Africa) and which is only a conversation when everyone out there answers back, so…

    1) tell us what you want there…key points, questions, ideas, more
    2) tell us how you would like news and media from the days’ gatherings to reach you, wherever you are. We’ll do all we can.
    3) follow up with us after to see what happened and take on the vision of the day, and help it carry forward
    4) tell us when you plan BarCamps in Africa. With the many supporters gathering to learn more on Google’s campus, I am sure that we will have friends to introduce you to.

    With best regards,


  9. @Hash

    One slight correction. Google did not in anyway sponsor Barcamp Kampala. A representative from the company attended at the last minute but didn’t even talk about Google while he was there. We were quite pleased that they came but nothing that they did could be interpreted as a sponsorship, unfortunately.

  10. earlieer they said they provided a space for the Bar camp to happen, on the wed you mean?

  11. @ Jon – Okay, fixed that detail.

  12. On the topic of Africans in Africa participating, if the people at Barcamp Africa are willing to allow something like this, I’ll shell out the cash to rent a space with fast enough internet connection to allow some locals to participate via Skype Video (or something else) from here in Uganda.

  13. I think this is an excellent idea, but also believe the communication with the US needs to extend beyond Silicon Valley and enlist the help and participation from other parts of the country. The skills and talent are out there to make this information exchange successful. We only need to make sure others know about it.

  14. I have heard talk of it being organized by Africans in the States? Who are these guys? Twud be nice to know.


  15. Thanks for the post. It is a good idea to let people hear about Africa straight from their mouths. The Google sponsorship should help them greatly, as well. Since they are operating on tech, have they thought of contacting the folks at Squidoo.com? They do a lot of work helping charities, too. I am currently trying to get our charity, Africa As One, to work with them. This may be a good choice for them to get even more sponsorship.

  16. A nice initiative.
    I hope there’ll be videos for us to download and thereby get a heads up on what will transpire in the event.
    Thanks for the info.

  17. No problem. We all have to do our part to help. 🙂

  18. Thanks for the post.

    We are working on a variety of ways to amplify BarCamp Africa, so whatever your bandwidth situation, you will be able to participate. We know some will have problems accessing live streaming, so we’ll also have live Tweeting/blogging as well as archived video. It’s really useful to hear all of your ideas, so keep them coming.

    Jon – I’d love to talk to you more about streaming video presentations from Uganda. And if any of you know people who’d like to present from various African countries, please let us know about them.

  19. I am going to be attending the BarCampAfrica next weekend. One of my primary reasons for doing so is to investigate the possibility of hosting a future BarCampAfrica at Cornell University. In my case, I don’t work in Silicon Valley, but I did spend about 20 years working there (13 years at HP) and now work at the Agriculture Library (Mann) at Cornell where we have numerous international initiatives, including several that directly target issues in Africa, some directly with institutions in Africa and some in collaboration with FAO. Last November I was one of 40 or so people that spent a week in Zambia on the WorldAgInfo project (www.worldaginfo.org). I am hoping to take back some ideas from the BarCamp to possibly host an event at Cornell with a simultaneous camp in Africa (I have some good contacts in South Africa and Ghana). Obviously the timezone difference wil present a challenge. We have some pretty good video conferencing facilities where I work and if we can find a decent facility in Africa it seems like we could provide a good forum for future communication.

  20. @John
    That sounds so great John. That is exactly our vision for BarcampAfrica is to see more and more propagate throughout the US and beyond. The ability to conference and include a local site in Africa is definately a great idea and is something that we hope to be able to provide with the upcoming BarcampAfrica-Silicon Valley.
    I am a South African, who lives 6 months in Oakland and 6 months in SA and have great connections in SA and would be totally interested in helping to organize/support a BarcampAfrica-Cornell with a satellite version in SA and beyond.
    Lets make sure to touch base on October 11th.

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