Paying attention to Africa : Ethan Zuckerman @ Picnic08

Trying to blog while Ethan is speaking proves that he can not only write at least twice as fast as I can, but he can speak as fast as he writes. So this will certainly not capture it all.

We don’t pay much attention to Africa – but if you look on Google news you will find ten times more news for countries outside Africa than countries inside Africa. Media attention map by a Dutch firm – shows Africa consistently falling off the map in this respect. But paying attention does matter. In November 2005 someone from the Malawi Times was passing through a village when he was shown a windmill that a kid had built and hooked up to generate power. It made enough power to power his parents house. It was blogged in Malawi then was picked up by AfriGadget - then there was an invite to speak at a conference which was picked up by international press. What this has meant up meaning is that people have now raised enough money for this young man to go to one of the best schools in malawi. His whole life has been transformed by the fact that someone did pay attention. how much more are we missing like this?

In the past lots of well meaning white guys have been talking about Africa – but the good news is that there will be fewer of us in the future and I want to introduce you to the world of African Bloggers and I am going to talk about Kenya.

There was a media blackout for a couple of day during the run up to the last elections in Kenya except fo the blogs , so you had an IT specialist going out with his camera and blogging. As things got harder and harder during the reporting of the election another blogger had to switch to updating from her phone. mashada a lively bulletin board site got really nasty during the election – lots of hatred but the guy who ran the site took it down as he got tired of moderating ethnic conflict and put another one up called “I have no tribe” and that started another discussion all about being Kenyan. Ushahidi.com set up after Kenya Pundit who moved from Kenya back to South Africa to be with her family said she was worried people would not be able to follow what was going on in the election process – and so a group of people got together and helped her set it up taking input via sms. You can find voices who do reflect what is going on. We do have aggregators. Now we have the Africa 2s – the Africa that goes to shopping malls. there is now a group of people who have enough disposable income to go shopping, and I would prefer to think of them as producers than consumers – moving swiftly towards the future. And its not the shopping mall that is the sign of the future but the mobile phone. I can’t emphasise enough how this is transforming Africa. Now interesting African problems can be solved that you guys do not need to solve. – eg cash accounting in Ghana. take your money , you buy a phone card , you get the code but don’t use it. You phone someone in the village give them the code and take my credit of $20 – now you have the credit, give $19 to my mother. So now mobile phone services are setting up. I wish I could pay for my taxi here in Amsterdam with my mobile phone….

Then Ethan talked about a Knife sharpening bicycle from AfriGadget – the guy who runs this stand makes $10 a day – that puts him in the Kenyan middle class. We hack what we have. In Africa a bicycle can become an ambulence. Block and Track an anti-theft device invented by a young man with no formal electronics training …During recent elections in Zimbabwe each polling station posted the number of votescast centraly and so they knew they had the numbers. They (mobile phones) have the ability to fix election systems too.

This infrastructure has expanded faster than anyone thought. Who is making money? In some case it is Africans. Someone built a mobile phone infrastructure in DFC while still at war , sold it and made money. We in the west have made money from Africa by taking stuff out. The way to make money in Africa now is to build stuff up. Biggest problem in Africa now is cost of power. Need to build . We tend to think of Africa in terms of Aid – how can we help. It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete – we need to figure out how to do infrastructure. China is looking at this from a different perspective. China is focussing on infrastructure because they want to get stuff out. Both think they are robbing each other, probably quite a good partnership. But the people who are going to build the content are the re diaspora. Africans who leave to get their education and then go back – and build up colleges – eg Ashesi college.

If Africa is surprising it’s just because you are not paying enough attention.

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2 Comments

Filed under Blogging, conferences, innovation, mobile, participation

2 responses to “Paying attention to Africa : Ethan Zuckerman @ Picnic08

  1. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » More talking, less writing at PICNIC08

  2. Pingback: ICT4D.at / PICNIC08

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