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Technology and Africa

Technology and Africa

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Published by Will Mworia
Africa has largely in years past been known as the ‘Dark Continent’. Indeed as a satellite image taken of the world at night shows there is some truth to this, thought the references to Africa as a dark continent may have alluded to other connotations such as backwardness, poverty and other such connotations.... However, more recently Africa has come to be associated with more positive, and even hopeful, things such as mobile technology... the question arises, ‘what is the future of technology in Africa’?
Africa has largely in years past been known as the ‘Dark Continent’. Indeed as a satellite image taken of the world at night shows there is some truth to this, thought the references to Africa as a dark continent may have alluded to other connotations such as backwardness, poverty and other such connotations.... However, more recently Africa has come to be associated with more positive, and even hopeful, things such as mobile technology... the question arises, ‘what is the future of technology in Africa’?

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Published by: Will Mworia on Jul 28, 2009
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Technology and Africa: The FutureWilfred M Mworia
Africa has largely in years past been known as the ‘Dark Continent’. Indeed as asatellite image taken of the world at night shows there is some truth to this, thoughtthe references to Africa as a dark continent may have alluded to other connotationssuch as backwardness, poverty and other such connotations.
However, more recently Africa has come to be associated with more positive, andeven hopeful, things such as mobile technology, its growth and how really Africa isproving to be the hub of innovation is such areas. Just talk to people like NathanEagle, the man behind an innovative concept txteagle (http://txteagle.com), look atthe success and recognition Safaricom has received from their mobile money
 
transfer service, MPESA, Mxit, South Africa’s widely successful mobile IMapplication or SMS Media in Rwanda.So the question arises, ‘what is the future of technology in Africa’? In fact this isreally more than one question:1.Is there a future for technology in Africa?2.If so, how would that future potentially progress?3.How will the evolution of Technology in Africa be shaped by the uniquecircumstances of Africa?4.How will technology shape the future of the continent?5.Based on the preceding questions, what specific kinds of technologies willpotentially be most affected or develop significantly in Africa? To the first question the answer is basically, yes, technology does have a future inAfrica. The evidence is clear in the many examples of mobile ingenuity (and that’s just looking at mobile in isolation). The first thing to realize is that really, Africa is very unique. The problems andchallenges in Africa are so interesting that Erik Hersman one of the founders of Ushahidi.com is quoted as saying ‘If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere’ – andyou just need to experience constant blackouts in the course of working toappreciate that!It is worth noting that technology in general tends to take a path of developmentbased on the motives of the innovators and technology movers of the day – in asense, necessity is the mother of invention. Hence, the development of technologyis intrinsically linked to whatever ‘needs’ exist that drive that technology e.g. theInternet came up and grew as it did to serve the need for communication,technologies like TCP/IP then came up out of the need to have that communicationacross barriers of different kinds of networks etc.
 
Following this principle it would appear that in general, the motives for howtechnology will develop in Africa are and will be very different from the motives thathave driven the growth of technology in the west and in developed countries. Forexample, a large part of technology in the developed world has been driven byacademia and research.So what will be the motive for the growth of technology in Africa? Well, in mythinking, it would appear that technology in Africa is greatly shaped by
real humandevelopmental needs
. The technology that will grow out of Africa will be veryspecifically targeted at improving the human condition in Africa, things such asemploying technology to alleviate poverty or give people access to healthcare orgive people access to education. This is because these are the very problems facingus in Africa.While staying in touch with friends over social networks can be deemed as a sort of ‘need or quasi-need’ to the minority, the majority is still faced with the most basichuman problems and that I think there is great opportunity not just for economicgain but to really for technology to make a difference in the world. The evidence of this is already here with us, kiva.org, the 1%CLUB, Samasource.org,txteagle.com are all examples of technology being employed innovatively inresponse to this very problem. I think this will also extend to other kinds of technology such as Green Energy Technology – Solar, wind – there is already enoughsaid about that but the key point here is that first, Africa seems to have a lot of potential for this kind of energy and secondly the fact that Africa actually needs thiskind of energy . In Kenya at the moment hydro-electricity does not appear to be theway to go and there are people looking into solar or wind energy in the northern,semi-arid and arid, areas of the country. Both of these mean that closer attentionwill have to be paid to this kind of technology and how to construct it to meet thisenvironment and the constraints it creates, for example.Does this mean that there is no space for Africa and Africans to contribute to the‘technology of the world?’ Absolutely not, there is a lot of space for that as shall bediscussed later. However, the key point here is that technology will grow in response

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