Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Dark Continent: It’s Still Dark

Africa, the Dark Continent. A romantic name for an unknown and underexplored region of the world to the Europeans of the 19th century. Today is different though, we know Africa and have mapped out every last mystery - even that elusive source of the Nile.
Take a look at a night time map of Africa compared to the rest of the world - yes it’s very dark.

Even Google is concerned, the number of searches from Africa compared (again) to the rest of the world is miniscule. (I apologize for not being able to get a larger and more up-to-date image, this is from 2003)

Let’s take a look at a news attention map, highlighting where the big news organizations are focusing (countries in deep red are experiencing the most attention).

Looking at the above maps, one can see that Africa is still dark infrastructurally, technologically and on top of that, the world just doesn’t care. What does that mean for Africa and Africans?
I sit in a strange place, as do many of you who read this blog. We are considered the African first-movers on web technology, the African Digerati if you will. Our insights into technology are not the same as the vast majority of those who live in Africa and our knowledge and perspective of Africa is much different than the rest of the world’s. We, currently, are the people on the bridge - maybe even the bridge - that spans the divide of both knowledge and technology when it comes to Africa.
So, in our unique position, what do we see? This is what I see:
I see young Africans gaining access to technology and connecting to the world at a greater pace than ever before. What happens when you get millions of children on $100 computers? How does that change their world view and affect the way communication happens?
I see an Africa on the verge of a technical revolution that leapfrogs years of government corruption and of condescension by the world’s developed nations. What happens when the government can’t control information or communication?
I see people who want to be recognized as more than just the hand-out junkies that their governments make them look like. Technology is giving them that voice, and will give them more over the coming years. This begs another question: what happens when the highly educated African diaspora return, or invest?
The truth is that the world is changing faster than anyone anticipated. It’s changing so fast that the governments of the West can’t even keep up. If the governments of the West are hopelessly behind the technology curve, where does that put African governments?
Yet change happens without governments. Some would say that great changes happen precisely because governments can’t keep up, they can’t even understand what is happening. Laws are passed, yet those laws mean nothing because the technology has already moved past them.
Those who create, develop and invest in new technologies are the ones who write the rules of tomorrow.
Programmers are working on the platforms and programs that everyone will be using a year or two from now - they are the front line workers. Who are the idea-men behind them? Who recognizes the potential for change and revolution in an industry? Does it matter their nationality?
Those with ideas rule the future (think Niklas Zennstrom, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Richard Barton, etc…). These people have changed industries, some have changed how governments act. All have changed the way we act and view the world.
Africa too will change, is changing. What are the ways new technology can be used to further affect change? Ideas have no nationality, yet implementation of those ideas takes an understanding of a particular region. Again, as the African Digerati we stand in a unique an advantageous position, some as idea-men and others as implementers.
Who among us are the African idea-men? Who will invest? Who will implement?


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