When I was in college, I took a course on science policy. For the course paper, I decided to do something a bit unusual – study science policy among African nations. Although there were (and are still) grave problems of poverty in Africa, there were universities, scientists and research.
More recently, technology has become a truly global enterprise. So we have seen the Internet and software development in Africa as well. Ushahidi (http://www.ushahidi.com/) was created as an open source project in Kenya a few years ago as a means for the average person to report violence during their almost-civil war. It has since been used in other ways and places, including reporting on conditions in Haiti as a result of the earthquake there in 2010.
Now, the Kenyan government has announced the creation of Konza Tech City, about 40 miles southeast of Nairobi. It will take years to determine if this project meets the promises for it (or if it is the best use of the money), but it is nevertheless worth watching.
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Of course, there are still many Africans who need to benefit from technology and don’t get the chance to do so, even with the widespread use of mobile phones as a primary means of connecting to the Internet. For these people, there are organizations starting to help create community technology centers and other ways to make technology available even in quite rural parts of the continent. One good example is U-Touch (http://www.u-touch.org/) in Uganda. (Disclosure: I’ve given them a bit of advice, partly because I was a student in Uganda for a semester.)
Despite poverty, political corruption and instability, the desire for learning, entrepreneurial spirit and energy of Africans has been impressive. The general view of Africa elsewhere in the world reminds me somewhat the way that China was viewed twenty years ago – as a “hopeless backwater” in the perception of those who didn’t know better. Africa these days has all the potential to take the world by surprise the same way that China did, so that thirty years from now it will be a very different place.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis