Africa and Technology

By Omolola Akinyele

It is very easy to write about the problems of Africa.

In fact, it was this kind of writing that propelled Chinua Achebe to write Things Fall Apart. It ’s easy to join the existing narrators and call her a dark continent. You should listen to descriptions of Africa by Westerners even some African Americans who would rather believe that we live in trees than accept that we have fast growing economies and the high technological development.

Changing the narrative will take time and one of the greatest tools we can use is technology.

Think of it this way, from the comfort of your home you can discover everything about any country in the world. You can experience China, Malaysia, USA, UK, Taiwan… from your mobile device. So we can start telling our stories on the internet too and changing our name from the dark continent to the unique continent (you don’t seriously expect me to rename Africa now).

And the best thing is, we can succeed in technology. We have the youngest population in the world, and this generation can change things. Already we have large tech communities in Nairobi, Durban, Addis-Ababa and Lagos, you only need to look at the life-changing inventions coming out of Africa to be convinced.

But here’s the interesting thing, earlier this year, The Clever and The Richest both released top 15 technologically advanced countries in 2017, and there was no African country on the list. Countries like India, South Korea, and Malaysia joined the league of technologically advanced countries, less than 50 Years after they were written off as third world countries.

By now you’ll be wondering, if we are winning in tech already, why is there no African country on those lists?  Isn’t the tech-revolution already happening here in Africa?

Unfortunately, our move towards the tech-revolution is rather slow. This article does not highlight only our wins as a continent  but also shows you three ways African politics makes it hard for a tech-revolution.

Ignorant Leaders

 

“We live in a country where our young ladies who have recently attained the age of puberty cannot afford sanitary pads, but our men and women in public offices have iPad which they do not even know how to use.” ― Patrick L.O. Lumumba

There is no time we talk about Africa without talking about leadership.

We have youths with great ideas who may never have the opportunity to lead even the smallest districts in their nation. On the other hand, we have old men who were born in colonial times with colonial mentalities ruling the continent like it’s the 1960s.

How can we deliver a tech revolution, when the leaders do not understand technology and are not ready to learn about it.  For example, at the recent 72nd UN summit, no technological issue was raised by African leaders even though technology was on the agenda.

The only time these leaders address it is when they are attacked, so they begin to  look for ways to limit the internet, stifle social media and run a quasi-authoritarian system under the pretext of democracy.

Earlier in 2017, Cameroon’s Paul Biya shut down the internet in some parts of the country for political reasons. He called the  social media -a weapon of mass destruction.

So, here is the problem, we have leaders who are ignorant about the power of technology to change the world. They may hire youths to work on their social media, but they are not interested in going all tech.  You cannot implement something you do not understand.

Another shocking thing is Africa has a number of life presidents. People who have been in power for over 25 years. The most popular example is President Mugabe of Zimbabwe,  who recently resigned from power since independence in 1980. Therefore, a whole generation has grown up to know only one president.

However, few political leaders actively support tech in Africa, just google the query “African leaders who support technology” and you’ll be met with almost no result.

So what’s the solution to this problem?

It is quite simple, more technology enthusiasts should go into politics, we can only vote for candidates who are available. If we want to change thi,  we need to start encouraging educated and tech-savvy people to run for office. This leads to another very important issue,

Education

 

“There is Wi-Fi on Mount Everest! There are ZERO excuses for our students to not have Wi-Fi access in their schools and homes.” Thomas C. Murray                 

There are universities all over the place that are not funded and equipped for technology. How many professors in African Universities can fully lead a technologically advanced class?

Thus, while people in other places are exposing their children first hand to technology, here we can only afford one computer to twenty children.  There is no qualitative computer education. Children are taught only the bare basics with no practical experience.

Again, it can be tied back to politics, how much does each African country budget for education? Even when the budget is high, how much of this money goes into education? Most of the money is siphoned away to banks in Switzerland and London.

The educational system is so bad, the leaders send their children to Europe and the US to get educated.

A revolution occurs when a majority start doing something different. It is not happening here in Africa because the majority are not getting a good education. Parents are forced to pay (if they can afford it) for extra classes, if they want their children to know about tech. Therefore, we have computer science graduates who can only draw the computer but cannot operate it.    

So here is a simple solution to the problem of education,

It’s really simple, let’s start finding out how much is allocated to education. For Nigerians, Oluseun Onigbinde’s BudgIt makes it quite easy. Once we have the correct information, we can start calling for an increase or a change in the education budget.

You can’t call for reforms if you are ignorant. Let’s then start demanding for educational reforms, we cannot still use curriculums made by colonial masters in the 60s to train the 21st century child.

The second thing we can do is try to learn all we can about technology. At the moment, several local governments and organizations are teaching technological skills like coding, app development, web design and the likes for free. Take advantage of this and learn all you can about technology.

Corruption

 

“You don’t necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets than the life of the citizens (always) do that every day.” Israelmore Ayivor, Leaders’ Ladder

 

A great deal of preparation and money goes into starting a tech-revolution. The foremost step is including technology in the country’s budget. The US devotes a portion of its budget to science and technology research. The same goes for every technologically advanced country in the world.

It’s so unfortunate that the reverse is the case in most African countries. Several authoritarian leaders spend most of the budget, pursuing politics and holding tightly to power.

Corruption cripples the tech revolution before it begins. Rather than build up institutions to train experts here, leaders prefer to spend the money on so-called ‘expatriates’ from other countries. It’s no longer news that various African leaders are on the payroll of these ‘expatriates’.

The system is so corrupt that everything is imported, the hardware, the software even the skill (talking about expatriates) needed for the tech-revolution. So, we have a large number of consumers of technology and very few producers of the same technology.

There is no strong political will to work on technology, because of the fear of losing power ingrained in the DNA of many African politicians.

But there’s one small catch in the corruption argument and that is the people. A corrupt government thrives with corrupt people, so if you divert funds in your care or bribe a police officer- you are one of those making it hard for a tech-revolution in Africa.

The solution to this is far more complex because it means a total re-orientation of leaders and the people. We must also demand for the implementation of technology into major institutions just like the Banking sector has done.

Conclusion

 

“The people with ideas have no power and the people with power have no ideas.”   Harmon Okinyo

Our Leaders go from country to country attending one economic meeting after the other but nothing changes.

African leaders need to stop paying lip service to technology. It’s not about holding seminars or conferences. Rather it’s about creating enabling environments for this revolution.

Leaders in Africa need to look inward and start free computer classes for children. We don’t mean the 1960s rendition of what is computer and draw a monitor. We mean teaching ordinary children high-level tech subjects like web design, app development, coding, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

In addition, it’s time for the youths to become relevant in politics. There should be a paradigm shift, how can one man lead a country for 37 years. It’s impossible for new ideas to be adopted. African Youths must be ready to start the tech-revolution before we lose all.

The private sector is trying, but without government support there is a limit to how far they can go.  We need to wake-up and choose leaders that will champion Africa into a tech-revolution

Omolola Akinyele  is a Nigerian based writer. She works with entrepreneurs and small business owners to help them create the perfect content for their business that’s aligned with their big vision. She tweets @TalkWithLola and blogs on omolola.journoportfolio.com

Leave a Reply