Africa, Technology and its narratives

On September 1-2, 2017, I attended  the conference “Strategic Narratives of Technology and Africa” in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. There was a great keynote by Nanjira Sambuli the opening morning of the event. I’ve learned a bunch of interesting and new things about technology and postcolonial theories, in Africa, that I would like to share. Some quick notes below about themes I learned during the conference presentations and discussions:

Nanjira Sambuli

– there are about 200 tech hubs in Africa
– Telkom (South Africa) is Africa’s largest communications company and wi-fi provider
– Internet increasingly equals social media in the African context
– there is a growing colonisation of Internet by corporate social media
– Facebook has 170 million African users in 2017 (42% increase since 2015)
-Facebook opened an office in Johannesburg in 2015
“Platformization of Internet” (Helmond, 2015)
– The keynote speaker Nanjira provided a thought-provoking talk about narratives in the western newspapers about technology in Africa, in which dualisms or dangerous comparisons are constantly made: more mobile mobile phones than light bulbs, more mobile phones than toilets, more mobile phones than toothbrushes. She asks how these comparisons help in policymaking? Do the these questions make sense at all? Do they regard context? She also encouraged scholars and *journalists* to stop using these narratives.

Nanjira Sambuli on the “siliconization of the narrative”

– The keynote speaker Nanjira also talked about how the narratives about technology in Africa are also shaped by Silicon Valley. In her terms: “siliconization of the narrative”. She also encouraged scholars to stop using these narratives.
– Postcolonial/decolonial approaches help to situate “platformisation” of the web in global context.
– There was a discussion about the term “participation”, and “participatory design” and the problematization of such terms. One of the speakers suggested another presenter to read the book “Participation: the New Tyranny” by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari.
– Mobile phones are the primary devices in Africa, but there are so many tasks one cannot do on a phone. It does not contribute to the scenario of creators, it is terrible for the continent.
– 90% of the tech investment in Africa has 1 European or North-American as a founder.
– M-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money) is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 by Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. It has since expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India and in 2014 to Romania and in 2015 to Albania.
– M-PeSA was created in Africa
– Customized products for the “Global South”: Facebook Lite, Facebook Zero, Free Basics (24 African countries)
Free Basics – a mobile app created by Facebook – has since its 2015 launch been hailed by the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the “first step towards digital equality” due to its audacious plan to “introduce” millions of people to the internet, many of whom live in developing countries such as Kenya and Ghana. However, Free Basics has been criticized for violating net neutrality.
– Materiality of mobile phones/specificity of the object/ mobile diaries – each person has a different phone – (memory, battery)
– “In precolonial Africa, movement creates space.” Achille Mbembe
– “Africa isn’t poor, just mismanaged.” Nanjira Sambuli