Chika Ezeanya: African Transformations. Technological progress is not an exclusive domain of the global north

This text was originally published in the Südlink edition #171, concerning the topic "agrarian enterprises".

Hardly noticed by the Global North, Africa has been experiencing rapid technological changes for some years. Access to information has improved significantly and in many countries local inventors and entrepreneurs develop ideas that meet the region’s needs. The new Südlink columnist Chika Ezeanya is pleased with this change in Africa, which is based on knowledge and makes the continent more independent.

Looking from the North, Africa seems gloomy. In much of Euro-America Africa is still attached to crisis; this much can be gleaned from western government’s utterances and from news emanating from platforms controlled by the global north. Ebola, Boko haram, Al-Shabab, HIV/AIDS, malaria and the still numerous armed conflicts dominate the discourse about Africa during high-ranking meetings as well as in publications about the continent. However, actually a revival of creativity and innovation can be observed on the continent itself. There are widespread and deeply felt transformations occurring in several sectors in Africa, established and promoted by Africans themselves. This transformation is attributable to several factors such as access to information and the Internet, which improved significantly over the last couple of years. Technical innovations developed in Africa and based on indigenous knowledge have changed entire societies in several countries within the region. However, hardly anyone seems to take notice in the Global North.

Africa shouldn't be dependent on the North's development

Dependency suffocates innovation and creativity. It is crucial for Africa to develop its own companies founded on local realities. For decades Africans have been dependent on Europe, North America and other regions concerning technological advancement. As a result, Africa is currently recording the lowest number of filed copyrights and patents all over the world. The effects on the education have been devastating.

Growth at the individual, organizational, institutional and national levels occurs solely when there is an awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Accelerated growth and development have eluded Africa because of its economic and technological dependency that has plagued the continent since its political independence in the 1960s.

But things are changing. In the past ten years, growth of Internet usage in Africa has surpassed that of all other continents. The development on the continent has, contrary to the predictions of so called experts, skipped several "stages of economic and technological growth". These experts could hardly believe that although Africa has the world's lowest number of computers per person, it counts 650 million mobile phone users - more than Europe or the United States.

That growth has heralded a class of African tech pioneers that have majorly focused on using technology to address several of the region’s unique challenges. And not only that: many of these indigenous start-ups have been applying their ideas to address challenges in other parts of the world. A good example is Kenya’s online platform Ushahidi, which was developed by young African techies in order to track the 2007 violence. Meanwhile the open source software Ushahidi has transformed digital mapping around the world. Activists used it in the tracking of survivors of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and in documenting the impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – just to name two examples.

The idea for M-Pesa, the very first mobile phone banking service, was as well developed in Kenya. M means mobile, while Pesa signifies money on Swahili; M-Pesa enables users to transfer money or to even pay bills. In Kenya and other African countries, mobile phones are much more common than bank accounts.

M-Pesa has expanded to India, Afghanistan, South Africa, Tanzania, and in the United States (for the African diaspora). The idea of mobile phone banking has been copied by numerous enterprises around the world. However, also various consumer goods have now found their way even to the remote regions. In Nigeria, internet retail platforms such as jumia.com, konga.com and dealdey.com are tremendously successful and give even rural dwellers access to necessary goods and services previously inaccessible. Thanks to the technological possibilities, also farmers are networking more and more.

The lies from colonial times are no longer believed

All these indigenous foundations are unified by a deep and intimate understanding of the needs of Africa and its people. In a best case scenario these young entrepreneurs present role models by showing that Africans are capable of developing and enacting business ideas.

If Africa seemed gloomy to its inhabitants so far, then it was because they were told that knowledge was an exclusive privilege of the Global North for a long time. Many believed in that lie from colonial times, since only few Africans had access to the libraries of Europe and America. The good news is that nowadays for many of its inhabitants, Africa is increasingly becoming a place of growth.

The rapid spread of mobile phones has contributed to demystify Western know-how for millions of Africans. After having accessed the digital offers of the Global North, Africans adjudged it incomplete for attacking the region’s own unique challenges. The fear of failure, or of being ridiculed, which is entrenched in the mindset produced by dependency, has gradually given its way to knowledge. Africa’s knowledge based transformation is in full swing.

Chika Ezeanya was born in Nigeria. She is an author and a scholar. She completed her PhD in African Development and Policy Studies in the United States and is currently teaching at the University of Rwanda.

This version of the the text is a translation by AfricAvenir.

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