On Writing about Tech in Africa

(As posted on Medium)

Read an article (on international media) lately about some tech startup or innovation in Africa? Have the words “disrupt”, “revolutionise”, or phrases like “the next big thing” appeared? Have you found yourself believing that there’s a “tech revolution” across the continent (country) of Africa?

It is understandable that the rest of the world (Africans included) is now a bit more aware, and perhaps (more) vested in the “Africa Rising” narrative. As a friend once put it: “Africa rising ; someone opened the oven early, the yeast is not ready”.

It is tedious, to always be on the reactive side of matters Africa — be it in the political, humanitarian , and now, tech framing. The instruments of global opinion-shaping media are skewed to the global North, even though there are, and have been concerted efforts to “Africanise” them; solutions offered to the “time to tell our own African stories” mission, if you will.

Reading piece after piece about African tech startups or tech innovations, coupled with working in one of the emerging ecosystems in “the home of the Silicon Savannah”, I have noticed the range of lexicon used to describe them. “The [insert Silicon Valley enterprise] equivalent of Africa/country X in Africa.” “ Startup X or innovation Y will “revolutionise” or “disrupt” industry Z.” Share others that come to mind.

It is tiring, and irking. But more importantly, it’s problematic for a number of reasons.

I appreciate that media works in a certain way — globally, regionally and internationally. Sensationalism seems to be here to stay. All that aside, my contention really is with the tech determinism that is created in framing nascent endeavours as “the next big thing(s)”. And it is interesting to note that many of the innovations/start-ups are often still trying to figure out what their business, profit and sustainability models are/will be, perhaps even trying to grasp the operating environments, the challenges and opportunities preceding the tech. Forward thinking is always welcome, but creating a false determinism, especially given the oft missing context of operational environments is, in my opinion, tainting the outlook on tech in Africa, by Africa, for Africa. I also don’t believe that many, if any of the startups or innovators interviewed (when interviewed) get to review the final drafts of these media articles. Even if they do, one would not fault them for not correcting the descriptions created, or for even performing to the media spotlight (no such thing as bad press, right?) . In an attention economy, you have to do what you can to gain traction, as many probably argue. It’s not to say that the industries in which tech innovations or startups operate or innovate won’t be disrupted; the framing in many a news article or documentary creates the false notion that this will happen in the next year, or two. And when that doesn’t happen, whispers of “why aren’t we seeing another M-PESA” start to be heard. Impatience starts to creep in. Any new or recycled attempt to figure a role for tech in some sector catches the hungry media’s radar. Another news article is quickly and eagerly put together. Yet another “next big thing”, another startup/innovation that will “revolutionise” or “disrupt”. A vicious cycle.

For our dear friends in local and international media who feel vested in writing about tech in Africa, note the following: You are not necessarily helping by using such bold declarations and descriptions, especially if research or background assessments to establish the context(s) around which these innovations/startups emerge is/are not part of the consideration. If you haven’t been informed already, please understand: technology is NOT a panacea. I do see why it is so tempting to make that the case for Africa. What were your news organisations writing about Africa (local and regional ones included) five, ten years ago, after all? A startup or innovation in, say, edtech, will not “revolutionise” learning. At best, it will amplify the preceding efforts. At worst, it will create further divides.

Highlights from the Highway Africa 2013 (#Highway13) Conference: Speaking Truth to Power?

Media Management in The New Age Session Highlights.
Presentations by Jude Mathurine, New Media Lecturer , Rhodes University and Chaacha Mwita, Thomson Foundation

This was an amazing, stirring conference filled with great sessions, presentations, insights and discussions. The Highway Africa conference is said to be the largest gathering of African journalists at any given time. There was a great representation of media practitioners, all in all, a great atmosphere.
The intense two-day conference programme  had participants deciding which sessions to attend, as it was not possible to sit in through all. Owing to the amazing impulses I got a sense of, I’ve tried to capture highlights from tweets generated from the good folk at the conference, under the #Highway13 hashtag. For ease of perusal, I storified the tweets thematically, as per concurrent sessions, especially from the second day of the conference. (Will try my best to capture highlights from day 1 as well.)
*UPDATE: Links to podcasts, and keynote address highlights from both days of the conference*
Highlights from Keynote Addresses:
Director of BBC Global News, Peter Horrocks, delivered a keynote address on Media, Politics and Accountability, summarized here. He spoke on the ethics of journalism, and how the BBC can and does support ethical standards in African media. (Full text of his speech also available here.) It was interesting to listen to the speech, as it came hot off the heels of BBC Africa’s Debate about the role of international media in Africa, in which I also happened to be a panelist.
“Ethical journalism ensures that phone hacking scandals are not repeated.” Peter Horrocks.
Dr. Peter Veirweij, on the second day, delivered a very interesting keynote on Data Speaking Truth to Power, where he emphasized why the future of journalism lies in data. His full presentation is available here. Some interesting highlights and ‘quotables’ from his presentation include:
Journalism is producing truth-seeking stories in the public interest based on data.
With the rise of social media we need a way to make the news, not just rehash it.
While using the tools of science for data journalism, it’s key to abandon the jargon of science (in reporting).
[VIDEO] Data Journalists are the new punks.

His full presentation is available here.
Highlights from Day 2’s (mid-morning)Parallel Sessions: 
 Themes covered include Internet Services, Privacy and Freedom of Expression (ethics, government role, social networks), Speaking truth to power? Who speaks? 
Whose truth? and  Youth Political Participation and Accountability (in South Africa).
It was unfortunate that these run as parallel sessions. I happened to be presenting on one about The role of Social Media & Alternative Media in Elections & Accountability, in which I shared findings from research conducted and projects deployed in Kenya during the 2013 General Elections. I didn’t get to attend most of these wonderful sessions, but thankfully insights were populated on Twitter, for curation here 🙂
Highlights from the Media Management in The New Age Session (day 2).

Presentations by Jude Mathurine, New Media Lecturer , Rhodes University and Chaacha Mwita, Thomson Foundation

I thoroughly enjoyed this session, as it addressed matters of media management, and managing the managers, with the Nation Media Group cited as a case study. The session was followed by the launch of a book with the same title: Media Management in the New Age: How Managers Lead Media in Eastern and Southern Africa   that I highly recommend to the practitioners in this space. The tweets curated here are highlights. More on these presentations available in the aforementioned book.

Here’s a link to the highlights: http://storify.com/NiNanjira/highway-africa-2013-conference-speaking-truth-to-p

U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Professor George Ayittey

‘The Obama administration says it is launching a new partnership with sub-Saharan Africa to improve democracy, economic growth, security and trade in the region.’ VOA News.  You can download the U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa document here.

African voices have weighed in on this strategy. Below are thoughts by Professor George Ayittey, who sets context, reviews previous US-Africa policies and critiques the current document. These were initially laid out in a series of tweets. (More insights via a twitter chat under the hashtag #USAfricaPolicy)

Disclaimer: Quite Lengthy.(but extremely insightful.)

Also Scooped It here.

via deadrepublicanpresidents.blogspot.com

Continue reading “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Professor George Ayittey”

#SomeoneTellCNN That Kenya Is Watching How They Tell Our Stories

And we are proving that we sure can cause a stir about faux-reporting.

The genesis. A newscast painting this picture of an attack on one of Nairobi’s bus stops on Saturday evening.

(Image courtesy of Zosi) Continue reading “#SomeoneTellCNN That Kenya Is Watching How They Tell Our Stories”

Hymn To The Sun

If I were to attribute my love and appreciation for African literature to any one author,it would be,without a doubt,one Chinua Achebe!(And I’m not alone!) As Things Fall Apart was to my parents’ generation, A Man Of The People and Anthills Of The Savannah are to me: Eye-opening, epiphany-generating,thought-provoking.

This elegiac ode, from Anthills Of The Savannah, is an appropriate share,because many of us utter these lamentations,in one way or another,to the sun. So as you go about this afternoon,in Nairobi’s unpredictable heat,it might do you good to read through these here words,and hopefully you’ll rush to get a copy of this legend’s work! Enjoy! Continue reading “Hymn To The Sun”

Collective Effort in Africa: A Paradox?

It is interesting to note that this post has been inspired by a random google search(at this ungodly hour…clock’s marching towards 2 a.m. as I write this) on the “difference between oxymorons and paradoxes”. Not to put too fine a point to it, an oxymoron is a paradox reduced to two words.

I took it further and found some interesting illustrations on paradoxes. Humorous,too, they are. Continue reading “Collective Effort in Africa: A Paradox?”

Is There A Place For Collective Effort in Africa?

I might get fried for this one,but someone has to ask.

Ok,we are charged,we are awakening/have awakened to the Kenyan reality,and it isn’t a rosy picture. It doesn’t sit well for most of us,and so we wanna do something to alleviate the situation. Mind you,this not only applies to the drought/food crisis,but to many other ‘Kenyan realities’.

Why aren’t we rallying behind one initiative for one cause? Why the duplication of effort? Why the subtle competition? I know that not too many are of this school of thought,and that the bottom line is what matters. But wouldn’t it be that much more effective if we tapped into the ‘Power of One’? Continue reading “Is There A Place For Collective Effort in Africa?”

Someone Has To Live In A Better Africa

Let’s face it, it may well not be us.It is,however,very possible to at least catch a glimpse of a better Africa,a prosperous Africa,before the dusk of our lives approaches.I realize that we haven’t accepted this fact. The backlog of atrocities and injustices against our motherland predate our generation,and we have done quite well piling onto them.This morning,on my twitter timeline, one of my friends posted this link on how France has its claws deep in Africa’s resources Continue reading “Someone Has To Live In A Better Africa”