Digital Revolution will help Africa to join global marketplaceBy JAMES SHIKWATI | Thursday, November 24 2011 at 09:48
The predicament of sub-Saharan Africa has hinged on global revolutionary episodes.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries commoditised African people for export to drive up productivity on sugar and cotton plantations.
The onset of the Digital Revolution (information age) in the latter part of the 20th century offers Africans an opportunity to join global players at the market-place.
Broadly speaking, a revolution is a fundamental change in power or organisational structure that occurs in a relatively short time.
The Digital Revolution is also generally viewed as the revolution of the Information Age.
For the first time in human history, colossal amounts of information are available at the touch of the button. Will the Digital Revolution free Africa?
A glimpse at the African persona reveals an individual (hardware) with a corrupted political system (operating system) and thought process (software).
Other civilisations are falling over themselves to access the continent’s wealth such as the sub-surface mineral resources and the 60 per cent uncultivated farmland.
The continent’s political systems with their supporting cast see only poverty and push for beggar-aid as opposed to funds to drive up productivity.
Developed and emerging economies put a premium on their people and salivate at the news that close to 330 million Africans spend $2-$20 a day.
The African thought process views the one billion people on the continent as a burden.
The continent’s competitors yearn for a youthful population. Africa, on the other hand, runs scared of its 65 per cent population aged below 30 years — they are referred to as a “time-bomb!”
Instead of scaling up youthful activities to be competitive at the global stage, Africa is keen to mimic youth.
African leaders are keen to sustain youth in ignorance by adopting their mannerisms (speaking sheng; rap music and dressing in sagging trousers).
The tension generated by the ongoing Digital Revolution between individual Africans and traditional “gate-keepers” such as political elites, the media, non-governmental organisations and “experts” on African affairs offer hope to the continent.
The political elite watch in dismay as their citizens transform into “Netizens” free from the controls of space sovereigns.
The media which for a long time has “sanitised” and kept the status quo in place (be it at national or international level) is awed at the rate information crawls out on outlets such as short text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Ushahidi, and WikiLeaks.
The role of NGOs as citadels of the suffering has been taken up by corporate bodies utilising data to drive up sales as they engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives.
On the political front, digitised information has driven masses onto the streets and yanked presidents from their thrones in North Africa at a speed never encountered before.
On the economic front, over half a billion Africans have been connected to the global system through cell phones and Internet.
Mobile telephony has increased access to banking services that were initially a preserve of few urbanised populations. Kenya, for example, boasts of 14 million M-Pesa users.
Distance learning has been made efficient away from postal mail correspondence.
The world of the arts (music and film production) has gained through low-budget movie productions as exhibited by the surge in “Nollywood”.
Judiciously used as a tool, the Digital Revolution will free Africa.
Kenya's Mzee Maruge Kimani Ng’ang’a, who has since died, offers a vital lesson.
He stunned the world when he joined lower primary school aged 87 as a pupil. His personal drive to kick out the “gatekeepers” and read the Bible for himself turned him into a celebrity.
The Digital Revolution has no intrinsic, autonomous power to free the African people.
Rather, it is the African people who must urgently and proactively use it as a strategic tool to free themselves socially, economically and politically.
Mr Shikwati is director, Inter-Region Economic Network (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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