Monday, August 2, 2010

A "Real" Africa Perspective.

There are a few things that bother me about how people reference Africa. The way the media, especially, BBC World goes out of its way to hunt down the five tribesmen in a modern city in Mombasa, Kenya to do a report on technology.  I often hear people say when they see a nice house, a mall or a great city skyline “this isn’t REAL Africa.” Yes, it may not fit your image of Africa and it is in no way the majority, but is it Africa and in many places, there is progress that should be acknowledged.  

Nairobi Skyline from Google Office.

The image of poverty sells and people, NGOs and governments who profit from it, perpetuate pictures.  Yes, absolutely there is poverty, disease, poor infrastructure, corruption. Liberia has absolutely no electric grid, the city hums with generators. Nigeria has a province declared a war zone due to oil disputes. The DRC has the highest rate of rape victim in the world.  But these are the stories you already hear. There is another perspective. Africa is full of entrepreneurs, and able-bodied people, with good minds, working hard and being incredibly scrappy with the resources they have.  

1 of 7 huge computer labs at university in Kampala
One of my Nigerian co-workers has a theory – across the globe, the percentage of geniuses fairly consistent across populations. Given the high rate of natural selection in Nigeria and the population of 150 million, there must be a significantly higher rate of Einsteins roaming the streets of Lagos.  This just might be the case (Welcome to Lagos).  

Working in tech, I admittedly have a skewed perspective. I meet the some of the brightest geeks in Africa including the likes of Jojo, Fritz, Ushihidi, Encipher. They are making strides and overcoming barriers western techies would never encounter. They are working hard to develop modern technologies often in what a westerner might consider primitive conditions. But, they see potential in an emerging market with rising consumer demand. You see only the dusty dirt roads, mud huts and Maasai warriors, not a place worth building technologies for. 

These guys, along with many African's, have changed my picture of Africa. No doubt, life here is more difficult and opportunities harder to come by. But this group of self-starters, visionaries and dare I say, geniuses are making it in a very "real" Africa.  

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