Proudly African

By   |  July 31, 2006

Watching a South African TV channel’s news a few nights ago, I was amazed that all the footage from the Congo regarding the troubled cease-fire before its all-important coming election was shot on a cell phone. While the Israeli conflict made headlines, the Congo news was far down the bill, and sending a camera crew up there seems low on local TV stations’ agendas.

Evidently local TV believes that the Middle East is of far greater consequence than our own continent. There’s no debate as to whether Africa has a bit of an image problem, but it saddens me that us Africans perpetuate the myth that we are as important to the world as the rest of the world believes. We lack self-esteem.

But what really brought the image problem home for me was not politics, wars or oil, but rather technology. The announcement that Nigeria is to buy one million laptops for the children of its country was met with an amazing amount of scorn on OSNews’ comments section. “Heck, after filtering through the corrupt bureacracy, with every layer taking a cut, watch 1 000 000 turn into 100 (or less),” writes one commentator. In reply to a comment that “Not everyone in Nigeria is a scam artist,” another reader wrote: “No, many are simply unexperienced scammers. To become a scam artist takes some practice, ya know.” And so it goes on.

I personally was sickened and outraged by the racial stereotyping evidenced by the comments. This is what others think of our continent. The mere fact that MIT is sponsoring the One Laptop Per Child project – while philanthropic and nobel – isn’t ideal. Africans should be leading these initiatives themselves. There are African examples to follow, like the SchoolNet project in Namibia, TuxLabs in South Africa. The perception that Africans cannot self-provision is false, and as noted by Jon “Maddog” Hall recently, it’s a costly perception when believed by ourselves. Why send MIT $500 per laptop when we could set up refurbishing centres? While it’s unlikely that locally produced machines would cost any less, the money would stay on the continent.

Africans need to step up, be proud, and do things for ourselves. We are more than mere consumers for first world capitalists. We can be the producers. Currently, we’re paying the price for being consumers rather than producers. I recently read a report that counted the cost of the licenses South Africans pay for manufacturing per year – a hefty R18 billion. And yet we’re more than capable of coming up with our own designs – have a look at the pebble bed nuclear project.

Perhaps we need an African conciousness movement – a realisation that we are a great continent with more than just potential. Then the rest of the world might think again before dismissing entire nations as thieves, an entire continent as lost. If you care to look, you’ll find the stereotypes don’t hold up under examination for a second.

Comments

4 Responses to “Proudly African”

  1. Dwayne Bailey
    July 31st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Thanks Jason for this anti-afro pessimism article.

    Translate.org.za was happily surprised when a Welsh localiser mentioned that the localisation of KDE into Zulu made the Welsh team situp and say well if these African\’s can do it so can we. At a talk recently I heard them use the phrase \’Blowback Localisation\’. The idea that unique developments in technology in the developing world get applied in the developed world.

    Has anyone told MIT that Ugandan Health Workers have been using sub $100 PDAs for a few years now.

    The work at Translate.org.za is helping make localisation easier as we document our process, work across projects so we learn best practices and we\’ve built tools. Translate helped to found the WordForge project, http://wordforge.org , which is further pushing what we started. The reality is this initiative comes from 2 developing nations. And in the longterm will help improve the lot for all localisers whether they are from the developed or developing world. That is blowback localisation, the thing we should be celebrating.

  2. Jim Coleman
    August 1st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Sadly, much of what was said of Africans holds true of the African-American population in the United States as well.

  3. ben
    August 1st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Nice post Jason. But there is a proverb that states:
    If you fall asleep naked in the field
    Those walking by will find you naked in the field..
    These commentators have been bombarded by 419 scams for goodness knows how many years. You suggest an African consciousness movement. There have been such movements for many decades – sometimes I\’m not even sure they are part of the solution. They would not take on the scammers in the interest of Africa\’s public image.
    Their sole interest seems to be to maintain our sense of victimhood. While this victimhood is valid and based on true oppression, the sad fact is it often paralyses us. Or it justifies dishonesty and theft.

  4. Kris Diamond
    October 10th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Nice! well writen and strongly felt. I\’ve recently travelled East Africa and as a whitey there is nothing more upsetting than Africans thinking they can not do it for themselves. I find myself having to stand back and watch when people think that just, because I\’m white and can afford to travel, that I have to do things for them, physically or monetory. Its heart breaking at times, but I do not believe in simple or singlar intevention, I keep that for me. Maybe ME is what more Aficans need to accept, not them (the colonisers).

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