Sunday, 24 December 2017

Africa leapfrogs technology

It seems that Africa gets into the headlines only because of some horrible bit of news:
Futures Forum: Plastic pollution: everything connects
Futures Forum: Conflict minerals in your gadgetry > the blood and sweat in phones and batteries
Futures Forum: How the corrupt London property market has happened >>> Kleptocracy, a hobbled planning system and an obsession with house prices

But there are wonderful things going on there which don't hit the headlines:
Futures Forum: The Word Forest Organisation > the Lyme Regis charity helping Coast Province Kenyans to plant trees and build classrooms
Futures Forum: Encouraging tourists to stop using plastic water bottles
Futures Forum: Climate change: how dynamic ecology offers hope in a changing world

And something which Africa can teach the rest of us is that 'progress' does not have to be linear.

Here's a story about goats in Somalia:

The Kenya-born Harvard scholar Calestous Juma saw innovations and opportunities bubbling up in African economies where others saw only poverty and despair. Juma, who died this month in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, directed the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the Harvard Kennedy School and spent his life advocating for new technologies in the developing world. He was 64.

A consummate storyteller, he liked to begin university lectures with a slide showing scrawny goats grazing in the Somali bush. The goats sported big, hand-painted numbers scrawled on their ribs.

“The [Somali] owners of the goats write their mobile phone numbers on their goats,” Juma explained in a video from a 2015 lecture at Boston University. “So if you like the goat, you actually send the money to the owner straight away, and then you go and collect the goat. Or if the goat gets lost, you read the number and then you just call the owner and say, ‘I’ve got your goat.’ Very practical.”

Scholar Calestous Juma leaves behind a legacy of 'leapfrog' technology | Public Radio International

It's all about how technology is being used to full advantage:
Digital transformation and Africa’s youth bulge: The perfect bedfellows? - How We Made It In Africa
What technology can do for Africa - The leapfrog model - Economist

Why technology is key to Africa’s future

22 Jan 2015
Caroline Kende-RobbExecutive Director, Africa Progress Panel

When talk turns to technology trends at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, it should also turn to Africa – because that’s where some of the world’s cutting-edge innovation is happening right now.

Africa’s embrace of technology turns two common assumptions inside out – that tech breakthroughs happen in rich countries, and that Africa needs basic services before it can use high-tech solutions. What Africa’s start-ups are doing is using technology to build those basic services – and a whole lot more.

In Africa, as nowhere else in the world, technology is improving people’s lives – especially mobile services and applications. With minimal fixed line phone infrastructure, the continent has embraced the opportunity to leapfrog existing technologies, becoming a world leader in the delivery of such services.

Take Ushahidi, for example. In 2008, a group of Kenyan tech experts established a way to receive reports of Kenya’s post-election violence by web or mobile phone, creating real-time incident maps to show what was happening, when and where. Seven years later, Ushahidi – which means “testimony” in Swahili – has evolved into a global non-profit, spawning the iHub technology centre in Nairobi.

Ushahidi has incubated 150 tech startups and created more than 1,000 jobs. It has facilitated low-cost solutions to critical public problems and transformed the relationship between citizens and their governments.

Developed by Africans for Africans and beyond, mobile services and applications have helped millions get ahead, by providing accessible information on market prices, weather, health and even good farming practice. In Sierra Leone, fishing communities have used a combination of mobile phones and GPS-enabled cameras to report on foreign fishing boats stealing from their waters.

Why technology is key to Africa’s future | World Economic Forum

Africa can enjoy leapfrog development

OPINION October 11, 2017

Makhtar Diop, Vice-president for Africa, World Bank GroupChina Daily

Can Africa leapfrog its way into the future? There is no doubt that technology and innovation are transforming Africa. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, phones now act as banks for millions of Africans who cannot even dream of opening a traditional bank account. With the touch of a button, small farmers can find out how much they should be charging for their crops. People can buy solar energy using a phone, get their hearts examined in rural Cameroon using a medical tablet, or get blood delivered by drones in Rwanda.

But these achievements mask a tougher reality. For Africa to leapfrog further into the future, a number of conditions must be met, including investment in infrastructure, having the right regulatory environment for new business models to be tested, and paying deliberate attention to research and development, science and technology...

Africa can enjoy leapfrog development - World Bank

However, the Kenya-born Harvard man Calestous Juma who died earlier this month and who opened this piece was actually quite critical of the 'leapfrogging' notion:


Leapfrogging is overrated, says a Harvard development professor

WRITTEN BY Yinka Adegoke

August 07, 2017 Quartz Africa

Over the past few weeks there have been several stories about the growing penetration of smartphones across Africa, as 4G networks expand and more Africans come online. This has led to many positive developments, the best known being the rapid expansion of mobile-money services. Thanks to M-Pesa in particular, Africa is a world leader in mobile money.

These successes inevitably lead to talk about how Africa is “leapfrogging” more advanced economies. Leapfrogging, in this context, is when countries skip a step in development thanks to rapid innovation—from no phones to smartphones, for example. The mobile phone, in this context, has allowed African countries to avoid the heavy investments required to build fixed-line networks.

But Harvard’s Calestous Juma believes we’re wrong to think about leapfrogging in that way. In a recent paper—Leapfrogging Progress, The Misplaced Promise of Africa’s Mobile Revolution—Juma points out that no advanced economy got where it is today by cutting corners and sidestepping (that is, leapfrogging) industrialization. And he reminds us industrialization requires infrastructure:

"Infrastructure is both the backbone of the economy and the motherboard of technological innovation. African countries need adequate infrastructure to realize their full potential."

Juma, a well-respected advocate for the role of entrepreneurship and technological innovation in Africa’s development, says that African policymakers should revisit their respective industrial policies. In his view, the shortcoming of the mobile revolution is that while it has opened up communications for tens of millions of ordinary Africans, it hasn’t established an infrastructural base for broader economic development.

This challenges the conventional wisdom for development in Africa, which revolves around a shift from exporting raw materials to developing “value added” products. The oft-cited example is becoming a chocolate maker instead of a cocoa exporter, as in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Juma argues we should think about this in different way:

"There is little evidence to suggest that countries industrialize by adding value to their raw materials. Rather, the causality runs the other way—countries add value to raw materials because they already have local industries with the capacity to turn raw materials into products. Initial industrial development thus becomes the driver of demand for raw material and value addition rather than the other way around."

Juma’s paper makes many more vital points on the importance of industrialization to Africa. In short, there are no shortcuts.

Leapfrogging technology is not a replacement for industrialization, says Harvard's Calestous Juma — Quartz
Leapfrogging is only so good. Africa needs to make things. - African Arguments

No comments: