This quote touches on what becomes heavily popularized discourse in the early days of the iHub (~2010-2013) that because of the numerous limitations present in the everyday lived experiences of Kenya (frequent blackouts, expensive and slow Internet, low-end devices, etc, etc.) if technology developed in the "global south" can work in the global south, then it can work anywhere else. Erik Hersman, co-founder of Ushahidi, iHub and BRCK articulates this explicitly: "if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere." This is a sticky narrative that makes a case for why companies should invest in establishing a base on the continent to test and develop their technologies (because if they can first get it to work in Africa, then they can get it to work anywhere else).
*** Excerpt from article***
"The prospect of marrying low-end mobile phones with the Internet is earning Nairobi notice from outsiders, who wonder whether the city might emerge as a test-bed for tomorrow’s technologies."
AO: This article proposes that Nairobi's nickname of "Silicon Savanna" stems from "Kenya's love for IT." The author then goes on to suggest that the moniker "neatly encapsulates the themes of its [Kenya's] rising influence on global technology: mobile and rural and filling some wide-open spaces in infrastructure and democracy."
This ties to an earlier paragraph of the article where the author claims that "[l]ack of infrastructure — few hospitals, landlines and roads; little power, education or running water; small banks; sparse insurance; tiny stock exchanges — is a large part of what economists mean when they say poverty. And much of Africa is a giant, dark infrastructural void, as anyone who has flown over the continent at night can attest."
This depiction of Africa as "terra nullius" or unoccupied land evokes long-standing settler colonial discourse about the continent and its vast emptiness. (The text is also built on racist notions of the underdevelopment of a "dark" continent full of deficit). Here, the author suggests that technology is helping to fill this "giant, dark, infrastructural void" insinuating that (global? American?) technology is bringing greater democracy, innovation and infrastructure to a "dark continent."
Paragraph 2: "Cell phones have taken all the world forward, but they are positively transforming Africa. Lack of infrastructure — few hospitals, landlines and roads; little power, education or running water; small banks; sparse insurance; tiny stock exchanges — is a large part of what economists mean when they say poverty. And much of Africa is a giant, dark infrastructural void, as anyone who has flown over the continent at night can attest."
Paragraph 12: "Kenya's love for IT has earned it the nickname Silicon Savanna. The moniker neatly encapsulates the themes of its rising influence on global technology: mobile and rural and filling some wide-open spaces in infrastructure and democracy. Pivot25, for example, is exclusively focused on mobile-phone apps because it's becoming clear that mobiles are how the developing world connects to the Web. Half of all Africans — and 92% of Kenyans — go online through a mobile phone. (Not many expect to graduate to a desktop. No African manufacturer makes standard computers, but already two — one in Nigeria, one in the Republic of the Congo — are building tablets.)"
This excerpt from the TIMES article repasted below explains that Nairobi was seen as attractive for American technology company, Google, to set up a regional office because of government support for the Internet and a charasmatic champion of all things ICT within government (Dr. Bitange Ndemo).
"As the most developed country on the continent, South Africa is the obvious hub for online Africa. And yet when Google was looking for a regional base, it went first to Nairobi. Why? Because Kenya — notably its government and specifically Ndemo — embraced the Internet as few other nations have. Unlike other African regulators, who often see protecting state telecom monopolies as their duty, Ndemo was an early and enthusiastic liberalizer of telecoms and fiber networks and was instrumental in Kenya's decision to lay its own national undersea fiber cable when talks on a regional link failed. Ndemo says the state's ultimate aim is free mobile calls and e mail for every Kenyan who wants them, which he estimates at 60% to 80% of a population of 40 million. The driving principle behind his digital zeal, says Ndemo, is that "the Internet is a basic human right" and a necessity for economic growth."
AO: decolonization emerged several times - “decolonize our writing” (to make them accessible to broader publics); questioning the benefits of research and how to make research more meaningful to broader publics; copyright was a big topic - how to ensure rights holder can still have benefits but the knowledge can be availed for broader public; doing justice (making data human; ensuring that “data subjects” have “dignity”).
TM: Panel 1 talked of this in a stand out manner by rasing the question: who do we create this data for? Is data created for a select few who went to University? As such the subject of packaging data in a manner that is accessible and consumable for all through initiatives that encourage public engagment as is done at Ukombozi Library stands out for me.
PC: A key tension I see here is between open / universalized / decontextualized (typically quantitative or at the least, digital) data, and localized, particular, (often qualitative but not always) data. Open data on the one hand allows for effective data sharing, easier access to data for otherwise marginal populations, the ability to critique/monitor those in power… On the other hand, universalized data opens up populations to observation by powerful, external actors. That data is easy to port and therefore can easily be sold and used… Localized and particular data infrastructures keeps knowledge within the community (and therefore within community control), but also siloes information… A core concern here then is power… Grace makes the point down the line that there is a “huge asymmetry between the people who produce the information and the people who analyze the data.”
AO: This UNDP report illustrates the positioning of "data" within development discourse as a means towards "progress". In the wake of widespread consensus that Development with a big D a la 1980s did not work, (government open) data is now increasingly positioned as a means towards "sustainable development." In other words, it is imperative to track such progress and data is the key tracking such progress (towards national and SDGs).
The report highlights that the pending issue is: "how to transform the data revolution into a sustainable devel- opment revolution, with accelerating progress towards ending poverty, ameliorating inequality, catalyzing social inclusion and combating climate change."