A rainy Saturday morning in London – Ed Scotcher has brought us all together to explore the interface between ICTs and African development in the first Africa Gathering. He kindly asked me to say a few words of introduction – why is this Africa Gathering important?
- A joined up approach – it brings together people from many different backgrounds and contrasting experiences – and is therefore a marvellous opportunity for us to identify how we can work better together to help African people implement effective and lasting ICT4D solutions. There has been so much wasted energy (and finance) in trying to implement ICT4D projects across Africa – so many of which have failed. Africa cannot afford such failure. We must stop reinventing the wheel! Working together in a joined up approach, we can perhaps begin to make a real difference.
- To learn – there are so many exciting initiatives ongoing in the field of ICT4D in Africa – and it is difficult to keep track of them all. I am so conscious that my recent book on ICT4D is now horribly out of date – and so it is great to be able to learn from the fantastic group of people that Ed has brought together here today! This, though, raises some huge questions about how we actually synthesise this knowledge. There are so many ongoing initiatives and even repositories of information (or should this be knowledge?) already ‘out there’ – and yet we continue to make the same mistakes! If we think we know all the answers, we have already died intellectually! We must keep learning and sharing what we have learnt. We must also seek to be more humble, and to listen to the silent voices of Africa.
- Cool things happen at the edges – one of the most exciting things about ICT4D for me is that it brings people together from a wide range of backgrounds – we need to have computer scientists, philosophers, social scientists, anthropologists, mathematicians, chemists, physicists…. and yes, even geographers involved! We need to keep this diversity. I fear a little about the way in which some people would seem to be trying to define a standard curriculum for ICT4D – to me, this is frightening. Once we say that “this is what ICT4D should be about” we put up walls that keep some people in and prevent others from entering. We must keep the multidisciplinarity of ICT4D alive – I so hope that those of us here today will keep the energy of difference alive – and that we will continue to hang on to the edges!
- African needs and voices – we are largely a white male audience today! This makes me reflect once more on one of the things I keep on saying – far too many ICT4D projects are top-down and externally led. Entrepreneurs and innovators in Europe and North America all too often come up with great ideas that are then ‘imposed’ on African people! Instead, we need to get to know the needs of some of the poorest and most-marginalised people in Africa much better than we do at present. As many people know, my own personal focus is on how we can use these technologies to help street children and people with disabilities to lead more fulfilled and enjoyable lives – if only more of our work would address the needs of some of these most marginalised peoples. Others of course have other priorities – but rather than imposing our possibly unwanted solutions for problems that may not exist, let’s simply spend more time listening to what Africa’s poorest people want us to do for them.
Finally, I was going to begin by saying “Welcome Africa Gatherers”! But that made me think about what gathering is about – bringing together things that already exist. Perhaps we should instead be “African Hunters” – after all, African peoples have great hunting traditions – along with my friend the cheetah. My hope for today is that we will indeed become hunters – hunters for ways in which we can use ICTs more effectively to empower the marginalised and poor, hunters for truth and wisdom, hunters for humility…
Thanks Ed for bringing us together!