Alison — We appreciate your point of view regarding our recent article about our West Africa…
Ehb Teng

Dear Ehb,

Thank you for your response.

I did indeed read the entire series, and I do appreciate the collected feedback from participants, mentors, partners and winners of the event.

That said, I think the point I am trying to make is being overshadowed by semantics, as it is clear to me that all six posts have exhibited the same kind of harmful language that I discussed in my response; language that I see as reminiscent of development discourse — language that is loaded with assumption, judgment and ‘othering.’ When we position an event such as the ‘Hack for Big Choices’ as ‘a call to action to all West Africans for them to unleash their talents and potential’, and with the mission of empowering emerging entrepreneurs to dictate the course of their own lives’ (post 2/6) it is terribly presumptuous and detrimental.

The assumptions I am asking us to challenge are: a) a foreign organization can enter into a community to ‘empower’ (and then leave); b) that people are disempowered to begin with; and lastly, c) that those people being referred to can indeed be ‘empowered.’ All of these assumptions completely neglect the dynamism of power and power relations (specifically the power you hold as a foreign organization) — and continues to encourage a patronizing language that is harmful to the growth and development of the tech space in Africa more generally.

The emerging tech/innovation/startup space in Africa is very exciting, and has the ability to truly smash deep-seated stereotypes, but if we don’t challenge the poverty-narrative at a juncture like this, how will things ever change?

I do not deny the intention at all. The event was successful, had a massive turn out, and undoubtedly sparked innovation and collaboration — and kudos to that. Truly. My intention is simply to encourage people to take a moment to reflect on the language we use, how we use it and what message we want to get across.

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