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How NOT to do Digital Development

This started off as a Twitter thread, in reaction to a recent announcement (one of several, in a growing trend), on how digital development will help ‘fix’ the global South.

All the big bucks in development financing (for digital inclusion, digital identity, energy, water, sanitation and the reduction of the mobile gender gap etc…aka “global South challenges”) are exclusively going to tech private sector/social enterprise/development players.

Mostly white people-driven, mostly western. What could go wrong?

The seeming rationale/justification to this growing trend:

ℹ️MPESA as a stellar example of PPPs addressing “real needs” (financial inclusion en ce cas là).

ℹ️Insert stats on mobile phone ownership in global South.

ℹ️ Private sector as “key” to achieving SDGs

ℹ️Tech solutionism emboldened by the above.

As for the implications (footnotes, if ever acknowledged):

🚮 “global South” remains a guinea pig for tech experiments informed by delusions of tech finally ‘fixing’, for example, Africa’s challenges

🚮 the “pick your brain” perversion continues, because the ones with the coins — and jobs — are the western types, while the ones who are steeped in the contexts to be ‘fixed’ are the helpless folks waiting for these ‘solutions’ (hello saviour mentality, do-gooderism)

🚮our public sectors altogether undermined.

Perhaps it bears repeating, that the market (tech x private sector) will NOT fix social issues, historical injustices. The real contexts behind the so-called ‘development challenges’, now being posited as a couple of tech fixes away, are not captured in the aforementioned rationales and others like them…nor are they informing whatever goes into defining and shaping #digitaldevelopment. These very real (and often ignored) factors are NOT enterprises waiting to happen!

But this is clearly being shoved as public policy for developing regions (Africa esp).

Essentially, we are seeing the final setup of “Africa-as-an-enterprise-2030”. NOT led by Africans. NOT for Africans.

Nor should it be that Africans, Asians and others who are lumped in the ‘global South’ framing aspire to have a piece of this problematic pie; adding more of us to this mess is mere patchwork to tick off diversity quotas in a messy, incompatible frame for these our lands.

And yes, more vim to African techpreneurship (ditto Asian and ‘global South’), as long as it’s tempered by the facts: Africa (the ‘global South’) will not be fixed solely through enterprising our way out of the current messes. For even the very premise of enterprise, is rigged.

Ory Okolloh said it well, and it bears repeating, but more importantly, it demands more reflecting: 👇🏾

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(Tech x Public Policy)^ (Culture, Governance, Media, Gender). Thinking out loud, here and elsewhere.

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