Let us put the ideas we have discussed previously here to offer context to what we are going to elaborate as a way forward.
We know that technology is the growth in craftsmanship. From history, we know that it is not a preserve of a particular community, nation, continent or any particular geographic region. The major influences to technological innovation are necessity and the environment.
From regional and then global socio-interactions, socio-cultural and socio-economic domination in varying degrees, has ensued across Africa , bringing with them a homogeneity in technological solutions and the eradication towards extinction of indigenous technologies.
However, human necessities remain and the shifting environments create new opportunities to appropriate current technology and meld it with new ideas to come up with innovative solutions. But for solutions to emerge that are truly innovative and solve the new contextual needs and environmental conditions, the ideas and persuasions that create socio-cultural dominance and regulation to protect the status-quo must be done away with. From an African perspective, the questions the average 19-year old is asking are, who am I and what is my future?
The answers to these questions are on two levels because in Africa “I” and “we” are intertwined.
There are two identities that have not changed for the last 50 or so years since the independence of most countries, south of the Sahara Desert. The racial identity, that crystallises when one is outside of the African continent, “Black” is clear. The other is the ethnic identity inside of Africa, which for better or for worse has remained a significant reference point for defining one’s “local” identity in most African countries.
Many of these ethnic identities existed before but their “differences” were made clear by the arrival of the “Toubab”, the “Oyibo” on the West African coast and entrenched in the “divide and rule” tactic that the colonising “Wazungu”, especially Britain, used to gain a foot-hold on the continent. These now charged ethnic identities have not been downplayed or erased since they served the incoming “national leaders” in maintaining power. But the generation of those founding leaders is coming to an end. So what next?
After reading, watching and listening to a number of African thinkers and philosophers on their thinking of the future of the people on the African continent. A number of points have become salient.
The African “collective” idea of identity is best captured in the phrase, “My freedom ends where your rights begin.” Note that the voice speaking is the one reaffirming the rights of the neighbour. By changing the voices, we can then establish the point where justice comes in, “Your freedom ends where my rights begin.” This communal view of the African identity is well represented by the word, Ubuntu.
Tanzania and most of the islands of the African coasts do not have strong sentiments around ethnic identity. More importantly, Tanzania, of all the countries South of the Equator, managed this feat because of the ideology of Ujamaa. The founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere worked towards eradicating ethnic differences and forging one Tanzanian identity.
As usual, those who received power and retained the culture from the colonialists, the new “petite bourgeoisie” ruling elite, killed Ujamaa in Tanzania. Nyerere admitted that he would do it differently if given the chance again. Interestingly, the return of Ujamaa is in the mouths of Tanzanian “Bongo” artists who, through song, are spreading these ideas again.
Liberal democracy in its classical “Western” form is not working in Africa. There are the obvious contradictions within liberalism where the initial idea was of Greek men who voted amongst themselves while their wives and slave soldiers propped them up in their city-states. Over the years, especially in the 20th Century, European democracies in particular are still evolving. An interesting case is the one of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Democracy existed in Africa before the “colonial” moment. African sentiments and contexts in which “western democracy” is being implemented are beginning to seep in, changing the types of democracy being seen across different countries. These are in turn changing what the young people in these countries think of themselves, their resources and their abilities.
One of the most touted pillars of democracy is justice through the upholding individual “human rights”. But yet again the judicial system, much like the democratic political system, is adversarial, seeking the binary outcome; right and wrong, winner and loser. Ideally justice based on “human rights” should work since it is based the moral principle of “ being equal because people are human beings (or equal before God)”. The reality is not everyone, especially the wealthy, bothers with morality and everyone is “unique”, being separated by DNA, individual ability/disability and social privileges. This is the basis of an “unjust society”.
This is played out through the globalisation of “Western” ideas and capital. These erodes the ability of the receiving states to implement laws that benefit their citizens especially those based on “human rights”. The “war on terror” is a good example. If one goes back to the events that brought about the declaration of “human rights”, the concept, the reasons and practice for this war should not the exist. The “War on Terror” is not just nor fair.
After the Rwandan genocide, the only way that the Rwandan society could be restored sufficiently was through the use of the Gacaca Court process. Perpetrators found guilty were sentenced to some form of punishment. It is important to note that this rarely took the form of a death or jail sentence unless the accused held a position of regional or national responsibility. Instead the punishment demanded tasks such as the rebuilding of victims’ homes, working in their fields or other various forms of community service. Thus, despite Gacaca’s clear punitive and legal elements, in many ways the nature of punishment remains within a restorative framework of repairing the harm done through practical measures.
Africanising of Identity
Over the years Africans have been experimenting with taking liberal democracy and capitalism as foundations and “Africanising” them. It has not worked yet and it would be foolhardy to experiment for another 50 years. What we need to do is rethink our foundations.
Africa has other global models that can be investigated and learn from them what is working, especially in Scandinavia and East Asia. But from our own African history, the foundation is that they are should be communal and social-capitalist.
It would be interesting to see what Ujamaa would look like with the village being the centre of life, practicing the “Market economics” that China has effectively done for the last almost 40 years.
Today, Rwanda is the “safest country in Africa”, this being a result of the Gacaca courts in establishing justice, and a “no nonsense” administration. It is safe even with a highest “inequality rate” in East Africa. Rwanda will need to create innovative ways to solve these problems that plague the rest of Africa. Again, it would be interesting to see what Rwanda would look like if they built strong leadership institutions off the social base Rwanda has, geared towards a fair and equitable system.
It should be noted that at the centre of Ujamaa and Gacaca is the principle of Building a Community.
This discussion is happening in the midst of rapid movement on the ground. What is most exciting is the vibrant expressions of identities through creative endeavours and their influence across Africa. Look at the “soft power” and global space Nigeria has gained with the emergence of “Naija Movies”. What they need is obvious. It is infrastructure. This is where technology comes in.
“The model that has been developed in Shenzhen (China) can actually be quite frightening for models that had already been established and very successful in other parts of the world.” — Future Cities
If you have been left asking what does this have to do with technology, watch the “Future Cities”. Africa now has 50% of its averagely 19-year olds living in urban spaces. The African future is in cities. African cities will need to be served with food, housing, finance, transport and communication whose ideas have not been seen yet. Technology is at the heart of it.
“… the core tenets of sharing IP is extremely enabling.”
“I do well for everybody, to do well.”