Using Tech in Africa as a Lever for Change (Amadou Mahtar)

(Liveblog post from #netexplo)

In the introduction, it’s mentioned that AllAfrica is hosting the anniversary of USA4Africa We Are the World, and will promote crowdsourced versions of the song (parody away).

Amadou Mahtar (@amahtarba) of AllAfrica and African Media Initiative speaks on the use of the Internet and technology in Africa as levers for democracy and economic and social change. Technology is pointless, Amadou says, unless it improves human life, particularly in the context of the African continent.

Amadou provides a disclaimer that his talk today is more of a religion than a science. It comes from his personal belief in greater connectivity to provide greater economic and human development.

The true size of Africa is much larger than the Mercator Projection would have us believe. Africa has 170 million internet users, not including 750 million more SIM cards. Nigeria leads the way in user base, followed by Egypt.

Mobiles are changing lives. Amadou points to a study finding that the number of times an African woman touches her hair in a day was twenty, whereas she touches her mobile phone an average of 84 times a day. 75% of the world’s mobile transactions occur in Africa.

There’s a contrast between the growth of technology on the continent and the macro economic conditions. Africa’s colective GDP is $1.8 trillion, about equal to that of Brazil. But it’s growing, expected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2020.

Six sub-Saharan countries are in the top ten of fastest-growing economies in the world. Not all of this growth is driven by oil. Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Uganda are seeing economic growth independent of oil or extractive industries.

There are still harsh realities of hunger and other problems on the continent.

But the path ahead is a simple equation: RJ/+C4+T&A=+EO
Rebooting Journalism through better Connectivity 4 greater Transparency & Accountability 4 New Economic Opportunities.

Amadou sees a role for journalism to help drive human development and help hold power in account. Education is another popular path forward for development. But education, especially for girls, is limited by co-ed toilet facilities. Girls stay home rather than face embarrassment around menstruation. Data journalism helped expose this common problem, leading schools and parents to work together and petition the National Minister of Education. There is now a movement to improve sanitation in schools. This kind of movement is newly possible because of technology, but it’s interpreted for social impact.

Amadou shows us a slide with a handful of journalism and Code for Kenya projects, including the Star, Nation Media Group, SG, GottoVote, M-PESA, and Uchaguzi. He hopes these projects help Kenya enjoy a more peaceful election this March.

Q&A Which countries are leading digital innovation in Africa?
“No doubt about it, it’s Kenya. Way before South Africa.” Kenya’s regulatory environment encourages failure, which Amadou attributes as the key to success in tech.

When we think of Africa, we tend to think of charity. How do we help?
Aid is great. But the narrative around helping Africa is changing. If you really want to help, do your homework and work within existing networks and structures to improve rather than recreate. The biggest element of failure for foreign-based organizations is that they come in and try to reinvent the wheel.

M-KOPA allows Kenyans to distribute electricity to their neighbors with payments collected over M-PESA. Necessity is the mother of invention, leading to countless innovations across the continent. Amadou credits Africans who go abroad to get educated in the West, and then return home to improve their own communities with their education.

How do you curate across 54 countries and so many languages?
AllAfrica only publishes in English and French. They cover the geography with 12 staff spread out, each with their own networks.