In sixth grade, our class was given an assignment. Pick a country, learn about it, give a short talk and be able to answer questions. Also, fashion a placard for your desk featuring the flag of the country you've chosen. I chose Kenya. Why? It has lions and its flag is cool! (I'd remind you I was in sixth grade, but it has lions and its flag is cool!)
In the years since, I've realized that Kenya, and the other 45+ countries of Sub-Saharan African, have something else. Technology. Kenya's capital Nairobi is the capital of tech in East Africa. Unfortunately, the sheer weight of media imagery featuring charismatic megafauna and famine overwhelm any clear and nuanced picture of the exciting present and possible future of Africa. So I'm going to Kenya to see if I can't capture some small part of that bigger picture.
What's Tech About Africa?
Africa in general, and Kenya in particular, has turned its liabilities (the abiding lack of infrastructure, a surfeit of young people and persistent economic challenges) into a strength: a hard-to-rival mobile entrepreneurial culture.
But the only image that came to my aunt's mind when she found out I was going out to Africa was of the Masai. When I stopped by the St. Vincent de Paul to donate some clothes and got to talking to the attendant, he asked, "What's tech about Africa?"
The Republic of Kenya and the many government and non-profit groups, businesses and entrepreneurs focusing on tech in the country want to change this. So while in country I'm going to have the opportunity to speak with Kenya's Information and Communications Permanent Secretary, Dr. Bitange Ndemo; members of the ICT Board of Kenya; Mary Kimonye, CEO of Brand Kenya; Mugo Kibati, Secretary General, Vision 2030. I'll also have access to Africa executives from IBM, Google and Microsoft, and to executives from Kenya-based Safaricom, Zuku, as well as academics from Strathmore University and elsewhere.
If you'd like to read about Kenya's vital and entrepreneurial tech scene here are some of the stories I've written about African technology.
Africa is gigantic (see graphic above) and multifaceted. A story about Kenya can no more represent all of Africa than a story about Moldova can stand for all of Eurasia. But Kenya is, in fact, an African country and examining it will give you a sense, a hint of the obstacles and promise of the continent as a whole.
As this posts, I am flying to Kenya. Over the next week, in the TECHNOTRANSECT series, devoted to the present and future of African technology, I hope to be able to give you some pictures that counter the notion that the continent is a cross between a game park and a slum. It is my suspicion that Africa in general, Kenya in particular, will figure heavily in the whole world's technological future.
Click here for more of our extensive continent-wide African technology coverage.