October 28, 2005
Africans Speak Up on Change
Last week, Fortune Magazine's David Kirkpatrick led a panel of ten young African fellows, who spoke on change in local government, healthcare issues, the impact of technology and suggestions on what we can collectively do to make sustainable change.
Here's the line-up of the fabulous voices who spoke out:
Neema Mgana, 30 years old from Tanzania, who is a 2005 Nobel Prize for Peace nominee, a HIV/AIDS and youth leadership activist.
Elleni Muluneh Gebremariam, 20 years old from Ethiopia, who is an education and communications specialist.
Lydia Muchodo from Uganda, who is a promoter of peace and tolerance through sports.
Khaddiatou Diedhiou Diop, 30 years old, from Senegal, who is the youngest member of Parliament of Senegal who is focused on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
Rotimi Olawale, 22 years old from Nigeria, who is a reformer of the private sector in the areas of partnerships and media.
Clement M. Bwalya, 27 years old from Zambia, who is an advocate of social change through sports and a reformer of the health sector.
Brian Longwe, 34 years old from Kenya, who's a CTO for the Africa Internet Service Provider Association (AfrISPA).
Eric Osiakwan, 27 years old from Ghana, who is an Internet communications consultant, journalist, and blogger.
Ndesanjo Macha, 35 years old from Tanzania, who is a key figure of Swahili-language blogging, a lawyer and digital rights activist.
Ory Okollah, 28 years old from Kenya, who is a leading blogger and telecommunications reform activist.
David Gyewu, 41 years old, who is a former deputy minister for communications and technology for Ghana, and a telecommunications reform activist.
Emeka Okafor, 41 years old from New York, who is a blogger, consultant and entrepreneur focused on finance and sustainable technology.
Said one of the panelists from Nigeria:
"The $100 PC that Negroponte talks about will be important, because right now, when we see a computer on the Internet for $300, its $1,000 by the time it gets to us because of taxes, etc. Getting the cost down of PCs will be essential for us to move forward."
Says a woman from Kenya:
"We have to step up to the table and contribute and be part of the conversation. We should not just be the receivers of information, we have some responsibility to give back and to do things differently than our leaders have before."
Says the woman from Tanzania:
"We were given equipment and if a child has access to a laptop, but they only have an empty building, or 80% of the time, they don't have water or power, then its useless."
David Kirkpatrick pipes up....."I want to make sure we cover the following before we're done..."
--Development and how it should proceed in general?
--Evolution of what is happening with technology and impact on government?
David asks the group: “Is aid the way or is it self empowerment?” Most on the panel thought that aid 'today' isn't working. One disagrees and says, "“I wonder about the priorities. People are focusing on semi-developed countries versus countries that have no water, no power whatsoever, no healthcare. What are we doing to address the most important issues that are relevant when we work inside those communities?”
Says one of the two Nigerians: I’d like to see Giro on a panel like this in the states. He’s a Princeton drop-out, but is writing amazing code in Nigeria. I’d also love to see African musicians sing here. The local musicians are amazing, particularly in Nigeria for example. There’s a big movement of something called Hip Life (hip hop and high life mixed together) in Nigeria. I know people -- that if it were not for Hip Life in Nigeria -- they might be in prison today.
Africans must fix corruption in Africa. We must evolve our own systems about how we want to develop. Africa needs to figure its way of doing it. Africa must develop themselves and move Africa out of poverty and make a conscious effort. The leaders in Africa cannot drive into a village in a $10,000 car where there is no water.
Money that was recently used to build something like a banquet hall that costs $100,000 could fix 10 villages. "Why are we doing that," asks one of the Nigerians. "Africa cannot develop on its own but I also want to make sure we hear ‘let’s create, let’s empower on the ground."
A few on the panel have an issue with the fact that AIDS was even raised. They spoke up, "We cannot frame the entire continent with this helpless disease. This is demoralizing for us. We have a problem with it."
David Kirkpatrick reminds the panel and audience that three panelists are in the states because of their amazing work on HIV/AIDS. Says a Ghanean, "All of the doctors who are supposed to be helping out the AIDS patients in West Africa, are all in Europe; there are probably 1,000 doctors left in Ghana. They’re leaving and going to Europe. We need technology to harness the resources and doctors to make things happen. With technology, some of the doctors in the villages could perform some of the tasks needed instead of having a doctor from Accra cross the country."
Says 27 year old Eric Osiakwan from Ghana: (I invited him to my Boston party after the panel - very interesting guy)
"Liberating a village is what I call success. This is what is relevant. You need to lead by example, you need to be relevant, spend money where it makes sense, get infrastructure in place. At the same time, money spent on conference centers may not be the wrong thing. This is a different thing from a government leader driving a really expensive car. When an expensive conference center is built, there are economic implications for the country, like a spike in tourism for example."
"Let's get details of how we can unveil corruption. We need to be in a position where we can uncover some of this corruption, through blogging and podcasting. We need to shame these leaders. They’re living like most Americans can’t afford to live. On one hand, they wear the aid and debt relief hat and on the other hand, they live in a $5.7 million home.”
Says a blogger from Tanzania (who rocks btw - you can see photos of him in the PopTech 2005 photo album), “There are politicians who are asking government to change the constitution. We need new political context and write a new constitution and the government has refused. There’s a group of young people, who are trying to get funding to see how we can use technology to change the constitution."
He wants to use a wiki to start writing the constitution and says "we’re all going to contribute.” I wonder if Ross knows about this.
The woman from Kenya pipes up: “Jeffrey Sacks drives me crazy." Others nod their heads. "He has more access to African government than I do and here I am a woman with an Ivy League degree, etc. What does he know about Africa? Has he ever lived there?”
The age old problem of trying to fix things from the outside. There was an interesting dynamic among the group and thankfully, a nice blend of women and men. (although the men at the table seemed to grab the microphone a lot more often). Great discussion.
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