Friday, June 08, 2007

US Technology Firms Seek To Invest In Africa and Africans,1874,2142827,00.asp?kc=EWKNLNAV060707FEA1

From eWeek:
Africa is finally getting some attention from the IT industry as Microsoft and other high-tech firms pursue opportunities for growth in the African region, and in developing nations elsewhere.

eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli reports from Burkina Faso, among the most neglected nations, where Microsoft and the United Nations are trying to support economic and educational opportunities with technology

Microsoft recently launched a new program, Unlimited Potential, which it says will help bring social and economic opportunity to developing nations. Is this enlightened self-interest or purely commercial? Can it even work? eWEEK Senior Writer Peter Galli is in Burkino Faso, West Africa, to see how Microsoft does with Unlimited Potential in what is arguably the poorest nation on the planet.

Starting Friday, see Galli's photographs of what passes for an Internet cafe in downtown Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and tag along with Galli all week as he follows Microsoft on its African tech safari.

My answer to the question "Is it enlightened self-interest or purely commerical" the answer to both parts is "Yes"! In my opinion the various regions of Africa need to have markets and infrastructure in existence as a means to provide goods, services and jobs to the masses. Technology and computers are enablers they are not an end to these desired goals. On the one hand computers and communications provide for tracking and accounting of transations in an economy. This allows for humans to interact across great distances. Absent this technology the people there are limited to their own small geographic foot print and more of their productive time is spent on subsistence rather than the specialization and synergy that division of labor brings about to any society.

Africa must do as China has done, however - demand that the native people remain in control of the introduction of technology and the change that it introduces. China requires that foreign firms partner with a domestic entity. They demand that these domestic employees be training on how to support the technolgy that has been introduced into the nation. This prevents what I saw with a hydroelectric dam in the Congo. The dam was originally constructed by the Belgian colonizers some time ago. It had 2 turbines that produced power. After the Belgians departed and one of the turbines was damaged - no one locally knew how to service the device and it has been down for several years now. The remaining unit is damaged but still operating. It requires a person to sit in front of a control switch 24/7 to keep the power within a certain range. If this person is not present the electrical core would melt down and this unit would be go out as well. Several thousand people would be without electricity. Clearly the Congolese need to have the technical expertise to provide preventative maintenance and to do service upgrades over time so that electricity is maintain for the citizens.

As with any technology a fabric of people are needed to make use of, support, sell and educate others on how to take avantage of the tools. African need to be wary of becoming over dependent on external resources while failing to build up an internal infrastructure (and one day domestic manufacturing plants) that will allow them to adopt this technology and run with it.

Since African Americans have greatly adopted and made productive use of information technology there is little doubt that access to these same tools would do wonders for the African as well.

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