Subscribe For Free Updates!

Friday, 5 December 2014

STEP DOWN OR BE FIRED, THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN LEADERSHIP



Mr. David Kimaiyo resigned as the Police Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service on a Tuesday afternoon. The clamor to have him resign had risen to a crescendo in the wake of continued and unchecked excesses of Al-Shabaab in the northeastern region of Kenya.

This week I wanted to investigate a number of questions arising from this event.

Why have political leaders in Africa been steadfast in refusing to resign when all else pointed to their ineptness? Is this situation changing? What power has social media given the masses? What is at the core of leaders not wanting to resign their positions? What can alleviate this anxiety?

We start this piece at Tahrir Square the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. It is from this location that Egyptians actively participated in unshackling themselves from Hosni Mubarak’s rule while using social media and its omnipresent ability to disperse information instantaneously, in real-time, across the world. A revolution was born that shook age-old political foundations in its wake.

President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso finally resigned in late October amid growing public anger that was fueled by the same social media that was used in the Arab Spring.
 
Protesters filled the streets of Ouagadougou in mass demonstrations against the president’s attempt to change the Constitution. Credit Joe Penney/Reuters
The reason why this event is symptomatic of what is going to be seen across Africa, has a lot to do with some central changes in societal communication that are being necessitated by social media. These include:

1.     The near absence of traditional methods of regulation that has allowed social media to become the source of uncensored and un-sanitized news and information.
2.     The different roles played by the users in the generation of information allow it to grow organically, locally and divergently. And gives it richness and diversity.
3.     The relationships between users, the lack of a clear hierarchy in social media and how fast information disperses on the back of these relationships.
4.     The omnipresence of social media driven by the mobile revolution across Africa and a growing population with increased access to the Internet.
5.     A move from confirmed, responsibly generated information that allows for objective communication to the generation of anonymous, rumor-driven information that is subjective and in some instances toxic.

As all this is happening you wonder how it has affected the ruling styles of leaders, and how responsive they are to the onslaught of social media.

It is at the back of this that hashtag #WhyKimaiyoMustResign began trending on twitter driven by Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT).  Eventually the Government of Kenya known for its prolific use of social media had to respond to the negative feedback it was garnering with every turn it took. In response, Kimayo resigned and Internal security cabinet secretary Joseph Ole Lenku was fired.

For the longest time, political leaders in Africa have been steadfast in refusing to resign when all else pointed to their ineptness. Why was this the case? To answer this question you have to look at how most of these leaders gained power and retained it .
 




There is no full democracy in Africa and countries like South Africa and Botswana are termed as flawed democracies in a 2012 democracy index done by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  The vast majority of African countries are either authoritarian or hybrid regimes. Only Mauritius is a full democracy.  

So an African leader gets into office by hook or crook (read corruption or force), most of them have retained their power though the same manner and created systems that essentially cascade down to the citizens. Where merit is shunned upon and transparency is an unknown concept. What is paramount is the need to enrich one’s family and self at the expense of the citizenry.
 
longest serving african leaders. Source rappler
It is in this context that resignation is a foreign concept. Indeed why should one resign when there is no mandate or measure thereof to curb the excesses of power. And when one is not answerable to the citizenry.

In fact in the past, subordinates have been fired (either with a bullet or literary) because they either did not offer their allegiance to the leader or they mistook their mandate to be one of serving the people.

In Kenya, president Uhuru no longer has this privilege a preserve for bygone presidents mainly because he was elected on a mandate and he and his team are measured on how they perform on a year-by-year basis.

As social media establishes itself across Africa, the citizenry is discovering its voice, and placing certain demands cohesively. 

News in Kenya is news in Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Sudan in the same level of appreciation. Even as the government of Sudan has taken the attack on social media using a ‘Cyber Jihadist Unit’ that curtails social media’s efficacy; with its ability to hack emails and social media accounts, as well as monitor online activity, cracking down on those it considers to be the most dangerous activists. The tide is turning.

I believe part of the solution lies in having a democratic system of electing leaders, devoid of corrupt practices during the electioneering period and subsequently during a leader’s rule.  The appointment of leaders has to be based on merit and strength of character. These hopefully will supplant a system of cronyism, where on appointment, leaders seek to payback favors rendered.

A culture needs to develop that will measure these leaders based on service rendered and frown on those who result to political wizardry to hide ineptness.

If such a caliber of leaders is elected into office, and the citizenry keeps a steady watch of their performance record, with the understanding that they resign if they don't meet set expectations, then it will be more likely that resignation will not be an anathema for them. 

Or so I hope.

For the leaders who came into power by force, the only way to make them resign or leave is through mass action, a revolution led by the masses and ultimately driven by social media.

Khaled Said and Mohamed Bouazizi would have been proud.


Friday, 28 November 2014

PUBLIC UNDRESSING, EQUALITY AND THE FREEDOMS THAT LIE IN KENYA



 A few weeks ago, a woman was publicly stripped in Donholm, Nairobi by a mob. The decadent act has been repeated a number of times since then.

I have to be candid and state that the act is repulsive, debasing and inhumane.  

As the storm rages, I wanted to pause and answer a few questions that may ideally go to the root of this problem. And I believe it is a deep-sited problem manifesting itself.

The first question I wanted answered is about freedom? What is freedom and within that context what freedoms can a person be afforded.

Freedom is never absolute; we can never escape the control and influence of forces other than ourselves. Absolute freedom where you can do anything you want to do at any given time, in the context of society is a fallacy, there are always contesting bonds in any given society that demand we act in a certain way.

In the “I have a dream ” speech delivered by Martin Luther King in 1963; the resounding fact was that despite the Emancipation Proclamation , signed into being by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. And despite its abolition of slavery and the removal of the injustice of inequality, a hundred years later discrimination against blacks was prevalent.  For him freedom was a black man being equal to a white man with a guarantee of the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Which brings me to the second dimension of freedom; to be free you need to possess knowledge, freedom without knowledge is a fallacy, and to be knowledgeable you have to have access to the truth. Many people walk around not knowing the truth about the world around them. Are you knowledgeable?

Another dimension of freedom also incorporates self-imposed discipline. For any society to exist and function it does so in the confines of rule and order. Rule to define function, order to define interaction. For a person to exist freely in a society conformance is required within the straights of such a society.  

From first account, by Dr. Livingstone  and Sir Henry Stanley , it is very evident that less than 150 years ago Africans roamed naked.

Was it gradualism that shifted our African mindset and beliefs, where we clothed all our naivety and gained knowledge according to western precocity?  Did we shift too quickly in embracing the norms of conquering rulers? And in the process discard cultures that took centuries to develop? Were we too quick in dressing up?


These are but ruminations of a conquered people, who have been treated for the longest time as a dark continent, as we begin to assert ourselves and define freedom based on a borrowed prescript.

All around the world there are varying clothing laws that define public decency and how to dress in public.  The bar scales from accepted nudity in Vanuatu and New Guinea, to the complete covering of women in Burqa in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
 I believe when you look at the legal systems in a country and its level of inclusivity towards the plight of women, then you begin to understand, the culture that defines women in that society.

You start to ask if equality and freedom needs to be sounded from every hill, every farm, every slope, every desert, every forlorn village across Kenya, and the rest of Africa.




Kenya is predominantly a Christian country. What this presupposes is an inkling of morality, a sense of moral backbone and a formidable sense of brotherhood and love that can be exhibited to the other 200+ countries that we share this world with. Instead what we find is a contradiction. Kenya has one of the highest levels of corruption in the world , and those yielding power are the most corrupt. We have few true leaders to look up to and no moral authority exists in the pulpits of our cathedrals that can sway a country that is considered a teenager in the global platform.


We have a Matatu Industry that has corrupted and incapacitated the police system. Held enough sway to manipulate government policy and refused to govern itself professionally, thus allowing young ‘unemployable’ men, with misgivings about equality, to run the system as touts and drivers, route managers and security detail.
These same people have dreams like the rest of Kenya, dreams to one day, get a good job, support their families, and lead a good life.

They look at the upward mobility of young ‘Millennials’ as they go to work every day in their suits and nice clothes, when they are forced to conform to a drab dress code that is only affirmed when the police requires a bribe.
They see young beautiful women doing better than them despite the fact that African culture dictates that they are supposed to be the breadwinner at home.
They see the unapproachability of these women, as mentally they feel denigrated and excluded from a society that they are the gatekeepers to.

What happens in the end is but evidence of simmering animosity, misplaced jealousy, unbridled misconception and the cycle continues.

There is nothing that sits in isolation; the undressing of innocent women, the violence meted out in Nairobi and the fringes of ungovernable Somalia, the repertoire of noise from quarters of power. All stem from the very DNA that defines us as a people.

Martin Luther King stated it best.

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force”.

 I believe if more Kenyans overcome a self-effacing quest to lampoon the people in power and instead focus on a personal journey of gaining unquestionable moral strength, then we will have a larger pool of quality leaders to elect from; Men and women of high moral caliber whose quest will be justice and freedom for all. Be it men, women, boy child and girl child.  

It only has to start with me.  Will you join me?


Saturday, 22 November 2014

THE QUEST FOR IDENTITY: MATATUS AND GRAFFITI IN KENYA



It was a cool Wednesday morning when President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya took a Matatu (never done before by a Kenyan President), from state house to the City Center; a route not covered by the public transport system that is widely used by the low and middle class in Kenya. In his speech a while later, he mentioned that he welcomed graffiti on Matatus, a total reversal of a previous government policy which had aimed to streamline the public transport system in Kenya.
President Uhuru in the Matatu with Bob Colymore CEO Safaricom

Matatu 'picks' President Uhuru
Why had he made this statement?

To understand this, I went back in time and looked at the checkered history of graffiti, and its effect on our collective psyche not just in Kenya, but also around the world. 

The journey starts, many centuries ago in a prehistoric cave when a testosterone filled youth fresh from a hunt drew stick figures of men running after a buffalo, killing it and thankfully sustaining the community. Research estimates that most of the prehistoric artwork and graffiti being discovered across the world was more likely to have been done by young boys from the age of 9 -17 than any other demographic. The use of rude and salacious language in graffiti was prevalent in Ancient Greece and so to the Roman Empire .

Ancient graffiti from Wadi Rum in southwest Jordan, a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock

Gladiators could become immensely popular. In Pompei, graffiti on the walls often depict popular gladiators, such as these two thraeces, M. Attilius

Graffiti borrows its name from the Italian word graffiato meaning “scratched”. In its most primordial definition is simply means to scratch a design onto a surface.

People of varying literacy, stature and age have used graffiti through the centuries. Some to express conquest like the Vikings in Rome, or French soldiers in 1790 in Egypt and others to notify posterity of their existence.

Of imperative quip at this moment is to realize that discovered ancient graffiti should not exemplify the collect mindset of a generation. It just so happens that it is a lasting legacy of an individual. 

Contemporary graffiti picked up from where the French soldiers left off, with American and Australian soldiers in the 1st and 2nd World Wars doodling “Foo was here ” and “Kilroy was here” wherever they traveled around the world. 



These two graffiti doodles, which were initially used to ascertain the inspection of ships and submarines, were later used in the two World Wars to depict the magnanimity and protection offered to the world by the advancing American armies. A pop culture arose from this.

The 1950’s and early 1960’s were inconsequential in terms of graffiti in America.
Sightings of simple graffiti of a high school name or initials with a graduation year on bridges or water towers were noted but uncommon. 



All that changed in the late 1960s when Taki 183 , a young graffiti artist, gained fame through an article  by the New York Times, which wrote about his incessant tagging of the streets he visited as a messenger in New York City. Soon kids everywhere were mimicking him to express individual identity.

The idea behind putting their names up in public and familiar places was to show a rejection of their working-class environment. Most who worked in menial, low-class jobs felt that they had no individuality in the workplace; that they were just part of the city's life-blood and could not be distinguished from the next worker. Turning to art, graffiti writers posted their names in as many places as possible, in essence to let the world know that they were still conscious and were still human beings. As Omar, a New York City graffiti writer puts it (Walsh 35)


The late 1960s culturally also saw the continuing Vietnam War and the rise of a large anti-Vietnamese War movement and with it the counterculture of the 60s and 70s. May 1968 also saw the near collapse of the French economy, with massive general strikes and civil unrest. The premise for these events was class discrimination in the French society. In both instances graffiti was used to express the cultural frustration of the masses.

Graffiti writing matured and evolved very quickly in the 1970s as style wars set off a competitive streak for who had the best aesthetic style and whose work was on the most number of trains and walls. This became the way graffiti writers gained repute. As the complexity of the artwork increased hierarchically (from tags, throw-ups, pieces, top to bottoms, end to ends, whole cars to whole trains) so did its recognition as an art form, fit for exhibition.

Head to Freespace for an outdoor screening of the iconic documentary Style Wars

More people joined the bandwagon in New York City as graffiti writers. As this happened, the vandal nature of this art form span out of control and a crackdown ensued with a state sponsored anti-graffiti network. The graffiti writers were forced out of the subway system and onto the streets.

police in bombed train in NYC

It is at this critical juncture that hip-hop another subculture that would be embraced across the world was evolving. Hip-hop manifested itself distinctly in four features. The rap music (oral), turntablism or ‘DJing’ (aural), breaking dancing  (physical) and graffiti art (visual).
Hip-hop borrowed from a lot of musical genres prevalent at that time from calypso, jazz, rhythm and blues, salsa and rock and roll. Indeed Hip-hop still tends to embrace and integrate many forms of musical genres making it one of the most practiced genres in existence today.
 
Hip Hop Collage
What the originators of hip-hop noticed was its potential to draw teenagers out of gang life and violence that was rampant in America. The potency of hip-hop was recognized when it spread across the world and became a staple for the youth in the 1980’s and 1990s. The concern grew when it started to romanticize violence, law breaking and gangs, with the commercial success of gangsta rap in the early 1990s. Its emphasis shifted to drugs, violence and victimization of women, this would ostracize it even further.   

The Matatu industry in Kenya has morphed from the 1950s when it was illegal, to 1973 when President Jomo Kenyatta officially recognized the industry. Initially even after recognition the Industry ran without Transport Licensing Board (TLB) and public transport service (PSV) licensing for a time, a dangerous precursor. This would later make the industry a problem child for the Kenyan government, when it later grew to be the dominant public transport industry in the country. 

With its preeminence the industry formed an association, the Matatu Vehicle Owners Association (MVOA), which became a magnet for political groups to engage with especially during the late 80’s and early 90’s as Kenya entered a period of agitation for political reforms. The association was disbanded and control was left to smaller Matatu route-based associations.
There was a turning point in the early 1990s in Kenya, when more and more youth in Nairobi (to begin with) joined the international hip-hop bandwagon and started listening to the gangsta rap that was grabbing the attention of youth across the globe. It was an international phenomenon. For the first time the youth could collectively express their rebellion against the confines of society. 
Matatu with graffiti
Nissan Matatus with graffiti and sound

In certain routes in Nairobi Matatu owners discovered that they could attract these young people as they went to school or came back home by playing this music loudly and having resplendent graffiti plastered on their Matatus. A competitive streak for passengers ensued to a point where school-going students would wait for hours at a bus stop just to take the Matatu they preferred. The best Matatus were the ones with the best and loudest sound, awe-inspiring graffiti, and a superb interior. These were the 1990s that I remember. Some routes had better-looking Matatus and their ‘street cred’ was higher than others. Kids wanted to move to estates that had better Matatus.  The competitive streak degenerated to a point where plasma screens were installed on any space available on matatus, even the emergency windows. The situation had grown awry and unchecked for too long. It was time for the government to step in.  
The late Michuki, had to bring order into the industry and graffiti was one of the first casualty. Drabness and conformity ensued and thousands lost their source of income in the graffiti business.
Graffiti is illegal in a number of countries around the world mainly due to the fact that it is considered vandalism of private property and also because it costs money to restore a location once ‘unacceptable’ graffiti has been applied.
But as graffiti has gained public acceptance so has the price tag related to works done by street artists like Banksys , whose works can command six figure dollars rates.
Around the world, cities have taken varying stances towards this art form. Some are extremely pro-graffiti like London and Paris with legal graffiti walls and art collectives. The same is true across European cities, Asia, South America and Africa, depending on the vibrancy of the culture.
Some Australian and American states take a different viewpoint and graffiti writing is considered illegal and punishable. There is argument that zero tolerance is an approach to take. The only problem with this approach is that it is costly to sustain and it curtails talent.  
Stop Graffiti!

The best approach is to embracing this art form with projects initiated to encourage graffiti artists towards a more constructive use of their talents.
As more commercial entities embrace and place graffiti art, as a center fold in their marketing campaigns, more eye balls are able to digest and accept this art form which was previously frowned upon.
Well-done graffiti sites can be tourist attractions and do have an aesthetic feeling to them. Here are a few one , two , three.
So as President Uhuru, takes tentative steps to allow graffiti back on Matatus. I believe it imperative to liberate graffiti artists to express their creativity, without restriction. The more important aspect is being able to channel this creativity over time to the benefit of the country as a whole.
I also believe through this gesture, graffiti artists will be allowed to evolve and get better since their artwork will be open to the public and judged by the collaborative word-of-mouth system present in our society. The best artists will get paid better, and this will drive competition and allow them to aspire for greater achievement.  
The benefit to our economy will manifest itself when people around the world come to know this unique and distinct feature that Matatus have which may be translated into tourist revenue.
But then the graffiti subculture will have to liberate itself from the negative perceptions that have been with it over time related to vandalism, rebellion and unruliness.
The question for me is, will Matatus still be these loud, fast, works-of-art, contraptions of death that I loved when I was younger and now can’t stand as I grow older? Only time will tell. But I must admit a good graffiti is a wonder to behold.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION IN AFRICA



The classroom as we know it has not changed dramatically over the last century. It pivots around a single source of Knowledge standing or sitting at a specific position in the room ‘dispensing’ information.

The Creative

The Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle in 335 B.C went on to influence a wide range of subjects that are studied in today’s institutions of learning. The centerfold of the school was learning by inquisition and student collaboration. Due to the lack of a place to conduct training, Aristotle was known to give lectures while walking around. There was no set curriculum or any requirements for students. The students ran the school. 

The School of Athens by Raphael


“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.” ~ John Dewey

The Rote
For a peasant to advance in Ancient China they had to pass the imperial examination which would allow them to work for the Chinese government; a prestigious and profitable profession. Rote learning was thus an accepted and fundamental method of achieving this. Boys started school when they were six years old. And attended school every day of the week from 6 am to 4 pm. They learned to read and write and then memorized page after page of Confucian philosophy, they wrote essays, poetry and painted pictures.

I believe part of the reason China was humiliated in the Opium Wars and a subsequent war with the Japanese is partly because of them curtailing the innovative and creative spirit. 
  
Image: Chinese School - An Ancient Chinese Public Examination, facsimile of original Chinese scroll

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato


Industrial Revolution
In the 19th century great numbers of people were required to join the industrial revolution as workers who had basic numeracy ability. Subsequently, in America and Western Europe legislation was enacted to place more children in school and free education became a necessity.

This is where a system similar to the conveyor-belt system in industry was invented to churn out students in a standardized manner that could meet the needs of the rapidly expanding economies of the Western world.

Cartoon: The Duncan Conveyor Belt


The main reason for education during this era and subsequently around the world has not been primarily to inspire creativity but rather to foster relevant skills required by an economy.

Motivate to Learn

Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation; the same is true for learning. Motivation can either be intrinsic or extrinsic .  It is extrinsic when one is learning to give them access to something they want. And it is intrinsic when the learning itself is stimulating and compels an individual to stay with the task because it is fun and enjoyable.
 
Multiple intelligences

If we go back to the classroom setting the question to pose is can the way people go through learning today inhibit their multiple intelligences? 

And I would like to use Howard Gardner's definition of intelligence:

1.     The ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture,
2.     A set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life, and
3.     The potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge

Based on his theory, we all have multiple intelligences, some more dominant than other, which uniquely combine to inspire us to perform tasks in a certain way.

In any given classroom there is an Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh,
Michael Jordan or William Shakespeare  waiting to inspire and change the world, surprisingly what we instead have is a standardized way of teaching these students. Focused on rote learning and student test scores.


A class filled with children with multiple intelligences


The multiple intelligences Chart. Source http://www.careernotes.ca/unit1/4-multiple-intelligences/



A test to confirm your multiple intelligences take the test here 


Rote Learning Inc.

Every three years a set of standardized tests called Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are administered to students around the world, to show how education systems around the world stack against each other.

What this approach has unequivocally brought to fore on a global scale, is the competitive streak that standardized testing brings out. Countries ‘go to war’ and do everything to outdo each other . Rote learning becomes the norm and China and countries it has influenced over centuries take the medal with their deep-seated rote learning culture.

Do test scores show the multiple intelligences and talents that are present in students? The resounding answer is NO, and I would chose to go with Yong Zhao’s assertions and also point you to a letter written to Dr. Andreas Schleicher, director of PISA at OECD.

Changing the education system

Having supported these assertions clamoring for a departure from rote learning it is also imperative to note the reasons why the public school systems in Africa fundamentally needs to change:


a)    Teachers are a finite resource, and with the baby bonanza that we are experiencing in Africa, the situation will become dire. How will the next generation of African children be educated?

b)   Across Africa teachers are not treated with the respect, honor and station that they deserve. Governments and the relevant institutions don't ideally support, facilitate or inspire teachers to put their best foot forward. What we have in the end are poorly motivated and disillusioned teachers.

c)    What this has essentially created is the disappearance of the model teacher who yearns to train and equip your child in how best to be a productive member of society and instead you have teachers giving cliché educational experiences.

d)   The lack of infrastructure in and around rural communities, in a generation Y era, dictates that fewer teachers will want to partake in the hardships of rural Africa and instead prefer settling in the cities.

e)    A high school dropout rate in Africa. An estimated 42% of African children drop out before the end of primary education.  This is driven mainly by high repetition of classes and pregnancy among schoolgirls. It is highest in rural poor homes, where the support structures are lacking to ‘drive’ children to finish school.

f)     Another demerit is the rise and fall of a child’s future based on their performance in certain entry or exit exams. It simply discredits a child who gets a low grade and relegates them to the fringes of society.


These reasons are by no means exhaustive,  but they do point to a need for us to create programs that are student centric, ubiquitous, easy to use, cheaply accessible and whose motivation is intrinsic.

The state of technology in Africa

As Africa begins to have a more liberal economically assertive and burgeoning middle-income population student-centric education is an aspiration that seems realistic. To give children the tools that can motivate them to intrinsically learn. Because if they learn based on an understanding of their multiple intelligences, devoid of the traditional approach we currently have in public schools, then we have an opportunity to inspire a generation.  

Motivation Hierarchy

Sort of like what was originally experienced years ago in Ancient Greece.

“We imagine a school in which students and teachers excitedly and joyfully stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their vision… not one that succeeds in making apathetic students satisfying minimal standards.” ~ S. Papert


Smart Phones

Africa is truly not a mobile first continent but a mobile only continent. Cheaper , faster African-based smartphones are hitting the market with improved features every other month.

Tecno chose to invest in building a factory in Ethiopia .  Samsung has a “build for Africa” strategy. Huawei has pumped billions of dollars in core technology infrastructure across Africa.

Faster Connectivity for all

Cheaper connectivity to the Internet and its ubiquity not just in urban areas but also in the rural areas makes inclusion of communities a reality. Part of the stigma associated with rural areas is their collective backwardness due to lack of information and involvement in a nation’s agenda.  

According to a paper written in 2000 by DFID, “Rural Africa has to confront uncertainty with capability. The future of African rural dwellers lies increasingly in labor force participation outside rural agriculture. They need literacy, numeracy, various occupational and computer skills that will give them the means to command sufficient income for themselves and their families.”  The reality is no different 14 years later.

The undersea cables that have gone live over the last few years around Africa have hugely increased the international data capacity available to the continent. What needs to happen over the next few years is extend this capacity into the African hinterland by fiber cable and wireless capability while making connectivity astronomically cheap for larger numbers of Africans. I believe the consolidation and work being done by companies like Liquid Telecom , IHS Towers and Eaton Towers  will allow for this to happen sooner rather than later.

The advent of ‘4G’ LTE networks across Africa , increases the speed and scope of internet-based services that can be offered on a real time basis. This I believe this will create a hotbed for innovations that can scale up quickly and cheaply.

Content is king

With all these advances one thing that needs to pick up pace is content development. Content that is locally relevant. Kenya took the bold step of stating that all television and radio stations should show case 60% of local content by 2018. What this forces a country to do is develop local content that is relevant to its population in competition with international content. This position also forces multinational content agencies to attune their content to local populations.

Revenue sharing

The same is true with application developers , who are innovating across the continent to bring to market solutions that will empower the African population.  For this process to work better and for more people to be motivated to innovate there is need for better revenue sharing between the owners of the infrastructure (telecommunication companies) and the application and content developers .
 

Current state of online education across Africa

So with all these developments how can technology be used to advance education in Africa? 

The answer is extensively.

There is wide scale digitization of academic content happening in countries like Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Zambia and this has essentially created an explosion of online enrollment to higher education institutions and a sharp spike of e-learning in the corporate segments in booming economies across Africa.  
Technology giants like Microsoft, Google, Intel and Samsung are doing a lot to develop the right technologies that can be utilized in African rural settings. They are actively channeling funds to create content and create environments where innovation around education is consistent.
Open source-learning platforms like Sakai , Moodle  and Claroline give credence to an approach that is collaborative, transparent, inquisitive and routed on individual needs of a learner.


Student Centered teaching

Student centered teaching methods like active learning, in which students solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm during class; cooperative learning, in which students work in teams on problems and projects under conditions that assure both positive interdependence and individual accountability; and inductive teaching and learning, in which students are first presented with challenges (questions or problems) and learn the course material in the context of addressing the challenges.Speaks volumes about inspiring students to learn on their own accord. 

In fact student centered teaching methods have been shown to be superior to the traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction, a conclusion that applies whether the assessed outcome is short-term mastery, long-term retention, or depth of understanding of course material, acquisition of critical thinking or creative problem-solving skills, formation of positive attitudes toward the subject being taught, or level of confidence in knowledge or skills.

Student centric technologies

There are a number of technologies that can enhance student centric teaching methods if they are blended in a way that each component complements the others without duplication.

Components of an integrated student centric solution
 
As the race in the open source and closed source markets picks up pace in trying to integrate all these individual components into one collective and effective student centric solution, the reality is that its only a matter of time before it becomes a cheaper reality across the world and in Africa.

What I am currently excited about is how Google is quietly bringing each of these individual components together in a deliberate manner under the free Google for Education program.

In conclusion, I do believe the future is very bright for Africa in the education sector mainly due to the level of collaboration that is happening between different stakeholders.