Great African Singularities

Jon Gosier —  June 4, 2010 — 22 Comments

The singularity is defined by futurist Ray Kurzweil as being the point at which technological advancement exceeds human capacity to control and fully understand it. It’s the point where artificial intelligence and replication converge and machines can strategically produce other machines without human direction. Movies like TERMINATOR and THE MATRIX are all about the horrible ways such a scenario might play out.

This post is about a different singularity. A point at which technology, progress, wealth and modern advancement converge without the inclusion of an entire continent of nearly 1 billion people, with no discernible disadvantages. This scenario is also difficult to understand and hard to control.

In this scenario, companies also often fail to represent people from the continent in their staff. Boardrooms across the world forget to mention market strategies aimed at engaging the continent’s consumers. I could tell you we hit this singularity over two decades ago but instead let’s look at the websites of a handful of leading technology companies, the corporations who are literally shaping our collective futures…

Yahoo

Yahoo! is among the most popular destinations to visit on the African continent. The image below is from their international page, where they showcase how they target viewers by region. Hrmm…looks like they covered all their bases…

Google

Google has country offices all over the world. I know for a fact they operate staffed offices in Kenya and South Africa. And to be fair they’ve got an intensely involved philanthropic arm here. But on their corporate website? Hrmm…odd.

It’s hard to believe a company that lives on numbers would make such an obvious mistake, so we’ll have to assume they have their reasons. Nonetheless, since they actually do have African offices I’m not sure what message this sends the Google Kenya or Uganda teams. At least they didn’t forget…

Apple

Hrmm… which flag to I click for Kenya? Nigeria? Cairo? or South Africa?

Facebook

Facebook is both the fastest growing internet destination and social network across Africa. They’re in the midst of a global expansion, specifically targeting BOP markets with apps like Facebook Zero. They have several positions open: India, Singapore, Dublin, Brazil, London and Austin, TX. There’s actually a couple missing pieces here: the Middle East, Australia and of course…

We can chalk this one up to Facebook’s being a young company. Although they claim half the users of the entire internet (500 million), this absolutely tells you where they see potential growth and markets worth chasing. A longer list of job opportunities with Facebook’s internationalization team.

Salesforce

Salesforce is a cloud enterprise platform that makes doing business easier. They pride themselves on their international sites. In fact, they’ve got an international site for every continent in the world accept Antarctica and…

Sony and Oracle

Two more power houses. One basically tells you to learn Arabic if you live in Africa, the other has something called “Africa Operations”. Sounds very Jack Bauer, Oracle. An indicator for a systematic, innovative approach, perhaps? Unfortunately not, clicking on that link takes you a site that has information that’s in no way different from their other sites.

Hey Africans, Oracle has an important message for you:


In my opinion, the reasons behind these oversights don’t matter at all. The reality is these choices aren’t aren’t actually putting any of these companies at a disadvantage. What matters to me is the greater implication of the scenario that’s playing out. The fact that these companies can rest comfortably as some of the biggest companies that history has ever known with little input from Africa paints a bleak future. The fact of the matter is, if one sixth the planet is being shut out of controlling or, in any meaningful way, contributing to the technologies and tools that are re-defining the future of the human race. Then they are in-turn being shut out of the future. It’s not systematic, it’s not organized; it’s happening without anyone even noticing. It’s indeed the road to technology perdition.

This is something that should scare the shit out of Africa. It should either motivate you to a point of unrelenting excellence and tenacity, or it should make you a ludite who deliberately refuses to embrace a changing world. It’s a choice. However, the business world (and in this case tech companies) need to be constantly reminded that they need you with cold hard facts. There are no other arguments. Show them the numbers, the patents, the inventions, the talent, the enthusiasm, the courage…the success stories. Don’t open your mouth tell anyone anything or ask them for anything ever again…show them.

The only way to overcome irrelevance is to do things that unequivocally matter. Things that people couldn’t ignore even if they wanted to. Things like building a windmill without an education or so much as even a toy replica; with only passion and imagination. Things like subverting an oppressive government and violent political parties. Doing things, versus reminding everyone around you how unfair it is for you in comparison to everyone else.

Stop waiting for someone to tell you you’re the Next Einstein and go out there and prove it. You have two choices, do something or do nothing. There is no in between. Decisions are binary.

Photo by: Nobodysukey

Jon Gosier

Posts

Founder of Apps4Africa, Appfrica, and D8A

22 responses to Great African Singularities

  1. 
    Andrew Skinner June 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Excellent post, Jon.

    How often do you think it is more than just blindness at play here? How often do you encounter actual negativity? To name one obvious example, there are many online traders who won't ship anywhere to the continent for fear of fraud. I'd hazard a guess that things could be tricky on the banking front too.

    Do you perceive a general lack of trust from these major operators, or is that more just the parochial concern of the smaller ones?

  2. 

    Amen to the doing things. Doing is hard so a lot of people complain as this seems to be the easier path.

  3. 

    This explains a lot:
    http://www.cg-files.com/cgpicture/Glow_Earth_with

    I could maybe see SA, Egypt or Morocco

  4. 

    Hey, the Balkans is missing too, if that makes you feel better.

  5. 

    Google has offices in Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt. For example, here are some current openings: http://www.google.com/jobs/africa/

    • 

      Ruth, of course they do. That’s why I mentioned each of those offices outright in the article.

      • 

        Google is also doing some great things with Map Maker and developer training etc. See the Google Africa blog (RSS is http://feeds.feedburner.com/OfficialGoogleAfricaB….
        So if any of you other companies mentioned here are reading this: you better start doing something or you're missing out. Think about the untapped potential there is for a company like Embarcadero with Delphi.

      • 

        Yes, I'm sorry if that read like a correction, when I intended it as confirmation. I hope the map does not deter any one looking to interact with those offices, which are active, hiring, and doing important work. (Not a company spokesperson here, I'm just interested in your point.)

  6. 
    Ridiculous Post June 6, 2010 at 2:51 am

    Good lord man. What a ridiculous post. One country (South Africa) in this continent has an economy larger than the rest of it combined. African countries routinely rank in the top tier of most corrupt governments.

    So — as a company (which has to make money, unlike governments –> I'm looking at you Zimbabwe), what incentive is there for me to plop down in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, or South Africa if (a) there is so little service-based economic activity that my initial investment is unlikely to be recouped, and (b) the corruption levels are so astronomically high that the price of doing business (greasing gov officials) prevents me from actually making money at all?

    A number of these companies feature well-funded, extremely capable business development teams. If there was any chance at all of making a profit, you can rest assured there would be a corporate presence — why else on earth would half of these companies operate in eastern Europe?

    The world isn't fair, the African continent has clearly been slighted in many, many terrible ways — but this post is truly absurd. Africa doesn't have Oracle and IBM because the economies simply haven't matured to functional, global agents.

    • 

      You seem to be arguing a different point than the article entirely. First, the fact that Google, Oracle, Yahoo and anyone else not in Africa is used to illustrate the fact that Africa is being left behind, without much in the way of any of these companies noticing or suffering for it. Do I care that they left Africa off the map? Only in the sense that it should serve as motivation from the people who are capable to do the things that will change that story.

    • 

      "Good lord man. What a ridiculous post. One country (South Africa) in this continent has an economy larger than the rest of it combined.."

      And your source is? Come on man, even plain ignorance has limits

  7. 

    I like that, unlike many other singularitarians, you draw attention to the issue of uneven and unjust development, but I think the end of your post is blithe. There might not be any solution to the misery in Africa, but to state it in such individualist terms, as though all the people there need to do is pick themselves up by their boostraps, could be rightly construed as not only insensitive to their actual plight but ignorant of the effects of systemic racism and imperialism that has brought them to where they are. I agree with you that we should recognize and appeal to the agency of people living there; however, addressing the issue in such libertarian and vague rhetoric doesn't serve anyone and even seems a bit self-aggrandizing.

    • 

      I get the plight, I live in Uganda. I'm a black-American. I'm pretty close to the issue on both sides and yet it's not my nature to blame other people for my own short-comings. Sure people may antagonize you, but I believe as humans we should expect as much from each other as we'd expect from ourselves. I respect where you're coming from because it's far more complicated than that, but that's where we'll continue to differ. So you're damn straight it's individualistic, however I don't think it's 'self-aggrandizing' at all. It's about speaking of and doing the things that are the hard call. Is that wrong? Do you really want to live in a world where everyone settles for 'what they've got' and never reaches for what they don't?

      I don't.

      • 

        I expect from another person what I expect from myself, but only if that person is in a situation similar to the one I'm in. Expecting people on the African continent – which boasts more failed states than anywhere else in the world – to vote with their dollars on the global market sounds outrageous enough to be a headline in The Onion.

  8. 

    Just on a side note, Something which is kinda a biggie down here, atleast to those who understand the internet, is that google has actually finally gotten servers down here, Which means things are happening slowly.

    A reason for BIG technology firms not to make a big bash into africa is Connectivity costs, basically because anything we have running out of africa must span huge distances. last year we go our second major Fibre cable landing in south africa, by a company called Seacom. This process has boosted some interest, and the fact that we are in the process of landing another cable or two in the not too distant future might just make it more affordable for companies wich require Huge access to the internet to come here and actually do something.

    For someone down here to get a dedicated pipe to the web, with full international access(we bill seperately for local connectivity and international) is usually sold in chunks of 64K, At about R1500-2000($190-250) on the retail market, with bul purchasing discounts. And I think South africa is sorta in the top 5 on a connectivity level in Africa, so this might just change….

    just my thoughts.

  9. 

    Great article my friend. This means great opportunities still exists for the continent. I just hope that one day the corrupted hearts of our politicians will get out of the way and help african investors instead of looking to be bribed.
    Wonderful work !

  10. 

    Financials play a key role in this. IMHO, it's not 'singularity' as such. Things need to evolve. How much in terms of revenue is generated from the "over-1-billion-people-continent" for these corporations? I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't be on this list.

  11. 

    I think posts like these are a great wake up call for everyone. Keep it up. I'd share it.

  12. 

    This article touches me personally. It’s is all about what I’ve dedicated part of my life in Asia too. Let me share my experience in trying to address what the author calls “technology perdition” of Africa….

    I was trained as a lawyer in Africa and in France and knew close to zero about technology. It was after I got a job assignment in Thailand as regional project manager, that my experience at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) opened my eyes on the critical importance of science and technology for development and inclusive participation in globalization… I started by learning from students from technology departments and from my other colleagues all I could about science and technology…I dedicated my time and resources to study ALL reports and investigations released by organizations such UNESCO, The World Bank, UNDP, African Union, African Development Bank, ODA agencies…What I learned has deeply shaken my confidence in the relevance of law as prime element for development and inspired me to take step to “do something and give back”…

    Firt of all, these are some of the most important findings of our investigation:

    1. 50 years ago Asia and Africa where equally poor, including in technological capability
    2. Africa is 23% below its economic production capability because of lack of technology (World Bank)
    3. The ratio of ingineers per 10.000 inhabitants is the lowest in the world
    4. Asian leaders have emphasized capacity building and education in technology as a priority since the 1950’s
    5. Asia has received tremendous strategical, political and institutional support form the US during a long period of time to build “appropriate” science and technology capabilty while Africa was plagued by political unrest, apartheid, wars and other conflicts related to natural resource grabing and control etc.

    From there, we drafted a concept paper and prepared a project on “How to Bridge the technology Gap in Africa with the Asian Experience”. As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN said, technology is the only way to empower people. It equips to created, to transform and to make the world better…

    Our main idea was to create a system of scholarship funded by international donors to support the study of science and technology by Africans in Asian universities. With a critical mass of knowledge and skills, African can develop innovation, promote techno-entrepreneurship and better participate in globalization…Some of my articles on this issue can be found on Google…

    After a long journey we finally created the Asiafrica foundation as the first organization of its kinds catered to bridging Africa and Asia in key areas of development starting with education in Science and technology… See http://www.asiafrica.foundation.org

    But, after my long and exhausting journey, what I learned from what I called the “System” is so shocking and disappointing that I’m starting to regret the day I lost my ignorance about the dynamic (not necessary reasons) of Africa being kept behind. The “System” is all about business and self-served interest.

    Based on professional and personal experiences too early to share on a public forum, we’re now wondering if we are wasting our time in trying to address an issue that are too big for us…

    Remember Nietzche? He said long time ago “Africa is out of history”…The same percepption is prevalent today in many things “Africa is out of technology, globalization and interest”, except for obvious reasons. Therefore who really cares about Africa?

    I saw comments here blaming the situation on corruption in Africa and autocratic leaders… Ignorance, prejuce and stereotyping in such comments for issues related to Africa is a well-established attitude.

    No need to be an expert in “Anti-corruption” and “governance” to understand the figures and statistics. Indeed corruption is bigger and wider in Asia than in Africa (few countries in the world are immune)…But while corruption “proceeds” are re-invested in the system in Asia (or elsewhere) in Africa, they are exported “Out of Africa”…It’s a complete drain.

    Regarding governance issues, I prefer to keep a political neutrality as I’m still affiliated to an international organization and pledged non-policital views and activities as president of a Foundation.

    The Challenge for Africa (not only for technology) is massive and the reasons are much deeper than anyone could believe without the test of a personal quest. It is beyond the capability of our present generation.

    The only thing me can do is to leave a legacy of hope and possibilities, while finding Asian and other friends. These friends must be interested, willing and capable to help in addressing the technology, opportunity and development challenges in Africa.

    All the best
    Roland
    Dr. Roland Amoussou-Guenou
    Co-founder and President
    Asiafrica Foundation
    http://www.asiafrica.org

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Africa’s roles in technology | Standalone Sysadmin - June 5, 2010

    [...] just came across this very interesting read, discussing Africa’s role in the singularity, namely that of an outsider. You should take the time to read it before you continue here. It [...]

  2. Being Wrong, Being Right, Being Informed, and Being Heard [Three Best Things 5/31/10 - 6/7/10] » The ENGINE Blog » ENGINE Industries: Atlanta, Georgia Web Design - June 7, 2010

    [...] Great African Singularities by Appfrica. Appfrica, a Ugandan software company, shows how African presence, language [...]

  3. Great African Singularities « WorldWright's … - September 2, 2010

    [...] This is something that should scare the via appfrica.net [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s