Will Mutua Mworia (Africa) - 3 Memes in Africa's Tech Future

Recently, Nairobi's Innovation Hub hosted one of the "Fathers of the Internet", Vinton G. Cerf for a session dubbed "Synergestic Communities" as well as a Fireside Chat. Vint and Bob Kahn co-designed the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. Vint is a thought leader on Internet related matters and is currently Google's Chief Internet Evangelist:

Cerf has worked for Google as its Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist since September 2005. In this function he has become well known for his predictions on how technology will affect future society, encompassing such areas as artificial intelligence, environmentalism, the advent of IPv6, and the transformation of the television industry and its delivery model.

Based on Vint's talk, there are a few notable memes that surfaced during the part that acknowledged the need to move Kenya/Africa in the right direction as far as tech and innovation are concerned:

1. Bottom Up

The Internet itself has largely been successful due to the fact that it was built and operated from the outset as a bottom up structure. Vint mused about how people ask him who is ‘in charge' of the internet, whereas there really is no one individual sitting at the top with access to a big switch that could switch off the entire internet at will; dictating what must happen on the internet.

The idea is that, in his own words "people will eventually find a way to make it happen", if you give them the opportunity and a suitable playing field. In other words we may not be there yet, but the more we try and the harder we push, the more we keep at it, there's bound to be a break-through.

2. Persistence and Patience

This one is closely related to the previous meme. Vint used a particularly interesting metaphor here, he explained how the efforts to move tech mainstream in Africa (or Kenya) is like a bunch of people pushing a massive boulder up a steep hill, eventually they get to a point where they cannot push any further and it's just too heavy and so high up that it over powers them. At the ‘tipping point', the boulder now starts coming back down at increasing velocity and you'd better get out of the way because you can't stop it now.

So what it will take is persistence in pushing in the right direction. We are bound to get to the tipping point where the African tech, innovation and startup culture is concerned.

To expand this thought a bit further, I'd imagine that when that boulder comes down it will create a ‘snowball' effect, not just coming down fast, but growing bigger and bigger as it comes down.

3. Connectivity and Content

Vint asserted that the more people get connected the better, especially highlighting the power of mobile. It is evident that in Kenya, for example, mobile data is a cash cow for mobile operators given that the majority of people are connecting to the internet via mobile.

And this is becoming more and more so with what Vint placed in his top 3 ‘inventions' associated with the internet - Smartphones. They are getting cheaper and even fairly basic phones are supporting sophisticated browsers such as Opera Mini. In fact Vint went ahead and also speculated on the effect of mobile on the Internet Cafe business model - does mobile data threaten the existence or success of Internet Cafes?

Vint highlighted the fact that whereas there are many fiber landing points in Africa, there are places that could also be better served by new satellite technology such as the Google backed O3b Networks. The ‘Other 3 Billion‘ initiative aims to come up with a solution that combines the speed of fiber with the reach of satellite.

With regards to content, Vint pointed out the importance of making locally relevant content available online. This is especially powerful when combined with the power of the mobile. As Vint noted, Google observed certain subtleties in what people tended to search for when they Googled from their mobile phones e.g. people when searching from a mobile will more often than not be looking for something within their locality, such as the location of a store or restaurant.

As far as local content is concerned, Vint also pointed out the power of user generated and crowd sourced content.

He mentioned that this information is especially compelling because it is really a case of the market making available what others in the same market will be interested in as well. Of course the challenge with this comes when dealing with massive amounts of information, where verifying that information could be a significant challenge.
He mentioned in this regard that it is important to create and make available simple to use tools for people to create content with, particularly on mobile phones.
The 3 memes could be wrapped up in something Vint said (paraphrased) "You have all that it takes to make it happen and create more success stories like Ushahidi

By Will M Mworia, founder of Afrinnovator


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