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About the Author

Andrei Tuch
IT/translator (Estonia)

Technical writer, freelance translator, occasional journalist, all too rarely blogger, wannabe exegete.


Bootstrapping Africa

Published 07th June 2010 - 4 comments - 2079 views -

What do you see in your mind's eye when you think of African enterprise? Actual, effective, profitable business ventures that contribute to the local economy, pay taxes, and improve living standards - not because they are dedicated aid ventures, but because they result in profit and disposable income for locals?

I'd have trouble imagining anything other than farming or tourism. Maybe oil production, and other mineral resource mining. I expect there's a fair amount of industrial production in South Africa - after all, that country actually developed nuclear weapons independently, before becoming the first nation in the world to voluntarily dismantle its nuclear stockpile. Overall, from my extremely removed point of view, I would assume that African success stories are contingent on having cheap and plentiful labour, as well as lots of territory.

I would never have expected Sub-Saharan Africa to have a vibrant IT community, bootstrapping itself to produce high-value services. But I'm wrong. It's there, and Appfrica is how you learn about it.

The website is run by a man named Jonathan Gosier, and forms the public face of an IT company by the same name that is based in Kampala, Uganda. Gosier is an admirable person; he's put his money where his mouth is, and although his ventures include a component of social responsibility and stimulation of development, he approaches it from an eminently practical standpoint. The world of IT has more than its fair share of inefficiency, corporate nearsightedness and pie-in-the-sky thinking (after all, the industry's most charismatic figure is sarcastically credited with the possession of a reality distortion field). But Gosier seems to be an example of the type of IT entrepreneur that should be in the highest demand in development efforts: a bootstrapper, someone with the instinct, skill and inclination to maximize impact versus resources. Had he applied himself in San Francisco, he'd probably be a billionaire; instead, he is changing the lives of Africans in ways that ivory-tower NGOs cannot. Appfrica Labs and others like it offer the chance for not just survival, but prosperity.

People like Gosier know that success starts at home, and that it is yours to manufacture. We Europeans can talk all we want about aid, sustainability and obligation, but there are things we prefer not to say; and one of them is that no aid will help if the developing world does not accept responsibility for its own destiny. It takes someone who trains African programmers for a living to see corporations ignore the continent, and be angry about it - angry not at the companies, but at those allowing themselves to be ignored:

The reality is these choices aren’t actually putting any of these companies at a disadvantage. (...)

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

Then again, Appfrica does actually care about the involvement of developed countries. Gosier is a TED fellow himself, and organized a TEDx event in Kampala, Uganda. One of the speakers was Ron Nixon from the Ujima Project - a tool that Th!nkers may find extremely useful. Have a look for yourself:


Category: Technology | Tags:


  • Bart Knols on 07th June 2010:

    Very interesting! Great website (Ujima project).

  • Andrea Arzaba on 09th June 2010:

    A stereotype of a developing country has been broken! smile Good to know this

  • Clare Herbert on 12th June 2010:

    Better IT in developing countries also has huge implications for education and training, as the internet becomes a vehicle for knowledge and exploration.  Interesting post.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 12th June 2010:

    An interesting breakthrough. Nice.

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