As promised, here’s a quick update from #AllAfricaFutures in South Africa. More than ever, being here in Jozi is reinforcing a feeling of the “rich present”: Internet-supported state of being in several physical, time and perception zones simultaneously. A kind of split vision of the present and future unfolding in real time.
From the various presentations and discussion my understanding is that participants are here to sketch processes and concepts, and make sense of how to align their efforts for the work ahead. The goal is to develop a shared framework for figuring out how inhabitants of the hugely diverse countries on the African continent can be involved in, and go about, shaping their trajectories into a prosperous (as defined by their own value systems and priorities) and peaceful future. There are many different approaches towards thinking about the future and they serve different purposes. I will be going into them (and the related methodological issues) in more detail in the next post.
I have taken to heart the importance of devices that allow us to surface the hidden assumptions and beliefs that underpin how we understand the world and interpret any information presented about it. Why? because it is difficult to have a meaningful, forward looking conversation if we do not have some shared understanding of the basics that we both accept to be credible/trustworthy. As well as processes that help us understand and reshape our own thinking and the frameworks through which various options are deemed credible, desirable or feasible. Facts are never neutral as they are always interpreted through some lens.
The second is how restricting ourselves to the Western mindset, mythologies, philosophies and understanding of human relationships robs us of valuable knowledge and tools that are critical to our being able to respond to systemic crises. I will be writing a bit more about this in a coming post.
Very roughly these are some of the trends/discussion threads that have emerged and that I think are especially interesting. They popped up in the fringe conversations and I am highlighting them because I noticed that, among the main speakers, the techno-social changes seem to be given a much lower priority than I would have expected. The entire continent is about to go online in a big way, and in the past ten years we have seen remarkable developments shaped, driven or facilitated by technological development. In some cases African countries are ahead of the global curve. This, I think, deserves the limelight. It certainly caught my attention.
The State and Money. The notion of a “national currency” is disappearing with mobile technology and alternative currencies – if not disappearing then adapting. We are seeing post-national means of exchange arising, as well as sub-national ones. By now everyone has heard of BitCoin, but did you know that cross-border mobile money transfer between Tanzania and Rwanda is already happening? Liquidity exchanges for poorer people are also driving innovations such as Bangla-Pesa: an alternative currency developed in a Mombasa slum which incurred a violent reaction from the state before anybody really understood what was really happening, and why. In the Edgeryders community, this resonates our own @Matthias’s Makerfox based on a homebrewed network bartering algorithm.
The State and Learning. There are many more micro-alternatives, many more approached to learning and education and a large activist community (MOOCs etc). Corporations like Google are increasingly funding spaces where alternatives are formulated and civic innovation harnessed to compensating for state failure to provide adequate education to citizens e.g. barcamps. These spaces tend to shape agendas that are technocentric and create government demand for those companies products and services. Effectively policy gets set outside the locus of elected representatives. Aside from issues of democratic legitimacy, there are consequences of the inevitable techno-centricity that comes with tech companies shaping the agenda: you miss positive externalities like mythology shaping/transmission, social negotiation, teaching and other “fuzzy” things without which control of nation states on the population is undermined for better or for worse. This is part of a bigger push by commercial software vendors like Microsoft to embed proprietary software in the educational systems of African countries including South Africa…with potentially disastrous security implications.
The State and Citizenship. There is a trend towards citizens exercising sovereignty “in remote”, living anywhere and still being able to access the protections and other functions of the state. Examples are Estonia offering digital citizenship, or people like Edgeryders community member @Mike Gogulski who manage to live outside it successfully (read this recent VICE article about Mike). Place shackled citizens: e.g. feudalism. Identification: crypto/ blockchain ids. Consequences: struggle to control algorithms, cultures and servers .
The State and Big Data. Big data are being used to predict actions, and even conflicts. Cases were mentioned of preemptive strikes based on prediction, jeopardising individual right to due process. Some of them have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, exacerbating the conflicts they were mean to quell.
The big ideas that inform our world view. How are they changing as stories and narratives that challenge what we have learned about ourselves and others are made accessible? Which narratives and mythologies can we draw from the rich tapestries of African cultures in our quest to build a more resilient and equitable future for the planet’s inhabitants?
The question hanging in the air is about the role of the nation state, on the African continent and beyond. One participant from Tanzania predicts that people will become loyal to entities that are larger than nation states and span across many of them, and others that are smaller than states themselves. This would lead to a sort of distributed pattern of ownership/loyalty/affiliations. Who then does conflict arbitration, standard settings etc? And what of nation states that have been captured by predatory elites, and their narrow interests? Will people withdraw their loyalty from them, given that alternatives are more and more available? Does it make sense to try to recapture the state for the creation of more equalitarian, representative states? Is it more efficient to work with them, or around them? Or is a combination of all strategies, depending on context, the way to go?