All our futures and Africa

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?



Thank you for the writeup, it gives some idea of the spaces and context where you and the Edgeryders company as a whole could be dealing in in the near future. Thanks for mentioning Makerfox – we’d be very happy to support African maker culture with that tool some day. They have great makers … blacksmiths etc. …

As for technocentricity, I much rather prefer the problems of handling abundance of tech rather than the problems caused by absence of tech. But then again, what other opinion can you expect from the EarthOS guy … :smiley:

Strong stuff – Can anyone add polish?

This is great, great stuff. I strongly suggest doing some careful editing, the content deserves a polished form for broader circulation.

Edit done, please check

@Nadia, I did a round of polish myself based on what I could understand. Please check I got it right, and if you don’t like it just revert to your own version via revision control.

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Don’t localize ideology nor practice European self-hate :stuck_out_tongue:

I agree with the underlying argument of your post… but do not throw out the baby with the bath water. All the examples you give of non-western narratives are, in fact, seminal European narratives:

  • transnational currencies = distributed and consensual nature of money during the "commercial revolution" in XI-XIIIth centuries
  • exercising sovereignty "in remote" = roman conception of citizenship, changed towards territorial by «eastern» and «barbarian» Theodoricus
  • microalternatives to state and big corporations learning systems: from sophists in classic Greece to «Popular Universities», «p2p learning» or «practical philosophy schools» today, passing through guild medieval learning (origin of University)

It has always existed a Christian-platonic narrative in the western thought linked to centralization, homogeneity, state-centered societies. But also stoic, epicurean, social and communitarian traditions aiming open and distributed societies. You and me don’t think as we do thanks to our African links or to an extreme originality of thinking smiley

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Thank you!

The above are a synthesis of fringe discussions that took place at different points during the event, and do not necessarily reflect my own personal views. Some of them are reflections based on examples of things that are already happening (observations). That said, it is difficult to identify cognitive superstructures and move beyond them without the help of many different perspectives on the same questions, issues or themes.

That’s how I love my history classes

Thanks for bringing up these little gems from history (including your article on Epicureans). Very enlightening to gain some perspective from facts of the past. About the Christian-platonic narrative: just as democracy is regularly used as a cover-up and justification for centralizing personal power through hierarchies, so is religion :frowning: … even though there are all these anti-hierarchical elements in Christian teaching, including fraternity …


Yes, indeed. And this is a very important point. Christian fraternity is «Aristotelian» -based in abstract common issues and creates imagined communities as Nation, Christianity, Umma, etc. even Humanity- and epicurean is «communal» (related to p2p relations in real communities where you don’t have to imagine the other «members» as you personally know them). This is a core discussion because depending on how we will fund fraternity we will built a very different ways of cooperation and sharing: institutionalized through governments, NGOs, lobbies, associations, etc. in the Aristotelian way or through peer networks and small interconnected clusters in the Epicurean.

However they are not examples

The examples below that reflection are not examples that support or cast it into doubt. Im still writing the post on the African systems of knowledge, philosophies and mythologies/narratives. But it will take me some time as there is aquite some ground to cover and I need to talk to some of the elders who were in Jozi.

nice overview

Hi Nadia,

I didnt know you can write like this. I really like how you put words together. Have you happened to be a journalist in your other life or someone with a penchant or knack to write?! I can only commend your writing style.

As for contents, what you are saying, or more what you are trying to point at, isnt new, as mentioned, but this is the new guise, the new look of the world, in the wake of accelerated technology advances and flattening of the world. On that last note, I recommend anyone who hasnt already to read “The world is flat” by Tom Friedman.

Friedman, among other points, also outlines the same dilemma of nation state vs. corporation (esp. big ones like IBM and Wall-Mart) and nation state vs. any organized industrial/corporate/social entity which criss-cross national borders and ignore nominal frontiers of nation states. His main point in case is that those belonging to the same entity in terms of activity/interest (that is either a big company, organization, etc) are more likely to feel themselves part of it and thus give it more loyalty, etc. than those belonging to one nation-state.

I think its also him that gives a simple example, based on extensive research across industries, that two IT people from very different countries are more alike - as in think alike, behave a like, find each other’s company more interesting, etc. - than an IT specialist and say a UN bureaucrat from the same nation state.

African future for Africa :slight_smile:

Hi all,

yeah @2mavin …if that’s your writing @Nadia don’t stop and keep on writing :slight_smile:

I would like to point a note out something first…

If someone for some-long wears glasses in some way it was improper one …… What would you think of him? …you know for sure that’s not really him, right? And he is not doing what he should be doing, acting the role that he effectively supposed to ……well…this is it… we know it’s not his(glasses) nor really him. what we should be doing and how we supposed to be doing it and most of all the very “why” that will energize him doing so make him need the change is the recipe of all recipes cause the most (within potential counting) inside out social solutions are the most to work out low resistance solution…innovatively searching and finding together the infrastructure definition(s) that’s most compatible with him is the key point …in my point of view if you manage to get there(well based defined new initiative framework) you wouldn’t notice that western glasses anymore that conquered his insight cause he would be already building his dream patterns using his own sight.

three things

  • the real closer engagement and knowing more for problems (thoroughly studying pointing out the problem local pullers and pushers).
  • the genuine approach solving.
  • the why(engine & fuel) that sustain the keeping on.

i think after that you could really think again about the questions you raised and may be there would be a new ones …Bangla-Pesa example in the money and the state point may be after engaging and better understanding of the need we might find out that little(or big) tuning could be done and there would be no that violent actions or what so ever if considering social impact and the acceptance of such an idea before going on with it…if going to broaden or scale it up what measures would be taken in consideration as it might differ from one place to another

Talking about the African union(not the that one i mean a real future one…:)) or the united states of Africa isn’t that easy idea to be included in a comment or a review for me (also I need to read further in that…trying figure out some analogy or something) but let me think out loud that if the thing is happening in some way(scattered ideas) such as Bangla-Pesa (even if with the some violent reactions) and other ideas we should point them all out, study them see how we should be accelerating, expanding and Networking them…and I would give all the credit for this kinda small big idea(s) that I would like to run some questions about scaling it up all over africa …:slight_smile:

sorry for that long comment and not that good english :slight_smile:

Astonishing solution for desertification…A must see

Allan Savory_ How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change

For a old unfinished research I’ve been done along ago in agricultural hacks and techs …i was hit with that example and it was like that’s it…*engaging and clashing with the problem on the ground with a **burning desire for solving it will get you to ***the most genuine profound solution you wouldn’t imagine in the very first place :slight_smile:

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