Three Myths About Technology Use in Africa

We recently published Rethinking Language Use in Digital Africa edited by Leketi Makalela and Goodith White. In this post Leketi busts three myths about technology use in Africa.

The use of technology in Africa is often treated with suspicion and doubt especially when it comes to its impact on language development.

Myth number 1: Technology will kill African languages

Due to the history of marginalization of African languages at various stages of colonialism, anything that is perceived as coming from the West is treated with caution surrounded by belief systems about the unknown. Well, it makes sense. But is digital technology all that bad that it will kill African languages? There is a public opinion that the more technology is used, the more leverage it will give to the already dominant languages such as English and French. In this way, the local languages will be decimated due to their low presence in communication systems mediated via technologies.

But if we pause and think about the current status quo, there is very little hope that the governments are willing or have resources to place these languages in high domains of African lives. Languages of parliament, school and the media have remained Westo-phone for a period of more than 50 years. The greatest challenge for these countries has been the legacy of divide and conquer through “misinvention” of many languages. In this book, we show that languages keep evolving, mirroring society. Since digital technology has become a new normal in the 21st century, it is important that African languages adapt and digitize to overcome the stigmas associated with them. Through their use in technology they cross traditional boundaries created in the past and reflect the multilingual competence that their users have. Where African governments have failed, digital technology is able to succeed – to decolonize boundaries and to provide room for innovation based on local cultural competence.

Myth number 2: Africa isn’t plugged in technologically

The economic divide between the Global North and Global South is often cited as critical in future developments that are enabled by digital technology. It is often believed that most countries in the global South will be left behind because they are not plugged into technology with predictions that are pessimistic about the competitiveness of Africans in the global scene. This is only one side of the coin.

Here is a fact worth knowing. Mobile phone subscriptions and use are higher in Africa than other parts of the world. Africans are leading the world in leveraging cell phones to enhance everyday life. Money transfers using mobile technology called M-Pesa in Kenya, USSD in Nigeria are now more common than cash. Jamila Abass is using cellular technology to empower small-scale farmers in Kenya. The examples of innovation via cellular phones are countless. So in the end, it comes down to using what we have!

Myth number 3: Africa is lacking technological innovation

One of the strongly held misconceptions about technology in Africa is the idea that it is behind the rest of the world, lacking in innovative technology. While it is true that people in some African countries lack access to education and resources, but as we have shown above, they make the most of what they have. Consider the following African technological inventions as examples:

Traffic-Regulating Robots. Thérèse Izay from Congo-Kinshasa invented humanoid traffic robots to regulate traffic in Kinshasa. The robots function as a traffic light combined with a crossing guard. In March 2015, there were five robots regulating traffic in Kinshasa.

Drone in Nigeria. In December of 2013, Nigeria’s first unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly referred to as a drone called ‘Gulma’ (Gossip), was created at the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Science & Technology. It can fly nonstop at 3,000 feet for nearly four hours. This is a significant accomplishment because it was Nigeria’s first indigenous drone flight.

In brief, Africans are undoubtedly resourceful and innovative. This book is precisely about this. It couches an uncommon perspective of hope and debunks the often untested myths about Africa and language use in the digital era. In the book we use new concepts such as Digital African Multilingualism (DAM) to ‘bring home’ new and innovative ways of thinking about multilingualism based on the African cultural competence and the one re-dressing imbalances that were created over a long period of linguistic colonization. So, we should mind the language of talking about technology in Africa. Undoubtedly, where there has been epic failure in the post-colonial era, technology offers a panacea for leapfrogging Africa into a developed zone. This is a new book drawing this line.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Creating Digital Literacy Spaces for Multilingual Writers by Joel Bloch.

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