19 October 2012
14 August 2012
It is not only for travellers to have cross-cultural experiences. Cultures travel too. Especially western culture travels to rural Africa via television, movies, education, and Information and Communication Technologies. Thus, even rural Africa has to come to terms with crossculturality.
Deep down in my heart I know it is all boils down to living it. It is about a genuine interest, an unquenchable passion, and a real desire and interest to know and merge with the other, whether in community or as an individual. Such interest is the prerequisite for learning. Further, it is about allowing oneself to live through constant changes in life's perspectives, disrupting one's thinking in line with Paulo Freire jottings “conversation with people requires a profound rebirth”. Engagement needs participation. Participation results in discovering. Discoveries birth change, inside, and outside.
Especially when living crossculturally, as we do in Africa, one has to rebirth into the culture and live. One has to become part of the community, accepted because of being, not because of having.
Now in our international community, we have a whole range of communities with diverse cultures, all of them getting closer and closer to each other. Will it be one culture remaining, will there be conflict, or will it be possible for us to become cultural chameleons? The latter are persons that can live several cultures at the same time. They live the individual shared values, and expected social behaviour in the different circumstances at appropriate times.
It is this ability for cultural chameleonness that is the real challenge. A challenge for which I have not seen much literature yet. Maybe it is not (yet) about literature, as our thinking still is in the phase of defining formal explicit specifications of a shared conceptualisation for this domain. It is still about discovering the ontologies to represent the needed kind of knowledge.
With the void of models, it is very much Show-and-Tell! Thus living the life, showing clear examples of practice of cross-cultural living, role modelling and exposing the personal and material effects of being a cultural chameleon.
13 August 2012
It was a lively affair. One of the passengers had a 'boom box', and the music became part of the bus' fabric. There were lively discussions, and all shared stories, emotions, and food.
The conductor climbed over piles of luggage, merchandise, and an occasional chicken. I admired his discipline and hard work. He provided the tickets and facilitated the process of embarkment and disembarkations. When conflict occurred, he defused the situation magisterial.
Wherever I go, I see people busy, hard work, tinkering, innovating, and making do. They are out and about, making and living a living. Most people in Africa, like people everywhere in the world, are hard working and caring people, virtuous and capable individuals. They are ethical with laudable values, understanding of being custodians of the environment, their communities, and individual lives.
Everywhere I communicate with people, framing as per critical ethnography. Actually, it is a never ending interview, an enquiring of my surroundings. I probe narratives to uncover meanings, functions, and the implications of unfolding events. Therefore, it is advantageous to live life within the space of direct communion in events and the actual environment. In my case, my interactions are aided by much travel, exposure and interactions on both sides of divides. I try to discern the meaningful and to classify the total experience of the story of events in theory. Through meeting people of all feathers, triangulating their inputs, I try to gain a measure of understanding.
Not unlike other areas in the world, change in Africa is fast. I notice chance every time I visit familiar places. Obviously there is lots of building going on, infrastructure being expanded, and change in interactions facilitated by cell phones, computers, satellite TV, and the internet. I keep probing on what this could mean for Africa's contribution to the world, as, undoubtedly, there is much to share from the wisdom of traditional philosophy and Africa's emotional honesty.
Observing and interacting with vibrant life as per metal cocoon – bus – is observing vibrant, living African humanity.
08 August 2012
Today I went to the airport to pay the surcharges. At this time, the airline representative told I must pay an additional service charge of ZAR 500 (= USD 60.75) as I was not paying online by credit card.
As mentioned, Zambian banks do not provide for credit card services. As to curb personal credit, they cannot be gotten in the country. The same might be valid in Zimbabwe and a number of other African countries. Recently the situation eased when Zambian banks could provide for VISA Electron debit cards, at least. South African Airways explicitly excludes payments by debit cards.
For a person living within Zambian realities, there is no way to avoid the extra SAR 500 'service charge'. The South African Airways representative empathised upon hearing my complaint. She mentioned she was not aware of such a situation. There was no way around. The result: segregation forces to me pay an extra levy of SAR 500.
This situation is not unique. From our Zambian realities, we struggle with most international payments from Africa.
Flight tickets we buy online using US based Expedia, whom accepts VISA debit cards. Their system rejects payments from Africa often. However, after a costly call to their service center in the USA, involving sitting in a queue listening to music, payment goes through most of the times. If this fails, the only other option for me is to buy tickets online in the Netherlands, using a Netherlands based bank account. Such option is not available for Zambians.
For calling normal phones, we rely on Skype-out. This assures we can understand the other person, as phone quality from rural Zambia is mostly poor. Recently Skype stopped accepting payment using our Zambian debit card; subsequently we cannot call standard phones anymore.
Let me not discuss the difficulties of renting of cars or putting down a deposit in hotels.
I conclude, today, I received a SAR 500 fine from South African Airways for living in Zambia. And, Skype does not allow us to call ordinary phones as a consequence of our living in Zambia. When traveling abroad and paying a large amount of cash, for instance in hotels, I feel peculiar.
There is still lots to learn and adapt for seamless service provisioning and fight segregation in a shrinking world.
In our paper “Relatio, an examination of the Relational dimension of resource allocation”, through a review of literature augmented by qualitative interviews and observational analysis, we show the evolutionary nature of rationality. Thus, two parallel systems for addressing basic questions of choice and resource management exist; a traditional “rational” Western system, and a “relational” African system.
In the current economic turmoil, these findings on African uniqueness do provide for refreshing inputs. Current views of economic choice can change to involve broader conceptions of its constitution, restraints, and motivations, involving both social and material forms of capital.
In a shrinking world, decisions taken somewhere affect us all. It is time for economic decolonization. I would hope that our publications counter-penetrates Western thinking, from rural Africa.
Reference: K. Sheneberger and G. van Stam, “Relatio: An Examination of the Relational Dimension of Resource Allocation,” Economics and Finance Review, vol.1, no.4, pp. 26–33, 2011.
04 August 2012
I believe with Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence (US, 1776) "that all men are created equal" (in the eyes of God). I believe that I am called to love my neighbor as myself. And I believe one must strive for humbleness and consider others better than oneself. I believe I can, and do, learn from my sisters and brothers in Africa's rural areas.
Desmond Tutu declares "I am because we are" to pinpoint the preamble for sub-Saharan Ubuntu culture, with "being together" to be the ultimate goal of our existence. I think that is true.
When rural Africa has no access to Information and Communication Technologies, information cannot flow from that geographical area to any other area in this world. Then we cannot be truly together. Then outsiders cannot believe in, and then learn from, insiders. And knowledge cannot grow. I think that is bad.
I am sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see. That believe sourced the knowledge packed in my brains. With it, I try to invite you to believe, so knowledge can grow. I think that is worthy.
Current rationality restricts forms of communication, forces its content to conform as to align for vogue rational judgement. I regard our current forms of communication and thought processes restrictive, as real knowledge necessitates social interaction, and aspects with an ethical/moral form. We deal with forms of life.
I am allowed to be an apprentice to a rewarding form of life, to live it, in rural Africa. I learned that is a privilege.
23 July 2012
As a technologist I walk the AIDS 2012 conference's Global Village in awe, admiring the mix of research, activists, civil society, and the obviously massive investments for the public good. I listen carefully to rousing speeches of dignitaries like the president of the World Bank Group, all calling for an end to the pandemic, and linking the fight against AIDS with the others, like the fight against absolute poverty. They echo the sentiments I discussed with Vint Cerf last week.
However, I feel quite lonely, no exhibition of technology on display at AIDS 2012 at all, it seems. Are we turning the tide together?
Nobody denies that the fights against AIDS and absolute poverty are important, and supersede politics and, maybe, even economics. These fights are justified by basic human values, like loving care. Values are operationalised by human intentions, and if technology amplifies human intent, where are the technologists to turn the tide, together?
Technology and values are closely related. The creation and/or availability of technology is a value-laden enterprise. Technology is a material part of culture and society and therefore its availability, or even its creation, is a moral, and possibly even political, act. Of course, technology itself is neither smart nor dumb, moral nor immoral. It is in the targeting of its utilization where the values, and morals, play out.
Thus, the discussion of appropriate use of technology, for instance in HIV-AIDS care and systems, must be put on the agenda of any major event, especially during these times in which technologies do let the world shrink.
22 July 2012
13 July 2012
12 July 2012
11 July 2012
Social Innovation involves the engendering of innovative activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need and that are predominantly developed and diffused through organisations whose primary purposes are social (Mulgan, Tucker, Ali, & Sanders, 2007). The essence of social innovation is the creation of new, innovative solutions for social good. The term social innovation signifies a relative new approach for solving major problems while ensuring that stakeholders are equal partners and that wheels are not reinvented.
Social innovation allows transformation of the positivist, technical, western dominated sciences to encapsulate the important information of culture and context, and thus to include deemed intangible and unquantifiable results of interventions, like social capital. Engineering is an engine of progress for humanity, as it methodologically devised a world-of-things to interact with the world-of-humans. Social innovation augments engineering to address issues affecting us all.
Social Innovation provides an inclusive and intrinsic multidisciplinary approach for sustainable progress for all engineers. It invokes innovations in engineering sensitive of human relationships, and has effects in education, management, development cooperation, and co-creation in general. As such social innovation is instrumental to lead the way, enhance and facilitate local capacity development, and thus opens new venues for innovations and growth of knowledge, and mutual beneficial collaboration.
08 June 2012
When now contemplating the national and regional levels, imbalances become obvious. Political structures are often vibrant, and consequences of dis-balance are well seen. Business is often explicitly encouraged, although, if I may say so, only recognized when it is structured in a 'Western manner'. However, where is the voice of the Academics?
Here in Port Elizabeth it is clear that South Africa boasts a developed academia. I am surrounded by people and documents with knowledge involving South Africa Country Studies on this, that, and the other. As I am not necessary studying (only) South Africa, when I toss those studies aside, a next pile of documents come into view. These are the cases in Europe and the USA... Oeps, that is not what I am looking for, I was hoping to get the ones from the African hinterlands. They appear not to exist. Normally then one sais “Let's call someone”. But which professor to call in Angola? Or which one in the Congo? Or which journal to dive into to get information on Zambia, or Zimbabwe, or Malawi?
For peaceful and wholesome progress the balance of the essential social partners is crucial. Already at the start of my stay in South Africa it is more then clear that such balance is missing for most of our northern neighbours and regions.
The academia of a country produces its future leaders. See Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, an acclaimed academic with a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Likewise, Africa needs nationals to research and develop thesis and solutions addressing local, national, and regional challenges. Such is the bread and butter of academic institutions. Thus, not only do academic institutions need to quadruple or more in size, to allow for the huge influx of young people in view of current population demographics, it also needs to show tangible results in research, utilizing and building out indigenous knowledge to assure local relevance, and contribute to the partnership for national and regional stabilities and holistically embedded national progress.
07 June 2012
Does the rapidly connecting and shrinking world play a role? Obviously IT does build bridges to even the most locked out places, as I have been experiencing technology doing in rural Zambia the past nine years. This week I have met a subset of urban people who know what is going on in the world, whom are keen to build their families, their country, and want to be a gift to the world. Undoubtedly, there is much suffering, maybe more here then there, as anywhere. And a few days only limits one's abilities to experience, and allows for witnessing of just some fragments of existence.
05 June 2012
Those who raise the issue 'what happens when he leaves?' often appear blinded by opportunistic searchlights, that illuminate individuals instead of communities, focus on projects instead of people, and on threats instead of opportunities. Or, more worrisome, those that appear subdued by their outlook on reality encompassing virtually insurmountable mountains and unforgiving barriers, often pushing persons in various stages of inertness or, alternatively, rage.
From the outset, per definition, one should aim to be involved where vision flourishes, as without a vision people perish. A vision must instil hope, talk about humans, and inspire associates and stakeholders to excel. Equally, one should only commit in situations where leadership can mention names of those whom are growing, and are being mentored to 'take over'; Names of real people that are prone to excel their predecessors, who bear the promise of expanding capabilities, whom are able to sustain, augment, mature, and expand (parts of) the vision. Including names of those whom will not hesitate to outsource, change, discard, insource, or do whatever is needed to sustain progress and the organisational health.
My answer to these evanescent sounds? “Look carefully. Since April 2010 I have not been leading Macha Works, nor did make decisions, and neither was involved in any management meeting.” As with all people, my roles change constantly, and will keep on doing so, as dynamic transformation engenders such change, in this case empowering local talent endowed with growing authority.
Instead of focus on the here and now, since April 2010 I have been observing and facilitating realignment of contacts and relationships. Result of the local team's examinations arrived in the form of external audit reviews. They have been favourable for two consecutive years. Overall budgets grew with 20% and local income surged with 400%. I am not amazed; The right leadership at the right time sustains progress and realigns priorities.
Those were the good times. Since early 2012 there were bad times, induced by circumstances that were outside of the local leader's realms of influence. Thus after time of remarkable growth, now there were times of pruning, testing through fire, with weaker parts being blown over by the storms of life. Also a period of seeing fruits of the right relationships, and testing of seatbelts whom are provided by real friends. During April and May I was requested to help, to fire-fight, to prevent loss of assets, destruction of achievements and personnel benefits, and assure adherence to the stipulations of the environment. I am glad I could still recognize the institution, knew where to look, what to invoke, and where to apply antidote. Just for a short while though and from a relative distance, not being engrossed, only doing the necessary job, while engendering components for the next mentoring phase.
I never stopped – and will never stop - to observe, to study, and to volunteer where I can. However, I did not return. I left Macha Works April 2010, and now, after quenching some major fires, obviously being affected by fall out, now pruning even my shade; I bodily left for academic peer-to-peer interaction on our findings on social innovations and systems, and to expand its thesis. Without a doubt, on the ground, the vision-carrying local talents are getting it right!
What is left is encouragement and cheering-on: “Aim right, and move on!”
29 May 2012
10 April 2012
New glasses on my nose, seeing the world afresh, crystal clear. For a while my glasses were scratched, off strength, and regularly popping out of their frame. What a change, what a blessing!
The Zambezi river shows off its might. I watch in awe from atop the gorge at rapid seventeen. Unstoppable, majestic and fierce. Waters turned white, flipping passing rafters. Every second, massive, fresh, H2O, steaming wet life flows. We struggled a bit with water, as the site's water pump engineering failed functioning to quench human demands. However, nature's flow continues unabated, grinding the gorge.
Wow, a Taita falcon sped by. Elusive, stealthy, purposeful. Crafty bunch of feathers in full control. Through the airquarium it goes where it wants. I tried so last Thursday, in an obtrusive metal airplane. Clumsy, however, I did feel privileged and full of gratitude.
Kids squeal, jumping in a refreshing pool. Air at a temperature that cannot be sensed. Clouds shading a piercing sun. Air filled to the brink by the orchestra of nature, performing an enthralling masterpiece.
Easter. Bursting my seams with gratitude.
02 April 2012
It is in the reflection of great writings that one can link literate utterances to observations that were lacking words in which to describe them. In the absence of specialist bookstores in a range of over a thousand kilometers, only recently I am empowered to access good books, on Kindle and with Visa Electron downloaded through the internet. A world has opened to me, with a refreshing rain of well wrought wordings.
Each book brings me both balance and unbalance, relieve and stress. I try to recognize and puzzle with thinking patterns, especially those shown by psychiatristic daredevils like Freire or Fanon, or in structural seminal methodological textbooks like Sachs or Collins. Then I augment them with thoughts from inspirational writings on culture, anthropology, theology, humanism, and mysticism.
Has all be told, has all be understood? Certainly not! Context and cultures change, emerge and seemingly do repeat. I just aim to assemble theory to support progress, sustainably, helpfully, inclusively, unitingly, and lovingly. Progress needs new insights and theories of dynamics. Thus I relish my everyday school, which provides a healthy meal of theory and practise.
Oh, what a world of fortunate joy and unfortunate hurt! Through it I can understand cynicism when sharing my experience out of Africa. At the other hand, I feel for a Rwandan friend who shared his hurt feelings after a presentation on Rwanda's impressive achievements in the role out of ICTs. It was the question from the audience that stabbed, which could be summarized like “You are giving a positive presentation about Rwandan developments. Are you giving the complete picture? Could you please expand on what is going wrong?”.
It is Fanon whom for me encapsulated the issue of us as the recipient being confused by the myriad signs of the [developed] world, so one never knows where he/she is out of line. Fanon explains how the subject is always presumed guilty, and how she/he in turn considers such judgement as a kind of curse, a sword of Damocles. This resonates with my own observations. We live in a dual and segregated world, with those being developed living in a world of foreign judgements stating 'you are guilty'.
For its donors, Macha Works creates impressive and often highly detailed reports. Such is rather unique from a rural African environment that is used to share its relationships, not its information. Recently I noticed a comment “I do trust that goods have been purchased, but how can you prove they have been used for the intended purpose?”. This is example of a known cascade of precepts:
- when money goes to Africa, Africans will divert it;
when money is not diverted, reports will be cooked;
when reports are not cooked, the utilization will benefit the boss (only);
when use is not for the boss (only), then it is just a matter of time (for it to collapse).
For every step, a recipient in Africa is considered guilty unless proven otherwise, conform consistent cynicism.
The paradox of the wish for breakthrough and innovation and a situation of pervasive fear and urge for control fuels a spiral that almost encourages inertia or wrong doings. When one is labeled questionable from the start, it is most luring to confirm such judgment. It is draining to be distrusted, even before one starts. No wonder that Fanon observes “[the person being developed] is made to feel inferior, but by no means convinced of his inferiority. He patiently waits for the [the person doing development] to let down his guard and then jumps on him”. This is in line with Leautier's observation that such change can come with high speed in Africa.
I will continue to aim to engender an atmosphere of hope, trust, faith and forgiveness. Raise 'can-do' leadership, with creative, innovative attitude, ready to explore. And sustain entities that aim for the stars, leapfrogging vigorously, not necessarily avoiding difficulties, mistakes, or even failure. Such needs focus on Discourse on Innovation, one that I gladly envision.
01 April 2012
Conveniently, on most of our doors the key number is scratched in the wood above the lock. So when the key is really lost, with most mortice locks in the country being of the same low-cost supplier, one can relatively easy source an other one. The number also helps when The-man-with-the-key has got a whole bunch of keys, so one can match the key with the door, and does not have to test them all.
The challenge lies in to match The-man-with-the-key with the door, to be able to pass through it. Of course, the person is somewhere, and one has just to find her/him. The person could be at home, could have left 'for town' and handed the key over to someone else, or might be in the fields.
This weekend it took almost 24 hours to find The-man-with-the-key to open a power cabinet that supplies the internet equipment of our Internet Service Provider. The person's phone was off, and a pursuit was launched via people in his vicinity to track him down. This morning I was chartered to drive to his house about 5 kilometers away, where the LinkNet associate hunted him down. He was busy in his fields. Thus found, The-man-with-the-keys was instantly available, got his keys and we drove him to the equipment cabinet. With the door opened, after some investigation, a power fuse was found off. Resetting the fuse restored the internet feed. Then we brought The-man-with-the-key back home so he could continue his day.
Anecdotal evidence suggest that, on average, it takes about one hour to get a door opened. This process includes a number of phone calls and travels and searches to meet up with The-man-with-the-key. Then, of course, after access has been secured and the work done, the reverse process takes place to facilitate the return of the key.
Fanon states that, in an environment like this, a person must constantly aware of his image, jealously protecting his position. Such can be witnessed in the daily dance around access to resources. And The-man-with-the-key holds one of the major keys to that!
26 March 2012
13 March 2012
When taking in this conference, mulling over its significance, I wonder how to harness the significant sacrifices made by all that are present, both in body and spirit. Here we sit in the shadow of overarching, imposing sky scrapers, in facilities that give me and my two neighbors already a combined internet bandwidth that equals the total of all available bandwidth in the country of Zambia.
I attend presentations of reports on (research) projects in developing countries, many in Asia and Africa, while being part of an interesting mix of passionate persons from both 'the North' and 'the South'. Of course, presentations entice the ubiquitous questions about sustainability and academic rigor. However, David Kobia's opening remarks on the 'D' in ICT4D - the academic space for most participants at this conference - still ring in my ears. He blamed the the ‘D’ - that stands for Development - to polarize and sustain cognitive dissonance between the institutional (western) organizations that seem to seek to bring technologies to marginalized environments, while such environments call for encouragement of locally relevant expressions of technology. His position was earlier posed by Erik Hersman in “the subtle condescension of 'ICT4D'” which did invoke an insightful discussion that was well summarized by Linda Raftree.
There is clearly an Elephant in the Room that is called 'Who Says?'. Whom is talking from which cultural and contextual perspective, and under which authority? In my view, one should pose tough questions to any ICT4D activity that is not guided by, and embedded in, local culture and context. Activities that are clearly designed and planned from a western industrialized culture, with solutions emerging from western individualistic and hedonistic thought, and implementation done according to western rational planning, cannot be considered for just verdicts of 'success or fail' as per western evaluation. It is presumptuous to think that a foreigner from foreign lands offering foreign things in an other context and culture can be effective. Then academic research appears as a take-away text written in academic English appropriating local culture for private, foreign profit. The local community remains objectified and exploited, with real and potentially disturbing social consequences.
In fact, we all undergo development. It is a human and extremely complex endeavor, heavily depending on relationships. Any form of communication involved is constantly changing and emergent. Undoubtedly, doing review on technology from within, and to the benefit of people in severely resource restrained environments, is challenging. However, as culture is the context in which things happen; out of context, even information and communications technologies can lack significance.
My daily experience in the rural Africa is that cross cultural knowledge is hard to come by. Its apprehension takes much effort and time, and, when known, its consequences often baffles foreign people involved. Although ICT4D practitioners can argue that integrated technologies have a logic of their own that are not affected by culture, the objective dimension of technologies, including Information and Communications Technologies, do have totally different meanings that different local human cultures read into them. Thus, in any presentation of ICT4D activity, a multidisciplinary, ethnographic description of the context and culture is imperative, as ICT4D is a subset of ICT4R, Information and Communications Technologies for Relationships, which can only be researched as a complete human experience.
13 February 2012
Just before the meal I went online to check the exact starting time of the final Zambia - Ivory Coast, in Libreville, Gabon. The starting time proved more difficult to find then I expected. Thus Janneke requested the info by SMS from colleagues and friends while I surfed the web and called around.
SMS from a friend: “The game starts at 19.30 hours”
Phone call with an organizer at the Hall: “The game starts at 21.00 hours”
This clearly needed more research, as to assure the kids would get enough sleep. Thus we continued communicating. Google did not yet point to a clear answer yet..
A community leader said: “I think it starts at 21.30 hours, I am pretty sure”
A leading South African website announced covering the game, starting at 20.00 hours.
SMS from an ardent soccer fan, known to walk Macha with his Zambian scarf the whole last week: “Definitely, the game will start at 21.15 hours”
The BBC website mentioned: “kick off at 19.30 hours”.
Thus kids to bed quickly, to catch some sleep. We woke them up at 21.00 hours, and went to the lively Vision Community Hall. Kick off of the final proved to take place at 21.30 hours, the hall filled to capacity, and the game finished well passed midnight with a wonderful victory for Zambia!
Back at home the kids went to bed around 01 hours. We woke them up at 06.15 hours, as usual. Upon leaving the home for school at 07.00 hours I noticed an unusual quietness outside.
The kids returned home from school around 11.30 hours, well before the scheduled 13.00 hours. They said that only 15 of the 100+ children had reported for school, to little to continue classes.
All this is a clear cut and understandable witness of the local culture's diffuse synchronicity, it particularist communitarianism, of course engrossed by an unusual external controlling event, Elephants failing to withstand Copper Bullets (Chipolopolo)!
03 February 2012
Yesterday again, I sat at an hospital, doctoring on two laptops connected to a dedicated satellite connection. A simple change in settings solved connection issues, and I left with a number of downloads ongoing for virus scanner and software updates. Any IT engineer could have done this. But they are just not around..
On a daily basis, we are confronted with needs for engineering in water, energy, agriculture, and many more. Retention of engineers is a daunting challenge in rural Africa. Actually, there are not many engineers to start of with in the first place..
Many African countries pursue economic growth, aiming for sustainable service provisioning and access to cost-effective goods and services, as close to the communities as possible. Progress towards achievements of global and national development goals outcomes are fluctuating, certainly not helped by severe shortages of engineers for appropriate technologies. The engineering sector in many African nations is in crisis and there are shortages of engineers at every level.
Clearly one of the major obstacles to sustain the economy and to reach the goals set by the Millennium Development Goals, and working infrastructure at the local level, is the shortage of human resource in engineering.