03 October 2013


Investigators research, battle to find love.
Academics hypothesize, elude grounding in love.
Engineers build, shun adoption through love.

Broadcasts are plenty, many desist an embrace by the force and tenderness of love.

Is it because of the hard, unyielding, relentlessness of unforgiveness,
a bitterness instilling the uncertainty of "Why",
or entitlement lingering after domination?

De-orphanize: invest love and harvest community.
De-orphanize: recognize freeing and justifying love.

24 September 2013

Inequality fuels Humanitarian Activities fuels Inequality

The world is becoming more unequal, rapidly. However, the deconstructed, binary representation of realities obscures the complexity of the distribution of resources. The difference between the poorer geographical areas and the richer geographical areas (including the middle income countries) is now much bigger than decades ago. Bridging the divides is not happening. This brings into play the role of technological creativity - including technological capacity or innovation - in economic progress. Currently, technology is often a vehicle for those in power to maintain their positions of power.

Although the term humanitarian activities might be deemed to emerge from compassion, it is mostly employed as a fix of rampant inequalities. Whereas humanitarian reaching out to one's neighbor is mostly based upon mutual trust and on knowing each other, humanitarian activities towards faraway, unknown people, might also be based upon a superiority feeling, and pride. Such activities do not necessarily aim at leveling of playing fields. Especially, strengthening one's economic positioning under the disguise of humanitarian activities is a divisive activity that sustains or even grows inequalities instead of providing a pathway of more equal distribution of resources and inclusion of all people in the global society.

In analogy to discussions taking place in the health-profession, engineering and ethics must engage in a dialogue between engineers and practitioners on the quality, validity and ethics of what is being proposed or done, avoiding the slipping of standards, poor practice, abuse or exploitation. For instance, there must be understanding of definitional differences in different contexts. Further, there is a need for debate over the objectives of engineering works, i.e. whether it is a means or an end, and about the applicability and appropriateness of the techniques and tools used, in an effort to assure the moral base of society.

Current pregnant issues in the world demand for new ideas. These new ideas, possibly modulated in 'the West' by 'the Rest', could contradict conventional and commonly adopted considerations of science and research in the western world. There are explicit needs for creating new knowledge from a desire of local relevance in all its aspects, rather than a regurgitation of hegemonic truths. There are pregnant questions and challenges from 'the Rest' towards accepted Western-centric norms and arguments.

It is time for tough questions to those in those in position of power. What do we want? Do we aspire equality? Do we want to 'live together' on mutual terms?

To assure enhanced opportunity, also for the disenfranchised, there is a need to aim for community, social cohesion and solidarity. There is no room for individualism showing off, propping up of egos, self‐promoting or self‐enhancing, harvesting on prejudices. Inequality is divisive; Without conscious efforts empathy and trust is felt only for those we view as equals, with those whom we mingle.

The current trends in the world, with a growing inequality and degradation of the environment, is bound to bring about a counter movement that deals with such inequalities. Material differences provide a framework round which social distinctions develop; People often use inequality in their stratification of society. Reducing inequality within professions is the best way of improving the quality of the professional environment. For instance, equality enhances real quality of life of engineers.

Leadership has to address underlying causes of current disparities in the world. Addressing the symptoms only, for instance by flying in engineering expertise into disenfranchised communities is not a sustainable approach. However, addressing the reduction of inequality is.

Flying in experts induces local engineers to regard those who fly in as role models. At the same time, the intervention deflates local engineers' self-confidence through shame of being dis-empowered to solve local challenges. On the other hand, the visiting engineers inflate with a self‐promoting, albeit insecure egotism, fueling a self-effacing aid industry. The unhealthy and fragility of the position of rising narcissism, for instance in considering Western engineering as exceptional, is witnessed by how it reacts badly to criticism. In general, in line with general psychology findings, it can be expected that western technologist will be driven to preserve their social status. They will be vigilant to threats that may jeopardize their social esteem or status.

A catalyzing thought leadership is needed to overcome these disparities in the engineering community through Social Innovation and active leveling of disparities between groups of engineers, world wide. This thought leadership must emerge from the inside, based upon lived through values, and norms. Its priority is to address inequality and build trust, leading to co-operation (rather than competition) between engineers, also in disenfranchised communities. This is a social capital building exercise based upon just economical behaviour where contributions and benefits are equally distributed, and on fruitful connections, both socially and politically.

We must crack the nut of the paradox of signals for a need to fly in expertise and the damage such intervention does. It is the underlying inequality that fuels this conundrum and keeps it in its tracks. In the mean time, humanitarian activities are bound to grow inequality, deflate local capacity, and inflate narcissism in the West.

This is the reason why it is often unhelpful to help and helpful to foster.

19 October 2012

The Universal Values of Humanity

Different contexts and cultures do not necessarily align. An advisable intervention route in one culture could be antagonizing in an other, and visa versa. Cultural expressions and interactions could look like the inverse of each other.

What are our common grounds?

Without a shared history - and with limited interest or narrow communication channels for dissemination knowledge and intangible cultural heritage - in my view, common grounds are our shared, human values.

A worthwhile exercise would be the formulation of “The Universal Values of Humanity”. A really challenging excise, no doubt, and possibly one that could linger long.

Of course, we have got “The Universal Rights of People”, but that is just one side of a reality. Where are “The Universal Responsibilities of People”? 

Can both be reconciled in “The Universal Values of Humanity”?

14 August 2012

Cultural Chameleon

Interacting, engaging, and merging with various communities and their cultures remains one of the most illicit and difficult issues to deal with in our shrinking world. Elaborate or complex schemes and models are proposed 'to do the trick'. I add mine with the Macha Works! Model that depicts how activists can position for worthwhile interactions. With various authors, I keep busy drafting texts and finding homes for various papers with findings on the subject matter. For instance, now we aim to publish research theorized in an International Development Model.

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

Vibrant Life

This weekend I traveled by ZUPCO bus from Mbare Bus Terminus in Harare to Murambinda, in Zimbabwe. The bus was filled to capacity, as it is a weekend extended with two national holidays. People traveled to their rural home.

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

Economic Systems Segregation

Yesterday, Tuesday 7 August, I made an online reservation with South African Airways to fly from Port Elizabeth airport. The flight became necessary as train and bus services could be affected by severe weather conditions in South Africa. For flight payment, I redeemed South African Voyager frequent flyer points. Although the flight is free, one must pay significant surcharges that include, among others, airport taxes and fuel levies. During the online reservation, one can choose for payment by credit card, or at South African airways offices within 72 hours. Zambian banks do not provide for credit cards; therefore, I had to opt for the latter.

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.

Relatio Economics

The indigenous traditions, background and values of African peoples are disregarded and often viewed as being behind the times. Colonialism implemented Western systems while disregarding established, functioning systems of African resource allocation. The western systems of interaction are out of touch with cultural priorities in rural Africa, a society much more complex than many assume.

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

Belief Precedes Knowledge

The philosophising chemist Michael Polanyi wrote essays in economics, philosophy of science, political theory, and epistemology from the vantage point of an outsider. He wrote: "one must recognize belief as the source of all knowledge". I think that is true.

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

Value-Loaded Technology

Today, The Washington Post counts more then 25,000 people convened in the US capital in tune with the AIDS 2012 conference. The theme is 'Turning the Tide Together'.

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


Traveling provides perspectives. On places, on people, on environments, on communities. This morning, as an unintended surprise, I attended a wedding in the center of Washington DC, USA. It realigned me again on global virtues that involve, among others, healthy measures of love, joy, peace, kindness, and self-control.

In Africa I do encounter dependence often, in both its healthy and unhealthy expressions. Healthy through Ubuntu – a culture expressing that I am because we are – and unhealthy, for instance, in the form of demands for others to take care, and blame when such provision does not emerge.

In America I do encounter independence often, in both its healthy and unhealthy expressions. Healthy through innovation – blisful energy to enhance reality - and unhealthy, for instance, in self-serving use of natural resource forsaking the responsibilities of its use in a global, social setting of capacity, and disregard when others request for account.

Here and there on the globe I find interdependence. Where interdependence reigns, a bold kind of humbleness exists. While opinions exist, they are not the measure. And circumstances are reviewed as per alignment with inspired and shared vision. Ultimately goals are reached as a collective; A "We, the Community of People", where worth exists from the outset.

The world is shrinking fast. Unfortunately, exaltation of dependence, or independence, can withhold similar advancement of society to be together. Let us strive towards interdependentness, a state of character where we do figure out harmonious sharing of our collective resources, and our collective potential as, and with, any place, people, environment, and community.