15 November 2011


On my way to Wall Street, New York, coming from New Brunswick, New Jersey, I get lost in Penn(sylvania) Station. Although it is day time, I have seen little daylight since hitting the tunnel under the Hudson River. Now I roam searchingly the mole's labyrinth of Penn Station, New York, New York.

Finally I end up on a subway pier, unclear if I the coming train would bring me to lower Manhattan or the middle of the earth. At the quay, the first two persons neglect my inquiries, engrossed in mobile phone and/or music via earpieces. Inquiring from the third person hits humanity, resulting in a person fishing a (guide?) book from his pack. It is in Japanese katakana I think. The text apparently confirms this is going to be the right way.

“Where do you come from”, I ask the rhetorical question. “Anchorage, arrived at 02.00 hours at JFK today. Now on my way to the Statute of Liberty, and then maybe to Ground Zero, and tomorrow fly to ...”. I lost the name in the noise of the approaching train, but am sure it is a location in a far away land.

“I live in Tokyo” is now added. The book and New York map thus must be in Japanese, indeed. “That is good, I am from Zambia, on my way to meet a friend living in the tents of Occupy Wall Street I think”. “Zambia? I will be in Uganda in three weeks I think”.

Where has this world turned into? Who is from where I am now, or where I am going, are we all travelers? Undoubtedly we (all?) are..

Assimilatedly - and seemingly like what people do - tomorrow I will be in Denver. The next day in San Francisco, and then Macha.

13 October 2011

History "Gregory Mweemba" (2003)

Greg peers around the corner of my closet. The closet, the pantry of our house, is claimed to be my full fledged office. It contains a desk, a plank of 1.2 x 1 meter, hammered between the walls, with equipment stacked up to the ceiling. When I wiggle around and hold in my stomach, I can even close the door to have privacy in my office. Today the door is open, and there is Gregory. He is in the house getting a glass of water while doing piecework in our garden, slashing grass.

“Can I use such a computer?”. Tough question, as computers are scarce in Macha. Maybe five in the whole village, of which two in our house. One, a fourth-hand Pentium I is Janneke's personal computers, set up on the desk in our living room. The second one, a two years young desktop, operates in my closet.

“Why do you want to use a computer, Greg?” “I have seen and touched one at school, a laptop owned by an international missionary teacher. I would love to learn how to use a computer so I can train others”. “OK, and when you have trained others, what then?” I probe further. “I want to start an internet cafe, we need an internet cafe in this rural community!”. “There is no internet in our community, Greg, not even telephone line. I am trying shortwave radio to send messages, and mostly that does not even work!”. “No problem, it will come to pass one day. Can you assist me to use a computer, please?”.

Greg sits in our house, every day, for he next five weeks. Quietly and diligently he pushes himself, working on Janneke's computer in our living room. He works within his own user account. At the end of the day he erases his trails. He resets the computer so Janneke can use it for her work in the evenings.

Within five weeks Gregory has conquered all the computer can manage. Self taught, as I am much to busy getting onto my feet in this resource challenged environment.

“Greg, sorry, we have to leave for a few month. We travel abroad to be with relatives, awaiting the arrival of a new family member”. “No problem, I will see you when you come back”. “What do you want to do now you are being able to handle a computer very well, Greg? Do you want to make money for you and your family, or what?” “No, I want to serve the community, and open the internet cafe.”.

“Let's make you a deal Greg. You know Choma town's internet cafe. They are growing well, and have an urgent vacancy for computer literate staff. I met them and did recommended you. It provides for a well paying job. Or, when you really want to continue in Macha, I suggest you spend your time on further studies. For instance, enroll for official training in Lusaka. I promise to pay for your expenses when I return. Yes, it is expensive. However, you must find funding yourself. Just bring results and receipts when I am back.” Greg responds: “Good deal, see you when you are back in Macha.”

Upon returning to Macha, my heart is heavy when Greg does not show up the during the first week. I do not dare to investigate if he accepted the lucrative job in the internet cafe in Choma. Two weeks later, Greg at the door... “I heard you did return. I was delayed as to finish much computer training. Here are the receipts”.

Together we refurbish a large, run down building and turn it around for the proposed internet cafe. A container arrives with donated goods. In it we find a pile of twenty written off Pentium I computers. Without delay they are deployed in “Vision Internet Cafe”. Right upon arrival of internet in Macha, Vision Internet is wireless connected. Gregory is in charge of it all.

11 October 2011

History "Fred Mweetwa" (Apr-2003)

“Knock, knock” goes the door. “Who is there?”. “Fred”. “Fred who?”. “Fred Mweetwa”. I stumble to the kitchen door. Another knocking on the door today, what will the story be now?

“Would you like to buy trees?”. “Trees, let me think, do I need trees you think?” “Yes, you need trees, there is much room in your garden to plant some trees”. “OK, let us plant some trees, where do you think they should go?”. It turns out that Fred nurtures trees from seed to seedling in discarded milk packages. “What do they cost Fred?”. “Give me 2,000 Kwatcha per tree please”. ZMK 2,000 equals USD 0.50.

Fred enthusiastically markets his trees, and other activities. I learn of his vision of the importance of planting trees, especially fruit trees, as the community is used to pluck the fruit, and take the wood, but not used to facilitate a process of replanting trees they harvest. He continues by explaining more and more initiatives and works, for instance the one bringing together communities to exercise the art of bee-keeping.

“Fred, such a tree brings in little turnover. There might not be a very big tree market in this rural community, and it seems you are able to do much more then that. What would you do if you were free to choose your carrier now now?”. “I would be a journalist”, he replied. “Journalist? What are you knocking at my door selling trees then? Why don't you knock on my door and ask me to be active in journalism? I will buy your trees, but let's start over and reacquaint!”.

Four weeks later Fred knocks at that door again. With two handwritten reports, expanding on the agreed journalistic tasks. One report provides insight on “What does the community think HIV is?” and the other “What does the community like to be educated in?”. Fred explains how he loves the tasks at hand, how he organized a good number of community sessions in which the questions under investigation were discussed, in communities near and far. Also he eludes on how the whole exercise has made all involved enthusiastic, including himself. “People were happy to be asked questions, and felt valued. They are keen to discuss these kind of issues further, it was a worthwhile exercise. What else could I investigate?”.

“Fred, what do you think you should be next? Do you need to be selling trees, work in journalism, or what?”. His heeding to calling: “I need to lead the community Radio Station”.

Mystory "Welcome to Zambia" (Mar-2003)

African border crossings are not for the fainthearted.

The official looks at the Temporary Import Permit for our vehicle and asks “What are you bringing into Zambia?”. Indeed, I did not yet fill in the part where one must declare goods that are being brought in. Quite a dilemma what to write down, as the box is only one centimeter high and a few more wide, while our car is packed up to capacity including a large cupboard on the roof rack, and our sturdy bush trailer carrying many more of our valued possessions. Chairs and a couch protrude skywards.

In Zimbabwe we got fined by road traffic police for 'dangerous overloading', although in comparison with some of the really overloaded buses traveling our African roads we thought our loading was quite acceptable.

Here we are, at the border of Zambia, changing home and country. After a period of two good and challenging years in Zimbabwe - with Zimbabweans capably taking over all our tasks - it is time to move on. Zambia is the virtual option we choose. Virtual, as there are no promises, no dwelling place, no upkeep, just a vision: let's eradicate malaria.

Without a work-permit, or even proof we are wanted 'in country', we just got a 30 days tourist visa stamped in our passports. Subsequently we settled payment for road tax, car insurance, and what not, for our Zimbabwe registered car, and now the last hurdle is in front of us: getting all our stuff through.

So we chat; Explaining our situation, that we are about to move country, are invited to come to Macha and see, and that we take quite some stuff along. “Please note down what you bring in, in this box, which exists for that purpose, Sir”. “Thank you”, I say, take up a pen, and write down in large letters “Everything needed to fill an empty house”. The customs official looks up, nods and smiles, and applies the appropriate stamp to the document. We go back to our car.

The gate to Zambia is still closed, awaiting of inspection of documents and goods. Not much movement, as not many travel between Zimbabwe and Zambia these days. We drive to the gate and wait. Although it is hot, purposefully an official walks to the car and we hand him the pile of documents upon his request. He inspects them carefully.

Unexpectedly the border post erupts with noise and running people. Big baboons invade the area, pinching goods from piled bags on the sidewalk. People react, trying to chase the scary looking animals away. An other person tries to jump the line and makes a run for the person entry gate to Zambia. Our official hastily hands me the documents and vanishes, making a bee-line for the gate to halt the fleeting person. We wait.

An other border official arrives at the scene, oblivious to the commotion and walks to our car. “Have your papers been inspected?”. “Yes, Sir, they are.”, I reply. “Welcome to Zambia!'. He opens the gate, and off we go, into a new era.

07 October 2011

Information Divide

So, here we are, in Zambia, trying to study and learn, to get en par, and even try to prepare publications about our findings. Of course, we try to review and deduct knowledge from those that went before us by assessing experiences, studies, and subsequent writings of them. Unfortunately, often, we cannot.

Try, for instance, to search for the following citation: Linda van der Colff, "Leadership lessons from the African tree” (2003). A website called 'deepdyve.com' pops up and provides a one page teaser. The document can be accessed for USD 5 per page, USD 25 for the Portable Document Format. Apparently it is published in “Management Decision , Volume 41 (3): 5, Emerald Publishing – Apr 1, 2003”. A journey to the Emerald website: 'USD 25 for the pdf please'.

We virtually never see magazines - even if one subscribes or buys - as most do not make it through the postal system. We pay almost USD 10,000 per month for a limited 2 mbs internet connection to provide information access for about 300 users in our community. Such cost is stretching us beyond limits already.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of internet payments from a country without credit cards and relative low amount of debit cards – after 5 years of filling in forms and persistence I got my fist debit card one year ago - who would I actually pay, and for what? Is this a write up of study results, and if so, who paid for its execution? Emerald? Who did participate in the work? I cannot access, thus do not know, but I can imagine that our African communities did contribute. Did they get paid for that? I doubt it. Do they get paid when I furnish hard currency to be able to read about them? I doubt that too.

What I normally do is hope someone, somewhere, put a scanned PDF on the internet, and that Google finds it. And then I download, from wherever. Gratefully, this is the case quite often, but for this case Google does not give me any link. Again, no clue what the document contains, only 'non-constructive thoughts' remain, like ones depicting exclusion, 'not being invited to the party', being disadvantaged. Such thoughts discourage and do not harmonize nor motivate.

USD 25 represents a lot of money in our community. It represents half a month salary for many persons around me. Thus, is it ethical to send that money to Deepdyve or Emerald, or to others that often pop up, like Springer or Elsevier? Actually, these are names of companies or magazines that I have never seen, nor have been able to access, nor read any of its articles.

Where to investing our precious financial resources that have arrived in rural Africa, often involving much hard work from the community. The choice is rather easy. I just do not know these magazines, nor the publishers, I have never seen any of these magazines, thus I can only guess to what I miss. Only feelings remain, like 'I miss something, I am being excluded, others in the West whom are able to pay or be lucky to be near a library do have a head-start, however am I up-to-date?'.

The people around me smile, and I am grateful to live in a unique context and culture. We have acquired some knowledge to their needs based upon our own observations. All this balances, and I have no difficulty choosing for investments benefiting my neighbour, and regard the other information as if it does not exist. Actually, it does not exist for us in Africa, as if we live on a different planet.

05 October 2011


The philosophical design of Western thinking - with its essentialistic focus (getting to the essence of things) - feels normal in a western setting. It utilizes definitions - abstracting qualities of things encountered - and then looks at a reality in light of such definitions. Combining definitions result in theories, mostly within a particular discipline. Theory provides guidance as to the content of the study of anyone wishing to be fluent in the a subject matter. Theory is augmented by techniques, providing exercises to enhance performance and facilitating measurements. This approach seems to work quite well in Western realities, where all is geared towards this approach (e.g. with language and literacy mostly socially constructed within this view of reality), and congruent with a definition of humans being 'rational animals'.

Rural Africa, featuring an existential focus, is not used - nor adapted - to this kind of reasoning. Its view is validated, for instance, by local ability to easily articulate indefinable qualities and humanitarian values of reality. Of course, the definition of humans being 'rational animals' does not stick either, as in rural Africa one regards 'a person is a person through people'.

Clearly, essentialism brings benefits of understanding the World-of-Things, as shown through successful abstractions as literature and mathematics. On the other hand I have found existentialism to benefit understanding the World-of-Humans, as it interacts fluently with context and culture and naturally facilitates, for instance, oration, hearing, feeling, memory, harmony, and rhythm.

In our shrinking world caution is needed for hegonism as it can be destructive to other views of reality, which loss would deprive us all of alternatives and diversity. We must continue to endeavor on innovative ways of interacting, overarching diverse philosophies, as I strongly believe that respectful cross-pollination can support either side to be inspired to face the multifaceted challenges in our complex world.

01 October 2011

Partnering Accross Borders

Partners think, want, and act interdependently.
Partners subscribe to true partnerships and jointly managed endeavors, from conception till reality.
Partners share the lead.
Partners connect peers first, then administrators.
Partners implement workable financial balances.
Partners consider bilateral arrangements as well as multilateral connections.
Partners value diversity of cultural experience.
Partners deal with risks without compromising social interaction.
Partners replace short-term stints with long-term (professional) development.
Partners treat all interactions as a learning experience.

Partners do in Zambia as the Zambians do.
Partners adapt to culture and context, which emerged from centuries of struggles, trials and victories by those that went before.
Partners adapt to local ways of communications.
Partners adhere to national and traditional rules and other regulatory facts of life.

Partners target friendship, peace and cooperation.
Partners trust.
Partners respect mutually.
Partners grow relationships through thick and especially thin.
Partners share experiences.

29 September 2011

Enshrined Higher Education

Education is the cornerstone for progress. It is pivotal to advance. All agree. But what to be educated in, and how, that is an other matter.

In contrast with current practices, a Higher Education based upon social constructs applicable to the continent of Africa can provide answers for current dichotomies between local relevance and vogue knowledge, disciplinary skills segmentation and holistic needs, and the incorporation of humanity.

My take? Independent thinking, un-copying of 'one size fits all' disciplinary (Western) approach, and reorientation towards enshrined education, sensitive to calling, context and culture.

How would this look for Africa?

African higher education provides thought leadership in the relational world, for instance in Community Science and Sustainability Science, by incorporating locally enshrined indigenous knowledge. Its universities are organised in a unique and appropriate way. In practice this means that the Vision for African Higher Education incorporates:
  • thinking in terms of “Inclusiveness”;
  • structuring in terms of “Hybrids”;
  • outcome in terms of “Cooperation”;
  • valuing in terms of “Engendering in Humans”.
In the day-to-day activities one experiences:
  • curriculum centering around postdiciplinary, inspirational learning;
  • integration of higher education with society;
  • assessment of values and ethics, to guide understanding of responsibilities of membership of the human race.
In such vision, the World-of-Things provides the physical tools to facilitate unlocking the potential of all people on earth. It connects us all, everywhere, everything, all the time, with any information. Of course communications channels provide for the time/place-independent connection with wellsprings of education.

African students, no doubt, will also be part of a world wide and distributed university, spending much time virtually present somewhere else, in individual strives to gain further knowledge, especially in the fields of communications skills (including reading, writing, and mathematics). However, students' prime time is spend in appropriate communities, honing skills of reasoning and cultural alignment.

Thus focussed and equipped, African Higher Education plays its unique and important role in scientific research, can lead multidisciplinary teams assuring universal acceptable approaches, engendering of communities of practice, incorporation of overarching checks and balances, targets benefiting all, assuring human measures, responsible execution, incorporation of complex mental and ethical traits, preservation of humanity, long term stability, resource balances, multi-path communications, authorized leadership, multifaceted embeddings, and incorporation of paradoxes. In short, assuring trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and global citizenship.

Based upon its context and culture, African higher education has a unique opportunity and responsibility to assure incorporation of good qualities into our collective existence to be able to respond human, regardless of circumstances.

16 September 2011

Internal Drive

Disempowered communities are commonly deprived of means of production. Without power no engines run to multiply mussels, without communications there is no amplification of intent, without transport cooperation and teaming up is thwarted. And without access to other enablers like capital or knowledge, what would anybody do? It is no wonder that persons in dis-empowered communities focus on immediate needs, for immediate livelihood, and react to the here-and-now in concrete, tangible and pressing tasks at hand.

Appropriate interaction within the mix of context and history enshrined in local culture leads to interaction with the inner self of people. A context and culture with sense of solidarity, subordination of economics to human needs, a focus on human relations, and a sense of security. Such is fundamentally different then contemporary western context and culture formed through Greek philosophy, renaissance and reformation.

Let’s aim to embrace the local context and culture and find ways to grow talents' internal drive that reaches out beyond the immediate, harnesses intelligence, initiatives and responsibility to benefit the local community and beyond.

28 July 2011

On Those We Stand

When looking around where we are right now, it remains important to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those that went before us. It is the permeating respect for ancestors, recognizing their lasting-presence as is being exercised in our rural environment, which reminds me daily of this universal truth. Those before us sculptured us, incubated our life, taught us language, and provided us a heritage to work with. We are who we are today, also because of them.

The prime cross cultural teaching method and the prime way of education in our environment is storytelling. It transfers memes of our great leaders, from history. Our collective and individual memory is thus full of tales and guidance provided by these persons. Frequent revisiting this guidance, also with respect to current developments and progressing knowledge, unearths grounded view points, and fuels sustainable innovation.

We better take heed and recognize this guidance, as it can provide valuable insights for our future efforts embedded in principled stewardship.

18 July 2011

Communocentric Culture

What about environments where we search for common values, where service is the fundamental quality of leadership, where tolerance in diversity is the norm, where sufficient consensus is the aim, were empathy and compassionate inclusiveness colours human interaction, and where contradictions are embraced? Where 'we' goes before 'I', where the community is the soil in which outcomes germinate, where history and its heritage is the fertilizer for future development? A society pragmatic yet idealistic, introspectively humble, compassionate and empathetic, embedded in kinship.

In Macha, we are members, live with paradoxes, reason with fear, empathize through non-rational instinct, frown at insisting self-interest, we share, arbitrate, reconcile, have compassion, come out together, and use problem-solving to build relationships.

Actually, these are virtues of Ubuntu-thinking, a hermeneutical approach and African receipt for co-existential collaboration, engendering of trust, and teamly co-creation.

13 July 2011

Education Works-in-Progress

Education is changing, all over the world. The traditional, mechanic repetitive, rota education method in rural African schools are about to change too.

We hope to inspire communities to empower their children to become creators of jobs, to be builders of communities, to be engineers of tools for main stream activities, and to be humanness though-leaders. All in the aim for education to be relevant in the local context, in rural Africa too. Thus also addressing issues like agricultural practices, animal husbandry, and cultural expressions, which techniques are put in practice daily, but not necessary at school though.

Education is instrumental in raising change-makers to counter the 'bad three': poverty, ignorance, and decease. Of course, focus on Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic will remain, however, Reasoning and Rhythm are to be added to the mix. The latter two to understand the difference in thinking in the world at large, and to empower the search for harmony with traditions of history of mankind in Africa.

In my view it is always time for breakthrough in education, on all levels. Innovations that help to think local, act global - telling stories of the past that shape the future – feeding brains with wholesome thoughts – engender success stories by and for students, that entice holistic post-disciplinary thinking – utilizing all border slashing and assistiveness Information and Communications Technologies can bolster – supporting true life long learning, wherever one is – involving the whole community in all aspects of education – and using the strength of youth.

Are we caught in chicken and egg situations? Where are the bold ideas, where the future bringing visions? We are working on them, and I like it!

10 July 2011

Harmonized Outcome

During recent encounters in France I noticed French appreciation of individual thinking, as during interacting with philosophic treatise. I met francophone intelligentsia passionately espousing the value of pursuit of purely academic activities, as in entering new grounds in mathematics.

At the same time, close encounters with German intellectuals showed how their passion grew attacking tangible situations, in pursuit of emerging of tangible products.

I am thus re-sensitized to what the African culture mostly values as the result of its toils: relationships.

Yes, the most important outcome of activity is relationship. Aiming at that outcome, the Chief arbitrates. Thus the community conduits opinions and needs. Thus local culture probes stakeholder positions, keeps verbal record of communications, and stores ingredients for building unity. Thus correctness surfaces in terms of harmony.

In Africa I notice that value is recognized in those that facilitate problem solving approaches, affect joint gains, and bring together differing parties. Those who engender relationship.

19 June 2011

Macha Works Citations

Fully connected Macha tweets(1)⁠, feeds(2)⁠, and meets(3)⁠. Macha Works' theory of change(4)⁠ is made practical through the Macha Works model(5)⁠.

LinkNet(6)⁠ executes its masterplan(7)⁠, bringing Internet connectivity using a collaborative approach(8)⁠ for use in rural areas of Zambia(9)⁠ in line with locally expressed needs for Information and Communications Technologies(10)⁠.

Engineering in Macha has impact(11)⁠, for instance through rural implementation of a mixed wireless mesh network(12)⁠ and internet usage and performance analysis of the wireless network(13)⁠ and its traffic characterization(14)⁠. ePiano, a case of music education via internet(15)⁠, is one of its innovative uses. More featured in BBC Clicks' documentary(16)⁠, fueling outlooks on futures of technology in Africa(17)⁠ and scores like finalist of the Stockholm Challenge(18)⁠.

Research and Development findings appear in blogs(19)⁠, local reports as Integral International Development Case study: Macha(20)⁠, eLearning for rural communities(21), and internet as non-monetary incentives for human resource retention in the health sector(22)⁠. Further deliverables are invited articles like 'an inclusive world'(23)⁠, presentations, among those for Zambian regulator(24)⁠, IEEE(25)⁠, House of Chiefs(26)⁠, CTO(27)⁠, conferences(28)⁠(29)⁠, and universities(30)⁠, posters(31)⁠(32)⁠, and book contributions(33)⁠(34)⁠.

1. Macha Works. Macha Works (machaworks) | Twitter [Internet]. [cited 2011 Jun 19] Available from: http://twitter.com/#!/machaworks

2. Vision Broadcasting. Macha Broadcasting | YouTube [Internet]. [cited 2011 Jun 19] Available from: http://www.youtube.com/machabroadcasting#g/u

3. Macha Works. Macha Works | Facebook [Internet]. [cited 2011 Jun 19] Available from: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7101983147

4. Macha Works. Theory of Change | Macha Works [Internet]. 2011 ;[cited 2011 Jun 18] Available from: http://www.machaworks.org/en/what-does-macha-works-do.html

5. Van Stam G, Van Oortmerssen G. Macha Works! [Internet]. In: Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC, USA. 2010. [cited 2011 Apr 1] Available from: http://journal.webscience.org/339/

6. Co-operative Societies R of. Certificate of Registration LinkNet. 2007 ;

7. Van Stam G. LinkNet Masterplan, Communications for rural Zambia [Internet]. 2006 ;(February):33.Available from: www.link.net.zm

8. Matthee K, Mweemba G, Pais A, Van Stam G, Rijken M. Bringing Internet connectivity to rural Zambia using a collaborative approach [Internet]. In: International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. Ieee; 2007. p. 1-12.Available from: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/lpdocs/epic03/wrapper.htm?arnumber=4937391

9. Van Hoorik P, Mweetwa F. Use of internet in rural areas of Zambia [Internet]. In: Cunningham P, Cunningham M, editor(s). ST-Africa 2008. Windhoek, Namibia: IIMC International Information Management Corporation; 2008. p. 1-14.Available from: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/CPSI/UNPAN031149.pdf

10. Chief Chikanta HRH, Mweetwa F. The Need for Information and Communications Technologies [Internet]. Macha, Zambia: 2007. Available from: www.share4dev.info/kb/documents/4782.pdf

11. IEEE TV. Tryengineering “Careers with Impact”: van Stam [Internet]. IEEE TV; 2010. [cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: http://ieeetv.ieee.org/Careers/tryengineering-careers-with-impact-van-stam

12. Backens J, Mweemba G, Van Stam G. A Rural Implementation of a 52 Node Mixed Wireless Mesh Network in Macha, Zambia [Internet]. E-Infrastructures and E-Services on Developing Countries. 2010 ;32–39.[cited 2011 Apr 1] Available from: http://www.springerlink.com/index/q14v1w1317501062.pdf

13. Johnson D, Belding EM, Almeroth K, Van Stam G. Internet Usage and Performance Analysis of a Rural Wireless Network in Macha, Zambia [Internet]. In: ACM Workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions (NSDRʼ10), June 15, 2010, San Francisco, CA, USA. 2010. Available from: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1836001.1836008

14. Johnson D, Pejovic V, Belding EM, Van Stam G. Traffic Characterization and Internet Usage in Rural Africa [Internet]. In: Proceedings of WWW, March 2011, Hyderabad, India. 2011. Available from: www.www2011india.com/proceeding/companion/p493.pdf

15. Shoemaker K, Van Stam G. ePiano, a case of music education via internet in rural Zambia [Internet]. In: Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC, USA. 2010. [cited 2011 Apr 1] Available from: http://journal.webscience.org/340/

16. BBC Clicks. BBC Clicks - Macha Works [Internet]. BBC; 2011. [cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDVAxJLVFOE

17. Grosskurth J. Futures of Technology in Africa [Internet]. The Hague, the Netherlands: STT Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends; 2010. Available from: http://www.stt.nl/uploads/documents/192.pdf

18. Stockholm Challenge. Macha Works, Finalist 2010 Stockholm Challenge [Internet]. 2010 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: http://www.stockholmchallenge.org/project/2010/macha-works

19. Van Stam G. Observations from Rural Africa [Internet]. [cited 2011 Jun 4] Available from: http://gertjanvanstam.blogspot.com/

20. Bets J. Research Series: Integral International Development Case study: Macha, Zambia. 2009 ;165.

21. Pais A. eLearning for rural communities. Africa. 2007 ;(April):1-22.

22. Van Stam G. Report on Non-Monetary Incentives for Human Resource Retention in the Health Sector. 2006 ;(July 2006):

23. Van Stam G. An Inclusive World. IEEE GOLDRush. 2008 ;4.

24. Van Stam G, Mweemba G, Mweetwa F. A Vision for Rural Telecommunications Connectivity in Zambia [Internet]. 2008 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/link.net.zm/20081218--communications-authority-of-zambia/

25. Van Stam G. IEEE Technology for Humanity [Internet]. 2008 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/link.net.zm/20081018-ieee-technology-for-humanity/

26. Mweetwa F, Mweemba G, Van Stam G. A Vision for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Rural Areas [Internet]. 2009 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/machaworks.org/20090514-house-of-chiefs/

27. Van Stam G. Investments in ICT transforms Rural Economy [Internet]. 2009 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/machaworks.org/20091210-cto_invest_in_ict/

28. Van Stam G. Experience in ICT roll out in Rural Zambia “It is all about the Local Talent” [Internet]. 2009 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/machaworks.org/20091203-africomm_2009/

29. Van Stam G. Rural Development with Information and Communication Technology as Key Enabler [Internet]. 2008 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/link.net.zm/20081203--innovating-across-borders/

30. Van Stam G. Case: Village Turn Around in Rural Zambia with ICT as Engine of Change [Internet]. 2008 ;[cited 2011 Apr 5] Available from: https://sites.google.com/a/link.net.zm/20081023--ucsb-have-u-got-what-it-takes---rural-africa/

31. Stam G van, Oortmerssen G van. Macha Works! [Internet]. Available from: http://machaworks.academia.edu/GertjanVanStam/Talks/20323/Poster_Presentation_Macha_Works_

32. Shoemaker K, Van Stam G. e-Piano, a case of music education via e-learning in rural Zambia [Internet]. Available from: http://machaworks.academia.edu/GertjanVanStam/Talks/20324/Poster_Presentation_ePiano

33. Geelhoed J, Samhoud S. Be Useful. Academic Service; 2011.

34. Samhoud S. The World into Connection. &Samhoudt; 2010.

17 June 2011

Rural Africa's Rhythm sustains Progress

The solidity of every day life in rural Africa never seizes to impress me. The strength to stand tall amidst tidal waves of difficulties, enshrined in the collective search for wise guidance in situations of change, humbles me each day.

It is the strength of rhythm, the tuning into local culture, which sustains balance. The sense of belonging aids in finding equilibrium, time and again.

Daily I am taught in the rewards reaped from honoring birthed connections with one's family, the community, the nation, the continent, and humanity at large. In such environment ethical behavior is defined and regulated, and works measured and evaluated.

Human values as love, solidarity, and empathy fuel caring for the other, the environment, and ecology. This yields balance in expressions of humanness, also in music, poetry, dance, and sports.

In such solid basis, change only occur when roots go deep, like well grounded, slow maturing hard woods. Then change will allow for fair play, and sustains courage in times of difficulties. Then change will last. Of course, no quick results, nor short lived fruits.

Change in rural Africa can and will sustain change in towns, change in country, change in continent, and change in humanity.

12 June 2011

Post-disciplinary Research

While studying, debating, and writing on the evidence witnessed in rural communities, senses of excitement and frustration intermingle. Discoveries and additional knowledge are butting all over the place, accelerated because of good connectivity. Regrettably, what I witness and interact with in my daily routine does not to relate well with outcomes from current research.

Current science provides models, languages, into which realities are translated for dissection and scrutiny. Such floats on post-modern paradigms, tossing individual – supposedly aggregated – parts, through filters of compartmentalized theories and vogue methodologies, to scientific disciplines that questioning them to pieces.

How to understand the holistic and oral rural African realities through such thinking and processes?

How suitable is the current approach to transform the many relationships and operations of existing rural African reality into scientifically described relationships and operations in a disciplinary dissected image - to transform from one domain to an other domain, as if it is a mathematical Laplace transform operation? And, after formulating findings in the transformed, disciplinary image, does an inverse transform to reality really work? Misses and failures of many systems of intervention, projects that do not scale (up), and technologies whom function start to deteriorate right after implementation seem to point in a different direction.

Disciplinary approaches seems to lose crucial information on dynamic issues and human ingredients. And its outcome often has limited applicability in the holistic environment of real life in rural environments:
  • Human ingredients? Think of, the social codes as in practices, politics as in human interaction, collective knowledge as in culture, inclusiveness as in hospitality, and religion as in worldview.
  • Dynamic needs? Alignment as in values, job creation as in existing domestic environments, bridging as in social and economic divide, engagement as in poverty alleviation, and esteem as in progress.
Instead of focussing I am drawn towards widening. The interlinked and interdependent society is just really complex, and is difficult to see even when using multi-diciplinary lenses.

Lets get on with it, and engage in post-disciplinary research.

03 June 2011

Respectfully Yours

Everyday I am thrilled to be able to interact with people in rural areas, to witness characteristics of individuals and communities, and see rural leaders and members wielding their power of choice.

How valuable people and rural areas are! What a privileged times, in which we are connected, together focussing on inspiring each other to reach our common and individual potential.

I am thankful for the local communities to open their societies, and provide welcome to me and my family. I am grateful for the national leadership for permission and guidance, to associate and live. It is instructive to live up close and see structures of leadership - how chiefs and headman work in governing their subjects – and to appreciate the complexity of tasks at hand in national government.

I am humbled by the support provided by many, often from far away. I recognize the sacrifices, made by individuals and associations, to support rural communities and people they do not even know.

I thank all persons in authority – local, regional and national civil and social leadership - and numerous partners, for abundant blessings, and for allowing us to partake in rural life, which is life to the fullest!

31 May 2011

Impact Indicators

Is an intervention worthwhile? What is its impact? Resounding questions, often resulting in hefty debates when answers are being posed. Questions that demarcate real battle grounds, and rightly so.

For me, a world-dweller living in rural Africa, these questions are almost existential, providing the basis or justification of our very presence. And thus they tend to lead to big boosts when agreement about the answer is found, or to stress when answers are being challenged.

Of course, I have got lists with indicators to watch and communicate about. Their relevance are presumably based upon conclusive research, that did prove causality with the higher goals set.

It is actually a daunting process to (have to) accept or (less often) set indicators! To be able to do so well informed, we follow much research on many subjects. I try to assess applicability and relevance of proposed indicators for specific activities to measure our performance on inspiration of people in rural communities to reach their collective and individual potential.

However, I have a lingering feeling of uneasiness about most indicators. Is it because the underlying process of deconstruction feels so foreign to the holistic nature of the rural African reality? Is it because underlying research seems to be done from desks placed in the North, from an expatiate subculture, or in locations conveniently near hotels or airports? Is it because it feels that indicators and goals seem more based upon priorities and supply from the North, then requests from the South? Or is it because they point to outcome only, not to process nor culture?

Progress, or impact, results from a process. They are not a product that can be purchased. A process must being experienced collectively, by all stakeholders involved simultaneously. Processes lead to change - from situation A to situation B. Most indicators are helpful in quantifying each of these situations. However, they do not describe the process, nor impact within specific cultural environment, and thus do not necessarily give indication of local worth, nor value, or impact.

In the rural African setting the process within its specific cultural setting is most important, as it indicates the attainability and sustainability of the outcomes, and possibly replicability. Thus I propose indicators that, for instance, measure welcome of the change by the majority of the community. Indicators depicting if a large number of people has come to support the change within existing cultural realities wholeheartedly, with individual community members displaying explicit comprehension of the change and its benefits, and each testify about having a hand in the change. Such, in my view, provide for real indication of worthwhileness and impact.

30 May 2011

Cultural Bumps

I have seen quite a number of international people leaving rural Africa, quite a number preterm. After a extensive period of investing and giving it all, they are often depleted, disheartened, or even cynical. Also I have seen the rural community query international people, wary of motives, highlighting misunderstandings, and resenting interference. These are all hurts due to cultural divides.

It is not a pretty picture.. In rural Africa, foreigners are still mythical creatures, considered equal to having money. People from wealthy countries – and, remarkably, nationals from major towns, arriving in private vehicle - are considered as having unlimited resources, and consequently approached as such. Explanations of resource limitations fail to register. Possibly, only local persons living long term and close with such mythical people might dare to attest to certain levels of resource limitations.

On the other hand, international people often have little knowledge of the local environment, or even the country. Communication is difficult due to language barriers. Further there is a gaping divide in levels of experience making evenly matched dialogue practically impossible. Also, international people in rural Africa are limited in their abilities to extend relationships to the middle class, mostly living in cities, whom possibly address identical contingencies.

Due to the cultural divide, local and not-local people are hampered to interpret answers received on questions from each other. Knowledge of social codes and structures are imperfect, and understanding of the context, within which 'who communicates what', 'how does communication takes place', and 'why does communication takes place' is limited. Therefore assessment of answers is heavily challenged and underlying reasoning is often validated only after a long time of observation.

Frequent resource sharing requests by local people lead to mutual frustration, with international people not recognizing communal inclusion offers, and local people not recognizing the others' intend. Of course, the local environment is pervasive, and people from outside face the issue how to assimilate or risk emotional depletion and separation.

23 May 2011

Theory of Change

In a changing world, the rural and deprived areas in the world seem to get the 'short end of the stick'. There are numerous calls for action, in all disciplines, but little change is being observed in most rural areas in Africa. However, need for change continues to persist, to attack the lack of availability of skilled people and prohibitive high costs of service provisioning in rural areas.

Based upon an innovative and methodical approach, in Macha change resulted from action and consistent focus on people. Documentation followed, seemingly in a paradoxical process involving well thought/discussed-through interventions with on-the-fly model adjustments. This interactive learning processes, consistent over eight consecutive years, is based upon action research using observation methodologies like appreciative inquiry and backward mapping. The resulting Theory of Change now guides the overall process and fuels programs aimed at special user groups or at large-scale capacity building, all designed to bring about community-wide change.

All in all, the focus remains – and must be - people, in our case 'the local talent' (or local hero, or change-maker, whatever you call them). A local talent sacrifices an imminent, and often hallowed, ambition for western/urban self-development to a season of personal growth benefiting traditional/rural community-development. The local talent has reached a measurable level of fruitfulness when that person is training her/his successor.

The organisation facilitates this process by capacity building in both human and engineering assets – involving values, training and funding - and aiming for retention capacity thus created in the Works Group. We learned that when the local talent is supported within a respectful learning environment, whether on site or remote through e-learning, while taking care of bare existential necessities (food, shelter, health, etc), personal growth can be explosive. That growth of local talent is aligned with a process of involving all stakeholders deciding on local priorities and focus within recognized local cultural expressions.

And the local talent, seeing the environment progress sustainably, with quality of education and healthcare for her/his children improving, is encouraged, and stays, and leads.

01 March 2011


Almost one year after formal hand-over of leadership at Macha Works to Fred Mweetwa and his team, I look back with gratitude. It has been a roller-coaster ride for the team, from the word 'Go' being brutally tested by suppliers, stakeholders, and users alike. Against all odds, and with much discouragement from those apparently in denial that Africa-Can-Lead, Fred and his team have shown unique aptness in leading a rural based African cooperative organization forward.

There is still lots to learn and innovate, for instance on African relatio management styles, and how to reconcile such with dominant rational approaches. Also there is need to grow the collective environment to embrace both the intangible and the tangible, so all will be able to recognize the team's great achievements.

Of course, in successful institutes, usually the originator is not there five years later. Maybe the person might be on the board, or somewhere else, but the person is out, usually with bitterness. "At its inception, a company is often the 'lengthened shadow of one man,'" Peter Drucker wrote in Practice of Management, "But it will not grow and survive unless the one-man top is converted into a team." Inspiring team work is not an overnight event. It takes time, and maybe even more so in a resource-challenged environment as rural Africa.

In my perception, from its inception, LinkNet/Macha Works has been a team effort. From a western perspective it might have looked like Drucker's description. But from an African perspective it has not looked like that at all; From that perspective the governing attributes are clearly seen, encompassing inclusiveness, cooperation, flexibility, and care. Thus, there is no room for bitterness, there is real joy.

Focus on progress of Local Talent has resulted in teams of highly talented persons, set free to progress towards reaching their collective and individual potential. These women and men are taking their commitments seriously, and develop competences in a thoroughbred African culture inclusive of innovation. As such a wonderful future is assured, whatever the circumstances.

19 February 2011

It's About People

It is all about People. We need remind ourselves about that, consistently, and certainly before interacting. All-the-rest is supportive to this notion.

People are the context for technology, change models, and subsequent investments. And dealing with people necessitates contemplation and apprehension. Assessment of the outset, potential, and the capacity to reach it.

And with humbleness, servitude - a pile of those desirable human attributes - oh yes.

People's voices are now being heart globally, and we are stunned by the sheer magnitude of differences in the world, by trauma experienced by so many, on both sides of the equator; People dwelling in plenty virtually impotent in connecting with those living with so little. And a thin veneer between a smile and frightful discontent.

It is amazing what a great variety of cultural contexts exists in our global village. So much I hear and read in The West makes so much sense in The West, but makes no(n)sense in The South, and so much I hear and read in The South makes so much sense in The South, but makes no(n)sense in The West.

What to say and write when commuting between the two? Let's translate, build bridges, amend, augment, and transform. How to reach the potential? Appropriate technologies? Very much so! Exposure and guidance? Of course! All in context-appropriate ways, that is.

Thus the need for applied, transformational research. Inquisitive, cross cultural, exiting research. Research Education Developments (RED), The North filling the void for appropriate (rational?) technologies that fit the context and needs of people in The South, The South filling the void for appropriate (relational?) technologies that fit the context and needs of people in The North.

Living in a connecting world, with abilities to feel different worlds can be discomforting. However, we are all people, and that is where it is all about.

31 January 2011

What is Going On?

Interact with the underneath to find what how Macha Works!

28 January 2011

Demand Driven Solutions

Many well intended solutions are showered benevolently upon communities in which I roam. Upon implementation, these solutions often end up dormant and discarded. Although from certain perspectives these solutions did seem to make sense, locally they have an extraterrestrial ring to them as tangible representation of mismatch emerging from prevailing deconstructively dealings with 'the What' in contrast with local demands holistically expressed through 'the Who'. It appears that often stuff (= what) are put into communities without thorough consideration of people (= who) aspects.

A prerequisite for a solution is a demand. Thus prerequisite for implementation of a solution is a satisfying answer on the question "Whom is asking?". Without real expression of local demand there is only shaky ground for implementation of local solutions. A-person-or-community-asking is necessary infrastructure over which solutions, including resource alleviations, can be rolled in. Possibly only those whom ask - whom express demand - have the initial capacity to recognize an intervention as a solution. When no-one expresses the local demand, no-one recognizes the local solution.

A multidimensional balance is involved, including aspects like exposure, anticipation, communication, equality, relationship, freedom, and more. Also, involvement of all stakeholders, leadership of the person-or-community-asking, sustainable use and growth of existing resources, and strengthening of already existing capacity are part of the mix. Implementing solutions involves piecemeal expansion of the local resource base, aimed to grow capacity and capability, also in preparation for local demands and their local solutions that will inevitably follow.

Although time is runs fast, it is still one-step-at-a-time, with cooperation, collaboration, in unity. Thus our focus on (local) demand driven solutions.

15 January 2011

Awe-struck, Jaw-dropping Wonder

Today I saw a grandmother wheelying her handicapped grandson in a broken wheelchair through slush and mud to the Kids-club in the Care House. Purposefully. I saw a list with tens of volunteers from the Macha community noting their willingness to assist in keeping the transitional care flowing, with nobody asking anything in return. I went through the community and saw people palavering with other people, nodding, often with displaying smiles on their faces. I heard of equipment being blown up by lightening and electricity surges, and saw concerned engineers wondering about how to help people going without service. I heard of ideas and plans how to alleviate difficulties. I heard a call from exotic birds. While standing outside I heard the rain approaching. I heard nice words spoken by many, and saw most people trying their level best to bring out the best from themselves to serve others. I used four different computers linked to the Internet, I communicated from the rural African bush with peers around the world via various means of media. I saw a photographer taking pictures with a digital camera, documenting what is happening.

Wow, and we are not even halfway through this day. When news papers would report on all positive news, they would be too thick to read.

Each day is worth living, a memory to cherish. A Wonder.

12 January 2011

Here and Now

4.200 km, 13 day car-with-trailer round trip brought me from rural Zambia through rural Zimbabwe to South Africa and back. We went as a family to meet and greet, and get supplies to Murambinda Works (Murambinda Foster Trust) in Zimbabwe. Now back home remains a lingering amazement over the time-factor.

When traveling vast distances over ordinary, single lane roads one appreciates distances. Covering 300 kilometers a day is a significant achievement. And when covering large distances with a family, while tenting along to keep cost down, in challenging conditions - for instance 130 mm rainfall a day - one encounters many and various uncertainties. This did accumulate into a three days delay in returning, thus we came back later than planned. And here nobody minds or comments on it.

This experience combines with observations from Local Talent from rural areas that visited the West. They mentioned the time-factor as one of the most impressive impressions they witnessed. In the West people keep time, with time seemingly superseding relationships. This in contrast to rural Africa where relationships influences (keeping) time. They testify that after witnessing this phenomena in person, they are able to position the high pressure from people oversees. That pressure is not readily understood as it confusingly seem to interfere with relationship building.

It is good to travel, to be exposed. Again I experienced the particular challenges that people face in rural areas. And in coping it boils down to how one experiences time. In view of the many challenges, and fragile availability of resources, it appears fundamentally difficult - almost impossible? - to say something definitive about the future. One thus best pivots in the present time, in the Here-and-Now. And that is where we all live.