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.

13 July 2012

Mastering a Master's

I am in the process of writing a Master's. It took me a while to understand what actually the purpose of the exercise is. Now I start to comprehend that this work exists to provide evidence of one's ability to define a (/one) problem, describe a (/single) methodology, and present the (/one) outcome, all embedded in extant literature. This process then certifies the individual to address the (creation of the) body of knowledge.

The struggle to understand this is fuelled by the obvious paradoxes and oxymorons involved in the process. As if one could be able to understand and define problems, as if methodologies are like clockwork, and as if outcomes do inform, and if literature does contain it all. If one could, then only for an instant..

It took a while before I yielded to this process. It helped to think it not to be about the production of wisdom, but solely about the production of knowledge. Of course, this was explained from the outset, but never really landed with me. I guess one needs much wisdom to guide oneself through the obvious dilemma’s and structural flaws, and ethically stay in one piece.

In my view, in the world of big-data, this process is pretty useless actually. It should be the other way around; All the outcomes are already known, like in the Zambian Smart Care Electronic Health Record system all health profiles are already computed using all possible methods. Thus the most important issue one must focus on is: what are good questions?

Maybe fortunately, my subject matter is not yet embedded in the big-data cloud. It is about people in Africa's rural areas whom are not (yet) fully linked to global communication networks. I study the 'how' of access to information and communication technology. Although the value seem obvious and important, only a small amount of persons embark on such journey. Now, with little to build upon, what is the right question?

Technology, which was developed by the rich and powerful, is, of course, created to served their agenda. An agenda to save cost on (and dehumanizing) labour, and to maximize their profits. Although knowledge tells me I study technology, wisdom thus tells me that I deal with power. Power to know, power to be known. Power to connect, power to be connected. Power to control, power to be controlled. About what, for what, to what? When dealing with the 'how' of enabling communications network access through technology, what is the real question?

If the 'how' of ICT is solved, and access is ubiquitous, what happens to the balance of power? What is the best question?

The answers are already known: inequalities will continue to grow. Copiousness will lead to waste, shortage to war. However, lack of information leads to ignorance, and ignorance fuels opposition, which is not really helpful either. Undoubtedly, access to ICT will raise costs, while the digital divide continues to grow, and the affluent will segregate. So, what is the question here?

How to balance, how to partner, how to socially contract - for morality, and systemic change? That is the real question.

As you can see, I am getting through with the first phase of writing my Master's. Now, let's dive in the data!

12 July 2012

Technological Servanthood

When affects are ascribed to technology people might deem it the cause. This instills false dogma. Although technology is valuable, it remains an inorganic artifact.

Life's focal point is people. They are the dazzling subjects, the centre of earthly existence. Here morally-unable submit to the morally-able, and thus technology submits to people.

Living people's interactions are fruitful when empathy and compassion are facilitated in an ethical setting, while serving other's well discerned needs in peace. Within their context and culture, people do experience joy, discern wisdom, and recognize knowledge. Technology never does. Everywhere not-living technology can assist in absolute wonderful and stunning ways, or it can obstruct and even destroy.

Through distinct phases of bewilderment and amazement we reach out to expert and use technology. When technology is constructed to be appropriate - that is: to converge upon people's needs – it can be helpful. Mastered and controlled by people, technology's utilization can be purposeful and innovative.

Technology facilitates, it cannot not drive. Technology amplifies, it cannot initiate. Technology assists, it cannot lead. Technology does not determine, nor dictates: it serves.  

11 July 2012

Social Innovation Links Engineers Worldwide

An integral view of engineering is desirable, so all engineer from everywhere can be included to the world wide body of knowledge and share the joy of practice and progress. Current status leads to dull expectations on how engineers can relate, with most discussions echoing lopsided reports, e.g. on technological determination or how one size should fit all. Acquisition of a global view of engineering is not yet possible, as such necessitate practical understanding and recognition of (still) foreign ways to represent data and information. Current, dominant and singular definitions lead to reduced analyses of achievement, in turn further narrowing definitions and thus leading to (international) research unaligned with the multifaceted local realities and needs. Contextual issues like orality and relationality are not yet recognized as informing understanding. Especially the almost exclusive discursive way of communicating within the engineering professions and the hegemony of western thinking seem to be huge barriers for inclusion of all engineers, worldwide.

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

Stability Enhancement

No doubt the prominent partners responsible for stability of societies are Politics, Business, and Academics. At community level this translates in the incorporation of all stakeholders in the process of innovation, and thus change. The Macha case shows that such can be done successfully, with careful balanced results in tangible progress.

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


The last five days I have been in Harare, Zimbabwe. It has been an invigorating experience. Of course, we are all aware of the difficulties the country has, is, and still might be(en) going through. I witnessed snapshots of developments as a regular guest – and sometimes resident - in 'Zim' since 2000. This visit I have been meeting with intoxicating self-reliant Africans, emanating presence and strength. It seems hardship and persecution bring forth a generation of staunch believers, with faith in their future, emerging and ready to progress.

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.

Yes, it can be inundating for an alien. I have been walking through Harare center for many hours on two separate days, and did not see a Caucasoid. I went in shops, met people, had a talk in the streets, and we all happily acknowledged each other presence while passing by, each person continuing on in their respective ways. Little sign of dependency, less begging in the center of Harare then in the center of Atlanta-GA, and no over-the-top servitude; It was like living water on my purged soul.

I met with leaders in academia, unashamedly calling for Afrocentric funding and research and development, eager to exchange ideas on innovations, ready to leap-frog and 'go-for-it'. I met people whom recognized opportunities, and accommodated personal challenges.

What a stark contrast with Harare International Airport this morning, virtually empty with a small amount of flights, a sign of isolation and stifled exchange. I saw crumbling physical infrastructure in places, new developments in others, and poignant challenges in service delivery like electricity and water. On the other hand, local trade was vibrant in the streets, and the most busy shops were those of the mobile operators, spilling over with customers onto the pavement. Asking my Zimbabwean friends what the people were doing there, their quip response was: 'getting their lines upgraded for the Internet'. Is this a new world, less travel, less infrastructure, but with much and growing Information and Communications Technology, bringing us together in new ways?

Observations, questions, thesis, superficiality, wariness? As most societies in the current world, also Zimbabwe seems to resemble a society build on the slope of an active volcano. What volcanoes are going to erupt in the world, where and when? Spilling what sort of lava? With new entrepreneurship adapting and overcoming set terms of resource limitations, a new sustainable progress, a new world order, African renaissance, or maybe just chaos? Actually, what wisdom can these so-called chaos theories, game theories, and emerging knowledge provide us in connecting the dots of this interconnected world of humans and things? Social innovation, is it being accelerated under pressure? 

I am looking forward to continue relating with Zimbabwe, ever more closely, and augment my experience in Southern Africa with experiencing how Zim's wonderful people will connect all the dots. I am preparing the grounds for that further, now as one of the students in the School for Information and Communication Technology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

05 June 2012

Right, I Left

It is quite entertaining - and admittedly sometimes frustrating - to hear a soft whisper and sometimes even a loud voice that evanescents “what happens when he leaves?”. As if my person holds a magic wand that makes things happen and flourish, while at the same time fatefully implying that when 'someone else' 'takes over' such magic wand will have been gone.

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

Seasonal Change

My days in April and May have been filled with operational activities based upon methodological analysis of very complex realities, as they exist in cross cultural interactions and rural Africa. These months I came into play to provide for crisis management due to a whole array of challenges following two unprecedented delays in release of projects funding. These delays effectively took the wind out of the sails of Macha Works. However, after two months of purposeful and focused interventions, the organisation is alive and back in local hands. It has been a rare privilege to provide guidance in such challenging situations, ably supported by backstopping through discussions with experts in fields of accountancy, diplomacy, economy, management, ethnography, development, engineering, etc.

Of course, not everyone has access to such high quality soundboards, nor access to experts or an ability to take an extra-personal perspective. In rural Africa, the affects of these voids add significantly to the workload and social strains. Such is exasperated by the pressure cooker situation in which crisis management takes place, which severely limits one's ability to interact with most stakeholders, or anybody else in that manner.

Without a doubt, in the specific context and culture of resource limited environments in rural Africa - with highly oral and relational communities - the strenuous work of a crisis manager is little understood. This gives multiple views on realities in the relational web of local, national and international relationships. Actually, crisis management involves work that goes against the grain of the individual whom is confronted with individual loss and hurt, and as such seemingly feeds a collective atrophy and self-destructiveness of hurting groups in society. In rural Africa this all is further amplified due to a limited knowledge base in management techniques and organisational concepts, and by gossip run wild.

The relational society links challenges and achievements to people, with little recognition of existence or benefit of institutional entities. Thus management actions are primarily related to the manager' person with little regards for the (legal) entity being managed (for).

With the aim for Macha Works for the locally embedded empowerment of the local person, and having gone through a challenging, interesting, but also depleting, chapter of crisis management, it now feels that I have reached the end of my season at Macha. The dream has shown capability of being reality, and the entity has proven structurally sound to respond to the circumstances and environment in an appropriate manner. It is time for me to move on. However, with all onlookers I look forward to sharing opportunities of continuous learning on how local talent will grow and augment Macha Works' social model of implementation, and act according to the situation and the culture of the society they operate in, in rural Macha.  

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

Discourse on Innovation vs. Discourse on Control

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:

  1. when money goes to Africa, Africans will divert it;
  2. when money is not diverted, reports will be cooked;

  3. when reports are not cooked, the utilization will benefit the boss (only);

  4. 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

The Man with the Key

Undoubtedly one of the most significant person in rural areas is The-man-with-the-key. Who holds the key holds access to resources. In my experience there is often only one key to a door. And thus when at a door the issue is 'who has got the Key?'.

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

Taking it Personal

In the culture of rural Africa juridical personalities appear not to exist. This is a discovery that got me reeling the last weeks. It is again proof that even after 11 years full of overflowing days in rural Africa, one continues to stumble upon new and fundamental truths every day. How could I not have seen this before? And, now understood, how to integrate this knowledge in wise mentoring?

Currently Macha Works is in the middle of a program called 'Pruning for Growth'. This program was initiated when during January and February two major expansion and donor commitments did not materialize; follow up Universal Service Funding expansion support for LinkNet, anticipated since May 2010, and delay in reimbursement for a large, executed target-based-funding building project.

With financial sustainability under attack, and thoughtful of the aim for long term sustainable progress, while avoiding particularism, Macha Works management took the only possible and tough decision to lay off all staff per 1 March. A growing contingency of volunteering staff continue activities in March, while the process towards rebuilding of the organisation takes off.

All this goes 'according to the management-handbook' and is a clear pass in the exam of local talent to sustainably operate an organisation in rural Africa, even under 'pressure cooker' circumstances! A signal that did not land on deaf ears and positivity exited most cooperating partners.

However, in the rural area the message is not easily digested. Some former staff and community members did start a hunt for 'the person who did this'. As Macha Works is community owned and run by Local Talent, a twister of attention focusing on the 'who'-question wanders through the area. It aims to uproot the local individuals seen as liable. Outside of the cyclone most remains at peace. Still, the magnitude of the difficulties for the individuals involved attains levels that startle me. Thus we forcefully entered a new phase of local talent training and mentoring, and discoveries.

One such discovery is that the concept of a legal entity, with a legal name and rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities under law, is not readily understood in the local culture and context. When I probe community members, local leadership, and even district dignitaries, they confirm this finding. Some even compassionately welcome me in the community of those endowed with this knowledge from experience.

Legal bodies in rural Africa seem to be a scarce and often bewildering artifact. It appears that, apart from the clergy that esoterically represent God, there are two entities that do exist in rural areas: the People and the Government. As such, anything that is not 'people' thus per definition is 'government'. One signal of such classification is that writing, necessary in the operations of corporate legal bodies, signals the separation of such bodies from people; People utilize orality and government literacy. Entities that utilize writings are thus seen to be necessarily part of government. Albeit the continuous review of an institute's government recognition, registration, and interaction.

On the other hand, it seems that a community owned entity like Macha Works, is seen necessarily having all rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities connected to a person. And thus, when the entity goes through a challenging period, the community searches for the person whom should have the full responsibility. That is quite tough for institutional leaders, whom have to watch two fronts at once, one rational/institutional and one relational/personal!

There is much to learn, and understand, and to educate, both for local talents, for communities, and, of course, for me. Never a dull moment!

13 March 2012

ICT4R (Information and Communications Technologies for Relationships)

It is a rare honor to be present at the Information and Community Technology for Development (ICTD 2012) conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. What a privilege it is to be 10.000 miles from home and share unique papers from rural Zambia, for the first time presenting facts on the locality of traffic in a rural African village and how technology could facilitate local African content generation!

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

What Time Does It Start?

The final of the African Cup of Nations between Zambia and Ivory Coast was clear focus of attention for everybody last night. We planned to go to Vision Community Hall, where the game would be shown on a big screen, and we would watch with hundreds of others. We got ready for a meal at 18.00 hours, to assure we all - 2 adults and 4 kids - would be ready for the game, which we 'were told' would start at 19.30 hours.

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

Shortage of Engineers

When traveling through Africa, wherever I go, I am also always asked to have a look at operational or stalled computers. Often I venture to check settings to get them on networks, and to check the software to keep them working. Always I find slow or not working network connections, infected computers, and outdated software. Often I find computers without virus-scanner, 'old' programs, and frustrated users. From the colleagues at LinkNet I hear that too. Wherever they go, they encounter frustrated users, and too many requests and too much work to handle.

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.