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.