‘Reaching into the heart of Africa’
Over many action-packed decades, I have been lucky enough to have been part of some wonderful science and technology educational initiatives; to have met some inspirational and heroic individuals; to have encountered fascinating people, cultures and places; to have been involved in many campaigns designed to improve the lives of grassroots communities to overcome discrimination and protect the environment.
Africa Code Week (ACW) truly stands out as a one-in-a-million lifetime opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives on a vast scale. Its ambitious vision is to upskill the young generation of a whole continent to allow them create a better future. Over the last year I have been to Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda and Botswana. Every trip fascinates me, every experience thrills me, every landscape excites me, every culture encountered energises me. In the process, I always learn more from the people I educate than they do from me.
For instance, on our trip to Botswana, I and our ACW team were given the opportunity to travel to the rural village of Mathangwane. There we met the local chief and village council (‘Kgotla’) to explain and debate the merits of the ACW programme. We were greeted with warmth in the traditional African vibrant way. We explained that our mission was to support local village development and enhance indigenous culture through exploiting web technologies. To add to his repertoire of languages, Chief (Kgosi) Lewanika Mpatane and two members of the ‘Kgotla’ expressed interest in being taught the basics of coding. With limited infrastructure, low electrical connectivity, and a high level of emigration, they were fully cognisant of the benefits of digital creativity.
Under the shade of a giant tree – the traditional meeting place for an African ‘Kgotla’- the chief and two volunteers from the Village Development Council experienced hands-on coding of eco-themed programs.
Kgosi Mpatane is the one of the first traditional rural chiefs in Africa to learn coding. He was so impressed by what he was able to achieve in such a short timeframe that he promised to spread the word to his fellow chiefs across Botswana.
Huge thanks are extended to Claire Gillissen, Julie Cleverdon, Bernard Kirk, Kevin Conroy, Ibrahim Khafagy, Aphrodice Foyo Mutangana, Mooktsi Bennedict Tekere and the army of volunteers involved (including Ian MacDonald, Stefan Alexandru Florea, Nuala Allen, Véronique Desegaulx Kevin Morrissey Nshuti Gacinya Olivier, Hervé Rurangwa). ACW is bringing digital literacy and skills as well as the potential of new sustainable jobs to the youth and communities across the length and breadth of Africa.
The continent has a lot of challenges to overcome including unprecedented population growth, unplanned urbanisation, deforestation, habitat loss, extermination of species, pollution, ethnic conflicts, corruption, neo-colonialism and the disparity of wealth distribution. Education, especially in technology, can empower societies. I have seen how Africa can teach the rest of the world how to do things better. Their indigenous music is infectious and their traditional sense of community values are totally uplifting.
Let’s remember Rwanda: in a nation that suffered from one of the worst genocides of the 20th century only two decades ago, strategies in grassroots development, conflict resolution, the introduction of local justice into the legal system and environmental protection, are shining examples for us all to follow.
Brendan Smith , Master Trainer, Africa Code Week