At time, the trend in Africa leaves me tired and confused. I am not sure how it started. Did it start from outside, or it started from within, with us?
I do not have an answer to that question, but one thing I do know is that somewhere through the years, someone managed to convince the folks in Africa that they could not keep up with the pace of technological development the rest of the world was moving at and Africa as a collective has agreed.
Popular phrases like “Building for Africa”, “Innovating for Africa” and questions like “How is this applicable in Africa?” have arisen. How applicable your innovation is for Africa has become the baseline for judging your level of innovation and creativity of ideas, especially for African innovators.
There is no problem with trying to build for Africa, but the mindset behind it has become one that makes me feel sick to the bottom of my stomach. The mindset, is that Africa has failed to keep up with the trend. I was really offended in one of the Design Thinking lectures I attended, when the speaker suggested the use of papyrus reeds and banana leaves to make books and reading materials for rural children. I understand that the children in the rural parts of Uganda lack educational materials, but to start such a program in a country when we have book manufacturing industries is mockery, to me!
As part of the requirements to graduate university, I had to propose and finish a project on a topic of my choosing. I was almost angered as I sent project proposals to my lecturers and some of the questions I received from them were: “How can this apply to Uganda?” or “Go and study the population and see what they exactly need and what problems they are facing exactly”.
Steve Jobs made a revolutionary statement when he said, “It is not for the consumer to know what he needs”. But in Africa, we do research to find out what the consumer wants and always end up building solutions that either take Africans one decade behind the world, or keep them where they are for a long time.
How about we encourage Africans to develop for the world. The Chinese saw this and started developing products for markets bigger, richer and more developed than theirs and have now captured the entire world. And with this, the people in China have also moved on with the trend of the world.
My hope is that one day I will walk into a supermarket, see a product that is innovative and helpful to the world, and behind it I see the label, “Made in Uganda.”
It is high time we stopped developing for Africa. Let us develop from Africa, for the world. Soon, our brothers and sisters that have become so used to products customized to their level will have the courage, self-esteem and the drive to upgrade their standards to fit the entire world.
African-thought products may win many innovation awards, but let us come to the reality that they are not helping us in our struggle to catch up with the rest of the world. Or are we really trying to catch up?