The new ‘browning’ of African technology

This is taken from an article in Monday’s Straits Times, I’ve yet to find it online anywhere [updated, link to article on the Japan Times] written by G. Pascal Zachary on the observable trends in Africa. To quote,

“The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the ‘browning’ of African technology, which has long been the domain of ‘white’ Americans and europeans who want to apply their saving hand to Africa’s myriad problems.”

I didn’t know technology had a particular colour but it’s relevance and influence are certainly being felt. The article continues,

“Although still in its infancy, this “browning” process is bound to accelerate. Chinese and Indian engineers hail from places that have much more in common with nitty gritty Africa than comfortable Silicon Valley or Cambridge”.

Snarks aside, this is a good thing. Apparently its not just high tech stuff like China helping Nigeria get their first space satellite off the ground but also basic stuff like Indian engineers testing solar powered cooking stoves that they’d developed for their domestic market, higher education opportunties for Computer Science and Engineering in far more affordable Tsing Hua University of Beijing, ultra small, cheap ‘micro-hydro’ dams to generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, reliable water pumps as well as affordable medicine.

All of these and more have emerged from the similar constraints of scarcity and cost thus making them easier to adapt appropriately for the African context, something the author acknowledges even as he implies that might all just be a ploy by India and China to get their hands on Africa’s mineral wealth. Be that as it may, they’re not giving anything away for free. Nor is it inappropriate or expensive. Every example given is of an affordable, durable solution designed to work within the limitations of infrastructure and environment.

“Motivated by profit and market share rather than philanthrophy, Huawei is outpacing American and European rivals through lower prices, faster action and a greater willingness to work in difficult environments.”

I’m minded of William Easterly’s premise in his book on aid programmes and why they fail – perhaps being motivated by profit and market share, if its a win win solution for both sides, is not such a bad way to go about development?

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