Our Children Will Be Digital!

Public forum at Mandate the Future (a Sri Lankan think tank)

This page is part of Emeagwali family of websites


Mandate The Future: Us in the developing world thank the lord for piracy! Say you get Telecentres going, teach kids English, they grow up to be experts in IT, but where would we as a country go if we can't afford software? So where do anti piracy laws fit into ICT development? Or should I not be asking you this? (Submitted by Venetian Blind, Online)

Emeagwali: Thanking the lord for software piracy makes as much sense as thanking him for ocean piracy. Software counterfeiting is as illegal as drug trafficking and self-defeating in the long-term.

It is self-defeating for an African government to issue directives to hungry people to invade farms and harvest crops that they did not cultivate. The farmers will go on strike and stop cultivating. Similarly, software piracy could force software developers to go on strike and stop creating new software.

Like authors, artists, and musicians, software developers are paid through royalties. How will you feel, as a musician, if I duplicate your songs and refuses to pay a royalty? Will you continue to produce hit songs if all listeners refuse to pay royalty? If developers are not paid for their sweat and tears, they will stop producing new software and the developing world will have nothing to steal.

The bottom line is that without anti-piracy laws to protect and reward the investments made by developers, the growth of the information and communication technology will slow down and thousands of technologists will be laid off from their jobs and billions of dollars will be lost in tax revenues.


Mandate the Future: I am a young Ghanaian worker, working in the area of Systems Development. I will be glad to know from the distingue panelists the role Africa can and is playing in this Information and Communication Technology (ICT) driven world and whether ICT is the means for us to develop. And is yes what should we do to achieve that goal? (Leopold Armah, Ghana)

Emeagwali: With 400 school-age children, Africa can produce the next-generation of information technologists. This can be accomplished when governments reduce their spending on military and white elephant projects and increase their education budgets. Instead of having six children, parents should consider having one or two children so that they can provide a better education for the next-generation.

Computers and the Internet increase productivity and certainly increase Africa's development pace. The bottleneck is that Africa is a consumer of technology, not a producer. It is best to both produce and consume technology. As consumers, technology increases productivity and the economic growth of the continent. As producers, we create millions of high-paying jobs.

Therefore, nations that both produce and consume technology grow more rapidly than those that only consume. In a manner of speaking, when nations that consume technology take one step forward, nations that both consume and produce it will have taken two steps forward. For this reason, the gap between the rich and poor nations widens with time.


Mandate the Future:

Dr Phillip, At a time when the whole southern countries, especially African countries are fighting against brain drain, I do not understand why you have not yet decided to come back and help Africa? (Sena Alouka, Togo)


My scientific contribution helps humanity --- Africa is 15 percent of humanity. Since science is universal, my conducting scientific research while living in Africa may not necessarily alleviate the brain drain problem.

On the other hand, the practice of medicine is local and it is important that medical doctors remain in Africa. Only 400 of 1600 Zambian medical doctors practice in Zambia. The number of medical doctors will increase four-fold if Zambia can solve its brain drain problems. The solution is to increase their salaries. It is not unusual for an African medical doctor to own a farm or operate a beer parlour to earn enough to feed his family.

We still have a brain drain when a medical doctor quits his profession to become a taxi-driver. We call it "internal brain drain." Similarly, if I return to Africa and engage in something other than scientific research, I will be contributing to Africa's internal brain drain.


Mandate the Future:

Would you mind telling me, please what actually is your contribution to Africa so far? (Sena Alouka, Togo)


My contribution is towards expanding our knowledge of computers and the Internet. For example, you used both a computer and the Internet to email your question to me and do things that you even take for granted. Therefore, my contribution is towards making life better for you and humanity. Since Africa represents 15 percent of humanity, Africa has a 15 percent share in the benefits of my scientific contribution.


Mandate the Future:

In the NEPAD African leaders have not identified ICT as a way of production and exportation. They just talk about developing it. Do you believe in our potentialities to produce technological items and sell them one day? (Sena Alouka, Togo)


NEPAD - New Partnership for Africa's Development - focuses on reform and trade while the root of the problem is education and knowledge for the masses. Since Africa does not have much to trade, NEPAD is applying band-aid to a bullet wound. It is the same old song and dance with a different beat. Only the political elite and a few intellectuals understand the meaning of NEPAD.

The hope and belief is that Africa will become equal to the west. Nnamdi Azikiwe envisioned a "New Africa" in his book "Renascent Africa" published in 1937. Kwame Nkrumah renamed it "Pan-Africanism." Leopold Sedar Senghor called it "Negritude." Thabo Mbeki called it "African Renaissance." Now OAU leaders call it NEPAD.

The key word in ICT - Information and Communication Technology - is "Information." Africa is an information poor society and therefore only trades in natural resources that are not renewable. We need to transform the continent to an "information affluent" society increasing the knowledge and skills possessed by the next-generation.

Since human resources are renewable the common sense thing to do is to increase the intellectual capital or collective knowledge of Africans. The intellectual capital of a nation increases by increasing the amount of education given to the masses. Intellectual capital is the engine that drives the economic growth of any nation. We cannot achieve a renaissance without educating the masses.

The river of knowledge flows downhill. If knowledge is a mountain, the collective knowledge in the United States is a taller mountain than that in Africa. The condition for Africa exporting technology is that it increases its technological knowledge to a level comparable to that of the United States.


Mandate the Future: How can the digital divide be narrowed in communities where resources are scarce and the language barrier is an inhibiting factor? (Bijay Bhatt, Nepal)

Emeagwali: Digital divide can be narrowed by reducing poverty in Asia and Africa. Solving the language barrier creates another problem. While English is the language of choice on the Internet, it will hasten the extinction of thousands of indigenous languages. By the end of this century, 90 percent of the world's language could become extinct. The culture, customs and knowledge embedded in these languages will also become extinct. As we embrace the languages of former colonial masters, the world losses valuable information passed down by word of mouth over several generations. The extinction of any language is an irretrievable loss to humanity. If the early years of educational instruction are not in an indigenous language, then that language is headed for extinction.


Mandate the Future: How Can We Urge a government to review its national policies; in order to remove regulatory and pricing impediments to internet access in order to make sure people are not denied the opportunities offered by the digital revolution? (Olumola Shola Kolawole, Nigeria)

Emeagwali: There is no free lunch. People either pay for their Internet access directly at their local cybercafes or indirectly from taxes paid to the government. I prefer that internet users pay directly to cybercafes.


Mandate the Future: How successful is ICT development projects in the poorer nations in which the level of English education and accessibility to the same is minimal? What are the measures taken to overcome this problem and make the programs more 'useful'? (Vamoosh, Online)

Emeagwali: People cannot effectively use computers and the Internet without a good education. We have to invest in three things: education, education, and education.


Mandate the Future: Why is the Gap between Africa and the rest of the world is so high when it comes to the number of computers per family? What can be the new policy for African government to solve the problem? (Cheikhou Thiome, Senegal)

Emeagwali: A family living on $1000 a year cannot afford to purchase a $1000 computer. In other words, poor families cannot afford computers. Governments cannot afford to buy computers for every poor family. The solution is to increase the standard of living in Africa, and that is a complex and a different question.


Mandate the Future: It costs about 3,000 cedis to print a page letter and between 3,000 -60,00 cedis depending on service to post it to Europe or America which will take between 1- 4 weeks to get to its destination, unlike the internet, with 3,000 cedis depending on practice, one can take about 30 minutes to type and send the same letter with copies to several partners at no extra cost at takes within few minutes to hour to reach it destination as well as the response period. This makes the Internet the preferred choice in both national and international communication depending on the availability of the service. But the cost of installing this facility which pays off within a short period wards off most non-profit organizations especially youth and indigenous women groups May I know how ready and willing the northern agencies are to assist their southern counterparts to access these facilities? (Agyirey-Kwakye, Ghana)

Emeagwali: You need to prepare a business plan and then submit your proposal to potential investors. You can purchase books on writing business plans from amazon.com.


Mandate the Future: If care is not taken, computers will greatly marginalize us folks in the rural areas. We will become the educated illiterate as we can't communicate with our colleagues in the urban areas, how do I send a mail through the internet when I don't even know how to switch a computer on and far more to do a simple word processing? It will be greatly favorable if we also at least get one Computer in this area to be powered by a Photovoltaic Cell, this will give us some insight into ICT, especially before every child complete the basic education program. (Youth Club for Nature Conservation, Ghana)

Emeagwali: First, computers and the Internet are tools and are not what makes one literate and educated. Second, the rural areas in America have 100 million computers and the rural areas in Ghana will need more than one computer. Third, your request for solar-power computers implies that you need electricity more than computers.


Mandate the Future: How do you visualize from your experience and point-of view, a world order 100 years from now and highlight the values and the institutions a) Visualized ideally b) Possible achievements (Uday Rosario, Qatar.)

Emeagwali: If you were to time travel to the future, I believe that you will discover a strange world. My intuition tells me that in the future:
  1. We will all look alike and it will be difficult to find the enemy when there is no visual difference between "them" and 'us.'
  2. People will exist in a collective sense - I will become you, you will become me. Your wife will become mine, and mine yours.
  3. You will discover people redesigning themselves. Our compelling urge to redesign ourselves is deep-seated and will remain so. We have embarked on a self-propelled evolution in which we are the creator and the created.
  4. People will conquer death. Dead people will be described as 'temporarily unconscious.' In the future, the death of the human body will be as insignificant as losing a limb in an accident.
  5. Our children will be digital. Since our letters are digital, our books are digital, our conversations are digital, the next goal is to create digital children.
  6. Some of our descendants will merely exist as human algorithms, pure thoughts, or electronic cockroaches.

Philip Emeagwali's Website

Archived at www.mandatethefuture.org on June 21, 2002.

For more information, please contact Dr. Donita Brown at 443-850-0850; fax/voicemail 413-521-3764; email donita@emeagwali.com