Open Data, Open Government & Open Source in Africa
Best of: Internet Summit UK - 2018
- Nnenna Nwakanma - Senior Policy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation
- Jeremy Johnson - Co-Founder & CEO, Andela
- Moderator: Alissa Starzak - Head of Policy, Cloudflare
So we're going to get started. So our session today, we have Nnenna Wakama, who's a senior policy manager at World Wide Web Foundation, and Jeremy Johnson, who's the co-founder and CEO of Andela.
And we are here to talk about open data, open government, and open source in Africa.
And I want to start with a few statistics for people, and I think it will let off the conversation on the challenges and some of the opportunities.
Alyssa, is it okay to tweet from here? Oh, and I also promised Nnenna that at some point she can take a picture of the audience.
And tweet it.
And tweet it. Hashtag Internet Summit. Thank you. So I want to start off with some statistics on Africa.
So I started looking into this for the panel, and I found that there's only 35% Internet penetration rate in Africa, with some countries lower than 2%.
I also found that Internet-based companies represent a single-digit percentage of the economy for Africa overall, and that Africa has a 1.2 billion person population, with 70% under the age of 35, and 45% unemployed.
And then the statistic that really gives that some meaning, in 2050, more people will graduate from high school in Africa than the rest of the world combined.
So those statistics give some sense of the challenges and opportunities.
And I want to turn to Jeremy for a description of how Andela sees that, and what that looks like, and how he ended up the CEO of a company focused on Africa.
If you'd asked me a decade ago, as a white kid from New Jersey, what are the chances of this, I would have said pretty low.
So I've spent my life in education technology. I co -founded a company called 2U before Andela.
And when you look at those statistics, and then you look at the leverage that you can generate through education technology, and in particular, being able to do work through the Internet, you could look at those statistics as a challenge, or you could say, well, race and gender turn out to have virtually nothing to do with human ability.
And if you're able to identify extraordinary people that exist in every population, then you'd be able to leverage that education technology to connect the developed world with the continent and with the young people across Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, now for us.
But there are 54 countries across the continent that each have, just like every other country on the planet, extraordinary, extraordinary talent that's given the right, or with the right exposure, are as talented as anyone else.
It's an opportunity to bring the worlds together a little bit.
So how do we tap the talent in Africa? What does that look like? And then I actually want to turn to you a little bit on this.
What do you see as the opportunity there on tapping that talent?
Hi, everyone. And hello from Africa. I think opportunities in Africa just look like me.
Smart, intelligent, well -educated, well-connected, broadband, and can do quite a number of things.
And Jeremy, you know, I haven't seen an African who speaks only one language.
He speaks English or French, and another one, and maybe another one, and maybe another one.
So we're looking at a range of people who are getting younger, as we say, are getting more connected.
Things are not looking very good at the moment, but they will be in the long run.
So we're looking at a young population. We're looking at a population moving from illiteracy to literacy.
We're looking at a population moving from lack of Internet access to more Internet access.
Sometime at the end of this year, we'll be getting to the 50 -50 mark.
So here is what we have. The next set of people coming online will be Africans.
The next set of people getting to maturity will be Africans.
I took time to look through most people here. Your middle-age white males, which means in 20 years, you guys are out of the game, right?
Okay. Including myself. Okay. In 20 years, we'll all be retiring. So we're looking at the generation next of technology.
That's who we have in Africa. So what does that economy look like in Africa?
What does the digital economy 20 years out look like in Africa?
And what do we want it to look like? People are people, but not all people are all people.
Okay. I don't know if that makes sense in English.
I'm working on it. It means something profound. It takes some time. From Cape to Cairo, from Djibouti to Dakar, as you cross Africa, I think that there are actually places that we might need to, like, say, guys, check things up.
A place like Nigeria.
I'm originally Nigerian. I've got people on Facebook groups, on WhatsApp groups.
People do things. But if you go up north, how many people have been to that beautiful country called Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is actually the second largest country in Africa.
It's not Kenya. It's not South Africa. There are quite over 100 million people living in Ethiopia with one single Internet and telephone provider.
One fucking single provider. Oh, Lord. We're on camera. Apologies, folks online.
For the folks here. That is not good. That is not good in 2018 to have that kind of monopoly.
Because you don't take rural people into consideration.
You don't take people who don't adhere to what you feel. So I think that people are people.
But we need to push for that to be real in Africa. So what does that mean from a governance standpoint?
Isn't there a role for governments there?
And what should the role of governments be in that space? We should be speaking open government.
Before we put open to something, it means it wasn't open, which means it's closed.
So we're speaking about market economy. We're speaking about ability to compete freely.
We're speaking about the first speaker here talked about trustworthiness.
We're speaking about that building trust between the private sector, civil society, and government.
We're speaking about building robust economies.
In certain places in Africa, our web foundation research has found that as little as 20% of the population are online.
And actually in Africa, it's 22% broadband connectivity.
So if the government thinks that having people on the capital city connected is enough, then we're in trouble.
We need connectivity for all people.
Like Tim Berners-Lee would say, the web, the Internet is for everyone, whether they are in the bush, whether they are in the city, whether they are old or young, whether they live educated or not.
That also I live in a country that is 50% illiterate.
That's Cote d'Ivoire. So half the country can't read.
How do you manage these clients that can't read? Challenge. So actually on the Jeremy side, so that actually gets to the question of how do you decide how to invest?
So if you're Andela, you're looking for tech talent, how do those infrastructure questions, the literacy questions, how do you look at those when you decide where to go?
It varies from country to country. I guess for context, for folks who haven't heard of Andela, we are I believe now Africa's largest elite engineering organization.
We're about 1,100 people across Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda.
And we work with about 150 high growth startups, mostly startups, although you've got Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and a few others in the mix, to provide engineering as a service essentially.
Those companies are mostly in the US and Europe, but they're working with software developers who are based in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda.
And when we think about expansion, Nigeria, of our six co-founders, two were Nigerian, and so that was relatively straightforward.
There was not a ton of research that went into it, just to be frank.
And we thought across the board that we were going to have to spend a lot of time building infrastructure for ourselves as we expanded out, because in Nigeria, I mean, Lagos is a city of 20 million people.
Twenty-five. I'm fact-checking everything with you moving forward.
But it's largely run on generators. Yes, sir, 80% of the time.
Which is, you know, looking around or coming from more developed parts of the world would sound crazy, and yet you were talking, they're skyscrapers, like it's a metropolis.
By any reasonable standards, except potentially for that type of infrastructure.
And so we had to spend a lot of time and energy investing in that. Kenya, that was less complicated.
Uganda, a little bit less complicated. But there are other complications.
What we care about the most, though, ultimately, is passion for technology.
And across the entire continent, what we are seeing is that there is a tech scene in every capital city.
It may have challenges, such as a single Internet provider, but there is a growing tech scene.
And it is full of really smart, really passionate people who think of technology as a way to change not just their community, but also how their country operates and how their country engages with the world.
And that's an incredibly exciting thing. And so we look to essentially tap into and help cultivate and nurture that, to the extent that we can help support that.
We believe that the talent in the ecosystem is what then drives the foundation of further growth in that ecosystem.
To the extent that we can help sort of expand that, we feel like we're having a significant impact.
So on the expansion part, I mean, if there's an existing tech scene, what does that look like from an inclusivity standpoint?
So is it representative? Is it, you know, it certainly doesn't touch some of the parts of the population that Nana was talking about.
So how do we, how do we look, how do you look at inclusivity? How do you encourage inclusivity across gender, across all sorts of different factors?
For us, gender is a huge one.
So if you look at, I won't make any more jokes about the room, but this is, from that standpoint, similar to the U.S.
tech audience, gender in tech is obviously a pretty challenged subject.
It's the same across Africa. It's at least that's been our experience thus far.
The most recent stack overflow data is that six to 7% of software developers are female.
We push pretty hard on this. We actually think it creates a better environment for everyone, like everyone actually benefits with a more inclusive environment.
And so we, every roughly fourth intake, we have a different cohort come in every month in each of our countries, is all female.
And so that all female cohort has actually been, for us, the most effective way we've found to start moving and shifting the balance.
So if it's globally 7%, we're at about 25% on average across all of the countries.
So we'd like it to be higher, but it is certainly something that we care a lot about.
But it's a challenge everywhere. And I guess for Nana, what does that mean for economic empowerment?
So as you look at expanding that population, as you look at inclusivity, how do you think about that?
What are the benefits for economic empowerment?
Okay. I recall in, this is 2018, yeah, 15, 20 years ago, I was a fresh graduate and I didn't have a bank account.
So I walk into a bank. Hello, sir.
I would like to open an account. Where do you work? I don't really have a paid job.
No, we don't open bank accounts for people who don't have salaries. Thank you very much.
And I walk away. And the banks have used that until mobile money came up.
And nobody asks you if you ever graduated. Do you have a cell phone number?
That's all you need. Do you have money to put into it? And at this moment, everyone in Africa knows mobile money is the biggest bank in Africa.
And people are coming, ah, banks now want me to link my mobile money account to my bank.
I'm like, oh, you forgot who I am.
Anyway, that's the thing. We have a tech motivated economy.
It may not be a digital economy the way you want to see it. But I was in, down, out of Skates, Abidjan, and I get to buy woven cloth.
And the guy says, I may not have a mobile money account, but everyone in this village weaves cloth.
We have one person who's got a mobile money account.
You can pay into his mobile money account, and I will sell you the cloth.
He will go and withdraw, and he withdraws for everyone in the village.
So there are different levels of this economy. We're looking at something big, something that can transcend the urban-rural divide.
Something that can transcend the male -female divide.
Something that can transcend the broadband savvy and the broadband constrained divide.
But our ultimate aim is that people will be able to read and write digitally and get all the benefits.
Because, I mean, secondhand use of the Internet is not the very best. Part of what I want to talk about on this panel is open source.
That interoperability part.
That idea that I can understand the stakes behind. I'm able to modify.
I'm able to change. Over my life, I've been an advocate for open source because it empowers.
Because it allows the people who will come later to do things that suits them.
So I'm looking at a new economy in which we could do taxes.
I mean, I don't know who loves a taxman here. I don't. But the amount of time it takes me to file tax papers is what kills me.
It's not actually the money amount I pay.
It's the work. So I think that that kind of economy that allows me to gain in productivity, that allows me to shorten my journey.
Most of your countries now have visa online.
We can apply for these things. You know, these are the things that actually made life shit in Africa in those days.
But technology can make life a lot better.
And if I can do online payments. In some countries, I can, in most countries you can send money via PayPal, but you can't receive PayPal.
Do you hear me?
And you also need to make money. So be able to buy and sell. Be able to get your stuff delivered to you.
I don't need to go and drown in the Mediterranean for any shit.
You can sit in your country with a good broadband and get work done for Andela, and they will pay you.
I don't need to come to the U.S. I actually don't want to come to the U.S.
at these times. You know. But I'm just saying that you can hire me in West Africa.
No, we understand. Get me hired.
I'll get your job delivered. You are happy. I'm happy. You send my money by electronic transfer.
I remain in Africa. I tie up my hair. I eat my food and my starch.
And then you eat your burger and whatever, and we are good. So Jeremy.
That, just that. I mean, yes. How many people do you meet like Nnenna? Not enough.
She's exactly right. I mean, if you look at it, you take a similar level of income in San Francisco versus Lagos and Nairobi.
You have a very different quality of life in one of those environments.
And so when you look at Andela developers, they spend time traveling around, whether it's at conferences or visiting with partner companies, but they want to be part of their country.
They're not looking to leave. And it's not just because of the current political environment in the U.S., but that certainly doesn't...
Is there a political environment in the U.S.?
I have no idea. Let's say it's not adding to people's interest in moving at the moment.
But it is a truism that you have a generation of people that are looking at sort of how can they be part of the solution.
And that seems like a shift and one that's growing in a really meaningful way.
It's causing complications to people's parents who are like, no, go off and do something else if that's an opportunity.
And they're like, actually, no, I want to be here.
So that's not always easy. Do they not see the opportunity there?
I mean, do they see it as restricting, the desire to sort of build something in Africa?
Is there a negative associated with that? Well, there are challenges.
So in life, there are challenges of trying to do something, then there are challenges of how you change the narrative around whether you do that thing.
And changing the narrative is probably even harder than the actual thing a lot.
And so if there's a narrative that you need to move out of the country in order to find opportunity, then that will persist for longer than that continues to be true.
And so our parents want to think that we're safe. They want to worry about downside risk protection, basically.
And so they will cling to narratives for longer than they will be true because that was their lived experience.
If you are 24 and an extraordinary developer in Lagos and Nairobi, you live a different experience than your parents did a couple decades before that.
And you see the world differently.
You see that opportunity. So I want to switch topics a little bit. And this is a broader piece of the, or a smaller piece of the broader topic that we're talking about.
But let's talk about the data economy because one of the things that happens that we've been talking a lot about the last few days, certainly, is the notion of GDPR, privacy.
And I'm curious about what the data economy looks like in Africa.
And I want to give a story that someone actually told me at dinner last night.
So someone basically said, there is no data economy in Africa. And if you talk to people about the types of services that we get for free here, if you offer them in Africa, the amount of data that they would be willing to give up would be extraordinary.
And I won't give the exact description of what they said that people would be willing to give up, but it was pretty explicit.
So I'm curious, what do you think about the data economy?
What does that look like in Africa? And what challenges come with it?
Are you speaking to me by any chance? Okay. By the way, the joke is, is it data or data?
Oh, you can say whatever you want. And you will. I hear data is the male and data is the female, but let's not worry about that.
I think that calls for some stepping back and analyzing why people want to give over their data.
Like I was explaining, broadband connectivity in Africa is less than 30%.
And at the Alliance for Affordable Internet, we're trying to bring countries to get to the target where one gigabyte of data costs less than 2% of a monthly income.
In some countries in Africa, it goes up to 10% of someone's monthly income to buy one gig of data.
So when in exchange for 10, 20% of your pay, it's one gig, you sign over data very easily.
It does not mean that people are not cognizant of the importance of privacy and data privacy and data ownership.
It's just that when they weigh the cost, the immediate cost, they give over the privacy.
And one of the things we want people, I want to plead with you, is about responsible data.
The things we ask of people in Africa are not ethical sometimes.
I know that data is big business, is even the bigger business in itself.
But all the same, the people in Africa have the same human rights as the people in the EU.
I don't know why people want to talk about GDPR. The EU people are not more human than those in Africa.
No. Tell the person who said there is no data economy in Africa that the person is lying.
Because when anyone working in data knows that the data of today is not the big deal.
It's the data of tomorrow. And when we started up by saying 70% of the world youth are coming from the site, the next 1 billion people coming online are coming in from the site.
So it might not be big today, but it is huge tomorrow.
But that raises the question of how you build it.
So how do you build it in an ethical way? If you're in a world where you're looking at the data of tomorrow, and you're really in the process of building, you have the ability to put in new structures that protect privacy potentially.
But you also have the reality, again, that people are potentially willing to give it up given the cost of things that they're looking at today.
So how do you figure that out moving forward? The legislative environment in Africa is a very big challenge.
Like GDPR is EU. People seated in Brussels and they're doing this.
Right? And they're consulting. But in Africa, it's not the EU that does that.
I mean, every country sitting in 54 different capitals trying to hash out their stuff.
Apart from Mauritius, I don't know any country that is GDPR ready in Africa.
So we have that kind of legislative incapacity at the moment.
We don't really have governments who understand what it means for a digital economy that is based on data.
So you still have governments who think, ah, these social media people are making a lot of noise.
Just shut down the Internet.
Because in their minds, they think Internet is Andela, Internet is Facebook, Internet is WhatsApp.
I mean, some bloody government wanted to appoint a minister for WhatsApp.
What the hell? Are you mad? What do you mean WhatsApp is? That's not even the Internet, that's not the web.
So we need, we have understandings that are very far.
Okay, you want to close down Twitter, yes. What exactly is Twitter?
I don't know exactly, but my advisor said it is something very difficult.
So I just shut it down. When I understand the depth, I'll be, what are you talking?
So we're having this kind of mindset. And the question I've written here is, how do you hack a mindset?
How do you let a policy person understand that the digital economy is more than social network?
It is education, it is access to health, it is getting a degree online, it is getting your capacities enhanced, it is reaching out to people, it is working for Andela while you are based in Nigeria.
We need to get that understanding of what the digital economy is, so that nations will begin to say this is very important to us.
A country like Mauritius, if I may come back, is less than half a million, and they understand that their economy is based on tourism and services.
But a country like Nigeria is almost 200 million, and they are thinking patrol.
So we need to begin to bring these countries up to understand that the digital economy is actually the bigger thing, and data is more profitable than oil, finally.
Mena, I'd love your thoughts on this, but I'm seeing across at least the countries that we operate in, a movement towards getting more young people that do understand this into government.
Like, I'm seeing this excitement that I literally didn't see five years ago.
You're in Uganda, you said?
Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria. Uganda has had the same president since I was 15 years old.
I'm just saying. Yes. And I'd say it's stronger in Nigeria than the other two, but it's definitely a feeling of, okay, now is our time, we need to get more involved in this, or it's just not going to change long term.
There's hacking mindsets, and we certainly have our fair share of, you know, had the vice president of Nigeria come to our campus three weeks ago, you know, we've, politicians like coming to take pictures with us, let's say.
But I think we have been able to impact mindsets and sort of expand sort of exposure for people that are part of the Andela program.
I'm not sure if someone who has spent 30 years in government is going to change it that quickly.
I wonder how much there's a generational shift that will need to take place, and I'm optimistic that over the next 10 years, let's call it, that'll become more and more active.
Hold this, Ms. Ebony, again. I don't know.
Do you have the original badge certificate? Don't put me into trouble here.
So I want to leave some time for questions, for audience questions. I want to, I think we have a, let's see who has a mic, let's see, there you go.
We'll go over there.
Hi. You mentioned open source as a great catalyst for advancing into a digital society, and as a teenager of the early and mid-90s in Eastern Europe, I can well relate to sparse, slow and unreliable Internet.
However, back in those times, open source was slightly more distributed and the size of the community, local communities were smaller, and so were the projects.
These days, it's all a lot more centralized and a lot more social.
So what are the steps being taken to support the local tech scene in Africa in the presence of a sparse, slow and unreliable Internet?
I mean, from our standpoint, it's literally what we do. And so we actually, a list came out of the organizations that have the largest number, just sheer volume of employees of an organization contributing to open source, and Andela as a three-and-a-half -year-old company was number 19 right ahead of Cisco.
Open source is hugely important to us. We don't care as much about the size of the project, per se, because as they've gotten more complex, you need more people coming together to work through things.
We care more about the size of the tech ecosystem in that, primarily, that urban area, so that city matters a lot to us.
And so we think of it through the lens of how do you bring that together, so coalesce that environment, and that's a function of hosting events.
It's a function of creating and nurturing organizations that bring people together and help them see a sense of, there are people like me that are succeeding at this, I can too, sort of that awareness.
And then, more broadly, across our centers, connecting them together and helping create that feeling of, oh, this is actually a movement taking place, and not just isolated little clusters.
So that's our theory of change for it.
For eight years, I was the chair of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa.
We've gone through different iterations in the open source movement.
But at the moment, what the visible face of open source are the tech hubs.
The working spaces, the co-working spaces, and the make affairs spaces and all of that.
That's the new face of open source. And if there's anything I want to say here, I want to say that this is where investment, tech investment is needed in Africa.
Because these are places that keep up the spirit, these are places that keep up the technology, and these are places we can expect results from.
I think we're going to have to end it there, but thank you so much.
Yeah. Let's heat up on Twitter. Thank you all. Thanks. Thank you.