Surprising Africa – Ethan Zuckerman at full day Special on Picnic 08
September 20th, 2008

Cross media storytelling, vibrant and fast moving technological and creative developments in cities across Africa and the new plans that Google has for the region: these are a few of the things that will be discussed in the Surprising Africa special, a full day Special on Picnic 08 on Friday September 26. Picnic interviewed Ethan Zuckerman about this work and the role of new media.

Africans’ creative uses of technology not only counter negative stereotypes of the continent, they also hint at its receptiveness to simple, efficient everyday innovations. “Individual citizens empowered with technology can be a very powerful force for transparency,” says Zuckerman in this great interview.

Zimbabweans made news around the world this year when they used phones to monitor the violence-wracked elections.

“Activists were able to get tallies from each polling place and call them into the office of the opposition party MDC,” says Zuckerman, who follows events in Africa as the co-founder of Global Voices, a blogger-driven website that carries news from around the world. Thanks to mobiles, Zimbabwe’s opposition party knew within hours that it had won the first round of the election. Its presidential candidate withdrew from the runoff, citing intimidation. But the truth was out. “Individual citizens empowered with technology can be a very powerful force for transparency,” says Zuckerman.

The Western media have also reported on another mobile phone-driven transformation in Africa: mobile banking. In most countries, people can now make purchases and transfer money using a menu on their phones. Gone are the days of moving cash via eight-hour bus trips and expensive courier services, which the majority of Africans, unable to get traditional bank accounts, used to be stuck with. The savings in money and time are enormous.

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