African philosophers on ICT and identity
Several African philosophers have concerned themselves with the question of how communication technology influences cultural identity. Does electronic ICT in Africa liberate the African culture? Is it contributing to the destruction of Africa’s heritage? Or does a hybrid case exist where both propositions apply?
Wim van Binsbergen, the guru of enculturation of ICT in Africa, has written at-length on how Africa has responded, is responding, and will respond to electronic forms of ICT. In his works we can find the voices of various African philosophers including Mazrui from Kenya, Gyekye of Ghana, :
- Ali Mazrui (Kenya) in 1978 regarded the computer as a ‘cultural transplant’ from the North, alien to the societies and cultures of Africa and only capable of having a devastating or subjugating effect in the African context. Historian Bennetta Jules-Rosette summarized Mazrui’s view in the following terms:
[the] imported nature [of the computer] might badly fit the tasks and orientation of non-western workers, and as a result it may form a source of socio-cultural disruption, increasing economic dependency and introducing modes of thought which are alien to the working environment in which the computer is being used.
- Kwame Gyekye (Ghana) agreed with this view in 1997 when he said:
Ideally, technology, as a cultural product, should rise from the culture of a people, if it is to be directly accessible to a large section of the population and its nuances are to be fully appreciated by them.
- Paulin Hountondji (Côte d’Ivoire) did not attempt to claim a distinct African identity and culture. He wishes to recognize the fact that contemporary African expressions are increasingly linked up with a global cultural, philosophical and technological mainstream. He felt ICT was the answer to Africa’s lagging behind in knowledge production, and planned an institute that would rely on electronic ICT instead of more traditional African means.
Today, the issue of ICT and identity commonly becomes manifest in business investment decisions (how much foreign involvement is necessary to stimulate growth) and the emphasis on local African content for Africa. The consensus now is that the computer and its consequences can be tailored to fit within the paradigm of existing African culture. Just look at e-agriculture and crowd sourcing platforms. Plus, the popularity of the mobile phone and cyber café over the private household desktop computer is further testament to the fact that African cultures can maintain social identity in the computer age.
Source: “Can ICT belong in Africa, or is ICT owned by the North Atlantic region?“, in: Van Binsbergen, W.M.J. & Rijk van Dijk, in press, eds., ‘Situating globality: African Agency in the Appropriation of Global Culture, ASC Yearbook 2003, Brill: Leiden, 111-112.