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Future Africa

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May 30 · Issue #17 · View online
iAfrikan Daily Brief
Trying to predict the future is tricky, there are just too many moving parts to be able to correctly determine how things will pan out going forward. That’s why most times I shy away from giving forecasts and predictions. However, despite my better judgement, and especially after seeing this video, I’m going to try and give you a glimpse of where we are headed based on some of the things happening today.

Science Fiction movies and series are usually seen as a great indicator of where we are headed. However, in my opinion, the near future genre of Sci-Fi tends to be more realistic (although in most cases pessimistic, and rightfully so) than typical Sci-Fi movies which are more idealistic. Thus far, many near future films and series have been concerned with the Western World (if you haven’t yet, watch West World just for fun) and not much about Africa. In fact, the biggest reference on a future African city and country is Black Panther’s Wakanda, which, like a typical Sci-Fi movie is too idealistic and presents a world we are unlikely to ever live in. For example, Wakand perpetuates the stereotype that an African country relies mainly on its natural resources and a benevolent leader who is never elected but ordained. Also, the idea that Wakanda is isolated from the rest of the world and yet is able to thrive is somewhat unrealistic.

Be that as it may, what does our future world look like?

This illustration (unknown illustrator) of a future African city is where I also see us going unless we stop some of the exploitative digital technology practices we have today. We are likely to have Internet connect shanty communities side by side with advanced cities with flying cars where only the priviledged with high digital ratings can live in while our fellow citizens in shanty towns only experience technology whose main purpose is to extract as much attention, time, and money out of them as possible.
For me, the biggest indicator of how our countries and cities will look like is policies we are putting in place today to govern digital technology and not necessarily the technology itself. For example, one of the big flaws currently is around the harvesting of citizen data. Where non-African corporations (e.g. Truecaller, Facebook) can collect as much data about citizens as possible in exchange for their services. In the short term, this seems harmless, in the long term this will likely compromise state sovereignty to a point where some corporations will know more about a country than its government. This has many implications. One such example can be a company like Uber having so much leverage that it can influence how cities are planned or developed purely because it has the data regarding how people move in that city. And of course, such corporations wouldn’t give that data for free but would most likely lobby that such data is used to develop a city in favor of their business, which, given that they’re profit driven, could mean at the sacrifice of less fortunate citizens.

For me though, the scariest and biggest determiner of how future African cities will work and look like revolves around social (digital) ratings based on how you interact with others and service providers. It has already started in FinTech where a person’s mobile phone and online behaviour determines how much credit they get or whether they get any credit at all. This, when you add digital IDs that are linked to every aspect of your life, could extend to a point where people are denied basic services, or are given lower quality services, based on these ratings.

It’s already happening in China where citizens with low social (digital) ratings were denied public transportation. This, in my opinion, will widen the gap between the privileged and the not so privileged creating more shanty towns etc.

Is it right? I don’t think so.

What are your thoughts?

How do you see our cities and countries shaping out in future?
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