South 2 North

The technology transforming Africa

The continent is witnessing an invasion of new technology, but how accessible is it and what change will it inspire?

No subject is off limits in the first ever global talk show hosted from Africa in which Redi Tlhabi talks frankly to inspiring and intriguing personalities from across the world.

How do we use technology to change our lives? Does it just make things easier and more efficient, or can we use it to change the way we interact with the world around us?

On this episode of South2North, Redi tackles her technophobia as she welcomes Google Africa’s policy manager and cyber-activist Ory Okolloh. Redi is also joined by technology writer and editor of the South African edition of Stuff magazine, Toby Shapshak.

Joining the two guests are four young techies – Dominik Obojkovitz, Raymond Rampolokeng, Evan Robinson and Dinesh Balliah – who challenge Ory and Toby on the various technology problems they are facing in their fields of tourism, tax, gaming and journalism.

Okolloh cut her political blogging teeth when she co-founded Ushahidi during the Kenyan election violence in 2007. Okolloh found her own blog flooded with information, pushing her to develop the site to manage and organise the huge response.

“The voices of people were just not being conveyed …. That became overwhelming; I was getting about 300 comments every hour. I was blogging around the clock, sleeping maybe two or three hours a night.”

Ushahidi combines mapping with eye witness reports and has since been used to monitor xenophobic violence in South Africa, elections from Mexico to India, the Gaza War, and post-earthquake crises in Chile, Haiti and Australia.

Six years later, Ory is again monitoring the Kenyan elections with the Kenyan Elections Hub, which will curate content from across Youtube, as well as create a platform where information can be shared and host Google Hangouts where politicians can reach out to Kenyan citizens for discussion and debate.

When Redi challenges Okolloh on the tension between activism and a highly profitable company like Google, Okolloh points out that the two fields no longer have to be mutually exclusive: “I don’t think there’s necessarily a conflict between making money and being a company that cares …. If they are [a] successful business in Africa it means they will be here for the long run.”

A former ICT Journalist of the Year in South Africa, Toby ran the Mail & Guardian website when it was the first news site in Africa. One of the first technology writers in South Africa, Toby has a keen interest in how technology is transforming Africa.

Shapshak explains how advances in technology are making it increasingly accessible, which has created a huge platform for innovation: “For a long time we were trapped behind this triumvirate of the screen and the keyboard and the mouse, and there was a barrier to entry not just in terms of cost but in terms of how to use it, what to do. [Now] anybody can pick up an iPad and use it.”

Okolloh and Shapshak take questions from the young techies while Redi asks how a technophobe like herself can manage and properly utilise the invasion of new technology.


South2North can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 1930; Saturday: 1430; Sunday: 0430; Monday: 0830.