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A Kindle light in a dark hut of Africa

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A Kindle light in a dark hut of Africa
  A Kindle light in a dark hut of Africa. By Malick Evarist TCHAKPEDEO!arner" #C$alickeva%g$$ In March 2010, Worldreader , a US and European non-profit organization, conducted its first Kindle e-reader trial in  Ayenyah , Ghana. heir !ission" !a#e digital  $oo#s a%aila$le to children in the de%eloping &orld. Since then, a de$ate has e!erged a!ong &estern scholars and social !edia users a$out the pertinence of such an underta#ing. E%en so!e 'frican intellectuals are ha%ing !itigated thoughts a$out the pro(ect. 's an 'frican-$orn i!!igrant in the US and $ecause I ha%e a passion for popular education, I &ould li#e to %oice !) opinion a$out this !atter in an atte!pt to put the de$ate to rest, so &e can all go $ac# to &or#. Is su$-Saharan 'frica too poor, too hungr), too thirst), too ill, and too unsta$le to $e so nai%el) and so foolishl) flattered  &ith such a high-tech de%ice* Is +a%id isher  cofounder of Worldreader   “ casting  pearls before swine”?   egardless of the $luntness of this !etaphorical co!!ent, one !ust ad!it this" the picture is indeed stri#ingl) contrasted. I!agine this continent, ra%aged $) fa!ines, diseases and tri$al &ars" 'frica. I!agine this East 'frican countr) that has recentl) !ade the ne&s  the $ad ne&s   &ith its notorious &arlord oseph Kon) and &ith its acti%e in%ol%e!ent in the /ongolese ci%il &ar" Uganda. o& zoo!-in to a s!all ha!let in the rural surroundings of Mu#ono, a s!all to&n 1 !iles east of Ka!pala, near a#e 3ictoria. It is 4 p! and pitch dar#5 the #ind of dar#ness that gli!!ering fireflies6 lights can hardl) $rea# through. ight $irds, s&a!p frogs and insects are tirelessl) entertaining the en%iron!ent &ith their spoo#) cacophon). It is the t)pical 'frican night, the one that preceded !odern cities and that is still persistent in thousands of %illages throughout su$-Saharan 'frica. In this hu!$le cottage, this s!all fa!il) is a$out to call it a night. +inner &as !eager $ut fulfilling. 7ather Mu#asa is alread) snoring. Mother Mire!$a has (ust $lo&n out the old and rust) petroleu! la!p. here is no electricit) around here, so there isn6t !uch to do after dar#. It is $ed ti!e. 8ut tonight, 9 )ears old $o) Mu#asa unior is $egging to sta) up a little longer. Mother Mire!$a can6t $elie%e it5 unior nor!all) &ould find an) e:cuse to s#ip  his ho!e&or#. ;uddled up in a corner of the %esti$ule, his rice and $eans $o&l still untouched, Mu#asa unior is i!pertur$a$l) staring at a rectangular glo&ing light preciousl) held in his s#inn) hands. It is a Kindle, one of the latest in%entions of !odern technolog). he $o) is reading and he is en(o)ing it. his is part of an a!$itious e:peri!ent led $) the Worldreader  nonprofit that ai!s to “reinvent developing world literacy programs with technology”  i . 's of une 2012, Worlreader has distri$uted 1,100 e-readers and 140,000 $oo#s to #ids and teachers in e:peri!ental schools in Ghana, Ken)a and Uganda ii . he e-readers are preloaded &ith  &estern and local te:t$oo#s and stor)$oo#s destined to i!pro%e the #ids6 reading proficienc) and sti!ulate their ingenuit) $) e:posing the! to thousands of $oo#s al!ost instantl)5 so!ething that (ust can6t $e done  not at that scale  &ith paper  $oo#s and classic li$raries. 8ut isn6t a Kindle too e:pansi%e* iterac) is i!portant indeed, $ut &ho cares a$out an e- $oo# &hen he is d)ing fro! hunger, thirst, ;I3, or a ci%il &ar* ;ere are < co!!ents that sharpl) =uestion the pertinence of this pro(ect. hese co!!ents &ere posted on the  >all Street ournal6s &e$site in response to an article titled ? an e-reader revolution in  Africa?” he co!!ents and the co!!entators6 na!es are sho&n here e:actl) as posted online" “    Having worked in Uganda and other African countries for several years, I am skeptical. As with many well-intended development programs, this one fails to understand the realities on the ground while foisting technology on communities that most certainly have higher priorities than a high-tech book. Mr. isher has not taken the time to understand the needs of communities in poor countries. !rankly, the whole idea is absurd, another e"ample of #parachute aid#$ drop in, give away something you think they need, get a nice photo with smiling children, and leave, without providing any long-term follow-up %&' (nce you get a few miles from ma)or cities in Africa, there is no electricity, let alone internet access to download books %&' *hat happens when something breaks or re+uires servicing I guarantee that will result in piles of broken indles that are unusable. Ive seen the same with donated medical and laboratory e+uipment %&' A high-value item like a indle %which is worth more than many families make in months' will most certainly be a target for thieves, if the teachers or children dont steal them first/ 01aura Hendri"2 3I too have worked in Africa. 1aura Hendri" is entirely correct in her assessment. 4he initiative reminds me of another silly initiative - (ne 1aptop per 5hild %(165'/ 0Michael Morris2 3Helicopter pro)ects like this do not really help, e"cept to make the sponsors feel good. Africans must improve their own lot first. It can be done, but it will not be in this way and there will not be an 7-8ook evolution sweeping the African continent until their governments build roads and provide stable transitions of power, reliable water, health care, and opportunities./ 0obert 5osta2 3*orldreader, again, is about Ama9on making itself money under the prete"t of charity./ 0:ennifer ;raham2 3How about teaching them about some basic civil engineering <ou know fresh water, anti-septic  practices, irrigation to reduce mos+uitoes and basic crop growing skills. eading Mein ampf, 4he  :ungle, and =ilent =pring while in the hospital being treated for malaria, HI>, or 7bola wont do them a lick of good/. 08rian =cott2 35asting pearls before swine/ 0=for9a !orcer2  iii  @%er the past fe& )ears, the &hole concept of aid   in 'frica has endured se%ere criticis!s  $oth fro! the $enefactors and the $eneficiaries. In his 200< pu$lication The white man’s burden, the '!erican econo!ist, for!er e!plo)ee of the >orld 8an#, >illia! Easterl) tal#s a$out “why the west’s effort to aid the rest has done so much ill and so little good”  i%    In a highl) contro%ersial $oo# pu$lished in 2009 titled  !ead Aid, +a!$isa Mo)o, a Aa!$ian econo!ist e:plains “why aid is not wor"ing and how there is a better way for Africa”   %   here is in fact a %ast literature a$out the failure of aid progra!s in  'frica. Indeed, trillions of dollars ha%e $een poured in 'frica through different channels of aid, and still nothing see!s to ha%e changed. 'frica see!s to deepen in po%ert) and there are a lot of theories out there that are tr)ing to e:plain the pheno!enon. So!e sa) aid is a for! of neo-colonialis! and has no real intention of seeing 'frica gro&5 aid is paternalistic and condescending5 aid doesn6t consider local realities5 aid ruins self-reliance5 aid spurs corruption, it feeds the rich corrupted 'frican leaders and star%es the poor handouts-dependant population.he population" that6s &hen Worldreader  co!es into pla). 'nd in case )ou ha%en6t noticed $) no&, I a! all for it. In !) opinion, aid o%erl) focuses on the $otto! la)er of the Maslo&6s hierarch) of needs, the ph)siological needs Bfood, &ater, shelter... etcC  %i . In order to effecti%el) tac#le the specter of po%ert) one should also address the top need on the Maslo&6s p)ra!id  &hich is self actuali#ation  and &hich concerns !oralit), creati%it), spontaneit), pro$le!-sol%ing, eradication of pre(udice and acceptance of facts. 'nd those top needs can onl) $e addressed $) education, a for!al or infor!al education that focuses !ore on gro&ing descent hu!an $eings rather than !olding ro$ots.o !e, if 'frican populations, h)potheticall), &ere gi%en one last chance to $e assisted, and if the) had to choose $et&een a $lan# chec#, food, !edicine or education5 it &ould  $e a no-$rainer5 the) &ould ha%e to (u!p on education. his choice &ould $e as &ise as the one inspired fro! the scriptures. “$ive a man a fish% you’ve fed him for one day Teach a man to fish% and you’ve fed him for a lifetime”  . Education  not (ust alpha$etization &hich is onl) the tool to ac=uire education  is the !ost crucial need in  'frica, and 'fricans ought to pursue it &ith an) !eans necessar), $e it &ith paper $oo#s or e-$oo#s. 'fter all, should it !atter if )our tutor chooses to ta#e )ou fishing on a sophisticated $oat instead of a &ooden $oat* 'fricans ha%e to #eep their e)es on the prize, and the prize, ladies and gentle!en, is li!itless &hen it co!es to education.  ?hen again education isn6t freeD, one &ould rightfull) o$(ect. 8ut this is &here effecti%e philanthrop) should e:plore ne& %enues. “     &’m ready to give every boo" &’ve written, royalty free, to any person with a 'indle in this program”   %ii   o, these are not !) &ords. his pledge &as !ade $) a prolific  '!erican entrepreneur, author and pu$lic spea#er, Seth Godin. Man) &riters can follo& his e:a!ple. here are thousands of $oo#s out there Bconte!porar) and classicsC that can $e %irtuall) gi%en to 'frican )oung students through this progra! &ithout financiall) hurting an)$od). @n the contrar), $) !a#ing their $oo#s a%aila$le, &riters  &ould $e preparing those #ids for the !ar#et of #no&ledge $) sharpening their appetite for !ore $oo#s and e%entuall) leading the! to $u). his &ill $e the !ost %alua$le gift to  'frican #ids $ecause “literacy is not (ust about reading novels, it’s about critical thin"ing, about being e)posed to ideas that promote creativity and broadening your hori#ons so you can change the way you loo" at your own e)perience”   %iii So!e&here in central 'frica, there is an e:tra%agantl) rich countr), the +e!ocratic epu$lic of /ongo. /ongo has argua$l) the highest concentration of %arious !inerals in the &orld. ;ere is (ust a fraction of so!e of the !ost co%eted ones.-/oltan" a %ital co!ponent of s!all electronic de%ices B!o$ile phones, laptops, +3+ pla)ers, %ideo ga!e s)ste!sC. -in" !ost of it is used as solder for circuit $oards in household electronics.-ungsten" this hard, dense and rare !etal is used in %arious appliances, fro! light $ul$s to 3s5 fro! for!ula-1 cars to ar! $ullets. It6s also used in !o$ile phones. eedless to sa), /ongo is also seated on a %ast !ine of gold, dia!ond and rainforest &ood. here is a %er) high de!and for those !inerals in &estern countries and other rich countries li#e /hina. /ongo should $e a %er) &ealth) and prosperous countr). 8ut since 199, /ongo is dro&ning in a long and $rutal ci%il  &ar that has clai!ed !ore than  !illion li%es i: . hose !inerals are no& $eing rudi!entaril) e:tracted $) &ar factions and illegall) sold on the &orld !ar#et in  &hat is no& #no&n as the ?conflict !inerals6 $usinessD. “    This is Africa’s resource curse* The wealth is unearthed by the poor, controlled by the strong, then sold to a world largely oblivious of its srcins”  : . 7or 2 decades, re$ellions, child soldiers, !assacres, fa!ine, diseases, rapes and refugees ca!ps ha%e $een the dail) lot for /ongolese people. Since 1999, !ore than 4 $illion US dollars ha%e  $een spent to fund the U peace #eeping effort in /ongo :i . 8ut the &ar is still on. /ongo is parted in little pieces, sa%agel) ruled $) $lood-thirst) &arlords and inha$ited $) a resigned population. his $ar$aric conflict is #no&n to $e %er) co!ple:. It in%ol%es a %ast arra) of geostrategic interests i!plicating se%eral   'frican and &estern countries, and its solution &ill re=uire concrete political and !ilitar) actions. 8ut its $otto! line, in !) opinion, is the sa!e as the one of all  'frican ci%il &ars. It is ignorance, tri$al intolerance, closed-!indedness, lo& self- &orth, lac# of organization, high nai%et), e:tre!e corrupti$ilit), total disrespect for hu!an life and dignit). 'nd there is no food or !edicine that can alle%iate such cala!ities. hese are our people #illing our people. 7or !an) generations,  &e 'fricans ha%e fed our $odies and did %er) little to feed our !inds. Education is  &hat 'fricans need the !ost. >h) should &e turn do&n or $e denied this chance to ha%e access to a &orld&ide, !ind opening educational tool li#e an electronic porta$le li$rar)* >e need &isdo!, !ore than food. >e ha%e to thin# ahead and understand the need to gro& a generation of )oung readers that &ill o%erturn this generation of )oung #illers.  's for the specifics and the practical difficulties of this %enture, here are so!e ans&ers fro! the cofounder of Worldreader  hi!self, Mr +a%id isher" 3About electricity$ the communities? schools where we operate do have access to electricity, thanks in large part to the fact that cell-phone penetration is so pervasive. *e use solar, diesel, and all kinds of other means, and are working with a manufacturer to design a solar case %&'. 8ut because e-readers are so thrifty with power, it hasnt been a blocking problem. %>ideo$http$v5BCrp(IcDE<Ffeature    '/ 3(n repairs$ weve certainly thought about that, and in fact do rears locally. Heres more about our work in ;hana, where our program has been in place longer$ http$@E@worldreader-launches-first-independent-kindle-   repair-center@   ”    3(n theft, all we can report is that so far out of the roughly EECC e-readers weve put into kids hands, weve lost fewer than D to theft. *hen asked why, the children and teachers tell us$ #4hieves dont steal education.# 3%&' Health charity alone simply isnt sufficient. <es, its necessary, and many are focused on that. 8ut in the end, the only way to long-term self-sufficiency and prosperity is through having engaged, educated citi9ens./ 0Javid isher2   "ii  Moreo%er, here are so!e additional positi%e facts a$out the use of e-readers in 'frican6s hu!$le schools" • Kindles are capa$le of holding up to 1F00 e-$oo#s.
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