In thoughtful consideration of several reactions to Nnenna’s (@Nnenna) posting concerning the (locally) publicised M$FT hotshot Jean-P. meeting yet another African President (yawn – Jean-P. is an avid collector of ‘me-and-da-president’ kodak moments).
I have weathered many futile interactions with near-fabled “men (and occasional women) from the ministry”. As has been said of education, “If you want to move a graveyard, don’t expect much help from the occupants!”
Very few of you will recall a BBC radio-series of that description from the early *nineteen-seventies*; a series about lazy, bungling, incompetent civil servants, with “Number One” and “Number Two” making decisions in the General Assistance Department of *the* Ministry, watched over by a lecherous, pompous, self-seeking Permanent Under-Secretary. Instead of assistance, this department created mix-ups, misunderstandings and general screw-ups.
The Brits have certainly been good at holding up to ridicule the vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings of government officials. Since the first cartoon published by *Punch* in 1843, they’ve continued to produce several excellent satires intent on shaming arrogantly authoritarian systems into improvement – the Goon show, Monty Python and Mr Bean all spring to mind. While Punch, sadly, is no more, we *are* left with an excellent legacy of constructive social criticism, using *wit* as a weapon.
To wit ;-); who, indeed, is the ritual clown in this latest ‘phallophorian’ M$FT publicity stunt? Is it our old friend Jean-Phillipe Courtois, or some ‘man from *the* ministry’? Pray tell, what is his name?
Ministries of Education, of Youth, Finance, ICT, even Works and Transportation. More recently, Ministry of Fish and Energy. My personal list is long, but the stereotype is a *constant*; middle-aged, middle-management suits – mostly over-weight decision-makers who are on “exceptionally good terms” with, more often than not, local and (mostly) international ICT businessmen (rarely women – think Sahara Holdings in South Africa – President Zuma’s son Duduzane is a director of subsidiary Sahara Computers – remember Gauteng Online?). And so it is in most countries, including Namibia and Kenya and … the country list is long.
These ministerial decision-makers control which company provides what ICTs, influence the exemption from (otherwise probably) transparent tender processes, persist in using non-standards to describe their ministries’ ICT requirements (e.g., intel-inside, M$FT-compatible, Office applications, etc.) and who, by the very nature of their *bewitching* technical skills (they are even *seen* to be using smart phones these days), have the complete, *awed* and undivided attention of their political leadership. Pertinently, “love me *tender*, love me sweet, never let me go….Ill be yours through all the years, till the end of time” 🙂
The concept of a wicked vizier (or sadrazam) comes to mind whenever I see these bloated fruit-flies hover around the ears of our political leadership.
One only has to listen to the speeches prepared for our political leadership by these *tenured* ICT experts to understand the extent of their influence (and expertise:-)). Take, for example, the prepared speech *read* by our Prime Minister Hage Geingob at the opening of eLA 2013 in Windhoek recently. The only reference made to any purportedly *successful* ICT4E outcome in Namibia was that of M$FT’s *Pathfinder* project which *failed* in 2005. Was it *coincidental* that Mark East, GM for M$FT’s education industry group for Africa, Middle East and Asia, spoke at us the very next morning with some more lies about the success of Pathfinder and (the future of) M$FT in Africa’s education sector? I can only say thank G*d that Donald Clark (http://www.planblearning.com/) was on hand to sober any heady expectations the audience may have had of M$FT’s expensive patronage!
It was an uncomfortable déjà vu experience, listening to Mark East talk about Pathfinder at eLA 2013. I remembered that I had – in 2005 – reacted quite strongly to the manner in which M$FT *baled* out of their infamous Pathfinder project (see http://bit.ly/10DNV51). That, after several “off-the-record” good-cop-bad-cop meetings with him and his cronies Jean-P., (dear) George Ferreira, Lizzie Range, Sean Nicholson, Reza Bardien and several local government suits during that tempestuous time. Diverse attempts to swing my vote of confidence. for M$FT.
We used to have a “bounty wall” in our Katutura SchoolNet workshop – a place where we posted the mugshots of diverse culprits of ICT4E failure in Namibia – here’s one we did for Jean-P. in 2005…
The october 2008 Wall Street Journal article by Steve Stecklow – M$FT battles Low-cost rival for Africa (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122332198757908625.html), covers many of the issues which our Kenyan friends are dealing with (again). It’s well worth reading this article (again), since it is clear that the very same forces are still at play in Africa.
Africa has weathered many naïve, ‘bleedin’ heart, drop ‘n run’ international ICT4E&D misanthropies, and one more does not burden the reality that such misguided ‘trick or treat’ generosity does more harm than good in otherwise generally well-defined frameworks of ICT development in education in Africa. I’ve said this before, and I’ll continue to say it again.
The Microsoft ‘Pathfinder’ project, Negroponte’s OLPC (now tablet) project, Shell’s ‘Oshana Connect’ project , the Italian CISP telecentre project, World Computer Exchange and their ilk, US Peace Corps and Rotary Club’s school PC donation drives, to name but a *few*, have all failed dismally, given their lack of attention to long-term support obligations with *realistic* cost of ownership. Conventional international ICT development support has traditionally focused on quick project returns based on well-padded capital expenses, numbers of computers (proudly!) delivered, and sleek, shining ‘best practices’ reports filled with ‘kodak moments’ of happy children enjoying whatever prescribed flavour of computing device has been put out to play.
Tut tut, tick-tock, tock. What options do we have to counter such weaknesses?
Find, name and shame your particular man from the ministry. Use whatever local media at your disposal. He’s the one who, ignorant of your wit, dreads your criticism. S/He will likely accuse you of character assassination.
We should probably start an Ushahidi crowdmap of failed ICT4E&D projects and wicked viziers in Africa.
And finally – we also have time and the evolution of assistive technologies, based overwhelmingly on FLOSS. Viva FOSSFA, viva!
> Change is a primary constant…. be assured things will always change,
> question is can we influence them to change in the way that is best for