Which is more important data as information or data as mobile phone connectivity? Driven by digital technology platforms, the word content has gained usage to replace the original meaning attached to data by researchers. This has had huge implications for the capacity of African communities to use digital solutions in advancing indigenous knowledge systems. Sometimes when farmers say they do not have data, they mean they lack data bundles not information. Yet information is a more powerful version of data than data bundles. This dilemma explains why African countries are failing to use the current ICTs-based business models to build and grow their economies.
Potential for using African content to attract the right digital technologies
No country can build a robust economy by selling mobile phones, laptops and internet gadgets. Coming from outside, these technologies are yet to be used for genuine African development because these gadgets have been customized for external content not local African content. For an African farmer or food trader, what is the return from investing in a mobile phone worth USD500 when there is no market for food commodities?
Young Africans have a duty to package and use African content to attract appropriate technologies. Developers of digital technologies in the Global North should be the ones coming to Africa begging for vast content to make their gadgets relevant by loading unique African content. Currently, most smartphones, laptops and other imported gadgets come with foreign content in the form of diverse applications and software which local farmers and ordinary citizens will never use for any meaningful purpose. As if that is not enough, many digital technologies are devouring the minds of young Africans through time-wasting entertainment, video games and iPhone applications that are more addictive than heroine and Musombodhiya combined.
Excluding social calls whose value cannot be easily converted into monetary value, very few farmers and ordinary people can assess the benefit of mobile calls that they make daily in terms of business or income. Smartphones are driven by social interests like music through Youtube while some people use smartphones for accessing soccer results or betting sites. On the other hand, many young Africans are on Facebook for social reasons not business reasons. Without appropriate content, it is difficult for African countries to know how much valuable time is being lost by youth spending more than 90% of their time playing music instead of doing business with that time.
The hidden cost of digitizing African learning institutions
Policymakers such as ministries responsible for ICTs should be able to answer questions like what is the percentage of business calls from all the internet and mobile calling in a particular community or city? Just as diesel and petrol enable cars and tractors to move, relevant content is fuel for most digital solutions. Data bundles or wifi bundles are useless without content around which people converse and share knowledge. Much of Africa has witnessed increasing excitement in digitizing learning institutions like schools and colleges. However, digitizing these institutions without the right content is a cost to the institutions, parents and country at large because the learners are using imported knowledge to conduct research since there have not been meaningful national efforts to harness African intellectual heritage and indigenous knowledge systems. When done properly and with enough positive intention harnessing local indigenous knowledge can enable local communities, farmers and entrepreneurs to add more value to African identity through digital solutions. For instance, ordinary people should be able to learn local languages using mobile phones.
Need for content-based business models
The absence of relevant content is one of the reasons why African mainstream media are struggling with sustainability issues. In many African countries, ordinary people are reluctant to pay radio and television licences because the content churned out by these channels is often irrelevant to local contexts and needs. The same fate has befallen farmer unions whose failure to generate relevant content has led to the loss in membership and relevance. For instance, most farmer unions have collapsed because they have failed to generate relevant content in terms of quality, timeliness and reliability for their members. Without concrete content-driven business models, many farmer unions are depending on donors for life support. On the other hand, many farmers have formed their own mini-farmer unions through Whatsapp groups where they share relevant content directly with each other. Instead of going to farmer unions or extension officers for real-time information, farmers are simply connecting directly with agricultural digital content platforms like eMKambo.
Why everyone sees Africa as a market for digital solutions
The Global North and Asia are competing to sell digital solutions to Africa because Africa still has a lot of untapped content. However, Africans are still to package their intellectual heritage and indigenous knowledge systems into content for which those selling their digital gadgets to Africans can pay rather than the other way around. Government departments responsible for ICTs should be centres of African digital content creation. Dishing laptops and smartphones to schools and communities without content is like giving farmers ploughs when those farmers have no seed. Content (seed) should be the main driver. Mobile phone data without content is meaningless. You can only buy data when you want to call so content is more valuable than mobile data. That is why Google is paying some people for pulling many followers. Content enables some people to be influencers who command a large following by commercializing their social presence.
In agriculture-driven economies, agricultural content should be a key driver. The right frameworks and support services should be provided so that youths can conduct local research using customized ICT platforms like Open Data Kit in communities. Such content can easily be converted into community profiles that can be globalized on digital platforms to attract investors willing to invest directly in local communities. Content can also be the genesis of several community business models around digital technologies. A lot of existing talent in many rural communities can be expressed through local content including demonstrating the role of indigenous knowledge systems in dealing with climate change in ways that attract investors and development agencies.