Africa 2.0 & African Literacies

Posted by nicholaspelafas on July 16, 2011

In an article titled ‘Africa 2.0: Myth or Reality’ from Pambazuka News ( the author brings together various perspectives on the role of technology in Africa at a moment when discussing its potential has become popular.  While the concerns of the various contributors are quite diverse, some important points are made that can help us to think critically about multiliteracy in a global context.  One author writes:

“In many contexts, new media does not have the same pervasiveness or reach as mediums such as newspapers, radios and mobile phones. At the local level, the tools required for change are often already in people’s hands; the challenge is making them work effectively to meet the needs of the context.”

This means that it may not be necessary for African or other non-Euroamerican countries to pursue the proliferation of new media in same way as the West, and that if we are focusing on setting priorities for improving quality of life via cooperation and communication, perhaps we should not valorize new western literacy technologies before we consider the potentials of existing technologies and literacies.  This is further complicated by existing realities on the continent, as pointed out by another contributor:

‘The literacy divide. I’ve blogged here before about the fact that slowly growing rates of literacy and rapidly growing rates of mobile internet access might mean that inability to read, rather than lack of access to the technology, will soon become the key barrier to accessing the internet. There are lots of great examples of how mobile communications can be used to promote literacy, but the point still stands. And again, it’s largely up to governments to make sure that literacy expands fast enough to keep up.”

Here we are reminded that literacy and education themselves are insufficiently supported by many African governments, where no African countries are able to spend even 10% of their annual budget on education and health combined. [IMF-  In reality, via cultural osmosis and fairly widespread basic education in urban areas, many people are able to use mobile and computer technologies fairly easily, however the lack of critical thinking involved in most literacy pedagogy in Africa means that they will have less control over a) which technologies they choose to use and b) the extent to which they will be able to adapt the technology to their context in a beneficial way.

In the post-colonial world we are still struggling to create African education systems that produce students who are able to utilize the full extent of their being and identity to construct meaning in the world. The language capabilities of Africans are well known, and it should be a priority to create literacy pedagogy that is African in nature, but allows students to critically engage new literacies, no matter the language, from their own cultural standpoint.  Besides giving people the capacity to protect themselves from the potentially harmful aspects of technology, critical thinking empowers them to engage technology and contribute to its transformation in ways that make it more efficient, multivalent, and context relevant.

One of the funniest quotes from the article said:

“It’s about building a social experience, not about getting jiggy with the technology.”

This is an important point to remember because much of the Africa 2.0 hype started with the reification of facebook and twitter as the catalysts in the movements in North Africa and the Middle East.  However, there were many uprisings happening in Gabon, Benin, Zimbabwe, and Algeria that weren’t utilizing these technologies to the same extent.  The point is that as long as we are talking about technology, let us remember that people are trying to connect with each other for the purpose of transformation and creating more open societies, for reasons that go beyond their ability to utilize that technology.  If technology and new literacies will be involved, and they will, how can they be best made use of in various contexts, and what are the potential consequences?



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