The Plank

The Connectivity Campaign


Yesterday afternoon, Barack Obama made a speech in Silicon
Valley on innovation, outlining a plan
to create a national technology czar, or "chief technology
officer"--likely some 28-year old techie whiz kid, or kids--charged with
making president Obama's wildest web fantasies a reality. The venue was no
mistake--he spoke at Google headquarters in Mountain View, a petri dish of hyper-wealthy
young innovators, who were soon crowing
over his plan to make cutting-edge technology the bedrock of his
administration. From his under-reported plan to wi-fi rural corners
of the US,
to allowing web commentary on White House initiatives, Obama made the case of a
new generation. (Alongside this speech comes an endorsement from Larry
Lessig, Stanford professor and founder of the open-source giant Creative Commons.)

As candidate Obama stocks American government with tech
solutions, we might all take notice of innovations on his father's native soil.
Somewhere in Africa, a McClatchy blog
written from many sites in Sub Saharan Africa, reported
last month that rumblings of a Google move to east Africa have swept Nairobi's surprisingly
vibrant techie scene. Kenyans interested in being not just consumers of, but
contributors to the new internet economy should find an active partner in
Google, as the California
giant seeks to expand its sphere of influence among the newly web-savvy
continent. (The Google HR
lists a number of positions open in Senegal,
South Africa and Nigeria as well.)  SIA
reports that the primary task of its newest employees will be to map
the sprawling megacities in East Africa,
currently woeful blanks
within the otherwise superhuman Google Maps application.


Having traveled to Lagos
a number of times in the past decade, I've always been struck by how the city
space is fully untamed. Despite the unruly urban layout (have I ever seen a
street sign?), millions of inhabitants navigate Lagos and other large African cities
effortlessly. As rural-to-urban migrations capture the continent, and such maps make
this fact a zoom-able reality, it will be interesting to see if Obama and his Silicon Valley partners set an international precedent on
wired government.

--Dayo Olopade

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