Earlier this year I was in Lagos. I’ve had meetings with few officials at the State level, and as usual I was carried away by my activism around colonization and panafricanism issues.
My guests would always “shut me up” when I’d start my blablabla about panafricanism, foreign deeds in Africa, etc. But two days before I planned to leave Lagos something extraordinary and awakening happened.
A young and pretty MBA groomed lady, long legs, with perfect oxford accent, from IBM, came to one of the State board meeting on innovation I was attending, to present the IBM plan to open an innovation hub in Lagos during the upcoming months.
The first slide of the lady presentation displayed in big characters what IBM considers as THE major trends for the close future, and on top of the trends a sentence reads “Data is the new natural resource”.
The lady continued to tell the audience of 13 local power brokers how IBM is bringing Watson supercomputer to Kenya for data gathering and analysis in Africa in various fields for innovation and solutions to African problems (the usual helping-africa blablabla to cover real motives).
At the end of the presentation, I was one of the first to ask a question, regardless of the fact that I was a guest at the board. I asked a specific question: “Nigeria imports 30 billions in software every year. How is IBM helping Nigeria to overcome that digital colonization? Is opening another software retail shop the solution?”.
The lady replied with a perfect corporate BS, but that was fine. Now, my second question sparked the mind of all high officials in the room. I asked:
“Your first slide reads ‘Data is the new natural resource’, and IBM will be leveraging the local ecosystem to help collect data for Watson. Can you please tell us to whom the data will belong to? and how you intend to share that data and its results/insights with the ecosystem?”
Before the lady answered the question, another board member continued my question.
“Let’s compare this natural resources with oil discovery in Nigeria. When oil was discovered in nigeria, we didn’t know what was the real value, and we have give it away, and never build local refineries. Today, we are paying dearly the price of our ignorance. Isn’t IBM the new Shell for Nigeria when it comes to data as natural resource?”
The analogy with oil industry history touched nerves, and I was able to spend almost 45mn afterward to make the high officials understand the big picture behind the Internet, data, surveillance, etc.
Sometime you need to touch nerves to get people to understand new things.
My activism helped those high level officials understand better what is data as resource and how they should to deal with foreign companies in that field.
For the anecdote, the oxford-accent-perfect lady told us that the majority of the PhDs, computers engineers, and analysts who will be hired for the Watson in Kenya were Nigerians from the Diaspora.
I wondered why then the Watson machine was not in Nigeria, but in Kenya. One possible explanation that came to my mind was that in Nairobi white people are kings, act like kings, and are looked up like earthly gods, while in Nigeria they are just another human beings equal to anyone else.