Tech4Africa

Information wars begin - expert

2010-08-13 22:09
Eric Hersman has urged organisation to adopt crowd-sourcing tools. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Eric Hersman has urged organisation to adopt crowd-sourcing tools. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Johannesburg – The expansion of the internet in developing countries and the resistance by governments signals the start of the information wars, believes Eric Hersman, co-founder of Ushahidi, a crowd-sourcing web platform.
    
“As the web expands with these tools, states start losing power and depending on the country you’re in, when the operator in the pocket of the government, you in trouble,” Hersman told News24 as the Tech4Africa was winding down.

He said that it was particularly troubling when governments expressed an interest in media censorship, and even so-called western countries like Australia have some websites blocked.

“Insitutions have a hard time embracing change and organisations are not equipped to deal with us, so we don’t. We can, but they’ve become irrelevant to us.

“You know after the chaos of the elections (in Kenya) we got huge attention from the international media, but none from the local media.

"About five months afterward, they wrote one tiny column about us. Ridiculous - to us, they were irrelevant,” said Hersman.

Critical

He said the reluctance of governments, particularly in Africa, to embrace crowd-sourcing tools was due those who want to retain their positions of power, despite “inefficiencies”.

“Look, I grew up in Kenya; it’s my home, but this is not a rich and poor story anymore, it’s an urban, rural story and as far as internet penetration is concerned, it’s about areas that cut across all areas.

"A great example is mobile payments, people care about money so you have adoption of technology that allows that,” Hersman said.

But he had critical words for humanitarian organisations.

“Businesses make money, and they have a far more positive impact than humanitarian organisations. I’m sure there are a few, but I can’t think of a single humanitarian effort that just works. The technology is a way to overcome inefficiencies,” he said.

Ushahidi (which means "testimony" in Swahili), a web application created to map the reported incidents of violence happening during the post-election crisis in Kenya, and Hersman said that it was great at gathering information, but was ignored by the government.

“Those who fail to embrace change, die,” Hersman said.

He said that the South African market was particularly difficult for innovators.

“The reason why we have more innovation in Kenya than South Africa is that here you have strangling regulations, particularly banking regulations.”


The Tech4Africa conference ended on Friday, and you can follow the News24 Tech4Africa blog here.


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