Mariéme Jamme on the challenge of technology in Africa

Technologist Mariéme Jamme leads our session on the role of technology in Africa’s scientific development.
Technologist Mariéme Jamme leads our session on the role of technology in Africa’s scientific development.

From the Planet Earth Institute

Before speaking at the next PEI Africa Breakfast Club, part of the series of meetings investigating the science, technology and innovation agenda on the continent, prominent technologist Mariéme Jamme answers a quick five questions on technology in Africa. Mariéme was recently named as one of Africa’s 20 Young Power Women in Forbes magazine and you can view her interview on Africa’s technological revolution on CNN here.

Question 1: Africa is fast becoming synonymous with technology, with daily headlines about the latest technological innovations. What do you think are the most exciting technology opportunities in Africa?

  • I can name many home-grown technologies at the moment in the continent, but the most exciting one are the ones addressing Green Tech, Food Waste, Road Traffic and Agriculture. Yet, although we have exciting technologies, we need to be careful that we can sustain their growth and the companies are profitable.

Question 2: But, with all the enormous challenges facing Africa – from infrastructure to governance – what needs to be done to help ensure technology delivers impact not just hype?

  • That’s a very good question. The hype will always be here. 15 years ago when I used to talk about technology, people would not listen, or even imagine the prospects that Africans could innovate and have technology. Now progress is being made by Africans Developers there is almost a sense of surprise. So the hype is mostly the fact people are surprised to see good coming from Africa (still). Technology is delivery great stuff in Africa, from Nigeria to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the technology i see being used to deliver IT projects is now used in many sectors. But we need consistency in delivering, and good governance strategies on IT projects if we want to see progress. We really need a movement for this to happen.

Question 3: In regards to our focus of scientific development, what role to you see for technology in improving education and skills?

  • Technology goes along with scientific development programmes. But, while there are changes in the views of the nature of science and the role of science education, the increasing prevalence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) also gives a strong challenge to the teaching and learning of science, and to the models of scientific practice teachers and learners might encounter In Africa for example, it is so important that we educate people on the role of science and demystify it, and that is more than just ICT projects. Empower teachers, women, the youth to really push the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects (STEM). This can really transform Africa.

Question 4: When you spoke to us last year ahead of our first #ScienceAfrica UnConference, you said then that ‘being a scientist is just not something many young people can aspire to be in Africa’. What can be done to encourage more people into the sciences and STEM subjects?

  • Young People in Africa definitely wants to be scientists. They have dreams like anybody else. But the problem they are facing is that African Governments just do not invest enough on the promotion of STEM subjects, but often instead on ICT. As much as ICT is important, investing in science and STEM subjects is also crucial. The ICT programmes tend to shadow all scientific projects. I think it is the role of the Governments to promote STEM properly and make this a priority in their programmes – in my view it’s the only way they can transform their future workforce.

Question 5: You are often praised as an inspiration for other young female entrepreneurs and you’ve written about the specific potential for technology to improve women’s lives. What do you think technology offers specifically to gender equality?

  • Thank you very much and I am extremely humbled. Sometimes being an inspiration is great but can be heavy and challenging.We have long way to go with gender equality in Africa. It is still a myth, but there are organisations whom are currently addressing policies to make it a reality, including the likes of the Council of Elders, founded by the late Nelson Mandela to push African leaders and Governments to make positive changes. Technology is definitely a great enabler for women around the world especially in Africa. It gives them access, a sense of belonging and freedom.