« Iroko » by Khadim Rassoul Fall received a special Vivendi-Sciences Po jury prize for Media CSR Innovation Ex-aequo along with « Nollywood: a dual assessment of its emergence » by Romane Butin and Frédérique Triballeau.
“Day after day, through its accessibility, near exhaustiveness, free availability and diversity, digital technology seems to provide the guarantees needed for an ideal cultural landscape,” says David Lacombled in Digital Citizen. By its very nature, digital technology disregards borders between peoples, and its penetration in Africa has been slow but steady. This led me to wonder how digital technology could be put to best use for Africa in all its diversity. After exploring this question, I would like to propose a very attainable, though still embryonic, solution.
During the last two decades, Africa has been largely integrated into the global economy, attaining record growth rates of 5.4%, on average. The urbanization rate is soaring and the middle class is increasingly gaining ground. Furthermore, there are more than 500 million mobile phones in use in Africa today, and in 2013, there were over 90 million Internet users, with an Internet penetration rate of around 12%. These technologies are used by farmers to inquire about market prices, and by young people for a wide variety of reasons. But Africa is distinctive for its cultural diversity and young population. There are nearly 2,000 ethnic groups in Africa and a like number of vernacular languages. With a population of one billion, Africa has the world’s youngest population with nearly 200 million inhabitants between the ages of 15 and 20, representing 40% of the active population, and this number is increasing rapidly. It is alarming, however, that, according to a 2014 report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are 75 million unemployed young people in the world, and 38 million of them live in Africa. According to Dramane Aidara, a Senegalese analyst at the ILO, these young people are “a lost generation, threatening social cohesion,” and a survey by the World Bank confirms this statement; according to this institution, 40% of those enrolled in rebel militias or terrorist groups were motivated by lack of employment. This situation is distressing, because young people represent Africa’s strength and are expected to ensure a shining future for the continent. To overcome the unproductive lethargy into which young Africans are sinking (to the extent possible), I am considering developing a project that I would name “Iroko” after the name of a very ancient tree similar to the legendary Baobab, which is known for the depth of its roots and its majestic appearance. The Iroko tree has always been considered a symbol of the force of youth and deep cultural roots.
I am from Senegal, but I have a strong conviction that my project is ultimately destined to take root in all African countries. But to start with, I plan to undertake the project in Senegal with a group of web developers specializing in Internet platforms. There are thousands of young graduates and disadvantaged young people who are unable to enter the job market due to a lack of both opportunities and information. I want this platform to be a vehicle through which they can express their dreams as well as their grievances. Many young people have plans and dreams but are unfortunately limited by a lack of financial and material support. The idea is to give them the means to share their plans and ambitions via the platform so that they can find people to work with. Our role would be to link up people with shared interests who want to work with young people from their countries or sub-regions. For example, cooperatives could be set up under our coordination. If the projects are not overly utopian and have a good chance of coming to fruition, our task will be to put the young people in contact with banks and grant agencies, but we will also assist them with administrative requirements, which can often be quite daunting due to bureaucratic corruption, for example. To make my project more plausible, I would need to have a well-stocked address book, and fortunately I have been able to build up a fine network of connections at Sciences Po, through meetings with alumni and companies. On the funding side, I will do my best to find subsidies from the Senegalese government, for example, since it is conducting a crusade against youth unemployment and illegal immigration, a related problem. Moreover, with a proper advertising campaign, SMEs and large businesses in need of skilled or unskilled workers may request our services. It should also be possible to charge commissions for certain types of service and even become shareholders in some of the cooperatives founded through our platform when they start generating stable revenues. If the project prospers for at least the next five years, we can consider internationalizing the platform in the sub-region and particularly in Senegal’s bordering countries to facilitate transport and logistics. Along the same lines, to facilitate access to the platform’s content by a broader segment of the population, local languages will be used in addition to the official languages, but will be written with the Latin alphabet, since the youth literacy rate is 70% according to the 2011 report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is due to the fact that a lack of proficiency in the official languages, such as English and French, keeps over 40% of the economy in the informal sector; but by making the platform linguistically accessible to this neglected segment of the economy, businesspeople and cooperatives in the sub-region can establish contact and enter into business relationships.
Ultimately, when used properly, digital technologies can radically change the situation in Africa. The cultural and economic impact of my project stems from the fact that it abolishes the cultural boundaries that compartmentalize ethnic groups, encouraging their interaction. In my opinion, there is no better way to stimulate the economy and bring people together than by inviting young people to work together to realize their dreams.
Khadim Rassoul Fall was born and lived in Senegal before entering the Sciences Po Europe-Africa Program. As a literature enthusiast, he has been - among other things - an editorial writer for the Senegalese quarterly magazine “Voix de l’Enfant de Troupe”. Khadim is also involved in politics and a strong supporter of the role of youth in Africa’s future. He was a coordinator of the student think tank “GERAAF” in Senegal throughout high school.