In DepthColumnsEthiopian children and tablet computers

Thu,21Aug2014

Posted on Thursday, 17 January 2013 19:17

Ethiopian children and tablet computers

Hama Tuma

This soapbox commentary was inspired by a recent article that appeared in the German Der Spiegel under the title of "Ethiopian Kids using Tablets to Teach Themselves".
"A US aid organization has handed children in the remote Ethiopian village of Wenchi tablet computers in an experiment aimed at enabling them to teach themselves. They are now speaking their first words of English -- without ever having encountered a teacher" explains Der Spiegel.


The charity business is funny in a cruel way. Giving a handful of rural kids in Ethiopia tablet computers is as spectacular as the used cakes of soap sent to Uganda, the spicy ham sent to Muslim Tsunami survivors or the dog food sent to Kenya.

The relevance of this novel idea, in a country where the education budget has been drastically slashed, is revolutionary.

This brilliant move is the brainchild of Matt Keller, now the new American Messiah, from the "One Laptop per Child" NGO. Keller claims the tablets will help leapfrog the poverty-stricken children into the information technology age. It is an excellent opportunity for those in the know to draw parallels with the harshly criticised, but more realistic and to the point, Chinese Great Leap Forward.

A recent effort by African singers "to collect funds" to buy heaters for the poor in Norway saw them putting together, what has become a YouTube hit. Their song "Africa for Norway" is reminiscent of the 1985 hit single "USA for Africa - We are the world" and has gone viral.

The "Africa for Norway" spoof is a stark reminder of the late Idi Amin's decision to collect goats, sheep and food aid for "the malnourished British in England". Don't get me wrong. Such spoofs are vendetta par excellence on the so called western do-gooders who take themselves for nannies with one purpose in life: to keep Africans as babies throughout their lifetime.

These nannies come in many entrepreneurial shapes and forms, like Bob Geldof, Bono, World Vision, Oxfam and even the UN itself. Their publicity stunts include the use of images of children with bloated stomachs surrounded by flies, as they shed tears in front of cameras. In the background a soft voice usually says "Save a child, sponsor a child, buy one of our goods and we will send another free to this starving shoeless Third Worlder"

And then we have the crying celebrity adopters. George Clooney wails for Darfur. Ben Affleck shrieks for Zaire or the DRC. Bill Clinton yells for Haiti. 50 Cent has wept for Dolow, Somalia, in the name of the World Food Programme.

But these programmes serve as big publicity stunts for these celebrities on "hug vacations" and look good on TV. They appear in their designer safari suits, hug a few people, look sad, shed a tear, hold an emaciated child, pose for the camera, rush back to their five star facilities, take a long anti-septic shower, down a few preventive pills, fly back to their respective countries in their private jets, heave a sigh of relief as they walk into their mansions that cost more than the annual health and education budget of the country they've just visited, get their agents to book interviews with big TV networks and presto! They figure as a messiah for the impoverished Africans.

Their celebrity status skyrockets. Meanwhile, the victims of their media battering stay behind with their flies, emaciated bodies, lack of facilities, electricity, health workers and teachers and will probably remain so for years on end.

It is a business and millions are made from the charity business. Most of the money often goes back to the donor countries. Western youths are employed and are very well paid to bring Africans aid. Some of the NGOs are filled with conmen, others are fake and inept. But while some have shown a great sense of nobility and responsibility, there are a great many whose presence and purpose beg all sorts of expletive questions.

But apart from the likes of Swedow, who fought to send Africa a million T-shirts, and Keller, who wants to send more tablet computers to rural Ethiopia, an area with huge deficits in teachers and where electricity belongs to the year 3000, there are those who send Africans used shoes and clothing causing a 40% decline in Africa's apparel producing sector, putting more people in danger of becoming poorer, thus giving better publicity opportunity for the "hugging vacationers".

The cartoon imagery this whole thing conjures is a tablet-clutching tutor-less African, sporting a free T shirt, used shoes, old pants, and who dreams of a warm shower with used soap from the west. Sure, he or she now speaks English, thanks to the unpowered tablet computers. In a few years, they are probably very well educated to weather the great global challenges. Charming.

The Der Spiegel report states "Keller, 48, is a thoughtful American in safari pants. The villagers refer to him as the "ferenji," or white man. Everything has changed in Wenchi since he began making his occasional visits to the village".

Bless him.



Hama Tuma

Hama Tuma

Hama Tuma is an Ethiopian writer,poet and journalst who has been for long active in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Africa. His collection of satirical articles have appeared in four volumes of African Absurdities (the latest one titled Why Don't they eat Coltan?).Some of his books of fiction and satire have been translated into French,Italian and Hebrew.

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