Forget about the iPhone - the news that Google is opening its first office in sub-Saharan Africa is truly thrilling. My foster kids are from Sudan, and I have many other personal and professional connections to the region: I have opined many times that the information revolution is going to spur a vast amount of economic and political progress there in a very short time, and now the dream seems on the verge of coming true.
It's hard to imagine a stronger catalyst for this kind of change than Google. Its office will be in Kenya, and Google has appointed its first senior executive from the region, Joseph Mucheru, former CEO of Kenyan ISP Wananchi, to run it. It wuld be terrific if any major computer company set up a base in Kenya, of course, but the fact that it's industry leader Google makes the news even more wonderful, as others will no doubt be inspired to follow suit.
Mucheru lists his priorities as:
"Firstly, we want to optimise the use of Google applications in the region. We already have a lot of customers in the region but further development of the market is hindered by the absence of an international cable offering cheap bandwidth. Google understands that this is an impediment and is willing to go to the extent of buying international bandwidth that locals don't have to pay the current considerable premium they are.
"The second thing they want to develop is their Maps product to make sure it has local information that is searchable and useful.
"The third thing is using Google advertising in ways that can help monetize local content. Lots of people have done local content but most times it's flopped. We hope to show that there's a way of doing advertising that can support content. If we can do this, it will generate jobs and work."
A surfeit of jargon there, but what he seems to be talking about is: (1) more and cheaper bandwidth, (2) more accurate maps, and (3) the nurturance of a local information economy...
I'm just thrilled. Africa is going to zoom right past the industrial revolution and into the information economy, right before our eyes...