Centering Africans in the Digital Scramble for Africa


  • Wayne Chinganga Stanford University


Once again, western superpowers are scrambling to conquer Africa’s resources. Unlike in previous centuries, however, the resource is data. In their zeal to improve the accuracy of machine learning and AI algorithms, western Big Tech giants have resorted to expanding their reach to the dataset-rich African continent, where inadequate or non-existent data protection laws fail to protect local populations. Many African nations find themselves unprepared for the onslaught because there are so many infrastructural issues that they have had little ability to prepare for this new form of colonization. Until now, data issues were considered “soft” or western problems of less immediate concern. In fact, the Africans were not wrong in their focus. Infrastructure and education are indeed the main concerns, but simultaneously western tech companies are conducting a new digital colonialism bringing in algorithmic technologies, which cause more harm than the supposed benefits they claim. Some African expatriates like Dr. Timnit Gebru, Dr. Abeba Birhane, Dr. Rediet Abebe, and others offer trenchant analyses of the current situation of digital colonization. This paper adopts their criticisms to argue that African nations must protect themselves against colonization and instead choose informed, publicly debated African-generated initiatives that advance African education and digital infrastructure. I call for a strategy that centers Africa: One that educates Africans in their schools as well as all public institutions, so that when tech colonizers come supposedly philanthropic benefits, Africans are prepared to negotiate their interests and shape their own digital communities as they wish.