Monday, July 27, 2009

Out Of Africa

A new, recurring theme in my life is Africa. Too long ignored on the global media map, the continent is nevertheless an extraordinary source of innovation and global influence. I'm seeing and hearing about amazing ideas and innovation coming from the continent. But perhaps this isn't surprising...

In South Africa, Naspers has a meandering business that is very influential in Internet TV with companies such as Entriq and MediaZone, which have more recently been rolled into CA subsidiary irdeto. ETV is another interesting company setting up a global digital hub for rights in Africa.

South Africa has also long been a mainstream location for sports and shooting commercials, and with the 2010 World Cup there's no doubt that the country's dominant role in African media will be reinforced.

But, in Egypt there's a buoyant film industry that comes close to rivaling Bollywood and Nigeria has its own unique form of home made direct-to-DVD movie industry that brings the 'dollars to cents' reality that 'Western' media is facing into sharp focus. Indeed it's a great model for the future of media that the rest of the world should pay close attention to - a total hybrid of Bollywood/Hollywood and YouTube.

With ten major new projects to lay cable around the African coast, the days of dependency on satellite internet will fade and Africa may yet leapfrog the cumbersome regulations of Europe and North America and be the first to operate countrywide high bandwidth networks. And there are, of course, interventionists, with Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, amongst others, very active in trying to wire up the continent. Few people know about the influence that Google Maps has had in Darfur, for example.

Of course, the backdrop to this remains rampant poverty, bad governance, dreadful wars and genocide, and severe health problems. Nor should the censorship that comes with dogma and totalitarianism be forgotten, albeit at a different level since 'the great firewall of Gabon' is unlikely to have the resonance of its Chinese counterpart (however, an ominous note is the influence the Chinese have thanks to their investments in infrastructure in Africa).

But the escapism of entertainment and sports, and more widespread news and current affairs coverage can only bring good, in my view, and lighten up what has, patronisingly, and for far too long, been called the 'dark continent'. The reality is that the light is nowhere better than it is in Africa, and, ironically, we might learns more in the coming decade from the continent that we all originate from than any of us thought possible.