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Good News from around the Globe, Local Version

Here are a few things that struck me in my own country (The Netherlands).

This so-called ‘Beer Boat’ is fully electrical driven (both the propeller and the crane) with green current and reduces the county’s CO2 emissions with 16.5 tonnes per year in comparison with trucks. It not only transports beer, but also clothing, books and construction materials.

Actually, it is the second one in Utrecht, a city that tries to limit truck driving in its inner city because the fragility of its ancinet bridges and wharves. The first one is a diesel boat, but it was so fully booked they needed a second one. A much better one (it’s almost completely silent), everyone agrees.

(Friday April 9 I am meeting my Dutch SF companions in Utrecht: the beer should taste extra good…;-)

  • In the recent DUS (FNV BondgenotenMagazine: the newspaper of the Union of which I am a member) there was an interview with Pieter Hilhorst, the Dutch national ombudsman: a self-procliamed ‘tireless softie’ who is against cynism.

To quote:

I hate cynicism, but I am not an old-fashioned leftie. The old-fashioned left still think a better society can be created through anonymous solidarity with rigid rules. But we get stuck in those rules. We should rebuild solidarity from the bottom up: help each other at the small scale level, using self-organising powers: not ‘save yourself’, but ‘save each other’.

We need more people like him.

  • Hyves for energy is the vision of the future (via de Volkskrant): experimental cogeneration (or Combined Heat and Power or CHP) plants are being installed in Dutch households. Experimental because of the scale: right now CHP plants are of industrial size, this is one of the first times where the principle is scaled down to that of a household central heating boiler. A so-called micro-cogenerator boiler (microwarmtekrachtketel’) that — according to KEMA, the manufacturer — increases the energy efficiency from 98 to 125% (this obviously hinges on how one defines ‘efficieincy’, but in other words, part of the boiler’s waste heat is transformed in electricity through a small Stirling engine).

Problem is that such installations are quite expensive, and their economic feasibility hinges on the electricity company’s willingness to pay for power delivered back into the net. Hence an experimental set-up, with some households using the micro-cogenerator boiler, some using a heat pump that extracts energy from the air, some have solar panels and all are connected to windmills through a smart grid. Also the use of ‘smart’ appliances like washing machines and dishwashers that will automatically switch on when the renewable energy is cheaper than that of the grid.

“There will be communities that share and exchange energy,” says Pier Nabuurs of KEMA, “a bit like Hyves for energy.” (NOTE: Hyves is the Dutch version of Facebook.)

  • Groenlinks, the Dutch green party, presented its programme for the June 9 national elections yesterday. I particularly like their slogan: ‘Zin in de toekomst’, or: ‘Looking forward to the future’.

Yes, I cannot empasise enough that there are a huge amount of people who are actively trying to build a better future, and are looking forward to it. SF community, take note.

  • Apropos biodiversity and its uses: let worms clean the sewage sludge. Scientist Tim Hendrickx of Wageningen University says the Lumbriculus variegatus can clean up to 70% of the Dutch sewage sludge. Biocrafted Ouroboros, anyone (hats off to Rajan Khanna)? [Rajan's tweet was up on @outshine on June 10, and the worms article on June 13. Coincidence? I think not...;-)]
  • A company in Barneveld called Paperfoam is the only one in the world that fabricates packaging material fully from potato starch: ‘a real iPhone is packed in starch‘. 100% biodegradable, and the CO2 emission from manufacturing one paperfoam CD or DVD case is one tenth of that of a plastic one. While all the research is done in Holland, the company has license holders in Denmarl, Malaysia and the US.

So say goodbey to your plastic (one hopes, looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

That’s the second time that environmental awareness is combined with good drinks! Coincidence? I think not!

And thankfully innovation and forward thinking are alive and well, also in Holland.

UPDATE (hot off the press): Suriname, which used to be a Dutch colony, is doing very fine. An interview with Andre Telting, the director of Suriname’s central bank.

In the year 2000, as the country’s bank director, he inherited a total financial chaos. But he — and his fellow countrymen — turned it around.

Recently, at the IMF meeting in Istanbul, Suriname was receiving compliments. They were one of the very few nations that showed growth through the credit crisis. The country improved its debt position and strengthened its monetary reserves (reducing the country’s debt from over 500 million euors in 2000 to 210 million euros now).

On top of that, while he’s resigning (after ten intense years, and he’s 74 years old now) he’s optimistic that the Surinam people will not elect a corrupt government again. To quote:

“As regards criminality in this region we are an oasis of peace. Suriname is a safe country for foreigners. The average Surinamer is healthy and well-educated. Yes, I am positive about this country. But we have to prepare our people to several new developments, like the oil inning industry which can be a large source of income for Suriname.”

Which puts the cliché that ‘Third World’ countries can’t take care of themselves in a different perspective.

Sealife Game

Yesterday I visited my brother and his wife and his two kids (my nephews). They had been to the Sinterklaas party at my brother’s office, and had gotten a present. This was a DVD board game called “Sealife“.  So we played it.

I was amazed: not only does it teach kids a lot about life in the sea (particularly in a coral reef), it also raises awareness of how pollution, overfishing and climate change affect, well, sea life (and that of a coral reef in particular). I was also amazed that my oldest nephew Boris (6: he’ll turn 7 on December 4) got so many questions right, and has already a fairly good understanding of concepts like pollution and eco-tourism.

Now one can wonder if this is a subtle form of indoctrination (even if the ‘eco-friendly’ question were few and far between: most were trivia questions about life in the sea itself), or a good education counter-balance. Yes, I’m saying counter-balance because my nephews have a gameboy where the play nintendo games, too. So they’re also playing games where they hit, smash or otherwise destroy opponents in order to attain a certain goal and get to the next level. The phrase: “I still have 8 lives” is a common one. So they’re exposed to ‘violent’ games, as well.

Which made me wonder: which game has more influence on their thinking and (emotional/intellectual) development? I don’t really know, and have to make a wild guess. I think it hinges on two important factors: education and sense of reality.

1. Education.

With which I mean education at large, not just the education they get at school. Kids receive a continuous education from the environment: their parents, their family, their friends, their school. But also TV and the internet are a growing part of that environment. In Holland we have this thing called ‘jeugdjournaal‘ (‘youth journal’, or better: news for young kids), where important news items are told in a way young kids can understand, mixed with news of particular interest for kids (and it’s got a website, and can be friended on Hyves — the Dutch version of FaceBook — and followed on Twitter: they don’t miss a beat). It’s great, and I know it’s watched and followed by a large number of adults, as well.

Then there are these educational games they do at school: when I showed my mother, my brother, his wife and my two nephews around in the Training Centre where I work, my oldest nephew immediately understood how to use a smartboard, got on the internet, and played ‘het poepspel‘ (the poop game): a game where kinds need to fits pipes between a house and the sewer before the resident of the house is finished on the toilet. If they fail the whole screen is literally full of shit (young kids love that), and if they succeed the grey water is succesfully transported to the sewer. It succesfully combines a young kid’s fascination with poop into a game that shows why we have sewers. I certainly wish we had such a game in my youth.

2. Sense of Reality.

I suspect that there is a qualitative difference in how those kids see and experience a DVD board game such as Sealife or a nintendo game on a gameboy. I think they know that when they’re playing on a gameboy and their avatars jump to immense heights, perform impossible feats, and die 8 times to live again, then they realise, deep inside, that it’s not real.

On the other hand, when they see footage from Jacques Cousteau of coral reefs where these reefs are bleaching, blackened by disease or otherwise suffering, then they realise that this is real.

So I do think there is hope: it is our duty, as the older generation, to educate our kids so that they will become smarter than us (and I mean ‘kids’ and ‘generation’ in the broadest sense). One of my fondest wishes is than when my nephews become adults, they do things better and smarter than me. Then we — as the ‘older’ generation — have succeeded.

Another question is that of, for lack of a better word, indoctrination. By implicitly pointing out the things that threaten sea life in general (climate change, pollution, overfishing), is Sealife brainwashing kids? Maybe, but personally I think it’s a good counterbalance against the senseless violence in many computer games or TV series: those indoctrinate, as well.

I think the kids will be alright, if we teach them well.

Crazy Story Ideas, part 4A: Ageing in the EU

I mentioned that overpopulation is the elephant in the room. I mentioned I would be getting back to this point.

Elephant in the Room-Banksy_2

So here’s the comeback, initiated both by an article in a recent New Scientist issue where Sir David Attenborough spells it out, and last week’s “Planetary Boundaries and the New Generation Gap” article on Worldchanging.

Attenborough summarises the biggest problem (and why he’s a patron of the Optimum Population Trust):

There are nearly three times as many people on the planet as when Attenborough started making television programmes in the 1950s – a fact that has convinced him that if we don’t find a solution to our population problems, nature will. “Other horrible factors will come along and fix it, like mass starvation.”

World Changing talks about the huge complexity of the intertwined problems, at length, as well. However, they think we can solve our main problems:

There are plenty of reasons for despair and cynicism these days. But it’s really important not to underestimate the power of the politics of optimism, the power of actually having better ideas and answers. They are especially powerful when the people opposing us have nothing whatever to offer besides a white-knuckled grasp on a broken status quo. Their only weapons are fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s time we counter with optimism, vision and examples. We need to counter with a future that works.

(Emphasis mine.)

We need to deal with overpopulation, and we need to deal with it in a humane way. So I am not going to accept stories where most of the world’s people are killed off in order to save the rest, or save the planet (even if we published a story like that in Interzone, “Blue Glass Pebbles” back in #205 of August 2006).

Blue Glass Pebbles

No easy way out (in a storytelling sense): thus no fabricated virusses decomating humanity, no pandemics reducing the population. Population growth needs to be curbed.

If current trends continue, we will reach a peak population of about 9 billion people in 2050, before the population will finally start to shrink. As World Changing already mentioned: “one of our biggest goals ought to be seeing to it by every ethical means possible that the wave of population growth crests sooner rather than later.”

One important way of doing that is by empowering women. Another way of curbing population growth is by increasing wealth worldwide. Because there are already countries where the population is shrinking, right here on the continent where I live: Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and even the UK. Admittedly the population of these countries is still increasing, but this is through immigration. But reproduction rates in these countries have fallen below the ‘replacement rate’, that is, more people die – one hopes from ‘natural’ causes – than are born (or sub-replacement fertility levels).

Fertility_rate_world_map

This has the following effects:

  1. the median age of the population will rise (not only because of a decreased birth rate, but also because of increased longevity);
  2. the age distribution of the population will change drastically;
  3. hence, the old economic model of continuous growth will need to change to a ‘zero growth’ model;
  4. Also, a change – hopefully gradual – from a society that mines limited resources to a society that works at a (close to) 100% recycling rate;

Politically conservative forces (who, if they were really about conservation, should be championing green policies like mad) will baulk at the prospect of a shrinking population, mired as they are in the old ways of thinking: the economy should *always* grow, the young should take care of the old, so we need more young people than old ones. Now this is where SF – supposedly the literature of change – comes in: we need to imagine a society with a shrinking population that works. And the place that is at the forefront of that particular dynamic is the European Union.

So why not imagine a story about ageing in the EU.

(Actually, people outside SF are already thinking in that direction. I particulary remember a special ‘future’ issue of Dutch magazine Intermediair – which is basically a carreer-oriented magazine for the well-educated – of about a year ago that predominantly dealt with the effects of an ageing population. It’s not online, AFAIK.)

For one, showing that an ageing society with a sub-replacement fertility rate works sets a good example to the developing world. Quite simply because it would be extremely hypocritical of the West to ask of the developing world to reduce their fertility levels if we weren’t doing it ourselves, and it would hugely help this all-important cause if we can show them that such a society is a happy one.

Thus, the EU not only needs to deal with an ageing population and its subsequent demographics, but make it a shining example, as well.

First thing is to ditch with the contemporary cultural notion that young = cool and old = uncool. It’s bullshit: young and old are just different stages in a human life. Both have their pros and cons, and while the pros of youth have been widely overexposed, it’s time to set the spotlight on the pros of maturity.

For one, as Bruce Sterling chimes in at Beyond the Beyond: an ageing population isn’t apt to support extremist movements. He surmises it’s “Not because we’re any smarter, but because we lack the brio”. Hm: I greatly disagree. My mother, now 72, is still very active and helps out handicapped people on a Red Cross boat. What I suspect is that this older demographic might indeed be a bit wiser – on average – and just won’t put up with it.

Also, as longevity increases I see a lot of active retirees in my direct environment. Like my mother, they do huge amounts of volunteer work. Actually, women – on average – live longer than men, so we’ll be seeing an increased amount of active, experienced and – dare I say – wiser women. Which is, I think, certainly not a bad thing: rather the contrary.

For another, what happened to the way of thinking that tried to turn a liability into an assett? For example, we need to do away with the ingrained notion that a healthy economy must grow, grow, grow forever. It should be abundantly clear by now that we live on a planet with limited resources, so the most logical answer to deal with those resources is a ‘zero-growth’ or ‘steady-state’ (the latter is from the early 70s: so it’s not a new idea) economy.

zero growth symbol

Thus, the EU with its ageing population needs to change over to a zero growth model anyway (and its economic growth was already relatively low, which did not hamper the quality of living in Europe: rather the contrary).

Also, while we’re at it, it’s also in the EU’s (and the world’s) best interest to, indeed, develop the developing countries. So the EU should take down its tariff walls first and foremost. Yes, this will adversely affect several EU industries and the agricultural sector. But both need to adapt to the new circumstances, and it better to do this sooner rather than later (as is demonstrated by the three big car industries in the US).

Also, the EU should invest heavily in placing huge solar cell plants (like those already made in Germany and Spain) in the Sahara: this benefits both Africa and Europe. It will help develop Africa, bringing wealth to it, and remember that wealthy societies tend towards sub-replacement fertility rates and that population growth is highest in Africa. It will increase green energy production (and oil independency) on both continents, and generate labour and economic activities as those plants are being built, and huge power cables are laid across the Meditarranean.

morocsol

I can see a forerunner role for Spain and Morocco in this: for one, Spain already knows how to make huge solar collectors; for another the distance between spain and Morrocco is the smallest (the Strait of Gibraltar is about 20 kilometres wide), and finally they can do a political/economical tit-for-tat: Spain releases its claim on the Western Sahara in exchange for a hundred year warranty of energy delivered at a premium price.

Then Italy and Greece can make similar energy connections to Libia and Egypt, France can use its old ties with Algeria for a similar energy synergetic connection.

In short: yes, there will be a peak population. This is the bottleneck the world needs to pass through. However, we can try to minimalise the effects of that bottleneck twofold:

  1. Work on making that population peak lower than 9 billion;
  2. Work on making that population peak happen sooner than 2050;

And at the same time accelerate the change-over to a sustainable, green economy which will not only help us pass through that bottleneck with minimal damage, but also pave the way for the new society behind it.

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll be doing the actual *story* idea in part 4B, which I hope to post before, or over the weekend.

UPDATE: (OK: part 2 is delayed. I’m busy.) Just in today via De Volkskrant: “Agreement about Solar Power from the Sahara“. Article in Dutch, but links to the Desert Industrial Initiative, and I see that ABB is involved, as well. Together with Siemens (mentioned in the paragraph below), these are two of the absolute top technological companies in the world (yes: I know this from direct experience in the day job). So this is *very* serious business, indeed!

But the gist of it: a consortium of mainly German companies — Siemens, RWE, Eon, Deutsche Bank, Münchener Rück (a re-insurance company) and Cevital (an Algerian food company), amongst others — want to supply 15% of Europe’s energy from solar power in the Sahara by 2050. Check out the awesome concept on this PDF file.

stage-conceptOK: so I predicted it would be Spanish, Italian, Greek or even French companies, but was wrong: it’s the Germans who want to go there first. Nevertheless, the idea is sound, and yet hardly anybody (to the best of my knowledge: do absolutely feel free to correct me) dares to use this — sorry to say — fairly straightforward prediction in their science fiction.

It’s not *that* hard, right? And in my very outspoken opinion most readers will *remember* a story for making a correct prediction about the principle (Europe receiving huge amounts of solar power from the Sahara, benefitting both Africa and Europe), and *forgive* the very same story for getting the details wrong (it’ll be German/Algerian companies instead of Spanish/Moroccon ones).

So, you SF writers out there: do you still dare?

Kindred Spirits, part 5

Two things that put a smile on my face, albeit that the first one is a warm smile, and the second more of a wry one:The Fleas They Carried

  • The Fleas They Carried, an animal aid anthology edited by Jeff Richárd (note the accent aigu for pronunciation) has just been released through Lulu. All proceeds from this anthology will go towards reputable shelter and rescue groups, and will be matched dollar for dollar by the editor/publisher (within reason: if the antho sells like crazy then all you buyers will have outmatched the tireless editor, and that will be a great thing to happen). A caveat: I am one of the contributors to this anthology with my story “The Frog’s Pool” — which originally appeared in Nemonymous 4 — but have just ordered two (paper) copies — electronic ones are available, too — while, like the other contributors, not getting paid (apart from one electronic copy). The electronic copy looks great, and with fellow contributors like Eugie Foster and Mike Jasper this looks like a fine one (wish I wasn’t buried in slush, so I could read it quickly). Also, keep an eye on the Relief Anthology website: there are more projects coming up.De_Toppers_154609c
  • What puts a wry smile on my face is the news that the Dutch entry to the Eurovision Song Festival didn’t even make it past the semi-finals. The tentative link to this very blog is that their song is called “Shine” (you can’t make such things up). Let’s say that the song isn’t exactly to my taste, and that the glittery suits that these ‘toppers’ were wearing just about signifies their style (tastes differ, and YMMV, of course*). The ‘toppers’ (literally translated: ‘those on top of the bill’; chart-toppers is about right) are hugely popular in Holland (not outside, because they sing mainly in Dutch), routinely selling out the Amsterdam Arena – home stadium of Ajax — several nights in a row. René Froger sold over 6 million albums in The Netherlands, and both Gordon (whose fortune is estimated at 8 million euros) and Jeroen van der Boom (two number one hitsingles in 2007) aren’t doing much worse, either. So pity is about the last thing we should feel for these ‘toppers’ not making the Eurovision final. The wry thing, though, is the fact that Gordon — a well-known homosexual**, who attends the Gay Pride AmsterdamGordon_GayPride — decided not to attend the Gay Pride in Moscow (which was banned), ‘for safety reasons’. And even if that gay pride rally was broken up by the Moscow riot police, it would have been a good opportunity to draw attention to Russia’s very poor record on gay rights, and humanitarian rights in general.

Moskou_154814c

* = I don’t follow the Eurovision song festival at all, but the song title ‘Shine’ just caught my eye;

** = I don’t like his music, which is a matter of taste. I do enjoy listening to other homosexual singers like Freddy Mercury, Rob Halford and Doug Pinnick.

UPDATE: Andy Remic has just launched the Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics blog, whose mission is — “to celebrate everything positive, funky and exciting in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Universe!”

The SFFE is a core platform, a hub of authors who have banded together with the aim of celebrating all that is positive in genre fiction. We aim to leave cynicism and negativity at the door, and concentrate on what makes us smile, what entertains us, and what brings light and joy to our SF, fantasy and horror universe.

I’ll sure be keeping an eye on that one…;-)

Crazy Story Ideas, part 2

flower_shootbackSince this is the ‘crazy story ideas’ topic, let’s head to an area where precious few have gone before, and imagine — even less people have gone there — a prosperous future for it (or at least a future where things change for the better): Africa.

Often referred to a ‘the lost continent’. Or, to quote:

The only thing Africa has left is the future.

Marita Golden (1950 – ) / U.S. writer and teacher / A Woman’s Place.

First, let’s not see it as a ‘lost’ continent, and take hope (and lessons) from these newsbits:

KENYA-VOTE-UNREST-PEACE MEMORIAL

They say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence which convulsed the country after the late-2007 elections.

power-of-one

That dynamic ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today “there’s a new generation of Africans who are now saying, ‘No — show us what you can deliver,’ ” says Farhan. “They are getting their message across. You find autocrats are reincarnating themselves as democrats. They are increasingly no longer in control. It’s really interesting. There’s a new mood sweeping Africa.”

  • Or, as this 2008 end-of-year report on PRI.org indicates: while the bad news — which was most prominently featured — came from Zimbabwe and the Congo, this was, according to US amabassador Charles Stith: “It really is at the end of the day the tail wagging the dog … cause the numbers speak for themselves — you’ve got 16 countries with 650 million people out of 800 million, so the vast majority of people are in countries that are on track. The good news is that the numbers of states that are coming on-line, in terms of issues of governance and the economy, is increasing.”
  • The World Championships Football of 2010 will be held in South Africa. This cannot be underestimated: football is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, and while its darker side (hooliganism) is well known, it also inspires hope and creates joy worldwide;

football_shootbackNext, let’s explore Africa’s potential:

  • Saharan sun to power European supergrid“, from the The Guardian almost a year ago (July 22, 2008; and I read the same news in a recent issue of New Scientist a few weeks ago, here is the same news on the Times online of March 15, 2009, so the idea isn’t quite that new);
  • Africa’s (relative) lack of infrastructure can be an advantage, in a similar way as the Dialectics of progress (originally coined as “De wet van de remmende voorsprong” by Dutch historian Jan Romein in 1935):
  • Thus, instead of large energy-generating plants with a huge power infrastructure and electricity grid, they can develop small local power plants based on solar, wind or water energy and biomass;
  • Small, cheaply produced water purification units can supply clean water locally;

mobile-water-purification-unit

cell_africa

  • For transport, they can use/develop zeppelins instead of using planes, trains & automobiles (each of which need, again, a huge infrastructure: a zeppelin needs no rail, road or runways, and is energy efficient);
  • Finally,the equator runs through Africa, so it’s a prime location for a space elevator base;

Obviously, there are enormous obstacles to overcome, political, cultural, sociological and technological. The challenges are huge, but I like to think that a lot of people tend to underestimate the possibility of change. A few examples: in the early eighties nobody — me included — would have believed that the Iron Curtain would come down, peacefully, in 1991. Similarly (see the Tutu quote below),

Improbable as it is, unlikely as it is, we are being set up as a beacon of hope for the world.

Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) / South African clergyman and civil rights activist / The Times (London).

hardly anybody would have believed that apartheid (one of the the best-known and ugliest Dutch words) would come to an end, starting with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 11, 1990, and ending — after several years of negotiations — with the election in 1994.

Finally, until very recently, nobody would have believed that the US would elect a black president (even if it took eight years of grandiose misgovernment and the biggest economic crisis since 1929 to help pave the way: sometimes, unfortunately, things need to get worse — even much worse — before they get better). So, in that vein:head_shootback

One shouldn’t offer hope cheaply.

Ben Okri (1959 – ) / Nigerian novelist, short-story writer, and poet, 1992.

Isn’t SF about imagining the (seemingly) impossible? Write about an Africa that changes for the better (actually, I know about one writer who already does: but I swear I already had written most of this post before we talked about this at EasterCon), and send it my way.

africagovernance

When hope dies, what else lives?

Ama Ata Aidoo (1942 – ) / Ghanaian writer / Our Sister Killjoy, or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint.

UPDATE: well, I’ll be darned! The moment I post this, this news arrives: Africans Must Travel to the Moon. Although Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s reasons –

“The Americans have gone to the moon. And the Russians. The Chinese and Indians will go there soon. Africans are the only ones who are stuck here,” Museveni said, addressing a meeting of the Uganda Law Society in Entebbe.

“We must also go there and say: ‘What are you people doing up here?’.”

–  may sound a bit awkward, they do resonate, in a local, African version, my notion of how building a space elevator might help solve Earth-based problems:

“Uganda alone cannot go to the moon. We are too small. But East Africa united can. That is what East African integration is all about,” he said. “Then we can say to the Americans: ‘What are you doing here all alone?’.”

Museveni has campaigned — very vocally — for a common East African economic and political zone. Hey, SF writers: take this cue from today before the near future runs away from you!

UPDATE 2: I don’t know how I missed this, but here are some links and remarks about Africa’s so-called ‘Cheetah generation’. So, a bit late to the game (brought to my attention via ‘Ondernemen 2.0, nu ook in Afrika‘ ["Entrepreneurship 2.0, now also in Africa"] in de Volkskrant), I think a good place to start is Rob Salkowitz’s article on Internet EvolutionAfrica’s ‘Cheetah Generation’ Rises on the Net“.

A few salient points:

  • Since 2006, Africa has been gaining new Internet connections faster than any other region — a curve that’s only expected to steepen with the widespread deployment of mobile Web and wireless satellite-based services. Costs continue to fall, extending access further and further down the economic pyramid.
  • Nearly 45 percent of a total population of 160 million Nigerians is under the age of 15, for example. In The Economist‘s “Ageing” index, which measures the ratio of under-15s to over-60s in country populations, 14 of the 15 youngest countries in the world are African.
  • Now, the rapid spread of information and communication technology (ICT) and a more entrepreneurial approach to the problems of bottom-of-the-pyramid populations is turning the 20th century liability of “too many mouths to feed” into the 21st century asset of “millions of minds at work.”

Compare this with another salient point made by Vijay Mahajan at This Is Africa in his ‘Travels with the Cheetah Generation‘ article (and keep in mind that Mahajan is a Professor of Marketing, so basically he’s looking at Africa as a big business opportunity, not as a continent that needs aid):

It would come as a surprise to many — it did to me — that Africa’s economic strength is greater than India’s, which has a comparable population. If Africa were a single country, according to World Bank data, it would have had $978bn in total gross nation income in 2006. This places it ahead of all the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) except China. Africa has greater wealth than most think.

At the time of this update, SHINE has been released and contains two stories set in Africa (which are, alas, not by African authors. If I can do a follow-up, this is one thing I certainly hope to correct): “Sustainable Development” by Paula R. Stiles and “Paul Kishosha’s Children” by Ken Edgett. The former sees hope for Africa’s future beginning on a small scale, the latter even sees it become a leading continent in the future. Which ties in with Alastair Reynolds (also a SHINE contributor)’s planned 11K trilogy where Africa also becomes the leading continent in the future.

Looking at the Cheetah Generation and various other developments, that assumption may not be as far-fetched as many of you probably think. To illustrate that, another quote from Mahajan’s article:

Another statistic about Africa relates to the diaspora. With perhaps 100 million members around the globe, the diaspora is investing billions of dollars annually on the continent. And unlike the recent past, Africans living abroad are more likely to return home to lead and create new businesses. They are helping to propel Africa’s rise.

As it is, the eponymous Paul Kishosha in Ken Edgett’s story is an African living abroad who returns home and creates — if not a new business — something new and inspiring, indeed.

Congratulations with President Barack Obama: change will come!

A short post to congratulate everybody in the USA with your new President-elect Barack Obama. I think it’s no exaggeration that the rest of the world is cheering you on. Even though — as John Scalzi carefully observes — he is no superman, but a human being who will make mistakes, this is a historical moment, and marks the beginning of change in the USA.

small_obama_image1

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