Yesterday afternoon, Barack Obama made a speech in Silicon Valley on innovation, outlining a plan to create a national technology czar, or "chief technology officer"--likely some 28-year old techie whiz kid, or kids--charged with making president Obama's wildest web fantasies a reality. The venue was no mistake--he spoke at Google headquarters in Mountain View, a petri dish of hyper-wealthy young innovators, who were soon crowing over his plan to make cutting-edge technology the bedrock of his administration. From his under-reported plan to wi-fi rural corners of the US, to allowing web commentary on White House initiatives, Obama made the case of a new generation. (Alongside this speech comes an endorsement from Larry Lessig, Stanford professor and founder of the open-source giant Creative Commons.)
As candidate Obama stocks American government with tech solutions, we might all take notice of innovations on his father's native soil. Somewhere in Africa, a McClatchy blog written from many sites in Sub Saharan Africa, reported last month that rumblings of a Google move to east Africa have swept Nairobi's surprisingly vibrant techie scene. Kenyans interested in being not just consumers of, but contributors to the new internet economy should find an active partner in Google, as the California giant seeks to expand its sphere of influence among the newly web-savvy continent. (The Google HR page lists a number of positions open in Senegal, South Africa and Nigeria as well.) SIA reports that the primary task of its newest employees will be to map the sprawling megacities in East Africa, currently woeful blanks within the otherwise superhuman Google Maps application.
Having traveled to Lagos a number of times in the past decade, I've always been struck by how the city space is fully untamed. Despite the unruly urban layout (have I ever seen a street sign?), millions of inhabitants navigate Lagos and other large African cities effortlessly. As rural-to-urban migrations capture the continent, and such maps make this fact a zoom-able reality, it will be interesting to see if Obama and his Silicon Valley partners set an international precedent on wired government.