Collective Intelligence – The African Paradigm

Before diving into collective intelligence, let’s talk first about innovation. The last 10 years have plunged the world into a deep economic, political and social crisis. While creating a profound mistrust of established financial and economical models in Western countries, this crisis has brought to light alternative practices, philosophies and models that existed all the way in the parallel universe of emerging countries: Jugaad Innovation in India, Smart & LowTech in Kenya, Ghana or Senegal. Models that are user-centric, perfectly adapted to conditions of scarcity of resources and based on upcycling. Reverse innovation was born and success stories followed one another (M-Pesa, Jumia, etc.).

While everyone is now convinced of the virtues of this two-way innovation road, few people would consider applying open democracy principles to the continent. In fact, launching a public consultation and more generally, a collective intelligence initiative may frighten some people because Prejudices die hard: “Africa and democracy do not rhyme”.

Well, maybe there is more to it than meets the eye!

Beyond the hashtag

“As Africans, we need to share the common recognition that all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our continent.” Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, 1999-2008

As a result of the Arab Spring, social media have become a powerful means for political protest and democratic expression. In recent months, Cameroon, Morocco and the DRC have witnessed social movements organized and massively relayed on social networks. Also, research on social media in Africa must acknowledge that its use – while growing – is predominantly situated in urban centres and more developed parts of the continent. But beyond their anti-establishment and oppositional power or the issue around their representativeness, it is interesting to zoom on the “collective” and “massive” dimensions of these movements based on local communities. Africa’s minds are waking up, the power shift has begun.

“Considering that local communities have a better understanding of their needs, that’s what “shifting power “really means”. Gerry Salole, Founder of TrustAfrica and Director of the European Foundation Center (EFC).

Local communities understand their problems. They know for fact what will work and what will not. This may seem obvious but surprisingly for many years, NGOs, Foundations and Global corporations have operated according to a colonial model of “sovereignty extension” without any (or a very little) consideration for local resources. This way of thinking and acting through centuries makes it very difficult today to imagine new ways of governance and yet …. It’s necessary; because, if the world leaders see in Africa the new Eldorado full of promises of growth, they can feel the rumble expression of a fierce desire among local communities to take charge of their destiny.

The Force awakens

“Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our story”. Paul Kagame

Africa is beginning to show the world a deep desire for self-determination, democracy and development based on its own resources. North Africa has started the movement with the Arab Spring but a tidal wave is spreading across the continent.

Today, from Hollywood and her record-breaking Black Panther, to the first edition of AfricaTech in VivaTech Paris, the continent’s touch is everywhere and it’s starting to influence the world.

This influence can only be a win for its Western partners if they are able to grasp three principles, which in my opinion, are the founders of a new African paradigm:

  • Afrocentricity as an approach to assert “the existence of an African culture, personality and philosophy through African agency, self-consciousness and pride;
  • Solidarity, which places a high value on community practices and networks (families, ethnic groups, etc.) in the creation of local governance;
  • Collective approaches in building a future for the benefit of future generations, including those of the diaspora communities that are intimately linked to the fate of Africans on the continent;

By combining these three principles, Africa truly gives the perfect fertile ground for massive collective intelligence in terms of engagement, outreach and advocacy. Three fundamental civic values that Western movements are struggling to maximize today.

“We face neither East or West, we face forward” Kwame Nkrumah

I had the opportunity to explore this issue through the business case of a French bank with a footprint in Africa, which has bet on opening the co-construction of its strategic plan to its 11,500 staff on the continent. It was a huge challenge as the prejudice on this kind of initiative remains significant. Against all odds, the project was a huge success for a simple reason : the whole initiative was built “with” and not “for” the thousands of Africans concerned.

Beyond the three principles mentioned above, this experience brought to light two other cultural factors specific to the African context, which probably played a prominent role in the success of the process:

  • The duty of participation and sharing (Warugal or responsibility) : The duty of participation is characterized by the effective action of individuals within their local community, based on common factors (culture, characteristics, languages, history, etc.).

The second duty, that of transmission, is embodied in oral traditions for example, which always have a didactic purpose. This transmission is vital because it feeds the learners’ base, always important in a collective intelligence approach.

These two aspects of the sense of duty or responsibility create ideal conditions for mass mobilization of individuals based on the creation of hyper-proximity links with communities both online and in physics.

  • The collective spirit and transmission (the Palaver Tree) : “The transmission system in many societies was based on the” palaver tree “, an institution used for adopting important decisions and a common way of resolving conflicts”.

This collegial spirit and the primacy of the community over the individual is a fundamental asset in the exercise of collective intelligence because it allows ideas and convictions to be transmitted not only from individuals to individuals, but from circles to circles, thus multiplying their impact and their embodiment.

And now what ?

More than ever before, African people want to shape their own story, to associate with each other not in opposition to the West but probably through more equitable relations. It is a great chapter that begins in the collective intelligence book on the continent. At the level of nations or of companies, Africa could be the one to revolutionize democracy. Be that as it may, Africa is ready for collective intelligence! It is up to us to open the debate …