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Digital Revolution Lights Up Africa

David Smith | The Guardian   in  · ·
October 14, 2014

As a teenager Noé Diakubama made a sketch map of Mbandaka, on the Congo river, so as not to get lost in the forest while picking a vegetable called fumbwa. “I remember never having seen a map of the city,” he says.

Thirty years later, maps of the city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are still in short supply. So Diakubama decided to create the first one of his home city. He spent hours at his computer in Brussels, where he now lives, using Google Map Maker software and entering the streets he could recall. He hired an assistant to tour Mbandaka by bike and name the streets on a map scanned in pdf format and printed out.

Diakubama’s efforts have been replicated across Africa by scores of amateur mapmakers who have collectively pinpointed hundreds of thousands of roads, cities and buildings in remote areas ignored by colonial cartographers. This is just one example of how the digital revolution has not only caught up in Africa, but is in some respects moving faster and differently from the west.

“New technologies are in the process of transforming the lives of people,” Diakubama said. “Mobile telephony has equipped our lives by allowing communication between cities and villages without having to move; to announce a death in the family, for example.

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