Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa. I am here thanks to a blog post by Matthew Buckland, a comment left by Mohamed Nanabhay, and the kind invitation of Simon Barber of the International Marketing Council of South Africa. Starting on November 30 I will be part of a ten-day “bloggers roadshow” in which bloggers from the U.S. will join their South African counterparts and tour the country’s hotspots of technological innovation and tourism.
I’ll be joined by fellow American bloggers Renee Blodgett and Ray Lewis of down the avenue, Zadi Diaz of Epic Fu, Mona Gable from the Huffington Post, John Gartner of Matter Network, Chris Morrison of Venture Beat, Eliane Fioret of Uber Gizmo, and Graeme Wood of The Smart Set and The Atlantic.
Also present will be South African bloggers Simon Barber of Brand South Africa, Nick Haralambous of SA Rocks, and Ndumiso Ngcobo, irreverent author of “Some of My Best Friends are White” (which I hope to pick up and read).
All of our blog posts during the 10-day trip will be aggregated and featured on We Blog the World.
I have finally added a disclosure page to this here blog so that it is completely transparent whenever I get any perks for what I write about. Which begs the question, why is the International Marketing Council of South Africa inviting a bunch of bloggers to come tour and write about their country? According to their website:
Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of communication today. Top bloggers are global opinion-formers, read widely by media and decision makers in the public and private sectors. Because blogging features direct personal opinion, there is no sense of mediated messages – the writer tells it like it is.
They aren’t the only ones who think that bloggers are serious influencers. A couple months ago a few of my friends were kicking it with Bill Clinton the evening before his foundation’s big annual meeting. It has always been standard procedure to call a press conference before such an event to help attract attention, but this time around, one of Clinton’s adviser’s must have convinced him that it was more worthwhile to invite bloggers instead of traditional journalists. Whether this is because bloggers are more likely to repeat talking points instead of asking hard-hitting questions or because some bloggers have actually become more influential than their mainstream counterparts is something I’m still trying to figure out.
Trade Versus Aid
Do I have any problems getting carted around in luxury with the expectation that I will have nice things to write about a country positioning itself to receive more foreign investment? Not so much. First of all, I write what my eyes see not what’s expected of me (which has lost me a few small battles, but I still think it is the way to go). Second, I have no problem with showering some deserved attention on Africa’s first all-electric car or the region’s impressive open source software community. Other topics might be more sensitive – like discussing Soweto’s history without getting into contemporary South African race relations or weighing out the pros and cons of modern mining. But what I am sure about is that the world would not be worse off with some more positive coverage of a country like South Africa.
At TED Africa the main discussion thread could be summed up with three little words: trade versus aid. Many of the attendees argued that development aid is paternalistic, often ends up doing more harm than good (funding corrupt regimes), and creates an unhealthy post-colonial dependence in which only certain communities learn the NGO parlance and therefore benefit from its money. These laptop-toting tech savvy critics argued that rather than giving money away to inefficient development programs, well-meaning foreign governments and philanthropists should be investing in Africa’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
The counter-argument is that great ideas don’t always lead to sustainable companies, or even great products. Good accounting, robust marketing, multiple channels of distribution, and efficient business organization are all parts of the picture and they are the skills that development programs try to instill in their participants.
One of my guiding questions throughout the South Africa Blogger’s Roadshow will be, Should the international development community focus its priorities and budgets on traditional USAID-style development programs or should it be investing – through low interest loans – in the kinds of technological and scientific start-ups that we’ll be getting to know on the tour? Also, as a leader in Southern Africa, how can South Africa’s business community spread entrepreneurialism throughout the region without having a negative impact on local cultures, sovereignty, and the environment?