Kenya: Techpreneur, Transnational Node, Kibera

Kenya provides two of the most recent technologies of digital transformation: M-Pesa and Ushahidi, the one allowing a leapfrogging, past the slow wiring of telephony, into the digital worlds of credit and communicative mobility, the other an open source platform for mapping troubles and supplying emergency relief. Nearby across the southern border on the Serengeti plains of Tanzania, is Olduvai Gorge, one of the places from which we mark the beginnings of homo sapiens’ history, and the spread of our genomic diversity—genomics being one of our newest digital sciences, and one with an important contemporary history via agricultural biotechnology since Kenyan independence (see Juma 2023, discussed in length later in the text).

So, it is wonderful to have an ethnographic report from founding members of i-Hub in Nairobi, established in 2010–11, a spin-off of Ushahidi, as not just a focal point for the meme of “Rising Africa,” but as a localized place in Nairobi, a long-time space of STS-like beginnings, if not yet of a disciplinary STS formation. i-Hub became an important first “pit stop” for diplomats and international visitors who wanted to see Kenya’s “Silicon Savanah.” The two authors, who style themselves as a White Asian-American woman and a Black Kenyan woman, worked at i-Hub for five years (2010–2015). As former members of i-Hub, they see themselves as positioned both as researchers and as objects of research, a double-vision situatedness, conducive for cultural critique and STS perspectives, both of i-Hub as one of the first of now hundreds of co-work spaces across Africa, and as a start-up in its first phase before being bought by enterprises with sustainability in mind.

The figure of the Techpreneur arose, they suggest, out of the Post-Election Violence (PEV) of 2007–08 in which over a thousand Kenyans lost their lives, resolved temporarily only by a power-sharing agreement, and through which government lost trust in its legitimacy. As with the ordoliberal economic miracle in post-war Germany (Foucault [2004] 2008), the figure of the Techpreneur offered a non-governmental, technical fix, a potential democratic mode of techno-optimism, with all the affordances and diversions of a neoliberal world. The Techpreneur was an “investable” figure “latched onto by state, development aid, and philanthropic sectors,” gaining “circulatory power” through state, international, and non-governmental funding and rhetoric. A start-up culture, dubbed Silicon Savanah, it was hoped, would grow, and lead the way for a continent-wide self-generating entrepreneurial ethos. There was enthusiasm for “Rising Africa.” Built on the rapid spread of mobile phones and laptops, individual and community entrepreneurs could build a new political economy, set apart from slower, government or corporate formations (albeit needing to negotiate and forge new government regulatory and patent sovereignties). M-Pesa and Ushahidi were to lead the way into a digital future, and i-Hub was one of the best branded of a growing number of co-work spaces, fab labs, maker spaces, and start-ups.

To read further, please follow this link.


Analytic (Question)





Creative Commons Licence