Yes, but others such as Nelson Mandela also steered my focus towards achieving “techno-liberation”. It’s evident that the lack of technical know-how has literally self-colonised Africa. Like both Nkrumah and Mandela, I am certain that Africa has to own its development processes.
I also learnt from them that any society that lacks highly specialised knowledge, could churn out consumers who are not involved in the supply chain. The liberation and commitment could only have been instilled from the philosophy of liberation leaders like Nkrumah and Mandela.
Q: As a young African in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in America, you must have experienced an enormous culture shock. What was life like for you?
The culture shock was there but my purpose was to acquire knowledge, so it was easy to adjust. I arrived at Dartmouth College in 1969 when the civil rights movement was bringing about integration at the universities, and naturally I was always among a small group of Africans and African-Americans who faced the challenges of a new intellectual world. So in spite of the racial and social atmosphere during the early 1970s, the academic community encouraged those who wanted education. There was harmony when I studied, and it kept me not only out of trouble but also steered me into help.
Q: You are on record as having said that the Civil Rights struggle in America affected your “orientation” and pan-Africanist ideas: explain.
Yes, it brought attention to Africa’s potential and its desire for participation in the global economy. Naturally, that struggle continued to remind me of my African roots and the fact that I had also become part of the diaspora.
During my time at Dartmouth we were appalled when a well-known scientist, Walter Hermann Schottky, gave a lecture and students protested against his claims on race and intellectual capacity.
This incident reminded us in the Diaspora that only Africans could liberate and develop Africa. That fact alone inspired me to want to help my people in my area of expertise. It planted in me a desire and dedication to struggle to acquire knowledge for the liberation and development of Africa.
Q: Why did you decide to return to Africa?
As one of the first PhDs in computer science on the African continent, and the first in Ghana, I felt obligated to return to establish a department of computer science at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) in 1979. It was necessary to establish a computer science department to provide an alternative at UCC, and secondly to produce newer, more prepared students for the new computer industry of Internet-based solutions. I felt a commitment to Africa’s development in this irreversible ICT revolution.
Q: You have written of your optimism about Africa bridging the digital divide, given the fact that some African societies traditionally used calculating board instruments. Explain?
Africa can bridge the digital divide given its history of strong elements of Information Processing (IP) tools, such as its calculating board instruments. These instruments, like Oware, had supported early African societies with calculations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of up to 10 digits numbers.
A set of calculating boards readily records information. Many Africans were of the view that computing was, generally, a foreign concept – this is not the case. Prior to the advent of Western education, Africans used the board for complex calculations. That board was as powerful as the Chinese abacus that served as the computing instrument for the people of Asia for many years.
Thus, information processing is not foreign to African society, but it has not developed in synch with the rest of the world in more recent times, with the acceleration of new electronic technologies creating gaps to be mended. So Africa has used calculating instruments in the past, and is able to use the modern version with equal intensity.
Q: What was the process that enabled you to bring Internet technology to, first, the West African region?