Friday, February 04, 2005

Two Empires in Africa

The best legacy of the British Empire is the presence of millions of educated English speakers around the globe. This is a rich, readily accessible deposit of the "ultimate resource"—human talent—that the global economy has just begun to develop and tap. The "outsourcing" of white-collar work to countries like India has already begun—and now this trend is reaching Africa. This is how the new American Empire of global commerce is building on the foundation laid by the old British Empire. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Scott Bergstrom for recommending this link.

"Accents of Africa: A New Outsourcing Frontier," Marc Lacey, New York Times, 2/2/05

"Susan Mina, a Kenyan who has never stepped foot out of Africa, speaks English like the haughtiest of Britons. She can also put on a fair imitation of an American accent by swallowing all her words. Still, every once in a while, some Swahili slips out of her and that is not at all helpful as she tries to enhance Africa's role in the global explosion of outsourcing.... Controlling one's Swahili is just one of the challenges that Kenyans are facing as they play catch-up in an industry that India and other countries have turned into major job generators. Kenya's regular phone lines are so abysmal that the founders of KenCall had to go through the cumbersome process of getting government approval to use a costly satellite hookup. Even more dollars were burned on an elaborate generator system aimed at keeping KenCall's computer screens running during Nairobi's frequent power failures. 'Africa needs to raise its game,' said Russell Southwood, who publishes an online newsletter on telecommunications in Africa.... 'It needs to show the world that it can do more than pick minerals out of the ground and grow fruits and vegetables. KenCall is now up and running, and eager to lure business from Western companies that want cheap labor—but educated cheap labor like Ms. Mina, who has a university degree but earns less than $5,000 a year, not as much as a fast-food cashier would make in the United States."