A vision for the Congo

By Arunabh Satpathy

The second breakout session on day three of the Future in Review 2016 conference was focused exclusively on Presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) Emmanuel Weyi and the massive problems – political, social, and technological – that he faces in getting his country to “leapfrog” others into the 21st century.

The panel was moderated by Weyi and Bruce Dines, VP, Liberty Global, and was attended by a combination of curious learners, educators, computer scientists, and entrepreneurs various cautious and optimistic about the DRC’s future.

Dines spoke of access to education, and the opportunities for disruption in the DRC, particularlyt in telecommunications, which would become the two major themes of the session.

“There’s an opportunity to leapfrog not only in terms of technology but also in terms of systems and processes,” said Dines.

Attendee Nelson Heller mentioned the success of some technology in Africa, and how it faces resistance. One educator mentioned her experience in trying to introduce computer education in the United States, and the analogous resistance she faced among parents.

The responses to the issues in education dovetailed around experiments in self learning for children, and identifying pain points of parents and specifically attacking them.

The other large theme of the session was telecommunications. Weyi spoke as telecommunications as one of his priorities, with special emphasis on 3G connectivity.

Narrating a person experience, he spoke of his days in a mining company where he had to wait for upto 2 days to speak with his employees, as he was in rural areas.

Leapfrogging was brought up again, particularly by computer scientist Dallas Beddingfield. The discussion shifted to tech companies and their attempts to connect the world cheaply. Google’s and Facebook’s internet initiatives were mentioned as solutions.

The political realities of Weyi’s path were also acknowledged, including the Belgian system based election process in the DRC, where a primary system similar to the USA is followed by a runoff in case a candidate doesn’t get 50 percent votes.

This led to a discussion about Weyi’s motivations for visiting the US. He said his vision of the DRC involves tech, and the US is the center of it.  

“In the politics, there are two layers,” Weyi said. “The layer that everyone sees, and the one that no one sees.”

He said his visits to US politicians and tech centers was his attempt to capitalize on the second layer, build connections, and create demand for his vision of the Congo.

The final theme in the session was the environmental costs of rapid development. Weyi acknowledged that that the DRC has the second largest forest in the world after the Amazon, and the second greatest amount of biodiversity in the world. He lamented that some of this was threatened by Chinese logging activities.  

On the question of co-opting locals into the task of protecting the environment, Dines mentioned his work in the nature conservation and working to include local tribal populations into eco-tourism models. He cited the example of the Masai, who earlier fought over land, but now work together to benefit both tourists and the tribes. Weyi agreed and spoke of the need to bring people into the fold.

“To bring change, you need involvement,” he said. “If you need change, you need to involve people.”

Weyi spoke of his enthusiasm and faith in the youth of Congo, and how the educational infrastructure could be built by companies in exchange for advertising exposure.

The session ended on a cautionary note, by acknowledging the massive difficulties in executing Weyi’s vision.