I was recently selected to work with a team of technology professionals on a Smarter Cities Challenge in the city of Abuja, Nigeria. Smarter Cities are cities that interconnect citizens, government, businesses, and data to efficiently run city operations and meet the service needs of the citizens. Similarly, the Internet of Things is the broader concept of interconnecting any device in any environment so that consumers of the device data can benefit from services like situational awareness and data analytics. In a way, Smarter Cities and The Internet of Things use technology to bring people together in a more harmonious way.
Before arriving in Africa, I expected that my assignment would help me better understand how the Internet of Things could interconnect the people and government of Abuja in a way that would improve the lives of everyday citizens. As an African-American on my first trip to Africa, I also expected a unique cultural experience that would more deeply connect me to the history of African-Americans. Growing up in America I learned the history of some of my ancestors who were taken from Africa and enslaved for a period that lasted for hundreds of years. Although I have embraced my ancestral connection to Africa, it has always felt distant and to some degree it has been an intangible Thing. This changed for me the minute I landed in the city of Abuja. One of the first things that stood out to me was the customary greeting I received from so many of the citizens of Abuja. “You are welcome”, people of Abuja would consistently express in the most sincere and warm fashion. I truly felt welcomed. This feeling was reinforced while meeting with the government officials of Abuja. I did have mixed emotions to say the least. My feelings ranged from a sense of belonging to something with pride, to a sense of returning to a place that I never really knew or understood. I have heard others express similar feelings about visiting Africa, but witnessing the pride and beauty of Africa first hand is nothing like I have ever felt before. I witnessed people with physical features and mannerisms that closely resembled people who were neighbors and schoolmates of mine while growing up in America, but the warmth, pride, and level of self-determination I witnessed made me proud and more appreciative of the beauty of Africa and the African Diaspora.
There was something else… something that was missing. This was not obvious because it is something that I have never experienced before. I was in a country where every position of importance was held and controlled by people with “black” skin and the low expectations of inferiority, criminality, poverty, and lack of self-determination, to name a few, were strangely absent. I suppose these are things that have attached themselves to African-Americans after more than 300 years of oppression. It seems that Native Africans, while having challenges of their own, do not have the residual stigmas associated with being descendants of “slaves” (I prefer to call my ancestors Africans because it is more humanizing).
As part of my adventure in Africa, I went to visit Lagos and the Badagary Slave Port. This obviously was an emotional experience and one that I will never forget. To walk along the sands where some of my ancestors left Africa forever was almost an out-of-body experience. Some of the things I saw angered me. However, I am grateful to be an American with the freedom to pursue happiness in a way that few global citizens can. This was part of my IoT experience, my Internet of African Things experience. I am thankful that I work for a company which is probably the only company in the world that can provide opportunities for me to genuinely help communities across the globe while connecting me to a part of my ancestral history in a way that is meaningful beyond words.