Ringtone and the drum: Africa’s underclass’s clash with technology

My old friend from River Path has a book out today (his first, hooray!). I’d be lying if I told I’d read the whole thing right through, yet (I’m waiting for a free copy, rather than reams of white paper!!). But I have been talking with Mark on and off about the project for much of the last two years.

If you want to get to grips with what’s happening in rapid development of Africa, Mark’s work is generally both accessible and thorough. I’ve no doubt the Ringtone and the Drum is too.

Some of you may remember my interview with him in the summer:

Some say that it is not possible to sell books on sub Saharan Africa in the West. But the story Mark has to tell informs us as much about our developed world’s relations to the developing world as the developing world itself.

Here – at our very first #DigitalLunch on social innovation from the Big Society offices in London – Mark talks about ‘Dollar boys’ who can exchange currency on the street sometimes up to large amounts.

You can pick up a copy in the Slugger Bookstore.

, , ,

  • Look forward to reading it myself.

  • pauluk

    Sorry for pouring cold water on this, but if the intro at the Slugger bookstore on Amazon is reflective of the contents of this book, then it`s a load of nonsense.

    For example:

    `Tucked away in a remote part of Africa, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso, three of the world’s poorest countries, are in the throes of great upheaval.`

    Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau are coastal countries with ports in West Africa. They are not `tucked away`. Burkina alone is landlocked. And none of these countries are contiguous in a remote part of Africa.

    Burkina Faso, for sure, is not `in throes of great upheaval.` Nor is Sierra Leone. GB, maybe. BF had some violent protests a couple of years ago, but is settled again and actually doing very well despite its lack of natural resources.

    This is poetic license gone mad!

    `Al Qaeda has set up camp in Burkina Faso.`

    That`s pure rubbish. AQ affiliates are in northern Mali, not Burkina.

    `Colombian drug gangs have overrun Guinea-Bissau.`

    That might be the case. I`ve never been there, but now I`m sceptical if this review is my only source of information!

    `Christian and Muslim fanatics battle for African souls, preparing their converts for Armageddon.`

    Absolute exaggeration! No doubt, Islamic extremists with Boko Haram in northern Nigerian are making a concerted attempt to destabilise Nigeria by attacking churches and also Muslims who disagree with them, but by and large West Africans from different religious groups, Muslim, Christian and those who adhere to African traditional religions, live very well together.

    The hyperbole in this review is both downright false and maddening and paints a completely inaccurate picture of this part of the world.

    One last thing, what is a 22-place taxi from Senegal doing on the cover of a book that has nothing to do with Senegal?

    I suggest the author get the book review/intro on Amazon corrected. Most of it has no relation to reality in West Africa.

  • pauluk

    It is the Product Description from Slugger’s Amazon page for the book that I have commented on above, not a review of the book.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ll see if I can persuade Mark to come and answer your questions. But since you are critiquing the publisher’s description and not the author’s work, you are harly offering him a great deal to argue with.

    For instance:

    “Burkina Faso, for sure, is not `in throes of great upheaval.` Nor is Sierra Leone. GB, maybe. BF had some violent protests a couple of years ago, but is settled again and actually doing very well despite its lack of natural resources.”

    Since I’ve already admitted that I’ve not read the whole book, you’re not getting a bona fide argument out of me either. But my own sense is that there’s enough in the interview above to justify the term ‘upheaval’.

    Here’s the Free Dictionary’s primary definitions:

    a. The process of being heaved upward.
    b. An instance of being so heaved.
    2. A sudden, violent disruption or upset: “the psychic upheaval caused by war” (Wallace Fowlie).
    3. Geology A raising of a part of the earth’s crust.

    Try the video links above and see what you think. Nowhere, I think, is Mark arguing “don’t you know there’s a bloody war on?” What he’s saying is that there problems churning up in all three countries.

    Not unlike some of the the problems in Mali being a by product of the Libyan conflict, the problem is we don’t generally care about the fate of such folk until – like Britain’s Ash trees – it is TOO LATE to be able to do anything to help alleviate the situation.

    And we in NI have plenty of experience of purposeless neglect in the face of chronic political conditions..

  • pauluk

    Thanks for the thoughts, Mick.

    As I said at the outset, I’m sorry for pouring cold water on anything that talks about West Africa, because I have had a lot of contact with it for over 25 years and have enormous respect and admiration for the people who live there.

    As you mentioned, it was the publisher who sensationalized the intro and I hope (assume) that Mark’s book was more honest and accurate.

    I watched the video on Friday and thought Mark to be a very reasonable and thoughtful chap, although maybe a little out of his depth when trying to answer some of your questions. For example, his description of corruption was actually a description of the problem of nepotism, which is, of course, related, and indeed a huge problem in Africa (as well as many other parts of the world!).

    To be honest, I was also quite surprised that his solution for helping Africa was to take more Africans off the continent. I thought that was a rather defeatist attitude.

    Having said all that, I do appreciate people when they draw attention to the realities of the continent. From experience I know that West Africans are wonderful people who have had a raw deal from many of their leaders, but you would travel far to find people who have a more positive and forward-looking attitude to their daily challenges.