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The “Browning” of African Technology

Forget MIT. Hello, Tsing Hua University. For Clothilde Tingiri, a hot young programmer at Rwanda’s top software company, dreams of Beijing, not Cambridge, animate her ambitions. Desperate for more education, this fall she plans to attend graduate school for computer science – in China, not America.

The Chinese are no strangers to Rwanda. Near Tingiri’s office, Rwanda’s largest telecom company, Rwandatel, is installing new wireless telephony equipment made by Huawei of Shenzen. Africa boasts the world’s fastest-growing market for wireless telephony, and Huawei – with offices in 14 African countries – is running away with the business, sending scores of engineers into the bush to bring a new generation of low-cost technology to some of the planet’s poorest people.

Motivated by profit and market share rather than philanthropy, Huawei is outpacing American and European rivals through lower prices, faster action, and a greater willingness to work in difficult environments. According to Chris Lundh, the American chief of Rwandatel, “That’s the way things work in Africa now. The Chinese do it all.”

Well, not quite. Across sub-Saharan Africa, engineers from India – armed with appropriate technologies honed in their home market – are also making their mark. India supplies Africa with computer-education courses, the most reliable water pumps, low-cost rice-milling equipment, and dozens of other technologies.