Thought for the day:IT out of Africa

Simon Moores sees IT talent going to waste in Africa, and looks at the impact of Indian outsourcing on UK job opportunities.

Simon Moores sees IT talent going to waste in Africa, and looks at the impact of Indian outsourcing on UK job opportunities.




December has hardly begun and I'm going to be rich beyond my wildest dreams before the year has finished.

It must be a reward for all the good work I've been doing around e-government over the past three years, because suddenly, and quite possibly on a Cabinet Office recommendation, my inbox is filling with messages claiming to come from the closest relations of Africa's most famous despots.

It's a mystery to me, but apparently I am "a reliable and trustworthy person". Among many others, the daughter and the wife of Julius Nyere, the son of Sani Abacha and another son of Mobutu Sese Seko, are seeking my help in the reinvestment of around $500m, which appears to be sloshing around central Africa in need of a new owner.

Add to this another $500m or so of Nigerian oil "commissions" and you'll understand why all these generous people need my assistance - or, rather, the details of my personal bank account to help them move their cash to a new home nearer Switzerland.

What they don't know is my own familiarity with African dictators or at least one - His Excellency, Field Marshall, President Idi Amin. I used to teach his two boys, Suleiman and Mohammed, more than 20 years ago.

Personal computing was in its infancy at the time but I had a Sinclair Z88, a TV set and shared an interest with my students in BASIC programming. I will always fondly remember the great man changing the "ones" on his boys' school reports to "sixes", so that their marks shot from, say, 16% to 66%, and the terrified expression on the face of the school secretary when he realised the extent of the honest mistake, which of course it was, "Mr President".

Why Africa, you might ask? Well, you recall that Bill Gates is investing millions in India and that IT outsourcing and the Indian subcontinent are becoming synonymous.

Today, a friend pointed out that India's popularity is driving up prices and that it is time to look at alternatives. One is the former Soviet Union and, in particular, the well-educated populations of the old "science cities" now marooned in the freezing wastes of Siberia.

But what about Africa? There's an irony here, because as the "401" scam described above illustrates, there is a pool available of many tens of thousand of highly intelligent and computer literate people who could be channelled towards the same kind of success that India enjoys.

Sadly, Africa's prevailing political and economic climate makes this unlikely and fraud prevails in our collective imagination as Africa's principal Internet export.

So with little chance in the near future of any of the missing billions funding the development of an African Internet success story, it looks as if India, with its advantage of the English language, will remain the "takeaway" success where the outsourcing of IT and call-centre jobs are involved.

What really worries me is how our own European IT labour force can compete on a price basis as multinational companies look for the cheapest workforce. The answer is that they can't, and for all the talk of educating our young people with advanced IT skills, this acceleration in workforce globalisation raises serious employment implications at home.

Meanwhile, I have a letter here from a "Mr Inlandi Revendi", who tells me that if I provide him with my bank and national insurance details and fill in a simple form online, then something called a working family tax credit will be paid into my account next year.

What does the future hold for outsourcing? In the longer term, will it damage job prospects in our own information economy?

What's your view?
Are we IT educating our youngsters in vain in the face of globalisation? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was last published in December 2002

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