Ivory Coast and Women in IT

The week before last was a busy one for the IT / web community in Ivory Coast with an excellent couple of training days organised by the Google team, and the annual JNTIC (“IT days”). The latter has been running for more than 10 years though you wouldn’t know it from the way things are organised. This year’s theme was ‘Women in IT’. As is so often the case here, the theme was simple window-dressing because “we need to have a theme” – women at the event were more often seen in the role of the thin, pretty, smiling but mute hostesses (in the case of Orange, in tight shorts with a ridiculous medicine ball sized balloon attached to their backs), than as the leaders of an IT revolution. At least they didn’t choose the default theme of the last 12 months which would have been reconciliation (i.e. a few sterile debates on “IT and Reconciliation”).

For women in IT, you have to look elsewhere. In fact on the other side of the city at the Google days, the staff from Google who’d voluntarily given up their time for the Abidjan seminar appeared to be a good gender mix – women played prominent roles leading seminars, giving programming guidance and in leadership.

And this morning, my Google Reader feed is dominated by Ivorian female bloggers (plus Linda Ikeji from Nigeria). Eltia tells me about sauce grain, a tasty Ivorian dish; Yehni Djidji’s new blog dedicated to film (which I’m sure will be a big success) has photos of Emma Lohoues at Cannes; film maker Siam Marley gives a review of Men in Black III; and Mariam Diaby tells us about Africa Day. In the old days my reading used to be filled by the pioneers Israel Yoroba and Theophile Kouamano. The former took a long break for studies in France but is blogging again, as is the latter, though with the change of government and his move to France/the political opposition, topics are dominated by political comment which doesn’t do much to reach out beyond those already signed up to the cause.

Perhaps women are less likely to lose their independent voice to political ideology. Perhaps they’re just more open to human and social stories. They do also seem to be better able to stay the course and continue writing beyond the initial excitement of having a blog. Perhaps their concerns aren’t dominated by making money. Anyway, it’s a positive development, and when pioneer Edith Brou is back from her blogging maternity leave, the movement will only grow stronger.

In some ways I’m slightly jealous – not because I want to be a woman, but because looking at the way the Nigerian blogging sector has developed, I suspect that those with the winning formula in Ivory Coast are going to be quite successful in the coming years. In my own case though, writing in English about matters usually discussed in French, and of interest to people who generally already speak French, I’m likely to stay on the margins.

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