“He is my son!”

celebrated the Mother of Tanaka Makuvaza, the student that received his award for being the best fourth year student at the UNAM Faculty of Science this year.

She had joined her son onto the podium. Tanaka was there to get his trophy from the dean of the faculty. There they were, congratulated and photographed. And when leaving back for their seats, the Mother acclaimed what I want to repeat and what each and everyone in the Gym Hall could hear:

-He is my son!

These four words captured the lifelong love, belongingness and shared road of the two. The pride. The goals, determination, and finally the achievement that the trophy stood for. The four words were a symbol for all that a mother can experience in and by her son. Simple words, content beyond expression.

I had been invited to the annual event by my colleague, Dr Kauna Mufeti, the associate dean of the Faculty and the head of the School of Computing. The formal program consisted of speeches and music. The best students of each module, of each subject, and finally of the whole faculty were recognised.

What really impressed me most was the excitement, encouragement, and mutual care of the students and their loved ones.

One student, of Statistics, could not help but run to her Mother right from the podium. Another one, a young biologist, got hugs from his girlfriend (well, I suppose so), and the girlfriend got his medal as an exchange. A student from Mathematics – well, you know, mathematicians are usually a bit reserved in showing their emotions – received an award in all the categories, and with each one, the smile of his Mother got wider and wider. Yet another student, from Physics, burst into tears, only to be consoled by her head of the department who gave her award.

That Physics professor also told the audience how all achievement starts from the love for science. In some way, the students’ love, for science but also for the extended learning community, concretised in the event.

51 kings and 30 cms of soil

Last Saturday at my home, I had an honour to host – if not more than for a cup of tea – the mayor of Oniipa, a town in the North of the country that he told was established by Finnish missionaries.

The Mayor, Mr. Kambonde, came with a team of three people from Aalto and LUT universities. Together, all of the four are working on a project that aims at ensuring reliable electricity and internet connections to the rural areas around Oniipa.

It is strange to realize how people that you had never seen before feel instantly friends that you have always known. Maybe it is the curiosity raised by a new situation that makes you ask questions whose answers get you connected.

But then there is another layer. As a teacher of IT, you wish to make a difference to people’s life, whether by invention or innovation. Then you need to dig deeper.

On Saturday I learned from the Mayor that Namibia has 51 kings who are in charge of questions requiring traditional authority, like land ownership. And land ownership is a question that allows for or resists novel practices or technologies that we tend to call innovations.

In fact, land belongs to the king, as I understood. But only at a deeper level. The first 30 cms from the surface belong to the farmer, house owner or the one that has bought that surface level of soil.

So if the king wants to take over your land, you can still get the surface soil and take that with you to your next place.

The king has power, by tradition. Even the president of the country, when meeting with his or her king, need to kneel in front of him (I think him, but I did not ask).

All the 51 kings belong–that is what I learned from the Mayor, a family of whom is in charge of ordaining the next king–to the universal community of royal families that got their power from God. “Jesus is the King of kings,” told the Mayor.

When we design technologies that would make a difference, we cannot operate only on the surface level of 30 cms, but have to integrate our activities also with the deeper level of the complex fabrics of the Namibian, and for that matter global, society.

In some way, last Saturday, we managed to hit also some centimetres below the 30 first ones.

Business in Africa

Yesterday I attended an event organised by the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences (SAMK), at the modern conference facilities of the Namibia University of Science and Technology, SAMK’s partner in Namibia for years.

SAMK, together with partners from around the Baltic, had received a significant EU funding for opening business ties between Southern Africa and Central Baltic. The project took tens of entrepreneurs and business people from the North to Namibia, and over the next few days, to South Africa’s and Zambia’s equally interesting, growing markets.

I paid a particular attention to the possibilities that Latvian and Estonian companies saw in Southern Africa, in the areas ranging from security to human resources management (including recruiting engineers from Africa to Germany) to alternative energy solutions, and much beyond. Mostly, they were looking for representatives that would sell their products and services to end customers. And end customers there are in Africa – hundred times more than in Finland or other small countries around the Baltic Sea.

Business is Africa is international. One of the entrepreneurs in the Baltic countries was originally from Belarus, but was now based in Silicon Valley from where she had come to promote her products in Namibia. International encounters allow for cross-design, or X-design, where products and services grow in inventiveness and quality when they need to learn from diverse users’ demands. I guess also many Africans are interested in the dynamic atmosphere that has changed countries like Estonia in just about the past 20 years.

The Ambassador of Namibia in Helsinki, H.E Mr. Bonny Haufiku, opened the event. He marketed his country as a safe and organised environment for businesses. That’s one point of view. For us Finns, Namibia is also a country where businesses and universities – both African and Finnish ones – get inspired to co-create solutions unheard of before, as we discussed later in the evening with the Rector of SAMK, Dr. Jari Multisilta, my friend since the times that I had just left FELM, back for further studies at university.

Red Line

Today I had three visitors at my home. I find it very inspirational to have discussions by the terrace (the pool is not very far away). The longest one – almost four hours – was with Margaret Angula, from UNAM. She works in Geography and Urban/Rural Sociology and studies for a PhD at University of Cape Town.

Margaret had had earlier today a Skype call with my team at Turku. Together, we are exploring how smart phones could help even illiterate subsistence farmers to cope with the changing climate. In my own team, we have worked on the topic for quite some years, with farmers in Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania, trying to co-design an app that the farmers really would like to use and see the benefit from. So that the co-design process would not just result in a few scholarly papers and PhDs.

While Margaret agreed that co-designing the app within a real setting, a farmers’ community (which are getting older because the youth are moving to cities, as from European rural areas), would be essential, she also emphasised that the bottom-up approach should be complemented, in parallel, with a top-down exercise, with MPs.

Margaret’s point was that the app(s) should promote awareness. Awareness of the changing climate and what everyone can do for fighting it. And then was the time for my lesson.

Margaret said that there should be only one app, to be used by illiterate farmers and highly educated MPs alike.

So no adaptation according to the users? No profiling? No smart user interface?

No. Because the one app should help the MPs see the realities that people at the grassroots are struggling with, when they see their farmland dying, their cattle taken to butcheries at low prices, because of no water.

The one app that might need to be cross-designed by teams of people from different backgrounds so that they could see the common, shared challenge. Becoming aware, together.

Margaret told about divisions in Namibia. In some way, besides a very concrete boundary, a symbol of divisions is the Red Line (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Line_(Namibia)). It is a border, within the country, that divides the land into that of subsistence farming for local markets, and that of commercial farming for approved exports.

Although there are reasons for the Red Line, as explicated in its other name of veterinary cordon fence, the line separates not only cows or sheep from their peers on the other side. Take for example the observations on drought. South of the Line, we have scientists with our explanations. North of the Line, people explain the phenomenon by the sin that caused God’s punishment.

Margaret told me that she contextualises the Southern science to her relatives in the North: yes, God asked people to protect the land, which apparently did not happen; a cross of scientific and faith-oriented explanation. And what happened: her relatives said that people in even further North should repent and start protecting the land. No more inevitable fate. In a way, her relatives turned into global activists.

Yes, we need a one app for all, instead of adapted solutions for people in different sides of all red and other lines.

And I cannot publish this entry without telling about her soon 99 years old Grandmother (based on Margaret’s stories, she might a climate activist as well – but I did not ask). She hates technology. She calls a smart phone a gossiper because within a few seconds all her stories are shared and modified by people hundreds of miles away.

Her way to refer to fake news and disinformation, at the other side of the Red Line.

Yes, we need one app.

PS. Today I saw, at my yard, one of these animals that even the owner of my house did not remember the name of. One of the things that she did remember, though, was that the animal might carry rabies. Earlier I have been afraid of dogs, but maybe there are aliens more frightening than canines.

“This is a beautiful day indeed,”

opened the pastor the 9am worship service at the Inner City Lutheran Church where I went with my colleague Marko.

A beautiful day. For a Finn that escapes to Africa (not only, though) for the sunshine, the day reminded of one of those grey autumn days that make you feel wet even inside. Rain, rain, rain.

A beautiful day, indeed. I heard that Namibia has been suffering from one of its worst draughts for decades. And we are supposed to be going towards the end of the rainy season. In the agricultural north of the country, the situation seems to be even worse. So, the day – as well as the whole weekend – with the continuous rain has been beautiful, indeed.

The etymonline.com tells that the word beauty comes from “state of being pleasing to the senses”, a very physical connotation. Beautiful drops that please us with all our senses. Rain, rain, rain!

The Psalm, No. 84, that we heard at the service, could not have been more timely for the day. Listen to the verse 6:

“As they pass through the dry valley of Baca, it becomes a place of springs; the autumn rain fills it with pools.” (Good News Translation)

Also the congregation was beautiful. You could see all around yourself the church filled with images of God, people from all ages, men and women, created as imago Dei. All newcomers, all those who had had a birthday, anniversary of baptism, confirmation, or wedding, who had been promoted during the past week, were greeted by the full congregation. Choirs, solo singers, a celebration of being alive together; dignity of human existence.

What could be, indeed, a more beautiful day to start a new week in Namibia?

PS. This is also my Mum’s name day that she has celebrated at her home apartment in Iso-Heikki, an elderly people’s service home in Turku. So in Finnish: “Iloista nimipäivää, äiti!”

Women in Computing

I had to come all the way to Namibia to attend my first seminar on Women in Computing. I was invited to the event by my dear colleague Prof Heike Winschiers-Theophilus that I met just yesterday in her office at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Computing and Informatics.

Heike is one of the leading scholars in the demanding and highly inter-disciplinary area of co-design. She has initiated and is involved in exciting research projects on how to integrate heritage and indigenous wisdom with the opportunities opened by existing and tomorrow’s technology, for example with the San youth. This is close to my interest in engaging with people on the ground, in their everyday, real life. A universal theme that is equally important for people in the Global South and North.

But women. I grew up in the 60s in a home that was almost gender neutral, in terms of how to divide the everyday responsibilities and household. As always is the case, children either follow what they learn at home or do exactly opposite, and I am afraid that I did the latter. Listening to the panel, I figured out that I had lived with my wife and children in the way similar to that of some Namibian husbands that the panelists were referring to.

However, the main theme of the seminar was about how to get rid of all the diverse barriers or glass ceilings that prevents one from reaching their goal or living up to their talent. At the time of emerging conflicts, worldwide, we need to make use of all the human potential that we have; the academia as well as the rest of the society have to act as channels for releasing the dormant power, whether indigenous or learned.

It was actually one of my former Namibian students, MSc (University of Joensuu, Finland) Helena Nahum, that asked the panelists how to ensure that the countless inventive student projects would not get lost after the students get the marks of them and finish the course.

I left the inspiring seminar by wondering how we could shape our software engineering curriculum towards one that integrates the students’ potential and elaborates it towards concrete outcomes that make our world better. Otherwise, the learning community will stay comfortably under another glass ceiling, or for that matter, within a glass box.

Maybe a topic for Helena’s further research?

The first week

It is a week ago that I arrived in Windhoek, Namibia.

My mission is to work together with my Namibian colleagues to set up the first overseas campus of any Finnish university. University of Turku, where I am working as a professor of Computer Science, has agreed with University of Namibia (UNAM) to start an MSc (Tech) degree program at the premises of UNAM.

The first week has been an inspiring one, especially with numerous get-togethers at my home, which I intend to use as a place to meet and stay with each other and learn to know (from) each other. A bit like what I understand the Bauhaus movement was promoting way back.

The idea of the software engineering graduate program came, a few years back, from the current VC of UNAM, Prof Kenneth Matengu. I learned to know him when we both were living at Joensuu, a city in the Finnish Karelia that hosts a campus of the University of Eastern Finland.

While years have passed from that crucial evening with Kenneth, the program has taken a form of an activating degree program that aims at growing software engineers who can transform the realities of their future customers by inviting them to co-design processes. In a co-design process, a software engineer works with other professionals and users to create technologies that change the users’ lives.