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Out of Africa

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 had been doing around eGovernment over the last three years because quite 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” and among many others, the daughter and the wife of Julius Nyere respectively, the son of Sani Abacha and another son of Mobutu Sese Seko, are between them, seeking my help, in the re-investment of approximately $500 million which appears to be sloshing around central Africa in need of a new owner. Add to this another $500 million 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.

Of course, what they don’t know is my own familiarity with African dictators or at least one, His Excellency, Field Marshall, President Idi Amin Dada, whose two boys, Suleiman and Mohammed; I used to teach over twenty years ago.

Personal Computing was in its infancy at the time but I had a Sinclair Z88, a TV set and shared an in interest with my students in BASIC programming, which was all one could really experiment with in the time. I will always fondly remember the great man changing the ‘ones’ on his boys’ school report to ‘sixes’, as in 16% to 67% 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 sub-continent are becoming synonymous?

Today, someone pointed out that India’s popularity was driving-up prices and that it was time to look at alternatives. One of course, is the old Soviet Union and in particular, the well-educated populations of the old ‘Science’ cities now marooned in the freezing wastes of Siberia.

What about Africa, someone asked? There’s an irony here because 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, the continent’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 that in the near future, any of the missing billions will be channelled into the development of an African Internet success story, it very much looks as if India, with its advantage of the English language, will remain a ‘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 multi-national companies look for the cheapest workforce. The answer of course 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’s your view on the future of outsourcing? In the longer term, will it damage job prospects in our own information economy?

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