This Ugandan village’s satirical videos of Silicon Valley raise a more complex issue

A Ugandan coffee farmer sprays plants in Kasese, in  western Uganda.
A Ugandan coffee farmer sprays plants in Kasese, in western Uganda.
Image: AP/Stephen Wandera
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In Bulambuli district in eastern Uganda, everyone is an entrepreneur. Or so claim the residents of the town in a new campaign geared towards fundraising for their local start-up projects. The community’s appeal was released in a series of tongue-in-cheek videos posted on YouTube starting last month.

The minute-long videos, done in the instructional video style typical of Silicon Valley startups, seek to raise funds for initiatives the community says will improve their lifestyle, including a 3D egg printer (a chicken); a peelable, waterproof tomato; and a chair-making business that they call a “personal charging station.”

The messages in the satirical videos were personalized, and directed towards prominent tech entrepreneurs, business executives and innovators, including Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, Elon Musk of Tesla, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. Community members also addressed media outlets that extensively cover the tech industry such as Wired magazine, The Verge, TechCrunch, and Mashable, urging them to highlight their story.

“The world is full of innovators,” says a Bulambuli resident in one of the videos. “People who risk everything to change the way we live. But disrupting ideas do not only come from the Silicon Valleys of the world.” The Bulambuli valley, over 9300 miles away from Silicon Valley, is also a hub for a different kind of innovation.

But beyond the parodies, the adverts are a genuine effort to raise funds. The campaign is being directed by the Community for Development (C4D), an organization that works with rural communities in Uganda to develop their skills and grow their businesses. C4D also launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which surpassed its $15,000 goal to support businesses in Bulambuli.

The businesses include growing bananas, raising cows, making baskets and tailoring clothes. The hashtag #backourvalley has also been used on Twitter to publicize the campaign and spread word about the tenacious entrepreneurs of Uganda.

These businesses “may not be the technological innovations we so often see filing the pages of Indiegogo,” the campaign explainer reads, “But just like other entrepreneurs, the people of Bulambuli need your support to make their ideas a reality.”

Despite the slowdown in global funding for startups, African technology companies have proved to be an exception. The continent received more than $185 million in tech funding in 2015. Yet, most of that money goes to companies engaged in energy provision or financial technology.

Some African tech leaders, like Kenya’s Ory Okolloh, have railed against the “fetishization around entrepreneurship in Africa,” which she says, ignores the basic, day-to-day problems facing communities across the continent. Bulambuli, located over 170 miles from the capital, has experienced both water shortages and flooding in the past. The community’s economy is built on animal husbandry besides subsistent agricultural crops like sorghum, rice and millet.

For now, the people of Bulambuli valley hope the world will heed their message. Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, shared the campaign fundraiser page with his 116,000 followers on Twitter. And the residents of Bulambuli responded by making him a thank-you video.