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When I first join Anne Nganga on our video call, she apologizes for the background noise of a fan running. “The weather here is hot and humid,” she says. “I have to have a fan or the AC on at all times if I am to enjoy being indoors.”

Anne is originally from Kenya, but she’s calling me from the island of Zanzibar, where she’s been facilitating the 2023 Effective Altruism Africa Residency Fellowship. It took place in the first three months of 2023, connecting EAs working on projects “addressing the most pressing problems in Africa”.

Residencies have become an increasingly popular option for Effective Altruism community building. They typically involve a group of people who work on Effective Altruism or related topics professionally working and living in the same place for 1-3 months, in order to help those people get to know each other, build trust and develop new partnerships and opportunities. In the last year, Prague and Mexico City have both hosted residencies. 2022’s “Bay area summer” was arguably a residency as well, and perhaps the first example I can think of was the FTX EA Fellowship that flew EAs to the Bahamas at the beginning of 2022. So I was curious how this most recent EA residency turned out, how the FTX collapse affected their plans, and what we can expect going forward from EA in Africa.

What’s a day in the life in the Zanzibar residency?

In the morning, the residents spend time working remotely on their projects, before lunch at their coworking space.

In the afternoon, Anne says, “we typically have three hours of structured engagement time” such as a guest speaker (irl or over Zoom), a hangout, or an informal conference amongst the attendees.

“On the off chance we do not have anything planned, residents would typically be engaged in one social activity or another. They would either be at the pool, or at the beach bar, or hanging out at one of the restaurants, or going to Stonetown which is a UN Heritage [Site].”

Did the FTX collapse change plans for your residency?

“I personally live very frugally, and the same could be said for my cofounder Daniel,” Anne says. She’s talking about Daniel Yu, CEO of African tech company Wasoko, who moved to Zanzibar and opened a Wasoko office as part of the government’s “Silicon Zanzibar” initiative last year. He also provided the funding for the residency.

“Fumba [the town in Zanzibar where the fellowship was located] was just the perfect compromise between being reasonable but also meeting most of the needs [of our residents]” like internet access, transport, healthcare and places to unwind and have fun.

“Of course we expect a bit more scrutiny [since the FTX collapse], but we did not deviate in any way from what we had planned to do.”

What else can we expect from EA in Africa?

“We’ve got two very ambitious projects,” says Anne. “We have plans to set up an EA group here in Zanzibar [and we have set up a call to discuss] a self-sustaining pan-African EA group.”

And what happens next for the 18 residents? “They’re gonna go back to their home countries,” Anne says. “And I’m happy to report that indeed, I know I have made friends for life.”

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I think the title is misleading. Africa is a large continent, and this was just one fellowship of ~15 people (of which I was one). There are some promising things going on in EA communities in Africa. At the same time, and I speak for several people when I say this, EA community building seems quite neglected in Africa, especially given how far purchasing power goes. And many community building efforts to date have been off the mark in one way or another.

I expect this to improve with time. But I think a better barometer of the health of EA in Africa is the communities that have developed around Africa metropolises (e.g. EA Abuja, EA Nairobi).

I also dislike Fumba being framed to the broader EA community as the perfect compromise. Fumba town was arguably the thing that the residents most disliked. There are a lot of valid reasons as to why the residency took place in Fumba, but this general rosy framing of the residency overlooks the issues it had and, more importantly, the lessons learned from them.

I appreciate the feedback, and would love to hear more about your experience (I think many of us would!)

Thanks for writing this! I've been waiting to hear how that residency played out.

Would like to connect with the cohort members or the team organising  this  community. 

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