On Google’s homepage yesterday small cartoon doe-eyed Africans peeked out from within the “o”s and leaned up against the green “l” sipping coffee. As with Earth Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday-this new logo was also in celebration; Google has acquired Uganda. In constant internal tumult, Uganda seems an unnatural purchase for Google, who has recently bought out many other countries. Vernon Howell, spokesperson for Google International Acquisitions (GIA) says that the purchase of Uganda serves as a platform as it expands into Africa. “It is a mutual transaction, with both parties benefiting,” he insists.
Google will benefit from the Ugandan coffee trade and local labor and they are strongly considering moving their headquarters from Mountain View, California to the hills outside of the Ugandan capital, Kampala. What the Ugandan people are to gain is up for debate. Secret business plans about this deal were leaked to Reuters and the Associated Press. These plans show that Google intends to supply their “employees” (whom they will call “missionaries”) with a bevy of Google-inflected bonuses: flat-screen televisions, internet stations, and encouraging email-only communication. In doing so, they hope to encourage the missionaries to see the benefit of Google as a lifestyle: Human as an IP address. Once the initial orientation is through, Google will supply the missionaries with pamphlets and flyers to hand out in their villages. With the literacy rate of Uganda at 69.9%, the pamphlets will use pictograms: basic figures rejoicing in a primary color God. The purpose is to rid the natives of their customs and encourage Google as religion, says one GIA employee who wishes to remain anonymous. Thereby, Google will become a de facto God.
Patriarchal, possibly. Imperial, perhaps. Cult-like, certainly. However, already, like other Google ventures, Ugandan stock has risen to unprecedented levels, increasing 40% since the acquisition. The Eastern European countries like Latvia and Azerbaijan that Google acquired last year have been cultivating the relationship and are “enjoying a Google lifestyle,” says Howell. The difference with Uganda is that this country may become the Google home base. The militant factions, and the AIDS crisis that have plagued Uganda will certainly have to be addressed if Google wishes to make this takeover a success; and success is what Google does best. But, the question remains: whose definition of success are they going by?