> TELEMATICS FOR AFRICA: THE GLOBAL INFORMATION HIGHWAY
There are some inspiring words in this article, but there are also
some aspects that must be questioned, as I will do below.
After that, I have enclosed a copy of an interview from last week's
Newsweek magazine which contains some food for thought.
> 1. INTRODUCTION
> There have been great promises made by builders of the Information
> Highway that the global communications network will pull developing
> nations out of their state of dependency into the modern age and
> will bring success to these countries. There has, however, been a
> debate with regard to these presumed benefits in a group discussion
> by participants at the recently concluded second Regional Programme
> for Trainers of Information Analysts in Africa (REPTIAA-2) held at
> the Institute of Computer Science, University of Nairobi.
A troubling theme of this communique:
> - the time is not yet ripe for Africa to join the Global
> Information Highway (GIH), as there is still need to further
> invest and put in place the basic AII with a view to
> participation in the GIH in future.
Cause for hope:
> - currently, access to tele-facilities is restricted to the
> urban elite. With development and further investment in basic
> AII there is potential for greater use leading to reduction of
> charges/tariffs by virtue of increased subscribers and
> increased availability of such facilities to lower income
> groups. Pricing alogrithms should be pragmatic and aimed at
> securing large sale volumes rather than high unit margins.
> - the lack of IT policy in most African countries makes it
> premature to rush into the GIH;
Prudence is needed, but should those who can and want to plunge in
the deep end be prevented from doing this?
> - much emphasis seems to be placed on the tele aspects of the
> information infrastructure per se, with little cognisance of
> the Human/Social aspects of the Information Highway.
> 3.2 Positive aspects
> - enable people to communicate and interact;
> - promote world trade (i.e bring services closer to the people);
> - revolutionalize the work environment, for which people must be
> prepared; and
> - sharing of ideas thus promoting education, health and
> 3.3 Reservations
> - Ownership of GII lies with the developed world. This is not
> healthy for Africa, since it just seems to be towed along;
Who 'owns' the GII? or rather, who can exercise ownership 'rights'
over the Net? Do you have any example of how the developed world is
using its power to hold back Africa. Running the Net is like herding cats.
Africa is being 'towed along' because not much is coming out of Africa.
> - there must first be local participation in information sharing
> before there can be talk of international participation;
This is not a good selling point to those who are thinking about
netting up, they won't bother if they cannot access the excitement of
> - the presence of an Information Infrastructure alone does not
> necessarily address the social and cultural aspects associated
> with connecting to the GIH.
That's the job for the Content folks, the present Net still has far to
go to become a useful social and cultural tool for the developed world.
> - there is the threat of imposition of foreign ideologies on
You already have one-way indoctrination from radio, TV, advertising, etc.
Doesn't this two-way Net allow 'minority' cultures to reach out and
finds adherents and strengthen their own values by learning from others?
> - there is also the threat of marginalisation of developing
> countries owing to unfair competitive positions, and
> unequitable access capabilities;
In a few years, what with satellites and cables all over, the cost
and availability of the technical means will become a non-issue.
In fact, making access a mass commodity will level the playing field.
> - there exists the danger of being pushed along by market driven
> technological forces without adequate assessment or
> prioritization of the needs of African countries; and
If this is a real threat, can someone give a good example.
> - there is need to put in place a regulatory /legal framework to
> control the information content on the highway, if undesirable
> material is to be prevented from contaminating the morals of
> African Society e.g Pornography.
Aside from porno, what other *content* should be regulated?
Should users be required to get a license from the government?
> - at south-south level, there have been one or two media
> initiatives, an example is the M-NET by South Africa, which,
> however, also projects mainly Western values;
We should try to sort out what are Western values and what are universal,
if we must get into an academic discussion, but above all we should
be able to freely examine and absorb what is good from every culture.
> - significant impact on Africa and its development may only be
> realised if Africa communities or governments contribute to
> determining the content of the Information Highway, especially
> with respect to the promotion and maintenance of cultural,
> traditional and other social values;
> - with regard to entrepreneurship, Africa governments need to be
> more involved by laying down and formulating policies in this
You can find plenty of consultants available here in France, out of work
thanks to the "colbertiste" policies they expouse.
> 5. SUMMARY OF THE DISCUSSIONS
> The Global Information Highway has infrastructural, social and
> institutional/organisational implications for Africa that have to
> be addressed before joining it.
Does that mean African participation must be put on hold until the
academics have exhausted their debating points?
> (1) That, in general the African Information Infrastructures are
> not quite upto international standards and hence Africa should
> first improve its information infrastructure to acceptable
> basic stardards with a view to venturing into regional and
> international communication networks;
"First" get everybody up to a certain standard, meanwhile standing
idle, and then on Big-Bang day, they all start communicating on
a regional network?
> (2) Investment resources in Africa are scarce. This calls for
> prioritization in investment. For instance Africa should
> first invest in those areas with immediate returns and with
> low risks. Indeed investment should be at all levels and not
> just concentrated on elite-oriented areas. This has
> implication on the attitude towards investment in the
> Information Highway programme;
So if some individual or a company think they've got a great idea
that will fly on the Net, they must stand in line and wait for some
official to decide if they may use their precious money for this
> (3) There is the need for proper management of Africa's
> involvement in the programme such that the positive aspects
> can be taken advantage of while the negative ones are taken
> safeguarded against.
Who will 'manage' this programme to assure a sterile environment
with no negative aspects?
> On social issues that need to be addressed;
> (1) Africa should not be pushed along by technology. Rather due
> consideration should be given to Africa's social, cultural and
> political diversity;
Amen (but do it on your own time)
> (2) There is the need in Africa to project the human image of the
> African society. This should feature prominently in Africa's
> policy on telematics and particularly the information highway.
Africa brought 'soul' to America way back then, maybe it has something
more to contribute?
> (4) On initiatives towards telematics for development, it was made
> clear that relatively few initiatives were taken at the
> individual or institutional levels.
Those with the means have been the 'kennel-dogs' of the establishment.
What's needed are good role models who display individual initiative.
> (5) The projection of Western values at the expense of African
> values at the media level. Much effort is needed to
> facilitate intra-African interaction so as to and promote
> African values and culture.
There is a gold-mine of culture, particularly music and dance, waiting
to be polished up and presented to the world. .WAV and .MPEG are ready.
> (1) A cautious approach should be adopted towards the Information
> Highway programme.
How do you hold back the young turks who are ready and raving to go?
> (3) Education must be redefined to accommodate information and
> technological skills at all levels of the education system.
> This should be speeded up taking due cognisance of the
> diversity of linguistic and cultural backgrounds in Africa.
Amen (and do this making full and open use of information technology)
=== end of communique ===
extract from Newsweek "Interview" page, 950918
Some countries are wired, and some are not. As nations race toward
a global "information economy", what does the future hold for governments
and people that aren't connected to vital electronic highways like the
Internet? Publisher Patrick McGovern, chairman of the International Data
Group, has been following global trends in the computer field for three
decades. Last week he spoke with NEWSWEEK's Paris bureau chief Christopher
DICKEY: What's the critical link between these new communications and
the future shape of the world economy?
McGOVERN: People will be employed on the basis of their ability to
acquire, interpret, add value to and redisseminate information to
others in a global market.
D: Less developed countries, and even some industrialized nations in
Europe, seem to be lagging behind.
M: The key "gatekeeper" [to the new economyl is the liberalization of
the telecommunications industries. Europe is a very mixed picture.
The U.K. is as open and competitive in telecommunications as the U.S.
France has been very slow to deregulate its telecommunications policy,
and most of the other countries are somewhere in between. In many
developing countries there is still a nationally controlled
telecommunications authority which is protective of itself and
restrictive of competition.
D: Olivetti chairman Carlo DeBenedetti worries about the destabilization
of nations around the globe as a result of the growth in global
M: People are frustrated by the inefficiency of large organizations
in general. If you have a large national government, it's very inefficient
and very costly. There's a desire to have smaller communities of people
who are more interested in their immediate affairs, like health care
and education. People now have the ability to communicate to everyone
else through electronic means. So larger governments are concerned
there will be great [political] decentralization in their countries
the same way we have seen decentralization becoming a force in economic
D: How's that?
M: When people have the information and know what's going on, they don't
need a chain of command to tell them what to do. They cut out all the
intermediate layers, and they work as teams.
D: So people would cut out the "intermediate layer" of government?
M: What we've seen is that people who are regularly on the networks
develop a self-identity based on whom they communicate with. In the
past a community was largely geographically defined. Now it's defined
by special [mutual] interest. When I turn on my e-mail in the morning,
there's a note from Taiwan, and from Beijing, and from Johannesburg and
Berlin. My community is people all over the world who happen to have an
interest in information technology. So I would be making decisions based
on the welfare of that community, which has no political or geographical
structure to it. So it's possible for a new type of political leadership
to be very visible through electronic communications and therefore lead
these little "separatist" movements.
D: All this on e-mail?
M: There's that sense of personal communication that's very important
in politics. And you can have that kind of contact with thousands of
people. So, conceivably, through these strong, very sculptured interactive
communications you can build strong political bonds.
D: As the world gets closer together, at the same time it's falling apart.
Does the new level of communication create its own pressures for social
M: On most subjects the quantity of information is doubling about every
two years. There's a lot of inequality in the world, but one element of
absolute equality is that we're only given 24 hours a day. And our ability
to absorb information more quickly hasn't been growing. If I want to keep
up to date with my special interest, my special interest has to be more
D: We used to talk about the gap between rich and poor nations; now
it's between informed and uninformed nations. Is that gap going to get
bigger? It's going to level. If you're creating anything that's
electronically deliverable and based on your know-how, you can work
in an enterprise electronically even though you are in south India or
Indonesia. Why should I pay $100 a day for a programmer in Poughkeepsie
[New York] when I can pay $1 a day for a programmer with the same
competence in Beijing, say? I'll go to places where there is the lowest
pay for equivalent skill. This will push more resources and a higher
quality of life into developing countries.
D: So the pace of growth gets faster in developing countries. Hence
the "leveling" you talk about.
M: Eventually it's equal pay for equal work. On the world market it'll
take probably 50 or 60 years before that really happens. But in the
transitional stage the fact that you can work as part of a team
electronically is going to greatly help the ability of educated people
in developing countries to prosper.
[log in to unmask] asks:
What special advantages can Africa offer? Lots of land and underemployed
farmers who could participate in large-scale agro-tech experiments,
for one thing. A few skilled individuals can bring many others into
an economic activity and cause a general increase in skill level.
But with high-tech equipment, one must have access to technical data:
schematic diagrams in order to do repairs, tech specifications of
integrated circuits to design appropriate gadgets meeting local needs.
That can come only from access to the full Internet.
The best to all of you!
Roger Wiesenbach [log in to unmask]