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AFRIK-IT  April 1996

AFRIK-IT April 1996

Subject:

Re: Internet influence on rural development

From:

Cliff Missen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Tue, 23 Apr 1996 00:26:46 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (121 lines)

This conversation reminds me of an appropriate anecdote:
 
Years ago, as the civil war was breaking out, I was working in the south of
Liberia training people in very remote villages (6 hours to the nearest road
through truly gnarly forest) to drill water wells using ancient Chinese
hand-powered drills.
 
After months of planning and communication through a Liberian church, we had
arrived in the village and were preparing to begin classes.
 
However a big meeting was called of all the village elders of the
surrounding villages and a great hoopla was raised.  I did not speak Kru,
the local language, so I sat through the palaver with bated breath.  When
all was said and done our translator, the one man in the village who could
speak English confidently, turned and spoke for the  rest of the gathered.
 
"We are pleased that you have come to show us how to drill wells.  Water is
very much needed here.  Our children die too much.  But we have decided to
ask you to help us do something first, for all the villages."
 
I leaned forward in anticipation, unsure of what to expect next.
 
"We want you to show us how to build an airstrip." He said firmly.
 
I was stunned.  What basis, I thought, does this group, who could barely
afford a shortwave radio receiver, have to contemplate an airstrip and all
the expense of airplane travel?  I surveyed the faces of the gentlemen in
the circle and saw genuine concern and knew that I was not dealing with the
all too typical Liberian development scam.  Our translator read the
reluctance in my demeanor and returned to the palaver.  After great oratory
the debate was settled and it was decided that the well drilling would
continue but that the issue of the airstrip would continue to be debated.
 
In the following months I learned that the greatest concern of the villagers
was their remoteness.  They saw the village dying as one after another
bright young person left for the opportunities to be found in the cities
with roads, telephones, and schools.  The village had sold many of its best
assets to attract a teacher and a nurse, but no amount of money could
attract a quality candidate and those who did accept left as soon as they
had met their mimimal contractual obligation.
 
What I discovered was a compelling and pervasive sadness that the elders
felt for their village's fate.  One that made it almost sensible that they
should prioritize efforts to make the village more accessible and attractive
to their own families.
 
So what's my point?  I suppose it's that it is easy for anyone to try to
guess what is best for another.  And that sometimes people do not know what
is best for them, or even the range of options available to them.  It
remains important to ask, however, and to respond to the answers provided,
not the answers expected.
 
I've been wrestling with this issue with the students in my "Internetworks
in International Development" class (http://www.uiowa.edu/~intlinet).  One
of them, Siddig Ismail, started this thread two weeks back with his original
request for examples of how the Internet may serve those in the rural areas
of the developing world.  We have come up with many possibilities, but no
hard answers.
 
Personally, I am waiting to be delighted.  In my eleven years of setting up
networks I have yet to see computer networks installed for their own sake.
The magical thing about PC computer networks is the way that human beings
take this technology, and any other that comes along, and bend it to their
insatiable desire to communicate with each other.  I suspect that the
entreprenuers in Africa will show the rest of the world a thing or two in
the next few years.
 
So to turn this question on its head: if we ascertain the needs of those in
a particular setting in rural Africa and are compelled to respond, is PC
network technology ready to be considered one of the possible solutions if
applicable?
 
Cheers!
 
-- Cliff
 
-----
 
Cliff Missen, MA
Center for International and Comparative Studies
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA  52242
 
[log in to unmask]
http://www.avalon.net/~cmissen/
 
 
At 08:39 AM 4/20/96 +0100, you wrote:
>>This brings me to my second assumption:
>[...]
>> B)  If instead the person or company that came to me said:
>>     "I have only Internet access to offer you. Are you going to accept
>>      my offer or not ?"
>[...]
>>
>>     then:
>>        It would be wrong to start arguing about whether access to
>>        clean water should come first or not.
>>        Remember the person cannot or is not willing to give you anything
>>        but Internet access now.
>>
>>        My choice will be clear without hesitation:
>>        Give the Internet access now !!!
>
>This is a very good contribution, but of course totally wrong. In fact it sheds
>light on a huge problem in development, the "White Elefant", because it
translates
>into developing countries having to accept the most ridiculous, ill
researched, top
>down "projects" (we call this to pull a UNESCO here :-)-O)  because as one
of my
>colleagues from Niger put it: "But, they have the money, so they decide."
>
>Au contraire :-)-O.  This is Imperialism, and as far as I know that is not
on any more.
>
>Draw a line and tell them: "Take your Internet, we can't use it, we need water,
>agriculture etc. We have got this project going here, why don't you support it
>instead". They will respond positively.
>

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