> Copyright 1996 Inter Press Service.
> All rights reserved. Distribution via MISANET.
> *** 20-Feb-97 ***
>AFRICA-TELEMATICS: Small Service Providers Need to Watch Out
> by Gumisai Mutume
>JOHANNESBURG, Feb 19 (IPS) -- Internet connectivity is becoming
>a reality in Africa, but many small networks that have f
>acilitated its development now face a growing challenge --
>intense competition from commercial providers.
> Over the last ten years, tiny, low-cost networks have been
>mushrooming across the continent. Traditionally they have
>lived on scarce resources and with financial insecurity.
>However, they have provided a vital service, especially for non
>-profit organisations working in development, social justice,
>democracy and economic empowerment on the continent.
> Now, more than ever before, many of these service providers
>are threatened by a boom in initiatives to improve commun
>ications in Africa.
> ''We are going to witness a tremendous explosion of
>connectivity on the continent especially for commercial purposes
>,'' says Carlos Afonso of the Association of Progressive
>Communicators (APC). ''But we are worried about what is going t
>o happen to NGOs.
> ''There is actually an oversupply of efforts towards
>connecting Africa and it seems that in two or three years time,
>the continent may have the greatest Internet connectivity.''
> The Internet is a series of computer networks across the
>world that allow people to obtain and exchange information.
> Afonso says there is a lot of politically inspired bickering
>for space in Africa with plenty of initiatives to wire u
>p a continent that is way behind the world.
> There is the World Bank's infoDEV -- Information for
>Development Programme -- which seeks to fully integrate develop
>ing nations into the information economy. There is also the U.N.
>System-Wide Initiative on Africa, one of whose key area
>s is harnessing information technology for development.
> The Group of Seven and many other international organs also
>have similar programmes.
> However, Afonso says non-governmental organisations have not
>been in the forefront of these, mainly government-led, p
> ''There is a difference between being used as cheap advisers
>and then ignored, and becoming valued as key stakeholder
>s in an ongoing process,'' according to the Africa branch of the
>APC, which met here recently.
> One of the possible implications of present trends is that
>development initiatives are taken out of the hands of loca
> ''By and large, the master-minding of African development is
>not in African hands,'' charges Joseph Okpaku. ''This le
>aves strategic policy and implementation matters to non-Africans
>and creates a natural gap between genuine African aspir
>ations and external expectations. African initiative is the main
> Okpaku is executive director of an African telecommunication
>applications development programme called Telecom Africa
> He says there is a fundamental fallacy in the presumption that
>''it does not matter who masterminds the destiny of Afr
>icans as long as the result is a thriving market, unfettered by
>local concerns of self-preservation and self-development
> The APC says there is a need for an integrated strategy to
>address the challenges of networking for development on th
>e continent, to evolve and make local information content
>available. While it will be an achievement for the continent
>to have quick access to the Internet, it will remain a concern
>if very little of the information on the net is provided
>by Africa for Africans.
> APC groups networks across the globe that are dedicated to
>providing low-cost computer communications services for i
>ndividuals and NGOs working for environmental sustainability,
>universal human rights and social and economic justice.
> There is also a need to build the capacity of these small
>networks to meet the needs of their constituency, evaluate
>the impact of commercial service providers and its effect on
>development service providers, last week's meeting noted.
> ''We will continue to work together to pursue our vision of a
>network with a purpose. Our goals of low-cost, co-opera
>tive internetworking, quality local content and the widest
>possible participation will remain even if and when the curre
>nt Internet- mania dies,'' the APC meeting declared.
> As the world moves to an information-led economy,
>telecommunications and informatics are rapidly changing and
>g more on private participation and competition.
> It is envisaged that by about 2005, the world will arrive at
>what is dubbed a 'tele-economy'. Telecommunication charg
>es are expected to fall so low that communication will be
>considered a basic right for all, even in developing countries
> ''Electronic capitalism -- electronic markets, investment
>flows, and rapidly formed relationships for daily commerce
>-- will be the economic motor of the tele-economy,'' notes the
>World Bank's infoDEV blueprint. ''Thus the private sector
>, through export of services, plays a central role in the tele-
>economy. But it is individual entrepreneurialism, not co
>rporatism, that is the real driver.''
> However, the consequences of the expected drop in
>telecommunication charges, which the Bank says will mean
>ications costs will be as low as five percent or even one
>percent of today's charges, are yet to be examined. (end/ips/g
> [c] 1996, Inter Press Service Third World News Agency
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