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AFRIK-IT  May 1998

AFRIK-IT May 1998

Subject:

Booting Up Africa

From:

William Lester <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Tue, 5 May 1998 18:42:39 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (99 lines)

Greetings,

Tuesday's New York Times contained the following Editorial by Thomas Friedman. I'm reposting here, not to stir up any wars, but simply as a FWIW. I hope I'm not breaking any copyright laws...

Bill Lester [AVSC]

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

May 5, 1998


        FOREIGN AFFAIRS / By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

        Booting Up Africa

           Jim Lowenthal is wiring Timbuktu.

        Mr. Lowenthal runs a small Internet company based in Morocco that has
        an unusual contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
        His job is to go to the most remote African countries and establish
        Internet nodes in their capitals so that anyone there can make a local
        phone call and get on the World Wide Web. He's already helped bring
        Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique and Guinea on line, and is in the
        process of wiring Benin, the Ivory Coast and four others, as well as
        helping design Internet access for Timbuktu, in Mali -- the city that is a
        synonym for the most obscure spot on earth.

        "Timbuktu is a small town, but in the 14th century its university was a
        center of learning for the Arab world, because it was a key crossroad for
        caravans traversing the Sahara," said Mr. Lowenthal. "It's now a town of
        sand and shrub but with amazing archives that are piled up and
        deteriorating. The Mali Ministry of Culture would love to share them
        with the world but they never had a way. The Internet gives them the
        way."

        Projects like Mr. Lowenthal's highlight why globalization can leave one
        simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic about Africa. Globalization
        does two things at the same time: It increases the gap, further and faster
        than ever before, between those partaking of the information revolution
        and the global economy and those who are not. So the gap between the
        Rift Valley and Silicon Valley is growing exponentially.

        But at the same time, globalization and the information revolution offer
        an escalator from poverty into the global economy that also moves
        further and faster than ever before for countries that get the basics right.
        Global investors are always looking for the next great opportunity, and
        Africa has the potential to be that.

        "What U.S. A.I.D. is trying to do," says Mr. Lowenthal, "is broadly
        disseminate the basic information infrastructure that will allow African
        countries to move from one step to the other. And the great thing about
        the Information Age is that you can move from 0 to 60 much more quickly
        than in the Industrial Age, if you get the basic digital information
        technologies. I just came back from Guinea-Bissau. It has one of the least
        developed telecom systems in Africa, but two entrepreneurs there just
        put up a three-story building that is completely wired. They're now
        running a computer training center, an Internet cafe and a marketing
        business for next-generation information technology solutions. You
        should see the colorful web page designs now coming out of Africa by
        their own Webmasters."

        Sure, it's just one building in a big continent, but that's how it starts.
        Americans don't realize that when they go to the doctor and get examined
        and the doctor dictates his notes from the examination onto a tape, that
        tape often gets shipped on the Web to a housewife in Ireland who
        transcribes it in her spare time for a fee and then sends the transcript
        back on the Web. There is no reason, with some basic English education
        and digital infrastructure, that Africans cannot get into this lucrative area
        of telecomputing and data processing.

        No, the Internet will not solve the problems between Hutu and Tutsi in
        central Africa or cure AIDS in Kenya. And yes, power in Africa still
        resides with those with the guns, not those with the phones. Africa's
        tribal and economic problems will not be solved overnight or on line.
        But all of these problems are related to, or exacerbated by, chronic
        underdevelopment, and the Internet gives Africans a new tool to leapfrog
        back into the game.

        In 1977 there was a movie, "Black and White in Color" about French and
        German army units that were caught in West Africa at the end of World
        War I, but because the local newspapers were six months old, they never
        got the news that the war was over, so they went on fighting while the
        Africans watched in amusement.

        "If they made that movie today it would be about how Deutschtelekom
        and France Cable et Radio were competing over who will get to
        privatize the telephone system in Senegal by offering the most
        connections at the cheapest cost," argued Mr. Lowenthal. "If you don't
        factor the Web into your analysis of Africa, you're going to miss
        something. We're just two years away from large numbers of people in
        Africa being able to tell their own story, and that has got to impact
        politics there."



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