I recently asked if there were any comments we might want to
make to an assemblage of fairly senior officers of the USA
government's major foreign assistance agency, USAID. A
selection of the responses I received:
> The USA should find ways to employ Africans in Africa at high
> salaries rather than encouraging them to emigrate by increasing
> its visa quotas. America should intensify its ongoing efforts to
> encourage lower prices for major bandwidth. USAID should expand
> its major programs like the Leland Initiative to more needy
> countries instead of favoring only its favored friends in Africa.
Other comments still welcome. I suppose what I would add is a
more positive message. I've seen remarkable advances over the
last five years in Africa. The trend is surely in the right direction.
When I began working for USAID, only a handful of countries had
established dedicated TCP/IP links to the Internet. Now almost all
of them have it.
Five years ago we scrambled to find any kind of access to email,
and frequently paid prices that even then seemed outrageous --
remember what we used to pay for UUCP through X.25? High
prices meant that only well-funded NGOs and international
organizations had email.
Prices today may seem high in some places, but they're typically
far lower than they once were. I recall happily spending $100 per
month for email, because the alternative was telephone or fax at a
still higher price, or no contact at all. For email alone, $20 per
month is quite common now in most major cities. Add $10 to $25
more for a reasonable allowance of Web browsing, which wasn't
really possible at all in most places five years ago except by direct
dial-up across the Atlantic at outrageous rates per minute.
The issue for my own USAID program five years ago was simply to
find access, any access, for our principal partners in agricultural
and environmental programs. Access now is relatively easy in all
major cities. Now the key issues for us are affordability for broader
groups in society, and access outside major cities.
What will surely have a far greater impact much more rapidly than
just about anything else I can think of is simply a reduction in
prices. By and large, the evidence is substantial that
telecommunications operators in Africa charge prices for Internet
services that far exceed their costs of furnishing those services,
and in most countries there seems little evidence that these
operating surpluses are being reinvested in ways that are broadly
beneficial. I haven't done a careful calculation, but I can imagine a
drop by 75 per cent in prices would make the Internet accessible to
hundreds of thousands if not millions more in Africa, either directly
from their homes and businesses, or through telecenters. And
such a price drop would make it that much easier to develop
indirect services for those with the lowest of incomes.
Where does all of this leave major donors from the wealthier
economies? How can they be most helpful?
Jeff @ Nairobi
Information and Communication Technology Programs
Tel +254 (2) 862400
Email [log in to unmask]
Email [log in to unmask]
PO Box 30261