Is GIS/Mobile Broadband demand for South Africa 2010 the answer to better governance?

by Reuben Dlamini
With the 2010 World Cup Soccer in South Africa seven months away, avid soccer fans have been watching relentlessly as Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria (South Africa as the host nation has automatic qualification) secured their place and representation of the continent of Africa by qualifying for the event. Much of this uncontrollable anticipation and excitement by fans of the ‘beautiful game’ has been evident in the growth of blogs and other technological enhanced driven tools.  This avid growth which has led to an increasing digitally-mediated discussion about the World Cup is representative of Africa’s unprecedented broadband growth within a short space of time. It is perhaps more exciting to note that this demand for faster connection and up to date information about the World Cup qualifiers can potentially have long lasting positive impacts on the way governments such as facilitating better and faster communication between government ministries thus facilitating collaboration; this at the least would help end the frustration of lack of access to government data. As well, this growth in broadband will enable security agencies to use real-time systems to map patterns to fight crime and other social impediments that is currently facing many African countries, such as the host South Africa.
The huge investments on infrastructure development especially in telecommunications will not go unnoticed. AfricaNext Investment Research group expects Africa’s broadband markets to grow more than fourfold in five years to 12.7 million users from 2.7 million in 2007.  Internet accessing via portable computers and via cellular networks would benefit users a lot as mobile broadband in some areas can be the best alternative for end users. Mobile broadband describes various types of wireless high-speed Internet access through portable devices, and it has various network standards like now popular 3G and MiMax. Mobile operators are leveraging the popularity of cell phones to get a share of the fixed broadband market. In fact, they have an upper hand in the emerging Information and Communication Technology network markets.
Even though fixed and mobile broadband have their own pros and cons, mobile broadband is the best alternative for Africa as it is completely based on the wavelength of mobile phone networks, while fixed broadband can induce unnecessary attenuation. Another advantage of mobile broadband is that you can take it with you wherever you go. Even those who reside in remote areas will get a chance to access emails, check the results during the games and keep them updated on the latest news.  In the past downloading in mobile broadband has been a problem, but with the billions of dollars being invested in telecommunications infrastructure such challenges will be conquered. As we invest huge amounts of money on fixed broadband we should remember that it could be indispensable due to its unique features.
As the continent makes progress in infrastructure development, integrated spatially oriented data will be digitized through mappings to examine patterns within data.
The application of Geographic Information System (GIS) will be a great way forward to learn from spatial data. GIS is defined as the constellation of hardware and software that integrates computer graphics with rational database for the purpose of managing data about geographic location. Governments in developing countries can map demographic attributes of various areas of interests: zoning, population density, fires, flood plain analysis, tracking crime locations, etc.
This technology has the ability to bring layers of information from multiple datasets to uncover spatial relationships for development purposes and overcome some of the challenges facing our governments. We need a system that provides a proactive prevention, fast detection of patterns of natural hazards, and forceful resolution. The technology could benefit governments more, as it permeates the ministries, links divisions, integrates data sources to help create new knowledge and overcome territorial boundaries. The tool can be useful in mapping governments’ resources and those of the constituencies and thus helping us to understand interrelationships among resources, the human environment, and physical environment of the continent. With governments facing their own unique challenges GIS can be customized to meet their needs by providing a collaborative environment, which could prove to be a valuable asset to an interconnected institution and constituencies. The decision-making process becomes distributed throughout different stakeholders.
GIS will add value to data with spatial characteristics instead of being treated as a nondynamic analyzed through static graphs, tables, and maps. With GIS on our side, we can produce geospatial representations of data and help plan for future events through various techniques that can be used for forecasting, mapping where things are, mapping the most and least, mapping change, and answering what-if-scenarios. Some of the examples in which GIS is being used currently to study how disease spreads, to develop and deliver Web-based educational resources, crop analysis, streamline national parks, etc are: in Botswana  for water resource modeling; in South Africa for coastal marine management; in Ghana for management information services; in Kenya for land resources; in Uganda for forest biomass; UNDP in Somali  for planning large campaigns such as vaccinations and the rehabilitation of water wells.

With the proliferation of affordable Internet connecting and open source technology tools there will be an improvement in collecting and dissemination of information. Most of us know that the internet evolved out of survival strategies in the military during the terrible political times of the Cold War and hence the coming of the World Cup to Africa in a much happier global event premises to positively redefine communication in Africa to a reality of social change and development.  Yet, for any of this potential to develop there is a need for a political will in the leadership as these exciting technological changes promise a potential change in the running of governments in Africa from business as ‘usually slow and mundane’ to business at the speed of lightning.

Reuben Dlamini

Reuben Dlamini is an Academic Technology Consultant at the Information Technology & Services Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA.

2 Responses to Is GIS/Mobile Broadband demand for South Africa 2010 the answer to better governance?

  1. Good stuff man.
    It is certainly evident that the age of social media: blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc could not be possible without broadband especially mobile broadband. It's pretty easy to do something as mundane as updating your status to raising awareness about lack of electricity in Nigeria (http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23lightupnigeria).
    Africa is where the most opportunities for development are and inasmuch as the government can have a hand in the growth of these commodities [as you pointed out in your last sentence(s)] I still think that these are individual and business opportunities. Look at telecommunications in Nigeria run by Etisalat, MTN etc, these are all outside companies with the government not having anything to do with it except regulating.

  2. really insightful contribution :-) I think many times people forget that Africa's inability to take advantage of the telephone revolution of the 1950s and 60s, has turned out to be a marvelous advatange as Africa is fast recording the highest numbers of mobile cellphone users in the entire world. coincidentally we were discussing this same phenomenon of Africa's digital evolution in my African Politics class after a classmate from Senegal was talking about how a couple of years ago he couldn't even work in the libraries in Dakar, Senegal because there was no electricity. But a couple of years later he is chatting with his brother in rural Senegal on facebook.

    the same impact of cellphones in Zimbabwe's 2008 elections is well documented where the goverment could not hide the results of the voting as people were already throughout the country texting the outcome. Using the development for social change language this technological developments open much needed room for 'empowerment' within this complex discourse we call development in Africa.

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