Information Technology an Assert to Local Knowledge: The Power to Transform, Improve and Provide Quality Services to Rural Communities

Africa is widely known worldwide as one of the most technologically under connected and underdeveloped continent in the world. Most of the burden has been carried in rural areas, where many social service agencies and businesses have avoided setting up shop due to inferior technological and service infrastructure. With the completion of the fiber optics projects across the continent the hope is that citizens who remain “unfortunately underconnected” will have access to high-speed Internet. This will enable them to utilize the new cutting edge technology for a multivariate of educational and business purposes. Citizens of the continent will have access to a wealth of data and information, which will allow for the expansion of their participation across the globe. The hope is that the installation of fiber optic cable networks in rural areas would allow government agencies, medical facilities, institutions of higher learning, and social service agencies to leverage the new robust broadband technologies to improve the quality of their service.

Earlier in the year the continent and the world witnessed the historic uprisings in the Northern parts of the Sahara desert, a region that has been known to be well developed, stable, and peaceful. What the world observed in these uprisings both amazed, shocked, and left others dumbfounded as the uprising affirmed the power of information technology. The influential and powerful effect of rapid connectivity to the internet and access to information services cannot be underestimated as it has open-up space for those who have been oppressed and deprived of information for a long period of time; by providing a platform to express themselves on not only a continental, but global level. However with the rapid growth and improvements in information technology especially mobile technology Africans are beginning to gain exposure to technologically mobile laboratories to learn, share ideas, and debate ideas about cultural ideologies, connections, and influence.

The recent events in North Africa proved that some of our African leaders suffer from a modicum of knowledge on what the information age meant and the implications that it has for the enforcement of democratic practices on the continent. The recent Presidential elections in Nigeria have been hailed as the most democratic, and part of the reason for that was the fact that technology was very present. People, especially the youth, went to polling stations with their mobile devices, ready to document and most importantly share any mishappenings with the elections dealings and results. As the completion of laying of fiber optics cable in Africa comes to an end, our people will be more informed in a timely manner; physical space will not be a barrier to accessing information to build knowledge that will transform a continent that has been underdeveloped by those who were privy to information. As people begin to realize what has been happening to their countries we will see more Africans responding with alacrity to all the mismanagement of resources and oppression and also rewrite external representations of Africa by taking back Africans voice.

Those in rural underdeveloped parts of the countryside will be able to collaborate with others on best practices on economic development issues as well as access to digital materials without having to travel long distances to access them. People in areas that have been marginalized would be able to access some of the services that have been a luxury and far removed from them for a long time. Most importantly, we hope that those in urban areas will also engage with those in the rural areas to learn more about our cultures and ways to preserve it.

It is expected that African governments will allow independent telecommunication regulators to function on their own although they will have to ensure that there is fair competition between them. Those regulators will have to show affinity for developing rural broadband projects in all parts of the countries in which they work. Thus by improving Internet connectivity networks, the rural areas would allow companies to move their businesses and services there and hence create new economic opportunities without opting for urban immigration.

It is my hope that the projects will be met with ululation all over as the technology is being rolled out to those remote communities; cost and speed would no longer be an issue. This will hopefully mean that schools will benefit from this, those who would like to further their education would have access to open and distance learning opportunities, teachers would have access to online materials, and government services would be decentralized.  Those Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) would benefit immensely as they grow their businesses and empower upcoming entrepreneurs. This is definitely a unique opportunity for Africa to participate on the creation of knowledge and re-establish herself amongst the world leaders in what is often termed ‘the information technology revolution’ instead of being the consuming continent.

 

 

Reuben Dlamini

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

3 Responses to Information Technology an Assert to Local Knowledge: The Power to Transform, Improve and Provide Quality Services to Rural Communities

  1. Well written Skhu! You provide an angle hitherto ignored by most. I’m wondering how the use can effectively create employment opportunities for example, not only within telecommunication companies setting up their services in rural areas but also businesses developing in these areas. What type of SME would be more suited/likely to make use of increased connectivity in rural areas?

  2. Thank you for your kind comments Nadia! There are three phases in the process of rural development. Two phases fall on short-term and one on long-term.
    Short-Term
    Phase I:
    It will be infrastructure development whereby we will see blue collar jobs becoming available to those folks in those areas. Economic development is built from blue collar jobs which can be skilled or unskilled but people have a place to go to earn a living. During this phase people develop skills that might be helpful in organizing and starting small companies that will be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure in the long-term. People can even start sub-contractors to work with those big companies more likely to win tenders and provide landscaping, cleaning, catering, etc.
    Phase II:
    Once there is infrastructure then well established corporations could take advantage of the spaces available and the services being provided by those areas. The taxes or rates in the beginning would not be expensive. Government agencies and medical facilities will grow as people migrate from urban to rural as they will demand the services. In most cases voices of the rural folks are not being heard so the presence of white collar would definitely improve services provide in those areas. Is it a good thing? NO! Thats just reality. As the services become more available telemedicine will grow instead of people constantly migrating to the cities to be close to their doctors. Now the capability of mobile technology could be leveraged so that doctors could monitor their patience wherever they are. Another great opportunity for SME would be to give customers the opportunity to pay using their cell phones for groceries and different services. MTN provide Mobile Money and Safaricom have MPESA. People have to go get the money from outlets that provide those services in bigger cities. People could set up businesses to provide the services there. Financial institutions would move to the rural areas unlike now you see people going to the cities lining up to get their money. Thieves are taking advantage of them because they are always carrying cash. Roads infrastructure would improve too as wholesalers, corporations, financial institutions, and educational institutions grow.
    Long-Term:
    Phase III
    White-Collar Jobs! People will be able to educate their children and accessing education would not be as problematic as it is now. Those young people in rural areas would have role models working in those corporations and agencies. Hopefully tax money collected from the organizations would be use in rural development.

    It takes more than this though people have to be educated especially SMEs who might feel threatened by the advancement of the infrastructure and the presence of bigger players in those industries they are in. We saw in RSA during the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit the owners were not educated about the system thus there was resistance. We need to educate our people on all the advancement taking place and educate them on how they could participate instead of making them inferior, thus resolving to tenderpreneurship as a way out. We need to promote innovation and entrepreneurship!

  3. Good article Team! I think the premise of your argument/article is pretty straight forward and not many would disagree.

    The passage that stood out most to me in this article,

    “It is expected that African governments will allow independent telecommunication regulators to function on their own although they will have to ensure that there is fair competition between them. Those regulators will have to show affinity for developing rural broadband projects in all parts of the countries in which they work. Thus by improving Internet connectivity networks, the rural areas would allow companies to move their businesses and services there and hence create new economic opportunities without opting for urban immigration.”

    That said, there’s been a lot of things that have been expected by African governments, unfortunately history tells us many of these expectations have been mired in corruption and scandal. How feasible do you see African governments (or many governments for that matter) really taking a vested interest in encouraging indepedent companies to participate in fair market competition amongst themselves.

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