In follow up to my last post on African participation in Evoke
, I came across an article on the BBC - Nigerian web first-timers long to be 'part of the world'
. In the story, the journalist Komla Dumor travels to rural Nigeria, asks people about the internet, and doc**ents the experience of 2 men as they interact with the WWW for the first time. It is strange to think back to a time when I lacked internet access, but somehow I managed to grow up and get almost though my undergraduate degree without the world wide web.
Dumor first asked people in the town of Gitata (photos here
), in northern Nigeria, what they thought the internet is. The answers of these farmers and traders were telling. The nearest internet connection is 35km away - not far if you own your own car, but certainly a great distance on foot.
"I hear it's something people use to talk to each other," one shopkeeper said.
An elderly man described it as "something that young people play with."
One woman saw it as something that "connects people with wires."
[Hmmmm.... have they been EVOKING? :D]
Then Dumor set up a farmer, Nicolas Madaki, and a schoolteacher, Moses Maisauri, with mobile, internet-connected phones. The men were chosen by a council of elders to participate in the experiment. The internet experiment was a follow up to the introduction of mobile phones
to this remote village that isn't connected to a power grid. Dumor taught the 2 men how to access the web and then let them get connected over a 6 week period.
Some of the problems the men encountered included:
- Charging their phones - only the village barber had an electrical generator to power up the phones
- Cost - the barber charged $3 per day of charging which is a lot if you are making $1-2 per day
- Getting a signal - where I worked in Mozambique I climbed trees, stood out in the middle of corn fields, and hunkered down in sand thickets sometimes to get a signal. Even then sometimes the signal was very weak.
- Setting up a mobile phone email account - difficult enough for some of us who have access and skills
- Setting up an account with an internet provider - see #3
These are some serious barriers. However, I also see lots of opportunity.
At the end of the experiment, the men were interviewed about their use of the new technology. Nicolas was very excited about learning about sending emails, the new places he'd read about, and what was going on in his country and other places through the news. He even checked out the White House internet site. The schoolteacher was also enthusiastic. Moses reported that he had visited a number of health websites and learned about disease prevention. The schoolteacher said: "In fact I feel like I am part of the rest of the world when I am on the internet."
I think this is amazing stuff. Giving people access to information about weather, markets, disease prevention, new technology, news, etc. is really important to help them help themselves. But feeling connected to the rest of humanity is equally important.
Here's the thing though, Nigeria is one of the better connected countries. Imagine what people could access and do if the continent was really connected.
As Moses said, ""I can survive without the internet but I cannot live without it. Now
that I know what it can do for me and for people in Gitata, I will always want to have this kind of access. If I don't have it, life will be empty - there will always be something missing."
This is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.