Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

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:

  1. Charging their phones - only the village barber had an electrical generator to power up the phones
  2. Cost - the barber charged $3 per day of charging which is a lot if you are making $1-2 per day
  3. 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.
  4. Setting up a mobile phone email account - difficult enough for some of us who have access and skills
  5. 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.


Views: 22

Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 19, 2010 at 4:47pm
+1 KS. This past week Kenya hosted the Pan-Africa Media Conference 2010 where our president said “The increased access to mobile phones and the internet has given rise to new media that resonates well with our young population. However even those of us born before the computer age, appreciate the contribution of these new avenues of communication. Indeed, the advent of citizen journalism has become possible because of tools such as SMS, blogs, and social networking websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Myspace.”". I am ALMOST sure he does not have a clue what this paragraph actually means but the fact the he said it says A LOT! +1KS
Comment by Jen Shaffer on March 19, 2010 at 4:53pm
@Shakwei - That's awesome. I just think about how important communication is in African societies and how this could facilitate even more. I wish you and your country the best in getting connected.
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 19, 2010 at 4:53pm
BTW you do not have to have lots of $$$ to invest in telcom sector in Kenya. The biggest (and most prosperous) mobile phone company in our region is listed on our the stock exchange and their shares sell for 5Kshs (equivalent to US$ 0.07)!
Comment by Jen Shaffer on March 19, 2010 at 4:57pm
@Shakwei - $0.07???? Seriously? I really need to look into investing then. This is something I believe in and I can afford it. Thank you so much for that information. I always thought I would need tens to hundreds of dollars to invest in something like an African telecom company.
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on March 19, 2010 at 5:25pm
US$ 0.07!!! What´s the name of the company?
Comment by Nick Heyming on March 19, 2010 at 5:59pm
Yeah, we need to get a little Evoke micro-investment fund going...
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 20, 2010 at 5:28pm
Safaricom. Multiple award winning and social innovaor of MPesa, a mobile money application that is taking the global money transfer players by storm. www.safaricom.com.
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 20, 2010 at 5:29pm
I'm so proud to be Kenyan :)
Comment by Ssozi Javie on March 20, 2010 at 6:11pm
Access remains one of the biggest problems in Uganda too. The "Digital Divide" is still evident. But of course in Uganda its both a Mix of HIGH PRICES and POOR SIGNALS.
The communities have realised the role of technology in development and of course with the helps of organisations that are helping people access and learn how to use the ICT equipment - connectivity is seeming to move a bit faster.

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