This booklet is part of a broad strategy called ‘Speaking for Ourselves’. It recognises, that while the African perspective on the digital divide is underrepresented in the context of the World Summit on the Information Society, the people most directly affected by the digital divide have the best ideas, analysis and opinions about how to address the issues.
Numerous barriers to Africa’s participation in the information society confront us. Paramount among them are poverty, illiteracy, limited access to communications infrastructure and a serious and debilitating lack of bandwidth. All this in the context of an increasingly globalised world that is propagating policies of free markets that hold some benefits but which also favour the world’s stronger economies and have some fall out which directly increases the digital divide.
In Africa the World Wide Web is called the World Wide Wait; after 3pm when North America, home to the largest on-line community, becomes active, there is an even greater slow down. The cost of using a dial up connection results in extremely high access costs, which are out of reach for most African people. So access to electronic information is difficult and this is a tragic limitation because while it is possible to have information without development, it isn’t possible to have development without information. If information is power, then access is empowerment.
The African continent has produced some innovative applications of ICT’s and is taking great strides in interpreting the information society as a people centred, community based sphere. The cell phone and text message have changed the dynamic of elections, voice over IP, where it is available, is enabling family reunification and providing a reason for many people to make their first phone call to distant relatives.
African people are among the best communicators on the planet but for ICTs to be used, they have to have relevance. Technology itself cannot create change. The use and availability of technology is dependent upon both the historical moment and the prevailing social, economic, and cultural structure into which it is introduced. The legacies inherited in the process of unequal global development make it imperative that the laying of an information super highway in Africa must be supported with an appropriate framework to accommodate pedestrians and donkey carts too.
We hope that the perspectives in these pages deepen understanding about the opportunities and limitations to Africa’s imminent leap into the information society.”