OII SDP 2007 (XXII): Democracy, Reconciliation, and Technology

Lead: Michael Best, Ethan Zuckerman

Mobile Telephony in Developing Countries, by Ethan Zuckerman

Ethan Zuckerman introduces TEDGlobal 2007, which was held in Africa.

African issues about ICTs can be tracked at Timbuktu Chronicles, by Emeka Okafor, or at Africa Open For Business. But TED just focused on Foreign Aid, mainly lead by Bono (see Bono, I Presume?, Africans to Bono: ‘For God’s sake please stop!’ and Bono versus Mwenda — all via Ethan Zuckerman’s blog).

The point should be to fix, before you pour into Foreign Aid, government/governance, so the money goes to the appropriate place/hands. More indeed, investment should go hand to hand with entrepreneurship and infrastructures.

Number of handsets is still increasing in Africa, but the difference (among many others) between blog analysis and mobile communications analysis is that these last ones they are so difficult to track. But it is an infrastructure that can be used for entrepreneurship, activism, or governance, etc.

Interactive Radio for Justice, for instance, allow users to send SMS questions to the radio, which can feature DRC deputy minister for defence, head of military operations for MONUC. This is a way to close the loop of media system.

mobilemonitors.org also represents another way of making elections more transparent, by calling to the radio and report abuse on voting places. And not just phone, but the pervasive of phone cameras is also a fact that is changing witnessing.

M-Pesa hire air (phone) time. But it is also being used for money transfer: I load the phone with money (say, air time) and a third party “downloads” the phone and gets the money back, with even a bank account intermediating.

Even activists upload speeches in the format of ringtones that can be downloaded and installed on your mobile phone.

Vodacom Congo is a compelling example on how strong is the demand for communications in Africa.

Success of incremental infrastructure in Africa

  • built on small (compared to huge projects) investments that quickly yield revenue
  • partially user financed and owned
  • replacement technology

Already incremental: mobile phones, internet. Possibly incremental: power grids, roads. Problems in the possibly incremental: inefficiency, coordination problems.

Answering a couple of Ralph Schroeder‘s questions, Ethan Zuckerman states that we see that there’s more voice traffic that text on mobile networks. Actually, low literacy is quite an issue for a lot of mobile users.

And concerning the role of the State, so far it seems that the mainstream is just to put some requirements on communication services, such as covering rural areas that otherwise (without State regulation) would remain uncovered. Surprisingly, telecoms end up by finding ways to actually make profit out of these requirements, by making up new business models that take into account those new clusters. But pricing regulation, etc. does not seem to be the most common answer.

Daithí Mac Síthigh expresses his concern that all the infrastructures are owned by the private sector, making it difficult to build upon them national strategies. Ethan Zuckerman’s concern is what happens with those infrastructures if they are owned by a government that you do not trust.

Incremental Infrastructure and the Democratization of Provision, by Mike Best

The question is not if we should give a poor a computer instead of e.g. food, but if there is a role for ICTs in providing the poor with food.

ICT4D – Africa – Innovation

  • Technological and engineering challenges
  • Supportive public policies and regulatory environment
  • Smart businesses, especially SMSs
  • Collaborative and socially aware interventions
  • Rigorous monitoring, evaluation, assessment

Post-conflict countries are being the ones with highest mobile phone use growth… but it might be because of replacement of fixed phones. So, is the indicator a good one?

A Knowledge-based Rwanda

  • Physical infrastructure
  • Human capacity
  • Peace, security and reconciliation
  • Good governance and supportive public policy
  • Grassroots opportunities
  • Spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship

Where fiber is not available (and not easy to build), wireless technologies come to the rescue: VSAT, GSM/GPRS, Wi-Max, Wi-Fi, UMTS, etc.

Readiness Assessment

  • Pervasiveness
  • Geographic Dispersion
  • Sectoral Absorption
  • Connectivity Infrastructure
  • Organizational Infrastructure
  • Sophistication of Use

Conclusions on the e-Readiness Assessment for Liberia

  • A strong independent regulator is critical to growth of the overall ICT sector
  • The lack of a fiber network in metropolitan Monrovia along with a national fiber backbone limits significantly domestic Internet capacity. A revitalized Liberian Telecommunications Corporation can serve naturally as a network service provider.
  • A connection to the submarine cable that travels from Portugal along the west coat of Africa (SAT3/WASC) can be realized perhaps with a link via neighboring Côte d’Ivoire

My reflections

  • We’ve seen many successes of mobile phone but… what are the limitations? is there a need to shift to the desktop anyway? or can we stick to mobile communications?

Readings

Sullivan, K. (2006). “In War-Torn Congo, Going Wireless to Reach Home”. In The Washington Post, Sunday, July 9, 2006; Page A01. Washington, DC: The Washington Post Company. Retrieved July 13, 2007 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/08/AR2006070801063.html
Best, M. L., Jones, K., Kondo, I., Thakur, D., Wornyo, E. & Yu, C. (2007). “Post-Conflict Communications: The Case of Liberia”. In Communications of the ACM, [forthcoming]. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.
Best, M. L. (Ed.) (2006). Last Mile Initiative Innovations.. Atlanta: Georgia Institute of Technology. Retrieved July 24, 2007 from http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~mikeb/LMI_files/LMI.ebook.pdf
Birdsall, N. (2004). Underfunded Regionalism in the Developing World. Working Paper Number 49. Washington DC: Center for Global Development. Retrieved July 24, 2007 from http://www.cgdev.org/files/2739_file_WP_49_1.pdf

More info

SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (XXII): Democracy, Reconciliation, and Technology” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=588

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