Unbounded possibilities: Observations on sustaining rural ICTs in Africa
, October 2008
This study commissioned by APC and written by wireless expert Ian Howard explores sustainable ICT and the need for wireless internet access for development (W4D). Intended to serve as a guide to members of the W4D community involved in African initiatives, Howard draws conclusions based on his observations of two telecentres in Tanzania with very different business models. Howard’s work is intended to inspire others to share their observations about viable sustainability models for rural telecentres. Future plans include publishing it online in a participative format that will allow others to contribute to it, thus building a knowledge base on the topic.
These two communities featured in this study illustrate that the need for internet access is strong, especially in countries where WiMAX and similar wireless bands are available, challenging the current hype that rural communities ICT needs are being met by mobiles phones.
The study consists of five main sections. The author begins by describing sustainable ICT in the preface, followed by a rationale section, in which he questions whether or not the need for wireless exists. A methodology section explains the data collection process and how the two case studies were selected, followed by the two case studies. Each case study is broken down into four sections: Background, observations, financial analysis and conclusion. The author then adds his final notes and appendices at the end of the study.
The first case study, the Family Alliance for Development and Cooperation, is an initiative by a self-taught technician, Joseph Sekiku, who created a telecentre on his property with the help of small grants. Due to the exorbitant dial-up prices and sluggish connection speeds, Sekiku turned to wireless and began building a network. Though he struggles financially to keep the centre running, the centre is kept operational through the collaboration and dedication of the community. Because of the ongoing need for resourcefulness Sekiku has become a highly knowledgeable individual who is now a leader and expert in computer technologies in his community. Howard draws certain conclusions based on Sekiku’s experience, which can serve other newly emerging telecentres. Through Sekiku’s story, Howard demonstrates how a low-cost, sole-proprietor telecentre can be built and flourish in rural areas.
Some 200 km away, in the bigger but largely underdeveloped region of Mwanza, the Sengerema telecentre, is the end result of several initiatives carried out over the past four years. It boasts many different services for its numerous clients including a cyber café, a conference room, an e-training lab and so on, which generate revenue. However, the revenue does not cover all the maintenance expenses of the centre and so it is dependant on grants and other sources of financial assistance. The telecentre is a useful example of a sustainable ICT initiative in rural Tanzania, as it serves as a model for community engagement and is a symbol of hope for youth within the community While it is not financially self-reliant, it remains sustainable because it is embraced by all of its stakeholders.
Photo by Ian Howard
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