The ping of a text message has never sounded so sweet. In what is being touted as a world first, Kenya’s biggest mobile operator is allowing subscribers to send cash to other phone users by SMS. Known as M-Pesa, or mobile money, the service is expected to revolutionise banking in a country where more than 80% of people are excluded from the formal financial sector.
Montreal-based Alternatives is in the final sprint to release a report on the development of internet infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The feasibility report by this APC member focuses on the set-up of a national internet backbone as well as on the content of a national information and communication technology policy for Africa’s third largest country.
In Nairobi, where the World Social Forum 2007 was taking place, human-rights advocate Rikke Frank Jorgensen files a story about Tunisia’s current human rights standing. “The situation has gotten worse and worse, since the Summit. I think we are being punished for WSIS. It’s hardly possible for us to work anymore. A large number of sites are being blocked, email is not working, phones are cut off, NGOs are harassed, and meetings are prevented from taking place. How can you work under these circumstances?” asks the interviewed Souhayr Belhassen.
Following an APC coordinated meeting in London about wireless internet technology in Africa last December, John Dada and Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam gave interviews to the BBC World Service. Those of you not based in Africa may have missed the broadcasts. Here they are in mp3 files. Both were broadcasted on the BBC’s Focus on Africa Programme in December 2006.
In March 2006, APC organised a consultation in Mombasa, Kenya to bring together key stakeholders who could have an influence on the model that the consortium might choose. A few weeks before the event, it became clear that the level of interest was much higher than expected.
APC condemns the unjust detention of free speech bloggers and journalists in Egypt. Alaa Seif Al-Islam, a seasoned blogger and APC colleague, is one of four Egyptian online diarists being held in detention for criticising the current regime since May 7. In addition, APC has heard disturbing reports about violent actions taken by state security against several of the bloggers who were released from custody last week, only to be subsequently re-arrested. Authorities prevented human rights lawyers from visiting the bloggers who had been beaten and tortured on Thursday May 25.
Africa currently has to pay for some of the most expensive bandwidth in the world. All this will change if the proposed East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) cable is built as it will connect countries on the eastern side of the continent and if this new capacity is offered in a way that maximises use and lowers price.
To help make this possible, APC is launching a new website “Fibre-for-Africa” and on March 10 will hold a consultation with more than 80 key stakeholders from all over Eastern and Southern Africa to ensure that access to EASSy
which will serve eight coastal and eleven land-locked countries is ‘easy’, affordable and open.
Most internet access relies on the availability of a reliable fixed telephone line and that can be a struggle to find in many parts of rural Africa. Wireless technology can by-pass the fixed-line problem. APC’s Anna Feldman has just returned from a wireless training workshop on Zanzibar where thirty five trainees learned how to set up their own connections and eventually – using antennas made out of recycled tin cans – were able to wirelessly connect an atol two kilometres across the sea from the workshop venue.
APC’s latest initiative is looking to connect communities who don’t yet have internet access by skilling them to build their own wireless networks. The project covers the development of training materials in English, French and Arabic and workshops that will be adapted for different environmental, regulatory and climatic conditions. With four regional workshops in Africa in 2005, we’ll be training up to 100 possible future trainers. Plans are also afoot in Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
The Fantsuam Foundation provides refurbished computers to civil society organisations and partners, runs computer training centres and offers the only internet connection for hundreds of miles around in rural Nigeria. All this in Kafanchan State where electricity is often unavailable and innovators power their computers using car batteries. The Foundation’s work is supported by a home-grown corps of ICT youth volunteers, the Zitt Geeks. The Geeks are already free software devotees and they are the first participants in Fantsuam’s business incubator which provides training, mentoring and funding to enable enterprising youths to become self-employed.