Access to ICTs

Connecting Agriculture, Empowering Futures!

Access to ICTs in Rural Areas -The African Telecentre Experience

Mediatheques established by the Governorate of Algiers

Sharkeya Governorate Technology Access Community Centres (TACC). The UNDP is working with the IDSC, the UNV, the Sharkeya Governorate, the Investors Association of 10th of Ramadan City, and Sharkeya Chamber of Commerce to set up three TACCs in the governorate

There are numerous Internet access points located at ‘Communication Centres’ mainly in urban areas.

Fantsuam, an NGO, is running an on-going micro-credit project in Nigeria aimed at alleviating poverty among rural women. As an extension to their existing program, Fantsuam is putting in place a computer based distance-learning programme to meet the educational needs of the rural communities they serve. The Mobile Community Telecentre, which is run by Atsen Ahua for Fantsuam, uses a van that is rigged to carry 4 computers between rural communities in a 20 mile radius. The pilot programme will provide:

1) communication access to secondary school students to supplement their formal studies, 2) access for teachers to re-train for diplomas and degrees as well as 3) a means for Community Health Workers to access information for their re-training and skills up-date.

The target area is the middle belt states of Nigeria (Benue, Taraba and Adamwa). The pilot project involves 250 students and 30 of their teachers from two local secondary schools, 60 teacher-trainers and 10 lecturers from the local College of Education, and 10 frontline health workers. Fantsuam has already acquired the van and the computers, and is now looking into a way to equip the van with Internet access and to provide a source of power for the computers.

Ahua is just concluding the establishment of the Development Communication Resource Centre, a non-governmental organization for the empowerment of rural and marginalized communities through the use of new information and communication technologies. Once he finishes training staff from the micro-credit project to operate the Mobile Community Telecentre, he expects the new project to be fully operational before the end of the year.

The second project I’d like to mention is the, Mobile Rural Infobanks, a pilot project proposal for the Volta Region of Ghana. The aim of this project will be to test the hypothesis that global knowledge can be converged within a target rural African community to decode and integrate indigenous African knowledge into modern knowledge and, as such, can lead to human capacity enhancement, rural poverty alleviation, improved health care and environmental rejuvenation.

In order to accomplish this, we have developed a model of Brain Convergence which intellectualizes indigenous African knowledge for local innovative capacity enhancement. We have built a wide network of local and external individuals and institutions, informally for now, around the themes we have developed to provide examples of the blend between knowledge systems. Powered by convergent IT tools, the model translates into a knowledge network which presents indigenous institutions of African knowledge in modern formats. The network will provide connectivity among global knowledge and research centres, similar centres in Africa, as well as access to a specified or target communities in rural Africa. This would provide the mechanisms for brain convergence in national-international research system linkages which would necessarily reach the target rural population.

There are almost 200 E-Touch Centres in Kenya – these are public access computers with email operated by local entrepreneurs with the support of ISP AfricaOnline.

Youth Enterprise Scheme – Mount Kenya Multipurpose Community Telecentres Development Project (MKMCT).

From the project document: The MKMCT project is the product of prior development work under Agro-forestry Demonstration project, which ran from 1993-1996. A local affiliate of YES implemented ADP. The aim of ADP was to promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices in the mount Kenya region. The pilot project area was Nyeri district, central province. ADP employed the participatory approach in its project cycle, starting from planning and design, field implementation to monitoring and evaluation. Under ADP, a network of demonstration farms was established, which continue to serve as the venues for practical training in Eco-farming technologies. An outreach program to the surrounding community and schools was also implemented successfully, with the establishment of Eco-farming demonstration sites within local schools. Under this program, print, theatre (oral), and audio-visual media were employed in spreading the message of Eco-farming.

ADP successfully promoted integrated Eco-farming practices and technologies including agro silvo-aquaculture (integration of crop, tree and fish Farming), earthworm farming, bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers, among others. However, a major problem was in reaching other farmers in the vast mount Kenya region. A participatory monitoring and evaluation process (PAME) was then initiated. The two main recommendations made were:

Establish a network of community resource Centers that would facilitate the agricultural information sharing process.

Establish a network of local youth groups to initiate similar projects in their home villages as the local youth group had done.

The network of youth groups has since been established under the name Mount Kenya youth Development Association. Progress has also been made in the community resource Centre initiative. Extensive surveys in the project area are already underway to collect data that will feed into the project’s market, technical and financial plans. Proposed by the Youth Enterprise Scheme. Andrew Nderitu –

South Africa
Mike Jensen wrote this report of an integrated rural development project in northern Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa. Called the Maputaland Development and Information Centre it is close to the Mozambique border. The MDIC is a community-based organisation with a diverse range of projects, including a Telecentre, Ilala Palm brewing, Cashew juice making, a satellite based distance education, a small industries park, craft centre and a tourist information centre.

The Telecentre was supported by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and has 4 PCs on a LAN, 5 phone lines, a scanner, 4in1 printer and a large photocopier with document collating facilities. It provides the full range of Telecentre services – fax, photocopying, telephone, scanning, business cards etc, however the PCs are mainly used by the public for word processing and spreadsheets. Little Internet use takes place because the people don’t know what information is available says the Telecentre manager, Sihle. Market information is also not accessible through the Internet yet, so many of the Nguni cattle farmers and vegetable producers in the area can’t use it yet to find out the current prices before taking produce or animals to the market 300kms away.

However the Telecentre also has a particularly interesting project making use of the new digital satellite based broadcast Internet services (which send high speed data down to the standard low cost digital satellite TV dish) to hook two of the local schools to the Internet without the use of phone lines.

The schools have been given a PC and a 64Kbps Satellite feed with a low-bit rate (4.8Kbps) radio link to the Telecentre’s dialup LAN server which dials at scheduled times to the Internet POP in the nearest town. The low speed for outgoing data is fine for email and for the small amount of data sent during a web browsing session, with the graphics and other large amounts of data coming back down the satellite feed. The cost of higher bandwidth ‘line-of-site’ spread spectrum systems is about the same, but would not work here as the schools are not visible from the Telecentre.

Using the lower frequency radios, normally used for telemetry, running at 460Mhz, is an interesting match with the satellite equipment, and it may be worth applying it in other similar situations around Africa. There are now three satellite Internet broadcasting services in Africa, and their low cost – about $30/month for 64Kbps – combined with license-free use makes them very attractive. They don’t normally require a license because standard TVRO/satellite TV has been allowed in virtually all countries now, and as these types of services use the same one-way system, they can usually by-pass local telecom restrictions.

Tzaneen Chamber of Commerce, Northern Province, in partnership with the National African Farmers Union and a local IT company is starting a Telecentre. The feasibility study soon to get underway will assess demand, needs and feasibility of designing and packaging ICT-based business support servicesfor farming, agri-business and related support sectors in the local economy, a ‘telecentre’ point of service is likely to feature.

“I am Rupert Brown, last year of a PhD at Royal Holloway, London. I am studying Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda getting email traffic data, making maps and looking at effects on development. Ibukunolu Alao Babajide gave the following suggestion –

Try and put a telecenter in the middle of an African “open market”, where half of the village population is to be found on market days, and tell us what knowledge can be transferred as you communicate with the “outside world”.

He has given a good suggestion and such a telecentre does exist in Nakaseke, about 50km north of Kampala. It has a market every two weeks which is VERY busy in the coffee season and it is a district of farmers and with a hospital.

The telecentre is a joint project between ITU, UNESCO, British Council, Uganda Public Libraries Board and UTL (formerly UPTC) It has outstanding facilities, excellent staff and is well co-ordinated.

The project has brought new telephone lines and computers with the objective of serving and training the community in IT and Internet. Participation is high and there are a hundred people already registered and some with ready money.

The hospital too will be prepared to try out telemedicine. Already farmers are preparing their contracts on the machines and the newly trained facilitators are marking up (good!) web pages.

There are some blockages however and this is where I would like to focus.

With such high expectations the telecentre has been struggling with phone lines to get on-line since last year. By April they were still not live. The power backups were not installed and any computer breakdown takes time, money and distance to fix. The hospital has not got its connection yet. In the community there is still 80% illiteracy.

The situation is a slow process of getting all the components, human and technical, to interface and connect. This is a problem that is also shared at another level by the private African Virtual University. In a sharp interview, Edwin Njoroge got Shola Aboderin to admit that:

“We did not have time to train everyone involved on the ground….There are many components to coordinate, as opposed to a traditional program. One has to deal with various entities: satellite providers, different institutions, each with their own way of doing things and some of whom are not able to respond to requests in a timely fashion. There is the satellite time reservation, studio reservation, different schedules for the individual professors, acquisition and shipment of books, researching and finding ad reviewing the courses. Many many things have to happen before a course is ready for delivery” Kenyatta AVU Newsletter

With so many components even the ‘magezi ka baganda’ can’t fix complex connections. The telecentre is a great way of doing things and they are cheap to fund and high status for donors. However, things have to take longer or work easier, the further away you are from the power, the telephone exchange and technicians. It is easy for agencies to place systems of PERSONAL computers for a community interface but hard for them to accept that they break down often, they are not reliable and trust will be broken.

Similarly with the AVU they are exploiting huge educational demand and rushing to the market while the connections are one way, while the library and the journals may arrive a year later. Technology is not a fix because it comprises of systems of people as well as systems of finance and boxes of hardware.

There are some answers I hope.

Appropriate technology has a bad name because it often means third best or ‘no money’. However the bush warfare of Linux versus Windows and the old FidoNet versus Internet shows there are halfway solutions. After all, African internet has to travel on satellites rather than cable where there is no choice.

Similarly there is no choice but to train and fund the JuaKaali or make-and-mend or informal sector to produce reliable local systems to fill the gaps in technology. Infolation will continue if people bow down to the next 32 bit browser or import the next Pentium 4X4.

If the (tele)centre moves, will things fall apart? With a peasant on one hand and laptop on the other there is no middle ground. The only way for a country to get assistance now is to beg. Kenya is resisting privatisation, VSATs and IP telephony. Yes, because there are big pockets but also ten or twenty years ago this would have been cheered for preserving a little national income.

High phone tariffs are a tax on the rich as are high internet tarriffs. To flatten inequality the middle ground has to be built up and video streaming will not trickle down to the rest. In this world of interconnection the bonds are too strong and the promises too shallow.

If the AT&Ts and the BTs and the MCIs and the GTEs are joining up to become old monopolists again, then some common purpose is needed even to save the neo-liberal project. The Internet hasn’t solved the problem, it is contributing to it. The traffic hasn’t changed, things are still going one way. Now is the time for orientation, to move slower, to say ‘yes, but’ a little more often and look at the ‘readme.txt’ before installing.”

In a cleared grassy area at the top was a small building with perhaps 10 rooms, all in a row and opening to the outdoors as is the fashion in countries with mild climates — Kampala has a superb climate by the way, never really cold or hot. Half of the rooms housed local community government offices. The other half were donated to the telecenter. In one small room was a VCR and color television playing CNN, but to be used for showing informational videos to community groups. In another was a photocopy and fax machine. Outside along the corridor between the telecenter rooms and the local government rooms was a place for future installation of wireless card phones to be installed by the cell phone company.

The room at the end was bigger than the rest, extending out from both sides of the rectangle like the letter T. It housed I think five late-model computers, one acting as a server to the rest on a local area network, and connected dialup to a local Internet service provider.

There were perhaps three people crowded around each computer, all busily typing in notes or studying screen displays, speaking in hushed voices, all quite intent. We asked the center manager about these people, and he explained that they were all volunteers from the surrounding community, a middle- to low-income suburb of Kampala. In return for excellent access to the computers themselves, they agreed to help others in their community who visit the telecenter for access to information on CDs, surfing the Net, or sending and receiving email.

An apprenticeship program. The paid manager trains volunteers who in turn train their neighbors on computer usage. Seems like a simple thing, but in my experience it is often these simple administrative innovations that make the technology truly affordable and accessible.

The manager looks to be quite a dynamic fellow. His further innovations will likely make or break this telecenter from the point of view of sustainability. He’s already talking about marketing strategies and a big kick-off gala opening. He lobbied me intensively for additional support as we walked to Charles’ car. I suggested we might think about some of USAID’s partners such as primary schools and health clinics becoming customers of the telecenter.

The center only opened its doors two weeks ago. They are expecting a grand opening shortly, once the volunteers are well trained.

NGO Uganda Connect’s project has made some significant progress during the last few months. After completion of the train-the-trainer programme at the Nakaseke multipurpose community telecentre project in Luwero (in collaboration with UNESCO/IDRC/ITU), a new telecentre has been set up, even further afield in Hoima. The centre has six Pentium PCs, four of which are multimedia, a couple of printers, a photocopier and an overhead projector.

The opening of the telecentre on World Telecommunications Day coincided with of the public blessing of the project by two leading Catholic bishops in Sunday celebrations at the Hoima cathedral in the presence of telecommunications officers from all 39 districts in Uganda, at which the Uganda Connect team was asked to address the congregation. This followed the public endorsement of the Uganda Connect project by President Museveni in the presence of our host, the King of Bunyoro-Kitara, one of several such high profile events which were broadcast on national television and have given the project a big boost.

Uganda Connect is also engaged in a project with the support of the World Food Programme, setting up an HF radio station for connecting a remote rural community to the Internet – Kihihi – near the Congo DRC border using the new Codan HF radio modem which supports TCP/IP, making it also possible browse the web – albeit very slowly. Contact Daniel Stern. <>

The Chipata Chamber of Commerce (CoC), Eastern Province, Zambia, near the Malawi border, has launched a telecentre in Chipata as part of the Africa Connection rally in May ’99. This telecentre is targeting the local business community and the Chipata CoC anticipates that the telecentre will reach break-even point in six to nine months. It is a joint venture with Lusaka-based ISP ZamNet which is providing the leased line link to the Telecentre

The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) is developing a project to support the implementation of public access communication and information centres in rural areas. Since small-scale farming is the primary activity in most of these areas, the ZFU has a particular interest in supporting the establishment of Telecentres. The ZFU is the umbrella group for smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. It has over 160 000 members spread throughout the country. The backbone of the organisation the 6 000 Clubs, which are the local level organisational structure in the rural areas.

The Swedish Co-operative Centre (a Swedish NGO supported by the co-operative movement in Sweden with national government support) has been a partner in a number of ZFU activities for some years. SCC is currently supporting ZFUs technical farmers training, its youth and women programmes and the Marketing Capacity Building (MCB) component. The Telecentres are of specific interest in relation to the MCB as effective communication has proved to be of decisive importance for the building of the smallholder farmers own capacity to influence the liberalised markets both for their produce and for their procurement of agricultural inputs. It has been proposed that the Telecentre concept, be tested on a pilot basis in 10 different locations in the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe.

The main purpose of the pilot project would be to identify and test: The sustainability of the concept in rural Zimbabwe The potential of the groups to run and manage a Telecentre The most appropriate size for Telecentre in a particular setting The range of services required The range of technologies and applications required Innovative national/local policies and tariff structures The pilot project is also expected to demonstrate the impact on economic, social and cultural development of improved information and communication services for populations in rural and remote areas.