Internet infrastructure for a global democratic community
Darfur is just one of the examples why the digital divide is doubly damaging to Africa. It's not just the lack of incoming information - information that could save lives - it's also the lack of an ability to share one's problem. Imagine having a life-threatening problem which you know will bring death to someone you love. You don't have the skill to save them, and your mouth has been sealed. You cannot communicate your plight by telephone. You must go to the hospital, but that is too far away. This is the kind of desperation that is common place in Africa. It's happening every day here!
And it's a downward spiral, because there is very little if any hope that the situation will improve. No matter what the people do or try, they socio-economic climate is such that they will fail. This is why China's engagement is commendable - at last infrastructure in the form of roads and power may arrive at one or two communities. At least a select few stand a chance to to break out of the spiral. Yes, China's engagement is calculated and self-serving, but we may at least hope that learning and improvement of some communities' circumstances will occur.
The internet is also infrastructure. It enables it's users (most importantly)
- to contact persons outside their community, to share their plight in this way and perhaps to find help
- to find others who are seeking a service, and willing to pay for it
- to look up information in such a massive database, that the number of books required to contain it would fill all bush school libraries on the planet
- to read today's newspapers
- to portray themselves to the world.
The internet also carries a danger, which I'll need to talk about in another post. Because it is democratic, it also confronts us with points of view which we do not want to hear or expressions from the baser side of human nature. But this is not unlike most resources - they all carry a price. In the case of the internet, I believe the cost has already been amortized a dozen times over.
The internet should be named in lists of crucial facilities such as roads, postal service, power and water supply. The internet is the telecommunications platform of tomorrow, the sooner we start treating as such, the sooner our developing areas will be able to profit from it. Legislation which attempts to control this fact cripples a country's infrastructure and is a direct strike at the poorest.
If the internet is the worlds new democratic community, then Africans are an excluded mass whose community lies on the other side of a deep divide. We cannot fill the chasm, but we have to bridge this digital divide somehow.
March 21st 2007 02:53