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A thought for the "Newly Connected"

Last Christmas, Manuel Castells led to thoughts about the tradition of giving and the 1950's developmental theory of trickle-down (i.e., building up power points in an under-developed society, which will lead ultimately to trickling down of the capital within the society targeted for development). Castells' theorises that the Net ignores parts of society which are irrelevant from a capitalist point of view (they have no capital). Castells underlines the modern downfall of trickle-down, to my mind. IT, Business Process Management and corporate efficiency have worked toward plugging "leaks" and concentrating capital in "approved" conduits. In the meantime, charities (many cashing in on corporate social responsibility programmes, that have become necessary) continue to be a large part of the trickle-down effect and of development work. Many have a good methodology, but on the whole, the situation represents a double failure, as trickling via charity can be disempowering and dependence building.

An interesting variable in this formula are the "newly connected": those financially disempowered persons (pecuniarily poor) who will be connected to the Net in 2011. The ITU expects that over a billion people will be accessing the Web via mobile phones by 2015, but I think that it's going to be more like 2 billion. The reason for this will be that web services such as M-Money will be clothed in simple UI's so that people will be using the Web, without knowing it. This is very similar to the phenomenon of people who use email or MXiT without knowing they are using the Net. Newly connected persons may still be irrelevant to the Net as an enabler of financial flows, however, they have more possibilities of becoming relevant. And they do present an opportunity for advertising, as one sees with free apps available on Android's Market for applications.

These services are also going to go some way in crossing Castells divide between the Net and the self. Castells postulates that irrelevant portions of the population develop a strong identity, which is localised and which rejects the global Net. The self thus is incompatible with the Net, the local approach incompatible with the global.

All this just goes to underline that networks in 2011 are going to connect more poor people, and corporations and governments will try to leverage economies of scale to draw even more finances out of these newly connected. Money will trickle down, and it will trickle back up too. It might be better to draw an analogy with the mammalian circulatory system: money like blood rushes through vast pipes at the heart of the networked society, and it is forced into ever thinner ducts as it approaches the marginalised areas, until it performs a kind of slow ooze. However, even this ooze has a direction, until eventually the money gathers together in the pipes and heads back to the heart. By trying to draw more money from these regions, what should end up happening is the laying of larger pipes and the tighter integration of marginalised areas to the "big pump". Ultimately this will be beneficial, as new needs will generate new was to access revenues.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: January 31st 2011 06:22

Barack Obama: A New World Order

Anti-Luddite Blackberry wielding, information disseminating, marketing-savvy, open (as far as the military and dept of homeland security will allow), pro-people - did it take 8 years of the really rotten administration to make us appreciate what Barack Obama is doing? I don't think so. Barack Obama is not only the first African American president (a strong signal to Africa to awaken), he is also the first president who had to come to terms with an ever quickening wave of technology, that began in public (with the first PC) as he started his University career. His entire career as read in Wikipedia, seems to blossom out of working for social development and information (editor Harvard Law Review). Does it seem any wonder at all that the democrats website www.barackobama.com is entitled "Organizing for America"... an echo of Google's: "Organizing the world's information".

And indeed, in his first hundred days, Obama has shown that organising information channels and demanding transparency can speed processes tremendously. Finally the USA unites under a banner for social development. With the head-start and the capacity to single-handedly put mars rovers onto Mars, what else can the American people do when united under such a leader?

A great hope for all of us.

[PS. Of course, his career is also founded on Law. That is a tremendous change from his predecessor, who could not understand what it was good for. The law is so important because it removes power from instinct and subordinates it to common reason. Not one man's reason.]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 29th 2009 07:08

Eastern Cape ICT Summit

Very encouraging words were heard at the EC ICT Summit in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) this morning from the Hon. Noxolo Kiviet, the province's Premier. Her prime rationale for why the EC government and Premier's Office is so interested in ICT development in this province, is that, "ICT's can mediate the relationship between citizen and state." Technology can "braoden the presence of state" for people especially in rural areas.

This is the enlightened stance that can bridge divides in our province between the impoverished rural areas and the highly developed sectors in cities and rurality. Ms. Kiviet called for an information driven approach to land reform, something that must surely happen as racial lines still distort the reality of the people populating this land.

Ms. Kiviet also told me that she has thrice in the last month been at schools in the Elliotdale area, near where our solar schools project has been realised and is running, and that her interests are aligned with the truly broad base. I believe that Ms. Kiviet will continue the kinds of broad based policies that we have seen from her female predecessor, Nosimo Balindlela. This bodes very well for our province.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 17th 2010 09:12

eKhaya ICT Honours Project at Rhodes University

In addition to cooperations with the Freie Universitaet Berlin, eKhaya ICT now also has two Honours Projects at Rhodes University. The projects are on "Real e-Services for Rural Development": the idea is to piece together exisiting e-commerce and m-commerce B2C solutions which can easily be stitched together for simple use by a rural telecentre operator. The projects will be tested within the framework of the Siyakhula Living Lab, at Nkwalini. Hopefully by Siphiwo (see previous blog).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 15th 2009 08:30

From the SAFIPA Conference

Lucy Abrahams from the Wits University (LINK Centre) makes the following interesting point (about 5 minutes ago): We are all "Emerging Information Societies". She says this because there is no perfect Information Society in any country at the moment and her statement is supported by statistics and figures.

Inspecting her statement much more simply, globalisation implies that we are one society made up of many parts, and as long as there is a digital divide, there will only be an emerging information society - because on an information level, there is just one society.

[... looking forward to more interesting insights at this conference...]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 8th 2009 09:33

IBM Client for Smart Work for Africa

I have been trying to find out what the IBM and Canonical offering for netbooks is about, that is being trumpeted on blogs and news media around now. It sounds very much like a Google solution - office software apps available via a cloud computing infrastructure.

What strikes me about this is that noone currently has cloud computing facilities on the African continent at the moment. That means that the solution being offered is reliant on overseas Internet connectivity.

Well let's hope that African governments buy into the IBM solution - they will have to finally invest properly in their communications infrastructure (e.g. Swaziland - see previous blog about SATNAC) helping millions of people.

The Wall Street Journal said the following:
"If IBM keeps its part of the bargain and provides cloud-based applications at affordable prices then this service will revolutionize businesses in Africa," said Venansius Barya Baryamureeba, Dean of the Faculty of Computing and IT at Makerere University, Uganda, who has been briefed on IBM's plans. "
Maybe he knows more than I could find out.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 27th 2009 08:17

ICT4D and Ridiculous Ideas like 4P Computing

Wayan Vota, dreamt up the idea of 4P computing and it got onto the ICT4D article on wikipedia. It seems that to him, ICT4D works best on equipment which is low on power, high on performance, very portable and has a low cost (price) associated with ownership. These are the 4 "p"s. But they are not derived objectively. Instead Vota in his blog looks at attributes on which the OLPC and similar solutions score well and then postulated these are the right criteria for ICT4D equipment.

This is however not necessarily the case. Portability is often seen as a negative point in development projects. Telecentres for instance would like their computers to stay where they are. Also performance is often only a factor if there is a comparison (i.e. a better machine in the lab tends to be used more heavily, but otherwise, as long as it works people don't care much). Further, the equation does not include networking and communications potential. The Internet is a very big component of ICT4D equipment which is ignored in this equation. BTW, the Internet also inculcates patience as bandwidth is often very very low in ICT4D situations.

Anyhow, 4P computing is an idea that fits well in a comparison matrix, but doesn't do the entire field merit for its complexity.

Another comparison is available from ComputerAid.org.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 10th 2009 10:36

No comment

This blog has gone a little quiet recently - of course because I have been working hard. I just submitted a paper to the SATNAC conference. It's quite relevant to what eKhaya ICT is doing and will soon appear on the website ready for the perusal of 100 interested readers. For the meantime, you can just get it here on this blog.

Download this document in Adobe PDF.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 15th 2007 09:32

President Zuma on ICT for Africa at the AU

In a very telegraphic style, Jacob Zuma pointed out that ICT's are a potential vehicle toward unlocking the potential of Africa and bringing its countries together for our mutual benefit.

The following are all really truisms in any netizens mind, however they are not generally accepted, so to hear this from Zuma is quite a thing:
  • Technology is shaping the future of the world, challenging geographical boundaries and revolutionising economic, social and political activity.

  • Information technology has the capacity to improve living standards for millions of people on the continent.

  • At the same time, it has the potential to reverse existing inequality and marginalisation. For Africa, information and communication technology is not simply about science.

  • Nor should it merely be viewed as another economic sector, like agriculture or mining.
Zuma is a populist - he has his fingers on the pulse of what the people want. In this speech, he has clearly been influenced by the younger set and is projecting a forward thinking South Africa as a guiding light for the continent. This really makes it clear that the people love technology and communicating. (E.g. the favourite feature of awareNet so far is the chat function.) This does represent a shift of power on the continent as hierarchies are replaced by networks. And markets. Control of the media is not as effective, when people are allowed to communicate p2p / f2f in a free manner.

Every metre of fibre laid, strengthens and extends the rope-ladder which is going to hoist the African people out of impoverishment.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 20th 2010 06:08

SiLLMU - Organisational Chart

A previous blog explains what SiLLMU (Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit) is about and a bit about the background.


The picture above explains how the SiLLMU will ultimately restructure the parties taking part in the LL. Some Acronyms and Abbreviations: ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs), LLiSA (Living Labs of South Africa), SLL (Siyakhula Living Lab), RU (Rhodes University), UFH (University of Fort Hare).

Bottom are projects, Left are political organisations, and top are stakeholders in the Living Lab, which is depicted in the centre.

The Siyakhula Living Lab is currently well positioned to develop more excellent research and piloting on ICT's in rural areas. I am very excited about the future, especially concerning recent developments around a software factory in Grahamstown involving eKhaya ICT...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 6th 2009 06:50

Solar Computer Lab Opening in Rural Area 1st of August.

This is a press release I wrote in a hurry to publicise our opening. It seems like the turnout will be quite good, despite the late efforts at publicizing it. Nosimo Balindlela is not coming, she just stepped down as Premier of the EC.

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) unveils a new concept lab: a 25 computer laptop laboratory with local video streaming server, wireless mesh network connecting 3 neighbouring schools, peripherals and Internet access, powered by pure solar energy. The laboratory is installed at Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School in an impoverished remote rural area in South Africa and is being launched on the 1st of August 2008. The project was made possible by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, with additional support from other sponsors including JPMorgan Chase, Dell South Africa Development Fund, Dabba Telecommunication, Learnthings and eKhaya ICT.

Near Nelson Mandela's birthplace of Qunu, an Apartheid legacy still rules everyday life. Families of migrant mine workers lived in rural isolation while the men of the families dug out the precious ore which helped build the country. Today, 14 years after Apartheid, roads are slowly being rebuilt, and grid electricity is slowly being extended to vital hospitals, clinics and schools. Mr. Mandela's 90th birthday proclamation that "poverty has gripped our people", really applies here. What is more, South Africa is experiencing a shortage of electricity as its parastatal power company is failing to meet unprecedented demand. Following rolling brown outs ("load shedding") earlier in the year, the country's power supply is balancing on a thin edge.

The South African Department of education has set itself ambitious goals to have all school leaving learners computer literate by 2012. These goals cannot be met unless the necessary infrastructure is provided to schools. SELF's solar computer laboratory is one way to provide schools with much needed infrastructure, without burdening the electricity grid further. Also it is a model which can easily be applied in the rest of Africa, where grid electricity is almost unknown. SELF decided to use laptops in the laboratory, for several reasons: they have low power consumption, can be safely stored overnight and can be used in classrooms that don't have electricity and thus integrated into any curriculum lessons anywhere in the school. The brand new laptops were donated by the Dell South Africa Development Fund and are equipped with wireless technology, which allows the laptops to access a wireless mesh network. The mesh network shares resources among the three schools that are involved in the project: Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School, Bafazi Junior Secondary School (JSS) and Kwa'Ntshunqe JSS. The resources shared on the network are multimedia learning tools on a server and Internet access points. Plans exist to extend the network to join other nearby school networks. Resources on the Video-In Knowledge-Out (VIKO) server donated by Dabba Telecommunications include 1500 hours of video tuition and several interactive lessons.

Learnthings has donated digital curriculum content that will enable teachers to teach more effectively by providing stimulating material for learners. This material is part of a corpus developed for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) e-Schools project. Learnthings has provided and is in the process of providing training for teachers on how to effectively integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), into their teaching. Further a programme for cultural exchange and remote training via Internet is being developed together with the learners at the school by eKhaya ICT. The ultimate goal of this effort, the Eastern Cape Schools Participatory Internet Training (ECSPIRT) programme, is the inclusion of rural learners and communities in the digital society. Cooperation with the Nelson Mandela Institute (responsible for Bafazi JSS) and the Department of Education as well as Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare are also being started to maximise use of the laboratory through teacher training and technical support. An innovative programme by the Universities is being tested to improve sustainability of the ICT infrastructure in rural areas. All of these activities link into SELF's Solar Integrated Development (SID) Model, which is being developed to help make remote communities self sufficient for all their needs.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 27th 2008 09:51

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER)

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) is a great project doing really very worthwhile research at the University of California Berkeley which has been investigating innovative technology specifically for developing areas. The rather unfortunate choice of name seems to come from the economic term "emerging markets", which suggests that new markets and buying power emerge in areas where previously little or no market activity was discernable (now that makes sense). "Emerging regions" on the other hand seem to be geographical regions that arise out of a previously amorphous landmass, perhaps owing to their newly formed markets -- a very odd concept indeed. Suddenly these regions emerge on our radar, out of the mists. Do the people living in these areas feel different before and after emergence?

// Here's that link http://tier.cs.berkeley.edu/wiki/Home
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 27th 2009 09:45

The Value of Putting People in Touch with Each Other

I just read something which shouted awareNet - quite surprising that the quote comes from 1848 when John Stuart Mill, postulated “it is hardly possible to overrate the value, in this present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar… Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the main sources of progress” (quoted in Hirschman, A. (1982) Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive or Feeble? Journal of Economic Literature XX 1463-1484.)

eKhaya ICT is currently working on awareNet software - open source free social networking software for schools, which we are beta-testing between schools in Africa and Europe, together with the Village Scribe Association.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 16th 2009 01:10

Village Scribe Association Blog

Funny thing, the busier one is, the more blog posts one has to write. I am now writing a blog at the Village Scribe Association too. Don't miss out on that:


Contributors include other staff of the Village Scribe Association as well as guest writers from the projects.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 7th 2011 06:38

Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently, the following exchange occurred on the Dwesa mailing list of Rhodes University. I got permission to reprint it here, from Mario Marais and Caroline Khene. It was in response to a news article on CSIR training programmes in marginalised rural areas targeted at cyber-security (which I take to mean specifically security in a networked computer environment).
What I always wonder when I read these stories is: have there been any reported cases of rural marginalised/disadvantaged computer users being defrauded by cyber-criminals or mobbed by facebook users, etc.?

Not sure about that Ron! I'm not involved in this project, but what we have encountered is lots of PCs at schools that are crippled by viruses. What has your experience been?

I agree with Mario. They are in fact the most vulnerable, given they are not as informed about risks on the Internet. When we were in Dwesa, the youth were always downloading stuff from the Internet. Also, who knows who they'll meet online. Furthermore, the new services being introduced, e-government, e-business etc, obviously involves the circulation of private/sensitive information. There are a number of ethical aspects when it comes to ICT4D.

I agree with Mario too.

@Mario: Viruses appear on computers almost immediately when we install
them anywhere. Even without Internet (which is restricted to only a few
computers at Nkwalini labs), almost all computers are infected because
of music and video sharing and outdated [Virus] scanners.

I also agree with any form of training and time spent in the community.
This is essential.

@Caroline: I agree that there are strong ethical aspects in ICTD. And
one thing we must encourage is empowerment and playing to strengths of
the rural people! So I do not agree that people in the rural areas are
the most vulnerable (especially as they are for the most part unbanked,
offline, have limited English knowledge and in general very very
cautious around technology). I would even go so far as to say that this
perspective promotes disempowerment of the rural people who do have a
culture and are in many instances proud and capable within their social

@Ron. Yes you do make an important point. But perhaps you may have misunderstood me. I am referring to people who use the Internet or have
access to it via various projects or mobile phones. Informing them about risks in using the Internet or mobile services in fact empowers them. If we assume we all have a culture and are capable in our contexts, why then do we still need to inform each other about information security issues. Everyone, whether rural or not, needs to be informed. We are all vulnerable, but our advantage is that we are more informed (or not).

Good points, yes, security should be part of any curriculum, and because it hasn't been in many cases, some people are more vulnerable than others - to paraphrase you, Caroline.
I think Caroline was quite kind to me in this debate. Of course, our aim is to get rural and uninformed people into the Internet more, so to argue that the rural people are not vulnerable because they are offline is to argue against our own work in ICTD!

The main point I was trying to make though, is once again the idea that everyone has strengths that development can and should play towards in order to activate the person who is the object of the development. There can be an uneasy relationship between development worker and target of the development work. The way out of this uneasiness is through "informed consent" -- an ethical consideration that research must be initiated in an open manner and results kept transparent. Such ethical considerations are fortunately anchored in the Rhodes University Ethical Standard, which applies to our work.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 26th 2010 11:53

Youth Problems Exposed At eLearning Africa 2011


The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER) hosted an Umoja session at e-Learning Africa 2011. Sitting around a big round table, young and old Africans gathered to discuss first the problems that face the youth, and then organically, the solutions that that these problems might have. The Umoja session (like a Xhosa Imbizo "Gathering") was not really led at all. Spontaneous statements, and replies characterised a discussion that ranged widely across the continent and also across social classes.

We heard from a young man from Botswana that the ethical fabric of his society is threatened by culture imports from the West, which do not fit the traditions of his society.

Children from impoverished as well as wealthy households were discussed. One participant from Nigeria asked what kind of a role-model one is for one's children if one is an important politician and is shown on national television physically fighting with other politicians. One should be apologetic and explain why such behaviour is wrong, and not be proud of such behaviour as the person in question was.

We discussed the plight of poor slum dwellers in Kenya, whose chances at attaining a decent education were lessened because of basic deprivations, and also distractions from their context. School was not cool, because they could earn money in other illicit ways and their parents were often incapable of encouraging them to go to school. Programs that made sure children go to school and their successes were discussed. Such a programme is also underway at Nkwalini at the Solar Schools Project. Concerned parents and community leaders are forcing children to go to school regardless of whose children they are. The people realise that uneducated children are a burden on the future of the community.

There were also several ideas about how ICTs could help.  A stronger African footprint - something that we have been advocating since we started eKhaya ICT in 2007 - is required to counteract the influences from the West and prevent society from disintegrating.

You can read more about the Umoja session, and view an excellent Mindmap of the proceedings distilled from 2 and a half hours talk by Katja Sarajeva.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 14th 2011 07:49

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