Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Radio is the Internet of Africa

I have been talking with several people lately that ask, 'What about the digital divide - What about Africa and the developing nations?' Well .. There is allot going on and allot wrong with what's going on.

Aiming to give poor communities access to the benefits of information technology, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced plans to support an innovative project which aims to put cheap and energy-efficient laptop computers in the hands of the world's most disadvantaged students.

The $100 laptop project (check the URL), is 'designed' to give children in developing countries access to the knowledge and educational tools that could lift them out of poverty. What?

A community reporter who addressed the WSIS meetings reminded the audience that in the rural areas and small towns that constitute the Third World, there are other effective forms of communication technologies besides the Internet.

The developing nations are a world far removed from the high-level discussions at Tunis, where the Internet has sometimes been held up as a magic bullet to meet the world's communication and information needs. For poor countries trying to juggle a host of development priorities with scarce resources, the Internet often seems like a solution of the elite.

Listen up - The 400,000 citizens of Luxembourg have more bandwidth than the 800 million people in all of Africa. Think about it. Think about how long it will take and the challenges (read: telecom monopolies and ministerial corruption)

He who wants to put his money where his mouth is should look in a new direction.

Simplify. Adapt. Work with what is there.

Community radio is Africas Internet. It reaches the most important audience -- the illiterate, the migrants and hungry. Health information like where medical teams are or HIV/AIDS information, security information, education or simply how to grow food. That's the primary way to reach Africa.

Governments still fear the empowerment that radio can offer to groups who previously had no voice but that's the hook. Community radio is about empowerment! This is where developmental dollars can add a big impact.

Community radio primarily serves the poor so private sector financing is rare. Advertisers don't target their listeners and the local radio staff don't get paid.

Most rural radios get information from government sources and NGOs,but they don't know how to combine what the community is saying with the official information.

How one turn a fact sheet into a radio script? Interesting challenge but well worth it. Africa is so steeped in oral culture that the only limit is peoples' creativity. And there is plenty of that.

Radio fills an important role in bridging the gap between the traditional pastoral and the digital economy. Radio is part of both worlds and unless it is shared by both, it simply talks to itself.


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