Friday, October 23, 2009


It usually gets very tricky when it comes to technology here in Africa because most of the technology (if not all) that comes our way we but adopt, we do not develop. Therefore most of it was not designed to solve our problems as they are. What we do is try to take a piece of technology and try to make it relevant to us by trying to figure out how the technology that we receive can best suit us instead of analyzing a problem and developing a technology that is best suited to solve our African problems. Lucky enough, some problems we share with the West. And some problems in the West are not problems to us until the West solves it, then do we realize that things can be better. That’s how the internet, let alone fiber-optic is to us. We didn’t and still don’t comprehend to what extent this beautiful technology can be useful to our economic growth. We get to learn of its limits by watching the West use it but funny thing is that the limits keep shifting so rapidly it’s so confusing!

Moses Kemibaro wrote an article on his blog a while ago called ‘Now That SEACOM Is Live, what next?’ Read it here, it’s a nice piece. This question is very legitimate especially to us Africans in this region because this technology is coming to us relatively late. A huge proportion of us who could even get internet access either didn’t understand or didn’t know what to do with the internet as it were before SEACOM went live… that is if social networks and e-mails were removed from the picture. Now that it is live and its objective was to make the internet cheaper and faster and provide more bandwidth, which we might have not needed that much because we’d made ourselves comfortable with every aspect of the earlier connectivity except for the high prices, what next?! Mr. Kemibaro goes ahead to say in his article; The challenge for the [internet] market in Kenya will be to find useful and value adding applications of this overflowing bandwidth and make sense of the high speed cables. Right on point! And this value I presume, is monetary. It is all about economic growth and poverty alleviation when it comes to technology, otherwise what good is it? After all Governments and other organizations put in a lot of money to lay this magical cable under the sea all the way from South Africa, this goes to show that this cable must be of great importance to them. When the big guns put their money on something, they expect returns. So SEACOM must be big business. Question is; where will the money come from? But I digress.

Let’s focus on the benefits of wireless broadband, which is what SEACOM and other cable systems like EASSy are offering us. The most conspicuous or vocalized benefit is that of bandwidth pricing, it was even predicted that the prices would go down by 95%. Now that percentage is huge, I’d probably end up buying something I don’t need for 95% less its original price. Not by any means am I trying to insinuate that SEACOM is a bad thing, it is amazing! What bothers me is the fact that we didn’t even do much with the little we had in the first place. The internet is a powerful tool and I’m starting to doubt if as a country we will be able to handle its effects on our lifestyles and how we do things. In addition to cheaper bandwidth and faster internet consumers will also enjoy media-rich applications such as audio and video. This is quite something. Other benefits would include the opening of doors to global competition, cheaper telecoms costs would have positive effects on the economy and infrastructure and most of all promotion of innovation and stimulation development.

Sometimes I feel like Africa is being forced to walk the economic road at a faster pace than it can handle with these many technological advances. And we have no choice, we have to work hard just to embrace new technology. As much as the arrival of SEACOM created a lot of excitement in Africa (where most of the population still don’t have access to the internet), in the end it is going to be upon us to make it work for us. This is where we need to be creative and beat even the creators of the technology. We Africans do not have an excuse, we are probably the region which needs the internet the most. Whether or not we are going to use for pure entertainment and social networks is upon us.

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