Kana ji na yanzu?

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2006 at 4:01 am

I was reading this article below and wondering if any Nigeriens can see the chance to build infrastructure for themselves on the cheap…(by the way that means “Can you hear me now?” in Hausa, I think.)

ReliefWeb Niger: TSF strengthens food crisis prevention system

So “Telécoms Sans Frontières” is responding to the lack of communications infrastructure that hindered last years famine relief by building a state-of-the-art system in some of the most vulnerable parts of Niger, and also throughout other parts of the Sahara. The system is designed to speed the delivery of information about the vulnerable community’s total household food security situation. This new ability to transmit accurate information would allow NGO’s to respond more effectively to famines and other humanitarian emergencies, hopefully before they get out of hand.

My question is – so what happens to the equipment the rest of the time? Sure, some Nigeriens will gain employment maintaining the sites; the NGO’s will have access to this great equipment and the consultants will be able to surf the net from their laptops in the remotest parts of the Sahara Desert, and of course it will benefit Nigeriens for said purpose. But this seems to me like a missed opportunity for holistic, sustainable development.

I glanced through TSF’s website and I can’t seem to find technical specs on the equipment, but why not just use the for-profit world and partner with a cell-phone company to build relay antenna’s instead? There has been ample evidence that cell phone companies can make money, and poor people can afford and benefit from mobile-phone use. What TSF should be concentrating on is the human-intelligence network (apologies to the American CIA) capacity to collect and pass on information through the proposed new telecommunications equipment.

I’ve already heard a lot of anecdotal stories from Peace Corps Volunteers in Niger about using cell phones, how the antennas are popping up all over and you can get a signal in all kinds of places – why not just do that?

Therefore, it is my hope, that in building this new communications infrastructure, that Nigeriens will have the opportunity to use it as not just an NGO 911 hotline, but as something that can increase their earning capacity. Imagine a salt trader way out in the Tanout region being able to call his family in Bilma to relay how much this year’s caravan earned? Imagine the opportunity for local entrepreneurs to start up cheap internet cafe’s? Granted, there are not a lot of literate people in the remote regions of Niger, but that’s because many of the educated people have done the brain-drain urban migration thing. Many, many families in Niger have that one really successful, literate person working somewhere in Europe or a more urban community – families can be brought together in this way.

It’s about giving people a chance to pull themselves up out of the poverty trap, which is why this whole system is being built in the first place. This new IT infrastructure in Niger should be built with the idea that it won’t be needed for it’s immediate purpose forever; there should be a NGO exit strategy and a service continuation plan. That’s all I’m trying to say.


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