They are the newest stars on the communication scene. Computers have changed how
information is obtained, produced, managed and distributed. No longer do scriptwriters
and editors have to labour over handwritten manuscripts, no longer do secretaries and
typesetters have to type and retype page after page of text. The switch from the old
technologies is not yet complete in the developing world, but it is happening.
The wedding of computers and telephones has produced e-mail and the Internet. These
are revolutionizing communications and information access in the developing world. How
far and how fast they will spread into remote rural areas remains unknown. But it is clear
that they will have as yet unforeseen impacts on development.
A technology that is spreading even faster than the Internet (if that is possible) is mobile
phones. These are ideal for rural areas: cheap to set up, easy to use, filling a vital need.
Perhaps we are not that far away from the time when the shopkeeper, the farmer, the rural
taxi driver, all have their mobile dangling from their belt.Computers and telecommunications
Africa has been lagging behind in the global Internet stakes. Only one out of every 9000 Africans outside South Africa has access to the
Internet, compared to one in 38 in the rest of the world. According to Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the
continent cannot afford to miss the information revolution and its implications for social and economic development.
Africa is woefully short of basic infrastructure. Electricity and telephones are rare in rural areas. Few people can afford computers, or know
what they can do. In rural areas, educational levels are low and illiteracy is common. For the majority of people, computers and the Internet
are still decades away.
But progress is being made. In 1996, only 19 countries had full Internet services. By 1999, it was...