Challenges of web2.0 in Africa

6/18/2007 | Christian Kreutz

Recently I met Toni Eliasz from Ungana-Afrika in Pretoria. We discussed over web2.0 in the context of development. His thoughts were interesting on that of the potential and challenges of the collaborative web, given his experiences in South Africa and the region. Ungana is a NGO which devotes its work to find solutions for the capacity crisis.

A 'capacity crisis' is a mild expression to describe the skill levels and understanding of information and communications technologies (ICTs) within non-profits and small-to-medium enterprises in Africa. It will take a decade before the young, technologically literate generation can address these challenges."

No surprise Toni highlighted first, challenges regarding web2.0 for rural development:

  • The general problems of connectivity, such as the lack or high price for access. For example, a 3 GB ADSL connection costs up to a hundred dollars in South Africa, which is 15 times the price compared to Germany.
  • Web2.0 requires often bandwidth or instant access for videos, podcasts or tools such as google docs.
  • Before investing time and resources into web2.0, there is a question to be answered, 'How do these tools benefit local communities and how can they contribute to development?'
  • The computer and its appliances are complex and often need to be demystified for beginners, and like everywhere else, training is needed and that can also take quite some time.
  • To use web2.0 tools such as wiki, blogs etc., requires well written documentation and training.
  • The lack of technical expertise, which is often required, is currently very expensive and very limited outside of urban areas.
  • Like many other ICT4D projects, the question for sustainability is important and yet not proven for concepts based on these new tools.

For Toni many challenges have to be overcome first before web2.0 can be adapted in rural communities or small organizations. I stated that there are examples such as the the Nata Village Blog, which shows how communities communicate their messages and interact with a worldwide audience. However, we both agreed, that it is the know-how, which at this stage it is mostly limited to intermediate organizations, who nevertheless have already a real benefit from the opportunities to interact and collaborate over the web. Ungana is on the APC network and will be sharing documented work experiences and toolkits, especially from their eRider project, to local technology service providers and networks to make quality support and capacity-building programs a reality.

We both agreed, in terms of connectivity, that the mobile phone is very promising. Whereas widely distributed and affordable Internet access will still take many years to arrive in Africa, first, interesting applications to link the mobile phone and web have to be offered. In South Africa for example Mixit is a big web driven mobile chatting portal. It got so far over 4 million subscribers. Toni concluded that ideas and its implementation have to be localized. As an example, two weeks ago a workshop in Kenya launched the development of a mobile advocacy toolkit, which is focusing on the needs of the organizations from the developing world. Homegrown approaches, which emphasizes the sustainable need, are decisive.