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Professor Alfredo Terzoli
Q. Highway Africa has recently acquired funding from Telkom and we have ground breaking work being carried out by the Computer Science and Telkom Centre of excellence in distributed Multimedia at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape now has a hub of ICT strength in the palm of it’s hand, given it is also the largest province in South Africa, with the highest poverty and dire socio economic differences. Can we expect more from this part of the world or is it too soon to ask … “what sustainable programmes” people of the Eastern Cape can envisage in the future coming out of this new found hub of sponsored ICT’s?
A. I think we can expect more. The opportunity is too good to let it die, instead of scaling the operation up to the right size, as to have a real impact and make a difference. Interestingly enough, the cluster of expertise that you sketched in the question is getting larger. A software house, Reed House System (RHS), has been started in Grahamstown and is ‘productizing’ the findings in the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL), the experimental site in the Mbashe Municipality for ICT for Development work of the Centre. An important participant in these ventures, for years now, is the twin Telkom Centre of Excellence at the nearby Fort Hare University, led by Dr Mamello Thinyane. Various organizations and body seem to be interested in coming to the party: the Department of Communication, the Technology Innovation Agency, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation. We should see interesting developments at the beginning of 2012.
Q. In which areas of development do you envisage ICT’s will and can add further value to enhance the many challenges on the continent, from domestic to professional to academic sectors of society?
A. It is difficult to think of a single area where ICT won’t be an important addition, or even simply is not the key enabler.
Q. Corporate, namely Telkom, has made great strides in supporting ICT’s, how in your view can smaller companies also assist in associating their brand with sustainable development in Africa.
A. They can in various ways. They can offer in-kind contribution, such as the use of their radio licenses, for example, or their expertise and maybe knowledge of segments of society not yet known well enough by the first economy players. Of course, they can get great mileage from it, as well as be first in the market when this market (ICT for development) will open.
Q. Your efforts under the auspice of Telkom and Rhodes University have benefitted the schools in and around the Eastern Cape, what advice do you have for schools in other countries in Africa, how can they help enhance the education of children in their schools? Did the schools approach you or did Rhodes University approach the neighbouring schools?
A. Well, schools are typically in a difficult position: lack of funding, not good infrastructure etc. Still, we have had more than one example of schools taking up the challenge of at least source computers (if not the connection to the Internet, that in rural Africa can be rather expensive still). In our case it was Rhodes approaching the schools, together with Fort Hare in the case of the Siyakhula Living Lab. One should keep in mind that finding ways of getting ICTs is easier when the schools are happy to open the door of their ICT installation to the rest of the community, which make the installation more efficient and gives it more transformative power.
Q. New Media in Africa has truly added value and the most recent example are the revolutions taking place in the middle east and having a ripple effect across the world. ICT’s in the form of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube has enabled citizens to expose their plight in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Egypt. What more in your view can be done by citizens to enable the media to further shed light on the rights of people being abused, crimes being committed or feel good stories being told?
A. I think we are seeing a transformation of how democracy is implemented and used. A lot of the attributes that we associate to democracy (few people representing many, elections only every 5 years or so, little dialogue with the ‘people’ after the ‘representative’ are elected etc) are simply dictated by technology constraints that have been with us for a long time. These constraints are being removed progressively by ICTs, which at the core allow faster communication and generally symbol storage and manipulation.
Q. Electricity is an expensive commodity in Africa can ICT’s work off solar as it is a natural source of abundance in Africa?
A. I do think that small scale solar and wind are very suitable to conditions in large parts of Africa. Of course, they are costly, at least initially: but how costly is the infrastructure to bring the electricity produced elsewhere? Also, deployment of small scale solar and wind solutions could spur a full industry, in the middle of the technology spectrum (not high tech, no low tech) and labour intensive, so with characteristics that might be suitable at least to parts of Africa right now.