(or Straddling the digital divide continued)
Several weeks ago, a data cable that carries huge quantities of internet data, was severed off the coast of Kenya near the port of Mombasa. I remember when it happened in Singapore, around ten years ago and, for a country that was so technology dependant, it was crippling.
Today, the whole world is just as technology dependant as Singapore was back then and sometimes during the past week, it has felt like, here is Eastern Africa, we have been crippled by our lack of connectivity. Although some places are better than others, the problem of communications connectivity is the same in almost every developing country.
A well-known fact about developing countries, is that the majority of the population live in rural areas – areas when mobile networks are weak or non-existent. In one of the sites I visited in South Sudan, staff would gather under a satellite dish if they wanted mobile coverage. There were at least thirty staff living in that compound, and thousands of people living in the town. Internet coverage was much better, when the generator was turned on. As there was no electricity in the town, the compound I stayed in was the only place that had internet coverage. You do the math.
Shortly after I arrived in South Sudan, the world newest country was assigned the world’s newest dialing code. The problem was that most other countries did not have the prefix programmed into their telephone exchanges. This meant that even when I had mobile coverage, friends and family overseas couldn’t contact me because their local exchange didn’t recognise the international country code. As I said, some places are worse than others.
Back in Kenya, it’s almost as bad, but what is more frustrating is the lack of understanding that people in developed countries have of exactly how far behind we are. When trying to contact a friend tonight, she texted back saying, “I’ll Skype you later.” After four weeks of trying, I still don’t have internet at home because I live on the outskirts of Nairobi and the coverage bundle I purchased doesn’t reach here - and yes, I asked the sales assistant four times if it would. Even when I go to cafes that are supposed to have wireless networks, the bandwidth usually isn’t enough for me to load websites. This probably won’t change until the cable lying in the ocean near Mombasa is repaired.
But as is always the case in the countries that I work, I know that my personal woes are insignificant compared to those of the people around me. This, unfortunately, only compounds my frustration at the assumption that the rest of the world seems to make. The assumption that everyone is on the connectivity bandwagon, that no one is being left behind.