Vol 2: ICTs and Sustainable Solutions for the Digital Divide: Practical Approaches

Development Informatics and Regional Information Technologies:
Theory, Practice and the Digital Divide

Editors: Jacques Steyn, Jean-Paul van Belle, Eduardo Villaneuva Mansilla


Foreword


Prof Sospeter Muhango
Regional Director
ICSU Regional Office for Africa

Prof Sospeter Muhongo, a Tanzanian, is the Regional Director of the ICSU Regional Office for Africa. He is the Chair of Science Programme Committee (SPC) of the UN-proclaimed International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE) and the Vice President of the Commission of the Geological Map of the World (CGMW). He is a professor of geology at the Universities of Dar Es Salaam and honorary professor of Geology at the University of Pretoria. He is a fellow of seven highly learned professional societies including the Geological Society of London. He has published well acknowledged research articles, geological and mineral maps. He is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of African Earth Sciences (Elsevier) and Associate Editor of Precambrian Research (Elsevier). He has occupied numerous important national, regional and international professional positions dealing with science, technology and innovation. Prof Muhongo, recipient of numerous scholarly and professional awards, grants and fellowships studied geology at the Universities of Dar Es Salaam, Göttingen and TU Berlin (Germany). www.icsu-africa.org


Foreword

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are increasingly being recognized as constituting a very important and robust engine for sustainable growth and development, especially for economically disadvantaged countries. Consequently, this book and its companion volumes are timely and indeed very relevant for contemporary endeavours that aim to reduce the global digital divide among nations. Contributions for this volume come from all regions of the developing world and which make it very attractive and educative to the international readership. The contents of this book advance our understanding on various aspects of ICTs based on new approaches, research, training and practical applications in the developing world.

There are several chapters from Latin America. A contribution from the remote village in Peruvian Andes tells us that ICT as a tool for development in that area is still new, not well known to many people and hence its utilization very limited. A second chapter from Peru deals with an under-privileged population with a political will striving to connect the poorest communities to the global market economy through utilization of ICT telecentres in the rural areas. This is a very brilliant undertaking to be emulated by many countries. Experience from Chile and Paraguay emphasizes the importance of the convergence of technologies and social services that is necessary to strengthen the execution of developmental projects. The effectiveness of this convergence relies heavily on the availability of sustainable financial and human (i.e. ICT experts) resources. The chapter from Chile underscores the gender-sensitive utilization of ICT in both rural and urban areas. It has been revealed that “men never say that they do not know how to utilize computers”. This anathema has a bearing on men’s social status whilst female ICT users are willing to be taught new knowledge and skills.

There are chapters on ICT in Africa: one chapter reports on ICT in the health sectors in Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia. The main objective of this research work was to produce evidence-based argument for the replacement of paper-based healthcare systems and the introduction of computerized systems in a functional and sustainable manner. ICT research findings from these countries continue to emphasize the need to eliminate the digital divide from the contemporary world and that ICT skills and infrastructure are needed in modern healthcare services in Africa. A chapter from South Africa argues for the need for the deployment of ICT to enhance socio-economic activities of the rural communities in that country. The findings from this research work has demonstrated that information and knowledge are crucial strategic resources for socio-economic development; and that ICTs empower the rural communities to make sound decisions on their expanded choices.

ICT chapters from Asia bring another dimension of the digital divide from that part of the world and report on the continued effort of making ICT a developmental tool to the majority of the people there. The chapter from central Borneo in Malaysia showcases the enhancement of social relationships within the community of the main actors involved in rural development. It has been demonstrated in Laos, Sri Lanka and Vietnam that effective project management and service provision may be attained through the application of ICT. A good example is given in the vocational and technical education sectors in these three countries. Malaysia has recorded tremendous progress in the utilization of ICT and this is mostly due to the country’s vision 2020 which includes the desire by that nation moving towards information society by 2020. It has been found that the partnership between the government, the private sector and the communities in question (i.e. rural communities) is obligatory if the digital divide has to be narrowed between the rural and the urban communities of this country. This type of partnership is necessary for all nations. IDRC (Canada) funded an ICT project in Cambodia where the main objective was to make ICT (i.e. local telecentres) a tool for policy-making processes for the poor rural areas. The major challenge experienced here is the sustainability of the project once the injected donor funds dry up at the closure the project. This financial constraint is a salient scenario for most donor-funded projects in developing countries, hence developing countries are today strongly urged to ensure that internal financial and human resources are availed to supplement all their donor-funded projects.

ICT research work on the Solomon Islands has been undertaken with the intention of enhancing the utilization of ICT for sustainable development and poverty reduction from the Islanders. The chapter from India discusses the sustainability of ICT (i.e. telecentres) in rural areas and advocates the presence of an effective regional innovation system (RIS) where the main actors are the user communities, the private sector and institutions of higher learning. The libraries and knowledge centres program introduced in northern Australia with the intention of bringing ICTs and indigenous population (i.e. Aborigines) together, has begun bearing fruit as it negates the classical approach of imposition of inappropriate technologies on the indigenous people.

This book contributes significantly to the magnitude of our understanding of the global digital divide and offers plausible sustainable solutions to this ICT calamity! The chapters presented in this volume give us clear lessons dealing with ICT capacity building (e.g. skills and infrastructure), and involvement of poor communities, especially those in the rural areas, in making decisions for their own development strategies and pathways through deployment of ICTs. Through this book, it has been increasing proven that a partnership between government and its public institutions, private sector and ICT-user communities is obligatory for any meaningful search for sustainable solutions for scaling down the digital divide between nations and within individual nations. However, the need for further work on this subject is still enormous. One should also not forget that our shared understanding of global climate change and its consequences to our lives and national economies requires the availability of functioning ICTs in all nations, and hence this book is another testimony for our shared necessity to drastically narrow down the digital divide between the developing and the developed world.

Prof Sospeter Muhongo
FAAS, FGSAf, FASSAf, FGIGE, FTWAS, FCAGS, FGS, CGeol, EurGeol.