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close this bookCERES No. 158 March - April 1996 (FAO Ceres, 1996, 50 p.)
close this folderCenterpiece
View the documentWiring the south
View the documentA promising solution fraught with peril
View the documentA public good, a private responsibility
View the documentStuck in the ruts on the Information Superhighway
View the documentMaintaining connection
View the documentWireless connections
View the documentPage One for Progress

Wiring the south

Dipping into a data base here, contributing to a development policy paper there, debating with scientists, extensionists, teachers, agitators, journalists, presidents everywhere - this is the promise of the Internet. It seems the perfect solution to the South's information and communications needs. Communicating with peers is facilitated by the Internet; there's no need to buy, transport and store and update “dead tree” versions of reference material many Southern libraries can no longer afford.

But as development dreamers have often found in the past, there are no simple solutions to such critical development dilemmas as information exchange and delivery.

In this Centrepiece, journalist Mike Holderness canvasses Southern journalists and development NGOs for their views on the promise and peril of spreading Internet connectivity in developing countries. Bernard Woods, the World Bank's senior communications specialist until 1991, describes his ideal solution to Southern information and communications needs: Communications Utilities which would be privately run for public benefit. Samuel Inyang, a Nigerian health worker, painstakingly details his struggle to get an electronic mail connection running in the city of Jos, Nigeria. Lishan Adam is helping the UN establish computer networking in 16 African countries, and warns that such systems must be designed with sustainability in mind.

To round out the discussion, FAO communications specialist Anamaria Decock reminds us that “no magic wires have appeared to connect rural Africans,” and the old ways of communicating remain the most effective. Plus we give two regular contributors to Ceres, the Southern news agencies SYFIA and Panos a chance to explain how grassroots news media play key roles in development.

As always, Ceres welcomes your opinions on the views expressed by the authors in this Centrepiece.