|Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information & Communication (BOSTID, 1996, 304 p.)|
|Case studies on electronic networking|
Perhaps no information technology generates as much interest as networking. Bringing electronic networking and Internet capability to a country opens avenues of communications that create hundreds of other opportunities. Computer-based communications provides a means to bridge time and distance to facilitate interpersonal communication. People who have the need or desire to communicate about a particular subject can do so without being either physically present in the same location (as in a conventional meeting), or even available at the same time (as in a telephone conference call or a video teleconference).
Electronic communication is in everyday use in many organizations in Africa; however, getting it into place in a new environment poses many challenges. Complex economic, social, political, and legal factors affect the use of the technology and present barriers to its successful implementation. The telecommunications systems in many African countries are suffering from deteriorating equipment and inadequate investment. Telecommunications costs are high in relation to other costs, and participation in some computer-based communication activities can require scarce foreign exchange.
Still progress is being made. In the last year or two several African countries have gained full Internet connectivity. Others are creating local networks and adding users one by one until they build a user base large enough to sustain an Internet connection. In the meantime, the users and the system operators are learning valuable skills.
The case studies in this section describe the difficult processes that five system operators have gone through in order to build the networking capability in their countries. These five projects are interconnected since the project managers were introduced to the technology by many of the same people and through many of the same megaprojects. Their individual stories are unique, however, because each author overcame different technological, managerial, and infrastructural constraints.
As one author wrote, networking tends to sell itself. The more users you have online' the more users you have waiting to be connected. So, almost one user at a time, these authors are helping to build Africa's information highway.