Visions for ICT enabled rural Tanzania



Growing up in Tanzania was a mixture of fun and pains. I was born in a small village called Mowo. The village like
all others in Kilimanjaro , Tanzania was deprived of basic infrastructure. Water was clean if it was from a well-left open. The roads were untarred. . Roofs were mostly mad from grasses, which had to be replaced every year.

Farming was the basic means of livelihood.
For communication we had ‘word of mouth’ or your letter gets delivered by hand when someone came home from the cities we had few radios and nothing else. Its more than twenty six  years now and little have changed since then. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have existed in one form or the other in Tanzania , but most recently some forms of ICT have witnessed a tremendous explosion. For the rest of this discussion we will refer to ICTs as electronic devices, which facilitate the creation, storage, management and dissemination of information.

This definition includes radios, television, telephone, fax, computers and the Internet (1). Computers and the Internet are the most recent ICTs in the urban cities of Tanzania . . ICTs are interactive, permanently available, have a global reach and have reduced the relative cost of communication remarkably. There is a scramble for the Internet and computing in the urban centers. The role they play in development is quite great. Without information and communication nothing will function, no economy can develop and no transaction will take place. Development is most often tied to the speed of communication and transactions. It’s against this background that I see ICTs as a most have for all the rural areas of my country. There will be no progress and movement out of all forms of Poverty
without the growth and development of ICT in our rural areas.

The rural areas play host to all forms of clashes. Ethnic groups clash for all sorts of reasons, boundary disputes, and on and on. This leads to lose of lives. The youths in a bid to prove themselves and hungry for adventures are at the head of these provocations. Women, children all die as a result of these clashes What is happening now in Tarime . The police are usually scanty in the rural areas and will usually require reinforcement. The news has to go by ‘word of mouth’ and before help comes, the damage will have been done. A simple phone call, fax, or email will have preserved the life of many a youth. ICT can preserve lives in the rural areas and help enhance security by increasing the speed of communication between the rural dwellers and authority and also among themselves. Radios and televisions can be used to call a truce and help people to see reason. A simple radio system or an Internet system installed in only the residence of the local chief providing access to the members of the community will turn things around dramatically.

The markets hold once a week. Agricultural products like grains, animals and basic provisions are traded. Speculative buying is the economic strategy. Women and Men alike buy, hoard and take to the market the next week. They rely on ‘word of mouth’ to know which of the neighboring markets has a good sale. The youths are also at the helm of affairs as they have more strength to tour the markets. You travel all the way to a market that holds once a week to find out that the prices have fallen and are even better back home.
From an economic point of view, you are forced to sell your goods instead of threading the long dusty road back and it becomes more necessary if it is perishable. Most Agricultural goods are. Middlemen from the cities that are more informed and have access to mobile phones cash in on the situation and exploit the producers. I long to see a producers co-operative spring up in our rural areas owned solely by the farmers. This will transform the farmers into price makers not takers. This will require an in efficient information network. A database accompanied by Internet availability owned and managed by the traders in the locality will provide information about all the markets. It will also be an avenue for people to advertise their products. This will cause a revolution in the rural market and increase income tremendously. Once they see the needs, the traders can pull meager resources together to get the facilities necessary.

Unemployment rules the day in Tanzania . What do you expect from an economy in which there is no investment. I dream of an increased agricultural roductivity enabled by ICTs. This productivity will be high enough to provide money for investment in other sectors. It will in turn free thousands of youth to practice other professions of interest to them. Dissemination of information will play an important role in this. We have limited number of extension agents who travel miles to disseminate information to farmers. The agents help greatly as they introduce new and more productive technologies. With good telephones and mobile communication technologies they can be within reach of the farmer, especially during periods of emergencies like Animal diseases. The extension officers will be able to communicate and demonstrate efficient practices better by means of visual aids. An Internet facility will provide the agents with more information and the farmer can also see what is done all across the world.

In the cities ICT based employment is reigning. Thousands of youth who before now were jobless have found employment in ICT based jobs. We have small shades where you can provide commercial mobile services. We also have small computer centers running desktop publishing services and Internet services. This has opened doors for maintenance units to spring up to provide services for the mobile phone users and Internet service providers. This industry is growing tremendously. It offers hope to a wailing economy. This is gradually creeping into the rural areas. Young people learn the basic rudiments of ICT from the cities and try to provide skeletal services in their villages.

Small computer literacy classes are springing up. The growth is limited by the lack of adequate infrastructures. I long to see this grow into a big industry in the rural areas. This will keep youths in their villages and lead to growth. Youth can also gain skills in video recording and production and capture memorable events in their villages at a commercial rate.

Health for all by the year two thousand is a campaign slogan of the government. The rural people are still without hospitals. The nearest hospitals are inefficient and you wait hours or come back the next day to see a physician. Nurses are quite literate and are willing to help but are limited by resources. Doctors are sometimes transitional and move around. It takes a long time to get the reference of the previous attendance and to make the little payments required. Computing facilities in our rural hospitals and dispensaries will make the system very efficient.

Nurses at the reference centers will be free to attend to more pertinent issues and services will be delivered more efficiently. Nurse and doctors will be equipped with latest information through the worldwide web and mobile phones and telephones can be used to track doctors down. This will solve most of the healthcare delivery problems we are experiencing. We also need a database to keep record of birth and deaths. This can be done efficiently through this database. HIV AIDS is the fastest killer in the rural regions. The urban areas are reducing infection rates due to good campaigns and information. Campaigns in the rural areas are not done using good communication and visual aids.

The youth who have the highest rate of HIV infection keep away form such dry campaigns. For such campaigns to be successful, they have to be massive and very visual and must involve the youth themselves. This will never be possible without ICTs. They youth have to be educated.

Youth love fun all over the world. In our villages, during birthdays and cultural celebrations, days, Youth travel miles to borrow public address systems and music sets to make the day colorful. I want to see a form of entertainment develop in the rural villages that will keep our youth from crime and educate them at the same time.

An ideal man is the Devils workshop they say. The answer to this will be found in the development of youth centers in the villages. This will have entertainment gadgets like radios, sound sets, internet facilities, computer based games and Television sets. The youth can pay small tokens to be admitted to ensure sustainability of the center.

This will be an avenue where youth can spend their leisure times and also interact with their peers. This has a direct effect of providing recreation, which is much needed, and also education on global issues. It will also bind the youth together into a team. This is a fundamental starting point for any form of development.

The little development that has been achieved in rural areas has been done by the Youth development Associations. This comprises of youth who have been to the cities and are back and also youths within the villages. They relate with the authorities and with the Government on behalf of the entire village. Any development effort that will take place in any rural settings in Tanzania must go through such associations. They are progressive and open to positive change. ICTs will make their work easier. They can communicate more easily with government officials, learn about global efforts and initiatives. They can move the government to listen to them and to be transparent in their dealings using ICTs.

They can also use ICTs to improve the political awareness of their people through programmes on radio and Televisions. Education is the only tool that will liberate the poor. Yet they don’t have access to it. Community learning centers  powered by ICTs will ensure that education reaches the rural dwellers. Such ICT educational centers will have Internet facilities that youth can use in learning. It will also have a database of important information needed for day-to-day life in the rural areas. The information will be collected by the people in a participatory manner and posted on such mediums.

The literatures have it that the main factors that will determine access to ICTs in rural areas will be: Connectivity, Affordability and capabilities. It is true that the rural areas lack basic infrastructure but the ICT world is growing in its ability to function without basic infrastructure. Connectivity is important, but most cities
in Africa now have connections, which can be extended, to the rural areas. A major impediment may be power. Alternative sources of energy like solar radiations are getting in vogue and can provide the much needed energy. In terms of affordability, the government and international donors have to provide the initial infrastructure. But the rural people poor as they are can maintain the systems and make installations through collective ownership, which enables them to share the cost. They can thus afford such services. The right campaign to bring the necessary partners to play their role is needed. The rural areas are more than capable to operate the systems and run them.

Permit me in concluding to talk about a successful case study that I have been involved with. The Jamaa  foundation is an NGO involved in women empowerment and poverty alleviation through the use of ICTs. It started as a small initiative. When we started, we thought our dreams of providing ICT in the rural localities where we were working was nearly impossible. We started with small community learning centers in small villages having few books and runned by the villagers themselves. Later we were able to train some of the youth in the village on basic computing.

We then provided them with a computer each. The computer have since been multiplied and we have internet connections in our headquarters. We also run an international networking certification programme for the youth of our communities. This small beginning shows me that an ICT empowered rural Tanzania can be a reality.

Yona Fares Maro - I.T. Specialist and Digital Security Consultant

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