Blood Diamonds in the News
Ethan Zuckerman has a great post about the recent newsines (trendiness?) about "conflict" diamonds, pointing to a parody site realdiamondfacts.org. It's a sendup of DeBeers and Co. (It's an exact parody of their PR-campaign website, diamondfacts.org.)
The bigger issue, Zuckerman points out, is that there are any number of products that the Rich Folks of the world are consuming that cause economic and social trauma in the same way that the diamond industry does (Coltran — used in my cellphone — seems to be worse than diamonds if you ask me ... ).
Brief Clip from a Great WorldChanging.com Post
WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: LinuxChix Africa "LinuxChix Africa manages to shatter two stereotypes at the same time: the idea that women aren't interested in free/open source software development; and the idea that women in Africa are bound to traditional cultural roles. Founded in late 2004 by Anna Badimo, a computer science graduate student in South Africa, and Dorcas Muthoni of the Kenya Education Network, LinuxChix Africa seeks to build Linux skills among African women, as well as to support more generally the use of free/open source applications and systems across Africa. Like most Linux and F/OSS communities, much of their work entails professional software development and public advocacy of open source, but LinuxChix Africa adds a unique twist: they focus their outreach on encouraging young women to pursue careers in computing."
Beautiful Maps of Africa
Just discovered a beautiful resource of maps (mostly environmental info, especially soil) for most of the countries of Africa. (Found via Kikuyumoja’s realm.)
This is an incredibly thorough, high-quality resource, with scanned resolutions that will knock any map-lover's socks off. The pages are easy to navigate, with appropriately-sized thumbnails and then really large downloadables.
Suitable for framing. And repurposing with overlaid data.
Here's a bit from their intro:
"Data and information are essential building blocks of science. Many types of data, including extant historical data which have newly appreciated scientific importance for the analysis of changes over time, are not being used for research because they are not available in digital formats" (International Council for Science, 2004). Maps made in the past remain the backbone for present and future studies. ... Less and less new, fundamental soil data are being produced these days; the older data and information are being pumped around more and more. Therefore it is vital to preserve the older data (in this case maps) as they are building blocks of most current soil information. The user of present-day, derived information should have easy access to the source material, if only to assess the reliability of the derived material. But, in many countries, soil maps are being lost because of lack of proper attention to storage and retrieval ... This problem is acute in developing and transitional countries where valuable data, currently only available on paper, must be digitized before they are lost forever... The digitization of the African maps will enable the African countries to recover and re-use their soil information. Translation of soil information from paper maps and reports into digital format is a prerequisite of the next step - the development of a digital information system on soil and terrain that may be drawn upon for manifold applications.
And now you can jump straight to the maps.
The Wireless Internet Opportunity For Developing Countries
While poking around on stuff related to the WSIS in Tunis, I found this excellent document about wireless internet in Africa, which was used at the first meeting of the WSIS in 2003. I only wish that there was an updated copy somewhere ...
"The most intriguing application [of wireless technology] in developing nations is the deployment of low-cost broadband Internet infrastructure and last-mile distribution.
The rationale for such interest is simple in theory: The digital divide cannot be resolved any time soon because of the prohibitive cost of deploying conventional wired infrastructure in developing countries. Wireless Internet, however, has the potential to solve this bottleneck, as the collection of articles and case studies in this volume demonstrates. ...
So, why should this topic become central to the World Summit on Information Society initiative? First, wireless Internet may be a very effective and inexpensive connectivity tool, but it does not carry any magic in itself. It can only be successfully deployed as demand for connectivity and bandwidth emerges in support of relevant applications for the populations served. These may be supporting e-government, e-education, e-health, e-business or e-agriculture applications. But those are not easily implemented in the developing world. They do suggest that wireless Internet can indeed be sustainably and in some cases profitably deployed in support of economic and social development objectives in developing countries.
The greatest aspect of this document is that it represents how often the most successful cases of adoption is grassroots and local — this type of development does not work well when it is imposed by some NGO or corporation.
You can read the entire document at infodev, an organization created to "promote better understanding, and effective use, of information and communication technologies (ICT) as tools of poverty reduction and broad-based, sustainable development."
Cellphones in Africa
Today's New York Times carries a front-page article about the growth of the cell phone industry in Africa.
The article is as well-written a summary of the communications crisis in Africa as I have ever read — though it is an undeniably, perhaps inexplicably, upbeat assessment of the curent growth trend in cell phone use.
The article begins by describing the difficulties faced by a rural farmer in Johnanesburg:
On this dry mountaintop, 36-year-old Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way.
Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles.
But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone.
Author Shanon LaFranierie did a great job of putting this together, I think, but again the upbeat assessment tends to make the issue more of a spectacle than an outrage. Which it is. Take, for example, the fact that the woman described in the lead actually has the money for only five minutes of calls per month — a pretty slim communication system indeed.
There is also the fact that while Africa now has the highest percentage of cell phone users relative to land lines, that doesn't mean much when only one in 30 people has a land line. And the fact that less than 60% of Africa can get any cellphone signal at all is rather sobering.
And yet, there is an undeniable fact of real growth — economic, social, educational — that is occuring because of the powerful effect that even a slight improvement in communication can bring. At least when the context is dire poverty, the impact of just a few cellphones can be dramatically disproportinate.
Andy Carvin, a guru of the Digital Divide Network also has some interesting thoughts about this article on his blog.
Andy writes that:
No doubt, mobile phones will be near the top of the list [of development technologies] — but that list also includes $100 laptops, wind-up electricity generators, low-cost community radio transmitters, and the timeless ham radio. So let's not make policy decisions under the assumption that mobile phones are the only tool necessary for bridging the digital divide.
The entire article is online for a little while in this section of the paper: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/25/international/africa