Monday, July 21, 2008

Agriculture, ICTs and Gender in Africa

This last month, I was asked to judge GENARDIS 3, "Small Grants Fund to address Gender Issues in Information and Communication Technologies for Agricultural and Rural Development in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP Countries)." The applicants that I judged were a wide range of projects attempting to use the tools of radio, computers, and media to reach the disenfranchised in their villages. Unfortunately, there were some applicants that immediately drew the opinion that women = gender, which is still a major misconception of what this small grants fund is all about. The thing is that it is likely to be women and children who are most disadvantaged in these small villages wishing to implement technology in order to improve lives. However, maybe it is not, and it is best to analyse the situation for both men and women first and then distinguish the differences between the two groups. Perhaps we will find a village where males are not participating in computer classes and 99 % are women, then why have these males decided not to participate?

Check out the GENARDIS projects that have won in 2005 and an evaluation on the program in 2007.

More Information:

IDRC - Acacia webpage on GENARDIS

Gender and Natural Resource Management book

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mobiles & Poverty

Since completing my studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I have been doing a bit of writing based on my mobile phone study. My field work photos are found under "IDRC work" on my flickr page.

Here is one article: i4d: Mobiles are leading the way: A review of IDRC projects

Here is a short case study write-up that I did for the W3C workshop in Brazil in June 2008.

This is an old presentation that I did at UKZN in November. I presented my results and analysis at the IDRC on May 1, 2008 with an updated presentation (ask if you would like a copy).

All kinds of ICT4D conferences have been popping up recently:

- HCC8 - Pretoria, South Africa (25-27 Sept 2008)
- Msociety - Antalya, Turkey (18-19 Sept 2008)
- SAICSIT, Wilderness, South Africa (6-8 October 2008)
- MobileActive08 - Johannesburg, South Africa (13-15 Oct 2008)
- ICTD 2009 - Doha, Qatar - deadline for submissions: Sept 22, 2008 - (17-18 April 2009)
- IFIP, Dubai, UAE - deadline for submissions: August 15, 2008 (26-28 May 2009)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gender and Wireless Africa

Last month, I attended the Wireless Africa workshop: June 25- 27, 2008, CSIR Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa.

Here are some excerpts from my report:

Day 1 – Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Purpose: The purpose of the workshop was to introduce the Wireless Africa research project, share current wireless community network initiatives throughout Africa and choose the three countries as case studies for review of their sustainable business models. There were at least 40 participants in total (10 women participants) and all proceedings will be found here.

One country presentation highlights:

Emphasize goals towards development: Prof Hicham Bouzekn, Al Akhawayn University, Morocco stated that the success in working with regulators and even mobile operators depends on “the way you present your project, […] cannot be perceived as a threat. It must show some goal of development, and a benefit to the country”. Prof Hicham’s Wifi project had also seen their regulators pushing the researchers to aim big, increasing their research sites by two-three more areas in Fez.

Business Models:
As for presented business models, the range was also diverse among the countries and within the country institutions. The 16 countries had telecentres models, government owned models, NGO style setups and primary school network ideas. Within the institutions, the range of products and services could be from running a microfinance institution to internet café side projects with a whole gamut of income generating projects done within. While aware of the idea of business models, none of the countries had actually written up a business plan or prepared such documentation in the past. Fantsuam was possibly the closest organization with $USD figures of their operation costs and revenues through their cross-subsidized model of business.

Village Telco example: Steve Song (Shuttleworth Foundation) and Rael Lissoos ( presented on the Village Telco model ( which is in place in Orange Farm, South Africa. Running for the last two years, Rael has been able to provide wireless services to this community with use of pre-paid cards for internet and phone services. The recent village telco workshop (June 16-20, 2008) can be found here. Steve did a presentation summarizing their workshop asking the question can a mesh network be developed for $5000 USD and deployed and break-even within 6 months. From the workshop came the “Mesh potato”, a hardware/software package which allows for phone/internet connection, and asterisk, BATMAN and network management software. Check out more information on Steve's blog.

Day 2 – Thursday, 26 June 2008

2.1 VoIP and Wisp in a Box Presentations: Louise Berthilson (it+46), Alberto Escudero-Pascual (it+46) and David Rowe (Free Telephony Project) presented their current work on VoIP in a Box. David showed the simplicity of wireless point-to-point setup by getting his children to set up a wireless phone in a public park. Sebastian Buettrich followed with the development ideas of WISP in a box (still in progress with completion date aimed around +/- October 2008). From both technology presentations, it was clear that low power was a major roadblock that needed to be addressed immediately as power is usually one of the most costly expenses in running these technologies. “Big power is low power,” as stated by Alberto. All projects must consider looking at low power using technologies in order to see sustainability. So why not consider the 1Watt computer? Another major challenge was how to move from small to large scale networks with out destruction, particularly address network management problems once capacity starts to reach a point of over optimal. How does one prepare for this point? Another major obstacle discussed is learning retention – local transfer and avoid staff turnover – in a business model. While some acknowledge that they will need to continuously input training, the discussion looked a use of retired professionals, training business people to be a trainer for a business, young 3rd year undergraduate students volunteers, other motivation techniques, use of local women or grandmothers (my idea), training government officials.

Gender Presentation: I gave a short presentation on gender research based on the firm desire by Wireless Africa management to incorporate gender into their research plan. The presentation was based on the IDRC – Acacia lessons learned from the Gender Awareness Workshop in Fez, Morocco in 2007. Here is the presentation:

The purpose of the session was to ask country/researchers to consider adding gender as part of their research agenda in their planning and consider four possible strategies of implementation. Why is this area of study exciting? As technology is fairly new in many of their societies, great insight comes from research on the adaptation and usage of technology by both sexes. Secondly, as implementers, one can have great influence in whether such tools become gender biased or not in the community by way of constructing opportunity for both men and women with the technology. I emphasized “What are we losing out?” asking the audience what innovation and economic advances will the project be missing if they exclude specifically women from the knowledge society? As little has been written in the field of gender and wireless community networks (even in North America), I also challenged the group to work towards presenting their gender research to the Acacia Conference in Dakar, October 2009.

At the end of the workshop, the three pilot projects were announced: Ghana (onevillage Foundation), Uganda (Community Wireless Resource Centre) and Nigeria (Fantsuam Foundation).

More information on Wireless Africa, click here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CICEWA Workshop #3

This week, I was asked to attend one of our IDRC research partner's workshops here in Johannesburg. Here is an edited version of my workshop report.

1. Project Objective:

The project, “Communication for Influence: Linking Advocacy, Dissemination and Research: Building ICTD Networks in Central, East and West Africa” (CICEWA) has the objective to identify obstacles to universal affordable access to broadband ICT infrastructure in Central, East and West Africa through two sub-regional ICT policy advocacy networks. Their key role is to disseminate research and find effective ways to advocate for ICTD.

2. Workshop

CICEWA hosted their third in a series of workshops (the June one was in Senegal). I dropped in last Wednesday, July 16. The purpose of the workshop was to bring African journalists and researchers nominated by the ICT4D network from East, West and Central Africa to develop a common research framework, and build the network for stronger ICT4D policy advocacy. In the previous two meetings, two regional networks were formed: EAICT4D, coordinated by Harry Hare (KictaNet, Kenya) and GOREeTIC (Coura Fall, APC).

There were 18 participants (7 were women) from both French (Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Benin) and English (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) speaking African countries. One of the participants was an APC member from South America.

3. Presentation: Telecommunication Reform in South Africa

The first speaker, Robert Horwitz, Professor at UC San Diego, spoke about a paper that he and Willie Currie recent wrote: “Another instance where privatization trumped liberalization: The politics of telecommunications reform in South Africa – A ten-year retrospective”. This journal article was used in the presentation as a possible output model for the country teams. The author spoke further on the research and the methodology undertaken to produce this paper.

A major issue which arises from many transitions from monopoloy state-owned telecommunications to a competitive market is governance. How does a country create a new market structure for telecommunications and then how do you deal with the incumbent? How do you change the tariffs enough for the incumbent (who had provided much infrastructure in the first place) to stay competitive and yet allow competitors? Many known regulators are still unable to provide strong structure to guide this process in a transparent manner.

4. Discussion

The researchers were asked to develop their country’s political narrative or institutional histories and use institutional players, the context, the political structures and understand why things happened and how they are likely to play out.

Major question put to the participants, “Where are the points of entry, on policy, and advocacy, how best to engage, how to provide pressure with impact, and practices of freedom.”

During the discussion, each country described their political and telecommunications story. In summary, there were several issues with the regulator and its ability to help in lowering the interconnection costs between mobile phone operators. There were also examples were cell phone operator competition led to lower prices but cases like Tanzania were there was no price change. There is also the issue of high costs as a result of governments high tax imposition (ex. Uganda has 30 % tax). Discussion also came up on the weak consumer associations in the country who are not able to push for fair competition and lower prices.

In terms of the research, the question came up as to how one revealed the “secret deals” which undermine the processes of good governance particularly during this transition period? How do we start to see transparency and show things as understood and fair by its citizens? How does one expose “never released documents” and hold government accountable?

Fifteen ways in order to retrieve important documents and interview key informants in institutions like government:

a) Be persistent
b) Try talking to people who lost out in a contract or deal
c) Work through the opposition or the chair of certain parliamentary committee
d) Interview mid-level management, reveal certain information, build rapport, allow them to reflect on the big picture
e) Always check sourcing
f) ‘Follow the money’ – check annual reports, stock exchange prices / reports
g) Use the switchboard operator to your advantage
h) Turn off the voice recorder and hope this will lead to information
i) reluctance to give information IS information
j) Ensure anonymity: “off the record” can be called key informants, “respected industry insider”
k) Always ask “who else should I talk to?”
l) Possibly align one’s self with an organization (eg. Statistic bureau) for authority
m) Use cousins / sisters within the organizations
n) Be aware of permits which may be required to conduct research.
o) Use the country’s freedom of information act

Other News:

Village Telco and gets exposed on the Economist: Read more

IDRC - CICEWA network project links here

Special ICT4D Edition: Computer June 2008 (Vol. 41, No. 6).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The restoration of STC

While I have always had the intention to start updating this blog on the wonderful things happening here in South Africa, it is only until now that I have pushed some keys together and voila, words to screen. Since my last blogpost, I have started venturing into new research terrain working with a network on Community Owned Wireless Networks and testing the waters in the socio-economic side of these pilot projects particularly on gender. I'll also go back into time and reflect on the research findings from my mobile phone and technology spending project last year as well as update on the recent workshop and conferences which will be taking place in Africa on Information & Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D).

Besides that, well you probably heard that Nelson Mandela's turning 90 this Friday! Stories have been running on all the local papers of people who had met Mandela while he was studying as a young lawyer in Jo-burg, to his days spent in prison on Robben Island. I guess you have to give credit to the man, he did his time and the respect and hope he has brought to the people of South Africa is not something one will forget for a very long time.