- Liberating Voices
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Human Networks Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Nigeria
Pattern number within this pattern set:52
The problem of the digital divide is particularly challenging in rural areas, where there is poor infrastructure, high levels of illiteracy, no telephones, and an established pattern of population drift (and brain drain) from rural areas to the urban areas and overseas. Ideally digital bridge building should be a collaborative venture from an early stage, needs driven as well as technology driven. However people in rural Africa are poorly placed to be actively involved in designing digital bridges for their communities.
The context is a rural area in Nigeria. The approach to crossing the digital divide that is being developed there could be relevant to any place which has similar elements.
The basic elements are:
A large rural area, which is beyond the reach of telephones but has effective human communication networks (e.g. Oke-Ogun).
Population drift (brain drain) resulting in members of the community living on the connected side of the digital divide (e.g. London).
Communication links between the two communities.
The next requirements are:
An individual with vision to get it all started (eg the late Peter Adetunji Oyawale, founder of CAWD: the Committee for African Welfare and Development)
An individual or group with influence in the rural community acting as a local champion (e.g. The Oke-Ogun Community Development Agenda 2000 Plus committee)
An individual or group on the connected side working on behalf of the local champion (e.g. CAWD)
A director (Originally Peter Adetunji Oyawale. Since his death Pamela McLean, UK Co-ordinator of CAWD, has been acting director)
There are many ways to try bridging the digital divide. Sharing ideas and experiences at a comparatively early stage enables others to join the learning curve.
The digital bridge project in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State Nigeria, was the vision of the late Peter Adetunji Oyawale, founder of CAWD. He was a man of many parts, including local champion, ICT professional and son of an illiterate peasant farmer. He was a digital bridge personified. He built enthusiasm for a sustainable development project amongst the rural community in Oke-Ogun and amongst his friends on the connected side of the digital divide in the UK. Peters life was an example of the population drift that occurs from rural areas to the developed world, a succession of moves from illiteracy to education, qualifications and skills, and no opportunities to apply those skills back home. He believed that the answer was to take information to people instead of having people move in search of information. He believed that digital technology could enable a practical and cost effective approach to improving educational and employment opportunities in rural areas like his home.
Despite Peters tragic premature death in Nigeria in December 2000, his vision has continued to grow and develop. Individuals and groups are developing to take on and extend the many roles he initiated. The OOCD (Oke-Ogun Community Development Agenda 2000 Plus committee) has taken his role as local champion. CAWD, with its history of supporting his vision, and its access to information and technical expertise, is enabling the project from the connected side of the digital divide. Personal communication links between Nigerians in London, and the community in Oke-Ogun, help OOCD and CAWD, and strengthen the foundations on which the project is being built.
In Oke-Ogun the information network relies largely on word of mouth, through the village markets, the weekly meetings for religious worship, and the trading networks between the village markets and urban centres. The main urban centres have telephone lines and public e-mail access. Some e-mail and telephone communication is possible between the urban centres and the UK, but web access is virtually impossible.
In the UK access to the internet is easy, so contacts can be made and information can be collected on behalf of the project.
Contact between Nigeria and the UK is enhanced when people visit friends and relatives in Nigeria, and physically carry internet printouts, videos and letters between the two countries. It is not instant online access for the OOCD committee and it is not video-conferencing, but it is a step in that direction.
Together the OOCD and CAWD are clarifying Peters digital bridge vision of providing Community Digital Information Centres (CDICs) linked to a community radio station.
Prior to building the ICT infrastructure, or information highway, information traffic is flowing in both directions. The OOCD is recognising how the community could benefit from online internet access. CAWD and OOCDs shared awareness of potentially useful information traffic is increasing. Later this information traffic will flow through the community network, to and from the CDICs and the linked radio college, and through the wider connected community.
For the information highway CAWD UK is researching appropriate technology while the OOCD is discussing ideas with local government chairmen, gaining support and finding appropriate locations.
The first objective is to provide the OOCD with online internet access instead of printouts generated in the UK. The vision goes much further, as outlined above.
The speed of implementation will depend on the resources the project can attract, but we anticipate an incremental approach, growing in response to expressed needs of the community.
The Oke-Ogun digital bridge project combines a technology led approach (from the connected side of the digital divide) with a needs driven approach (from the rural communities and their representatives). This has been achieved by recognising the value of existing human communication networks in the rural areas, beyond the reach of the telephone network. The fact of population drift from rural areas to the developed world adds to the scope of the network. From the beginning the project has involved a human network ranging from the multi-cultural community in the UK to peasant farmers in distant rural Nigeria.