Thursday, August 30, 2007

CTO Forum talks rural connectivity- but to who?

Last week, the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) held a forum in Nairobi to examine solutions to Africa’s rural connectivity in Africa.

It is argued that about 80% of the continent’s population has no access to internet or telephone. Egypt and South Africa have the best penetration in Africa. The CTO said in the conference promo that this will take a giant leap forward when ministers, regulators, operating company executives and high-level officials from various development partner agencies converge at the meeting.

But the event, hosted by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), failed to provide a forum where all stakeholders could meet and hold discussions of research findings, policy options, regulatory strategies, business models, financing and investment facilities, available technologies and public-private-people-partnerships that could enable improvement in African rural connectivity.

Though the topic was on rural connectivity, the shs 40,000 entrance fee was not meant to bring in the rural folks. How many rural folks make the shs 40,000 in a month forget about saving that much for entrance fees.

When I raised this issue with one of the CTO organizers, he argued that the London based outfit needed the money so that it can redistribute to all areas it operates in.

But my argument is, we needed the rural market women and men to come and share how their lives had changed after they started using mobile phones, how it has helped save time and how the internet can revolutionalise the way they do business.

At such a meeting, you would expect the brokers who get cabbages and potatoes from Kinangop to come and share how they no longer have to take trips to the farms, they just make a call and the goods are loaded and delivered in Nairobi. How the instructions can change or be clarified by just making a phone call.

However, these stories can not be told, because they don’t have the requisite entrance fees, the event was left to top level government, civil society and private sector officials who can pay that amount.

The event was therefore punctuated by the same statistics and papers that had been presented in other events and all that was changed was the date and title of the conference.

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