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High Tech in Africa: Geeks Needed 183

srl writes: "The Boston Globe is running a series about high tech in Africa--- talking about how the continent needs a lot of geeks willing to work there to build Net infrastructure. (Anyone want to take on a big project?) The series as a whole is interesting and sheds light on a topic that most American geeks probably don't spend time thinking about. See also part 1, about the new high-speed fiber link to Africa and part 2, about cybercafes in Africa."
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High Tech in Africa: Geeks Needed

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  • and some free aids medication would come in handy too...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I can tell that this article will be full of quality discussion, with absolutely no racist posts whatsoever! Go Slashdot!
  • There's a difference between 'poverty' and a substistence lifesyle. Poverty is America's inner-city, you can't grow your food in a tenement. A lot of these people who live in the rural area are at least self supporting.
  • Education is just as important as those other things, and the Internet will help there! Teach a man to fish, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Great article about Africa. So many of you seem to know what's best for the entire continent of Africa. Well, please do join us in finding some real solutions. We're looking for some consultants to do multimedia development work in Uganda. If you want to work with highly motivated and skilled Ugandans in an excellent multimedia development lab and really see what it is like on the ground then please let me know. We could use some help and not just a bunch of skilled but unaware people talking smack. If you're up for the challenge and have an open mind and really want to make an impact then join us. Consultant Posting Listed Below. consulting.html
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Good cause, wrong arcticle.

    Several sobering comments come to mind.

    1. Africa is not homogeneous, Egypt != South Africa != Rwanda != Congo != Congo != Algeria etc.
      Consequently, you have to sort out language, stability, security, economic and technical issues before jumping on this. Trust me on this one.
    2. Infrastructure projects have a lousy track record as a development aid.
      Always the first to benefit are multinational corporations exporting and controlling those projects.
      Always second to benefit are local power brokers.
      Almost never to benefit is the local population.
    3. More often than not, by going there you are going to draw on local resources more than you contribute.
      E.g. consider whether your job could be putting someone local into some money, even if she is only second best for the job. This is true even if you don't take any money - Who's paying those tickets, your health insurance etc.?
    4. More often than not paid and unpaid volunteers don't connect well to the local community due to culture shock, bi-directional racism and simply quality of life issues. This further reduces the efficiency of such aid.
    5. Technical infrastructure is a necessity for banks, airlines, natural resources companies and governments. They are willing to pay for it. Let them get a discount if you wish, but don't confuse such 'development' with an internet café 'infrastructure'.
    6. In Africa there are many hungry, unproductive, uneducated people with low life expectancy and bad medical care (no insult meant). More often than not direct and indirect threat of violence dictates politics, economy and social life.
      These are the worthy issues to be addressed. Once a country is stable, with a minimal economic infrastructure, food production, health care and education, without hostile neighbors, sustaining development is a piece of cake.

    With these basic, but unwelcome messages in mind, what can YOU do?

    1. Open source. Honestly, this is important! Look at how eastern Europe is both using and creating in open source software to get an idea.
    2. Direct aid. Old PCs, vehicles, broken hardware, over 50% of the stuff we just throw away since it's uneconomical to repair, could get reused, repaired or recycled there.
      Consequently, people collecting and shipping such things, as well as establishing local receiving communities and building the necessary skills are all important tasks for which nobody needs to travel.
    3. Spread the knowledge about specific countries and specific projects and issues. Build support. Make people care.
    4. Support businesses in developing countries. Buy from them, educate them, get them an old photocopier, printer, etc.
    5. Work politically. Don't export arms. Lobby for medication to be sold at manufacturing cost. Pressure for human rights, democracy and a free press. Value cultural diversity.
    6. Lobby African countries to curb population growth and devastating overuse of natural resources and religious fanatism. Be specific and don't generalize. Fight racism.

    See, without moving from your desk, there's lots of things to do.

  • What we need in africa is good-old capitalism. No more "do-gooder-hippie-commies" that come to africa with a warped ideas of how a society should work (ideas that "surprisingly" enough has never been implemented in any western country).
    No more "parking meters donated by SIDA", no more "condoms - donated by Japan" just some straight free trade. We need growth - not gifts. Responsible politicians - not western aid agencies continuously accepting that the african polititians lie, steal, nationalise and kill.
    We need bandwitdth, goddammit!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @10:13AM (#64524)

    OK, some of you talk about the bad things. Let's look at these:

    • low/no pay
      As a former PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) I can attest to the value of PC on your resume. Also, believe it or not, there is more to life than money. You might just learn something about yourself and/or the world if you get out of your server room.

    • Parasites/bugs/disease du jour
      Humans have been on this planet for an awful long time and PC, for one, has excellent healthcare. So what if you get Dengue fever (I did) or a few parasites (got them too). The benefits of your experience will far outweigh any foolish American fears of a few microbes. There are 750 million people in Africa - obviously Africa is a great place to live, else there'd be zero. Finally on this topic - most diseases/parasites are easily avoided by simple hygiene - boil your water, don't have unprotected sex...

    • violence/corruption/etc.
      yes, some of these places have violence and most are very corrupt (by the American definition) but, then, that's why they are developing countries. Look around you. violence and corruption are a part of even an American life. Are you so naiive as to believe our gov't. is free of corruption? Go to a developing country, learn to work the system and when you return, you'll be like one of Paul Atredies' Fremen on a new planet - you'll work circles around your stupid co-workers. (ok, bad analogy)

    • Poor/bad/non-existent infrastructure
      You gain strength from doing the thing you think you can not do. I built a computer lab in a rural rice-farming village where there is no running water and little electricity. If you've got what it takes, you can do anything!

    Still reading? Maybe YOU have what it takes. PeaceCorps [] The toughest job you'll ever love!
  • Well, some geeks are not necessarily money focused and might just want to help the people. After all, isn't that why we work on Open Source Software?

  • by Micah ( 278 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @10:19AM (#64526) Homepage Journal
    Actually, you *do* need "tech" people to set up running water, wells, power grids, solar/wind energy, better crop yield and that sort of thing. It's called appropriate technology, and people study to do basically that sort of thing in poor countries. A college roommate of mine studied that for a couple years.

    Of course it's a slightly different kind of "tech" than your average geek. But there could be some overlap.
  • Somehow I managed to omit that rather critical detail. The world did not make Sankoh the leader of the rebels; rather, it rewarded his savage violence as expressed through the RUF (chopping children's legs and arms off, sewing womens' vaginas shut with fishing line, and padlocking villagers' mouths shut for the simple crime of being outside the RUF) by endorsing a peace accord which made him Vice President of the entire country.

    It's as if the UN had endorsed Hitler for Prime Minister of Israel.

    No wonder most of Africa continues to starve in poverty. With 'friends' like the US, who needs enemies? Note to self: there are organizations even more cynical than Microsoft and Monsanto, and my tax dollars are paying for them. Woohoo!

    In any event, no amount of fiber optic cable is going to improve the lives of people in countries like Sierra Leone until decent leaders are nudged into power and the economies can be built up to the point that ordinary citizens are not preoccupied with starvation, AIDS, and fleeing from murderous warlords.

    Bonus: foreign aid workers will also be less likely targets for torture, murder, and mutilation if there is some incentive for leaders to act like moderately civilized human beings (as opposed to criminally insane sadists). This means you, Network Boy...

  • And I would have to say that is more critical than internet connectivity.

    Hard to use a keyboard when RUF rebels have chopped your hands off (Sierra Leone), when your entire city has been murdered (Rwanda), or you're dizzy from exhaustion because the food and supplies to your region have been obliterated by land mines for the third time in as many months and you're starving to death (Angola), or you're busy dying of AIDS (one out of every four people in subsaharan Africa). An ISP is not going to help the common man in these countries nearly as much as an international body with a spine (eg. one that would not agree to make Foday Sankoh, the leader of the vicious, terrorist RUF rebels in Sierra Leone) or something akin to dignity, especially on the part of the US and France. God knows it couldn't hurt to have more of the world's masses aware of the hell that exists in most of West and Central Africa, though -- if .JPGs and fiber optics will do the trick, by all means, that's a worthy goal. Still, the only useful wealth in the long term comes from within an economy, never from without.

    As usual, foreign 'aid' is best suited for generating contempt and dependency. Vietnam, for example, is doing quite well these days, in spite of America's best efforts. Meanwhile the majority of Africa outside of Egypt and Tunisia continues to go straight to hell, as the world cynically manipulates the 'leaders' to exploit its resources, and ignores millions of civilians being killed as an indirect consequence of our (Western) foreign policy decisions.

    Somehow, even in a forum like /. (where this over-focus on technology is not only appropriate but part of the appeal), it seems like talk of wiring up Africa is another pathologically Western case of putting the cart before the horse.

  • you have to have horses before you have cars, you know

    Actually, I've been to Sierra Leone (shortly before the government fell), and they had plenty of cars and no horses, at least in Freetown. There's no particular reason not to skip levels of technology, if the higher tech is available from somewhere else.

    Sierra Leone's government was, in fact, founded on law and democracy; as far as I could tell, they just couldn't withstand a concerted attack from the gang/robber rebel types when it happened. On the other hand, the neighboring countries did a pretty good job of helping. In that area, at least, the violence was primarily anti-government. Of course, the country was primarily made up of returned British slaves, which gives them a rather different culture from parts of Africa with uninterrupted traditions.

    There's a certain amount of IT that is worth doing even at this point. IT will probably give you a better financial return on investment than, say, clean water; once you have some level of IT (and electricity to run it), you can get the money to get good clean water.

  • What most people don't realize about Africa is exactly the climate. Basically, it's not too bad for people, but it really sucks for devices. What I know about is from Freetown, Sierra Leone (before the government fell).

    For a month each year, dust blows off of the Sahara. It gets on everything. It's reddish and fine.

    For a month each year, it rains. The soil is not very good, and it's hard to reach bedrock. You get mudslides. You get buildings washing away, not because they collapse, but because the ground underneath them goes.

    It's otherwise hot and humid in general.

    The utilities are rather flaky, because they're not the best equipment and the conditions are bad for them. Also, people don't depend on them enough to pay to keep them well maintained.

    So setting up the tech is the least of your worries. The main issue is keeping the hardware working; you have to contend with hot weather, humidity, airborne particles, and power fluxuations. Sure, you can have A/C, but you have to keep that working, clean the filters, and you probably want to turn it off when the power fails, or you're likely to burn out your generator. About the only worse thing that could happen to a machine is throwing it off a cliff, which might happen, too, if you pick the wrong building.

    It's certainly possible on a first-world budget, but setting things up for local budgets or funded by donations is likely to be extremely challenging.
  • We have to take chances. To be honest, we are hugely in debt (ethically) to the third world. Our lavish lifestyles are to an uncomfortably large extent built on the suffering of people in the poorest countries on earth

    How so? I mean this not as flamebait, but quite seriously.

  • People seem to be suggesting that you build up to the current modern tech level gradually. Like you, I think it may be worth trying to use the tech level of the US, Europe, etc. to try and pull the third world up faster. This could make for some really interesting research.

    I think a lot of it would be installing infrastructure that is REALLY REALLY robust. Not necessarily state of the art.

    Could be an interesting type of project. If there wasn't such a danger of getting killed just because I'm white and american, I would love to be involved for a while. Sigh.

  • I was thinking of things like fiber ... :-)

    And yes I KNOW that there is no electric grid. There are already places where solar powered data terminals with radio and/or satellite uplinks are just BFE out in the middle of nothing ...

    And I'm in no way trying to imply that health care and educational infrastructure isn't important, just that good information connectivity could possibly help these move from non-existant to much better faster.

    Of course, you are correct about the government. THAT is something that really can't be developed in parallel with IT structure until after a certain point.

  • People I have talked to from south africa painted a picture of the entire region that, quite frankly, scared the hell out of me.

    What they talked about, and they did talk about more than just their contry, was pretty bad. Of course from what you are saying it may be that the rest of the country is more sane ...

    I guess I chalk up my thoughts to very limited (and probably quite biased) input.

    It's interesting to hear from someone with an experience 180 degrees out of phase.

  • Dare I ask how you ended up hitchhinking across the continent? Hopefully for fun? :-)

  • Look into the Peace Corps again, and make sure to talk with someone with the latest information. They have IT projects in the Carribean and Eastern Europe.
  • Depends a lot on where you are. My SO is, in fact, out in Niger more or less digging furrows and planting trees. Peace Corps is an incredibly varied group; they do have people wiring villages in many parts of the world but in others they work hard at very, very simple things like farming.
  • Or... wiring villages? PC does it. Like I said in my other comment, PC does /everything/- from the very purely techie to very, very manual labor.
  • I can't find a link ATM, but I know the real Peace Corps now has IT programs in the Carribean and Eastern Europe.
  • Hrm. They were talking them up at their recruitment booth at Duke in January... too bad if they really are vapor.
  • Economic Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa [] says: ...Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the least economically free of all regions: None of the 36 countries graded received a "free" rating, and only five--Benin, Mali, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius--were found to be "mostly free." The decline in Zimbabwe's score caused it to slip into the "repressed" category, where it joined Guinea-Bissau. South Africa's score worsened as well, with increased government regulations bumping it to the "mostly unfree" category, along with 28 other African nations.

    The editors suspended grading for six African nations--Angola, Burundi, Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan--due to the unreliability of data caused by either their civil unrest or "prolonged state of anarchy." They will be included in future editions once "political stability returns."

    Africa Betrayed []: George Ayittey, a native of Ghana, recalls the exhilaration that swept the continent when colonialism ended. But soon native African leaders began plundering their nations' economies, imprisoning political opponents, and blocking economic progress.

    Although those leaders rejected capitalism because of its mistaken identification with colonialism, Africa actually has a tradition of markets and decentralization. Ayittey lays out that tradition before describing the Colonial Era, the march toward tyranny, the de facto apartheid, the military regimes, the intellectual repression, the corruption, and the dubious conduct of the West.

  • Everyone's favorite angry SF site protest site []has some interesting images []from on the ground in Africa.

    A little dated but sadly still very applicable I think...


  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <> on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:49AM (#64543) Homepage Journal
    There is - it's called... Peace Corps.

    What do you think they send trained folks out for, to dig furrows? Naw it's folks to help with water systems and modern accounting & yes, bringing the internet out to rural villages.

  • If you give an African a hand-out, you're doing nothing for them other than teaching them to expect hand-outs...

    Why is it we assume that Africans can't do these things themselves? Oh, I know, they're poor and black -- what unsubtle arrogance the helpful-left have.

    Sounds to me that "humanitarian aid" is a way for "progressives" to be racists...

  • Granted, there is a certain degree of responsibility that we (meaning non-African countries) have because of what we did in the past. However, the problems Africa has now are caused largely by Africans -- poking our well-fed fingers into the pie won't help much, especially big block cash grants from places like the IMF or World Bank. Most of that money comes from countries like the US, and most of that money goes right back to the US in the form of consulting fees and equipment purchases and the like.

    Your example of WWII is particularly good, because the Marshall Plan did exactly what the IMF/WorldBank does now -- transfer of wealth from taxpayers to $COUNTRY, back to US, into the pockets of industrialists and war profitteers. Granted, Europe got some buildings and highways rebuilt, but by and large it was a scheme to help those with government connections get a chunk of cash.

    In addition, I'm unwilling to say that a Mbundu tribesman who hunts and/or grows food, lives in harmonic balance with the land is "uncivilized", or even "poor". They may only make $15/year, but their needs are met. What gives us the right to meddle with their lives?

  • That's why microlending strategies work so well - people can borrow very small quantities of money to kick-start their business and build up the microeconomy.

    You've hit on it -- check out the Grameen Bank []. I believe it started in Bangledesh, and has done more for the Bangledeshi people than truckloads of foriegn aid.

    Re: Marshall Plan, a somewhat decent example is _The Reconstruction of Western Europe_ by Alan Milward. He doesn't cover what *I* think is a reason (my earlier statement of a transfer of weath to industrialists -- that's my own theory), but he does argue that the Marshall Plan had a minimal effect. (didn't find the book at Amazon -- you may have to do some serious searching for it. I believe it was published in 1980? Early eighties, anyway).

    Finally, you were in Somalia? Ye gods... In P.J. O'Rourke's book _All the Trouble in the World_, P.J. quoted a US serviceman who said, "Somalia? Give 'em better guns and training and seal the border". Somalia is screwed up on so many levels, I doubt anybody can point to one thing and cry "Culprit!". But I can imagine that the people were desperate for political and economic stability -- it's the one thing that government's good for: providing for a defense of a country's way of life and aiding a stable currency.

  • No, they need agricultural know-how which would let them grow better crops, they need less of the available workforce in armies and they need less arable land ruined by bombshells.

    In short, they need a far better potential for producing their own food. "Teach a man to fish" and all that.

  • And I would have to say that is more critical than eating.

    Hard to hold a fork or a spoon or a food bowl when RUF rebels rebels have chopped your hands off (Sierra Leone)...

    Come on! Don't you see that a communications infrastructure will help Africans to generate wealth?

  • Having returned from PC Poland 15 I know of the offerings of the Peace Corps in Eastern Europe. There's nothing out there.
  • Speaking from experience, Peace Corps in no way supports bringing Internet to rural villages.

    It's about teaching, but more about politics. Making host country politicians happy by sending English teachers to certain schools, even if these schools don't have nearly the need of other schools in the country. Having Peace Corps country directors attend diplomatic functions instead of the Ambassador.

    Anything more than teaching is helping host country nationals in writing deceptive grants so as to take advantage of NGOs and charitable organizations by using money for existing programs/salaries/new computers for directors, etc.

    We actually had a seminar in November 1999 in Kasimirz Dolny on "Creative Grant Writing" while I was a PC Poland 15 volunteer. I was absolutely sick to my stomach.

    I highly recommend any private volunteer organization over the US Peace Corps.
  • As you said, "Are you so naiive as to believe our gov't. is free of corruption?"

    You should mention that this corruption doesn't fail to penetrate the Peace Corps organization.

    While I don't have the heart to make formal complaints against the Peace Corps, now that I've been back in the states a year, I fully support the Host Country Nationals in Poland who worked with the Peace Corps in Warsaw who are now suing over illegal practices and activities.

    I recommend volunteering, and I will certainly be spending another few years of my life volunteering overseas, but I don't recommend the US Peace Corps.
  • Let me guess, you've paid lots of money for your M$ certification and are now afraid of loosing your job ?

    I pity you !
  • I spent some time in Kenya in the 1990's building a medical clinic in North Eastern Kenya (no, the place is not on a map). I enjoyed it over there.

    I would not mind going back to help the people out there develop an internet structure, or, to help teach...

    So, where do I go to do this. I know I won't make a fortune doing it. Thats not my goal. I am a single geek, so it would not be that hard for me to uproot and head over to Kenya for a few years.

    So, how do I go about doing that?

    (Note: I am Canadian, not American. I am looking for international contacts, not local ones.)
  • I would like a position in Kenya, not Uganda.

    The last time I went there, there was a whole mound of paperwork. Sure, I can find places to contact via the internet, but the "gubernmint" gets in the way. I was asking because I was wondering if anyone was familiar w/ the process, and the best way to go about it.

    I asked when I went there before, and I am asking again, because it can't hurt to ask.
    (Despite your desire to echo "RTFM".)
  • Africa's biggest problem is cultural

    You hit the nail on the head. Africa's cultural problem is that Africa's had about 200 years or less to accomplish the social evolution that European countries had 1000 years to do. This is with the generous assumption that Europe in 1000 AD was as socially and technologically sophisticated as Africa was circa 1800, which may be dubious at best for sub-Saharan Africa.

  • "There are 750 million people in Africa - obviously Africa is a great place to live, else there'd be zero."

    WTF is that? What bullshit! That's like saying "90% of Black Americans live in the Ghetto - obviously the Ghetto is a great place to live, else there'd be zero."

    I refuse to appologize for my self-preservation instinct.
  • I have to agree with you completely. I see that few Africans have posted on this story and I know it isn't because they don't read /., but rather that they are tired of the same rants every time a story about Africa is posted. Wooh for slashdot. These are the enlightened geeks who will save the world!

    Let me just summarize the comments I have read so far:-

    (1) Africans are too poor to care about the internet
    This is absolutely NOT true. It is true that Africa is a lot poorer than the US, but you have to remember that the US is very wealthy country. Just because the average African does not have an SUV does NOT mean that all Africans are starving and illiterate. To put it more succintly there are plenty of Africans who have access to the basic necessities of life and are interested in "extras" such as internet connectivity.

    My evidence? 20 years of living and growing up in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Mbabane, Swaziland. A computer costs ~2,000 USD. But at home there are no shortage of luxury German and Japanese cars that cost at least 40,000 USD each. True this is the elite, but just because something will help the elite NOW, does not mean that it will not be relevant to the majority soon. In the US electricity, telephones, PCs were first adopted by the affluent. The resulting volumes sales eventually brought the price down to a level afforded by the masses. The same thing in Africa, just because only the most educated and wealthy people will be able to use it now, that does not mean that the resulting infrastructure will not grow to encompass the rest of the people. (Or to put it another way, should Europe in the middle age have abandoned all Science and tech research until they had reached "modern" level of income? Hah!) Summary: Some Africans aren't starving and actually care about accessing the internet, and they aren't an irrelevenat minority.

    (2) They need to get (water, health care, stable government e.t.c) first.
    This is just so WRONG, I don't even know where to begin. Society is not made up of bits and pieces that can be addressed one bit at a time, but rather it is an organic whole where everything affects everything else. Do you really think that cheap and easy communication with the rest of the world is not going to have any impact on African societies? Lets put it this way:- Do you think the internet has had NO impact on American society? Of course it has, this technology really is powerful, the ability to communicate information quickly and cheaply makes an enormous difference in the long run, even if it is only introduced very gradually at first. Thus a fibre-optic backbone will not end starvation immediately, it certainly won't do any harm, and it will likely create plenty of opportunities for Africans to help themselves. Its not magic bullet, but the risks of falling further and further behind are far greater than the risks of plunging ahead with this technology.

    Only time will tell, what the outcome will be, but I feel confident in saying that 10 years from now, the situation will be no worse in Africa than it is today and very probably it will be better. And that just might be because of more bandwidth as unlikely as it might sound.

    Mugizi Robert Rwebangira
    Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania the summer)

  • Sema mzee, umewaambia kweli! he he( a TZ geek)
  • After reading a list of common parasites in Africa, I think I will be staying in the nice, pollution filled skies of Smoggy California. There is one that crawls up the hole in your willy, lays eggs, and then leaves. That's more than enough to keep me away, THANKYOUVERYMUCH.

  • I'm about to enter the last year of a BSc in CS. I plan on going to graduate school after I graduate, but I will have the summer off in-between. I wouldn't mind spending that summer volunteering. But none of these organisation seem interested!

    Geek Corps is the only one with terms small enough to fit into a summer; and they want at least 3 years of real-world experience (actually I probably have that if you add up all my summer jobs)! Students, as a group, are the most likely to have the time and interest in this kind of volunteering, yet we're just not wanted. Shouldn't these organisations be making this at least as easy as getting a summer internship at the Evil Empire []?

    This is just like organisations not accepting donations of computers below a certain power level...

  • Sure was smart of us to eliminate all our poverty and corruption before building -our- net infrastructure! Boy what an international laughingstock we would be if we had tried to get everyone wired up while there were still people starving in our country.

    Yeah, lets have peace and dignity and cleanliness in Africa before we help them get online - after all, every computer geek who is building an information superhighway is a geek who is not building a sewer system and fighting aids! You are all prepared to build sewers and fight political corruption and implement health programs over there, right?

    Lets stop trying to solve one problem before we solve the one before - we can only do one thing at a time, after all.

  • While I agree completely with you and the poster you are responding to, I also think that people were talking about a priority scale where giving food would be more important.

  • Hi all,

    I'm going to help a relief organization in Mozambique this autumn, and have been talking to them about how to get their internet services up and running better than they are now. They have 1200 sites, most of which are in the bush, and two cellular modems which connect to the national ISP. A major problem they have is sending mass e-mails to interested supporters; frequently their ISP drops large numbers of the e-mails, and doesn't tell them about it.

    Do you all know of any high speed options / LEO satellite / commercial companies that support businesses in Africa? I've been puzzling through how to get them better services, but I'm sure the collective wisdom of the slashdot community is greater than what I can turn up on my own.

  • Oh no. You mean he *can't* go and risk his life to bring AOL to starving Ethiopians?

    What is he gonna do with his life now -- make better than the national average, live at a decent first-world standard of living, and have enough money in his bank account to live on when he retires?

    You're so cruel.

    Yes college kids, you too can blow $100,000 on a college education so you can set up FidoNet nodes in Ghana, for free.

    Point is, it's not unreasonable to expect that if tech skills are really in demand, they would be willing to spring for above average compensation, at least by their standards.


  • "Manuel Ribiero, cofounder of Fusion Interactive, a Cape Town Web-hosting firm, said that so many South Africans became Microsoft Certified Software Engineers, or MCSEs, that the economy can't absorb them all. ''What do you say to an MCSE?'' asked Ribiero. ''Can I have fries with that?'' Desperate for work, many have left for Europe, he said."


    Charles E. Hill
  • by Peter K. ( 39572 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @02:51PM (#64568) Homepage
    This is the second time in the past few weeks that I have ended up posting a reply about South Africa. I'm South African myself, and I've lived here my entire life ( 25 years ) and I'm puzzled by some of your comments.

    In particular, I don't know what the fluctuating laws are that you are referring to. The government in power ( ANC ) has introduced a few laws but I hardly think that the situation is as you describe it. Granted, some of the laws have been dumb. However, the yanks have the DMCA, so I guess we're even on that score.

    The big problem down here is crime. Like you implied in your post, crime is incredible. It's violent in a way that I doubt Slashdot readers could comprehend. We have the highest rape and murder rates outside of a warzone. That's a fact, not exaggeration.

    The other big problem is HIV / AIDS. It has taken ( and will continue to take ) a massive toll on the country. Some figures say that as many as 1 in 5 sexually active adults is infected with the HIV virus. This is complicated by the fact that our current president ( Thabo Mbeki ) does not believe that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus. He seems to think it is caused by poverty ( Nelson Mandela, however, knows that HIV causes AIDS. Compared to Mbeki, he's a saint ).

    As far as the IT side of things goes, I think that Americans would be surprised. I have worked as a Linux sysadmin for quite a few companies down here. The biggest problem is the so-called 'brain drain' which has been caused by all the skilled ( mostly white ) workers who have departed these shores for greener pastures. I can't blame them. I'm emigrating myself in a few months time.

    It's tough here for whites. It's tougher for blacks. Even the average black person here believes that life is worse now than under the previous National Party government ( Apartheid ). Crime is worse. Poverty is worse. Unemployment is worse. It's really a tragedy, when the completely corrupt and evil system of apartheid is remembered by some people ( many of them black ) as the good old days.

    As for the topic of this Slashdot story: I can't recommend to the average American to come here. I don't think that he would have the stomach for the conditions. You would have to be an a real thrill-seeking nerd with brass balls to survive it. I suggest that you all continue to write the fine open source software that you have being pumping out from the comfort of your home countries ( In the USA and the rest of the world ). If anything is going to liberate and empower people here, it will be knowledge and education. That's the kind of knowledge that the Linux community has been passing on through the wide range of free ( as in beer and speech ) software.

    Free software levels the playing field. It is just as accessible to the first world as the third world. It costs $0 for both of us.

    Best Regards,
    Peter Knowles
  • by dkm ( 42942 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:31AM (#64571)
    If you are interest in volunteering, check out the Geek Corps []. It like the Peace Corps but for the technical able. They are looking for both volunteers and donations.

    I have no relationship with Geek Corps but I've always thought it looked like a great idea.
  • That's one of the primary problems in Africa. Many African governments a) can't provide basic services b) squander and/or abscond with the basic natural resources many of these countries have (do a Google search on "Nigeria oil resources theft government") c) continually wage war on one another at the drop of a hat.

    Africa's biggest problem is cultural - mostly the concept of "resource sharing", as in, you made it well in the economy, so give me some of it, rather than, you made it well in the economy, let me study how you did it so I can replicate it.
  • by pirodude ( 54707 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:41AM (#64575)
    I'd look into the GeekCorps [] if you're really interested. They send teams on 4 month journeys to countries to help develop their network and computer infastructure.
  • by nano-second ( 54714 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:30AM (#64576)
    There's a volunteer project that sends geeks to Ghana to help businesses. You can read about it at geekhalla []. I'm pretty sure /. has even had a story about it at some point in the past.
  • by NetJunkie ( 56134 ) <jason DOT nash AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:50AM (#64578)
    In my spare time I write books and have done several MCSE study guides (just released a Linux LPIC one!). I got email from people in Africa a *LOT*. Many people there are studying up to get certifications thinking that is the way to get to Europe and the US.

    I'd say at least 2/3 of my mail was from Africa, usually Nigeria.
  • You're completely ignoring the relevance of this information.

    If you're poor, how do you afford the solutions offered online? (IE, information is free, but implementation rarely is) What good is information on a world you live in if you can't afford to go anywhere? (Nevermind that 95% of that information inherently assumes you're from a completetly different culture, thus much of it loses its relevence, usefulness, or poingancy.)

    But lets say, for whatever reason, that browsing the net enriches your mind, and makes you happy, a la any given MSN Messenger commercial. So, you give people jobs building this internet. Where does the money come from? Presumably from people who now have jobs. But what are they buying? I don't imagine the culture is quite at the stage where people have the luxury of shopping online or purchasing content. We take for granted that our food, water, house, lawnmower etc, are forgone conclusions. Thus, much of our purchasing, which in turn fuels jobs, is spent on frivilous things like access to porn sites, movies, etc. Remember the crash? That was about people thinking other people would be buying into a new cultural economy. CISCO comes to mind for fueling this hype (I still havn't puchased bon-bons from a quaint european candy shoppe chain). Companies placed their bets, but it didn't quite work out. So what's the payoff with AfricaNet? Who's the end consumer that gets the money going through the pipeline? I think you'd be left with a big FO link, and tons (not all! I'm not saying all!) people standing around either not wanting it or not understanding how it fits into their culture.

    I can tell you EXACTLY why misguided efforts like these are bad:

    Companies are salivating at the mouth for new consumer bases. The internet would give them unprecendented new access to consumers. The WTO would be pulled in MANY times so companies could exploit the relative weakness of the african economies and cultures to fuel a one way 'import-only' trend into these countries, which at the end of the day will realize they're networks are really only the 20th century version of a dog leash. Western companies are ALL about access to foreign markets. Whatever humanitarian benifits that come out of education and access to information will be obliterated by the greediness of companies to exploit these new markets, turning african countries into just another economy-on-the-westernized-leash.

    As for those who took pot-shots at the violence, desease and conditions in africa, ya got alotta nerve. Many will claim that the current conditions are a direct result of outside influences meddling with a once-self-contained culture.
  • what would they pay me.

    First of all, not freakin' much, because they don't HAVE much. Maybe under a grand (US$) per month. But believe me, that's luxury pay for the area. You would have an entire house, fenced and probably manually guarded, most likely a live-in servant or two, and probably a nice land rover. Plus domestic vacations would be inanely cheap once you learned the language and the local bartering/haggling proceedures.

    Of course maybe you wouldn't learn any of that, because you make yourself sound tremendously ignorant in that comment. ebola is primarily found in remote areas and you're almost certain not to get it. I won't even discuss the best ways to avoid aids. You take prophylactic malaria medication; that's one more thing the natives have to struggle with but which you can remain blissfully ignorant of. The "insane" governments, which are being suffocated by equal parts corruption and IMF debt, can generally be bought off if you really have a problem with them. And there aren't really "rebel factions" within 200 miles of nairobi.

    So all around, it would be a pretty great opportunity for a geek to have a great time relatively safely, as long as you dig swimming in the indian ocean and seeing lions in their natural habitat instead of stocking up a fat paycheck. So maybe YOU shouldn't go, but I had a great time.


  • Well, okay, we only visited Kenyatta University briefly, and I don't think I saw that particular lecture hall. Primarily I attended the U of Nairobi.

    And lemme say, these comments about "Africa really needs water/food/health care before the Internet" are way off mark. Yes, all those things are necessary, but you must realize that in some cases, particularly with food and water, it's a matter of distribution, not lack of production, and the fact that the economy is largely subjugated by corrupt governments and international treaties which relegate them to commodity-production only. Which is a famously unstable way to make a living.

    Moreover, an educated, informed populace is a great way to get around these obstacles. And wiring up the universities and teaching people software engineering is actually a GREAT step. No one's saying "to hell with food, we want you to be our new cheap code monkeys!" A lot of people are genuinely interested in helping African countries recover from poverty.


  • Oh hell yes they can afford!
    If they can't come up with the cash to pay you, I'm sure the World Bank or IMF would be willing to put a third-world nation $100 Billion further in debt (that number is so large because we have to account for politician's bribes.) As long as every person above you is getting a cut off the top (larger than yours, of course) they could care less what you're doing there, I'm sure.
  • i wouldnt suggest anyone that i know of going to africa to work. i was just in south africa and the entire government is just completely whacked. they make all these dumb laws, then change them any time they want. people think africa (speaking of south africa) has changed for the better since 1994, but it has only gotten worse. If you go there, make sure you get the bulletproof cars, have AMERICAN guards watch your house, etc. It isnt worth the stress in my opinion. some other places in africa may be different, but south africa is rough
  • by Bandman ( 86149 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `namdnab'> on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:29AM (#64588) Homepage
    I was actually thinking about this a few weeks ago. I got the idea in my head that I might want to join the peace corp, but when I did some research, it seemed like all they were doing was teaching people how to build lakes and fish more efficiently. Not that they arn't useful skills, but it's not where my strength lies. I would jump at the chance to go and help with computer related endevors. Perhaps the Peace Corp could work this out? I'd love the experience.
  • I've read a number of comments here, talking about how that we should be focusing on basic necessities in Africa, like clean water, etc. I agree that we should do that, but also access to the amount of information available on the internet is a very powerful way to educate people on the world they live in. They could, perhaps read some research on new farming techniques that helps crops survive droughts.

    Also consider the amount of jobs that could be created maintaining this type of infrastructure, jobs that could progress the continent from subsistance farming, to a technological peer with the United States and Europe.

  • by bmajik ( 96670 )
    You've got to be fucking kidding me.

    "Africa Needs Net Access, NOW!"

    Let me show my unimaginably endless ignorance here, but doesn't africa need to nail down things like "shitting and drinking in separate places" and "not having civil wars over who's pissant do-nothing government is not running anything--today" before they worry about highspeed net access ?

    Seems like all the interesting wildlife there is about extinct, and DeBeers has the relevant natural resources all locked up.

    Africa reminds me of a funny newsgroup name I saw once -

    Better words were never spoken.
  • "If you give an African a hand-out, you're doing nothing for them other than teaching them to expect hand-outs.".

    You seem to have totally missed what I said. I agree with you 100% about "humanitarian aid" being less than worthless. The problem with current aid efforts is that they're hand-outs that don't stimulate economic growth. They're not helping Africans to help themselves.

    You assume that I'm a leftie, which I'm not. I'm a firm believer in the value of free trade and self-determination, but those things don't exist in Africa. Right now most African nations are struggling under economic and political burdens that are the direct result of predatory exploitation from non-African nations.

    But I don't believe that European, Chinese, Russian and American meddling in Africa over the past 200 years gives us the right to simply wash our hands and say "oh, gee, we screwed up before, we should just let them do their own thing now."

    That's like waging a massive war in Europe then walking away without offering to help clean it up. But wait! We DID help those poor white Europeans after World War II, didn't we? What unsubtle arrogance the helpful Marshall Plan exhibited, by providing western Europe with the means to get on its own two feet.

  • I agree with you that most of the problems in Africa are caused largely by Africans, and also by the intrinsic obstacles Africa faces due to its climate. I mean, droughts happen.

    But I think the biggest problems to date with IMF and World Bank involvement in Africa have been because the "assistance" is structured in such a top-down manner that as you mention, most of the money never reaches the intended target.

    That's why microlending strategies work so well - people can borrow very small quantities of money to kick-start their business and build up the microeconomy. Imagine if private institutions in the United States got imaginative. The VCs who are moaning at the dot-bomb flameout could be reaping large returns on investments in small, admittedly less sexy ventures in African nations, while helping individuals in those countries to build their economies from the roots up.

    I don't agree with your assessment of the Marshall Plan, but you must have some reason for thinking it was merely a profiteering venture. If you have some sources for me, I'd be very interested in reading some background on that point of view.

    Finally, I agree with you about the Mbundu tribesman. One of the problems intrinsic to discussions about "Africa" is that the continent is tremendously diverse geographically, ethnically, and culturally. Many African people are living in a fashion they find desirable. Obviously they don't need anyone's help.

    However, I think that when people in places like Eritrea, Sudan, Angola, and Somalia express the desire to accept fundamental development aid, we should step up and help in a more long term and smarter manner than we have to date.

    While the Mbundu tribesman may desire no help at all, the Angolan farmer caught between the government and the rebels might very well welcome some sort of stabilizing influence, rather than the on-and-off superpower meddling that brought people like Savimbi into his life.

    When I was in Somalia, I was amazed at how many people were desperate not just for food, but for political and economic stability - the kind we in the western world take for granted.

  • Hmm.. thanks for the Milward citation.. I'll have to find that book. Actually, it would be interesting to compare his work to a more widely accepted book, just to see the differences. My knowledge of the Marshall Plan's effects is admittedly limited to a chapter in a history book from my undergrad studies.

    Yep, I was in Somalia. The most interesting thing to me about the whole experience was just how different my experience in the Jubba Valley was from that of soldiers who served north of our battallion, and in Mogadishu.

    You're right, the place is definitely screwed up, and pretty much everyone is to blame. We set up our company HQ in an old rice farm, which had been built by the Chinese. There was all this old Chinese machinery sitting around rusting, and I even found a couple of 5-year plans in Cyrillic. So obviously the Russians had been there at some point. The Swedes had built a nice bridge over the Jubba, which was then destroyed during the civil war.

    In the Jubba Valley, which was populated primarily by farmers, the people seemed really genuinely happy to have us around. When asked how long they thought we'd stay, the common answer was "five years" - which made me realize how accustomed to brief but innefectual outside involvement.

    Our approach to helping them get back on their feet was to provide the Somalis with an area secure from roving bandits. We told the locals they could keep their weapons, as long as they kept them in their homes. Anyone with a weapon outside a home would be considered hostile, and we'd confiscate their weapons. In the 2 1/2 months we were in the area, we nabbed around 300 weapons within 5 miles of our HQ.

    With the threat of violence severly mitigated, the town marketplace came back to life, people took to the streets again - it was incredible. Then we left and handed over our sector to the Belgians. A few months later, back at Ft. Drum, I remember watching the whole "Blackhawk Down" incident and American reaction to it.

    I think our involvement in Somalia was indicative of some larger issues. Americans wanted to help the Somalis as long as it was easy. But there were no smart bombs here, Americans died, the UN elected to get in the business of siding with one clan leader over others. It went from being a PR gesture to an a long-term engagement. Realizing that we'd bitten off more than we were prepared to chew, we bailed.

    I suppose much of my attitude about the poorest nations in Africa stems from my time in Somalia. I saw what people could do when given a chance, and it made me think "damn, this nation could be so much diffferent, if average people were given the opportunity to live in peace."

    I think we can both agree that to date, outside "help" to African nations has been largely more detrimental than helpful, and that focusing on direct, microeconomic assistance seems to be a promising new direction.

  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:44AM (#64598) Homepage Journal
    "I know these countries deserve a break" is about the biggest understatement I've ever heard. If you've been to sub-Saharan Africa, you see firsthand just how much most of the countries in the region desperately need help.

    They don't need the kind of help that the western world primarily gives them, which is just enough assistance to help themselves stay poor. What they need is infrastructure development:

    * Viable microeconomic development, so that average entrepreneurs can make a living.

    * Eradication of tarrifs from the developed world, which hinder African nations from exporting

    * Real education for more than just the elites.

    * Fundamental change in the regional politics of Africa, which would allow nations to concentrate on development rather than ethnic and border feuds.

    The fact is that Africa's history has put it so far to the back of the pack that even with a concerted effort among European and North American countries to assist African nations in a structured, long-term manner, to talk of "little African kids" working for a bowl of rice and putting us out of work is patently absurd.

    There is no "tough call" here. We either help African people climb out of poverty, cyclical famine, and oppressive politics, or all of us will pay the price sooner or later. It's enlightened self-interest for us to help African nations help themselves.

  • The original poster is not dumb. He's making a valid point that they don't need the Internet before the need basic nessisities, not that the don't need technically minded people to fix the things you mention.

    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • "My mom says there are a lot of black people in Africa"

    But on a serious note, it would be nice to see the rest of the world jump onto the information superhighway. It'd be nicer to have the starving suffering people fed first, but hey.... can't win them all.

  • by FTL ( 112112 ) <slashdot@neil.f r a s> on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @12:21PM (#64605) Homepage
    > > or all of us will pay the price sooner or later
    > How so? What are the negative consequences for the rest of us in just letting evolution take its course in Africa?

    Very interesting question. Anyone want to help out in answering it?

    Three things that come to mind (don't know if they are valid or not):

    1. War. Poverty breeds war, and if Africa decends into a war, history shows that western nations will eventually get sucked in.
    2. Disease. Ebola and AIDS both came from Africa. Diseases don't respect borders, so it would be advantageous for the West to help Africa medically. Who knows what's next.
    3. Environment. There are a lot of people in Africa, yet they currently don't have a large per capita impact on the environment. This will change as the standard of living improves. There would be global consequences if all the African rain forests are logged, and every household starts buring coal.

  • by CptnHarlock ( 136449 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:45AM (#64606) Homepage
    I was in the Gambia participating in an cultural exchange project called Dunya Molu [] last November. The sittuation there is not as bad as you describe it to be in South Africa. Granted, the government is slow and some parts of it are quite corrupted, but it's deffinetely not worse than some of the eastern Europe countries which many investors are OK with. Gambia is a very small and quite poor country and people have to get by in some way. Then it's "normal" that the Police or Customs sometimes try to add some dinero to their wages... Despite the generally lower standards there still are decent and relatively cheap Cybercafees with PII:s, color printers, scanners and so on.

    In the project I participated I was responsible for the webpage and some other computer oriented stuff. I just want to remind you that this is also a way in which you can help. It doesn't need to be infrastructure or humongously big projects. You can add your little share here and there.

    Finaly don't judge the entire African continent from what you've seen in one country! It's like havin been to Albania and judging Monaco based on those experiences. Africa is bigger than Europe!..


    P.S. The humid air in the Gambia did wonders to the junk that gets stuck on the mouses "scrollers"!!..
    $HOME is where the .*shrc is

  • by CptnHarlock ( 136449 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @10:30AM (#64607) Homepage
    Everytime there is an Africa/Internet related storry a lot of people start screaming "Give Africa food/celan water/medication before tech/Internet/bandwith" and many a good modpoints get wated on those coments. Have you been to Africa? Yes, the countries in that continent are generally poorer but remember that what you see in the news is not the entire picture. When I was living in Bulgaria (before the perestrojka) whenever there was some news report from the US on TV they were filming in some backalley with homless people lying arround drinking liquor from papercovered bottles... When there is a report from Africa in the West it's allways famine, war and catastrophes. Don't you realize that if those were the only things that happened in Africa the continent wouldn last even 5 years? On the streets of Stockholm I see as many beggars/homeless as I saw in Serekunda (the Gambia)!.. Yes, many parts of Africa need all those things but the situation is not the same everywere. Getting access to information on the Internet will also rise the awareness regarding many of those problems and probably even partially help solve them. Developement doesn't need to be made in a linear/serial fashion. So: Africa does need Internet/tech/modern infrastructures!..
    $HOME is where the .*shrc is
  • The PHB says "we're outsourcing our production to Elbonia. They right high quality code for a few cents every day." The story ends with the entire QA department quitting to become mimes.
  • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:54AM (#64611) Homepage
    No, that wasn't a troll, but perhaps I misspoke myself. Okay - after reading the replies I got I guess I should clarify - what I was referring to is the fact that there are few to no human rights laws in African nations - and what is happening with manufacturing industries in Mexico and Indonesia could happen in Africa with code - people turn from being impoverished to being slaves. Yes, something must be done - buts first things first these people need governments that wont sell the populace out to the highest bidder for slave labour, or proclaim holy war against their neighbors. Otherwise, poverty gives way to slavery - the people have something useful to do, but they still live in sht.
  • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:30AM (#64612) Homepage
    I know these countries deserve a break, and need records. However, with the records of human rights and oppressive governments there, wiring Africa could be dooming ourselves. Can you compete with the cost undercutting of an african code sweatshop? We always toot that information is free, and once you get online, even with an old discarded 486 running Arachne, you've got access. This means that, theoretically, anyone with access can become a coder. Even little African kids who'll work for a bowl of rice. Will you work for a bowl of rice? Then why hire you? There's no shipment cost for software, the primary weakness of exporting work to abusive sweatshop countries like indonesia. On the other hand, do we have the right to deny them this tech? To keep them out of this economy? They do deserve their chance to level the playing field.... And its not like they don't deserve a break. Tough call.
  • They need to address issues like fighting famine and building roads infrastructure before they can shift to building IT/telecoms. That's my opinion anyway.

    You're on the money with that one. Some things that most (all?) countries in sub-Saharan Africa could use:

    • A stable government.
    • A stable legal system. Without either of these, you will not be able to have:
    • A stable business environment / stable economy. Even with "the foundations of law and democracy" this is difficult to achieve: look at Japan over the last 10 years, and Argentina/Brazil/Mexico over the last 2-5.
    • Rid the government of corruption. This helps towards fixing the above.
    • Allow the populace to educate, shelter, and feed themselves. This means anything from a handout to a "hand up", depending on which charity/NGO/whatever you are talking to. It doesn't really matter how it gets done as long as it all gets done (education is the big one for the long term, but it can't happen without the other two). None of this can take place in an environment in which the average Joe lives in fear of a) roving bands of thugs and b) government troops.
    • Effective measures to prevent the spread of disease. AIDS is a big fear right now []. Many children die daily of African sleeping sickness. Malaria is another huge killer. Malaria and one other disease which leads to blindness (blanking on the name right now) are preventable with drugs.
    • Note that I haven't mentioned an IT infrastructure yet.
    • Electricity? Yeah, right. Lagos, Nigeria will be the world's 3rd largest city by 2015 [], behind Tokyo and Bombay. The city is growing rapidly and none of the infrastructure can handle it. It is a big deal [] that certain companies in the city will be provided with 22h/day electricity at some point in the near future! You can't have an IT infrastructure on 22h/day of electricity (and don't expect 22h/day of "uninterrupted" service).
    • Don't bother joining the geekcorps [] if you want to help Africa. Instead get involved with HFH [], The Grameen Foundation [], The Heifer Project [], or any of a number of other fundamental-infrastructure-building organizations. I'm sure geekcorps does great things, but their efforts seem better directed at "second tier" nations that already have basic infrastructure laid and are ready to make the leap into the 20th (yes) century.
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:40AM (#64616)
    This continent is in dire need of basic health services and infrastructure (think clean water, sanitation, school buildings and hospitals).

    Connecting impoverished villages stricken by AIDS with T1 lines simply isn't going to have a substantial effect on the common welfare.

  • So you're suggesting that only the rich should have an economy, lest the poor undercut our consulting rates?


  • There are tons of people here in Egypt getting them. Any other certification is almost unheard of, but we have MCSEs coming out of our ears. It is interesting to reflect on what this says about Microsoft's marketing strategy.


  • If it's a non-profit of some resources, you might look at VITAsat [], run by Volunteers for Technical Assistance. If your problem were running the other direction, I would suggest Worldspace [], which sells some nifty satellite radio receivers specifically for the developing world. They offer data downlink through their receivers, but I don't think they've figured out the uplink part yet. But I know they've been investigating options, including Iridium, so it might be worth watching them.


  • by Elvis Maximus ( 193433 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @11:24AM (#64627) Homepage
    Lets say I was to go to Africa, put up with e-bola, aids, malaria, violence, insane governments, and rebel factions; what would they pay me. I mean, come on, it would have to be a pretty large number...

    Don't worry about it. You just bombed the interview.


  • I'm an international development professional. I live in the developing world. I'm a believer in the potential for IT for the developing world, though as with everything else Internet-related it has been way overhyped in the last few years.

    IT will not spontaneously feed the hungry or cure the sick, but everyone here knows from their own lives what a uniquely multipurpose tool it is. If people in developing countries can use IT to find and share solutions to their own problems, get the latest information on medical, economic, agricultural, political, and other developments, and smooth over some of the inefficiencies in their economies, then it will be a real tool for development. None of that is unrealistic.

    The UN Development Programme, the Markle Foundation, and a consulting firm called Accenture recently put out a report [] on potential applications for IT in the developing world. It gives real-world examples to support its conclusions. Please give it a look before you contribute yet another comment to the effect that nobody in Africa can type because their hands have been cut off, they have no water, etc. You might not agree with the relentlessly cheerleadery tone of the report -- I'm not sure I do -- but it shows you what people are really proposing to do with the technology.


  • As a matter of fact, very few people in Africa are truly starving. Malnutrition is by far the worst scourge on the continent and the primary means for eradicating it is education.
  • Any government can provide you with clean water, debt relief, and no war. China's notorious for just that sort of thing, in fact.

    Full Internet access, on the other hand, gives access to information, freedom of speech, even international education. They may not be able to ship e-commerce out that way, but full access to the international community is nothing to sneeze at.

    Sometimes, you need to pick the frosting you like best first.

  • by Espen Skoglund ( 204722 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @10:57AM (#64632)
    I've been looking through the posts here and I must say that I'm pretty scared of the views that most slashdot people seem to share. Basically, what most of the crowd seems to be saying is: a) don't go there since the infrastructure, standard of living, or whatever really sucks, or b) don't go there because there are more dire needs that need to be fixed first (e.g., current health situation).

    I just have to say: What the f**k is wrong with the slashdot crowd? I guess most of the crowd is American, but I always sincerely thought that Americans where better than their reputation (I guess I have to reeavaluate these thoughts).

    People considering a) probably never spent a single day outside the comfort of their hometown (or neighbouring town). So what if the standard of living is a bit lower where you get to live in Africa? I mean, I haven't been there myself, but common sense makes me see that there's a bit more to Africa than people living in bungalows and eating each other for dinner.

    People considering b) must have their head so thight up their arse that they're only able to consider a direct route from A to B as the only true solution. Get a life. This is the real world. It's not some derivate of a Populus like game where evolution happens to take one specific route. Does anyone actually believe that improvement of, e.g., the net infrastructure does have to occur after other improvements are finished? Does anyone believe that improvement of the net infrstructure is completely orthogonal to othe improvements in the societey, that, e.g., the health sector can not benefit from improvements in the IT sector?

    Moreover, anyone taking on a job to build a net infrastructure in Africa (even if their salaries might be lower) will at least be able to help 3rd world countries in a concrete and very useful way. It will probably help more than giving a $10 donation to some random help organization every year. Having someone use their acquired skills to do real, much needed work will usually be way more helpful. In addition, living in another country for some time tend to give you a more unbiased view of the world.

  • by Foggy Tristan ( 220356 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:37AM (#64639)

    Now that being said, if you're not married, get married before you go, because you do *not* want to start a sex-life anywhere in Africa right now...

    We all know, of course, the marriage is the sure-fire way to prevent a sex-life.

  • Remembering that the majority of africans live in what USians would consider 'poverty', ie: substistence living, any given american who goes over to work in a techical position of any sort is going to be living in relative luxury while you get to build computer networks and the like.

    Now that being said, if you're not married, get married before you go, because you do *not* want to start a sex-life anywhere in Africa right now...
  • i wouldnt suggest anyone that i know of going to africa to work. i was just in south africa...

    What a preposterous statement.

    South Africa is nothing like the rest of the continent. It's a very special situation created from unique historical circumstances.

    There are other dangerous places in Africa (Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, Sierra Leone, Liberia) but none of match the pervasive level of everyday violence and brutality that have come to characterize South Africa (in particular Johannesburg).

    You can go to a country like Ghana and never see anything but smiling friendly people.

  • The original poster is not dumb. He's making a valid point that they don't need the Internet before the need basic nessisities

    I don't think the point's all that valid.

    What most troubled sub-saharan African countries really need is a functioning economy. People who are working together to get rich are far less likely to hack each other to bits just because someone on the radio tells them to.

    An efficient economy depends very much on access to information (market prices, technical information, etc.) and on communication (widening the pool of buyers and sellers).

    Without this, they get to develop it the hard, tried-and-true way: Over 1000 or more years. Why not give them a leg up?

  • If there wasn't such a danger of getting killed just because I'm white and american, I would love to be involved for a while. Sigh.

    What on earth makes you think you're in danger of getting killed because you're white and/or American?

    Outside of Algeria, with its rebels' "death to foreigners" pledge, you'll be welcomed as an honored guest almost anywhere you go. Even in Algeria they seem to have more or less given that crap up.

    People recognize that you're not part of their local struggles, and in my experience throughout Africa most people want nothing more than a chance to explain their views on what's going on, throw in an exclaimed "America very good country!" or two, and hear some stories about what life is like elsewhere. You'll see more people wearing stars-and-stripes gear (T-shirts, baseball caps, stickers on bikes and cars, etc.) than in the USA on the 4th of July. I've hitchhiked across the continent and never experienced anything but overwhelming hospitality (and the occasional upset stomach; that's your real worry in Africa).

  • by Dolly_Llama ( 267016 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:31AM (#64656) Homepage
    What africa needs more than internet connection is clean water, stability of government, debt relief, and most of all: peace. This is sort of adding the frosting before baking the cake.
  • I think Paulo Cuelho (spelling?) wrote

    "A ship is safest in port, but that is not what it is for"

    We have to take chances. To be honest, we are hugely in debt (ethically) to the third world. Our lavish lifestyles are to an uncomfortably large extent built on the suffering of people in the poorest countries on earth.

    The comment about human rights is actually very funny, considering that the US government has been involved in supporting/funding/hiding some of the worst human rights abuses of this century (funny you should mention Indonesia, the blood of million people who died there after Suharto came to power is very much on US and British hands, not to mention East Timor which NOBODY would notice for years).

    If individuals can reach outside of government activity and help other people in the blackest poverty holes in the world, I say that they should be applauded by all ethical and free-thinking people. The only way everyone will have any chance of living a decent life is if people help people.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit preachy, but i feel strongly about these issues.

  • by MSBob ( 307239 )
    Man, in your comment you took the concept of "xenophobia" to an entirely different level. You really did. I sincerely hope you're just trolling and don't really believe in what you wrote because if you do I pity you and your primitive self centered existance.
  • by MSBob ( 307239 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:37AM (#64665)
    Africa has much more pressing needs than building the IT infrastructure (you have to have horses before you have cars, you know). From my viewpoint most african countries are too rough for all but the most hardened travellers to live in the long run and I know what I'm own about as I've set my foot on all continents except for Antarctica and worked in four different countries in the last ten years. South Africa which is the most advanced is way too dangerous to recommend as a place to live. And I'm talking South Africa here not Zanzibar or Sierra Leone.

    Personally I'd rather if African governments concentrated on building the foundations of law and democracy on their soil and eradicating the rampant corruption and crime that sweeps the continent. They need to address issues like fighting famine and building roads infrastructure before they can shift to building IT/telecoms. That's my opinion anyway.

  • Whatever useful help we can get in Africa, be it food, shelter, clothing, medicine, the Internet, or justice, whatever act of love that can be exercised in the interest of the less fortunate or the marginalized all over the world, will always be considered worthy and appreciated.
  • I guess what I was think of was a more specialized version to appeal more to techies. I can't see most techies wanting to deal with water systems and modern accounting and the like (although I'm sure there are some that will).
  • by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:31AM (#64671) Homepage
    I guess what is needed is a high-tech version of the Peace Corps; go do your one-year stint in Kenya helping them get their networks running. The bright side is that you'd be working completely with Open-source software, because they can't afford anything else.

    With this crowd getting politically active and motivated, and the job market shrinking, maybe this is the right time?

  • be nicer to have the starving suffering people fed first, but hey....
    Maybe we need to hook at least some of the governments, business and schools up to the global information network so that they can communicate well enough to feed the starving (meaning, hook the starving up with the opportunities they need to feed themselves). The world grows enough food to feed everyone, but enough is lost due to failure to store and transport it that people suffer. Information is a big part of fixing that particular problem.
  • And you're sending GEEKS?! Most geeks i know subsist on vending machines and chinese food; what do they know of nutrition?
  • by Chris_Hayes ( 469823 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @09:31AM (#64694)
    Lets say I was to go to Africa, put up with e-bola, aids, malaria, violence, insane governments, and rebel factions; what would they pay me. I mean, come on, it would have to be a pretty large number if they wanna lure geeks over there, can they afford it?

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.