• More ICT4D Please!

    This is a response to a blog post published last week by Eric Hersman, also known as the @WhiteAfrican - The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”.

    I have been involved in a range of ICT4D issues in South Africa and beyond over the course of the 11 years I have worked for SANGONeT. Last week we hosted the 7th annual SANGONeT “ICT for Civil Society” conference in Johannesburg which focused on ICTs for rural development (ICT4RD) in Africa under the theme “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”. It is these experiences that compel me to comment on the mentioned article and respond to some of the issues Hersman raises.

    Hersman begins his article with the statement:

    “I have cognitive dissonance over the term “ICT4D“. The term “ICT4D” is confusing, hypocritical and has a whiff of condescension that makes me cringe. As I understand it, it’s what NGO’s do in places like Africa and Asia, but if the same things are done in poor communities in the US or Europe, it’s not called ICT4D, it’s called civil society innovation or a disruptive product.”

    It is not so much what (the ICT4D issue) Hersman raises in the article - although the relevance, success and impact of ICT4D initiatives in Africa should be assessed in a critical manner - but rather, how and from which position he raises these issues.

    Confronting and responding to Africa's development challenges, and technology’s role within this, is a complex and definitely not light hearted issue. Raising these issues for the sake of “testing the waters” or getting people worked up does not make sense to me. Especially if you as the author of the article is a perfect example of what ICT4D in Africa represents - coming up with great ideas which attract funding support and ultimately result in opportunities to contribute to meaningful and longterm development - or - just opportunities to “do things in the name of development” without fully understanding the issues to be addressed of the longterm commitment required to ensure meaningful impact.

    For someone who has been very prominent in the African ICT4D space, Eric Hersman’s role and contribution definitely fit into the former and not latter scenario.

    Development is also not simply a term “owned” by international agencies and other stakeholders to motivate and justify their presence in and support to Africa – it refers to improvement, empowerment, progress, innovation, etc. It is about moving to something better and more meaningful than what the current situation represents.

    From an “international development perspective”, it is no longer what you can do for Africa but rather what you can do with Africa in support of the needs and aspirations articulated by Africans. Any different perspective on the role of international development support is problematic, to say the least.

    Technology has an important role to play in the future development and prosperity of the continent. It contributes to economic growth and innovation on the one side, and supports efforts that address Africa’s historical development challenges on the other.

    These two issues represent different sides to the same coin – but often require very different approaches, and different roleplayers, to achieve the desirable objectives.

    Whatever you prefer to call technology is irrelevant - IT / ICT / ICT4D / ICT4RD / M4D/ Tech4Dev, etc. What really matters is the intent, the objectives and the motivation for using it.

    But, technology for technology’s stake is downright stupid.

    Too many technology for development projects and interventions fail because of the emphasis on the technology without understanding the development issue/s and/or what it would take to ensure the implementation of the technology will ultimately achieve success and impact. Too many technology competitions, awards and challenges place too much focus on the development of “more new tools” rather on what has been achieved.

    Hersman also asks the following question:

    “If an ICT4D-type project is done in a poor part of America, is it still considered ICT4D?”

    In my opinion the answer is – no! Why? Because if a First World country - with all the necessary technology and resources at its disposal - wastes its resources on meaningless external political objectives, while allowing a morally bankrupt financial system to cripple its economy, and as a result of all of this, neglects the needs of its own people, then you can’t compare it to the historical situation and development challenges which characterise many African countries.

    Africa has also wasted many opportunities over the past few decades to improve its socio-economic situation. There is no excuse for this and sadly, future generations will continue to suffer from this. However, this does not mean that the international community should turn their backs on Africa or use it as an excuse to disengage from the continent. It should also not be a reason to think about Africa as a great place to go test and showcase technology not relevant to the needs of the continent or to make a quick buck out of the misery of others. There is no place for these practices anywhere and they definitely have nothing to contribute to either the development or ICT4D objectives of the continent.

    We need home-grown technology innovation to stimulate and drive economic growth which will impact the African economy at large. This will result in competitive and sustainable businesses, profits, job creation, etc.

    We also need home-grown technology innovation to support efforts aimed at addressing social development challenges such as health, education, etc. facing the continent – so called ICT4D interventions and applications.

    But while technology is the common factor, the enabling environment, support structures and related issues in dealing with these two imperatives are very different.

    In recent years, a number of African countries, particularly Kenya, South Africa and others, have developed a reputation for technology innovation and success - both in terms of big mainstream businesses (e.g. MTN, etc.) as well as small, dynamic, technology start-ups. Often the latter initiatives evolve without any special government, investment or regulatory support.

    However, big IT business and small start-ups alone will not ensure that all Africans benefit from the potential contribution and impact of technology. Other interventions are also required.

    Governments, international development agencies, the private sector and other stakeholders continue to commit millions of dollars to technology for development – so called ICT4D – projects in Africa. Many international conferences (e.g. annual SANGONeT conference), reports, publications, panels of experts, etc. also continue to focus on ICT4D issues.

    Are all these efforts a total waste of money? Why would Eric Hersman be cynical about these efforts or what they are collectively referred to if his own claim to fame – Ushahidi, etc – is build, maintained, celebrated, supported and rolled-out all over the world with funding from various key international institutions.

    I call this hypocritical.

    Hersman should know better than to articulate these sentiments in a way that sounds condescending and patronising, especially while he presents himself as the "White African" committed to helping Africa through the power of technology innovation.

    It is true that the impact of many ICT4D initiatives is sometimes difficult to determine and their scale and scope often are too limited to have meaningful impact. However, questioning their overall intent is hugely problematic! What needs to be questioned is their focus, objectives and ultimately, impact. Africa’s development challenges remain significant, and will take many more generations to address. If technology is one of the vehicles to achieve this objective, then more should be done to nurture and expand its contribution and impact – by both local and international stakeholders.

    The fact that the majority of people on the African continent today have access to a mobile phone unfortunately does not represent development and empowerment. It is a remarkable achievement, but more needs to be done for the full potential of ICTs to impact the lives of all Africans.

    As highlighted in the draft National Development Plan released by South Africa’s National Planning Commission (NPC) last week, “Despite the uptake of mobile phones, growth in SA's ICT sector has not brought affordable, universal access to a full range of communications services.”

    That is the real challenge.

    Finally, there are now a billion people living on the African continent. Their future is closely intertwined. The success and failure of some will have a direct bearing on others. We all need to do more in ensuring a better life for all on this continent.

    Many Africans go the extra mile every day in responding to the challenges facing us. They don't do it to win awards or be famous, but just to make a difference in the lives of others.

    There is also more than one real “White African” serious about making a contribution to the future of this continent.

  • Southern African Internet Governance Forum - Call for Expression of Interest

    The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency) and Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT) will convene a Southern African Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF) from 1-3 September 2011 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established in 2006 as a direct result of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Phase II, held from 16-18 November 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia. The World Summit recognised the importance and benefits of “enhanced cooperation” in harnessing the powers of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for socio-economic development at all levels - global, regional, national and local. 

    The mandate of the IGF is not to be a decision-making body, but to offer a valuable space for dialogue for all those who have an important role and responsibility in the development of the Information Society to discuss Internet governance issues, and allows participants to share practical experiences from different perspectives. It is a multi-stakeholder mechanism which includes Governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, academics, the technical community, and others with a view to encouraging policy dialogue.

    The original mandate of the IGF was from 2006-2010 during which five IGFs were held in various countries. A renewed mandate has been provided for 2011-2015, and from 27-30 September 2011 Kenya will host the sixth IGF and first under the new mandate.

    The aims of the SAIGF is to ensure that the views and voices of Southern Africa are represented at the 2011 IGF and to contribute to the establishment of a coordinated and coherent framework for dealing with Internet governance issues in Southern Africa. The SAIGF will identify, deliberate upon, and collate issues relating to the Internet, its governance and development in Southern Africa, and document suggested interventions for addressing such issues.

    If you are interested in attending the SAIGF, please complete the “Expression of Interest”.

    Participation is free of charge, but will be limited to 120 delegates.

    Limited funding for travel is available to support the participation of delegates, but preference will be given to those who can demonstrate commitment by meeting some of the cost.

    The deadline for submissions of "Expression of Interest" is Friday, 5 August 2011.

  • There's Not an App for That

    The United Nations' agency for ICTs, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), marks today, 17 May, as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day is to “help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide”. This year the theme of the day is “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”.

    It is a vital - if optimistic - theme. Over three quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas. They lack economic opportunities, have difficulty accessing basic services, have a limited voice in governance and remain extremely vulnerable to shocks. In Sub-Saharan Africa they account for 67% of the total population and rural poverty in this region is deepening. Rural areas in South Africa share similar characteristics. (IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2011)

    But the extent to which information communication technologies (ICTs) have the ability to improve the lives of the rural poor is debatable. There is no doubt that the use of ICTs among poor people is growing rapidly. Coverage reaches further than roads, electricity, sanitation and clean water. ICTs - and in particular mobile technology - provide access to information and communication, complement successful development initiatives, drive innovation, and empower communities and individuals to co-create new solutions.

    On the other side, however, is an understandable reaction to the inevitable hype.  Competitions and challenges have created a slightly unrealistic environment - at once hypercompetitive and unsustainable - perhaps a case of the ICT4D sector mirroring the commercial tech bubble?

    The slightly snarky – but usefully cynical - talks amusingly of recycled presentations – tweaked slightly from pitches to VCs to Apps4Dev competitions to grant applications. This - and the more constructive's methodology (undefensively talking through ICT4D failures) suggests that it is difficult to actually understand the difference between a great plausible idea, and something that actually works.

    Maybe. But there are some exciting and effective ICT4D projects. And it is not atypical of deeply innovative phases for there to be a flurry of projects, prototypes, pilots – and the non-profit equivalent of exuberant venture capital – inflows of grants to the field of ICT4D. And maybe it takes a crowded podium/appstore/innovation lab, etc. to separate (and the agricultural analogy is deliberate) the wheat from the chaff.  And perhaps one of the most exciting aspects is that much of the hype - the events, the formation of app labs, techno-hubs, living labs and the solutions themselves - is happening in the countries and regions most affected by rural poverty. In India, here in South Africa, and even more so just up the road in Nairobi where “technology” and “technology for development” don't sound like completely different fields.

    And sometimes the hype is really just a question over-promising. The pragmatic assistance of existing workflows while saving money and improving efficiencies -maybe not by an order of magnitude, but incrementally. Surveys, field logistics, event and training management, appointment reminders, crowd-sourced mapping are all achievable, useful and scalable – in the context of existing well-designed programmes. A dose of humility is useful: deploying an app that tracks and maps treadle pump sales and installations is cool (Forms! GPS! Photos!) and ensures useful information to the NGO supplying them. But it is not the app that is irrigating previously rain-fed fields...

    Larger-scale successful uses of ICTs in rural development include improved access to markets, financial services and employment; increased access to education and healthcare; improvement in emergency and disaster relief; and improvement in transparency and public participation through the use of mobile phones in citizen journalism.

    Ciara Aucoin has put together a great list of some of the interesting “Human Development” Apps.

    And it is easy to throw around the names of projects and products that have made the field seem so exciting and full of potential - m-Pesa, Ushahidi, e-seva, eSoko - or the nascent projects just starting to bubble to visibility like

    But how can we try and measure the value and impact of these tools in support of rural development, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa?

    So, as we celebrate WTISD today, with the emphasis on “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”, SANGONeT is pleased to announce that its 7th annual conference will focus on Information Communication Technologies for Rural Development (ICT4RD) with a theme titled, “Rural Realities, Real Solutions.”

    The conference will be held from the 1-3 November 2011 at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Amongst other things, the conference agenda will include a critical review of three keywords that are constantly thrown around in conference presentations and grant applications - scale, sustainability and replication. What is the status of existing ICT4RD projects? Why are so many ICT4D/ICT4RD projects stuck in pilots? What are the secrets of those projects and products that have broken free and are successfully scaling and replicating? Is there a “development innovation curve where we can map successful methods and projects?

    The conference will bring together more than 250 key innovators, implementers, social entrepreneurs and thinkers from across the developing world to explore how ICT innovations can benefit rural populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. It will assess the current state of ICT4RD projects, products and policies; create an environment for matchmaking and deep knowledge-sharing; and contribute to the successful use of ICTs in response to the realities of rural development.

    The real success requirements of many ICT4RD projects depend less on great software development and more on good research, effective local capacity, influence, great networks and relationships - the types of things a good NGO does well and has done well through many developmental, technological and methodological phases.

    And there's not an app for that.

    Click here for more information about the 2011 SANGONeT Conference or assist us in shaping the conference agenda by sharing your views and comments on Facebook, on Twitter, or by replying to

    Matthew de Gale manages SANGONeT’s “Mobile Services for African Agriculture” programme.

    David Barnard is the Executive Director of SANGONeT.
    Matthew de Gale
    Matthew de Gale
    David Barnard
  • WSIS Forum 2011 unites governments with grassroots to re-energize the development agenda

    World leaders are gathering in Geneva this week to work on strategies to more effectively harness the power and reach of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in crucial areas like health and education.

    Co-organized by ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD and UNDP, the World Summit on the Information Society (16-20 May) is the world’s largest annual gathering of the world’s ‘ICT for development’ community, including UN agencies, governments, civil society and ICT industry representatives.

    Guest speakers at this morning’s opening ceremony included Ministers and deputies from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burundi, El Salvador, Finland, Gambia, Ghana, India, Mexico, Montenegro, Oman, Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, Serbia, and the United Arab Emirates.

    Delegates also heard interventions from ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Touré; Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD; Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO; Janis Karklins, Deputy-Director of UNESCO; Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, Director-General, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates; John Davis, Vice-President, Intel Corporation and General Manager of Intel’s World Ahead Program, and Cyril Ritchie, President of the Conference on NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CoNGO).

    This year’s WSIS Forum also welcomes more than 70 Members of Parliament and many other senior government figures. Over 1,000 representatives from around 140 countries are expected to attend the week-long event.

    In his opening address, Dr Touré stressed the importance of broadband to national economic and social development. “I think we are all very much aware of how close we are to the 2015 deadline for meeting the WSIS targets and the Millennium Development Goals. We have made quite extraordinary progress in terms of connectivity, the creation of an enabling environment, and cybersecurity. The next major step must be to repeat the ‘mobile miracle’ for broadband Internet,” he said.

    The Forum will also serve as the venue for the UN Group on the Information Society’s first meeting of the open consultation process on the overall review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes. Stakeholders will jointly brainstorm on the action plan for the Review Process (WSIS+10), to be held 10 years after the conclusion of the Summit, as recommended in the Tunis Agenda.

    In addition to reviewing progress towards the WSIS targets set for 2015, this year’s WSIS Forum will foster interactive debate and information exchange on a wide range of key topics such as rural development, multilingualism, environmental sustainability, education, healthcare and innovation.

    The opening ceremony was followed by a High Level session, Working Together Towards 2015. Ongoing High-level Dialogues throughout the course of the week include:
    • Right to Communication
    • Innovation for Digital Inclusion
    • ICTs to Enable Least Developed Countries
    • Building Confidence and Security in Cyberspace
    Alongside an exhibition component, the Forum offers participants a diverse range of meetings and activities, including Interactive WSIS Action Line Facilitators Meetings, Interactive Sessions, Country and Thematic Workshops and Knowledge Exchanges. Afternoon sessions each day will also feature the release of a number of new publications and briefings from participating organizations. The Forum programme also includes the Parliamentary Forum as well as meetings of the Internet Governance Forum.

    The WSIS agenda is the result of a comprehensive open consultation process involving all stakeholders. Spanning three phases, this year’s process welcomed 150 contributions from 50 countries.

    Remote participation is an integral component of the WSIS Forum 2011. Each session can be viewed remotely at:

    This year’s WSIS Forum 2011 programme has been greatly enhanced thanks to the strategic partnership and contribution of the United Arab Emirates. The Forum has also benefited from contributions of Oman for the series of workshops, and Mexico for Spanish interpretation.

    Videos, photos, live and archived webcasts, and transcripts of speeches can be found at the event Newsroom at , or on the main event website at Follow the event on Twitter at #WSIS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Sarah Parkes
    Chief, Media Relations & Public Information
    Tel: +41 22 730 6135
    Mobile: +41 79 599 1439

    Jaroslaw K. Ponder
    Strategy & Policy Advisor,
    Tel: +41 22 730 6065

    To view other NGO press releases, refer to

    Date published: 
    International Telecommunication Union
  • Microsoft "ICTs for NGOs" Day - Durban

    Microsoft and SANGONeT will be hosting a one-day "ICTs for NGOs" event on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 (09h00-13h00), at the Diakonia Centre in Durban.

    Participants will have the opportunity to highlight and discuss the ICT challenges and opportunities facing NGOs, and learn about new ICT applications and solutions available from Micorosoft.

    As part of the programme, SANGONeT will highlight new technology offerings available to NGOs through SANGOTeCH.

    Refer to the programme for the event listed below.

    Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn how ICTs can be used more strategically in your NGO.

    Participation is free of charge.

    To register and confirm your participation, please forward your name, designation, organisation and e-mail address to Botswang Kgeledi at SANGONeT on Tel: 011 403 4935 or by Monday, 9 May 2011.





    08:30 - 09:00

    Registration and Networking


    09:00 - 09:10

    Welcome and Introduction

    David Barnard, SANGONeT

    09:10 - 09:30

    Overview of Citizenship and the Importance of NGOs and Public Institutions

     Themba Mdlalose, Microsoft

    09:30 - 09:45

    SANGOTeCH - Providing NGOs with Technology

    Botswang Kgeledi, SANGONeT

    09:45 - 10:10

    Use of Mobile Technology for Social Change

     Andi Friedman, Mobile Researcher

    10:10 - 10:30

    Cloud Computing


    10:30 - 11:00

    Serenic End-toEnd NGO Solution

     Grant van der Westhuizen, Serenic

    11:00 - 11:20

    ICT4D Case Study 

     Mymie Vos, NBI

    11:20 - 12:00

    ICTs and NGOs - What are rhe Challenges and Opportunities Going Forward


    12:00 - 12:15


    Evaluation and Closure


    David Barnard, SANGONeT & Themba Mdlalose, Microsoft

    12:15 - 13:00

    Lunch and Networking


    Event start date: 
    Event end date: 
    Event venue: 
    Diakonia Centre, 20 Diakonia Avenue, Durban
    Event type: 
  • Mobile Growth Key Driver in Africa – Jotischky

    The Informa Telecoms & Media says that connecting rural areas and proving information communication technology (ICT) access is set to be the future of the industry.

    Informa Telecoms & Media, Nick Jotischky, who is of the view that globally mobile subscribers will continue to fall, points out that, "In Africa the trend is going to be much the same in the sense that subscriber growth will falter but I think expansion into rural areas can and will boost growth and even cause acceleration."

    Speaking at the Africa Com 2010 conference, a two-day gathering of the telecom industry focused on Africa, Jotischky stated that under-served rural areas present growth opportunity for operators.

    To read the article titled, “Mobile growth a 'key driver' in Africa,” click here.
  • ICASA Urged to Support Mobile Broadband Services

    Industry lobby group Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) has called on the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to support mobile broadband services in South Africa by making key decisions on mobile spectrum allocation and taxation policy.

    According to a report by analyst firm Analysys Mason, which was commissioned by the GSMA, spectrum allocation and the levying of additional taxes on mobile services are the major barriers to wider mobile broadband deployment and the launch of Long-Term Evolution, the next generation broadband technology in the country.

    The report forecasts that mobile broadband and related industries will generate 1.8 percent of South Africa's gross domestic product and as many as 28 000 jobs by 2015. However, the report says this can only be possible if roadblocks to mobile broadband deployment are removed.

    To read the article titled, “Broadband: Urgent intervention needed,” click here.
  • EASSy Cable Open for Business

    The days of limited and expensive international bandwidth in South Africa are over as the EASSy cable became the second submarine cable to launch on the East coast of Africa.

    MTN's Trevor Martin's, who also serves as the EASSy consortium's chairperson, has announced that the cable has come in ahead of schedule and almost 10 percent under its US$300 million budget.

    The 10 000 kilometre cable lands in South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comores, Tanzania, Kenya, Somaliland, Djibouti and Sudan and connects with multiple Asian and European cables in Djibouti and Sudan.

    To read the article titled, “EASSy cable open for business,” click here.
  • Mobile Internet on the Increase in SA - WWW

    World Wide Worx (WWW) has released a report stating that the use of mobile Internet services has exploded in South Africa, although less than half of urban cellphone users who have Internet-capable phones use the Internet.

    The study, ‘Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010’, was conducted face-to-face among urban cellphone users aged 16 and older, representing 16-million South Africans, by World Wide Worx with the backing of the First National Bank.

    The study found that while 28 percent of the urban cellular market is using mobile instant messaging (IM), as many as 65 percent have the capacity on their phones, meaning that only 4.5 million out of 10.5-million potential mobile IM users actually use it.

    To read the article titled, “Mobile Internet booms in South Africa,” click here.
    Mail and Guardian
    Article link: 
  • Free WiFi for Capetonians

    A unique collaboration between Cape Town Partnership and Skyrove will see Capetonians enjoying free wireless Internet at South Africa’s oldest public space, Greenmarket Square.

    Through this partnership, the locals will now have access to 10MB's of free Internet daily.

    The free wireless Internet will be a welcome addition to Greenmarket Square's newly developed residential community, their revamped retail area and their outdoor marketplace.

    To read the article titled, “Free WiFi for Capetonians,” click here.

    IOL Technology
    Article link: 
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