According to the report, Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa, diﬀusion of ICT is highly uneven in the African context, with use concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas almost untouched (Gillwald, Milek & Stork). As we have discussed in class, access to these technologies is limited by income, gender, and education. With knowledge of these constraints, I seek to explore the arrival of high-speed internet links in Kenya, which is best exemplified by the thriving mobile phone market to be found there. Although cell phones have become increasingly available, Kenyans face a problem that we are unaccustomed to considering in the United States; access to a power source.
Pascal Katana was well-aware that electricity sockets are hard to find in Kenya. He also knew that bikes are everywhere, which has lead to an ingenious Kenyan solution for charging mobile phones. I highly encourage all of you to watch this short video. Katana has created a method of charging mobile phones using the energy generated by bicycles!
It is important to remember that the ICT4D movement provides an incentive for creativity, invention, and resourcefulness. This is an example of a tread in innovation with the potential to narrow the user divide, especially in terms of rural versus urban use.
Ken Banks of BBC offers insights in his article, Mobiles offer lifelines in Africa
“If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 16 years working on-and-off in Africa, it’s this. Africans are not the passive recipients of technology many people seem to think they are. Indeed, some of the more exciting and innovative mobile services around today have emerged as a result of ingenious indigenous use of the technology” (Banks 2009)
Some examples of this innovation cited in Bank’s article. Definitely worth exploring:
- Service called “Call Me:” customers can send a fixed number of free messages per day when they’re out of credit requesting someone to call them (this came about after the practice of calling someone’s phone and hanging up to indicate that they wanted to talk).
- Now, in a growing number of African countries payments for goods and services can be made through your mobile phone
- Pascal Katana (recent inventor of the bicycle charger!) invented a “Fish Detector” which is able to “acoustically detect shawls of fish and alert nearby fishermen by SMS”.
- Morris Mbetsa invented “Block & Track” mobile phone-based anti-theft and vehicle tracking system.
I wonder however, how this ingenuity applies to the gender ICT gap. Kenya is cited in Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa, as having a mobile phone ownership disparity that I see as being relatively large. Surveys show that 58% of men own mobile phones, while only 49% of females have ownership (Table 6, pg. 12).
I had the opportunity to travel throughout Kenya this summer. Even in rural Maasai villages, I saw cell phone use by the dominant males. However, it was not the cultural norm for women to even speak in such villages. They certainly did not have cell phones. In urban settings, such as outside of Nairobi, men and women had phones. But I did notice many more men using them than females. I feel it is also worthy to note that I never saw women on bicycles. I find myself wondering, will Katana’s invention add to the gender disparity?