Improving Access to Information in Africa

In a recent article in The Guardian, author Loren Treisman details the struggle to bring access to information to those who are offline or illiterate, and the role that NGOs are playing in fixing this problem. With cell phone usage at nearly 72%, one may be led to believe that the digital divide is not all that great in Africa. However, this statistic tells only part of the story. A mere 18% of mobile phones in Africa are smartphones, and those who use smartphones are concentrated in regional enclaves. Even those with access to cell phones and the internet may struggle to take full advantage of the technology, as the lingua franca of these platforms is typically English.

However, Treisman mentions several organizations that are taking an inventive approach to working with local communities to solve these issues. Many of these groups operate by combining both low and high-tech approaches to assist citizens. In Liberia, iLab Liberia is working to transfer key information found online to murals and information boards throughout busy intersections in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. These chalkboards are written using photos, illustrations and diagrams in addition to text in order to help those who may be illiterate gain information vital government services.

iLab Liberia, in addition to the other organizations that Treisman mentions in his article, provides a key service to individuals who are outside of the digital world. It is easy to forgot that using technology is not all that simple, and that even when one has access to the technology using it properly can be difficult. Organizations that work to bring online information to individuals outside the digital world by using platforms that may be more palatable offer an interesting take on how to shrink the digital divide. Perhaps we will see an increase in such organizations as their success stories are shared throughout the development community.

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3 responses to “Improving Access to Information in Africa

  • cmahoney2014

    I thought these organizations were really interesting. I think that it is important to try and give everyone access to the online world, but this takes time. I thought that it was great that organizations were making murals depicting important information found online, and the fact that they use pictures makes it so even the illiterate can understand. Now people who don’t have direct access to the Internet, can still benefit from the information being found on it.

  • areed2014

    As we explored in class, the digital divide can be caused by many factors, including age, income and socioeconomic status, and education. What intrigues me about information access regarding technology is that the trajectory is to now bring information out of the digital realm, a process that seems a bit reversed from the past few decades. As well, cultivating equity to information access is a theme that pervades not only the developing world but also the developed. Especially if we consider the digital divide in terms of age and functional literacy, problems of information access are extremely limiting and marginalizing to people worldwide. That being said, I am curious to see if bring more information access can actually be a stepping stone to bridging the digital divide.

  • briannasteinmetz

    This is a very interesting article as sometimes I think people focus too heavily on certain statistics, such as the number of phones per 100 people or their access to infrastructure. It is easy to forget that even if there is access to these technologies, people might not have the skills to use them, making these statistics unreliable. I have never heard of organizations trying to disperse the information gained through the use of technology to others who cannot use the technology. I think this is a brilliant idea and I think organizations such as these are needed in order to shrink the digital divide and limit the negative impacts technology may have on developing nations.

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