New and old technologies, from mobile phones and computers to radios and lighting, are all connected by an essential common thread: they require power. ICTs might have the ability to improve networks, reduce poverty, or empower women, however, without an energy source the use-value of these technologies are rendered ineffective and irrelevant. Importantly, access to a power supply can be an extreme factor within the digital divide, and more specifically, rural residents often face the burden of this divide. The combination of my five-month experience in Ghana and this week’s ICT4D class has allowed me to raise a few important questions: what do you do when you can’t just “plug it in”? Further, how does ICT become relevant when power and electricity in and of itself is needed?
According to an article written by experts at Linkoping University and the University of Nairobi, the biggest barrier across Africa to ICT is power and electricity. Importantly, they explain that what will improve the livelihoods of many residents, particularly those in slums and rural areas, is not a new piece of technology, but access to energy. This finding echoes a publication from Rural21, the International Journal for Rural Development, titled Without Energy no ICT!. As exposed by Rural21, technologies cannot be useful to the daily lives of people if power and electricity are unavailable. I bring these articles up in conjunction with each other because it is imperative to listen to these needs in the development arena if ICT is ever going to be a realized factor in the lives of these marginalized communities.
Even more, as Rural21 pointed out, inventive and renewable energies might be the power solution that makes developing countries capable of utilizing ICT. Instead of expanding the power grid, why not harvest wind from the “windy coastline” or build new businesses from new environmentally-friendly battery sources (as seen in case-study of Zambia pay phones)? Ultimately, I want to emphasis the need for the ICT4D community to step back and see the real needs of people before simply implanting a flashy technology. While we can always find a power supply for our phones and computers, not everyone can. Therefore, let’s find the energy to power development, for this first step has the potential to empower more people in the long-term.