The 21st century ushers in a new phase of social and economic development based on a “knowledge economy” in which access to knowledge can be proportionately equated to access to ICTs which are the modern means of information communication and acquisition. However, as ICTS rapidly advance, the gap between the “information-haves” and the “information have-nots” continues to widen. This “digital divide” will continue to widen unless urgent measures are put in place to address gaps in ICT infrastructure development particularly in the rural areas.
Many International initiatives have been established to harness ICTs for development on a global scale. These include: the Global Knowledge Partnership (1997); the Digital Opportunities Task Force or DOT-Force (2000); the United Nations (UN) ICT Task Force (2001) and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The WSIS brought together governments, civil society and the business sector to discuss a broad range of subjects related to ICTs for development. Participating governments agreed on a set of commitments and actions to foster the establishment of an inclusive information society including connecting villages with ICTs and establishing community access points by 2015 in line with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets.
The spread of the mobile phone network especially the third generation (3G) has added more services that would have been difficult to realize using the fixed telephone line. With three submarine cables and an estimated 50 million mobile telephone subscribers, East Africa is one of the most strategically placed regions in the ICT economy. However, this can be achieved if there are joint efforts between the public and private sector to tap into this potential by developing skills and infrastructure to support voice and data access in rural areas.
ALIN’s started its activities in information exchange to arid lands communities in 1988 with the first issue of Baobab magazine. The name, Baobab was inspired by the tree’s resilience and universal presence in the arid lands of Africa. The magazine has since then featured practical and usable information on development practices with a focus on agriculture and environmental matters. Since then about 60 issues have reached an estimated 2.5 Million development workers in Africa.
By 1999, ALIN realised the need to integrate technology in its knowledge management activities and partnered with World Space Corporation in the use of satellite radio receivers to deliver both voice and data access in areas with no internet connectivity. Thereafter, ALIN successfully piloted the Open Knowledge Network (OKN), a system linking together grassroots information and knowledge-sharing initiatives to promote both the creation and the exchange of local content supported by a range of ICTs.
Based on the above experience, ALIN wishes to strategically focus its efforts to improve the livelihoods of arid lands communities in East Africa through delivery of practical information using modern technologies with emphasis on agricultural practices and climate change adaptation. This will revolve around community-based Maarifa (Knowledge) centres. The Maarifas will be the local hubs that will promote universal access to ICT opportunities, local content creation and exchange, e-services and Business Process Outsourcing. In doing this ALIN hopes to reach at least 15 Million people through a network of 150 Maarifa centres. During this process an effort will be made to overcome barriers faced by the women and youth in access to information, knowledge and ICTs opportunities. To ensure continuity, ALIN will work with the private and public sectors to develop models that support sustainability of the ICTs resources to ensure that inclusive information society is attained.