8 August 2013

Zambia: Kilwa's Technology Deficiencies

Imagine being in a place where you are required to walk seven kilometres to make a simple phone call.

Not only do you have to walk that long, you also have to climb a mountain to make that precious call to your loved ones and family. You have to get to the mountain top to communicate, and even then the network keeps breaking and the caller has to shout out loud for them to be heard.

You are in trouble if you have an urgent message, worse still if it is during the night.

Well, that is what Kilwa Island is all about.

It is a place of nightmares.

While the rest of the world 'is rapidly moving towards major parallel developments: global migration and the flow of symbolic forms and digital interactive media, which are having profound consequences for our transnational world life seems to be slow in Kilwa.

New developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the internet and mobile phones combined with a collapse in the cost of international communication are together transforming the experience of migration with implications for family life, sociality and intimacy, identity and political involvement.

Without doubt, ICTs have become part of the key factors driving social and economic advancement. They have not only altered the way people live, work, communicate and entertain themselves but also created a new infrastructure for business, scientific advancement and social interaction.

But at Kilwa there is no digital boom. Sunrise and sunset, life is just the same.

It is like living some 50 years behind. People get by any way possible, while the planet keeps spinning with all sorts of technology changes.

Kilwa Island is on the western border of Nchelenge with the Democratic Republic of Congo on Lake Mweru.

It is about 53km from the mainland on the Zambian side and it takes approximately 40 - 50 minutes to cruise from the mainland to the island in a speed-boat.

On this island are natural caves which were used by Arabs as shelter during their slave trade errands.

The caves are situated on the western part of the island.

Television and radio transmissions are yet another nightmare.

Those who can afford a radio take time to listen to Radio Luapula, a community radio station based in Nchelenge mainland.

Radio Luapula, however is not reliable. It is often off air due to among other things regular power outages and low voltage that haunt Nchelenge. In this case, islanders listen to Congolese radio stations like Kashobwe, Mulenga and Mpweto that broadcast in Lingala and French.

Communication on the island is a nightmare. Word of mouth or using the Congolese mobile service works a lot faster.

In terms of mobile service, only available networks are Vodacom and Celtel all which are Congolese.

However, one can receive calls from mainland Zambia, but cannot call back. The trouble is; mobile service providers are not obligated to mount masts there.

If one wants to call mainland Zambia, they have to walk some 7km to an area where the network is available in bits and pieces.

"We feel as if we live in Congo. We need urgent development in every area," says Joyce Kalobwe, a headwoman at Lukwesa village on the Island.

She is concerned with the future of Island's young generation saying there will be huge gap in history due to lack of exposure.

Whenever there is some breaking news or a big event happens in mainland Zambia, Kilwa islanders do not get to hear about it promptly.

There is no single computers on the island, pupils have no slight idea on to how to use a computer. You cannot blame them.

"I want to be a police officer when I finish school. I want to live a better life," says 20 year John Chibwe, who is a grade 10 pupil at Lukwesa Basic School, which has 800 pupils.

He has no idea of how to use a computer and the situation is the same with his fellow pupils.

"We feel left out here. There is no development and future is uncertain here," he says.

Kilwa Ward councilor Godfrey Monte says there is no communication on the island and this is one of the many problems which the island faces.

"People here (Kilwa) don't know anything about computers. There is no single computer in school," he said.

While mainland Zambia is acquainted with ICTs, the situation at Kilwa is critical.

There are only eight people with television sets living on a 26 square kilometre island with some 18,000 people. Those television sets are powered up with solar panels as there is no electricity.

Access to electronic information requires a well-developed information infrastructure currently lacking in the developing countries. To compound the problem, prospects of achieving lifelong learning is increasingly dependent on access to information held across electronic networks.

To many in developing countries, universal access to ICT-based information, as a social justice, is a feasible remedy to society's lifelong learning challenges

However, it is in every human being to desire a life much better than now. The "how" part is often a challenge.

From their eyes, youths of Kilwa wish for a better life. Whenever they come across strangers visiting, they become very inquisitive, sometimes even asking for a phone number.

While, Zambia has in the last ten years, as Information Minister, Kennedy Sakeni once put it seen an expansion in the use of ICTs, which has enabled free flow of information in the country, this is not the case with Kilwa which is on the country side.

It is true, that people living in far flung areas, despite the geographical location in Zambia, are accessing the ICTs devices such as the mobile phones and the internet through which they can exchange information and ideas.

However, Kilwa is one of those areas without any access to such technology.

There is need for government to do more to ensure that the majority of its citizenry accesses the ICT facility for enhanced development.

So far, Government has already done more than 4, 000 kilometres of fiber optic connections in the country. Out of the target of 10, 000 kilometres, Government has managed to connect the fiber optic to all the 10 provincial centres in the country.

"Zambia is a very vast country and our populations is scattered and we cannot roll out a thousand kilometers within a short time," he said.

There is no doubt, ICTs play a major role in promoting education and are an appropriate solution to achieving the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2015 in reducing poverty, increasing access to health and education and also ensuring environmental sustainability and the promotion of gender equality.

Panos Zambia Media Development and Information Communication Technology (ICTs) programme manager Mthoniswa Banda described Kilwa Island as a very good example of a community that has been left behind in terms of infrastructure development but they can greatly catch up using ICTs.

"The fact that they have no access to TV sets and do not know how to use computers means that the people of Kilwa need to graduate to data enabled mobile phones," he says.

He says the people of Kilwa need to be trained in basic ICTs so that they are able to understand the potential of the internet and technology.

"For professionals such as Teachers and doctors, using of data-enabled phones allows them to consult their colleagues in the City about the latest information and they can be helped in diagonising cases," he says.

For people of Kilwa, it is complicated.

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