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The Making of a Revolution

The Making of a Revolution

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Published by Will Mworia
A lot has been said about the sub-marine fiber cables becoming operational in a month or so in East Africa, and the expected boom to follow but is this all there is to it?
A lot has been said about the sub-marine fiber cables becoming operational in a month or so in East Africa, and the expected boom to follow but is this all there is to it?

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Published by: Will Mworia on Jun 02, 2009
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08/30/2010

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The Making of a Revolution
The success or failure of cheap, reliable, internet connectivity in (East) Africa
Mworia Wilfred Mutua
 6/1/2009
A lot has been said about the sub-marine fiber cables becoming operational in a month or so, and theexpected boom to follow but is this all there is to it?
 
A year or two ago I got to read a book that I think literally changed my world view and to some extentshaped my thought and perception. This book did not really impact me necessarily because of thespecific points raised by the author (though I definitely agreed and in some cases had some arguments
that did not necessarily completely agree with the author’s
point of view); but because of some of the
subtle ‘principles’ that I gleaned out of this book. And I think in a way one key pr
inciple I got issomething that I can dare prophesy over my country, Kenya and by extension a good part of Africa, atleast in terms of technology. T
he book is Thomas Friedman’s ‘
The World is Flat 
’.
 A lot has been said about the sub-marine fiber cables becoming operational in a month or so, and the
expected ‘internet boom’ to follow, hurray for cheap internet access! Personally, I have been taking all
these predictions and expectations with a pinch of salt. I think the fiber
will 
have an impact, but in itself,
will not really do that much to change Kenya/Africa’s technology landscape significantly. That’s a prettyinteresting statement. Everyone seems to think that the fiber will change Africa’s technology situation
seemingly overnight, all of a sudden, Kenya (Africa) will be connected! My question is,
and then what
?Perhaps I should state
where I’m coming from with this:
there
will 
be change, companies will experiencereduced costs of operations due to internet costs coming down, and we will definitely see a few call
centers and some outsourcing centers (hopefully) coming up. (Here’s the ‘but’) But, we
might 
not seewhat I would call
 fundamental or significant change
. I should state what I mean by this
 –
 fundamental/significant change is what happens when something happens that cannot be ignored, aphenomenon that deeply impacts lives and the livelihoods of people so much that people can almostnot live without making explicit reference to it. Let me illustrate with an example; the internet (or moreprecisely the World Wide Web) boom and bust in the US was a significant/fundamental change; in factthe internet (
revolution
) in itself, from a global perspective is a significant/fundamental change; goingfurther back in time, the PC
revolution
was a significant/fundamental change.
Why is this? Well, it’s simply because these phenomena have left an indelible mark in our lives
and 
ourlivelihoods. Proving this is very simple, have you ever had someone ask
something like ‘how did we ever
get by wi
thout Email (or Google or computers or…)’. In Africa, I think there has been one technological
phenomenon that has had this kind of fundamental/significant impact and that is mobile technology andmobile devices
 –
 
although I should also say that it’s not yet over, we’re just in the process of seeing even
more explosions in this area (but this article is not about that). Based on this argument of fundamental/significant change, I think, that a grave mistake is being made in the claim (which has
 
become a very famous claim), that the coming of sub-marine fiber connectivity and its benefits will
initself 
create such a fundamental/significant change (note where the emphasis is).
Now, here’s the thing, referring to the examples I gave to prove this whole fundament
al/significant
change ‘theory’ –
each of the examples I gave (the PC revolution, internet revolution, boom & bust) allseem to have something generally in common and that is that they can all be rightfully referred to in
some sense as ‘
revolutions
’. Revolu
tions, precisely because they had such impact that, years later, theireffect is still felt and can be seen literally everywhere; they were turning points; out of them came newways of thinking or doing things, even living!
 –
from the PC revolution, the notion that computers are
actually useful as ‘consumer’ goods and that they can be used in everyday life situations and not just in
the scientific community; from the internet revolution, the fact that connecting computers together canother than being a cool thing to do have very useful advantages and from the boom/bust that the
internet and WWW can be used as a place to make money, a ‘marketplace’. So we can
equate thissignificant/fundamental change theory to a revolution, a technological revolution. And this word
(‘revolution’) has been used verbatim by many in describing what they expect in the next few months as
SEACOM and other sub-marine fiber projects complete.So, here we are at last
 –
 
a revolution. But is it really so easy to create this, ‘revolution’? Is it as s
imple as just providing cheap, reliable, fast
internet? Well, I don’t think so. I think what we will have is not really a
revolution but a
 potential 
revolution at most. In fact, my greatest fear is that, we might hit the ceiling of what this fiber connectivity could mean really fast, and that ceiling may not even be that high! West
Africa has been connected for a while now, but I don’t think we’ve really seen a revolution or
fundamental/significant change there. Yet, India, has had fundamental/significant
 –
revolutionary
 –
 change! This is a quagmire.
And here is where I bring in what I learnt from Thomas Friedman’s book.
Friedman argues in his bookthat there is a
convergence
 
of factors (note the emphasis) that has made the world ‘flat’. He specifically
points out ten factors that according to him have made this happen.The key thing to note here is that it takes several things, developing
 –
in some cases totally separately -and at some point converging to create a revolution or, fundamental/significant change. This can be saidof all the examples given. Even the growth and explosion of mobile telephony in Africa can be attributedto this. This is why I believe that this whole fiber hype may be over-rated if not balanced out with anumber of other factors which are just as important. The fiber is a single component, it could be the

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