Kenya Builds Digital Villages And Lays the Foundation for a Brighter Future

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May 04, 2010

May 2010 Issue

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Mundeku Village in western Kenya has all the hallmarks of a rural setting: narrow foot paths, unpaved roads, grass-thatched huts and houses, and acres upon acres of farmland. But that is where its remoteness ends. Thanks to the new digital center in the village, the local schoolchildren are able to learn new skills and get to interact with other students in other parts of the world via the internet. The teaching community in the village is also enlightened as they are able to learn of developments many miles away, while the farmers in the area can learn from what farmers in other parts of the world are doing to make their farms more productive.

The Mundeku Digital Village is the brainchild of Gibson Shiraku. "With this facility, the children of this area will become skilled in ICT [information and communication technology] and will not have to travel to Nairobi or other towns and cities to acquire such skills," says Shiraku.

All across Kenya and in the rural parts of Africa, where the majority of the population resides, digital villages such as this one spell a new dawn for people by opening up a whole new world that is rich in formation and faster communication channels that will most definitely empower them to become better students, better citizens, better farmers, and skilled workers.

Today, Africa is adopting and quickly harnessing and benefiting from the opportunities that ICT affords faster than any other new technology in its history. ICT is helping African nations and governments better provide services and information to their citizenry, while African businesses have found new wings that have propelled their businesses far and wide by breaking down physical boundaries. Communication is now easier, faster, and cheaper, thanks to an improved technology.

With the development of ICT comes a new method through which information, knowledge, and skills can be shared across geographical boundaries at the touch of a button. This presents
a great opportunity for information dissemination and the subsequent education and empowerment of the African people. Africa boasts a wealth of cultural and historical information that mostly lies in physical libraries in Africa, Europe, and North America, while an incredible knowledge and information is still held by the people themselves, especially the older folks within the community.

ICT as a Development Pillar
This notwithstanding, Africa is on the verge of transformation thanks to the limitless possibilities that come with the development of digital villages and libraries. As telecommunications technologies continue to be widely embraced, even in the most oppressed nations on the continent where dictatorial regimes have an iron fist on the press and control all information meant for public consumption, it spells a new dawn for the continent. Fiber-optic cables are progressively being laid across the continent to connect these nations to the information superhighway through broadband internet connection. Mobile telephony, on the other hand, has spread like a bush fire, opening new communications channels that include voice and data and thereby enabling people even in the most remote parts of the continent to gain instant access to the internet.

"Even though the penetration of telecommunications in Kenya and in other parts of the continent has been progressively rising, information literacy among the general public has been extremely low," notes Professor Constantine Nyamboga, an associate professor and dean on the faculty of Information Science and Technology at the Kisii University College, an affiliate of the Egerton University in Nakuru. Nyamboga is also the national chairperson of the Kenya Library Association.

Says Nyamboga, "Educating the people and equipping them with ICT skills is by far the most important step that national governments need to place an emphasis on so that the people
can get to reap the benefits that come with the development of digital villages and libraries. The application of these skills on a day-to-day setting is crucial and we laud the Kenyan government for its highly ambitious digital villages program."

"In spite of having the highest internet penetration rates in the region and one of the highest in Africa, Kenya still has a long way to go because only 10% of the population is ICT literate," notes Dr. Joseph Kavulya, the deputy librarian at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

The Kenyan government has identified ICT as an integral pillar in its new policy that aims to put resources, which include cash injections and human capital, into the digital villages with the objective of creating an enabling environment that will catalyze economic expansion and empowerment of its population both intellectually and materially. The new policy by the Kenyan government plays in symphony with the vision to transform Kenya into a middle-income economy in about 20 years' time.

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