page considers responses to digital divides in the developing
It covers -
- the politics of responses to third world digital divides
basis of 'real access' - cogent analysis from Bridges.org
about 12 interrelated factors
issues - literature on development organisations and initiatives
- how much money is being spent on bridging digital divides?
- where is money coming from?
Those responses illustrate the best and worst of global
(and national) inequalities, personal/corporate opportunism
and approaches by government and private sector bodies.
As highlighted in the introduction
to discussion about divides, they form a continuum from
people who argue that 'The Divide' simply does not exist
through to those who want to leverage divides for funding
broader social/political intiatives.
That continuum includes -
Six Billion Dollar Mantra
the Anti-Aid Lobby
of 'digital denial' have either questioned
the very existence of the divide (often quite effectively,
given simplistic characterisations of a single infrastructure-centric
divide) or the appropriateness of action by governments
and philanthropic bodies.
Divide skeptics have suggested that the
severity and shape of divides may vary from state to state,
consistent with the differing literacy rates, differing
income, access to infrastructure and cultural expectations
across and within states that are highlighted in preceding
pages of this profile. Some skeptics, for example, acknowledge
that divides exist but warn against misplaced enthusiasm
for 'one size fits all' remedies based on construction of
infrastructure or provision of computers.
The aid industry exhibits characteristics
evident in responses to health, education, displacement
or other problems - a range of government and nongovernment
service providers, journalists and other entities whose
performance is affected by institutional rivalries, personal
agendas, corporate aggrandisement and alliances, differing
expertise and practice 'on the ground'.
Andrew Mwenda, in contrast, argues that aid is a problem,
not a solution. "Debt relief is a moral hazard. What
is the incentive for country A to continue paying interest
on its borrowings if country B steals the money, defaults
and then gets debt relief". He complains that "Countries
that are deserving don't get aid", arguing that aid
creates the wrong incentives - makes objects of the poor
and passive recipients of charity rather than active participants
in their own economic betterment. "Africans don't need
handouts, they need better institutions and land reform".
What some critics have described as cosmocrats
- roving consultants and international policymakers - have
understandably embraced the notion of a digital divide as
an opportunity for increasing their income and perquisites,
buffing their personal profiles or legitimating their organisations.
Much of the debate around the WSIS,
for example, can be viewed as jostling for personal influence,
for marketing particular NGOs or for reinforcing cadres
based on institutional affiliation or professional specialisation
rather than state of origin.
From an Australian perspective in reading reports from agencies
of the United Nations and some of the major NGOs it is striking
- albeit perhaps inevitable - how little attention is paid
to remoter states, particularly those with a population
of less than a million. Many of the Pacific island states,
for example, simply do not appear on the radar and on indices
such as the US Failed State Index (FSI).
It is a commonplace that development divides are about people
and societies rather than exclusively about gaps in cables
and railways or excessive traffic costs. Kleptocrats
(aka Divides-R-Us) in some states have embraced digital
divides as an opportunity for personal enrichment. Some
have an expectation that aid funding will 'stick' in their
part of the development pipeline. Establishment of infrastructure
will similarly provide opportunities at the national and
local level for levying charges, gaining facilitation fees
or enabling pilferage.
Critics of "the global digital divide mafia" have
similarly referred to experts, advocates and policymakers
who love humanity in the abstract but are reluctant to experience
poverty in the flesh. Consistent with most global summits,
the major gatherings about digital divide initiatives have
occurred in upmarket cities (or quarantined in upmarket
accommodation), resulting in aspirational statements that
are too muted to be resounding, that are not 'owned' by
participants, that appear to move at a glacial pace and
that result in few if any discernable outcomes.
The 'six billion dollar mantra' has been
espoused by some ICT enthusiasts. It is an echo of the 6
Million Dollar Man sci-fi series that impressed nascent
geeks during the 1970s. It is evident in grand gestures
such as the development of facilities that enable neurosurgery
and other telemedicine in remote jungles (where a more pressing
need might be for treatment of trachoma and tapeworm).
Less glamorously it is evident in various initiatives
to develop the handheld wireless simputer, US$100 laptop
or open source 'volkscomputer' (or is it the TrabantPC?)
- in Brazil in the tradition of ICT autarky discussed in
works such as 1999 study From Industry Protection To
Industry Promotion: IT Policy in Brazil (PDF)
by Antonio Botelho, Jason Dedrick & Kenneth Kraemer.
Some of the most effective initiatives have succeeded because
their ambitions were modest, delivery was based on work
by people in the field (rather than in Davos, Geneva or
Seattle) and there was an emphasis on appropriate technology.
Adherents of a post-colonial hegemony have
conceptualised a range of divides as the consequence of
colonialism, with reparation to be provided by leading economies
and corporations - whether directly or through global mechanisms
such as a byte tax.
Rhetoric about restitution and disadvantage - and soundbites
such as George Monbiot's 2003 claim that the combined incomes
of the poorest half of humanity (around three billion people)
is less than the total wealth of the world's richest 500
- has grabbed attention at fora such as the WSIS.
However it has been questioned by the World Bank and other
bodies urging concentration on achievable plans for addressing
specific problems. They have noted that some figures, although
gaining media coverage, appear to be incorrect. Some of
the rhetoric has the flavour of a cargo cult, with expectations
that rolling out infrastructure (or merely privatising
dominant telcos) will catapult parts of the third world
into the first world and a healthy civil society. Those
expectations have coincided with the aims of some solutions
vendors and ICT manufacturers.
The Anti-Aid Lobby - which encompasses
free-market think tanks, journalists, civil society groups
and government officials - has conceptualised aid as an
undesirable (and, by ordinary citizens, often undesired)
relic of the Cold War, distorting markets and underpinning
ineffective dirigiste regimes.
Academic critics of humanitarian assistance, along with
some workers in NGOs, have more pointedly questioned the
significance of aid agencies in usurping government functions,
absolving Third World elites of responsibility (even encouraging
authoritarianism) and undermining official capacity in weak
states on the road to failure.
the basis of 'real access'
Teresa Peters of Bridges.org, in a refreshingly perceptive
during 2003, warned against simplistic assessments and suggested
that "Real Access to ICT" involves twelve interrelated
Physical access: Is technology available and accessible
to people and organizations?
Appropriate technology: Is the available technology appropriate
to local needs and conditions? What is the appropriate
technology according to how people need and want to put
technology to use?
Affordability: Is technology affordable for people to
Capacity: Do people have the training and skills necessary
for effective technology use? Do they understand how to
use technology and its potential uses?
Relevant content: Is locally relevant content available,
especially in terms of language?
Integration: Is technology use a burden to peoples' lives,
or is it integrated into daily routines?
Socio-cultural factors: Are people limited in their use
of technology based on gender, race, or other socio-cultural
Trust: Do people have confidence in technology and understand
the implications of the technology they use, for instance
in terms of privacy, security, or cybercrime?
Legal and regulatory framework: Do laws and regulations
limit technology use? Are changes needed to create an
environment that fosters its use?
Local economic environment: Is there a local economic
environment favorable to technology use? Is technology
part of local economic development? What is needed to
make it a part?
Macro-economic environment: Is technology use limited
by the macro-economic environment in the country or region,
for example, in terms of deregulation, investment, and
Political will: Is there political will in government
to do what is needed to enable the integration of technology
throughout society, and public support for government
Jobs (comfortably housed in one of the ritzier Tokyo hotels)
sniffed in 2001 that the 'Digital Divide'
just a new sticker we use to cover up a more important
word: poverty ... I don't think we should worry about
the digital divide nearly as much as we should worry about
poverty. It's all over the planet. I am living in America
and you in Australia, and we are really doing quite nicely,
thank you. We have great medicine and good roads and clean
water. We invent terms like digital divide to distract
us from the real problem that must be solved in the world,
and that's poverty.
The US National Research Council's report Bridge Builders:
African Experiences with Information and Communication Technology,
(Washington: National Academy Press 1996), Beyond Boundaries:
Cyberspace in Africa (Portsmouth: Heinemann 2002) by
Melinda Robins & Robert Hilliard, Microcomputers
in African development (Boulder: Westview 1992) by
Suzanne Lewis & Joel Samoff, Terminal signs: Computers
and social change in Africa (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
1990) by Bennetta Jules-Rossette and
the Bridges.org 2005 E-Readiness Assessment Tools Comparison
and E-Readiness Assessment:
Who is Doing What & Where are of value. Telecommunications
Politics: Ownership & Control of the Information Highway
in Developing Countries (Hillsdale: Erlbaum 1995) edited
by Bella Mody & Johannes Bauer discusses infrastructure
Eszter Hargittai's 1999 Weaving the Western Web: Explaining
Differences in Internet Connectivity Among OECD Countries
and 2001 Defining a Global Geography (PDF)
- the latter with Miguel Angel Centeno - explore the background
to some of those challenges.
Charles Kenny's 2004 Why Are We Worried About Income?
Nearly Everything that Matters is Converging article
comments that "convergence of national GDP/capita numbers
is a common, but narrow, measure of global success or failure
in development", arguing that a broader range of quality
of life variables covering health, education, rights and
infrastructure are converging across countries. There is
a more extended examination of issues in his Overselling
the Web?: Development And the Internet (Boulder: Rienner
2006). Quantification is explored in Branko Milanovic's
Worlds Apart: Measuring International & Global Inequality
(Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2005).
As background we recommend Exporting Communication Technology
to Developing Countries (New York: Universities Press
of America 1999) by Emmanuel Ngwainmbi, Information Technology
in Context: Studies from the Perspective of Developing Countries
(Aldershot: Ashgate 2001) edited by Chrisanthi Avgerou
& Geoff Walsham, India's Communication Revolution:
From Bullock Carts to Cyber Marts (New Delhi: Sage 2001)
by Arvind Singhal & Everett Rogers, When Telephones
Reach the Village: The Role of Telecommunications in Rural
Development (Norwood: Ablex 1984) by Heather Hudson
and Information Resources & Technology Transfer Management
in Developing Countries (London: Routledge 1997) by
Beyond Structural Adjustment: The Institutional Context
of African Development (Basingtoke: Palgrave 2003)
edited by Nicolas van de Walle, Nicole Ball & Vijaya
Ramachandran considers institutional barriers. It explores
why natational development and a broad-based economy remain
of far less a concern to elites than continued exploitation
of resources for the advantage of the ruler and his network
of clients. Van de Walle for example identifies a "partial
reform syndrome" that features symbolic gestures and
rhetorical commitments for change that in fact extend and
deepen the diffusion of patronage.
William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists'
Adventures & Misadventures in the Tropics (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2001), Phyllis Pomerantz's Aid Effectiveness
in Africa: Developing Trust between Donors and Governments
(Lanham: Lexington Books 2004), Dambisa Moyo's Dead
Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way
for Africa (London: Allen Lane 2009), James Morton's
The Poverty of Nations: The Aid Dilemma at the Heart
of Africa (London: British Academic Press 1994) and
Annelise Riles' The Network Inside Out (Ann Arbor:
Uni of Michigan Press 2000) offer perspectives on donor-recipient
expectations and relations. Information Technology, Productivity
& Economic Growth: International Evidence and Implications
for Economic Development (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2001)
edited by Matti Pohjola examines aspects of IT development
hype in the third and first worlds.
The Role of Social Capital in Development: An Empirical
Assessment (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2002) edited
by Christiaan Grootaert & Thierry Van Bastelaer is of
value in considering 'just add ICT and stir' rhetoric.
It is complemented by works such as Robert Guest's The
Shackled Continent: Africa's Past, Present and Future
(London: Macmillan 2004), The Fate of Africa: A History
of 50 Years of Independence (New York: Public Affairs
2005) by Martin Meredith, Occidentalism: The West in
the Eyes of Its Enemies (New York: Penguin Press 2004)
by Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit and The Skull Beneath
the Skin: Africa after the Cold War (Boulder: Westview
2001) by Mark Husband.
Fred Kofi de Heer-Menlah's succinct 2002 ACM article
on Internet Access for African Countries regarding
factors that hinder/help development of internet access
in Africa offered the following wish list for governments
(and donors) -
numerous controls imposed by governments continue to retard
the development of net access
governments should develop a well-planned scalable telecommunication
infrastructure capable of utilising new technologies as
infrastructure must be maintained and constantly upgraded
in line with modern technology
web presence should be promoted with the use of the ccTLD,
with ccTLD management as a public service charging a minimal
fee for domain name registrations so that private companies
act as registrars and value-added sellers.
need for a policy for every player in the hi-tech industry
and related fields that a certain quota of their services
be offered to the rural community and another quota towards
education in the rural community for each year.
the interaction between governments, international bodies
such as the World Bank and NGOs see in particular Sebastian
Mallaby's The World's Banker (Kensington: UNSW
Press 2005), The Struggle for Accountability: The World
Bank, NGOs & Grassroots Movements (Cambridge: MIT
Press 1998) by Jonathan Fox & L. David Brown, Fiona
Terry's Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian
Action (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 2002), Amartya Sen's
The Political Economy of Hunger (Oxford: Clarendon
1990) and The Ethics of Assistance: Morality & the
Distant Needy (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005)
edited by Deen Chatterjee.
There is a more acerbic account in Graham Hancock's The
Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of
the International Aid Business (New York: Atlantic
Monthly Press 1989) and Andrew Natsios' 'Illusions of Influence:
the CNN Effect in Complex Emergencies' in Rothberg &
Weiss' From Massacres to Genocide: The Media, Public
Policy and Humanitarian Crises (Washington: Brookings
Other organisations are explored in Civil Society &
the Aid Industry (London: Earthscan 1998) edited by
Alison Van Rooy, NGO Capacity & Effectiveness: A
review of themes in NGO-related research recently funded
by ESCOR (London: IIED 1996) by Anthony Bebbington
& Diana Mitlin, The Role of NGOs under Authoritarian
Political Systems (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1997) by
Seamus Cleary, Compassion and Calculation: The Business
of Foreign Aid (London: Pluto 1996) edited by David
Sogge and the discussion of the WSIS
elsewhere on this site.
How much money is being spent on bridging digital divides
in the third world? Is that expenditure producing results?
And is the money being spent efficiently?
At a global level the answer is that no one knows for sure.
In considering some of the more hyperbolic announcements
at major divide 'summits' it is important to differentiate
between pledges, what is actually given and when that commitment
of support is given effect.
It is also important to consider how much support actually
reaches the field and whether that support is appropriate.
It is a sad fact that some philanthropic organisations,
for example, include their marketing and administrative
expenses in figures about money going to aid recipients.
Attendance at a few global summits is not necessarily cheap,
although possibly essential.
Particular governments, such as Japan, have traditionally
adopted a mercantilist approach, with aid being tied to
exports or implicitly conditional on trade/investment concessions
by the recipient nation. Some vendors have similarly used
'gifting' as an opportunity to dispose of unwanted inventory
(often priced at greater than market value) or lock in recipients
while buffing a tarnished corporate image.
Where will money come from to address digital divides in
the third world? Are the various digital initiatives at
the expense of arguably more significant projects? The OECD,
for example, notes that public aid for water improvements
in developing countries declined from US$2.7bn in 1997 to
US$1.4bn in 2002 and has subsequently remained at that level.
Aid funding (in cash and in kind) has come from a range
of sources -
or loans by individual national governments
or loans by international government bodies, such as various
United Nations agencies
from national and international philanthropic organisations,
drawing on contributions by individuals, businesses and
by businesses (separately or collectively), often in the
form of hardware/software rather than cash
or gifting by individuals
In the absence of detailed figures it is hard to be definitive.
However, it would appear that overall there has been little
overall growth in aid: much of the finding has been at the
expense of existing initiatives or has simply involved rebadging
As discussed elsewhere on this site, the notion of the 'new
economy' as qualitatively different and generating unprecedented
growth has resulted in suggestions for new 'North-South'
taxes such as the byte tax.
Many of those suggestions have been criticised as gimmicks
and media grabs, rather than credible proposals for the
collection and distribution of resources.
In 2005 for example African leaders called on wealthy nations
to establish a "voluntary tax" at the city level
on "investment in technology", with money being
used "to buy mobile phones and computers for poor nations".
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade argued that the digital
divide aggravated polarisation between wealthy and developing
nations, saying that
is imperative that international measures be taken. The
only way to fill in the digital divide is to empower the
South with information technology equipment, telephones,
fax machines, the Internet and to ensure training on how
to use them.
raised through the tax - Geneva for example has a 1% levy
on profits made by the city's technology suppliers - would
go to the UN-sponsored Digital Solidarity Fund, promoted
tools such as satellite telephones or the internet to
promote economic development in areas that lack even the
most basic infrastructure.
- once detailed guidelines are in place - some 60% of revenue
would go to the world's 49 least-developed nations, 30%
to developing countries and 10% to projects in rich nations.
Some sceptics have questioned the self-involved nature of
much aid, with Brendan O'Neill for example skewering
celebrity colonialist. His patronising campaign to single-handedly
'save Africa' is actually damaging the continent. It is
painting Africa as a pathetic place whose wide-eyed, infantile
populations need a loudmouth rock star to fight their
corner. His disregard for anything resembling an electoral
process ('I represent a lot of people in Africa') lends
weight to the prejudice that African leaders are peculiarly
corrupt, and thus it is best to leapfrog straight over
them – as does his demand for 'anti-corruption measures'
to be attached to all forms of aid to Africa. Yet having
a pop at his pomposity is not enough. Alongside making
fun of Bono, let us challenge today's prostitution of
African problems for the purposes of Western self-aggrandisement,
which has led to his being crowned King of the Africans.
Bono Must Die? Well, that would be a good start - but
only a start.
(initiatives in the third world)