16 September 2010

The Relationality Of It All

In our activities for progress and lasting partnerships, we often go through periods of monitoring and evaluation. These are important times, involving independent experts or peer-review. Positive remarks boost our energy, and constructive criticism help us in focusing areas for improvement.

Limitingly, monitoring and evaluation is mostly executed from a predominantly rational view point. Such emanates from the predominant western setting, where the relational tends to heed towards the rational, where people follow the agreed upon action. This is quite different than the reality in my rural area, where the rational tends to heed towards the relational, where action emerges because people are together.

A western newspaper recently published a few lines on the importance of mutual respect, in the context of issues encountered in integration of different cultures in western societies. It was explained that “respect within collectivistic (non-western, GvS) societies means one not always says the truth. This is because the truth can hurt someone, and the feelings of someone are seen more important that the saying the truth".

This short monitoring and evaluation statement shows handling of truth singularly defined in light of rationality. In my view, truth fundamentally is defined in the relational realm. For instance, even in view of the statement above, there is even a difference between the (rational) truth and saying it. For instance, in a situation of where saying the (rational) truth can hurt a relationship, the best course of action can be to delay mentioning it, and first build the relationship to be able to address the issue later. Such is quite feasible in respectful, open relationships, where questions are being asked carefully, people listen, and all are focused on holistically assessing both the relational and rational.

I propose to recognize the relationality of it all, and to aim to be able to echo the words of Horatio Spafford, 'Whatever my lot, it is well, it is well, with my soul'.

15 September 2010

Internet needed in rural Africa

It is nice to witness more and more leaders stating that Internet connectivity is urgently needed in developing worlds. UNESCO, Jeffrey Sachs, and many others join the choir that sings the benefits that Internet connectivity and bandwidth bring to Africa. This is a far cry from the 'why' question predominantly asked until recently. With the emergence of policies in the West that broadband Internet connectivity is a right for all its residents, it is good to now see the 'why Internet in Africa'-question fading away.

Also it is exiting to see that satellites are being launched and (sea)cables being rolled out to connect Africa. We are eagerly awaiting lower costs of bandwidth, as up to now we have not seen a decrease in pricing; We continue to pay well over USD 1,000 per month for a dedicated 128 kb/s connection. The ever growing demand for bandwidth - even to be able to keep doing what we already do - effectively means the cost of service continues to rise.

The causes of the continued high prices of bandwidth are known: Investors recuperate their investments first, urged to do so in these perilousness times and unknown territories. It also becomes apparent that the costs of transporting 'the last mile' (or in our case the last hundred kilometers) is the next hurdle. Quotes for terrestrial connectivity between rural areas and the 'backbone' in urban areas are surreal, multiple times the cost of bringing the (international) bandwidth to that urban area. And thus a 1 Mb/s committed connection, costing less then USD 200 per year in London, still cost us more then USD 80,000 per year. Although we (also) need such bandwidth – actually much more to satisfy the live saving needs in our rural community - this kind of money is just inconceivable.

Then, all this does not take into account the investments in equipment, the cost of transport, and the cost of local staff performing in operations and maintenance. We have witnessed that current equipment raises major hurdles to perform in rural areas. Circumstantial facts generate often at leasts one major 'show stopper', making most equipment to fail in a rural African environment.

I am glad that with students of the University of Zambia, and the Copperbeld University, and with collaborating applied research and expert partners from all over the world, we are venturing on the path of applied technology research. Through such long term activities we will be able to sustain an inspirational role. Also it provides hope to generate real technological breakthroughs which can perform well in the rural African environments, and thus, on the long run, will facilitate the role out of Internet on this continent.

03 September 2010

Virtual Realities

After an other bout of globe trotting, I am keenly aware of the various parallel existing and diverse realities.

While dwelling in rural African areas, it is difficult to contemplate a world where individual consumer demand is being satisfied with abundant and tuned availability, with shops that seemingly stock up everything. Where food is in abundance, water – cold and warm – never stop running from multiple taps inside a home, where there is little dust, everything appears aligned and clean, a world were people cherish individuality before community, where money comes in plastic forms, or out of a wall, and where people are busy have no time and appear to live in luxury and comfort. This seems virtual reality, only existing 'in stories'.

While dwelling in urban western settings, it is difficult to contemplate a world where basic commodities and resources are scarce and supply is erratic, activities are directed by weather and seasons, and markets offer more of the same, and time seemingly does not exit. Where gathering of food and water is a daily struggle, where written texts are not seen, activities are set by communities whom defines the individual. This seems virtual reality, which only exits 'in stories'.

These are no virtual realities, but worthwhile existing and real existences. Thus the challenge is to augment the visual or oral experiences - either by text or multimedia, or speech – with sensory information, with immersion, and real interaction.