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African Approaches to Connected Culture, Stronger Civil Society

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, June 26 2009

Nestled among the countless start-up profiles over on TechCrunch is a lovely look from Sarah Lacy at what the east African country of Rwanda is doing to get Rwandans online and connected. There's the promising: cheap cell phones, extensive fiber rollout, Rwandan students being sent to the Indian Institutes of Technology for training. And the cultural and structural challenges that made tech difficult, from a cash-based society that hinders e-commerce to the fact that few modern online resources come with Kinyarwanda translation. The goal is a thriving economy with opportunity for many that can act like a stabilizing political force. Worth a read.

You might notice that, as Lacy frames it, Rwandan entrepreneurs and government officials are starting from the bottom up, and attempting to build a web 2.0 culture similar to, for example, what we see in the U.S. A new project called Weather for All from the Global Humanitarian Forum (led by Kofi Annan), the World Meteorological Organization, Jeffrey Sachs' Earth Institute at Columbia University, and mobile companies Zain and Ericsson, is working to build on the existing infrastructure of cell phone towers throughout Africa by attaching automated weather stations to the towers that then use the mobile network to distribute critical information about weather to the 700 million or so people throughout Africa who depend on farming for their livelihoods. Freeing them from some of the uncertainty over how they might get their daily bread is one step towards the development of a stronger civil society. Also worth a read.

(Photo credit: Ericsson)