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No shoehorning into science-based development

Having read We need a 'slow race' for science-based development, I would like to add that from the African perspective, I am also skeptical of approaches that promote technology as a quick fix for development.

With a lifetime in the computer industry and some 25 years of living in South Africa with an eye for the lesser developed part of the country, I feel competent to make some remarks on the subject.

An old saying springs to mind, about the two shoe salesmen who were sent to Africa to do market research for their companies. One wrote home saying he would like to stay because "no one wears shoes", whilst the other said he wanted to go home immediately because "no one wears shoes".

It all depends on whether you perceive the glass as half full or half empty.

Many Western marketers, looking for expansion, run around talking about the global growth in cell phone usage and project this onto information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Africa, predicting a huge rise in demand. Wishful thinking by those who see a large potential market!

This might be the case in due course, but many other conditions will have to be fulfilled before the density of computers can grow to the current levels seen in developed countries.

The issues mentioned in this article (and many others on the subject) are more valid than your article implies. A lack of technological infrastructure  — specifically, electricity, communication lines or wireless technologies, appropriate buildings and support structures — is a key factor here.

Even where the technological infrastructure is more or less in place, the next hurdle is overcoming the sociological and educational barriers to the introduction of computers in education and business. These include language, curriculum, relevant teacher training, and for business applications, language, legal and governmental requirements, informal trade issues and existing business practice.

Added to this is the simple observation that if one does not have food, the last thing one wants to do is to surf the Internet.         

ICTs, and computers in particular, are not the answer to reducing poverty at the rate stated in the Millennium Development Goals. I have seen too many perfectly good pieces of electronic equipment sitting unused because nobody knows how to operate them.