Friday, July 13, 2007

Lighting the "Dark Continent"

There's a movement afoot to outfit Africa's children with cheap, durable laptops. A fine goal, and one major corporations should certainly support. Intel, in fact, has gotten into the act. But it seems to me that there are some other considerations here, and even stronger reasons to support this and similar programs. Think about the implications of widespread, high-speed WiFi access across the continent of Africa. How much would food distribution logistics be improved? What about coordination of African Union and UN forces in Darfur and other conflict zones?
Governments, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations ought to be getting in this game.


Anonymous said...

Many of the places they're sending these laptops have little or no electricity. Even major cities have routine blackouts--you're lucky to have power 50% of the time. What do these laptops run on? It seems that the added strain on the electrical grid will just lead to frustration and even more blackouts.

Additionally, many development experts have pointed out that what Africa really needs is more roads. The roads in Africa were mostly built by Europeans to get resources out of the continent quickly, which makes getting from point A to B very difficult. You basically have to drive out to the coast, and then back in to get where you wanted to go. This makes commerce/development extremely difficult.

Roads and power are basic infrastructure that any place needs to develop. But, they aren't very glamorous, which mean they don't attract much foreign money. USAID would rather build tourist attractions, and Intel would rather give them laptops.

Author said...

Excellent points. I also seem to remember a West Wing episode on the subject of roads in Africa...

As to the subject of what the laptops run on, I recall reading that some of them are powered by simple hand cranks, a la emergency weather radios. Of course, this won't provide enough power to play Ages of Empire, but I think we can all agree that the Africans have had enough of the real-life version of that particular game. Cranking enough electricity to run email could theoretically generate interest and capital to devote toward the problem of roads. Development in Africa is a problem that needs to be addressed from many angles concurrently. Though Intel's motives are certainly not entirely altruistic, its actions can certainly have positive effects.