Guest Post: Community networks a connectivity solution for sub Saharan Africa


As a not so rich (sometimes broke) technology, fanatic living is Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of Internet connectivity is my worst nightmare and I seem to have this kind of nightmare all the time. Communications here are controlled by Telco companies which are also the major players in the data scene.

Internet data services cost almost its virtual weight in gold and is crappy slow. For someone like me, watching a Youtube video while using my data bundles is something that can never cross my mind. A lot of my fellow countrymen have been left to use the zero rated Wikipedia pages and no access to the other part of the “real” Internet.

For me, this means that no Stack exchange to ask for help when my code acts a bit funny and no online school research at home. For most of us, the choice is between internet connection and basic necessities. It would have been okay if the situation were to change soon but the status quo isn’t changing soon. Telcos are reaping millions of dollars in after-tax profits from selling Internet data. In other words, they have no plans of making it any cheaper.

So what kind of solution do we employ here to save Africa from information starvation?

Community networks are becoming a thing now and several regions already have working versions. Although these networks have different goals, they have similar things they want to accomplish. These are free or cheap access to communication facilities and infrastructure and provide a working revenue generation model to provide employment for the community members. The best thing about community networks is that they are built with the needs of the community in mind meaning that performance, efficiency, and effectiveness take a priority. It is sort of a community network for the community by the community.

Having worked in a community network project myself “Tunapandanet” you can watch the Youtube video below for more, I believe community networks have the capability to solve most of the problems we’re facing in the sub-Sahara.

Although not all community networks have the Internet access option, I believe that if the governments took some of these models and custom tweaked them to fit local specifications, the change would be awesome. Currently, we have large numbers of unemployed individuals with the technical knowledge or with the capability of learning. We can use the youth, train them and have them design their own networks. This will help in saving costs and building their portfolios thus making them more employable.

People will always have great ideas and when you connect them, you connect their ideas. Look at Angola for example, they used zero rated Wikipedia to share pirated movies. It was illegal of course, but it gives you a hint of what humanity can achieve if our ideas are connected.

This article was submitted by Patrick Gichini.  Patrick is a technology trainer at Tunapanda Institute, he is interested in all things tech and also a gamer. 

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