IT & Development

IT & Development

[Matunda Nyanchama]

[<-] IT and underdevelopment

* Social development

* Dynamics of technology introduction

* IT and grassroots development

* IT and public sector

* IT and business (problems)

* IT and business (solutions)

* IT as a business

Optimists claim that by using the latest information technologies, developing countries can skip over the intermediate steps we went through, and go straight from a subsistence agriculture economy to an information society.

Pessimists claim that IT will further isolate countries in Africa, and where it is introduced will strengthen the economic and cultural control of local societies by northern multinationals.

The real questions are:

1. Which ITs are appropriate to solve which problems in which social settings?

2. What are the effects of IT and electronic communications on the globalisation of business? See, e.g.:

o Edward M. Roche (May 1994) Globalisation of Information Systems in International Business Enterprises: the new paradigm in developing countries. Globalisation and IT networking: implications for developing countries, LSE, London.

o Daniel Naulleau (May 1994) Electronic communications and the new vulnerability Globalisation and IT networking: implications for developing countries, LSE, London.


[<-] Social development

* Rich and poor, between and within countries

* Basic needs (water, food, shelter, health, education)

* Appropriate Technology

o design technology to meet social, economic, environmental,

political and technical needs

o combine modern science and technology with indigenous knowledge and older designs, instead of just choosing

o can be low-tech, e.g. rammed earth block walls

o or high-tech, e.g. solar electric fences

o how can IT be appropriate?

The recent Copenhagen UN Conference on Social Development focused on development to reduce poverty. This approach concentrates on providing the basic needs of the poor more than improving the economic circumstances of rich enclaves in cities. Apart from ethical reasons, it also brings more people to a level where they become consumers, developing mass markets for locally produced goods.

Technology can contribute to social development, provided it is specifically designed to do so. Merely transplanting a technology without adapting it often fails to do so. Hence the idea of Appropriate Technology, as developed over the last 30 years by development workers, engineers, agriculturalists, sociologists and some development economists.

Most IT applications in developing countries have been done without modification, and applied in the situations most like those in the north. The big question is if there can be an appropriate IT.


[<-] Dynamics of technology introduction

* Interest

* Investigation

* Implantation

* Interaction

* Initiative or Inertia

When a technology is introduced into a new society (or organisation) the process is in 5 stages.

First a change agent gets dissatisfied with a situation, thinks of it as a problem, and gets interested in finding a solution.

Then the change agent and others investigate the problem and possible solutions. During this phase they build up a deep or shallow understanding.

The implantation is where the factory is built, or the tool introduced, people are trained, and institutions built to complement the technology. Sometimes just the factory is built, so a disembodied technology is implanted. At other times, the technology is embodied in the social institutions needed to make it work. For example, a yeast factory for export needs good marketing and sales departments, developed transport and communications infrastructure, and skilled technicians.

Once implanted, the technology starts interacting with societies. There are always problems. For example, if chipboard is sold to carpenters who don't know how to use it, they will try to nail or screw it--it falls apart. Similar problems occur when computers are first used in a town.

If the people who took part in the investigation developed confidence in their abilities and a deep understanding of the embodied technology, they can take initiatives to solve these problems. Alfred O. Hirschman, in his book "Development Projects Observed", reported on what he found when he visited former World Bank projects 20 years later. They were all successful, but not necessarily in what they had been set up to do. Their success was due to initiatives taken after they had been set up. On the other hand, you can get inertia, with the result that either the technology fails (leading to bankruptcy) or the society.


[<-] IT and grassroots development

* NGOs

* statistical survey analysis to satisfy donors

* scientific design calculations

* information exchange (e.g. Sangonet)

* expert systems to alleviate skill shortages (e.g. micro-hydropower siting ES)

Much development work is done by local groups such as churches, charities, school clubs, womens' groups and so on. Collectively they are known as Non-Governmental Organisations. For example, KENGO (Kenyan Energy NGOs association) has as members hundreds of local groups who set up tree nurseries, schools who exchange tree seeds, and small business and self-help groups who make and disseminate energy efficient cooking stoves (ones that burn less wood or charcoal). These have done far more to solve the energy problems of 90% of the population than any government ministry.

Providing IT has not, so far, been a key task of these NGOs. However, computer and communications technology have been used to help the NGOs in some of their tasks, so IT can be of indirect benefit to the poor.

At the top, is the use of statistical packages on computers to analyse the surveys that NGOs do. For example, surveys of user satisfaction of the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (the charcoal stove I showed in class) were analysed using a microcomputer-based statistical package. This was used both to get more funding and to improve the design. Today the donors are insisting on surveys on everything they do, so the NGOs have to use computers whether or not it makes sense.

Computers have long been used in calculations needed in the scientific design of some of the simplest technologies to help the poor. E.g. heat flow analysis in stoves, or efficient windmill design.

Many of the poorest countries in Africa have many unemployed unskilled people, but have a shortage of skilled people--particularly those with expert knowledge developed from 20 years of diverse experience. They fly in expensive experts from the World Bank for 2 weeks to advise on what to do. It's now possible to use expert systems to encapsulate the more straightforward parts of this expert's knowledge. The expert system can be sent on a disk, and used on a local computer whenever needed. One such system was developed at Edinburgh University to advise on the siting and design of micro-hydropower plants (turbines sitting in streams, generate a few kW of electricity for local use).

But expertise does not only reside in the north. Many local communities have found solutions to problems that others struggle with. In Burkina Faso, villagers who knew how to build better woodstoves went on an exchange visit to a village where people knew how to grow and plant trees, teaching each other their skills. Computer networks are now being used to exchange information between NGOs across countries (e.g. Sangonet in S. Africa). This is an extension of the human networks that already exist, with their newsletters, their information services and their international meetings.

For references on the use of IT to help fight underdevelopment, by people in the field and NGOs, see:

* Anon. (Sept. 1994) Information, Sustainable Development and NGOs: The Planact experience Computers in Africa conference, St. John's College Cambridge.

* Nicholas Freeland (Sept. 1994) Can email help ensure food security in Southern Africa?. Computers in Africa conference, St. John's College Cambridge.


[<-] IT and public sector

* disaster early warning networks

* Singapore--transforming admin. through MIS

* distance learning (e.g. CSC programme for African management colleges and public sector managers)

* microelectronics training

Much of the early mainframe computing in developing countries has been in the public sector. Singapore started its IT policy by aiming to transform its administration, using IT to make it more efficient. It developed a thorough plan to achieve this, including setting up a Computer Science and Information Systems department at the university, to produce 520 graduates a year for a small island. It was later that the private sector started to make use of IT and enter the IT industry, relying on the infrastructure and skills developed for the government. See the video of the Visions of Heaven and Hell TV programme for more on Singapore. It's under my name in the Main Library, as is a paper on IT in Singapore written by the head of the Computer Science department at the university.

Economic and environmental modelling packages have also been used in Ministries. But since the data collected is more sparse, and less accurate than data in Britain or Germany, the results are often cases of "garbage in, garbage out". The Less Developed Country Energy Analysis Program (LEAP) makes good estimates of whether a country or a province will suffer a woodfuel shortage: but it relies on spending 2 years collecting accurate data first.

More recent public sector projects have made use of microcomputers and networks, such as the Southern African Disaster Early Warning Network. It uses computer links to gather data from satellite photos, meteorological departments and others to identify possible droughts, floods, plagues and so on, and then disseminates early warnings of these to agricultural departments and others who will have to cope with the consequences.

And IT is starting to be used in education in Africa. For example, the Commonwealth Science Council is funding a programme of distance learning for public sector managers, bringing them into contact with management colleges in Africa using computers and modems for regular contact.

But, there are limits to what can be achieved. For example, in the 70s the British-Cuba Scientific Liaison Committee arranged for a computer to be sent to Cuba for use in controlling electricity generation. It was never used. The telephone system was so bad that messages were exchanged by bicycle messenger.


[<-] IT and business (problems)

* Just like Europe, except for:

o lower wages

o expensive imports (foreign exchange, high duties)

o poor telecommunications

o lack of skilled repair technicians

o software not designed for local needs

In the mid-80s in Kenya, duty+sales tax added 160% to the price of computers. So many local businesses relied on small, smuggleable computers like the Sinclair QL.

At the same time, local telephone lines were so bad that you couldn't communicate by 300 bps modem between neighbouring houses (although you could get the modems to work between Nairobi and Germany).

Companies were sold computer systems designed for the tax and regulatory systems of the USA or UK. They often couldn't cope with strict exchange controls or local bureaucratic reporting requirements. A lot of car distributors bought UNIX machines from a foreign company, and found the software much less flexible than that developed by a local computer bureau. Then the one UNIX expert left for the Middle East, and they had difficulties getting the system going.

For references on the extent of problems faced by people trying to use computers and telecommunications in developing countries see:

* Matunda Nyanchama (Sept. 1994) African telecommunications: strengthening the foundations for effective global networking. Computers in Africa conference, St. John's College Cambridge.

* William Wresch (Sept. 1994) Barriers to information systems development in Namibia. Computers in Africa conference, St. John's College Cambridge.


[<-] IT and business (solutions)

* parachute in complete setup, control remotely

* local self-help clubs (and smuggling)

* targeting use of IT to things people cannot do well

* local design or adaptation

It is now possible to configure a combination of computers, software and network hardware to do a specific job and then fly it in to a remote location, and control it remotely over networks (or even satellite links). This has been done by a number of western businesses setting up electronic communications with their projects in parts of the former Soviet Union. It means they are not dependent on local technical skills. Consequently, local people do not learn these skills. The project gets underway quicker, promising earlier benefits to local partners (if they had a good enough bargaining position when setting up the venture), but reduces the chances of local take-up of IT outside the venture.

When microcomputers first arrived in the UK, a lot of local computer clubs sprang up, where the first people to use them exchanged their experiences and helped solve each others problems. This has also worked when microcomputers reached developing countries. Self-help substitutes for the lack of skilled IT service companies.

"Benny" Goodman, at the Data Centre (a Nairobi computer bureau) for many years succeeded in writing and modifying software to meet specific local needs, such as controlling the Mombasa water supply without very much monitoring equipment.


[<-] IT as a business

* local computer manufacture (attempted with little success in Brasil)

* local component manufacture (e.g. integrated circuits in Malaysia, sound cards in Taiwan)

* local computer assembly (e.g. England)

* local software development

o for small local markets

o bodyshopping (supplying programmers on contracts to US), e.g. Russia

o for overseas customers (profitable for India, not for NI)

The IT industry itself has been joined by people in some developing countries. Early attempts to promote local computer manufacture, through import restrictions, were mostly complete failures. For many years Brasil restricted imports, so consumers had to choose between a Brazilian military design CP/M microcomputer, or locally manufactured foreign designs, like the Sinclair Spectrum. These quickly became obsolete, as they could not run the business software the customers wanted.

More success has been found in local component manufacture for export, and the assembly of customer-specified PCs from imported components.

Software development is supposedly ideal for certain developing [Image] countries, since it is labour intensive. As long as a country has enough people trained with then right skills, the programmers will work at far lower wages than they receive in North America. Results have been mixed. Companies around Bangalore (India) have successfully sent Indian programmers to the USA to do short-term contract programming, and now do complete custom software development in India for northern companies. Israel has a software industry that grew out of a dynamic local market, partly protected by their skills at handling non-European scripts (Hebrew and Arabic), that is now selling their software packages in Europe and North America. But other countries have far less profitable software industries that just get enough contracts to keep going (such as N. Ireland and Eire). I have just found a paper on the Indian experience, which I will put in my folder in the Main Library on IT and development.


* IT & Society

o Contents of module

Page prepared by David R. Newman, email


Matunda Nyanchama, Ph.D Nsemia Information Technologies Ltd., Box

#23, 463 Platts Lane 62423, Nairobi, Kenya. Telefax: 254-2-242479

London Ontario N6G 3H2 (in Nairobi)

Canada. Fax: 519-438-9742


Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 04:59:58 -0400 Message-Id: <4vshk1$> From: Matunda Nyanchama <> Subject: IT & Development

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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