L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

26 June 2006 Blog Home : June 2006 : Permalink

African Bloggers & the Internet

There are a couple of bloggers on my blogroll who blog from the dark continent (Meskel Square & Right Speak), I have no idea if they are representative or not but both have been writing good stuff recently. I linked to Right Speak's post about the UN's classification of indigenous peoples not too long ago and he also had an excellent point about Somalia:

Can the US do much about this potential situation? Nearly anything the US does in Somalia, covert or overt, will be used to blame and discredit it regionally with moderate, important countries like Kenya. Already this is the media reaction locally. It is basically misplaced criticism, but it sells in the global anti-American market.

The US should rather rely on the natural ability of Somalis to implode and their penchant for pissing off everyone who happens to be their neighbour. This the Islamic Courts militia will surely do, sooner or later.

However most of this post today is about posts on Meskel Square which is written from Ethiopia. He has two posts up about technology and the thrid world which should be read by everyone who pontificates about the "global internet" and so on. The first (with three must read links) illustrates the limits of Ethiopian internet access, something which applies practically everywhere else in Africa too (although - ironically - Somalia may be an exception). Essentially the problem boils down to the incumbent telcos and the associated government bureaucrats who do their best to shake down telecom users and would be alternative operators for as much money as they can.

His second post today is about trying out linux as an African internet user. He picked ubuntu - which is IMO an excellent distro - and although things started out well he swiftly hit a minor issuette:

So the installation went surprisingly well. There were four or five easily-understood questions and, no more than 20 minutes later, my detested Windows ME welcome screen was gone for good. In its place was a minimalist plain brown desktop.

This is the first great thing about switching to Linux - an end to clutter. No more QuickTime forcing itself into your startup menu. No more of those pre-installed first-six-months-subscription-free packages that Dell loves to force on to its valued customers. Just a plain brown screen which you can actually use as a desktop - a place to leave those few documents that you are currently working on.

There are lots of other great things about Linux. There is the almost total lack of spyware, worms and viruses. There is the universe of free software waiting for you to download. There is the volunteer spirit of the whole Linux community. As a wannabe geek, I even enjoyed the control and responsibility of using the command line interface.

So, why am I sitting here with the headache and the blurry vision and the clumsy fingers? It is because I have hit a brick wall.

There is one thing that the bright-eyed fans of Ubuntu and its kind never tell you. That is that if you install it on to an old Windows machine in a country where dial-up internet connections are still the only way – then you are in for a rough, rough ride.

Ubuntu, you see, doesn’t like winmodems - the modem systems installed as standard in most commercially available PCs sold with a Window operating system (ie almost all of them). Minutes after my wonderfully easy install, I found I had no way of connecting to the internet.

It turns out that other people have had the same problem and there has been considerable debate about how to make the drivers available that turn a winmodem into a linmodem. All of which, of course, involves downloading drivers from the internet which is a bit tricky to do if you don't have an internet conenction.

This is a chicken and egg problem on an enormous scale, demand for broadband will be driver by demand for internet. Demand for internet is driven by cheap computers that can access it. This implies linux btu you can't use linux easily without broadand. I don't know what the answer is precisely but it is definitely a problem, as he concludes:

This isn't supposed to be a Ubuntu-sucks post. When it comes to Linux and open source software, I really want to believe. But I can only keep trying for so long.

Maybe a bit of Bil Gates' charitable dosh will go towards providing cheap computers and internet boadband to Africa?

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin