Candidates decry lack of internet in villages

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

Aspiring parliamentary candidates have decried lack of technology in the villages bordering the urban spaces and beyond. Speaking during one of the ongoing parliamentary debates conducted by GabzFM, a private station, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) candidate for Bobonong Taolo Lucas said many schools in his constituency “do not have access to internet.”

Lucas is one of a handful of aspiring parliamentary candidates who have spoken on the government’s slow pace in bringing technology to rural Botswana. He is seeking election to parliament for the fourth consecutive time this year in the same constituency.

During the same debate, a member of the audience said she was discouraged by lack of connectivity for both radio and television in Bobonong. “I hear Gabz FM says as its motto. ‘We bring the world closer to you’ but for us the world is very far,” she complained to the panelists.

In Botswana today, there is considerable disparity between rural and urban access to information and services – a “domestic information divide.” The majority of urban centres are relatively well supplied with radio, television, telephone and Internet access. The picture is significantly different in remote and rural areas, where even access to basic information such as radio, telephones and newspapers is problematic. 

“Many remote communities feel marginalised and not part of mainstream Botswana. The majority of Batswana are aware of the benefits arising from technology and the Internet. However, in most cases, especially in rural areas, basic needs such as electricity, roads and access to healthcare are much more pressing. Rural telephone and electrification programmes are continuing, but not at a pace that is adequate to satisfy demand, let alone the aggressive requirements of the Maitlamo project,” said a statement in the Maitlamo blueprint a government ICT initiative.

However, in a recent interview, a Performance Improvement Coordinator at the Botswana Education Hub, Billie Loeto, said through the ‘Adopt a School Programme’; the government was inviting individuals and organisations to assist in any way possible to alleviate such problems in the schools. “Companies are coming up with IT equipment and internet connectivity in areas that the government was going to take years to reach.”

He said the Education Hub normally asks prospective companies to explain how they would profile their IT assistance before they give them the go ahead.

The e-Readiness Assessment completed in June 2004 showed that Botswana’s level of e-readiness was a contrast of extremes. The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global IT Report then ranked Botswana 55th in the world in terms of overall national connectivity, demonstrating that the country is already an active participant in the global information society.

To date, the country has invested heavily in infrastructure and telecommunications and has a high penetration of fibre connectivity running to the urban areas. It has a sophisticated Government Data Network (GDN) and Police Private Network delivering connectivity to all government departments and agencies via high-speed Internet and satellite links. Mobile telephone usage continues to soar. 

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