Fear grips staff as Africa’s municipalities go wireless

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Municipalities, flag-bearers of socio-economic development in Africa’s townships and suburbs, are constantly seeking to enhance their service delivery, and therefore stay relevant in the communities they operate.

Research shows that many of the continent’s municipalities have made their intentions clear of the strategy they would use to achieve these goals: acquire wireless networks to save money, foster economic development and increase their communities’ access to the Net.

“Going wireless will mean, among others, setting up digital centres to facilitate, for instance, the payment of municipal bills, registering citizens’ complaints about service delivery, reporting corruption and bad behaviour of counsellors and mayoral committee’s members,” tech analyst Ibrahima Diabaté told Biztechafrica.

“Computer centres can also link municipal librairies, clinics, schools, small businesses, police and HIV/Aids centres, among others.”

Municipalities can also set up learning centres to teach residents basic computer skills at a lower fee, and open internet cafés to help enhance the penetration of the internet, especially in underdeveloped areas, he added.

“It’s not an easy task, but with a little dose of political will and conscience, this can be done.  The private sector can be called in to assist in establishing wireless projects of this nature.

“ICTs can dramatically help improve accountability and transparency of Africa’s municipalities, which residents increasingly see as bedrocks of corruption. Setting up such digital projects can also reassert residents’ confidence in the so-called ‘rotten’ municipal system.

“And why not go as far as providing free WiFi to residents? Just imagine browsing the internet while relaxing in a municipal Wifi park!”

But municipal digital networks can do much more than that, as researcher Catherine Middleton, of the Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management, found out.

“Municipal networks can be used to support ‘smart grids’, enabling better management of energy resources, and helping address issues of climate change,” she wrote in a 2009 report called Developing Municipal Wireless Infrastructure.

While change is good, for some however the fear of the ‘unknown’ is too hot to handle.

“If these municipalities go wireless, I wonder what people like us will become,” Konate Abdel Kader* said.

“I’m almost 54 years old and the only machine I grew up manipulating is the typewriter. I think this is just a way of telling us ‘go home to rest, your time’s up, we want to employ the younger ones, the tech-minded ones?”

His friend, a 51-year-old man, said: “If they bring all these gadgets here, it will mean we will have to be trained again to use them? No, I’m too old to learn some boring new technologies.”

He warned: “It’s a big mistake to think that service delivery will considerably improve if all these digital centres are set up all over here. What matters the most or the biggest problem of many municipalities is the leadership – it’s rotten to the core. There is also a need to ‘digitise’ that leadership.”

 

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