Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thirsty? Hungry? Sick? Try an E-book.

If you go to schools in Kenya or Tanzania, most schools, anyhow, you will see very sparsely furnished classrooms. Simple desks, often no electricity and nothing that requires electricity, some textbooks and copy books, not too many, children, of course, and sometimes even some teachers. So, if you were to write home about the experience, you may express surprise at the lack of teachers and books.

But if you're the prime minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, you may report that what the children really need is e-books. He advocates the use of e-books, not because children presently lack books, but to cut down on the use of paper and save the environment. In a country where many people lack safe water supplies, electricity and adequate food and nutrition, the leader of the government recommends e-books. And this perceptive man wants work on this to start immediately.

Schools urgently need teachers and teaching materials. Children need to be enabled to go to school as many can't, for various reasons. In Kenya, where there is 'free' primary education, so many things have to be paid for, meetings, desks, uniforms, exams, books; primary schooling is anything but free. Children and their families do, indeed, need electricity and access to technology, but without more basic things, like food and water, they will never be able to do anything with the technology.

And if Pinda is concerned about the destruction of the environment, he could also revoke logging licenses and control the huge mining operations that contaminate vast tracts of land. He could stop the foreign 'investors' from buying up most of the country's arable land to grow crops for biofuels and for food that's destined for foreign countries, while Tanzanians starve.

Of course, there are lots of people trying to persuade developing countries to buy into Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), it's in their interest to sell overpriced goods to people, regardless of whether they need them or not. But Pinda needs to address more urgent issues, such as water and food security, before investing in high(ly inappropriate) technology. Sphere: Related Content


  1. So spot on. I am a techno enthusiast, as you know, but you gotta have your priorities right: water, food, security come way ahead of netbooks.

  2. Hi George
    Thanks for the comment. Hope you and the family are well.

    Yes, I'm a techno enthusiast too but even some seemingly 'appropriate' technologies here are just not appropriate. For example, some British firm kindly sold extremely expensive wind generators to the Tanzanian government. It's true the country needs non fossil fuels and they have plenty of wind but foreign made generators are going to make the electricity uneconomical. Plus, the generators are made of components and using technology that is completely lacking here in East Africa. I can see the things rotting long before their use by date. But journalists loved it!