I’ve spent the past two weeks or so in Tanzania (to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro) and was curious to see how much this part of the world – considered a developing region despite the strong tourism presence – was participating in the digital revolution. My verdict, though perhaps anecdotal, is that even in this relatively poor, developing part of East Africa the digital revolution is a daily reality. Consider these snapshots:
– I am writing this post from one of several internet cafes in Moshi, which are typically crammed with locals and ex-pats catching up on email, checking their Facebook profiles or even using Skype to call home
– It’s possible to use a cell phone (or Blackberry) on virtually the entire Kilimanjaro mountain, and even to make a cell phone call from the summit – courtesy of a Chinese cellular network
– Cell phones are ubiquitous among the population of Moshi and the Kili guides. In fact, our guide used his phone (via text messages and calls) to coordinate his team and direct supplies across the various base camps
– By far the biggest marketing presence in the town and surrounding villages is for cell phone providers – Cell Tell and Vodaphone being the most prominent
– Schools designed to train locals in computer and internet technology are fairly common, and appear to be quite popular
Despite these positives, there are still drawbacks. On the internet side the vast majority of connections are via modem, and virtually useless for any type of rich content. Wi-fi hotspots are non-existent. Most hotels do not provide any sort of internet access (we had to borrow the reception desk at our hotel to send a few emails.) And both electrical power and mobile coverage can be spotty in some areas. But overall, with limited effort one can plug into the Web and use cell phones for both personal and business needs. I see all this as encouraging sign that the digital divide is becoming a relic of the past.