Digital divide


With Marshal Mdeza:

In his book, From Rural Village to Global Village, Heather Hudson says the term digital divide was coined in 1990 to describe the ICT “haves” and have-nots”.

In those days, Africa’s population; was, 13.5 percent of the total world population yet in terms of internet users, Africa’s cake share was only 1.8 percent of the total global.


Half of the world population today has access to the internet, yet Africa’s situation remains the same to a greater extent; our rural villages have not digitised to become global villages. In Africa, the global village is in urban areas where the internet eliminates distance.

In healthcare, the model for most African countries is to have a rural hospital facility with good road infrastructure and a network of ambulance vehicles to evacuate serious ailments to urban hospitals.

While this structure looks fine, in digital terms, it is more expensive. A fiber network presence in the rural area can be used by senior medical doctors in urban hospitals to diagnose patients admitted at the rural hospital online and in real-time.


With the fiber network presence in the rural area, the distance from the urban area would be eliminated.

Because it would now be a global village; connected to the entire world by an internet link, young doctors will find the area attractive and will be willing to be transferred to those rural hospitals.

A malaria research project at a rural site in northern Ghana once used an internet infrastructure, Health net, to communicate on a daily basis with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Tropical Research Centre in Geneva. An internet presence eliminated distance from rural northern Ghana to London and Geneva.

In the higher education sector, most of the universities in Africa are in urban setting. That creates an influx of students from rural to the cities. That situation exerts pressure on dormitory and teaching space on the university campus.

This raises the cost of education for the student from rural area where income levels are usually lower.

This is an issue of digital divide; if a one internet super-highway existed in the rural area; the urban university would replicate itself by extending lectures to the rural area; and students would get the same education right at the village square.

In Canada, British Columbia’s Open University offers about 500 college and university level courses to more than 16,000 students. The delivery is via teleconferencing, computer conferencing and television.

Companies like Hewlett Packard, Cisco and Dell which are multinational in nature, provide ICT-based training for employees worldwide at a mere fraction of the cost of traditional classes.

Rural electrification is key in turning the rural village into a global one. The rural village must be ‘lit’ up for the internet infrastructure to work.

In an information age, digital divide is the greatest enemy that slows down the rural village’s journey towards a global village where distance is no barrier.

The good news is that we are at the point where every African household either has a cellular access of lives next door to somebody who does as predicted by Carl Edgar in 2001.

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