A last post about this Africa trip, I swear!
First of all, for those who are interested in media (video, photo) I downloaded lots of video and pictures i took, plus links to some materials I collected from others. All these resources are available on a page on my own personal site. We are working to create a space within the Web Foundation to store these media files, but it is not ready yet.
Below is a set of highlights that summarizes, in my view, the output of this trip.
- From an outsider perspective, I’m convinced that East Africa is at a very special time in its ICT history. The arrival of sea cables, the deployment of fiber optics, mixed with the emergence of young talented dynamic entrepreneurs, either coming from local countries, or returning to the region after some time abroad in the US or Europe, create the conditions for a real boom of the Web in the next few years. This is also an incredible opportunity for the whole continent to observe this digital revolution, and create the conditions for this boom to propagate to other countries. That said, there is still a need for a spark, for the revolution to really happen soon at all level of the society. This spark could be fired by visionary leaders, from the industry or from the government who would define the vision and goals for the society in five years, and work towards achieving them.
- At a more practical level, and more inline with the Web Foundation focus, we saw lots of interests, and lots of projects in the domain of crowd-sourced government transparency and accountability. Lots of organizations and people are working to inform citizens on how the country is operated, how the money is spent and so on. Some other organizations are also working towards improving communications between governments and citizens. I was also interested to see the importance of ICT in the national agenda. For now, most of the initiatives are working in their own corner, using and developing their own tools, using different sources of data and so on. There is a place for a global initiative on this topic, linking the different projects, identifying sources of data, tools, pushing government to release their data, and so on. That’s surely something the Web Foundation will consider.
- We saw similar needs in education. Lots of organizations understand the power of the Web to help schools, students and teachers in their daily tasks. There are lots of initiatives around twinning schools, and linking students through the Web. For now, these initiatives are not connected, and they are not aware of tools, and solutions others have developed.
We also found evidences and confirmation on some of the barriers we already identified in our programs:
- Language is a critical barrier. Delivering content and services in local language is a critical need to open the Web to all people. Supporting localization of services and tools, developing more languages on the Web is major step to increase the accessibility of the Web
- Concerning accessibility of the Web for people with disabilities, despite the enormous work already done by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, there are still lots of work. For now, there is no awareness at both the developer level, and the policy level on the importance of implementing accessibility guidelines, and how to do that. The affordability of assistive technologies such as screen readers and screen magnifiers is another major issue. The current free and open-source offer is limited and should be developed further.
- Finally, i also realized most of organizations developing ICT projects understand the power of technology in their work, have clear goals for the system they want to develop, but are lacking technical expertise that enable them to evaluate the different options available and select the most appropriate one given the context, the porfile for targeted end-users, the infrastructure and so on. Most of the time the choice of a particular option is based on the knowledge of one particular tool or technology, or the knowledge of someone expert in one tool or technology. There is usually no landscape analysis before the choice. A first step to help organizations in this step is the recent publication of the W3C Mobile Web for Social Development Roadmap, but raising awareness particularly on VoiceXML and mobile Web solutions is critical for the uptake of these new more powerful technologies.
To summarize, this trip completely fulfilled our expectations. We visited lots of field projects, we learnt lots of interesting stories, we had a good overview of some major barriers that prevent a greater and better use of the Web, and we developed a lot of very interesting contacts for the future. It is time now for us to integrate all these information in the Web Foundation strategy and programs.
I want to thank again all the people who helped me to organize this trip in Kenya and Uganda, particularly, Rob Macaire, British High Commissioner in Kenya, Victor Gathara from DFID (Kenya), Muriuki Mureithi and Alice Wanjira from KICTANET (Kenya), Daniel Stern from UCONNECT (Uganda), Eric Cantor from Grameen Foundation (Uganda), and Lawrence Zikusoka from CTPH (Uganda).