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Connecting Rural Sierra LeonePosted by: admin on Wed, 2011-08-17 10:16
Paki Masabong is the first chiefdom in Sierra Leone to get access to the internet. The multi-use internet resource center that serves the village may be a model for connecting other rural areas in the country. Bai-Bai Sesay reports...
Sierra Leone is taking steps toward closing the technology gap between its rural and urban citizens. Thanks to a new internet resource center, Mapaki is the first rural community in Sierra Leone to enjoy internet access. The government has recently pledged to build similar centers in several other rural villages.
This spring, the Center for Development and Peace Education (Cdpeace), a local nongovernmental organization promoting peace and self-sufficiency, opened a multipurpose internet resource center in Northern Sierra Leone’s Paki Masabong Chiefdom in the Bombali District.
Internet for one of 149 chiefdoms
Cdpeace invested in this much-needed service to bridge the digital divide between the country’s rural and urban communities. Of the country’s 149 chiefdoms, Masabong is the first to receive an internet resource center for the community. This explains why the unveiling ceremony in April attracted Sierra Leone’s leading information technology and communications stakeholders and businesses as well as government functionaries. NATCOM (National Telecommunications Commission) officials, chiefdom authorities and community leaders, Cdpeace staff and partners from Queens University in Canada, as well as school pupils in the chiefdom were in attendance.
“A telecom centre in a rural community like Mapaki is a step in the right direction,” said Commissioner Saidu Turay of NATCOM, the nation’s monitoring authority charged with the responsibility of monitoring all communications systems and institutions in the country. “As the competition increases in the rural areas, ICT services will become more affordable to a greater number of people.”
Paramount Chief Masapaki Kobombor, in whose chiefdom the service was established, expressed gratitude toward Cdpeace and its partners “for bringing the world closer to our chiefdom.”
“This is a memorable day for us to celebrate, and today we can boast of being the first chiefdom in the country to have internet services,” said Kobombor.
Assistant Director and Program Manager of Cdpeace, Dr. Moses Lahai, lauded the efforts of Paramount Chief Masapaki Kobombor. Lahai complimented the chief for his good work and his cooperation with modern institutions, although he is a traditional ruler.
Lahai explained that the multipurpose center had already begun offering computer training for teachers, pupils and other community members in Mapaki. The center will also be used to help children in the chiefdom to “twin” – form partnerships -- with other schools around the world.
Government pledges to improve ICT access in rural Sierra Leone
The socioeconomic and political structures of the country’s rural communities have been neglected as a result of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war. The majority of the country’s population resides in rural areas and most lives in abject poverty.
Rural communities face a scarcity of numerous basic services. Most do not have access to educational and health facilities. These factors, combined with the lack of jobs, have created a mass migration to the country’s urban areas.
With the opening of the Mapaki Resource Center, Cdpeace is complimenting NATCOM’s efforts to promote “regional equity” in access to telephone, internet and other ICT services. At the opening ceremony, Commissioner Turay announced that, as part of NATCOM’s work to expand the country’s telecommunications industry, the government is opening several multi-purpose telecenters similar to the Mapaki center.
“It will involve five pilot multipurpose telecenter projects nationwide initiated by NATCOM in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communications,” he explained. Turay added that plans are underway to furnish the multipurpose telecenters with computers, printers and photocopiers at an estimated cost of US$40,000. Turay also revealed that NATCOM has a plan for all the country’s chiefdoms, especially the less-privileged ones, to gain access to basic telecommunications by 2015.
“We established the Universal Access Development Fund (UADF) last year to enhance our effort in rural connectivity for sustainable solutions,” said Turay. He noted that the Fund, which is supported by a 1 percent tax on the gross annual revenues of telecom companies, will bring technology to communities not currently served by the telecom market.
“The Fund will be utilized to fill the infrastructural gaps in areas that the telecoms operators and ISPs have not been able to identify as economically viable,” said Turay.
Sierra Leone’s achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals largely depends on the extent to which the potentials of the rural communities can be realized and fully developed. Therefore, there is an urgent need to transform the current unsustainable socioeconomic and political landscape of the rural communities. Improving the technological infrastructure of these communities is a critical step in this transformation.