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Cellphones Leapfrog Poor Infrastructure in Mali

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the twenty-first-century-meets-the-seventeenth dept.

Cellphones 102

Hugh Pickens writes "CBC News has up an article by Peace Corps volunteer Heidi Vogt, a woman who served in the small village of Gono in Mali five years ago and remembers letters dictated and hand-carried by donkey cart or bicycle to the next town. Vogt recently returned to see the changes that cellphone communications have made in a village that still doesn't have electricity or decent drinking water. 'Gono's elders say the phones can keep them in touch with their village diaspora,' writes Vogt. 'Villagers depend on far-off relatives to send money in time of crisis — if someone is sick, if a house has caught fire, if there's been too little or too much rain and the harvest is poor. There's a new sense of connection to a larger world. In a village where most people can't read or write, they can now communicate directly with far-off relatives.'"

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with out power it is hard to keep your phone batt. (0)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276106)

with out electricity it is hard to keep your phones battery from running out.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

rakuen (1230808) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276246)

I suppose a small crank generator could be supplied to give short phone calls.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276258)

Wouldn't take much of a solar panel to keep a cell phone alive either.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

Dan541 (1032000) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280514)

Has anyone here ever used a crank generator?

I have a tourch that is crank powered and it dosent hold a good charge for long, the three leds start fading as soon as you stop cranking so you need the be cranking while using it inorder to get good light and considering how cheap it is to use batteries in an led tourch your better off just buying the batteries.

Even one of those single led tourches people have on keyrings would be better suited to most jobs, I just keep my tourch in the car for when all else fails.

~Dan

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276266)

No it's not. [amazon.com]

Yet another stupid /. article. (0, Troll)

Fat Wang (1230914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276340)

This is yet even more evidence that /. doesn't check to make sure the articles being posted are complete nonsense. I'd rather read about Diablo III than a bunch of black people in a remote village using cell phones like apes.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (4, Informative)

RattFink (93631) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276342)

From the article they charge them by connecting them to their car's battery.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276804)

I'm surprised they can get the range they are getting from the cell tower they're using.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (0)

Heembo (916647) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276842)

RTFA: "Everyone in Gono knows the spots where you can get a clear signal - there's a good place to stand by the well on the northern edge of the village, or a few people have sticks propped up on their roofs from which they hang phones. The best reception is up in the cliff, where a few dozen people live in rock huts."

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276912)

Dude, I DID read the article. No thanks to you for the asinine and flippant accusation suggesting otherwise.

The article seems to suggest that the cell tower was 16 miles away. I'm just saying that's pretty impressive range.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (2, Insightful)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277268)

Not as impressive if you consider that there is little to no spectral interference either.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281342)

Certainly the have the sun there. Or is that not a major interferer with cell signals?

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

Heembo (916647) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277456)

"asinine and flippant accusation" is the slashdot way, man! :)

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277478)

OK, it's not that big of a deal.

Re:with out power it is hard to keep your phone ba (0)

Heembo (916647) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276756)

RTFA: "Handsets charge off car batteries in mud huts."

Good start. (0, Flamebait)

The Anarchist Avenge (1004563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276146)

Sweet. Now that they've got communication, lets get some health infrastructure and good food/water going over there. The United States of America is the richest country on the god-damned planet, there's gotta be more we can do to positively contribute to the third world. I suggest that we immediately stop toppling governments. The US political system seems to do a lot of that, and not much good ever seems to happen. Unless you like it when nuns die, in which case, more power to ya.

Re:Good start. (2, Interesting)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276204)

Perhaps we can start by stopping our selling of weapons to them. It is revolting to the point where I almost want to cry that the American weapons manufacturers get rich off of essentially helping people kill each other easier. If the same materials and energy went into providing them with infrastructure instead of weapons then I couldn't imagine the world we'd be in now.

This however is another paradoxical example of where it is impossible to tell if it is demand driving supply or supply driving demand, just as with news media and entertainment. I always prefer to go on the assumption that the supply is driving the demand, because if I'm wrong, at least I'm erring on the side of reason and intelligence.

Re:Good start. (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276770)

Quite the emotional one eh? The world sucks, get over it.

Re:Good start. (2, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276874)

People have been killing each other in the absense of American weapons for millennia. All that's needed to kill is a rock. Sometimes not even that. The abundance of rocks suitable for killing probably doesn't cause the demand for weaponized rocks. The same with pointy sticks. I think it's basic human nature. People with any sort of power are willing to kill to keep it. Others wanting power are willing to kill for it. The same goes for resources. It's quite a vicious feedback loop, but the availability of a weapon isn't the root cause.

I also really don't think it's fair to single out US weapons suppliers when probably every country that makes weapons sells them too. Russia, China, France, the UK and maybe every other "major" country exports weapons.

Re:Good start. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22277024)

I'm part of a large movement to remove all rocks from third world countries.

Some say, rocks don't kill people, only people do...

Without a rock it becomes just that much more difficult to slay another person.

Once this is completed, we are moving onto our next project... removing hands... I know... fucking brilliant... I can't believe we didn't think of this earlier.

Re:Good start. (5, Insightful)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277078)

I'm forgoing using my shiny new Mod-points to say- ^^This^^

Look at Kenya, once a bastion of African stability (corruption not withstanding). Pretty much the nicest, most progressive and most developed sub-Saharan country in Africa, second only to SA (and what Zimbabwe once was)

In the space of a few weeks, they went from stability to killing each other with pangas, bows and arrows. Guns aren't the problem.

Re:Good start. (2, Insightful)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278572)

Why add fuel to the fire though? If the end result of any action is supposed to be peace (I can't imagine an argument against wanting peace at large), and all people are equal, than how can you accept knowingly that there are businesses around you built on perpetuating (Or at least de-incentivized to stopping) a violent cycle for the sake of taking the resources of a land which should be used for the betterment of the people of the nation.

All I'm saying is that the economic wealth we enjoy (and if you're using a computer on the internet right now, you're probably one of the "we" I am referring to) is built solely on the pain and suffering of many throughout the globe.

Furthermore, just because something has been going on for a long time doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to make things better. Is this the ideal world you want? Is this the kind of world you want to hand down to the next generation? We all have different desires, and we all in our own way try to push the world around us in the direction of these desires, be it wanting to get a good job so you study hard or wanting to get up to get a drink. But peace is a common desire we all share, and this isn't something we should laugh about, or mock someone for being an idealistic hippie.

I acknowledge that violent conflict is sometimes unfortunately necessary to achieve peace, however. But pursuing violent conflict which doesn't have the immediate intention of achieving peace is an assault on the dignity of human kind, a blow to the single thread which gathers together all sane, reasonable men.

I was going to put the obligitory "sure go ahead mod me down" thing here, but this is really what I believe, so if you don't like it, then maybe I'm the crazy one.

Re:Good start. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22278696)

But peace is a common desire we all share.

Unfortunately not dude. Some people are just wired differently. They need to kill things 24/7. Just look at Americans - always invading somewhere, constant black-ops operations all over the world, then whining when some small group retaliates ONCE. According to Noam Chomsky, USofA has committed more acts of terrorism than everyone else put together. Something tells me they don't want peace; 'cause if everyone can achieve equality, it means fat lazy ppl need to start pulling their weight, like the slaves of this world do.

Re:Good start. (2, Informative)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278934)

While I admire your idealism here, I was never endorsing the idea that selling guns is fundamentally good in any way, I don't believe that. I was simply saying that you cannot take away or prevent the guns and expect the result magically to be peace.

Guns are tools, tools that can be used for murder, but as Africa in particular has shown us, people can and do commit murder and atrocities on epic scales without guns.

Re:Good start. (1)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279630)

The differences are measures in orders of magnitude, though. Especially considering the speed at which we can communicate now. Without the widespread use of advanced weaponry, the cost of life will be limited while a resolution can be attained.

Re:Good start. (1)

Grym (725290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280166)

Technology is technology. You can't have cellphones and computers without also having guns, bombs, etc. The modern combat rifle has been around for about 60 years now. Even modern jets were products of the breakthroughs made in the the late '40s. If people are wanting to kill eachother and are willing to spend the money to buy modern weaponry, no amount of naive, wishful thinking is going to stop it from being available to them.

-Grym

Re:Good start. (1)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280192)

You're missing the entire point. It isn't about restricting technological advancement. My point is you shouldn't tolerate your government or society aiding any other group on this planet to kill another group on this planet, unless it is a direct and immediate threat from an unreasonable enemy. And the only reason it is available from us is because we sell it to them. CAPITALISM IN ITS CURRENT FORM IS INCENTIVIZING PEOPLE TO KILL OTHER PEOPLE DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?!

I feel like the whole world is crazy and they just don't see it.

Re:Good start. (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281196)

It is interesting to note how South Africa and Rhodesia used to be much more developed than they are now. Makes one wonder...

Re:Good start. (1)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281452)

I don't know if by reffering to it as Rhodesia you are merely showing your age, or making some oblique reference to white rule... but your point stands for Zimbabwe. Mugabe has wrecked a jewel of a country.

  South Africa, however, is more complicated than that. On one hand, I can easily point to SA's vastly increased integration into the global market since the end of apartheid, higher economic growth, lower inflation, better, more equitable access to social services and improvements in education... I'd call all that pretty solid "development"

On the other hand, things aren't exactly rosy today. HIV/AIDS is still rampant, unemployment and crime are unacceptably high. Refugees from neighboring countries compete for what jobs exist and drain resources, urbanization is increasing pressure on infrastructure etc.

All in all, is it a better South Africa than it was 15 years ago? I'd say yes, better, certainly more "developed", but crazier because of all the problems still facing the people.

Africa is a tough place, but the difference between struggling-but-working South Africa and rock-bottom-crisis Zimbabwe is the difference between democracy and dictatorship

Re:Good start. (1)

emilper (826945) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277142)

no, it's not the American weapon manufacturers that are helping third world people kill each other, unless the American weapon manufacturers sell machetes.

Re:Good start. (1)

cubicfish (1232134) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277388)

Yes, because every third world country is exactly the same. They are all at civil war made possible by American made weapons. BTW, the weapon of choice in most third world countries is the AK-47, and guess who doesn't manufacture those. I see this article as a positive use of technology in very poor parts of the world.

Re:Good start. (5, Informative)

kaynaan (1180525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279928)

As much as I like to blame America for what's wrong in the world these days (And they are to blame 99 % of the time).

Where I'm from (Somalia), weapons are probably where you see the least American influence. The most common weapons you find are Chinese, Libyan, Russian made AK-47's. Although the M-16 was becoming popular when i was there last time. especially for it's light weight.

And similar to what the Original poster noted, our Telecommunication infrastructure is one of the top in East Africa, it is a True free market, absolutely no regulation, no taxes.

But aside from Telecom everything else in the whole, completely unstable, 17 year civil year, puppet interim governments (we have our version of Hamid Karzai).

Re:Good start. (1)

BeanThere (28381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22285516)

Or they can start by not buying them. You speak as though they are innocent victims of actions we're forcing upon them. What nonsense. Nobody is forcing them to buy anything.

If those African governments buying guns decided they wanted to instead spend all that money on, say, textbooks, I guarantee, the West would shut down some gun factories and start printing more books.

You also imply that the West is rich *because* Africa is poor, which economically is a complete load of bollocks, nobody in the West gets any richer when an African dies, only poorer.

And as someone else pointed out, pangas etc. are a far more common weapon used in Africa, maybe the innocent victims of panga attacks could use guns for self-defence. Oh, never thought of that, did you.

Yep... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276214)

but that's only a small start to our plan for world domination!

Re:Good start. (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276216)

We (the rest of the world) would be very content with you guys just sticking to your continent and minding your own business. :)

Re:Good start. (2, Interesting)

The Anarchist Avenge (1004563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276260)

I know it doesn't seem like it, but most of us feel the same way over here. Apparently though, the ones with mod points are the ones that disagree with me. (Current score: -1 flamebait)

I'm American and I Agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22276758)

The Nazi's would have been a lot less whiny than you guys.

Re:Good start. (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277358)

You do realize that if the US went on tilt and full isolationist the world would go into recession and war would increase.
If we withdrew our money, our food programs, and our influence, there would be short term cries of victory, followed by pandemonium, famine, and increased violence. This I suspect would be followed up by a "do something" from the UN/WTO.

I realize that our current administration is a laughing stock, and I realize that we the US have a history of meddling too much (I postulate that some meddling is nearly required), and in the wrong areas. But to wish us out of the world indicates to me that all of the NGOs that the government funds (does not control, just dishes out money/food), and government programs to supply aid (think of how quickly we had warships on peaceful aid missions after the recent tsunami) are un-appreciated.

Sorry for the rant but hey, that's my 2c
-nB

Re:Good start. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22278158)

The world includes the US.

Re:Good start. (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278268)

Yes the US is by far the largest donor to international humanitarian aid and as a non-american I for one applaude them for that. However I think it would be the US that suffered the most if it became radically isolationist. The US is rich because of trade not despite it, what is 'unfortunate' is that the benifits have often been one sided.

Re:Good start. (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22282062)

Yes the US is by far the largest donor to international humanitarian aid and as a non-american I for one applaude them for that.

Depends on how you see it.

Sweden gives 1.03% of GNI,
Luxembourg and Norway 0.89%
then comes almost every other industrial nation
then the US as second-last with 0.17%

And all the rich nations agreed in the UN to give at least 0.7%

Re:Good start. (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22287432)

I stand corrected.

Re:Good start. (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310766)

Most total $$, least (close enough) by %.
Goes to show:
Lies, Damned lies, and statistics :-)

Either way, to respond above the chain as well:
I fully agree it would hurt the US.
-nB

Re:Good start. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22276366)

Sweet. Now that they've got communication, lets get some health infrastructure and good food/water going over there. The United States of America is the richest country on the god-damned planet, there's gotta be more we can do to positively contribute to the third world. I suggest that we immediately stop toppling governments.

We haven't toppled Mugabe. You can be happy that the US hasn't interfered with his progressive advances for Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Africa.

Re:Good start. (1)

RattFink (93631) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276484)

Sweet. Now that they've got communication, lets get some health infrastructure and good food/water going over there.

That kind of stuff is what the Peace Corps does and the reason she was there in the first place. It's often though their work that many of these villages can start thinking about keeping in touch with others outside of the village rather worrying over rampid disease, crop failures, etc.

Re:Good start. (1)

Aardpig (622459) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279556)

And let's not forget all of the other valuable stuff the Peace Corps does. Like serve as a cover for CIA agents that agitate and help set up coups.

Re:Good start. (4, Insightful)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280390)

Now you may have been joking, but as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I think I can safely speak for all Peace Corps Volunteers, past and present:

UP YOURS!

That kind of bullshit, paranoid thinking reared it's head at me and some of my friends through our service. Rumors get spread, and some un-trusting chap would come up and confront one of us for being an "agent" of the USA, and accuse us of plotting nebulous, vague "bad" things in projects like, oh say BOOKS FOR THE SCHOOL, or TEACHING PEOPLE TO MAKE JAM. It didn't matter that the person couldn't make a logical connection between JAM/BOOKS and EVIL, their trust was broken.
Trust that is hard enough to earn in the first place.
Trust is what keeps a volunteer safe.
(Not to sound melodramatic, but off the top of my head I can think of at least one situation I was in where my life might have been in danger had some paranoid-ass started saying I was CIA.)

The Peace Corps goes to great lengths to distance itself from any inkling of spying. If a person has ever been in an intelligence gathering position, they can pretty much kiss their chances of volunteering goodbye. After you have volunteered, you are PREVENTED from taking any job in the intelligence services for something like 5 years at a minimum. Volunteers are not allowed to make political statements relating to the host country, and are discouraged from pretty much anything political in nature i.e, do it and you could go home. There is no fucking spying going on in the Peace Corps.

If you still don't believe me, let me clue you in on a non-secret: Peace Corps volunteers by and large get sent to rural areas. Why the fuck would the CIA or NSA give a rats ass about what is going on in some forgotten backwater of a country, let alone care enough to put a covert agent there for extended time? As for the few volunteers who go to large cities, there would be no need for a "Peace Corps cover" with all the other options (State Department, USAID etc), and a Peace Corps cover would be a pretty shitty one at that, because you probably wouldn't get a ton of useful intel out of schoolchildren and aids patients.

Sorry, but that really touched a nerve.

Re:Good start. (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276606)

weet. Now that they've got communication, lets get some health infrastructure and good food/water going over there. The United States of America is the richest country on the god-damned planet, there's gotta be more we can do to positively contribute to the third world.

You seem to imply that the US (and the rest of the 'west') isn't contributing a whole lot.
Bull.

I suggest that we immediately stop toppling governments.

Ok, great. And lets get them to start electing leaders who won't steal the money and foodstuffs we do send them.

Re:Good start. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22278760)

I'm guessing you haven't heard of the "Katrina event" yet.

Re:Good start. (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279084)

The United States of America is the richest country on the god-damned planet, there's gotta be more we can do to positively contribute to the third world. I suggest that we immediately stop toppling governments.
You do realize many times you can't positively contribute without toppling "governments. Many third world countries are suffering because that is how those in power maintain control.

The US political system seems to do a lot of that, and not much good ever seems to happen.
So do France, UN, NATO, etc. The first world countries constantly have been getting involved backing corrupt governments or rebels, in countries around the world to protect their own interests. Just because places like Haiti and the Ivory Coast aren't front page doesn't mean there isn't government toppling, and calling an occupying force "UN peacekeepers" doesn't make it any different from US troops in Iraq.

Re:Good start. (1)

Lennie (16154) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281594)

Let's get something straight here, yes there might be a lot of money in the US, but a lot of it is borrowed from Asia and Europe, the companies, people and the country it self have a lot of depts.

Naw, lets get communications fixed in the US first (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 6 years ago | (#22283228)

Two, three competing cell phone formats? Huge areas of the country which are entirely cut off from cell service. No, lets get our communications up to at least third world standards before we start taking on the third world's water and healthcare problems. Hell, let's get a grip on our own healthcare, too, while we're at it.

asl? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22276184)

u r hot wanna fuck? lol

in a village that still doesn't have electricity.. (1)

sir 8ed (207862) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276186)

Use your online minutes wisely!

Phones before guns (2, Insightful)

bornwaysouth (1138751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276210)

Nice article. Positives and negatives, with the mum worried by her sons who do not call.

The effect of cell phones is to allow a village to remain much the same village, despite the children dispersing. Over time, the kids will marry away, but the blow gets softened, and the children are stabilized by contact with home.

So it is a good thing over all. The interesting bit is: who pays for the village phones. Just the children. When you think that this is a force for stability, and how cheap phones are compared to machine guns, it is a pity that some military dollars didn't go into these phones.

Re:Phones before guns (5, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277158)

I actually don't think it's such a "nice" article, as it does very little to paint a bigger picture, except for this one paragraph:

The cellphone tower that services Gono wasn't built for the village. It was built in 2005 for the 25,000-person town of Douentza, 16 kilometres away, where there are people who work in offices and receive monthly salaries. Gono was just the lucky recipient of some of Douentza's spare coverage.
About 25% of Mali's population lives in 25 cities
Doutenze (at 25,000 people) ranks in Mali's top 20 cities
Mali is one of the 3rd poorest country in the world according to the UN*
The median age is 16

Here are the coverage maps for Mali:
http://www.gsmworld.com/cgi-bin/ni_map.pl?cc=ml&net=ik [gsmworld.com]
http://www.gsmworld.com/cgi-bin/ni_map.pl?cc=ml&net=mt [gsmworld.com]

Notice how little of the country is covered? This "news" is just a human interest story, a fluff piece designed to give you the warm fuzzies. That small village is not representative of Mali as a whole and anyone trying to extrapolate anything from such an example is making a mistake.

*2006 Human Development Index

Preemption (4, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276386)

Ok, if you are going to be the first person to post "what do they need cellphones/computers/internet for, give them food instead" type of post in this thread, I have something to say to you. You are an idiot. Please try to understand that you are an idiot and shouldn't be posting your idiotic opinions on slashdot or anywhere else. Instead, try to improve yourself somehow, take some classes or whatever. It won't help, but at least it will keep you busy.

Re:Preemption (1)

athdemo (1153305) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276422)

Yeah, they couldn't order pizza without the phones, I guess.

Re:Preemption (1)

Heembo (916647) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276870)

Well, at least they will not get hot pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less. Travel by donkey is rather slow.

Re:Preemption (1)

jlarocco (851450) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276504)

Do you have any arguments other than "People who think that are idiots"?

Re:Preemption (4, Interesting)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276782)

GP may not, but I can. I spent about half of last year in Chad for work. The situation there is similar to that described in the article--lots of people have cell phones, but nobody has electricity, running water, or sanitation systems. Nobody forced these people to get cell phones first. These people decided to spend their own hard-earned money in this manner. At some point in the future, I'm sure they'll get running water and electricity, but for now, this is what they've decided to do with their money.

It's capitalism at its finest--let the people decide for themselves what is most deserving of their money.

Re:Preemption (1)

Klinky (636952) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278470)

I don't think it's fair to put the blame on the individuals necessarily. While it's true that the money could possibly be better spent building infrastructure, you also have to admit that infrastructure is not an easy or cheap thing to build. How much does it cost for a month of airtime on a cell phone vs wiring a whole city with electricity or building an functional sewage, sanitation & drinking system. The fact is, it would take much much more money and many more people working together to make it happen. When you're living day to day, a lifeline to the outside world which can provide resources to obtain drinkable water, food, etc... may feel more pressing than trying to get you and your neighbors and possibly an entire town to pool together their meager funds to try to build a infrastructure. This is even harder when you have a continent that is in such turmoil as Africa.

Re:Preemption (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278644)

There is not a lack of food in the world. People starve because they are *poor*. The best way to prevent starvation is to help them to be *not poor*. Ready communications is extraordinarily useful in trying to climb out of poverty; a farmer who knows what crops bring what prices in which markets knows what to raise and where to sell it--but he can't spend the days it would take to go to those markets to father those prices. Give him a way to know those prices in a few moments and he's taken a big step up.

Preemption-Money makes the loans go round. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22279708)

Information is only half the solution. Microloans are the other half.

Re:Preemption (3, Interesting)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280522)

I have personally seen this in action. A few villages over from where I was living in Africa there was a fertile patch of land that was a tomato producing machine, and I mean buckets-and-bushels -piled-high-year-round kind of production. One guy with no other job (like most) figured out that he could make money transporting tomatoes if he bought cheap at the source and sold them in town at the going rate. The bulk rate fluctuated at either end, and it was only worth his time when the prices were right, but that is where the cell phone came in (motorized transport costs would have eaten any profit and it was a grueling bike-ride/push).

Even though he didn't do it more than a few times, I was impressed with the idea.

And I still have no idea how they grew so many bloody tomatoes in that place. It was insane

Re:Preemption (1)

dacullen76 (1161633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22282032)

If I have a few dollars a month I can buy a cell phone. And the infrastructure (cell tower) will be built as a commercial FOR PROFIT facility. And I get an immediate payoff - instant communication, prestige of having a cell phone, perhaps even the ability to sell calls. IF I have a few dollars a month and I want electricity or running water, well, Either I need some big bucks up front or a spend them as taxes to get the infrastructure built. In most cases electricity and water are perceived as public utilities, built with public money (taxes) and priced at the lowest possible (and perhaps subsidized) cost. More over I might not understand how many people die from untreated water and not value that service.

Re:Preemption (0, Troll)

kanweg (771128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276516)

Sorry, but your post will not help. In my country we have a newspaper called the Telegraph. If people have brains, they avoid it. If they don't have brains, they don't have the brains to understand any explanation why they should avoid it. Catch 22, I believe.

Bert

Re:Preemption (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276544)

Ok, if you are going to be the first person to post "what do they need cellphones/computers/internet for, give them food instead" type of post in this thread, I have something to say to you. You are an idiot. Please try to understand that you are an idiot and shouldn't be posting your idiotic opinions on slashdot or anywhere else. Instead, try to improve yourself somehow, take some classes or whatever.
Would you recommend they take cooking classes?
 

Re:Preemption (1)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276612)

Let me also pre-emptively respond to those who think that because they have cellphones they are now contributing to global warming. By not having to travel to see their children or far off relatives in order to have a conversation they are reducing their carbon footprint massively.

Re:Preemption (1)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277962)

Fully agreed. People don't understand that one thing doesn't exclude the other. Just because they're given technology it doesn't mean that they won't have food. Believe it or not, people in other parts of the world also want things other than food. Everyone outside of the G8 aren't starving either.

Furthermore, the role of technology is misunderstood by people who say these things. Technology might not directly feed your family but it is a force multiplier and a time saver. There is a reason why most of the people in the country or any industrialized country aren't farmers. There's no need for that because one farmer can do the job of many before him/her. I don't know how better communications will help in this specific case but that's just the way it is with technology. Few people can accurately foresee the use of technology but ultimately the users will find a way when they have a need and how they use it will not be close to what any of the inventors have imagined. This is a reason why I'm excited about the OLPC. We'll see in the years to come what those laptops will do for the countries getting them and it will surprise most of us.

Why not both at once? (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279200)

Why not solve both problems at once and send them bananaphones? I mean, the bananaphone is just perfect fot those regions. It's the best, beats the rest... Cellular, modular, interactive-odular - you name it, it is it. It'd take some financial strain off them, as well, because they won't need quarters, won't need dimes to call a friend of them. If the people in those regions had bananaphones, they'd call for pizza, they'd call their cat; they'd call the White House, have a chat. It would be commonplace to even see them place calls around the world, asking the operator to give them Beijing-jing-jing-jing.

I really see the bananaphone as the only situation where they can have their phone and eat it too.

what do they need cellphones for? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22276590)

"what do they need cellphones/computers/internet for, give them food instead"
It is obvious that in the major insurgancies in the region are going to keep blowing up the infrastructure as their power and territory waxes and wanes vs govt troop deployments so perhaps in this case, it may be appropriate to say this. Although previous slashdotters (read techno-centric people) would argue otherwise, the main factions of the Mba'Lo region do not want any of this, they simply want control and they are willing to starve people out of the region. When you are dying for a piece of bread, yeah it's great that you can call Taroosha, the nearest regional capital, but they cannot get it to you in any case.

Re:what do they need cellphones for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22276742)

Ah, I'm sorry, but according to clarkkent09 up there, you're an idiot :'(

Wrong Solutions? (1, Insightful)

WhiteWolf666 (145211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276754)

I hate to be a first-world asshole, but why would be happy that a third world village is dependent upon its diaspora? Why is this an acceptable state of affairs? Doesn't it bother anyone that these means of communication aren't really sparking commerce?

Instead of sending them food, cellphones, water, or weapons, why not send them some capitalism? Microloans, an active press to fight corruption, and education in systems of law and governance?

Decades of assistance to the third world, and all manner of socialist leaders ready to aid and reform have done little except generate more poverty. Perhaps, instead of giving to the third world, we should start taking; in the form of purchasing agricultural goods, in ecotourism, and other friendly means to transfer money to these areas while simultaneously encouraging (and rewarding!!) hardwork?

It is very, very difficult to motivate yourself to do anything, and create anything, particularly in terrible conditions, without payoff. I think the current state of the third world proves this.

It is difficult for me to watch people prescribe aid, because foreign aid tends to be useless, and siphoned off into corruption. It would be far better to encourage a vibrant economy, both here (by ending 1st world agricultural subsidies), and abroad (by buying good and products from "known good" third world sources).

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276776)

Out of curiosity... have you visited Mali yet?

Re:Wrong Solutions? (4, Insightful)

WhiteWolf666 (145211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276840)

No, but that's mainly because I've got a limited budget, and existing business interests in other places in northern and western africa, eastern europe, and latin america.

I've a feeling I've seen similar villages to the one discussed in the article, though.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. One of the biggest shocks to me in my life was when I visited a small village in Ethiopia dominated by a former communal farm. One of the middle level farm workers asked me, in English, why the U.S. maintained such high subsidies on cotton and rice; why wouldn't the U.S., master of free trade, import Ethiopian cotton and rice?

They didn't want aid; they didn't want "education". They wanted to know why we refused to buy their products, even though their products were produced more cheaply than ours.

How do you answer that? Coming from someone who makes less in a month than I might spend in a night.

Maybe it is just me, but there is only one answer; abject shame, apologies, and a decision to try one's hardest to pursue business in the forgotten realms of this planet.

Wrong Solutions?-Made in America. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22279762)

"They didn't want aid; they didn't want "education". They wanted to know why we refused to buy their products, even though their products were produced more cheaply than ours."

Hey! It worked for China and India. Why not them? Anything else people feel we should outsource in the name of helping the planet?

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

Grym (725290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280114)

One of the middle level farm workers asked me, in English, why the U.S. maintained such high subsidies on cotton and rice; why wouldn't the U.S., master of free trade, import Ethiopian cotton and rice?...They wanted to know why we refused to buy their products, even though their products were produced more cheaply than ours. How do you answer that? Coming from someone who makes less in a month than I might spend in a night.

The answer is rather simple. Being a sovereign nation, the United States isn't obligated to buy anything from anyone, even if it is cheaper.

Technically, we don't even need one but the reason we choose to pay more for these products is because having a reserve domestic farming capacity is a great boon for our national security. You could think of it as a nice buffer against many possibly dysfunctional globalization scenarios. For example, if Kenya (currently on the verge of a civl war) were the U.S.'s number one food supplier, there would be grave concerns about how we were all going to eat soon. By keeping necessities like food production domestic (or at least maintaining the ability to do so), we don't expose ourselves to this class of risk.

I agree, it's very unfortunate for third world countries whose natural resources are on this select few subsidized products, but it is for very rational reasons. We don't enact such policies to hurt Ethiopian farmers any more than, hypothetically, you would "hurt" Exxon by choosing to buy gas at BP because you like the bathrooms better or think the girl behind the counter is cute or whatever.

Now, that being said, I do think the U.S. does go a bit overboard and subsidizes a bit too much. But this is largely a product of our dysfunctional lobbying-sensitive political system we have. So, if the first answer doesn't go over so well, you could always just respond with "Damn politicians!" and probably please your Ethiopean friends without being too far from the truth.

-Grym

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281566)

No, the real reason is that you* are a bunch of economic illiterates who don't know the difference between Montalban and David.

(*) Like most everyone else.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

BeanThere (28381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22285370)

Subsidies are indeed a huge problem for African farmers. Over the years, I've only found one argument in favour thereof that made me stop and go, hmm, yes, that makes sense, and that was that of food security. It will always (or at least, for the time being) be cheaper to grow food in places like Africa and import it into the US; if global free market forces were allowed to do their thing, it would essentially rout the US agricultural industry; the US would become a full services and manufacturing based economy that imported its food. This would mean that America would depend on random foreign countries (who are mostly easy to take over, I might add) for its most basic need - food - at that point there is an argument based on national security to retain domestic food production capabilities.

I'm certainly not saying its right, in fact I still think its wrong, but I can see that point of view. Perhaps some might argue this would prompt the US to help defend those countries it does rely on for food, which may in turn help everyone more - the US would get cheaper food, and those countries would get more security, which would in turn improve their economies further, 'everyone wins'. But it'll always be harder and riskier helping defend some large foreign territory than your homeland. I wish I could see a way out.

Food 'aid' is another related problem, that should be gotten rid of.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (2, Informative)

philpalm (952191) | more than 6 years ago | (#22276892)

I'm in favor of microloans but you need infrastructure to distribute such loans. If the diaspora keeps sending money and returns to their villages there will be signs of progress.

Cell phones and communication with the diaspora will help in the future, look at Armenia and the Philippines where their diaspora are a big help to their economies.

Then again the deportation of American rejects to El Salvador (MS-13) was not a good idea either...

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22277212)

Decades of assistance to the third world, and all manner of socialist leaders ready to aid and reform have done little except generate more poverty. Perhaps, instead of giving to the third world, we should start taking; in the form of purchasing agricultural goods, in ecotourism, and other friendly means to transfer money to these areas while simultaneously encouraging (and rewarding!!) hardwork?

I agree with your sentiment, but I'm surprised to see it on /.. Usually sourcing goods or services from the third world sparks complaints about outsourcing & offshoring. Think of all the good that has happened in India and other countries due to purchasing services from them, yet people here would rather bitch that it reduces their job opportunities. It seems competition is considered a good thing when you're the little guy throwing rocks at the tower but not when you're at the top looking down...

Re:Wrong Solutions? (2, Informative)

WhiteWolf666 (145211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278114)

BIngo!

That's why whenever I see protectionist liberals, I call them selfish bastards. Globalization is the *most* efficient tool of wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, worldwide. Just look at the Western (EU + US) trade imbalance with the Asian tigers & India.

Vastly more wealth has been transferred from the hands of the rich to the poor due to the last 15 years of globalization than the 50 years of Foreign Aid offered by the West AND the USSR.

Socialism (especially International Socialism) absolutely fails in attempting to redistribute wealth. Globalization *is proven* to be the answer to world poverty. The only important points are to keep it fair (no monopolies or corruption, please), and to open up closed states (I'm looking at you, Africa, and North Korea.)

Re:Wrong Solutions? (2, Interesting)

servognome (738846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22279122)

Globalization is the *most* efficient tool of wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, worldwide.
The problem is perception. Those who call themselves middle class in the US or Europe don't realize they are amongst the rich when looked at in global terms.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281242)

It's not just the middle class, really. Show me a guy who's living on an unemployment benefit in Germany, and I'll show you a man who's insanely rich by the standards of, say, Niger.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 6 years ago | (#22281590)

That's why whenever I see protectionist liberals, I call them selfish bastards.
A wonderful example of the corruption of political terminology in the US.

Liberals are by definition not protectionist.

By the way, Socialists are not liberals.

And International socialists are not protectionist.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277500)

The problem is that "poverty" is relative. Would you consider Amish poor... without Cellphones, TV, Radio, etc, even though they own large amounts of land and animals, and bountiful crops? It's the DISPARITY that's the problem, not lack of possessions. We see natives as "kids" on a camping trip gone bad. They LIVED in a stable society of hunting/gathering/farming then somebody with a truck full of food (plus machines, money, clothes, radios, technology, guns, etc) enters the picture and trades the "wonders" for things they shouldn't be (like land, resources, or people). The imbalance of "technology" breaks their cultures by people from OUR culture making unfair demands for them to achieve the technology they may need.

The next, more important, question.. do the people WANT to be "saved"? This situation proves.. people want to be connected.. they understand technology, social change, etc is "over there" but they like their homes, their livelihoods in their area.. because it's HOME. The children will bring "civilization" back in small pieces... better clothes, improved housing, etc as they return to visit. The villagers will be free to accept as much "civilization" as they wish. It's organic, it's proper growth, not forced by govt edict or missionaries. That is what leads to political stability, adapting the old rules of elders and councils slowly to the more modern rules (just handing them money breaks all their political rules because they don't know how to handle it)... Right now they think THEIR way is the most fair... not some strange foreign way.

We almost need a "prime directive" from the UN to allow cultures to grow to meet us rather than be run over by massive, fatal changes.

Re:Wrong Solutions? (1)

WhiteWolf666 (145211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278082)

I dunno about that.

I think life in the third world is similar to life in medieval societies; brutal, cruel, and short. Hunter/gatherer societies go through boom/bust periods of feast and famine, not to mention the ravages of indigenous diseases. Beyond that, I don't subscribe to pure cultural relativism. I believe all humans are created equal, I believe men are socially equal to women, and I don't believe in human sacrifice.

If one comes across a society that routinely kills 1 in 4 of its female children, how should one react? Particularly if the females of this society are not agreeable to this practice. Or just rights violations in general; Saudi Arabia continues its practices of female subjugation, cruel punishments, and feudal rule because they "don't want to be saved" by western norms.

Or we can generalize; do you believe that cultures which utilize slavery should be permitted to continue this practice? What about self-destructive societies? One doesn't have to look much further than Rapa Nui to find a people who destroyed their environment and thus went extinct.

Maybe I'm a hopeless modernist, but I think the stable 'native' society you are imaging i more of a bohemian myth, really. This isn't to say that modern societies can't evolve into some kind of totalitarian nightmare (see Third Reich); but on the whole, I think that there are a lot of positive things human civilization has discovered, and I find it sad that these things are not universal.

Similar experience (5, Informative)

Manywele (679470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277276)

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural part of Tanzania from 1999-2002 and I went back to visit this last summer. When I arrived in 1999 there was one cell network in the country. It was in the (then) capital and most populous city of 2 million people, it had a capacity of 50,000 and was maxed out. A couple of competing companies starting setting up towers and by the time I left they had covered the major cities and arteries of the entire country. When I went back this last July the companies had moved out into the villages and most people in the country had local cell coverage. The area where I had lived was very hilly and somewhat remote so I thought that they would never get coverage out there but they had it.
You don't buy a plan like in the US, you buy a phone ($30 for a cheap model) and then you buy minutes (leading to some of the shortest phone conversations I have ever heard). People who live in areas without electricity find ways to charge them. Someone might buy a generator and set up a side business charging phones. Some people have to bike hours to the nearest town with electricity.
The difference in how people communicate was astounding. Kids away studying could keep in contact with their families back in the villages. Kids who had met in school but lived in different places kept in touch (I reunited a number of my former students by passing cell phone numbers around). Farmers could keep in touch with people in the markets. It was an amazing change.

Re:Similar experience (1)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277606)

Jamani! Hata mimi, nilikaa Newala 05-07, nawe? Niliondoka kabla ya safari yako. Pole sana. Medivac, umeme, moyo, etc.

Too much of the old Kiswahili will probably invoke the wrath of mods, but I'd bet we know a lot of the same people. This is too crazy. What sites did you visit when you were there?

Re:Similar experience (1)

Manywele (679470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278306)

Aisee! Mambo vipi? Nilikaa karibu na Njombe, mbali kwako. Nilipokwenda nilisafiri miji mbali mbali kati ya Dar na Njombe.

Yeah, pretty weird, but then it's no secret that there are plenty of geeks in Peace Corps.

Re:Similar experience (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278096)

People who live in areas without electricity find ways to charge them. Someone might buy a generator and set up a side business charging phones. Some people have to bike hours to the nearest town with electricity.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for solar battery chargers.

Re:Similar experience (1)

Manywele (679470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278238)

Absolutely. Right now the available ones are still much too expensive (a few times the cost of a phone). You get some unexpected problems when you try to find a place to charge a cell phone in the sun in rural Africa though. It has to be in a place where it won't be trampled by cows or goats, pecked at by chickens, used as a toy by wandering children or carried off by an opportunistic thief.

Re:Similar experience (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#22278418)

On the roof of a house would solve most of those issues, especially if it's got a small ledge around the edge to hide something on the roof from view at the ground level. As far as thievery, chargers need to be designed for that sort of issue. Right now, portability is the driving force behind design. But something in a more rugged enclosure with places to attach security chains, etc would work better. Kinda like an OLPC for solar chargers.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here (4, Informative)

Neuticle (255200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22277362)

but I lived in an African Village with no running water or electricity (90% of the time ) for 2 years. (Raise your hands RPCVs)

I had 3 (count them, one two THREE!) cell phone towers within sight of my house, and I could always hear the diesel generators at night if the winds lulled.

Would I have traded the cell phone for reliable electricity or running water?

HELL NO.

Cell phones improved my life and the life of the other people there tremendously. Electricity is about 1,000,000 times more expensive to cook with than charcoal, and kerosene lamps and candles make plenty of light. Water was scarce, but I had a no-flush pit toilet and an in ground rain-catch cistern for water. I only really used about 60l a week. The real problem was that not enough people had big enough cisterns (20% maybe), and many people had none. Water ran out in places at times, people suffered when they couldn't wash or bath as often, but no one ever died of dehydration for lack of a drink. If 60% of the houses had big cisterns, it would solve that problem.

Life without electricity and running water can be just fine. What is really needed is healthcare.

The hospital didn't have a single actual doctor after the foreign volunteer left. Pretty much everyone who walked in was told they had malaria and treated for it regardless. People suffered and died frequently from stupid, easily treated things. THAT was -IS- a tragedy.

Literacy is needed more than anything else. (0, Troll)

chris_sawtell (10326) | more than 6 years ago | (#22280600)

So what they _really_ need is knowledge - that, btw is information which has been transferred from the transport medium into the brain - about how to look after their health. First they need to learn to read and write in whatever language they use. In this situation it would be a really worthwhile investment because texting is so much cheaper than talking.

How to persuade the illiterate that it's worth while putting in the effort to learn how to read and write is another, and very difficult question to answer. Even the so-called first-world nations have yet to find the answer.

no electricity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22278264)

no electricity?
how do they charge the battery?

frist 45ot (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22278806)

Violated. In the GNAA (gAY NIIGER

surprising effects (1)

Bota (968795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22287862)

In some of these villages a cellphone hosted by a local is the equivalent of an ATM. sibling in the city can pick up a long distance cell card call the local 'cell guy' and give him the code for more minutes. 'cell guy' in turn provides cash or material goods for the family of the caller after taking his fee. Just being able to send some income back to the village from a remote employment opportunity without traveling is a major boon indeed. Just another example of technology being used in ways that weren't exactly planned for.
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