View Thread > Development and the Internet > Entrepreneurship - Question 1 > Just a link in the chain
Please refer to the BusyInternet case study.
From the standpoint of promoting economic and social development in Ghana, what are the most important aspects of what BusyInternet is doing, and how do they contribute to development?
Cyber cafes are a mixed blessing to small entrepreneurs. The Internet is a conduit for information, no more and no less. Rather, the information itself makes the impact, although the delivery vehicle can certainly be a source of revenue to everyone involved.
The Net could be used to access good information, helpful to the local economy. The same thing was said about television in its infancy. The problem is that a lot of bad information can be transferred as well, more easily, more cheaply more effectively.
The way the Internet is used by BusyInternet customers may have the greater impact. Credit card fraud, misrepresentation, and other criminal activity can only cause further harm to the economic and social development of Africa, particularly if it is the overwhelming majority of output. If local users cannot provide enough value in their online content, they may damage the good name and reputation of Ghana itself, to the determinent of more honest local entrepreneurs who cannot find banks willing to grant them merchant accounts for their e-commerce operations.
I also wonder whether it may encourage an exodus by citizens who hesitated to leave loved ones behind. Being able to stay in constant contact via the Net may inspire more of them to depart.
The Internet is just a conduit for information, as are the telephone and television. However, the communications technology developed in the last century has become an influence that goes beyond the transfer of information. Letters are simple carriers of information too. But, televised and online media have a greater impact on culture than simple text. The new mediums transform the cultures they enter. The effect on the culture is a challenge that will be decided by the users.
This transformation can be positive or negative or, as is most often the case, a mixture of both. Cybercafes seem to fit a more social culture. The article seems to indicate Ghana fits that description. The local citizens will face the same challenges we do regarding censorship, moral standards, and exploitation. A comparison with the U.S. response to these challenges may provide valuable input regarding conditions that reduce the negative potential of online technology.
The telephone is a more intimate means of communicating with loved ones left behind. If telephone service has not encouraged an exodus, I donít think online access will.
ICT has a role to play in development. However, the question is who benefits via the 'link in the chain'. There are a number of initiatives - such as The Urban Governance Initiative TUGI based in KL, Malaysia - that are seeking to use ICT for improving urban governance. All this points to not just the diveersity of need but also of prioritising the use and benefits to be gained by the majority of the poor. Too often, initiatives using ICT fail to act in a coordinated fashion. Thus, I fear that while BusyInternet may benefit some of its users, say for example those involved in small enterprises, the wider impact could be much greater if it were to be linked with aspects of urban governance - such as transparency in dealings related to taxation or avenues for credit and training.
Attention also needs to be paid as to how ICT could help many of those who make their living from 'informal' activities such as petty trade and services. Much of the relationships underpinning such activities are founded on informal links relating to the economic, social and political dimensions of livelihoods.
It sounds to me as if BusyInternet is basically an "internet cafe" that never really intended or intends to serve a role in government. But I do agree with the baisc thrust here because internet cafes fall in the nice-to-have category and although may occasionally foster some unknown quantity of "economic innovation" as an incidental consequence of their existence, aren't necessarily a particularly interesting/effective use of ICTs.
The notion that informal activities could be helped by ICTs is intriguing, since internetworking is very good at quickly fostering and supporting informal communication.
I would like now to address the last aspect of the intervention above. The point is an important one, since schollars said Internet and other ICTs were a critical factor of combating rural exodus. In fact, by bringing news, events and businees opportunities closer to the rural people for instance, it prevent teh of going abroad because it contributes to the improvement of their social lives, which is the aim of any exodus.
So, ICTs can play in both the senses. They increase landscapes, and deepen the links between communities separeted in space and time:there are several imagined communities around the world, and diasporas are now less separeted thanks to them.
In sum, it is important to notice while there is a wanning of state and its frontiers, there is a waxing of the cyber world the consequence of which is more widespread of information, more linked communities and even more distances between them. The merit of the point developped above is that it points out a critical issue, that is a possible consequence of ICTs, if they are not developed in the good sense, ie if they do not contribute to alleviate poverty.
It is probably too early to predict the demise of the State. Due to infrastructural bottlenecks, it is admitted that the full potential of Internet is not yet tapped, but it should be said that the brick and mortar industries still will remain in real world. Maybe rural populace may get more access to such information and could have better avenues to move over!!