YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — An information and communication technology, or ICT revolution is taking place in Africa. The World Bank and the African Development Bank said there are some 700 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa, making the market bigger than either the European Union or the United States. How are ICTs influencing the lives of Africans?
In a locality called Dzekwa, in northwest Cameroon, villagers celebrated recently the second anniversary of having access to mobile phones and the Internet.
It was only two years ago that the government opened a multipurpose Community Telecenter in Dzekwa. Most residents, mainly uneducated farmers, said the transformation is revolutionary and changed their lives.
"Now, I take pictures and even images of my cattle with information on the weight and send to buyers through this center," one man said. "Before now, I covered long distances with my cattle to the market and had to return with the unsold cattle. Now I take to the market only what my customers want.”
"A long time ago it was difficult to send money to my children," recalled one woman. "At times, some people I sent even removed the money from the envelope. But see now, I have just been told by my son that he received money, five minutes after I sent it to him."
"If you have a message for someone in the city, you just come here and tell him that this is what has happened. That was impossible before," said another user.
Most of the farmers previously were dependent on brokers who took quite a lot of money for their services as middle men to purchasers. The farmers never knew the prices their produce or animals truly fetched in distant markets.
But today through the telecenter, they can communicate with buyers directly and set prices.
A group of Americans, called Connect Africa, came to Dzekwa after finding out about the telecenter on the Internet. Connect Africa head Maxine Muffet said her group wants to map out ways to collaborate to help the villagers out of poverty.
"You may have a woman that maybe sells earrings or maybe sells furniture and she may find a person in Switzerland for example who may possibly buy her products," she said.
The community telecenter not only provides communication technology, but also a range of Internet services on education, training in business and health. The villagers contribute between one and two U.S. dollars each day they solicit services.
Students like Ndukong Janet are making frequent use of the facility.
'We have an accounting software we are using here. It really facilitates my job here. I do everything through the internet and it is really easy," said Ndukong Janet.
Dzekwa residents said one of the only bad things about the center is when they can’t access it. That happens usually when the lone power source, a generator, goes bad or lacks fuel.
But Dzekwa residents are luckier than most others in rural Cameroon who do not have access. The country’s national institute of statistics says that only eight percent of the population use information and communication technologies.
The government of Cameroon said it wants to change that with plans to construct more than 200 more multipurpose community telecenters by 2015.