some closing reflections on the Rwanda youth gathering and the digital divide

April 7, 2008 at 1:43 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I am back in the US and missing Africa, what an amazing experience. This was my trip across the digital divide, which really ended up reinforcing how strong it still is.

I came back with one less suitcase, leaving behind a used lap top, a flash drive, two Flip videos, two digital recorders and a printer/scanner/copier. I am convinced that technology is what we rich country folks should lug over in our suitcases. I would have brought a bluetooth headset for Pastor John if I had known how much work he does on the phone while driving around the country in his green truck. His office is in his cell phone.

I shared my hotel with a bunch of Americans from Rick Warren’s Saddle Back Church, an evangelical mega-church in Southern California. After training 300 pastors, they were in town to officially certify that Rwanda is a “Purpose-driven Country”. Warren’s best-seller, A Purpose Driven Life is translated into Kinyarwandan and a lot of Rwandans have read the book. Anyhow, all the gung-ho Saddlebackers had brought a ton of soccer balls and Christian books.

The conference youth media team was earnest, an but as genius as they were, they faced a lot of obstacles. They watched me take notes on my lap top with amazement as my fingers flew over the keys… most of them type one finger at a time. I watched two of them work for thirty minutes on a paragraph for their blog to see the internet connection reload and lose their content. But they have made a cool photo diary.

A journalist from New Times, the Rwandan English paper, came to see what we were up to. He did several interviews, then went on his way. I asked him if he had an email address so we could send him our press updates, and he said he didn’t have one.

Finally on my last day in Kenya, I showed George, our media team leader this blog, and it literally took his computer 10 minutes to load it! This makes me really sad, because George is so tech-savvy, and he is going to edit all our video, but how can he do this with such a slow internet speed? He says he has a faster connection at home, especially at night when people are not using it. I have not posted pictures yet because even though the internet seemed pretty quick, uploading photos in Africa overwhelmed the internet connection even at my muzungu guest house.

So, my conclusion about communication for development is that it still must happen face to face. The Rwandan youth conference was a success because when you bring young people together, they have a good time. And what better way to build bridges across ethnic, geographic, economic and other divisions, then by spending a few days together singing, praying, talking about your country and learning from each other?

After spending a few days in Kenya before flying back, I have become convinced the young people of Kenya need their own summit. Like the rest of Kenya, I am afraid the power share of President Kibaki and Odinga is just too fragile — and there is so much at stake for this nation of 40 million people. The post-election violence in Kenya after Christmas was done largely by young men and broke along tribal lines. Now when I talk to Kenyans they mention their tribes in a way like I never heard before. These divisions are dangerous if they are allowed to settle. If I can round up $25,000 USD I will be planning a Kenyan youth peace summit and we will invite youth from across the country from different tribes…

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  1. A big reason the Internet connection in Rwanda is slow is because the only access is currently via satellite. By November, Uganda Telecom should have a cable to Rwanda’s border. Hopefully it’ll get better after that.

    (I was in Rwanda for a couple of weeks in February and March and found your weblog via a google Alert. See my Rwanda entries for information on what I did there.)


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