City Profile: Kinshasa “Kin la Belle”, DRC
This is the first post in a series that intends to examine the ICT environment in large metropolitan areas of Africa that receive relatively little publicity and lack ICT framework. These cities are often overshadowed by Cape Town, Johannesburg, Cairo, Nairobi, Accra, and Lagos but still have a bright future – albeit with a few additional hurdles to clear. We begin with Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, located in Central Africa, has one of the most troubled recent pasts of any nation. Mobutu Sese Seko’s years in power were mostly self-fulfilling and transitioned into the worst war in African history. Hardly seven years have passed since the end of the war, and conflict still exists. In the past 6 months, one visitor has come to this site from the city of Kinshasa. This visitor represents about 0.00001% of the metropolitan area’s population. Shocking, but in consideration of the infrastructure and cultural priorities, even this feat is impressive.
First, a look at the most recent population figures for “Kin la Belle”:
- 8.75 million (UN World Urbanization Prospects, 2009), other sources say 10 million
- 3rd largest metropolitan area in Africa (more than twice the population of Cape Town and Nairobi)
An in-depth search of the Internet turns up a limited number of ICT endeavors and reports from the past few years. It is easy enough to see why cynics refer to the city as “Kin la poubelle” (Kin the trashcan), but this attitude will not foster social and economic progress. Anyway, out of the limited public information available on the Internet, here are some important points of information to know about Kinshasa’s ICT progress:
- An international workshop on designing and developing a web portal for science teaching and learning ran from February 24-26, 2010. There were 50 participants, mostly academics and secondary school teachers. http://blog.education-africa.com/archives/654
- The University of Kinshasa has had its own fiber-optic network since July 2004 and a Committee for ICT exists to manage the backbone and implement policies for training, research, and security. ugent.be
- Multiple Inveneo contacts exist in Kinshasa. The goal with these partners is to support organizations on the ground. http://www.inveneo.org/ictpartners#congo
- Inveneo has also empowered microfinance in the city with ICT. http://www.flickr.com/photos/inveneo/sets/72157623514646443/
- Ideas are important and it often takes only one individual to create change. Read how the mobile industry appeared in the 1980’s(!). This insight partially led to 70% of people in Kinshasa owning a mobile phone in 2005 (although in a way the mobile penetration is the result of Mobuto’s self-interest). More on this another day, but essentially, the government must be persuaded to launch investment and support. http://allafrica.com/stories/200809181023.html
- As of 2007, all 25 ISPs in the country used satellite, only Congo Korea Telecom uses fiber optic cables in Kinshasa. Siemens, Ericsson, and Telkom all proposed broadband networks, but the government had not committed itself to these projects. http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0002576/14-GISW_2007.pdf
- An extremely informative article written by “Sylvie75” of apcwomen.org, informs us that, in the DRC, there is a desire to be trained in the “internet world,” but a lack of awareness and training prevents interested individuals from pursuing more than email. http://www.apcwomen.org/node/885
- The greatest amount of detail comes from a June 2007 report by Babacar Fall, titled ICT in Education in the DRC. http://www.infodev.org/en/Document.395.pdf
- Country unlinked to SAT3 cable – must rely on satellites
- Lack of national ICT policy for development
- Emphasis on teaching programs and advocacy of technology are gaining momentum
- Establishment of a regulatory agency of the nation is underway, as is a partnership with Korea Telecom for better fixed-line services
- In 2005, a roundtable of various societal representatives set up a strategic plan for a national ICT policy. A Canadian NGO organized the meeting.
- A grant from Belgium helped get all Congolese universities connected via backbone network.
- The Aden Project, funded from 2003-2008, provided digital inclusion programs, but occurred only in rural areas.
- A handful of technical training units exist in the city.
- Gender inequity and high schooling fees limit ICT interest and training.
The entire nation is in dire need of new infrastructure. Furthermore, war has delayed ICT development by a full decade. Every sector of the DRC will have to work together. Often there is no clear course of action to encourage ICT development within a country. Do we begin with the government, the infrastructure, the training, the investment, the policy, or some other sector? However, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the initial steps are clear. The nation will only see proper ICT development if the government can step up to the plate. For Kinshasa to harness its full potential as a tech center, the government must shift its priorities and lead a sweeping ICT initiative. The question at-large is whether or not the nascent government is ready to make ICT a high priority. For one, the leaders will also have to revitalize the education sector. Fortunately, multiple groups and non-governmental organizations are ready to support the government when the time comes. Once a national ICT initiative is in place, priorities can be re-assessed, but leaders should not be afraid to seek the advice of fellow African nations who have seen recent growth and investment.
Moreover, it appears as if fixed-line broadband will be surpassed in favor of mobile broadband. The DRC should still be hooked up to an international fiber optic line (did they meet the investment deadline for EASSy?) but should strongly consider mobile broadband opportunities. Cities must come before rural areas to maximize the return on investment. Unfortunately, this further suggests the DRC is already years behind more progressive African nations.
- University of Kinshasa has a backbone in place and can provide training. Scholars can help form an ICT plan and steer the government in the right direction. Additionally, the university has foreign contacts who can lend a hand as needed.
- The government has experience
- Historically, foreign NGOs have pushed for change. This must continue to happen.
- The mobile industry’s growth should continue to be encouraged. This area is perhaps the least lacking of any tech sector.
- The Congo River can provide convenient hydroelectric power for the entire city.
- Language barrier: Francophone city, but Zairian language presence = complicated training and web navigation.
- Essentially no fixed lines – most Internet is via satellite
- Apathetic government/young government/government has other priorities
- Lack of defined ICT roles for all players
- Extreme gender imbalances
- Secondary schooling is severely limited
Final intriguing thought:
- Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, is just across the river from Kinshasa and has a population of 1.5 million. This is the only place in the world where two national capital cities are facing one another on opposite banks of a river. Can these two cities somehow work together to become a technological center? The task is daunting, but imagine the potential.