“The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.’
Time Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium and ‘Father of the Internet’
This year, 2013, ICT and Kulture has been present in major ICT events around Cameroon. In fact, it has been a very interesting ICT-year for us and all of you who have been part of the events. In our minds remains the vivid joy of the campers at the Barcamp 2013 in Buea. Thus the organisation of ICT-events in Cameroon is not just real but necessary and the blatant manifestation that ICT-awareness is gradually growing. This means more people will be more prone to use the internet and associated technology for a variety of things. It is true this statement is just an optimistic hypothesis but it is a reasonable one taken into account the nature of Cameroons demography- basically comprised of youth and women, the workforce and consumers- and the basic infrastructural potential. Everything is possible!
As you know, ICT and Kulture promotes ICT knowledge and ICT awareness through education. This requires a constant need to be aware of the challenges the change(s) Information and Communication Technologies bring. The focal point of this article is to enable the reader and ICT users to see beyond the just too evident “technological security” they experience within their localisations. If you are reading this it is very likely you fall among the lucky ones who can have the means, then the access to use a computer/mobile connected to the internet. In the West, as evidenced by the ITU statistics, access and then use of ICT’s is cultural. It is still a big challenge in the Majority South, the low incoming, developing countries of which Cameroon is part. In a context like ours, were we are still barely striving to get the idea of ICT popular and still not enough to arouse even the least sympathy because the idea of ICT is still just too abstract for the common man, it is surprising to realize that a “new” sort of digital divide is arising apart from the one we already know between the North and South. In this type of digital divide, Big and small ICT firms, entrepreneurs, passionate, “compete” for the juicy manna ICT brings. Experientially and statistically, the use and access of ICT, ICT for education, governance and career be it in the ICT and/or IT sector or more genrally in Cameroon has increased (Siyam et al, 2009, p.101) even if it is still elitist, and this is a serious threat to the development of a sector which could open much more opportunities to talented youths and women. Therefore, is it really necessary for the digital divide to arise, when we know that the ITU 2013 statistics for Cameroon reveals that much work still needs to be done? As a reminder, the ITU 2013 Statistics for Cameroon reveals only a migre component of the ICTs (that is mobile telephony) no data is available for internet users by gender, core indicators to access and use of ICTs in households. This means several things among which:
1- Either the population is not significant enough to be counted, which would be contradictory taking into account our experiential evidence and other research evidences ( e.g Siyem et al, 2009, Wame, 2005)
2- Either the ICT users exist but are not counted, thus revealing a lack of thorough research to provide data.
It is true that, Siyem et al, (2009) have done research on ICT in household. In fact, they opine that less than 1 % of Cameroonian households use the internet. However, we were unable to access to corroborating or confronting data. Therefore this raises the problem of research in the ICT sector in Cameroon.
Nonetheless, a read of ITU 2013 Statistics show a tremendous increase in the use of mobile telephony from 2000 to 2013 in Cameroon. Experientially and from observation Cameroonians use internet keys with their laptops’ and desktops, access to internet on their mobiles is also becoming possible but only for a certain class, in fact , as compared to 1997 when we first got our first email address and used a pc for the first time things have really improved. There is a need for more research to be done on ICT users in Cameroon and ICT in general. We believe it is the best way to create goods and services that will satisfy the growing demand.
The new digital divide has brought competition in a sector which is not well structured. We think that the current state of the development of the ICT sector is not strong enough to support intraspecific competition. It is rather more strategic to build a strong base enabled by the massive use of all the resources (human, financial and material) present. Naturally, and as in all sectors characterized by human beings participation competition will follow to the greatest satisfaction of the growth of the ICT sector.
What is “Big” ICT and what is “small” ICT?
The terms “big” ICT and “small” ICT have to be clarified. In the light of organizational psychology that is psychology applied to work (Muschinsky, 2006). The ICT sector in Cameroon can be thought of as been dominated by those that provide to the general public software and hardware materials ranging from CD’s to computers and printers. Another important emerging category of people and/or organization (e.g. Camtel, MTN, Orange, Ringo, YouMee, N-Tec, Wasamundi, Igeneris etc.) involved in the sector are those that provide services. They supply customers with internet and internet related services in areas as diverse as education, business, e-commerce, health and consultancy. There is also another group of individuals/organizations that provide to our view point the elements of the backbone of the rise of the future of ICT in Cameroon, call them the developers and ICT passionate. They are regrouped in communities and they share their experiences about ICT’s in ICT events they organize. They are not well understood by the general public. Yet, they are close by their intentions and actions to youths and women and interestingly they are made up of youths. These ICT communities are a powerful and strong hub for the development of the sector as they come out from the two major classes that is those that provide goods and those that provide services. We even can say they can serve as mediators between the Big ICTs (good and service providers) because they are made up of users and producers of ICT good and services. We believe they have a real understanding of the realities and needs of clients. Nonetheless, their participation in the IT sector is real because they are animated with the spirit of innovating, creating and enabling ICT to be a tool for sustainable development. They constitute the small ICT.
The gap between Big ICT and Small ICT is blatant when you assist an ICT event. The small ICT is full of potential and needs support from the Big ICT. If Big and Small ICT come together, customers will enjoy the full potential of ICT and everyone will be happy. The need is real; the market is thus present and large. Unfortunately, guidance and counselling is lacking crucially in both parties to capitalize and maximize on the resources available.
The reality is that the number of Cameroonian ICT users will increase. Mobile telephony through the advent of smart phones which are from observation becoming more popular is going to induce the consumption of new services and goods the developers and passionate are creating. The IT infrastructure is technically available with the optical fibre (Dominguez-Torres and Foster 2011; Siyam et al., 2009) the possibilities are therefore endless. By reducing the prices to the access of internet which is still high and the prices of computers (Dominguez-Torres and Foster 2011, p.38-39, IST-Africa, 2012, Siyem et al. 2009) demand will increase even further. This is so logical! Globalization with ICT is enabling interracial marriages worldwide; in Cameroon the desire for interracial marriage can be thought of as acting as a potential intrinsic and extrinsic motivator for Cameroonian youths to use the internet (Wame, 2005) this means that the potential is there, new needs can be created that is the needs to consume new services and new goods. Research has to be made and used in this process. Moreover, investment in the ICT sector is possible because, ‘the tertiary sector accounted for 46.4% of GDP in 2011, up from 43.2% in 2010, following a recovery in activity in retail trading, transport and telecommunications’ Africa Economic Outlook 2012. Furthermore, youths are a core element to the rise of this sector albeit their difficult integration into the economic sector but the readiness of Cameroon’s government to enable them to be productive thus entrepreneurial will produce results (African Economic Outlook, 2012, p.2). There is hope, we are optimistic! We hope Big ICT and Small ICT will get much closer as 2014 begins. We were happy to be with You All in 2013. ICT and Kulture hopes to enjoy with You many more ICT-events in 2014. We wish You a Happy Festive period and see you next year with more ICT and Kulture ! :)
African Economic Outlook (2012). Cameroon. Retrived from http:// www.africaneconomicoutlook.org
Dominguez-Torres, C & Foster, V. (2011). Cameroon’s Infrastructure A Continental Perspective. Policy Research Working Paper 5822. Sustainable Development Unit Region World Bank. Retrieved from http://econ.worldbank.org
IST-Africa (2012). Guide to ICT Policy in IST-Africa Partner Countries ISBN: 978-1-905824-31-1
ITU Statistics 2013 http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx
Siyam, S., Daho, S., & Jabouin, E. (2009). Cameroon Retrived From http//:www.protegeqv.org.
Wame, B. (2005) Internet au Cameroun: Les usages et les usagers – Essai sur l’adoption des technologies de l–information et de la communication dans un pays en voie de développement. PhD thesis, Université de Paris II Panthéon-Assas,