What follows is a short report on the internet in Liberia by Tobias Eigen of Kabissa. If our correspondent is "off the mark" or you have factual amendments, mail them to us and we will include them in subsequent news updates. If you'd like to contribute, write and let us know. If you need information about a particular place or issue, just send you questions in. This version includes amendments/additions mailed to me and interesting additional points that appear in double brackets.
Kabissa has been invited by International Alert (http://www.international alert.org) to work with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to set up a resource centre for journalists in Monrovia. The goal is to provide a comfortable, professional working environment for journalists to come to research, type and print their work. This falls within the mission of PUL as a membership organisation serving media professionals in Liberia. The resource centre will be comprised of a network of 5-6 Pentium III computers with two laser printers, a flatbed scanner, photocopier, plain paper fax machine and a satellite hook-up for receiving international television channels. Rent, electricity, staff and international self-dial (ISD) and fax service subscription will also be paid for the first year. In addition to these core services funded through this project, PUL intends to provide a loan service for journalists for key equipment like cassette recorders and digital cameras, as well as books and other research materials. A business plan is being drawn up to enable PUL to maintain the resource centre on a self sustaining basis.
Before I left for Monrovia, I checked with the Network Startup Resource Centre (http://www.nsrc.org) and was informed that there is "no public Internet access" in Liberia, as defined as PPP dial-up access via a local telephone number. This was confirmed upon arrival - the Press Union had signed up for Internet access months ago and paid nearly $2000 for it, but the phone number they were given never worked. However, there are business centres in Monrovia where one can go to send and receive messages for a fee, which are transferred long distance via single-user Internet accounts in the United States and Europe. Presumably, these operate much like the fax office, where faxes can be sent and received for a set fee of US$5 per page.
((A newspaper colleague of my acquaintance reported a similar procedure in a small Arab country while reporting there.))
I have been told that outside Monrovia communications are very poor. Since the war ended in 1997, infrastructure has not been rebuilt and electricity and telephone services are virtually non-existent. As a result, relief agencies and journalists are obliged to rely on radio for communications. Within Monrovia, things are better but not by much. The town is still rather battered from war, and there are few cars and people about. There is no public supply of electricity, so all offices provide their own through petrol or diesel generators or rent power from their neighbours (the going rate for this is about $150 monthly). PUL has only an old portable backup generator on their balcony, which is very noisy and can't be operated for long periods because it gets hot. While regular local phone service is affordable for PUL, international self-dial (ISD) is prohibitively expensive.
I will return again in June for the delivery and installation of equipment for the resource centre, and will gladly report again then. If you wish to donate any computer books, research materials on CDROM or other equipment, in particular digital cameras and cassette recorders, that would be of use to PUL and which can be easily carried, please contact Kabissa (firstname.lastname@example.org).
((While on the subject of Liberia, readers may be interested to know of the Government shutdown of Star Radio in mid March this year. Set up with technical assistance from a Swiss Charity, the Hirondelle Foundation, it had over 400,000 listeners. Its news bulletins are now published daily on the internet and sent by e-mail to 650 readers, mainly from the Liberian diaspora throughout the world.))
Further information from:
- Several people contacted us asking what they could do in some active way about the recent change in the Zimbabwean constitution that allows the Government to read all e-mails. Can we suggest you contact Jim Holland, Systems Administrator, Mango - Zimbabwe (email@example.com)? Apparently ZISPA, the Zimbabwean Association of ISPs has engaged a lawyer and may mount a legal challenge.
- A couple of plugs for e-publications we find particularly informative: Telematics and Development (firstname.lastname@example.org) Africa is an invaluable digest of information about Africa and the world and is particularly good on education and training and Bytes for All does a similarly good job for Asia where developments are often very relevant for Africa (email@example.com)
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If you missed the previous news updates (4.1 covering Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda and 5 covering Madagascar), let us know and we'll send you a copy.
This latest news update also appears on Kabissa.org (http://www.kabissa.org), which is a Balancing Act pilot project.
For further information about Balancing Act and its pilot projects, contact Russell Southwood on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring him on +44 171 720 5993.