African Broadband

[As ever, this piece is on the BBC News website, where they called it ‘How Broadband is Changing Africa’, though I think the real message is that a broadband Africa will change the Internet…]

Norman Borlaug, whose work in Mexico and India led to the ‘green revolution’ in agricultural production, died last week and was widely commemorated for his important work.

While the introduction of new crops and the use of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides certainly enabled us to feed millions of people, the crops were delivered at a price, and we should not forget it and Borlaug’s green revolution, like every revolution, had a negative as well as a positive side.

New farming practices create dependencies on machinery and chemicals, and the the patents that protect genetically modified crops limit the ability of farmers to do things like retain seed from one harvest to plant next year, forcing them instead to buy anew each year.

I was reminded of the debate over the green revolution this week as I stood outside my hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, and watched a work gang lay fibre optic cable in a trench they were laboriously digging with pickaxes on the other side of the busy road.

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No Net Gains for Party Politics

[As ever, you can read this on the BBC News technology pages, and Alan Connor kindly reminded me of his excellent analysis after the 2005 election that made a similar point.]

The next British General Election will almost certainly be called the first ‘real’ internet election, on the grounds that the ‘internet election’ of 2001 happened when relatively few people had home network connections, while the 2005 poll took place before the social media explosion brought us Facebook, MySpace and a growing belief that anyone who is tired of twitter is tired of life.

One unfortunate consequence of this will be that anyone who claims a passing acquaintance with the network world will be called upon as a pundit, commentator or ‘expert’ to interpret the parties’ online activity and tell an eager public who is ‘up’ and who is ‘down’ when it comes to internet campaigning.

I know this is the case because I’ve already been asked myself, and a well known technology consultant of my acquaintance is being lined up for the role too.

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Making Digital Planet in Nairobi

We’ve got another couple of days in Kenya, with some interviews lined up for future episodes of Digital Planet, but we finished off next week’s Connected Africa show last night.


Rory Cellan Jones is in Mombasa, on the coast, preparing his own reports, but I’ve been in Nairobi.

It’s been a remarkable few days, with some great people and even the odd giraffe

At the Giraffe Centre
At the Giraffe Centre

A nice hotel

Nairobi Safari Club
Nairobi Safari Club

And hard work for Gareth, writing the script

Gareth at work
Gareth at work

In Kenya for Digital Planet

One of the best things about working on Digital Planet is that I get the opportunity to visit places that I wouldn’t normally get to, and when I’m there I get to meet a lot of interesting people and talk about their work and their lives.

Yesterday I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, to meet up with Gareth and Michelle, and after a trip to the BBC bureau we spent some time at KBC, the main Kenyan broadcaster.

But the afternoon was spent at Kibera, the slum in southern Nairobi. It’s the largest slum in Africa, with a population of over one million, and being there was astonishing.


I don’t have time now to write about it, or what I thought as we wandered through the space where a million people carve out a life. But I will.

Kibera from the Ponoma FM building

Giving Google Company in the Library

It’s been a busy week. My article on the Google Books settlement (which the BBC headlined as ‘Keeping Google out of Libraries‘, even though my point was that Google should not be the only company in the library, and my original title was ‘Keeping Google’s Tanks Off The Library Lawn’), provoked a fair amount of debate, to the point that I ended up having a long chat on the phone with  Santiago de la Mora, the company’s director of book partnerships in Europe and writing it up for the BBC website.

This is what I had to say…

Google is in the middle of a massive project to scan and digitise every book it can get its hands on, whether old or new, and if it gets its way then the US courts will soon endorse an agreement between the search engine giant and the US book industry that will allow it to do this without fear of prosecution for copyright infringement.

Authors and publishers will get some money in return, and we will all benefit from the improved access to digitised books that Google will provide.

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