Information and communication technologies and sustainable livelihoods : a case of selected rural areas of Tanzania
Chilimo, Wanyenda Leonard.
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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have, in the recent past, attracted enormous attention as important tools for socio-economic development. However, the role of ICTs in fostering development and addressing the needs of the poor, especially in developing countries, has become the subject of a heated debate. This contestation is due to the high failure rate of the ICTs for development projects and a widening gap between the expectations of what ICTs can possibly do and the experiential reality of how these technologies are actually being used. More often than not ICTs have been regarded as a panacea or a „magic bullet‟ that will solve all development problems, with ill-conceived expectations of how they would be used. This study examined the relationship between ICTs and sustainable livelihoods in selected rural areas of Tanzania. The aim was to investigate how and for what purposes ICTs are used by people in the selected rural areas of Tanzania and to study the effect that ICTs have had on the various aspects of their livelihoods. A combination of the sustainable livelihoods framework and other ICTs for development models formed the theoretical foundation of the study. The investigation was carried out using ICT services provided by the telecentres and mobile phone services. The study was conducted in four rural districts in Tanzania which have telecentres. It used a multi-case study research design. A mixed paradigm methodology was adopted and the qualitative research was used as a dominant paradigm. Data was collected through structured interview protocols administered to 203 users and non-users of ICTs in communities surrounding the telecentres. Semi-structured interview protocols were administered to four managers of the telecentres. In addition, eight focus group discussions were conducted in communities surrounding the telecentres. An observation checklist was used to verify data obtained from managers, users and non-users of the telecentres. The study administered semi-structured interview protocols to officers from the ministry responsible for ICTs in Tanzania, that is the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MoID), The Tanzania Communication and Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and a national research institution (The Commission for Science and Technology- COSTECH). The findings of the study indicated that, contrary to the use of mobile phones, which was characterised by greater uniformity across socio-economic groups and gender, telecentre users in the researched areas were generally young. The majority were males with higher levels of education. It was found that telecentres management have failed to take into consideration the appalling conditions of the extremely poor and disadvantaged individuals in their provision of ICT services to the community. The study established that the urban rural digital divide still exists and is still a reality in the areas reviewed, despite some efforts that are under way to bring ICTs to those communities. Old ICTs such as radio and television are not universally available. It was observed that inadequate road infrastructure makes it difficult for farmers to transport their produce to markets outside the districts, even in cases where farmers are provided with information on the availability of those markets. Inadequate electricity supply hinders large-scale uptake of ICTs in rural areas. The findings show that telecentres managers were not aware of the information needs of the communities they serve and therefore they were not in a position to meet such information needs. Due to personnel‟s inadequate skills and capacity the Ministry of Infrastructure Development did not play its policy-making function effectively. This problem, coupled with delayed implementation of important policy objectives such as the universal access policy and even the national ICT policy itself, affects the development of the ICT sector in rural areas of Tanzania. The findings further show that while the necessary conditions for access exist in all the telecentres involved in the study, sufficient conditions for access are still lacking, especially with regard to skills, awareness and affordability. On the relationship between ICT and rural livelihoods the findings of the study show that while ICTs may not fully support and sustain socio-economic development in poor communities, the impact of these technologies extends to various aspects of the livelihoods of the rural people. Economically, these technologies lead to better earnings and savings. Socially, they help in community interaction and knowledge-sharing, better follow-up for remittances and creation of savings and credit co-operative societies. In relation to human capital, the technologies‟ implications extend to ICT literacy, improved farming techniques and better access to information on new cash crops. The use of ICTs in rural areas is still faced with many barriers. These range from affordability to language problems and the lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity. Language was particularly found to be a substantial barrier to effective use and application of ICTs. The study recommends that telecentre managers should re-design programmes with the aim of bringing the under-represented groups such as farmers back to the centre of their projects, rather than treating them as passive receivers of ICT services. On the issue of mobile phones, there is a need to develop services that are nuanced towards the real needs of the rural people and incorporate them into the mobile technology. The study recommends that universal access policies should involve old ICTs such as radio and television, or people in the rural areas, who have fewer resources, will eventually pay too much for basic communication services, as in the case of satellite television and radio. Capacity-building is important, not only in the regulatory authorities, but also in the ministries responsible for ICTs and other institutions involved with ICTs, so as to provide effective national ICT leadership. The study recommends that managers of telecentres learn about the different aspects of access, in order for them to go beyond the provision of physical access to ICTs. Continuous improvement and renewal of telecentre services is necessary to ensure survival of the telecentres. Collaboration of the telecentres and other organisations, such as academic institutions, is needed to create content both for the telecentres and the community radios. Telecentres and other information systems developed or adopted to serve the people must meet the needs of the people intended to be served. This can be done by regularly conducting information needs assessment.