Friday, October 30, 2009

Tim Berners-Lee in Ghana

BBC Film Crew in Ghana, guest post by James Gibbs

At about mid-day on the 20th September, I was walking along the main street of Abiriw, in the Eastern Region of Ghana when I saw a film-crew at work in the Communications Centre on the other side to the road.

On enquiry, I was told that a BBC team was filming for a series entitled ‘Digital Revolution’ (working title) that will be shown in the UK next year.

It will examine the spread and the use of the Internet in Africa and will be partly built around Tim Berners Lee, a k a, it seems, as ‘Timble’. Timble, who is rightly held in very high esteem for his work on the web, was inside the Communications Centre in Abiriw on the 20th September. He was talking to local users who were shown how to edit the Wikipedia entry for their town and how to set up blogs.

After leaving Abiriw, the crew went down to Adowoso to film a farmer who talked about how he used the web to find out about new agricultural methods – notably drip irrigation schemes. (Of course, that information will only be useful if he has access to capital.) I imagine that the series will raise questions about how new technology can help such farmers.

Mobile phones have certainly made an impact in rural Ghana, but the Internet is currently of limited value. The connection at the Abiriw Centre, to stick with that example, is always slow and sometimes ‘down’ altogether. Luckily, it was working quite well on the 20th.

It will be interesting to see how the Abiriw sequence comes across – if it survives the cutting room. The film crew seemed to be magnets for misinformation, and slow to work out the setting and the set up.

The ‘fixer’ who had brought them to Abiriw said: ‘They almost didn’t come because they were told Abiriw was 4 hours from Accra.’ (It is about an hour from the ‘Adenta Barrier’.)

Even after they had been to the place the team didn’t have much sense of where they had been or how long it had taken them. One wrote of ‘the town of Akropong/ Abiriw’ (sorry, that’s two towns!) being ‘three hours from Accra’. (Traffic in Accra is often very bad so times are helpfully given from the edge of the built up area.)

Another error that crept into postings by the production team was that internet access at the Communications Centre was free. It is not, though it is lower than the local commercial rate. It is also slower and more unreliable than the competition: Opre Ventures on the Akropong By-pass.

The internet link at Abiriw depends on the signal from the Apirede Resource Centre and that is lost if the equipment on the top of the tower of Calvary Presbyterian Church is out of position.

When it shifts then the chap in charge of the Abiriw Centre has to climb to the top of the tower to adjust it. This is a scary climb as the staircase has no banisters. I wonder if Berners Lee - or any member of the team made the ascent? I suspect not: Timble’s time was short.

Video clip of Berners-Lee in Ghana here.


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