Tanzania’s head start in the East African ICT race

I just completed a two week stint IT troubleshooting at an NGO’s Nairobi office. I travelled to Kenya with the idea that since many large companies and organisations have headquarters in Nairobi, connections to the internet would be cheaper and faster than in Arusha. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The NGO in question was paying a hefty $370 per month for a very unreliable leased line connection, rated at a piffling 16 kilobytes per second. The office was struggling to send or receive emails containing attachments of any size. At first I thought the NGO must be getting seriously ripped off by their Internet Service Provider (ISP), but a little research showed that this price was competitive! I couldn’t believe my ears as I hung up the telephone after talking to most of the ISPs in Nairobi. In Arusha it is possible to get a more reliable connection over ten times faster for only $48 a month. The ISPs in Nairobi all gave the excuse that the government hadn’t deregulated internet connectivity in Kenya, and they were forced to send all data out of Kenya over the government owned JamboNet network. Thus, all requests for web pages etc. get caught up in a country wide internet traffic jam making the rush hour on Arusha’s Sokoine Road seem like a game drive in comparison.

Internet cafes in Nairobi on the other hand seem a bit more sophisticated. They charge by the minute, typically 3-4 KSh per minute translating to between 2400 and 3200 TSh per hour. Managers seemed very knowledgeable, with CD Burning and printing better organised than anywhere I have seen in Arusha.

On the whole, using the Internet in Kenya is more frustrating than in Tanzania. I wasn’t surprised then to read in November’s African Business that Tanzania has more internet cafes than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. This can perhaps be put down to deregulation of the communications sector and the removal of tax and duties on computers and peripherals.

With talk of an internet backbone running down the east coast of Africa and providing the region with a wired connection to the rest of the world by 2006, these things may give Tanzania a head start in Africa when it comes to internet based business. This of course relies not only on having good connections out of the country, but good connections within. Tanzanian ISPs and the government should start working together on building an internet infrastructure that covers the country in order to take advantage of the new opportunities a wired backbone will provide. Individuals too should seriously consider the benefits of IT training, particularly focusing on internet technologies.

The cheapest server money can buy

One of the things I did for the NGO in Nairobi was set up a server. I located a disused computer and installed SME Server, which I downloaded (thankfully in Arusha) from http://www.e-smith.org. This is free server software based on the Linux operating system. It provides its own email server, firewall to protect against hackers, RAID1 backup against hard drive failure, web and ftp servers, and even a proxy server to speed up surfing the web. All this fits on a single CD, and runs on a computer with only 64 megabytes of memory and a Pentium 2 processor. The only thing the NGO had to buy was larger hard drives for file sharing. The basic setup of the server took only half an hour, and Windows based workstations worked with it with often no configuration.

The few teething problems I had were solved by looking on the discussion boards at www.e-smith.org, and I found extra useful features available for download from www.contribs.com. All in all an excellent piece of kit, and at an unbeatable price.

Spyware update

A local internet caf� was having trouble with its internet connection. When I investigated it turned out their computers had been infested with over 300 pieces of spyware. I turned first to Ad-Aware, whom some people must think I work for as I recommend it so often. In this case Ad-Aware proved useless in removing the program that was tying up the connection. A quick hunt on the Internet turned up “Spybot – Search & Destroy,” which takes care of even more nasties than Ad-Aware. Get it from http://security.kolla.de/ and get rid of all those stupid extra menu bars that appear in Internet Explorer as well less obvious, but problematic pieces of spyware.

Ad blocking update

After some subtle hints from yours truly Bethel internet café on Sokoine Road has started to install the Proxomitron on its computers so its customers can enjoy pop-up and ad free surfing. Let’s hope some more cafes in town follow suite and add some value to their customers’ surf time.

Originally published in Arusha Times 299

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