By Kato Mivule
I.T Experts agree that Africa generally lags behind when it comes to Information Technology. There are a number of benefits that could be derived from the use to technology, especially in the fight against Disease and Poverty, including illiteracy.
However, the greatest hindrance to the full utilization and deployment of Information Technologies in Africa has largely been due to Cost. The cost of procuring both Hardware and Software is astronomical and most African Governments cannot afford the purchases.
Most African Governments in the sub-Saharan region rely on Donor funds to help make such technological investments but at very minimal levels such as upgrading Central Banks and other critical financial institutions computer systems.
Many other government agencies are left to fend for their own. I recall visiting the Immigration Center in Uganda and going to the storage room were records are kept. Surprisingly, most of the records are kept in paper form and in cardboard files, most of which have been eaten by moth, dampness and mice.
No wonder there is such an alarming rate of forgery and impersonation when it comes to acquiring a Ugandan Passport. Ugandan Immigration Services would find it very difficult to locate a Passport Application of someone who applied in 1980 but happened to pass away… However, such is the sickness with which records and kept in many African Government Agencies, just naming Uganda as an example.
Well, the problem is that even when the prices of hardware keep coming down, the prices of software kept going up and making the accessibility to the latest Information Technologies out of reach for many in Africa.
Interestingly enough is that Microsoft does not cut its prices for software sales in Africa. License Agreements stay the same as when one purchases the same software package in the West. Secondly, one has to keep upgrading and with each upgrade is more money. You will find that some institutions that manage to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft in 2003, will not do so for another 10 years because of price.
Ironically it is Bill Gates and his Foundation has been one of the main donors for funds to fight against disease, illiteracy and poverty in Africa. However, if Bill Gates sends A Million Dollars to help fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, then Microsoft takes that Million Dollars away through high price tags and recurring license fees for their software.
Things seem to be changing, not to sound pessimistic but the economic downturn and recent shakeup at Microsoft with Windows 7 verses Vista, and Layoffs, will maybe help those in Africa look for alternatives such as Open Source Technologies and perhaps force Microsoft to lower their price tag and cut the strings that come attached with it. Even in Africa, the days of a Microsoft Monopoly might be coming to an end.