Regarding the messages of Herman Wasserman and Cliff Missen, this is
interesting but there is a danger I think in any strategy that seeks to
rely on intermediaries. Cliff uses the word "griot" but in fact it may
be more like "marabout" or priest (although these latter analogies are
not perfect either) - a class of more educated people to mediate between
common folk and the knowledge (technology), and by extension do the
interpreting for them.

Cliff is right to point out the use of notes and more knowledgeable or
mobile intermediaries in communications. Long before internet, of
course, there were some people who would help their illiterate neighbors
to write letters. But such is no one's ideal, just something that

Likewise for e-mail etc. Access is the issue and that has 2 parts in
the case of computers & intenet: the physical aspect (are you in
proximity and can you afford to log on?) and the meaningful or "soft"
aspect (if you had physical access and found yourself seated in front of
a connected computer, would anything make sense?). The latter overlaps
with user skills of course (basic literacy again, and now computer
literacy) but depends also on the user interface, design of software,
content, and language. The fact is that even, say, the old lady who
grilled kebabs and fried sliced yams in front of the Binnta cybercafé in
Bamako - and most of the passers by who would sit and eat on the corner
there - would have to send something through an intermediary not because
of distance (assuming for a moment that access fee inside was not a
problem) but because the technology would not facilitate their use of
their first language, written, or provide for mailing an audio message
(for the lady and others among them who were not literate).

I'm not at all comfortable with the notion of person-to-person or
web-to-individual(s) information being mediated where it's not
absolutely necessary, and then only as a temporary strategy and with as
few transformations as possible - i.e., if as a service, more like a
postal relay (can what the sender says be recorded and transmitted
exactly as such through the media to the receiver?) than like the
traditional letter writer in much of Africa who hears in one language,
translates into another, and writes a letter that may have to be
back-translated on the other end. Maybe handhelds will help in this

On another level some internet for development efforts have relied on
people who surf and translate (e.g., in connection with a local
community radio) - in effect another kind of intermediary. This is
certainly helpful, but if the vision does not extend to developing at
least some content that bypasses the need for such intermediation (and
interpretation), then it risks institutionalizing a relationship that by
its nature keeps some people marginalized.

Don Osborn

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