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March 22, 2024

Connecting Sipili: How ALINet Community Network is Bridging Inequality in technology access

As technological advancements rapidly increase, the digital divide is widening leaving the most remote
areas in technological obscurity. In line with Kenyan Government Digital Masterplan (2022-2032), the
government in collaboration with other sector players plans to establish 25,000 public internet hotspots
to close the digital gap and democratize access to internet connectivity.
To not only contribute to this vision but also empower the community in Sipili, Laikipia County, the Arid
Lands Information Network (ALIN), a non-profit organization supporting communities in East Africa to
achieve food security and manage the effects of climate by providing practical and usable information
using ICTs, is collaborating with AHERINET to roll out a community network, ALINET. The building block
to this network was made possible through support the Association for Progressive Communication
(APC).
ALINET aims at providing high quality, safe and affordable broadband services in Sipili and its environs.
The community network, using licensed spectrum frequencies, has connected vital community centers
and business including the Ngarua Maarifa (knowledge) center, local administration headquarters, and
computer services and training providers.
The local administrator in charge of the Sipili Location, Chief Jane Njoki, successfully utilizes the ALINET
community network to electronically maintain essential documents and facilitate online government
services. With the technology infrastructure in place, ALIN, in collaboration with Humanitarian Open
Street Mapping, conducted a hybrid training for local youths on open street mapping. The resulting
open street map will not only enhance the community’s spatial awareness but also serve as a valuable
resource for future development initiatives. “As I entered this room I never knew how maps were
generated let alone generating an open street map but now I am in a position to map and gather
accurate data for my community” remarked Mr. Francis Mburu one of the young mappers from Sipili.

The project implementation started with an interactive community meeting involving representatives
drawn from different community groups and villages around Sipili the aim of this engagement being to
obtain an idea of the communities social and economic environments and also gathered their interests
and preferences. This is essential as this grassroots effort is sustained by locals who actively participate
in the maintenance and monitoring of the network, ensuring its relevance and reliability. ALINET has
since set up antennas, servers, and Wi-Fi infrastructure and connected various hotspots.
Mr. Simon Munyeki, ALIN`s Field Officer in Sipili emphasizes the community-centric approach, stating
“ALIN has structured the ownership of ALINET to rest with community members, encouraging them to
be responsible for its infrastructure and management while optimizing its meaningful utilization.” From
online communication for bodaboda (motorbike) riders to facilitating virtual meetings and virtual
learning, the network has become an essential tool for daily activities. Mrs. Susan Kigano a local
business owner, highlights how the network has enabled her to handle financial transactions seamlessly,
demonstrating its practical impact on economic activities.
While digital communication technologies were initially hailed as saviors, they have also played a role in
activities detrimental to communities. The telecom and internet industry, driven by profit motives, often
prioritizes speed and scale, contributing to a significant digital gap. The resulting digital divide leaves half
of the world’s population not connected.

In the face of these challenges, community networks like ALINET spark hope, demonstrating that
technology can empower rather than exploit. By focusing on local needs and fostering community
engagement, ALINET is creating a more just and sustainable world. The story of Sipili serves as an
inspiration, reminding us that true progress is measured not only in technological advancements but
also in the positive impact on the lives of the marginalized.

January 31, 2024

A Story of Sipili digitizing their resources

Sipili is a lively town located in Olmoran Ward and surrounded by the stunning landscape of Laikipia
County. This tight-knit rural community, with support of the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), is
undertaking a transformative project of mapping their community. The development of OpenStreetMap
involves the active participation of the community in the mapping process, which is a crucial element
that enables a comprehensive understanding of the town’s needs, topology, demographics, and the
location of significant resources. The OpenStreetMap (OSM) will be a free, open geographic database,
updated and maintained by a community of volunteers through open cooperation.

Facilitated by ALIN and supported by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, the Sipili community held
a two-day community mapathon at ALIN’s (Knowledge) Centre. A “Maarifa Centre” is a community
space equipped with appropriate ICT equipment and tools to bridge the digital divide by enhancing
knowledge creation, access, dissemination, and skills development. The Community Mapathon drew
participation from youth within the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in Sipili and its environment, marking a
collective effort in the mapping of the area. During the mapping sessions, community members received
training on how to use the mapping tools, fostering an environment where they interacted excitedly
with the mapping soft wares. Beyond the mere exploration of technology, these sessions have evolved
into platforms for community members to share their insights and knowledge about the geography of
the Sipili community.

Mr. Allan Wafula expressed excitement about the opportunity he had to explore mapping. “I am
thankful to ALIN for giving me this opportunity to explore mapping. I had never done mapping before. It
was my first time doing it and I found it so impressive and interesting,” Allan said excitedly.
Mr. Joseph Kanyi, a local Cybercafé owner, shared his experience during the first mapathon in Sipili. “I
got the opportunity to learn a new skill. Most of the time, we see maps on Google Maps and wonder
who and when they were generated. I am thankful that we have been given the opportunity to know
how the maps, specifically OpenStreetMap are generated and to be involved in the mapping.” said
Kanyi.

This collaborative effort not only utilizes horning-mapping skills but also holds special significance,
serving as a crucial step in identifying optimal locations for the telecommunication equipment for the
proposed ALINet Community Network. The community network establishment is timely as it supports
the Kenya government’s efforts in establishing 25,000 community hotspots in line with its Digital
Strategy. Beyond the Map project highlights community collaboration, demonstrating how technology
can empower communities and bridge the digital divide. As Sipili Community members navigate the
OpenStreetMap, it will not only be spatial awareness but also have a sense that they played a significant
role in shaping the OpenStreetMap.

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