By Lucy Ngandu
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.