Book Reviews

Michael E.D. Koenig

Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information and Communication Technology.
National Research Council, Planning for Scientific and Technological Information Systems Panel.
Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996. 275 p., ISBN 0–309–05483–4.

This book is of genuine and substantial utility. It demonstrates the real effective applicability of the intelligent and determined use of information and communication technology in the support of economic development in Africa. The book is not just theory and sermonizing. It is, as the sub–title indicates, a series of some 16 case studies, with real people writing about real situations, plus some well–grounded conclusions and recommendations.

The authors and editors are to be congratulated, because unlike so many (indeed, most) accounts of “how we did it good,” particularly when the context is the developing world, these case studies are written “warts and all.“ The authors in every case are open and frank about what worked, what didn’t work, what the problems and mistakes were, how things might have been done better, and what lessons can be drawn from their experiences. Therein lies the real value of the book. This frankness, coupled with the number of cases, gives the book a credibility that a more general or theoretical treatment could never have achieved. It could not have been an easy task to assemble and edit and prod authors into rewriting, and then to re–edit such a compilation. The authors and the editors have done a first–class job.

The list of problems that surface is long and illuminating, and ranges from high local prices to inappropriate customs regulations and inept customs officials. But what is also illuminating are demonstrations of how those problems can be worked around, particularly if the implementors on the scene have contact with and support from professional peers in their own or other countries, particularly developed countries, peers who have experience with the technology being implemented. Here the Internet becomes doubly powerful, not merely as an information technology to be introduced (five of the sixteen cases revolve around Internet access, or building toward Internet access), but also as an enabling tool to facilitate those communications with professional peers which are so helpful when introducing new I.T. into developing countries.

The case studies also point out that improved information technologies, CD–ROMs, the Internet, etc., are tools, but not a panacea. Not yet addressed for example, as several write–ups point out, is the problem of adequate access to pertinent local or regional information, the grey literature of Africa and other parts of the developing world.

In summary, this book should be read by anyone interested in the implementation and application of information technology in the developing world.

About the Author

Michael E.D. Koenig is Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Rosary College.

© 1996 Michael E.D.Koenig