Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ajai Chowdhry on IT in Africa

Real journalism is not an easy gig.  Your job is to report news, which means things nobody knows about yet.  Old news is no news, so you need to figure out what's going on as quickly as you can.  Extra time spent researching or editing is time that the story's not getting published.  Then you get to go on to something else you don't know about, though at least it will usually be in the same general vein.

So I feel a little bit bad as a casual blogger about picking on the CNN headline writer who characterized Indian IT entrepreneur Ajai Chowdhry's comments on African infrastructure as "Why broadband not roads will transform Africa."  But only a little bit.

From what I read, Chowdhry isn't saying that broadband is more important than roads.  The main assertions I get are that Africa's problems and solutions are the same as India's; India has had an advantage in being a single state instead of 53; because of their similarities and decades of close relations, doing business in Africa is not difficult for an Indian company; Africa represents a huge business opportunity; African manufacturing has a huge native market to supply; African unity will only help Africa's economy and stature in the world; and, yes, broadband and the web could and should play a major role in addressing African poverty.

Chowdhry mentions roads in one passage at the end:
But the one area where Africa can make a big difference is by not just looking at putting up roads -- it should look at putting up internet broadband-type infrastructure.
In other words, both are important, and perhaps broadband is being overlooked.

My point here is not to bash on CNN.  As I said, putting this all together is harder than it looks.  Rather, it's that Chowdhry's broad and well-developed view of the situation, from the standpoint of a key player in IT, provides a good perspective of how the web fits into the overall picture of economic development.

Given that Chowdhry is in the business of IT and clearly and openly hopes to gain from helping develop African IT, it's particularly notable how broad a view he presents.

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