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How Can African Countries Close the Digital Divide? Political Unrest in Algeria and Hope for the Future; South African Musical Becomes Sensation

Aired July 21, 2001 - 12:00:00   ET


TUMI MAKGABO, HOST: This week on INSIDE AFRICA, the digital divide, what is it and how are our African countries working to close the gap? Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika talks about political unrest in his country and his hopes for the future. Also, a treat to remember, a trip to Sandton, South Africa for the opening of an extraordinary musical.

Hello I'm Tumi Makgabo. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, our weekly look at news and life on the Continent. Our focus this week, the digital divide. More than one dozen African communication and information ministers are in the United States, learning about the latest in communications technology trends. They're attending a conference to explore ways to bridge the divide and spur a technological revolution on the continent.

Alfonso Van Marsh joins us now with details. Alfonso?

ALFONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Tumi. I'm at an exhibition hall where African ministers, diplomats and business leaders are talking about an information technology gap between Africa and the rest of the world. We spent time with one man, who's leading the charge to get more Africans connected.


MARSH (voice-over): Raymond Akwule has a passion for information technology. The Nigerian native teaches telecommunications at a U.S. university, but for the last 10 years, he's been pushing African governments to develop their own telecommunications systems.

His forum, AFCOM, is an annual conference of mostly African ministers, regulators and businessmen. His goal, to help bridge the so-called digital divide between developed and developing nations.

RAYMOND AKWULE: From an African point of view, the digital divide concept is one that encapsulates the relationship between information technology and economic and social transformation.

VAN MARSH: But that transformation, using computers and the Internet for example, to link African businesses to an increasingly global market hasn't been fast or easy. Telecommunications experts say African governments are reluctant to change. For instance, not opening up state run services like telephones and cell phone services to privatization. That, they say, can only hurt the people the governments are supposed to serve.

MICHAEL POWELL, U.S. FCC CHAIRMAN: What's critical is trying to empower citizens with the kinds of tools that will sort of exponentially increase their ability to provide for their families.

VAN MARSH: Akwule creates opportunity by matching decision-makers with people who can set up or expand services, as well as though who offer advice on how to properly regulate the services, making them accessible and affordable.

He says, the challenge is convincing governments that information technology is as important as other issues, like resolving armed conflict and political and economic stability.

AKWULE: Africa has so many problems. And it is clear to everybody who has been following the trends that communication technology today helps us really to facilitate problem solving.

VAN MARSH: Some experts argue that what helps the most is the Internet. Even though every African country is online, there are just about a million dial-up subscriber accounts on the entire continent. About 200,000 accounts are in North African countries, the majority is in South Africa, some 650,000 accounts.

This Internet cafe in Akrah (ph) is typical of Africa online. Each Internet connected computer supports three or more users. Excluding South Africa's relatively high number of Internet subscribers, that's a ratio of one Internet user for every 750 Africans. The world average is one in every 35 people.

AFCOM conference participants say they've got the tools to improve that ratio, satellites to marry information in and out of African countries, components that allow information to be compiled and disseminated locally, wireless communications that spread the information to rural areas, where government telecommunication infrastructure is shoddy or non-existent.

HAMADOUIN TOURE, INTL. TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION: You can convince your 80-year-old grandmom that in order -- if there is an Internet access in her village, the medical practitioner over there, who is not a specialist, could access specialists all around the world.

VAN MARSH: One session was devoted to a discussion on whether English should be the dominant language of the worldwide web and what the world can learn from Africans. Delegates may talk about ideals, but the reality is that telecommunications is a big business.

It was a small, intimate gathering and some delegates chose to skip the sessions to make business deals.

(on camera): What the conference lacks in numbers, vendors say it more than makes up for in terms of great contacts. Conference organizers hope any potential partnerships will help bring Africa's unique and diverse perspectives outside national boundaries.

Alfonso Van Marsh, CNN, Washington.


MAKGABO: And some high school students from the United States are helping a remote town in Kenya join the computer age.

As Allison Tom reports when the students visited the town, they also took several computers for a local school


ALLISON TOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Maru, Kenya, people are celebrating the digital age in their world community. This room is filled with computer equipment from the United States, where it was considered obsolete.

But now, the donated computers are in the hands of students, who have never before touched a keyboard.

TOM SCHULTZ, FOUNDER, CANAAN FOUNDATION: Over here, there's a difference between personal and economic development for the community and stagnation, joblessness, almost hopelessness sometimes. The computers here really are a door into the modern economy.

TOM: U.S. volunteers install the computers in the classroom. They also offer technical tips and training. Modern technology makes a difference for students in this remote region, affording greater opportunity in the workforce.

MARYANNE NJERI MUKITA, HEAD GIRl, NKUNE GIRLS' SCHOOL: It's great. I'm just happy about it because we get the access of learning the computers, learning other things.

TOM: Organizers say, they hope to expand the computer program next year, offering a greater number of people availability and access to technology.

Allison Tom, CNN.


MAKGABO: Now if you have access to the Internet and you'd like more information on this, simply go to our Web site. That's at You can take part in our quick vote and also post your thoughts on our message board. And then be sure to join us for a live, online chat session on Wednesday at 15:00 GMT. Just go to

Time now for a break, but there's a lot more ahead on INSIDE AFRICA, including singing the blues, the harsh realities of the land reform process in South Africa. We'll bring you the personal stories of some of those evicted in the most recent dispute.


MAKGABO: Time now for business news. Zain Vergee is on assignment. Octavia Nasr is here now with your business Africa headlines -- Octavia.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Tumi. Foreign ministers of the world's most powerful nations this week urged an end to conflict in Africa as the key to development. They said G8 heads of state meeting this weekend will address measures for building African markets.

Katherine Bond recently visited Burundi. She saw first hand the dashed dreams of a business community affected by war.


KATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven years ago, this Burundian business had a turnover a million U.S. dollars a year.

In 1993, says its owner, Joseph Kikoma, we were already exporting 300 tons of fruit to Europe, mainly to Belgium, Holland and Paris. Then the war began. Mango and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exports stopped. And this changed from a success story to a tale of just how much war hurts African enterprise and employment.

The war is between a mostly Tutsi army and mostly Hutu rebels, but Kikoma says he, a Tutsi, and his Hutu workers get along fine.

"There's absolutely no tension between us," he says. We work very well together. But from 130 workers, he's had to lay off all but 20 because his business has shrunk, surviving only by bottling passion fruit juice for the small domestic market.

His efforts to export fruit again cut short when the Belgian carrier Sabina stopped flying to Burundi after one of its planes was hit by a bullet last December.

Like other Burundian businessmen, Kikoma keeps going. We try to work, we try to get ahead, we try to survive, he says. But he's desperate for the war to end.

"I wait like everyone, like my compatriots," he says, "in the hope of a political solution."

Katherine Bond, CNN, Bujumbura.


NASR: To Tanzania now where President Mkapa has opened the country's third large scale mine. The bouillon bulu mine in the north is owned by Barrick Gold of Canada. It's expected to produce over 400,000 ounces a year, with Tanzania already turning out over one million ounces, it becomes Africa's third largest gold producer.

And now, here's a look at this week's market numbers.

I'm Octavia Nasr and those are your African headlines. Now back to you, Tumi.

MAKGABO: Thanks, Octavia. In South Africa, the government carried out court ordered evictions of nearly 5,000 squatters from Kenton Park near Johannesburg. The court rules that the squatters were illegally occupying the land. Those evicted complained they have no where else to go and accused the government of being too slow to implement land reform.

So what has happened to them since the eviction?

Charlayne Hunter-Gault went back to Kenton Park to find out.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The end of the shacks is not the end of the story. Many people lured here have scattered to South Africa's increasingly blustery winter winds. Many told us when we were here during the eviction that they had nowhere else to go. So we've come here to see if we could pick up their trails.

(voice-over): This is all Elias Malawala has left, his guitar and his song. It could be called the saga of Kenton Park, for like the rest of the people languishing in this churchyard, he was one of those evicted for illegally occupying land there. And his words tell their story, too.

They've taken my belongings. They've demolished my shack. I don't have nothing.

During the eviction, some managed to rescue some of their things. This mother of three lost everything. She says before they lived where her husband works, but the white owners didn't want the children, telling them when they returned to go back where they came from.

The National Council of Churches has provided temporary shelter.

(on camera): These tents are being set up for people being sheltered at the church, not exactly the housing they'd hoped for, but at least they'll have a canvass roof over their heads, access to running water, and toilets. Unlike many others who've drifted back to live in the corner of a one-room shack or a shed behind someone else's house.

(voice-over): But even though the churches have provided some shelter, they say it's a difficult job.

TREVOR SEBADI, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: We depend on donations from loving hearts and caring hearts. So it's very difficult to find such hearts nowadays.

HUNTER-GAULT: Government has been roundly criticized, not only for its actions against the squatters. Some see comparisons with Zimbabwe, where land seizures have created a political crisis.

ANDILE MNGXITAMA, NATIONAL LAND COMMITTEE: You have a large population of Africans who are landless, who understand that their landlessness is brought as a result of dispossession by minorities population. The same is true of Zimbabwe. And these people are desperate for land. And the same true of Zimbabwe.

What you don't have here is the government which is prepared to actually use land occupation as a political strategy.

HUNTER-GAULT: And government officials say that won't happen here. At the same time, they acknowledge the pace has been slow due, they say, to limited financial and human resources, a legacy of apartheid. But they say, that's about to change.

GILINGWE MAYENDE, DEPT. OF LAND AFFAIRS: We believe that we have put in place a set of policies and programs that can actually address land hunger in a much more sustainable and long lasting way.

HUNTER-GAULT: In the wake of Kenton Park, there have been other land invasions around the country. Critics say they'll escalate. The government insists they won't.

(on camera): There are more than seven million homeless people in South Africa. So even if the government manages to speed up the process of providing more land, land hunger is not likely to be satisfied any time soon.


MAKGABO: Charlayne Hunter-Gault reporting from Kenton Park.

On the other end of the continent, anger towards government policy in Algeria. Nearly 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets this week in Kabili, demanding more rights for ethnic Berbers. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had traveled to Washington earlier in the week and spoke with CNN about the problems facing his country.

Tim Lister has that story.


TIM LISTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first Algerian head of state to enter the White House in 16 years, President Bouteflika is trying to break what he's called the "unspoken embargo" against his country.

Ostracism that's in response to persistent unrest in Algeria. And most recently among the minority Berber community after a youth died in custody. Critics of President Bouteflika say he's been slow and ineffectual in responding to the violence. Speaking to CNN, the President indicated he would seek constitutional amendments to give the Berbers greater cultural rights.

ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA, PRESIDENT, ALGERIA: There is definitely cultural problems. Problem of language also. And in fact, I believe there are contradictions within the constitution.

LISTER: But he's also acutely aware that concessions to the Berbers will not be well received by other Algerians.

BOUTEFLIKA: I had the intention -- during the electoral campaign to organize a referendum, but I've concluded after reviewing that, the referendum is not going to settle the problem because I'm sure that the majority of the Algerian population will be against it.

NORA BOUSTANY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think he feels there is a limit to what he can do. He said he would like to be the president who will get the Algerians to reconcile with themselves, but there are certain things that people are expecting him to do, like reviewing the constitution. He would not give a deadline for that, but said he was willing to go ahead with, step-by-step amendments.

LISTER: Beyond the Berber protests, there is wider discontent over chronic unemployment, a housing crisis and ingrained corruption. President Bouteflika says Algeria needs an infusion of overseas investment to help the transition to a market economy.

BOUTEFLIKA: I insisted on the transition from state economy to market economy.

LISTER: Bouteflika came to power in 1999, with a pledge of national reconciliation after a nine year Islamic insurgency. His own election was tarnished when most of the to other candidates withdrew. But President Bouteflika says he wants to be remembered as a democrat above all else.

BOUTEFLIKA: I would like to establish the rule of law in my country at the end of my mandate. If you cannot establish the rule of law, the election are not free and fair, and I don't want to have any kind of rigged election.

LISTER: But the road to a more viable democracy in Algeria is threatened by unrest in the streets, massive unemployment among the young, and a slow pace of economic reform.

Tim Lister, CNN.


MAKGABO: President Bouteflika still has to convince ethnic Berber leaders that he's serious about constitutional reforms. One leader, now in exile in Switzerland, says rather than pursuing those reforms, the president continues to take actions that stifle individual rights.

HOCINE AIT AHMED, SOCIALIST FORCES FRONT: When Mr. Bouteflika speaks of reform, he just passed law stifling the press, the freedom of the press. And another law is about to taken to be proposed by himself to televise the lawyers and the attorneys, to televise what has remained form justice. So as long as there is no acts proving that he means business, we cannot believe in it. It is wrong.

MAKGABO: Mr. Ait Ahmed's party is one of two political parties with a strong base in the ethnic Berber region of Kabili.

And just ahead on INSIDE AFRICA, is this a giraffe or a zebra? Find out when INSIDE AFRICA continues.


MAKGABO: And welcome back. Femi Oke joins us now with a story of a rare breed of animal, unique to the democratic republic of Congo -- Femi.

FEMI OKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much, Tumi. You're not going to believe my report today. I think you need a little bit of imagination and I've had some help from the graphics department. So imagination an animal, a little bit like a giraffe, but somewhat smaller. And the neck is a touch shorter. Then we have to work on the body. But is a horse, well, we're not quite finished yet. From the behind, it looks a bit like a zebra.

Now this animal was discovered in 1901. I didn't actually make it up. The last large mammal to be discovered in the world. Now you have the picture. Here's the story.


OKE (voice-over): It has zebra stripes in the back. It walks like a pony. The big clue to this zoological puzzle is the tongue. It's impressively long enough to pour juicy leaves off forest trees and can even be used to groom its ears. This is the giraffe's closest, but shorter relative, the Okapi

Unknown outside Africa until the early 20th century, this unusual looking creature can be found in just one country on the continent. It lives in dense rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is so shy and solitary, that it's habits in the wild are still largely unknown.

The Okapi is a protected species. And it remains vulnerable when its natural habitat comes under attack. These local farmers are looking for colton, a valuable mineral used in high tech electronic equipment. Mining like this illegal. The effect that it's having on the rainforest is causing concern for conservationists.

KARL RUF, EPULU OKAPI PROJECT: Three, four thousand people moved in along the main road and went into the forest and that was a lot of pressure on wildlife and plants, the mining itself, there's a lot of destruction to the rivers and trees.

OKE: A breeding center has been established in the forests of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Only about 30,000 exist. They're taken care of by the indigenous pygmies who groom, food and guard them. The aim of the center is to breed enough young Okapis to send to zoos in Europe and America. The continent that once was plundered to fill the zoos of the world, now needs them to save a rare and unique animal.

(on camera): And finally, it's very difficult to do a story about the Democratic Republic of Congo without mentioning the ongoing conflict there. Earlier this year, the forces of Jean Pierre Bimba got together the local conservationists and put together a patrol to patrol the area, to make sure the Okapi remain protected. Those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some kind of agreement with the local government forces as well, which means that in this case, conservation really doesn't have any boundaries.


OKE: That's it for me. Here's Tumi.

MAKGABO: Femi as always, thank you very much.

The rhythmic beat of African music will echo through London's West End this coming autumn. The new musical "Omaja" is a repertoire of sensational South African dance forms. It recently opened at Johannesburg's Sandton Convention Center.

Paul Tilsley tells us how "Omaja" blends South Africa's many rhythms.


PAUL TILSLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Omaja" punches and kicks with the power of Africa. The cast takes audiences on a theatrical journey through the last 50 years of South African music and dance.

The show is the creation of two stars from the '70s, Thembi Nyandeni and Todd Twala.

TODD TWALA, CO-CREATOR: We thought look at what's happening in the country. There's so much crime. There's so much prostitution. There's so much drug addiction. We thought, since when have we empowered ourselves through music and dance, why don't we get these kids together because they were so keen to look like us, to be like us. This has been going on for more than 10 years. We've been doing this for more than 10 years.

THEMBI NYANDENI: So we want to empower our children. We want to build a platform for our children. We want to take them as far as the sky.

TILSLEY: "Omaja" cast explode with energy.

ISRAEL THABETHE, CAST MEMBER: I do it for the love of it. What I really love let them do. I mean, as the saying is, do it all out. I'd like to show it.

TILSLEY: Our music, says the "Omaja" script is like South Africa's young democracy, taking the first steps towards a rainbow future down paradise road. This particular paradise leads to London in just two months time.

MBALI THANDIWE, CAST MEMBER: It's a big chance -- it's a chance of the -- I've never been overseas. And the show is going to London. I'm like, I don't know, asleep and dream about London every day.

After recording of the soundtrack album, it was plain to see. "Omaja's" creators are living their dream.

TWALA: For me it's like to see a dream coming true. I mean, being a black woman in this country, five years, seven years ago, nothing like this could happen for one. And it's a dream come true because now I have achieved what has been my dream all along.

So "Omaja" is a dream come true for me.

TILSLEY: Any where in the world would be lucky to see the show because of the unique culture. They make their wine in California. They make the gold in Russia. They make diamonds in Nambia. The only place that makes this music is South Africa. And any place that sees this music is in for a treat.

The music from African childhood, mixed with the pulsating beat of today. "Omaja" declares, "if you don't know where you're coming from, how can you know where you're going to?"

Paul Tilsley for INSIDE AFRICA, Sandton, South Africa.


MAKGABO: Well as always, INSIDE AFRICA loves to hear from you. So send us your comments, questions or if you know of an event we should be adding to our calendar, just e-mail us at And that's our look inside Africa for this week. Thanks for joining us. I'm Tumi Makgabo.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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