The final day of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (DBSF) 2014 provided an opportunity for delegates to continue their discussions whilst visiting the magnificent Ngorongoro crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated some three hours drive west of Arusha. This event, along with many other aspects of the Forum was supported by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor John Nkoma (Director General, TCRA) for all of the effort that his magnificent team put into making this what was widely regarded as one of the best ever DBSF event convened by the CTO. Particular thanks are especially owed to Habbi Gunze (Director of Broadcasting Affairs at TCRA) and to Innocent Mungy (Head of Corporate Communications, TCRA) for everything that they did to ensure that participants were able to hold fruitful and valuable discussions on Africa’s progress towards digital broadcasting switchover by August 2014.
The photos below provide a summary of the magnificent experiences that delegates had in the Ngorongoro crater, and also on the journey between Arusha and the crater. As I hope these images indicate, the crater itself was very much bigger than I had been expecting and the range of wildlife was truly amazing.
After visiting the crater, we spent some time in a small Maasai boma. A group of children were gathered in one of the tiny huts that served as a pre-school, and it was fun to sing ABCDEFG… with them, and hear them count from one to 10 in very good English. It reminded me of the images that appeared around 2007 in European and north American media of Maasai warriors with their mobile ‘phones, giving the impression that such devices were becoming more or less universal amongst the Maasai, and were transforming their lives. I asked one of the chief’s sons whether there were mobile ‘phones in the village, and slightly perplexed he said “No”. One of my colleagues then asked whether he felt ‘phones would be useful for communicating with friends, and the “warrior’s” response was fascinating, saying much about the resilience of Maasai culture. “Why do I need a mobile ‘phone?”, he said. “If I want to see a friend, I walk, perhaps two or three hours to see them”. I envied him. What a privilege to walk through such a wonderful landscape, and not to feel the pressures of our modern digital lives. Perhaps I should not have asked my next question, but he was proud of the children’s learning skills, and wanted to improve his own education. So, I asked “But if you had a mobile ‘phone, could you not use it to access books and information so that you could learn?” I should not have asked, because the question embarrassed him. It reflected a world so different from his own, that it was incomprehensible. I felt embarrassed too that, although he had given permission, friends with me were using their smart-phones to take pictures of the boma. I left feeling very challenged. I’ve long felt that we should never impose digital technologies on the lives of others. Of course many people think that mobile ‘phones could indeed make the lives of the Maasai very much “better”, but it would certainly be at a cost. I left just wanting to find a way to give them books for their children, which is what he had asked for. Perhaps then we could make time to help work with the villagers to design technologies that might enable them to live the lives they want to, rather than the lives so many of “us” want to impose on them of being both a market and a labour force.