Friday, May 09, 2014

Technology in Guinea

I've been surprised a number of times, for better and worse, by the state of technology in Guinea. In some areas, inexpensive technology has transformed Guinean society, but there remains much to be desired in other areas. I've been in Guinea for 10 months now, and here are some of my observations thus far.

The power grid: The PCV house in Conakry has power 24/7. It's powered mostly by city power, but most of the city gets no electricity. The guards run a generator to pick up the city's slack. The Labe house, in the Fouta, gets city power most nights for variable amounts of time, which we supplement pretty well with solar power. On a sunny day we can collect enough energy to power the lights and house computers for several hours. There's one ethernet cord to be shared between the computers, and there is wi-fi, but it works for only select machines.

Cell phones: In order to get a better picture of the cell phone situation for Guineans, I asked some questions of Mr. Barry, a sixth grade teacher in my village. (Mr. Barry comes to my house for weekly English lessons. He is conversational in English despite having never studied it in school; everything he learned is from PCVs.) Mr. Barry tells me that he bought his phone in 2008, but some Guineans had them as early as the early 2000s. At first, the major network provider in Guinea was Sotelgui, but now Orange is dominant. The other major service providers are Cellcom and Areeba. In polling my classes, on a random day in Tounkourouma, I found the following numbers: 80/145 students (55%) had a phone. Not bad for a college en brousse. As for Volunteers, as far as I know every current Volunteer has a cell phone, which can be used to make domestic or international calls. Some Volunteers have even begun to invest in smart phones, which can be used to access the internet anywhere that cell service exists, which brings me to my next topic.

PCs/Internet: Most Guineans au village don't have computers, but I've met a few who do and I myself will be purchasing computers for two Guinean friends while on vacation this summer. The easiest and most common way to connect to the internet is via smart phones, which range from 100,000 GNF to several million for the newest, fanciest phones. From there, the web can be accessed regularly for a small fee. USB internet keys are also rapidly becoming popular for those with a PC, and in fact Peace Corps is providing one now to every new incoming Volunteer. An Orange key currently costs 300,000 GNF, and like a smart phone, works with a SIM card and therefore gets service wherever there is cell service. In summary, cheap cell phones, service providers, and web access have become readily available in Guinea, which makes communicating and coordinating much more efficient. However, there remain substantial obstacles to be done before most of the country has regular power, and for a country that has yet to connect all of its major cities with paved roads, that may not yet be top priority.