Connecting the People of Idjwi: Pamoja Net in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a population of 77.51 million inhabitants and is considered one of the world’s poorest countries. Nearly two -thirds of the population - 63% - are considered to be living below the poverty line. Due to the DRC’s overall poverty rate, only 7% of the population has access to broadband connections. On the island of Idjwi in the middle of Lake Kivu, an estimated 250,000 people reside who earn less than $1 a day. With such a low daily per capita income, there are very few Internet equipped devices on the island. The Island is 70 km from the DRC mainland, where the nearest Internet access points are located. It is nearly isolated from the web.
The Development of a Network
In 2016, two organizations teamed up to deploy a network on Idjwi. These organizations were, Ensemble Pour La Difference, a Non-Profit Organization whose mission is to empower the community in the Kivu region in business and technology initiatives, and Fjord, an innovation consultancy firm in the UK. Their objective was to connect the community to the web through a center where residents could get news, health information and weather through a public display system, using Wi-Fi access points. The center possesses a number of tablets and Raspberry Pi’s to connect to the Net. The network was named ‘Pamoja Net’. Pamoja in Swahili translates to “togetherness”.
Both organizations studied population trends, and determined that the ideal location of the ‘makeshop’ would be in Bugarula - Idjwi’s busiest public market. A Mesh network was created between Bugarula and Bukuvu, the mainland’s closest Internet access point. The network was first tested on an island off the coast of Scotland, providing an accurate replication of the conditions on Idjwi. Once the network functioned in Scotland, the network was transported to Idjwi and deployed.
At the makeshop, a display monitor is connected to the phone of Idjwi’s King, Mwami Gervais Rubenga. The King uses his phone to access data and provide updates on the monitor regarding news, health information, and weather reports.
Idjwi residents often travel to the mainland to sell their goods and the weather reports let them know if it is safe to travel. Previously, there were weather updates, and residents would travel across the lake in rough conditions that led to many people drowning. The residents also can use the Internet to determine current pricing of their commodities to ensure they receive favorable rates on their goods. are so that they are not taken advantage of.
Another benefit of the network - residents of Idjiwi can utilize Internet access anonymously. If a citizen in the DRC wants to purchase a smart phone, they are required to disclose their identity when signing up. Using Pamoja Net, citizens do not need to disclose their identity and can purchase access at the makeshop for around $2 a month to freely surf the web and learn about current events in the country and not be suppressed or have content censored.
The Pamoja Net project provides an effective means to bring Internet to Idjwi. Through its implementation, the network has improved safety, e-commerce and human rights. The network continues to function today improving a number of Idjwi residents lives.
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