A few years back, the American Aid Organization, USAID, provided support for an enterprising NGO to open an internet access point in Kindu, the first ever for this provincial capital. Its name, Horizon, reflects its forward-looking aspirations. It is still one of only two public connections to the World Wide Web in the entire province. When we are in Kindu we make daily pilgrimages to Horizon to check email.
The internet connection is never great—slow and broken. What with Kindu’s chronic lack of electric power, the cyber café is usually only open part time with a small gasoline powered generator. Often the generator runs down to empty. Then lights, connection, computers, all go out at once. And we close up for the day.
None of this has kept the residents of Maniema Province from acquiring a taste for the internet. Every day more and more crowd into Horizon, and more and more are coming with lap tops. A “VIP” table has been set aside for those with their own machines. You just connect to one of the lines, program in the IP address and the World Wide Web is yours…Or so it is in theory.
The packed tables certainly are a deterrent to the viewing of certain “sensitive” sites. A furtive glance at some of my neighbors’ screens reveal that scam emails from Bill Gates, sham lotteries and others are an important part of daily communication. The reach of SPAM is truly phenomenal. Since bank accounts, much less credit cards, are rare, no harm done.
The real challenge is to find my way through all of the wires and electric cords. The abiding fear is that someone pulling away from the table will drag the whole lot, including my computer, crashing to the floor.
From John, after two weeks of Kindu on diplomatic mission.