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Date: Wed, 07 Aug 1996 14:46:06 -0400
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From: M_Bastian@ACAD.FANDM.EDU (Misty Bastian)
To: NUAFRICA: Program of African Studies Mailing List <>
Subject: Africa: Internet Background Paper

>Date: Wed, 07 Aug 1996 10:03:10 -0500
>Subject: Africa: Internet Background Paper
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Internet Background Paper

Africa Policy Information Center, Background Paper (Announcement & Excerpts), 7 August 1996

APIC's latest background paper, Africa on the Internet, is now available. This posting contains excerpts from some sections, together with a table of contents and information on how to order the typeset printed version (by mail), how to find it on the Web, and how to obtain a text-only copy of the full paper by e-mail.

Our survey of recipients of this distribution list (full report to be available later this month) showed that 85% of the recipients have access to a Web browser. We are therefore not distributing the full background paper text to the entire list, but instead giving you several different options for obtaining it. Please let us know if this procedure causes difficulties for any of you.

(1) Typeset copies of this background paper (8 pages, 2 colors, graphics) are available at $2 ea., $1.60 each for 20 or more. Add 15% for postage and handling, and an additional 20% for overseas orders. Order from Africa Policy Information Center (contact information below). Payment in U.S. dollars; submit payment in advance or institutional purchase order. Please consider ordering this particularly for those of your friends, colleagues and students who are just beginning to use the Internet, or are considering doing so.

(2) The full text, with graphics, is now on the Africa Policy Web Site:

The table of contents for the background paper is at:

There are separate quickloading files containing each section of the paper, as well as a combined (44K) file convenient for printing or saving to disk:

(3) To obtain the Web files by e-mail, you can follow the instructions in the Web by E-mail section below.

(4) You may also obtain the document by e-mail, in two parts (filesizes 18K and 21K) by sending a message to The first line of your message should read exactly: send inet

Partial Excerpts from Background Paper follow:

Africa on the Internet: Starting Points for Policy Information, July, 1996

Electronic networks—and particularly the new tools of e-mail and the World Wide Web—have great potential for enhancing global democratic access to policy-making processes. But de facto access to effective use of these technologies is biased in all the predictable directions: by race, gender, economic status, and location. Africa, to date the least connected continent, is particularly disadvantaged. By cutting the costs of long-distance communication, however, the information revolution is also opening up new possibilities. How well Africa and Africa's friends take advantage of these opportunities will depend at least as much on our collective capacity to learn as on the material resources available to us.

The pace of change in information technology is breathtaking. Surfing the Internet is in fact not very hard, once one has the right connection. Making practical use of the technology, without getting lost in trendy bypaths or costly repeated upgrades, is admittedly more difficult. But communicating via words and pictures over computer networks is probably as fundamental an innovation as the printing press. Learning how to use the new medium is inescapable for anyone needing to get or send information at a distance.

The fundamental difference between words and images on networks and on paper is that—after the initial investment in a computer and the connection—the cost is dramatically less than moving paper around the world, or making a direct telephone connection through a fax. The cost trends are consistently downwards—an average drop of as much as 50% every 18 months. As individuals, we may decide how much we need or want to keep up. For organizations and countries, however, failure to make the Internet connection will be a certain recipe for increasing marginalization as the new century approaches.

This background paper is designed as a quick-start guide for anyone interested in Africa who is seeking policy-related information via electronic networks. It is not intended to substitute for general guides to the Internet. It doesn't provide comprehensive listings of Internet Africa resources, or even of the best sites. It doesn't tell you how to get on-line (that depends very much on where you are). What it does do—like one of those How do I find ? leaflets available at the entrance of any good library—is try to answer the common question Where do I start when there is so much (too much) information available?

Many details in this version will, inevitably, soon be outdated. On-line, you can find the latest version, with live links, at To receive an ascii copy of the latest version by e-mail, send a message to, with send inet as the first line of the message. Notifications of outdated links or other corrections should also be sent to

Section 1: What is the Internet?

Increasingly, the Internet is best understood as a generic term, like the postal system or the telephone system. If you have a postal address anywhere in the world (and your local postal service is working), you can receive mail. If you have a telephone number, the same for telephone calls. If you have a computer, a telephone, a device for connecting them (generally a modem), the appropriate software, and a service provider, you can get on the Internet.

This means that you can make connections to all the computers also connected, wherever they are in the world. ... A computer with an Internet connection can be used to send a note to a friend. It can also serve as the equivalent of a instant printing press or an open-access library. ...

Section 2: Internet Communication Tools

**Since the Internet is a general medium for transferring words and images between people, the ways it is used will be just as varied as the multiple ways different individuals use words and images printed on paper.** How you can and should use the Internet depends on (1) what kind of access you have, and (2) what your needs and preferences are.

The tools that are the most relevant for the ordinary user are e-mail, bulletin boards (or conferences), and the World Wide Web. Even if you have full access, it is your communications and information needs that determine which tools are most useful to you. Getting information by e-mail, as by a subscription to a mailing list, is like subscribing to a magazine or a newspaper. You will do it when the information is important enough to you to want to receive it regularly. Using the Web is like going to libraries, bookstores, or a mall filled with hundreds of libraries and bookstores. Your time spent doing it will depend on what information you want, how quickly you can find it, and how much you like browsing.


The minimal level connection, available to any dial-up user to any computer with an Internet link, is sending and receiving *e-mail*. ...


*Mailing lists*, or *electronic distribution lists*, are just like subscriber or membership lists kept for sending mail through the post office: lists of addresses all of which get the same messages. ...


*Bulletin boards* or *conferences* may be available on the system one is signed up with, or, in some cases, reachable through the Internet for public free access. Electronic conferences are collections of messages left for anyone with access to read. ...


The most popular and rapidly growing Internet tool is the *World Wide Web*. ...

Section 3: The Web by E-mail

For persons with e-mail access only, it is possible to obtain documents on the Web using one of a number of mail servers set up for this purpose. You send a command by e-mail, such as get or send followed by the URL of the Web page you want. The server then retrieves the file from its location, and sends it to you by return e-mail. This should in turn give you URLs of other linked pages, which you can request next. The process is slow compared to Web browsing, and response times may vary significantly depending on your location and network traffic. Nevertheless these services, which in effect do your browsing for you, are now being used regularly.

The major sites providing this service are currently,,,, and A help message to any of the servers will bring you a file explaining the particular commands it uses. ...

If you do have Web access, please be moderate in your use of these servers, which are provided as a public service by volunteers. Excessive traffic has caused the abandonment of at least one such effort in the past. These servers are experimental, and you may have to try several before you find one which is currently working satisfactorily.

Example: To get the file http://www-, as a text file, including URLs of linked sites, write an e-mail message to with the following text in the body of the message:

send africa/elecnet.html

To get the file from, the message should instead be:

get -t -u -a africa/elecnet.html


Section 4: Internet Glossary

Section 5: Africa and the Internet

The continuing growth of the Global Information Society, as it is being termed, will have profound implications for African countries. Some fear that it will only accelerate the marginalization of Africa, as the pace of growth accelerates even more and the gap between those who are linked up and those who are not grows larger. Africa's disadvantage is a function of its underdevelopment in general, and of the low density of telephone connections in particular—as South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki remarked in 1995, there are more telephones in Manhattan than in all Sub-Saharan Africa.

These dangers should not be underestimated, but lamenting them will not stop the rushing train of information technology. And rapidly dropping costs offer the potential for leapfrogging some development obstacles, and for Africa's civil society, governments, and entrepreneurs to take advantage of new technologies. If the minimum infrastructure is put in place, that presents those on the global periphery and even in remote rural areas with new opportunities for participation.


Section 6: Africa Policy Information on the Web

You may find the information you need in likely or unlikely places on the Web. Or it may not be there at all, but even in that case you might find a useful clue (phone number or e-mail address) to someone who might be able to put you on the right track. There is, unfortunately, no one right search strategy. Among the best starting points: (1) going to a site with a lot of Africa information and/or links to other relevant sites; (2) going to a site of a governmental, non-governmental, or media organization you know or guess to be involved on the specific issue or country; or (3) using one of the Web search engines.

General Africa Sites ...

South African Resources ...

Organizational Sites ...

Search Engines ...

Section 7: Africa Policy Information in Conferences and Newsgroups

Conferences, bulletin boards, or newsgroups, as indicated by the different terms used to refer to them, are less standardized than the Web. What is available to you depends primarily on your service provider, which maintains separate areas accessible by software called a newsreader or by an interface specific to the particular system. These are essentially places where messages are grouped together on a bulletin board you can browse rather than put in a private mailbox. ... The quality of the information you find depends entirely on what set of people have access to and decide to post messages on the particular conference. ...

The largest set of such conferences are the Usenet newsgroups, which are echoed around the world from computer to computer, with no central location, but with standard names, such as comp.infosystems.www.anounce or soc.culture.zimbabwe. On many technical subjects, particularly computer software issues, the Usenet newsgroups are one of the most important means of keeping up with current developments. Unfortunately many newsgroups, including most Africa-related ones, have a very low proportion of useful information, and are filled with random chatter and even significant doses of racist invective. ...

Section 8: Africa Policy Information in your Mailbox

When you join a mailing list, you receive all the messages sent out to everyone on the list. As with newsgroups or conferences, what you get depends entirely on who has permission to post material to the list and what they select to post. Some lists are read-only, the equivalent of magazines put out by one publisher. Others receive and automatically redistribute to the entire list messages submitted by any subscriber, or even echo all the discussions on one of the Usenet newsgroups. Low-volume lists may send out only one posting, perhaps the on-line version of a newsletter or magazine, once a month; others may send out hundreds of messages a day. Discussion lists are essentially like on-going conversations; their use to you will fundamentally depend on what conversations you want to listen in on or participate in. ...

There are e-mail mailing lists, either for discussion or for distribution of news and publications, for almost every African country or region. Many are mentioned under the appropriate topics at the Pennsylvania or Stanford sites (mentioned in section 5). An extensive listing of Africa-related mailing lists is also available at the Web site of Central Connecticut State University ( archives/bedell.html). ...