Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Infrastructure (the lack of it)

We don't need much from our government. Really we don't. In fact, it would nice to have them fade into the background like the soft rumble of a distant generator that you don't notice until it falls silent. Working efficiently. Providing the goods. Only needing to be prodded once in a while by citizens voicing a concern.

On the other hand, the generator analogy may be an unfortunate one. After all, the reason a generator comes so readily to mind is because the government doesn't give us the little things they are duty-bound to. Hence the not-so quiet roar of the generator in everyone's backyard.

As I write from Liverpool, in a society where the basic infrastructure is in place, I can't help but rail against our government who do not give us the fundamental things we need and even block avenues for organisations that would do so. If they cannot give us electricity and cheap available communications infrastructure they need to get out of the way and let those who want to invest in such go ahead and get the job done.

Take the NITEL fiasco for instance. It is celebratory that most of Nigeria couldn't care less about that failed entity because phone services are available by an abundance of other means. Still NITEL still controls access to a resource that could potentially open up high speed access to the Internet - the SAT3 subsea fiber-optic cable that connects Africa to the rest of the world. That access isn't therefor most Nigerians because it is in the hands NITEL. Even in the early days NIPOST was quicker off the starting blocks providing cybercafe services while NITEL people were driving white trucks around Lagos with "Internet project" or some such painted on the side.

I spent most of this afternoon on the phone with a London-based friend who was lamenting only having 3.2 mb/s internet access while his neighbour on another service could get 8! I'm pretty impressed when my downloads are sustained at 40kb/s for more than 5 minutes.

Modern society runs on two things: electricity and data communications. If the Nigerian government can solve those two problems they will significantly reduce many societal woes. They will reduce unemployment. Inflation will be lower. Healthcare will be cheaper. Food production and storage will be simpler. It will easier to get safe drinking water. Education will accelarate. Pollution and its associated problems will be less. The haemorrhage of the brightest to foreign lands will cease. Dare I say it - even the population will probably go down as with more things to do with their time couples will not spend all their time making babies...

All a government is required to do is make the needed laws and guidelines to ensure that society works as it should. They should also provide some basic infrastructure or provide everything possible to the people willing to invest in such things.

The Chinese have a curse: "may you live in interesting times." Interesting times are times of war, famine and epidemic disease. Times of prosperity are dull periods of quietness when things just chug along as they are supposed to. Right now, we have very interesting infrastructure in Nigeria where every man and woman has to think about providing their own electricity, water, security, run several cars and carry 2 phones. We need those things to fade into the background and become the white noise that soothes our nerves as we focus on true value adding activity.