1st Binga ITC stakeholders seminar

The Austrian Zimbabwe Friendship Association (AZFA) is a private voluntary organisation based in Austria. Over the recent years it has established contacts with the Tonga community in Binga district and organised several projects of cultural exchange between musicians and other artists from Siachilaba and Austria through the Kunzwana Trust.

In its attempts to mobilise support and resources for developmental projects in the Binga area, AZFA succeeded to get Tonga Culture on the agenda of a prestigious exhibition at the Provincial Museum in Linz/Austria. The exhibition - named "Tracing the Rainbow" - will cover Arts and Culture in Southern Africa and is due to start on 1 April 2001 for about six month.

The project idea was to establish an Internet link TONGA.ONLINE in order to present the rich cultural heritage of the Tonga and the past and present cultural exchange activities on the world wide web. This link is intended to lobby support for the mid-term goal of the project, which is to facilitate tangible steps of human development for the people of the Binga district.

Furthermore, bearing in mind that books and educational material are still severely lacking in the area, the Internet should provide better access to information and knowledge there. The project intended to open the possibility of an Internet access for schools in the Binga district including Siachilaba Primary School.

This idea is very much in line with recent studies about the relevance of the Internet for development especially in Africa. Despite high costs and poor quality phone lines, it has shown its capacity for the access to information and knowledge and for the advancement of human rights and development.

In order to explore this project idea for the Tonga area further, Mr. Peter Kuthan, the chairman of AZFA, visited Zimbabwe from 1 until 12 January 2001. In close co-operation with Roland Angerer from OED / Horizon 3000 and Keith Goddard from Kunzwana Trust / KWA he held several meetings in HRE, BYO and Siachilaba and a stakeholder Seminar in Binga on the 9th January in order to discuss the implications and to identify possible linkages with interested and involved stakeholders.

Thanks again to all partners and participants for their valuable contributions and co-operation.

Main findings:

Throughout the trip and the Tonga area the project idea was very well received and the opportunity to link up with the exhibition in Upper Austria welcomed. In fact the project has turned from an idea into some kind of shared vision and has become firm roots in the Tonga area.

There was a common understanding that the Internet has the potential of a vital tool for development, especially to counter the effects of remoteness and marginalisation in the Tonga area. As a long term vision it should contribute to a more balanced access to resources for the Tonga people.

To some people, especially the elderly, the Internet was a completely new term and concept, which was sometimes not easy to explain. For most of the students and young people a vague idea was already there which was further developed by group discussions and interviews held by Simba and Dumi from KWA. A few people in the area are already online, mainly in Binga, almost all of them working with NGO«s. Therefore the idea was not that much strange - as the electro-acoustic compositions might have been lately. To the contrary - a number of people had already something in the pipeline, be it a website for the Tonga Museum or a Internet Center at Binga High School.

The mission and Binga seminar therefore came exactly at the right time to create a platform and to pull forces together. A number of relevant stakeholders, partners and parties declared their strong interest in the project:: Primary and Secondary Schools, the Binga Museum (near to completion), Library and Craft Center, NGO«s and Cultural groups, Ministries and even the Magistrates Court. Interest and support was also expressed by some business people in trade and tourism.

Furthermore the project received backing from authorities like Chief Siachilaba, Binga Rural District Council, Headmasters and Ministry for Education officials on District and Provincial levels.

Potential partners in the private ICT sector have been identified, like Cyberplex Africa, a leading e-services consultancy and website design team in the region, which is commited to support the project along non-commercial terms.

An agreement in principle with the most important strategic partner, the WorLD - World Links for Development - Programme has been reached on central and provincial levels. WorLD is a global collaborative learning program sponsored by the World Bank«s Economic Development Institute. It has established its own NGO-like structure in Zimbabwe and has set up 12 Internet Centers throughout the country so far. We had the opportunity to visit one of them at Mpopoma Highschool in Bulawayo.

A "Blue van" with 10 computers is serving as a mobile Internet Unit to provide communities with the opportunity to explore the usefulness of the Internet even in remote areas - prior to the establishment of Internet Centers in relevant schools.

Binga Secondary School and its School Development Association has an Internet Center project in the pipeline already and has started to build the basic facilities there, due to become operational within a couple of month.

A provisional booking was made for the mobile WorLD Unit for the month of April in order to expose some places in the Tonga area to access the Internet beforehand and to provide for a temporary direct Internet link between the Tonga area and the exhibition at the Landesmuseum in Linz / Upper Austria.

The Seminar identified some major areas where the Internet access should provide for substantial benefits and meet expectations for change: first of all the field of education, further information and communication links within the community and the outside world; community development; access to modern technology; promotion of Tonga culture and marketing of services and products; (see the minutes of the Seminar for more details).

The Seminar resolved that there are also some major challenges for the project to deal with: to consider and meet long term sustainability, to create a sense of ownership, to get the wider Tonga community involved from the beginning and to cater for self reflection and learning through cultural exchange.

The concern for sustainability has to come to terms with a lean organisational structure, capacity building by training and cost coverage by fees and sound marketing. Therefore it was agreed upon not to create an artificial hyper project or management structure but to leave the initiative with existing or emerging projects - rather combining and co-ordinating efforts instead of imposing new overheads. This should also contribute to true ownership. Community involvement should look further then Binga and Siachilaba to the other side of the river and to remote, but culturally even more sensitive chieftancies like Mola. The deployment of the mobile Van is also seen as an instrument to advertise the idea, especially when it should be complemented by a series of Festivals and Ngoma Buntibe competitions in April.

Another way to foster community involvement is that the project should create tangible benefits and side effects for the wider community, i.e. the electrification of schools and their upgrading of working conditions for teachers. This will result in providing more attractive job opportunities which will contribute to reduced fluctuation of teachers.

An instant threat for quick progress of the project could be the conflict of interest which is arising in Binga over the location of the Internet-center, be it at the Binga High School or at the Museum and Library complex. This issue should be resolved in an amicable and transparent way.

The project is a combination of short term activities like the set up of a joint web site, the deployment of the Mobile Unit or the Festival trail on the one side and mid term endeavours like the set up of Binga World Links Resource Center with affiliated schools, an e-connection of Tonga Museum, the electrification of Siachilaba Primary School and establishment of a computer center there on the other side.

Strategic tasks and next steps / responsibilities:

  •  to disseminate reports and minutes to all stakeholders by OED / AZFA / KWA;
  • set up of a communication and co-ordination structure within the platform per e-mail and fax with the focal point being Binga Secondary School / School Development Association SDA; messengers role within Binga area taken on by E. Markham;
  • application for the WorLD Internet Center in Binga to be confirmed by MINED and follow up by SDA;   
  • formal application for the Mobile Unit by OED/AZFA; 
  • set up of a taskforce (by e-mail) to deal with the web design and update of a joint web site in collaboration of Austrian and Zimbabwean artists / Ravi from Cyberplex Africa / foto-documentary by Calvin Dondo;
  • to establish a vibrant Internet communication between the Tonga area and the outside world, especially focal points like the exhibition in Austria and partner schools; facilitated by SDA Binga Highschool, AZFA and school partnerships;
  • to lobby and source funds for joint web design, deployment of WorLD Mobile Unit and PCs by AZFA and the exhibition / Landesmuseum;
  • to plan, prepare and source funds for the "Kupuluka" Festival trail (according to Simonga Cultural Group kupuluka would be an appropriate Tonga term for the flowering of the project and the Valley) by Kunzwana Trust approaching Hivos.
    * Support provided by Cultural groups like Simonga, Kwaabana and Ntengwe;
    * Connection with visiting Austrian group Sigi Finkel & African Hearts plus journalists; Visual arts / murals contributed by schoolchildren under the guidance of Helen Lieros / Gallery Delta HRE.
  • to investigate PTC / ZESA terms for the electrification and connection of Siachilaba School by Siachilaba SDC in co-operation with Simonga; further site development and facilities;
  • to get stakeholders involved from the beginning in training and capacity building regarding webdesign, update and I-Center management;
  • to design a longterm project which provides for sufficient training, capacity building and infrastructure development;