Over the past ten years we have experienced several technologies and innovations that have changed the way we live in Liberia. These technologies have presented both opportunities and challenges for us, but for the most part, they have brought seismic economic and social transformations that have benefitted our society. In the subsequent paragraphs, I delineate and discuss briefly, a few of those technologies. I am convinced that there are other technologies that have impacted our culture and society, but due to space limitations, I have selected to discuss only a few in this article. These technologies include: Mobile phones, Computers, Satellite Communications, The Internet, Social Media, Open Source Software, the ACE Submarine Optical Fiber Cable, and Cloud Computing.
Mobile phones have become an essential part of our everyday life. A little over a decade ago we had to go to Liberia Telecommunication Corporation or what is now LIBTELCO, to make phone calls, today we can make phone calls using mobile phones from almost any, if not all parts of the country. They are being used to perform several tasks including: calculations, entertainment, as a flashlight, accessing the Internet, etc. The mobile phone is also fast becoming the PC of Liberia. It is safe to say that the number of users accessing the internet via mobile phones surpasses the number of desktop internet users in Liberia. Mobile phones have transformed the way we do things in many areas. In the area of banking, the use of mobile money transfer service launched by Lonestar Cell MTN continues to gain momentum. When it comes to Activism, mobile phones play a significant role in its enhancement, as well as helping bring unprecedented levels of openness and transparency in the country; just listen to talk shows where callers call in to express the views. Mobile phones have played a significant role in ALL areas but there are still more areas that we may need to be more innovative in using mobile phones. One of them is Agriculture.
In the area of Agriculture, mobile phones have the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of farmers in the Liberian agriculture sector, which is very crucial but declining. They could be used as platforms for sharing weather information, market prices, and micro-financing, to allow farmers to make better decisions, translating into higher-earning potentials.
Computers have changed Liberia tremendously. They have helped us step forward into the future. Computers have impacted our lives in many ways and they continue to make life a lot easier. In Liberia, computers have brought about employment, job opportunities, new careers, the need for retraining, new business transactions, business automation, the replacement of people through automation, and so on. Computers have also impacted our way of learning, the way we communicate (email, telephony, etc), information processing, storage and retrieval and many other ways. Schools, businesses, government, and other areas continue to benefit and utilize computers on a daily basis.
Over the years Liberia has benefited from Satellite communications in many ways. Satellite communications allow TV, radio, data and telephone transmissions to be sent anywhere in the world. Satellites are in orbit around the world, either moving or geo-stationary relative to the earth. Once a satellite becomes geosynchronous and rotates with the earth orbit, it is ready to work. It then beams messages to a ground station. The ground station receives these messages by using a device called a transponder which interrupts the message and then distributes it. By doing this satellite stations can then transport telephone service, data, or television transmissions to almost anywhere. These communication satellites are used for things like an overseas phone call or beaming 150 channels into your living room.
In Liberia, the internet has presented several opportunities that have enabled the country to reap some of its (internet’s) potential for social and economic gains. It has presented all kinds of innovative businesses, ideas, connections and opportunities. It is being used for education, business, politics, healthcare, and the delivery and presentation of information. But, in order to continue to benefit from the internet, we must continue to invest in infrastructure and the broader ecosystem for innovation.
Two key pillars provide the basis for a well-functioning Internet economy: core infrastructure and conditions for usage. Core infrastructure includes aspects of the enabling environment – both physical infrastructure and characteristics of the business environment, such as mobile and Internet coverage, electricity, availability of skills, and education levels. Conditions for usage include those that influence access, awareness, availability and attractiveness. They include a range of drivers, from the cost of devices and price of packages to factors affecting citizen awareness, such as education levels, usage and relevance of services.
There is no doubt that the social media has changed the way we interact in Liberia. In fact, the social media has become a source of news, communication (real-time), a place where relationships start or end, a place where advertisements are placed and mostly a place where individuals use to allow the world to know what’s going on in their lives via photos, videos, or text/posts. Most importantly in Liberia, the social media has become a place that encourages political discourse thus stimulating democracy. The press uses it vehemently to bring the news to the people, activists use it to enhance their causes, and politicians use it to enhance their chances of remaining in office by sending messages instantly to millions of Liberians locally and internationally. The social media has given voice to the voiceless in an uncensored way. And through it, a lot has happened not only in Liberia, but across the world.
Open Source Software
Open Source Software as we know, has powered the internet since its (internet) advent. It continues to do so today. The Apache Web Server, the Linux operating system, Mozilla Firefox, etc., are all open source software that have and continue to transform the internet and our lives. In Recent years, Web Development experienced a major paradigm shift with websites becoming not only dynamic, but interactive, collaborative, and highly functional. For example, the open source Content Management Systems (CMS) Drupal ( also Joomla and WordPress), is being used to create state-of –the-art websites. Let’s take the www.Legislature.Gov.Lr website which provides up-to-date information on activities of the Liberian Legislature as well as websites of many Liberian online newspapers. Also, almost 80% of the users in Liberia use the Mozilla Firefox web browser which is open source.
ACE Submarine Optical Fiber Cable/Broadband Connectivity
The Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) optical fiber cable arrived in Liberia in 2012 and subsequently went live to provide low cost broadband connectivity to Liberians. While the impact is not “nationally” felt, it promises to have a phenomenal impact on the lives of Liberians.
Cloud Computing is still not popular in Liberia but it continues to impact our lives. It allows companies and individuals to divorce themselves from traditional data centers opting for data centers in the “Cloud.” This approach has saved companies and individuals a lot of money in that it eliminates capital spending. For many of us who are in programming and systems development, cloud computing provides the ideal and low cost testing environment.
Finally, these are just a few of the technologies that have impacted the lives of Liberians. In next five years, we will see newer technologies or the advancement of existing technologies that will continue to better our lives socially and economically. To benefit from them, we must continue working towards building our capacity