February 24, 2006
The dream is over
This time last year, a hologram of the U2 lead singer Bono shimmered in front of a packed audience at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) conference in Monterey, California.
Bono's image, which was projected into the hall via satellite, talked about Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. As this site reported at the time:
Bono was granted three wishes by the organisers of the TED conference. His third was "I wish for you to show the power of information - its power to rewrite the rules and to transform lives - by connecting every hospital, health clinic, and school in one African country, Ethiopia, to the Internet." TED participants are now supposed to help him make the wish a reality.
Sadly, not all wishes do become a reality. Ethan Zuckerman of ...My Heart's In Accra and Global Voices, is currently blogging from this year's TED conference and gave us an update on the status of Bono's dream for Ethiopia:
With advice from the TED community (me included) and a great deal of research, this idea was abandoned as being not the right thing to do at the moment.
It is a good job that Ethan was there to give us an update. Because I am not sure how else we would have found out that Bono's dream of switched-on schools and hospitals in Ethiopia had come to nothing.
The announcement of the wish received blanket media coverage last year. But this year, there have been no details of its demise, as far as I can see, on TED's website, which is still reporting that Bono's wish #3 as open. Nothing on the website of chip-maker AMD which this time last year issued a press release boasting AMD To Help Make Bono's Wish A Reality. Nothing on the website of Bono's own DATA organisation. Nothing on the official U2 homepage.
It's a shame, because it would be fascinating to find out exactly why a collection of the world's greatest technologists (the 800+ TED attendees) could not follow through on Bono's idea. Lots of lessons could still be learned for future tech-centred development projects.
The first lesson could be that development is really, really hard. It is a lot easier to dream up sexy ideas than to follow them through into reality. You can understand why companies like AMD jumped straight into the whole rock star glamour of the Bono-internet-Ethiopia launch, then quietly let the idea fade away into obscurity a year later. But, if I were allowed a TED wish, I would ask for a full report on the whole failure - a report that could be used as a cautionary tale and a foundation for the next tech-based big idea.
A second lesson could be that maybe, just maybe, the internet is not the answer to all of humanity's ills. In Ethiopia's drought-stricken Somali and Oromiya regions, the health centres are not calling out for internet connections. They are calling out for staff and really basic supplies - things like oral rehydration salts to stop children dying from diarrhoea. A recent survey of the Somali region's Afder and Liben zones, for example, could not find a single operating health centre.
When Ethan gets back from Monterey, it would be interesting to hear more about the research and the advice behind the whole cancellation.
Posted by aheavens at February 24, 2006 7:48 AM
You just reminded me of an episode of the Simpsons a few years ago in the hay day of the internet bubble. Marge and Homer are watching TV at home while a huge snowstorm is raging outside. Marge asks "how will the kids get home?" Homer shrugs and says "I donno. Maybe the internet"
Yes,the internet is not the answer to everything.
btw, cool blog. You're one cool ferenj
Posted by: YeBolewa at February 24, 2006 4:08 PM
...but it's not like Internet connectivity by itself solves, well....much of anything. First off, how many health centers have multiple fluent English speakers/writers? How many would be able to access bandwidth-intensive sites (which, these days, seems like virtually all of them). And, on top of that, one only has to look at the educational plasma-screen program to see how good ideas can be subverted by the unscrupulous to serve ideology...
Posted by: Alex at February 24, 2006 4:37 PM
thanks for posting on Bono.
I just want to express my deepest gratitude for Bono, the jaint man of our world. Bono, has shaken the world with his message of let us make poverty history.Yes, it is sad to see the main country he was helping has now entangled in the scary power strugle between the old daynasty and the upocming leaders. But I say to bono, the price of true development and freedom has never been painless.Change has been achived by the people who survive the unexpected tide at the middel of the ocean.Bono, keep the strugle alive and no matter what the circumstance, do not bend or turn your back from the mission of your life.
Bono we love you and Andrew thnaks for taking part in Bono's mission.
Peace for Ethiopia.
Posted by: Frank at February 24, 2006 7:18 PM
I am writing you from Monterey California, the only Ethiopian-American here at TED along with thousands including Ethan Zuckerman. I was in Ethiopia last year with Cris and Amy of TED to study the feasibility of Bono's third wish. The reason why the wish failed was articulated here at the conference. The conference procedenings will be on DVD soon. I will be glad to send you a copy as soon as it is published.
Posted by: Woldeloul at February 24, 2006 11:09 PM
Thanks Woldeloul - it would be great to get more details.
Posted by: andrew at February 25, 2006 4:58 AM