Bill Clinton, Nigeria and the Internet
Dr. John Edward Philips
Was it his last overseas presidential trip? I don't know. I am not one of those Clinton obsessives (pro or con) who disect every detail of his life as if he were Puff Daddy and they were People Magazine. I only know that I was there when he came. Yes, I happened to be in Nigeria when Bill Clinton's whirlwind passed through.
No, this article has nothing to do with the stir created by the heavy presidential security, or even my explaining to Nigerians that such security was normal. It has nothing to do with my trying to stay out of the way of the Secret Service agents, or my being mistaken for one myself. It doesn't even have to do with the way slick Willy seemed more at home in Nigeria than he does in the U.S. It actually has to do with computers.
Yes, Buffalo Bill Clinton talked a lot about computers while he was there. He spoke on national television about the importance of computerization and e-commerce in economic development. He even promised to set up community Internet centers at all Nigerian universities. Don't hold your breath waiting for it to sail through Congress. I don't think anyone in Nigeria is. They have their own Congress and president at odds with each other, so they know how that is.
Somebody forgot to tell Billy boy that you can't use computers if there's no electricity, and half the time in Nigeria there's no electricity. And assuming you get the electricity to run all the time, you can't have e-commerce without credit cards. And you can't use credit cards in Nigeria. Too much fraud.
No, everyone in Nigeria is not a fraudster, not even most people. It just seems that way to TPC members whose only contact with Nigeria is those "419" scam letters. The guys who write those letters started operating overseas when other Nigerians woke up to the fact that "advance fee fraud" (a.k.a. 419) was a scam. Now these scamsters spoil the reputation of everyone else in Nigeria, and make it impossible for Nigerians who don't know each other very well to trust each other. Someone tried to start a Nigerian credit card once, but there were enough people who ran up big tabs they had no intention of paying to spoil it for everyone. Corruption is down from the highs of the Abacha regime, but it still has a long ways to go before people start trusting each other enough to do business on the Internet. When more than a very few people finally get on the Internet, that is.
In another AJ article I once described a trip to Africa as a form of time travel. In this case the trip was back to the days of scarce dialup e-mail only Internet connections, the kind the TPC used to provide before Roger Boisvert got into the Internet business. Only once in two months did I manage to get e-mail in and out through a commercial provider that a friend of a friend was on. The universities are connected once a week by a university in Italy which sends e-mail in and out. They have old machines running Pine on Linux. No telnet, no ftp, and definitely no web access. The logical next step would be, as in the States, a university research network permanently linked up to the Internet. But I'm not holding my breath, even though the universities are finally being treated as training and research institutes, not as radical trouble makers and student riot factories. There are just too many other problems in Nigeria right now.
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