Late afternoon at /Uibes in the Daweb constituency in the Hardap region, Chrizelda Witbooi holds a three-metre improvised radio antenna made from wire and stick, protruding above the roof, while her husband Dawid !Homchob tunes the radio in the hope to get radio frequency from the national radio broadcast in their local Nama language.
This scene is reflected at the sight of Amunyela Amunyela, a farmworker in /Uibes standing on a hill and holding a cell phone high up with the hope get a signal to be in touch with his families in the north of the country.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), Hardap regional office visited some of these remote areas to hear the concerns of the communities affected by poor television and cell phone network coverage in their areas.
Lina Windstaan (83), a resident of Schlip in the Rehoboth Rural Constituency says they sometimes have cell-phone network coverage, however, television and radio reception is usually interrupted hence at times they are unable to listen to their favourite radio programmes and watch the news on national television.
Windstaan also reflected on the impact this predicament has on their day to day activities such as a lack of effective communication, which deny them opportunities to actively participate in education, health, employment and other socially uplifting programmes, which have a direct bearing in their lives.
Siano Besser, a resident of Klein-Aub Settlement also in the Rehoboth Rural Constituency, has urged government to boost the network in the area in order for the farmers to use their cellphones to get outside assistance to improve the health status of their livestock.
The MICT team then drove about 200 kilometres west of Mariental to access network coverage in Rietoog and Nomsa and came across Eckhart Meyer who was struggling to connect his satellite phone installed in his pickup truck. Meyer said the phone is used to communicate to his farm and during tour guides but the network signal becomes weaker the further he drives away from the towers.
This problem is also experienced east of the region as the cellphone connection cuts off 10 kilometres out of Stampriet and Aranos. Residents would like to have the signal extended to cover the surrounding farming communities.
It was evident for the MICT crew that telecommunication network and television reception, plays a pivotal role in the hastening of access to information and breaking the communication barriers and that it can impact on the successful implementation of socio-economic development programmes for the affected communities.
These visited sites are just some of the communities in Namibia who are eagerly waiting for a lasting solution to poor network coverage, 30 years after independence
However, not all is bleak for the Hardap rural communities. Kriess Settlement in Gibeon Constituency is one of the few areas where a mobile telecommunication (MTC) tower was upgraded from 2 G to 3 G in order to cover the entire settlement and surrounding areas, thus allowing the population to communicate and have access to 3G broadband services.
The community members expressed their satisfaction at the new development and wish for the telecommunication service providers to extend the coverage to other areas in the constituency. “We had access to radio and television, however, we would stand at the councillor’s home to call as it was the only place with network coverage, but today we can call the ambulance, police and families”, said Ronel Hauses, a resident of Kriess.
According to the Councillor of Daweb Constituency, Hercules Jantze, there are ongoing consultations with the governor’s office and MTC to find a permanent solution such as boosting the signal of the newly erected tower between Mariental and Maltahohe, which only reaches until Vaalpomp farming area. This signal has a limited reach and partially excludes /Uibes, which is at the bottom of a hill.
/Uibes has a population of about 500 people, who mainly depend on small stock farming and a conservancy as well as a primary school and a child development centre to empower the community, hence their plea for network coverage is imperative in information dissemination, which is necessary to further develop the settlement through the provision of government services and private investments.
The councillor of Rehoboth Rural Constituency, Riaan McNab attributed the network failure in Schlip to the fact that it is connected to the power grid, which goes off as a result of heavy rains. He said that an alternative source of energy is needed and that there is a new network tower at Tsumis Agricultural College as well as the 081 MTC and government project aimed at improving the network coverage.
McNab, however, appreciates the strides made by the government in ensuring access to information and communication technology, which he said was nonexistent and as councillors they had to travel physically to the community to share information until the government erected radio and television towers in the constituency in 2016.
“People are getting information on time, they are informed of the projects and programmes that we as a constituency launched through the government, they submit project proposals, they know when health official are at specific clinics, they are informed and it makes the lives of ordinary people at the grassroots level so much easier,” McNab said.
These sentiments resonated with elderly Lina Windstaan who has lived for over 70 years without access to radio reception and was therefore grateful that when the tower was erected at Schlip, she could listen to the local language and call in to air her views on topics that interest her.
In his maiden speech during the state of the region address Hardap Governor Reverend Salomon April emphasised the need for access to and usage of information as a necessity to improve rural livelihoods. The governor said information is facts or knowledge provided or learned.
“It is the facts or knowledge needed to answer some questions faced by people in their daily lives. Every person needs information for decision making and exploring available opportunities,” said April.
The governor also acknowledged that during his tenure, it will be important to work with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that young people and farmers have access to information.