Under the title "Opening frontiers to the future," an international E-learning conference has been held in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. This technology is already bringing noticeable benefits to Africa.
More than 1,000 participants from 68 countries met in Uganda's capital Kampala to discuss the opportunities and challenges of using electronic media together with information and communication technologies (ICT) - known for short as E-learning.
Africa profits immensely from E-learning. That, in a nutshell, was the message from Harold Elletson, a British expert who presented the latest E-learning report at the Kampala conference, for which more than 1,400 specialists in Africa were consulted.
"E-learning is making a huge difference in all sorts of ways, not only in education but also in other sectors of industry. It is a key factor in African economic growth and the potential for that growth as well," Elletson told the conference participants.
Many farmers today use their mobile phones to obtain information about market prices and are able to adjust their own prices accordingly to ensure maximum return on their sales.
Elletson says the tourism branch can also learn from E-learning. Staff can be easily and efficiently trained via mobile phone. Radio is also still one of the most important providers of information in Africa. According to Elletson, "The potential for mobile telephony is going to grow with the spread of smartphones but even at the moment there is an enormous amount of use of basic mobile telephony for a different kind of education initiatives."
Basic mobile phones suitable for E-learning
So-called feature phones are relatively simple cellphones which do not have the same range of functions as smartphones. Most of them have access to the Internet.
A platform which uses this simpler kind of phone is Facebook. In 2010 "Facebook Zero" was launched - a slimmed-down version of the website which can also be used with feature phones. The application was welcomed in Africa and the number of users soared in the first 18 months.
Although Facebook is used primarily for maintaining private contacts, according to the latest E-learning Africa Report, 66 percent of those questioned also use social media for educational purposes. Notching up 82 percent in the popularity rankings, Facebook is ahead of both Skype and LinkedIn.
Free legal advice via social media
In conference host country Uganda, Facebook is also the top social network. Lawyer Gerald Abila uses it to provide free legal advice. In Uganda 97 percent of lawyers work in Kampala – for people living outside the capital it is usually hard to find one. Abila considers Facebook to be a suitable forum to redress this imbalance. Facebook reaches many people and makes it possible to deal with individual problems quickly and understandably. What began with a smartphone and a Facebook account is now the non-profit organization "barefootlaw."
The voluntary workers deal with a wide variety of legal issues.
Abila quotes the case of a women whose husband had died. This was his advice to the family of the deceased. "This is a wife, her husband died without a will, so she's entitled to a bit of the inheritance and so you have no right to refuse her from accessing property of her deceased husband. If you go to court, you're wasting time," Abila said, explaining that the dispute could be settled online.
Abila and his colleagues now also use other methods to make and maintain contact with existing or potential clients. Those seeking advice can get in touch by email or speak to barefootlaw staff in consultancy sessions held twice weekly via Skype. There is also an SMS service and the organization works with local partners in rural areas as well as with radio stations.
In order to make the website accessible to non-English speakers, it is currently being translated into three East African languages. Abila told DW there has been a lot of positive feedback.
"As it is right now, it is the most active online legal portal in East Africa. I mean, getting more than 13,000 likes on Facebook for a legal forum in Uganda alone? That shows you the need, but it also shows us a model that works. That's the power of social media."