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Getting connected in East Africa is not easy

It is impossible to imagine being a journalist today without the internet. Pretty much every bit of preliminary research is done online, keeping up with the latest breaking news is done online, filing a story is done online ... with GlobaPost even the publishing is done online. We still speak to real living people but everything that goes on around the actual reporting is made possible by the internet.

Which is why East Africa is proving incredibly frustrating. In so many other ways Kenya is leaps and bounds ahead of Ghana— from where I recently moved — but when it comes to getting connected to the internet it is a nightmare.

There's no real broadband here. Most people use a little plastic box that looks like a skinny computer mouse. It hangs limply from the laptop's USB port and — when it works — picks up a wireless signal so you can log on. On the upside it's portable, but the downside is that
it is slow, slow ... slow. And yet, short of launching a satellite and sticking a dish on your roof, this is the fastest option.

Besides the irritation that causes otherwise perfectly polite people to swear loudly and repeatedly at their laptop computers there is a serious issue behind this. When the rest of the world got itself connected to the global broadband network via underwater fiber optic cables of the kind that occasionally get torn in two by a dragging ship's anchor, the entire east coast of Africa missed out. Look this cool map of existing undersea broadband cables and you can see the cables drop south out of India, swing round Madagascar and touch land again in South Africa before running back north up Africa's west coast. East Africa is a blank — the blank — on the map.

They say that new cables are being laid and east Africa will be connected to the rest of the world "by the end of the year" but this promise has been heard before. In the meantime, it seems everything will just take a whole lot longer get done.