The Internet in Swaziland: Services under Transformation

Article excerpt

The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small landlocked country in the east of Southern Africa with a land area of 17,364 km2, a population of approximately 900,000, sixty-nine percent of whom live in rural areas, and a telephone density of 2.5 per 100. The economy is based on agriculture, which accounts for about eleven percent of gross domestic product. With a GNP of just over one million U.S. dollars, the World Bank classifies Swaziland as a lower-middle-income country.

Prior to the attainment of Swaziland's independence in 1968, volunteer housewives drawn from the community of colonial officials operated the few libraries that were available. Professional librarianship in the Kingdom only took root in the 1970s and 1980s. This ushered in a new era of service enhancements among which were information technology (IT) applications. However, progress on library IT initiatives has been slow due to pressing financial, human resources, and socio-economic challenges. It is against this background that the Internet experience in Swaziland should be viewed.

Swaziland's IT Situation: A Helicopter View

A study published in 1996 established that the first computer was introduced in Swaziland in 1974. Public sector computerization has been slow, with more than half the sector remaining manual as late as 1989 -- the IT function is either absent or weakly developed in many organizations. Most library and information centers in Swaziland fall within the public sector realm and therefore reflect the same general low level of development in their IT infrastructure.

In addition to a file server at the Swaziland National Library Services (SNLS), Mbabane, there are approximately twenty-two personal computers (PCs) distributed among the country's six key libraries. Fourteen PCs are housed in the SNLS and used mainly for word processing and in-house database management. These figures do not cover the IT situation in special libraries such as the United Nations Development Program, United States Information Service, British Council, United Nations Children's Fund, etc.

As of April 1999, only the University of Swaziland Libraries (UNISWA) had automated some of its functions, mainly cataloguing and circulation. Most of the libraries are still in the automation planning stage. However, the basic IT and ever improving telecommunications infrastructure in libraries, and in Swaziland as a whole, has expedited Internet connectivity.

Internet Service Provision

Full Internet access was introduced in early 1996 and Swaziland now has three major Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It is estimated that Swaziland has 397 Internet hosts and 900 Internet users. To date, there is no regulatory body in Swaziland. The spread of the Internet has seen the growth of such services as email, ecommerce, bibliographic and information searches, downloading and printing, online conferencing facilities, training courses for Internet users and Internet advertising and publishing services in Swaziland. The five available Internet cafes offer a full range of computer services, such as hardware and software sales and installation, support and training, as well as photocopying services, Some of the cafes also host public telephone booths.

Excluding special libraries, few institutions have achieved Internet connectivity. The Mbabane and Manzini Public Libraries, UNISWA, SIMPA, and SCOT Libraries are all connected to the Internet, However, exploitation of Internet information resources and services is not yet optimal.

Internet Information

Of all the major catalogs of library materials in Swaziland, only the UNISWA catalog is currently accessible on the Internet at http://library.uniswa.sz, but is not yet linked to other Internet information resources. Further, none of the other major libraries have established their presence on the Internet. Most of the Swaziland information on the Internet is a result mainly of efforts outside the library community. …