New radio and internet technologies are bringing drought and development information to rural Africa through the RANET communication network. The key to RANET's early successes lies in its dual nature as both a technological and a human communications system. Its human and technical elements depend one upon the other for their combined strength, but at the same time they expose the system to potential pitfalls. RANET is, at base a network of people supplying, interpreting, and utilizing drought and development information. Technology exponentially increases the ability of this human network to work together to achieve results that were previously inconceivable. The Internet, digital satellite technology, wind-up mechanics, solar energy, and computing power have created new possibilities for rural communication. Yet the tremendous power of RANET's technology is completely dependent on the human system that manages and maintains the RANET's infrastructure and supplies, interprets, and utilizes RANET information.

RANET's main strengths and weaknesses are wrapped up in this way. Distributed control of the system at both national and local levels creates an empowering sense of ownership and responsibility. Decentralization permits the system to be readily adapted according to each country's and community's needs and capabilities, but it also leads to uneven results. The multiplicity of RANET partners bring a wealth of expertise and depth of support to the system, but the increasing coordination burden may result in diminishing returns, and spreading responsibility among too many organizations blurs accountability. The rapid spread of the system across and among countries is a testament to RANET's ability to serve rural populations; however, rapid and uncontrolled replication can lead to dangerous overextension.

In the end, the strength of RANET's model for communication of drought monitoring and prediction information lies in its diversity and flexibility. As an open system that invites rural populations to participate, it offers tremendous returns to those who are willing to invest their energy and imagination, and, who, like the desert nomad and the women of Bankilare, challenge the limits of technology and dare to dream.

(Received 15 December 2003; in revised form 12 April 2004)

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