By Catherine Sasman
The African Union Commission (AUC) has initiated a process to engage development partners to fund nine of 11 flagship projects under the Africa Regional Action Plan on the Knowledge Economy (ARAPKE) programme.
The programme, said Director of Human Resources, Science and Technology Department of the AUC, Dr Abdul Hakim Elwaer, aims at building a continent fully benefiting from information, communications and technology (ICT) services by 2015.
He was speaking on the last day of the three-day IST-Africa conference last Friday, which brought 460 experts and policy makers from 37 countries to the capital to deliberate on how best to implement the Africa-EU joint strategy adopted at the Lisbon Summit last December.
This programme, he said, was adopted at several forums held under the aegis of the AUC and the technical coordination of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
The programme is based on the Geneva Plan of Action adopted by world leaders at the first phase of the World Summit on Information Society and the Accra Commitments for Tunis in 2005, and adopted by African ministers.
The projects include a NEPAD ICT broadband project – the Uhuru-Net and Umoja-Net – to provide high speed, high bandwidth connectivity to Africa and reduce unit costs for regional and international connectivity.
The NEPAD e-schools project aims to achieve a rapid dissemination of ICT skills across the African population, enabling ICT literacy to be brought to bear on the workforce, as well as social, political and cultural activities, Elwaer said.
Another project is the African leadership ICT programme, which leverages individual experiences and capacities of young promising mid-career potential leaders on the continent to become change agents in the ICT sector.
The African Internet Exchange system programme is to support the establishment of a robust and fully redundant continental Internet backbone infrastructure with exchange points at the core through the provision of policy and regulatory reform, capacity building, technical assistance to Internet providers and Internet exchange points on the continent.
It also includes a project aimed at harnessing the potential of knowledge and technology for African youth, as well as providing women access and capacity building centres in rural African locations.
An e-learning mode of distance education is currently in its pilot phase to implement an ICT based distance education learning model for selected undergraduate programmes of the Addis Ababa University.
African digital initiatives aim to facilitate institutional mechanisms to consolidate gains already made in ICT development by seeking financing from the donor community.
“The overall objective is to bridge the digital divide and to enhance the use of ICTs as key enablers for poverty reduction, growth and socio-economic development,” said Elwaer.
Thierry Devars from the European Commission, said although Africa is experiencing a mobile boom – subscribers have increased to 300 million from 16 million in 2000 – there is a mere 4,8 percent Internet penetration.
Broadband penetration is below one percent, and there is weak rural connectivity.
Devars said there is a need for hybrid solutions such as fiber and broadband wireless solutions, and a comprehensive and dedicated approach in terms of infrastructure growth, regulation and capacity building.
The EU-Africa joint strategy aims at establishing eight partnerships to be implemented between 2008 and 2010, which includes the area of science, information space programmes. The space programme deals with specific projects based on space technologies to achieve regional and global development goals.
Minister of Education, Nangolo Mbumba, said Africa has a lot of catching up to do in terms of ICT development.
“Globalisation impacts on all our lives. We do not only want to survive the impact of globalisation; we need to find ways of making it work to Africa’s advantage in the medium to long term. It means that we must move quickly, we must move in ‘real time’,” said Mbumba.
He said it is necessary to direct substantial resources towards the development of science and technology on the continent.