Addis Ababa, 04 May 2011 (ECA) – Experts attending a session on new ICT trends in relation to fostering industrialisation and socio-economic development expressed optimism on the benefits that African can derive from using ICT-enabled services, such as open data access, social media, FOSS applications, and mobile computing.
“Although Africa is not up to speed when it comes to internet connectivity, the continent has 110 million users,” said Dr. Tarek Cheniti of the Said Business School. “Africans are responsive to technology and we have to build on that.”
The session was held during the May 2-5 Second Session of the Committee on Development Information, Science and Technology – CODIST II. According to the Information and Communication Service of the Economic Commission for Africa – ECA, participants focused on the uptake of ICTs in Africa and emphasised that the continent has led the global shift as one of the fastest to turn from fixed to mobile telephony.
Participants were awash with examples of initiatives impacting on society –the village phone operators in Uganda; the optimal grain market information via SMS initiative in Niger; and the e-Care initiative in Ghana.
An alternative to the social networking tool Facebook has emerged: Asanja, boasts a quarter of a million subscribers. In addition, various imitations of youtube and increased use of professional networks, such as are thriving.
Mobile applications, such as Mpesa, the famous Kenyan mobile money transfer service launched by Safaricom, are changing the way ordinary Kenyans conduct business. In Ethiopia the ECA is supporting researchers in Addis Ababa University to develop a health communication systems and an Ethiopian (script) keyboard for smart phones.
On the education front, the one laptop per child project has placed 100,000 laptops in as many children in Rwanda, according to the participants, that number could double by the end of 2011. These laptops are not only networked and linked to the internet, they carry 100 books. The country aims to see all its children equipped with one laptop each by 2015.
It was indicated that tablets with the capacity to carry 1,000 books are now under production for distribution to children. Participants stressed, however, that although the laptops are very helpful for advancing children’s education, they should be manufactured in Africa.
On other discussions, the session learnt that African governments are yet to venture into open (government) data systems, which give free access to data sets or information sets produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.
José M. Alonso, from CTIC (Spain) said, moving to open data systems, “generates economic return on investments via the creation of innovative products and services by third parties. It also increases transparency, accountability and democratisation of public data, and increases government efficiency and effectiveness.”
In order to reap all the benefits of innovations in science and technology, though, African countries have been urged to first have sound policies for agriculture, education and all other sectors, which could then be complemented by Science and Technology Policies.
–          ECA Press Release No. 61/2011

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