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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lack of rural connectivity dwindles African ICT

Lack of rural connectivity has been identified as bane of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) growth on the continent.

Chief Executive, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah made this known at the just concluded ministerial panel on ICT at the 18th Annual Session of the Crans Montana Forum in Monte Carlo, the Principality of Monaco, Western Europe.

Dr. Spio-Garbrah who was the co-chairman of the panel noted that rural connectivity is the main challenge to the achievement of ICT access for most African countries.

Addressing the panel made up of Ministers representing the governments of Burundi , Cameroon , Chad , Cote d’Ivoire , Niger , Tunisia , Central African Republic and Russia, he said that this has been the worry of his organisation.

While acknowledging there were multiplicity of factors militating against African countries development especially on ICT, he said that lack of rural connectivity stands as major challenge to enthroning growth in this area.

“There were multiplicity of factors Africa is grappling with, in their efforts to make ICTs central organ for development and effective facilitators of national development,” he declared.

Other factors currently facing Africa he noted include infrastructural weaknesses, financial constraints, lack of control over ICT content, the challenges of e-illiteracy and inadequate implementation of e-governance, e-commerce, e-education and other e-initiatives.

“Of the numerous challenges facing African countries in the ICT sector, the critical challenge, has been that of the urban-rural divide,” he said, stressing that by the fact that recent investments by the private sector in the African ICT sector had been mostly in urban and peri-urban mobile phone connectivity.

He also used the chance to announce that this was a major reason that is leading the CTO to organise an important second conference on “Connecting Rural Communities in Africa.”

This, he said, would be held in Nairobi from August 21-24, 2007, the first of which was held in Abuja last year.

Dr. Spio-Garbrah noted, that there has been considerable progress made in recent years in most African countries in terms of increased penetration rates, especially for mobile telephony and to a lesser extent, the Internet.

“In most countries, too, governments have taken national ICT planning and implementation more seriously, by establishing independent regulatory agencies as well as Universal Service Funds (USF), to assist in managing difficult transitions in the sector and to promote increased access to ICTs,” CTO boss said.

He added that issues of uneven distribution of electricity, delays in privatisation of inefficient state-owned enterprises, poor coordination amongst various public and private sector agencies, and weak human resource capacity and skill contributes negatively in taking fullest advantage of new technologies, thus delaying the benefits expected from ICT access.

Also speaking, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications of Cameroon, Bello Mr. Bouba Maigari, outlined progress made in his country in ICT access and availability.

He decried the unnecessary costs to ICT access on account of duplication of infrastructure by operators, failure to aggressively penetrate rural communities, and the need for lower prices for telecom services.

Just as he corroborated CTO boss on what Africa needed was three “E”s, meaning “education, empowerment and employment”, rather than 3Gs.

While 3Gs refer to high frequencies that had been allocated in some countries for the transmission of audiovisual entertainment content, invariably the frequency is being used for the transmissions concentrating on “girls, games and gambling.”


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