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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Connecting Africa via ICT diffusion

The need to continuously develop policies to engender easy connection among African States will be a plus for the continent, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Recently there was a tale of a palm wine tapper in Pendembu locality in Sierra Leone, who in the course of his daily activities, inadvertently climbed a palm wine tree only for his mobile phone to begin to ring.

The palm wine tapper had no choice than to pick his call atop the tree, which came from one of his customers in the nearby city of Kailahun District, Eastern Province of Sierra Leone.

And as soon as he finished that call, another call came through from a relative in a refugee camp in Nigeria.

Interestingly, this kind of scenario has continue to evolve due to increasing number of acceptance by countries in the sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the West African sub-region in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

This assertion was expounded by the recent World Bank report on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, which identified some critical issues for the growth of ICT to include reform that would engender access to voice services, expands internet access and reduces the cost of doing business.

Equally, the World Bank report showed that such reform should strengthen regulatory frameworks, support telecom ministries, and promote competition through pragmatic liberalization and approach to privatise incumbents or government-owned telecom operators.

Hence, the need to address market failures by building national backbones and supporting broadband access, designing rural access strategies and supporting countries in their post-conflict activities, so as to promote ICT for development (ICT4D) through facilitating e-Commerce, support electronic government (e-Government) applications and fostering civil society applications.

The acceleration of regional integration and connectivity through promoting regional harmonization, World Bank report noted, would increase regional connectivity, develop regional fibre cable projects, backed up with roaming initiatives and building a network of national exchange points.

Presiding over the 5th Telecom Awards lecture in Lagos, former Sierra Leonean leader, Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, noted that telecommunications has become a natural unifier and a platform on which countries and providers of equipment and services must collaborate for purposes of complementarities across borders and even within borders among operating parties.

“When we speak about the world being a global village, we are simply talking about how much the world has contracted both in time and space through developments in telecommunications,” he said.

Kabbah pointed out that the need to communicate has become a basic human need and in fact a ‘human right,’ underlining the fact that telecommunications or long-distance communication has been with us for a very long time.

“As a former United Nations system functionary, I had always wondered why the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) did not move fast enough to do what Nigerian telecom regulator has accomplished within a short time,” he said, recalling that it was until when the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) took up the challenge, that a Sierra Leonean, for instance, who wanted to talk to a relative in neighbouring Conakry, Guinea, would have his call routed first to London, then to Paris and finally to Conakry.

“The coverage was limited to a few hours a day. I also came to realize that communication over long distances especially across national frontiers required a lot of joint effort and collaboration between partner countries and entities engaged in providing such services,” he asserted, noting that of great importance was and still is the need to ensure uniform standards of service through the spectrum, thereby giving rise to bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation and agreements.

In his keynote paper at the occasion, entitled: Telecom in the service of the modern society, the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, concurred that major advances in ICTs and the rapid growth of global Digital Technology networks, the Internet and broadband services have transformed business and markets as well as generated significant wealth and economic growth in many countries.

“They have also empowered individuals and communities with new ways of doing things, as well as transformed our ways of learning and sharing knowledge,” he declared.

Similarly, he said, that digital revolution has progressed to usher in an advanced phase of the information age with computer networking solutions that enable resources and information sharing even on a worldwide basis, just as the interconnection of computers, based on the internet protocol (IP), has brought about greater efficiency and better information sharing and management.

“This revolution also means that constraints of time and distance have been virtually eliminated. Clearly, ICT is driving the global economy as people, businesses and communities with ready access to information technologies are better equipped to participate actively in the global economy,” Dr. Ndukwe said.

However, he said, connectivity in Nigeria like in most African countries is heavily biased towards wireless networks, even as fast broadband deployment must therefore necessarily be on a mobile platform and this has been the reasons why Nigeria was ahead of many countries of the world like India and China in issuing licenses for Third Generation (3G) services. He pointed out that when fully deployed nationally, 3G networks together with other networks based on the wide band Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology will drive the nation’s broadband penetration into the future.

At present, the seven-member West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) was formally established in November 2002 on ratification and signing of the Constitution by its member states.

WATRA membership has since grown to 14 as at April 2005, consists of the established independent National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) and departments for the regulation of telecommunications services established by governments of member states in the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region and Mauritania.

And in recognition of the poor state of telecommunications in the sub-region, WATRA, began to thinker on critical role of telecommunications in the socio-economic development and growth of nations in its domain, thus a consensus was reached to establish a forum to facilitate the harmonization process towards an integrated telecoms market in West Africa, thereby providing an avenue to share experiences and information, proffer solutions to common problems and chart a way forward for the development and advancement of telecommunications in West Africa.

Today, WATRA has encouraged some African countries to work toward own telecommunications regulatory agencies, while strengthening the African Telecommunication Union (ATU) which was at the verge of obscurity.

African regulators organizations have since emerged in other parts of the continent to include Autorite Nationale de Regulation des Telecommunications du Burkina Faso (ARTEL) under the Office National des Telecommunications (ONATEL), Agence des Telecommunication de Cote d’Ivoire (ATCI), Instituto das Comunicacoes da Guine-Bissau (ICGB), Communications Commission of Kenya, Office Malagasy d’Etudes et de Regulation des Telecommunications, Mauritania Regulatory Authority, Moroccan Agence Nationale de Reglementation des Telecommunications (ANRT) Senegalese Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications (ART), South Africa Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and Togolese Autorite de Reglementation des Secteurs de Postes et Telecommunications (ART&P) to name a few.

This, however, brought to the fore, the concern of Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA) under its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Programme of CIPACO to collaborate with the Senegalese Consortium pour la Recherche Economique et Sociale (CRES), in unveiling a project on the international liberalization of trade in ICT services in sub-region.

Labeled LICOM, the project funded by International Development Research Center (IDRC), with the term of office including scrutinizing of the challenges facing private operators in the ICT sector and likely implications for the implementation of public policies in four members of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), namely, Senegal, Benin, Nigeria and Ghana, according to then programme coordinator, Mr. Ken Lohento.

What this entails is that with more and more countries in the sub-region and beyond but across Africa continue to attach itself with the principle of ICT liberalization by working towards its success, more and unprecedented benefits awaits the continent.

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1 comment:

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