A century ago, Africa was looked upon as a continent with great resources. All the great European powers cast imperialistic eyes across its vast landscape.
Today, the story has shifted. Africa still has vast resources and potential, but efforts to capture these capabilities and resources are primarily in the hands of Africans themselves, and they are working to “mobilize the human, financial and technical resources required to bridge major gaps in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure across the region.”
That’s one of the key goals of Connect Africa, a group founded at a 2007 conference in Rwanda. Backed by groups such as the International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, as well as corporate sponsors such as Cisco Systems, Intel, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Nokia, Connect Africa set up an ambitious eight-year plan, “with the aim of supporting affordable connectivity and applications and services to stimulate economic growth, employment and development throughout Africa.”
We’re just about at the halfway point of Connect Africa’s original timetable, and it seemed appropriate to take a look at its goals (in this post) and its progress (in a following post).
Connect Africa Strategic Goals:
- To expand broadband backbone infrastructure and access networks, both nationally and regionally
- To enhance workforce training to support employment and growth in the ICT sector and the overall economy
- To stimulate the development of locally-relevant ICT content, applications and services
- To broaden efforts to develop a policy and regulatory environment for both regional and national investment
Connect Africa Tactical Goals:
- To interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.
- To connect African villages to broadband ICT services by 2015 and implement shared access initiatives
- To adopt key regulatory measures that promote affordable, widespread access to a full range of broadband ICT services
- To support the development of a critical mass of ICT skills required by the knowledge economy, notably through the establishment of a network of ICT Centers of Excellence regionally and nationally, ensuring coordination between academia and industry by 2015
To adopt a national e-strategy, including a cyber-security framework, and deploy at least one flagship e-government service as well as e-education, e-commerce and e-health services using accessible technologies in each country in Africa by 2012, with the aim of making multiple e-government and other e-services widely available by 2015.
Ambitious? No question. Possible? Of course. Anyone who’s deployed a greenfield technology solution versus integrating a legacy solution knows that it’s easier to start from scratch. Being able to sidestep all the mistakes the rest of the world has made is invaluable. This is a huge opportunity for Africa to catch up. African nations will soon benefit from the ongoing investment in undersea cables that will increasingly connect the continent to the rest of the world and the expanding global networked economy.
The participants in Connect Africa understand the stakes involved. From a foundation of electronic communication comes a foundation of commerce and economic vitality, not to mention the potential for increased employment opportunities and standards of living. For Africa to participate fully in a global economy, it will need to first achieve these goals and then stay on the cutting edge of technology.