Africa – Perception vs. Reality
Perception of sub-Saharan Africa is often based on western media reports. Rwanda’s genocide, Ethiopia’s famine, wide spread poverty, corruption and crime are all perceptions that we carry with us before visiting many of these Africa countries. This was not my first trip to Africa; I had already been to Kenya and Tanzania on a family safari in the summer of 2006 so I knew a bit about where I was going. As you can imagine, visiting Africa on a family safari is much different than visiting Africa on a business safari. During the first two weeks of October, I visited seven countries and engaged with Ministers, Regulators and Service Providers in which we discussed a variety of issues facing their countries. In contrast, instead of observing what the media perception describes, what I consistently heard from each of these leaders was a vision for the future, a vision that included the need for wide spread availability of voice and data communications for their entire nation. A vision that is based upon the belief that access to information is an essential component of a stable, knowledge based society. The African leaders that I visited with are passionate about the role ICTs will play in providing access to information and distributing knowledge throughout the population. You could see it in there eyes, and hear it in their voices, these leaders will not stop until their vision is fulfilled and everyone who wants access to information can get it.Can you say IP NGN…? The service providers play a pivotal role in enabling digital inclusion within Africa. The SPs’ ability to transform themselves and deliver the IP platform for the distribution of ICTs throughout the continent is essential. The good news is that many of the SPs in emerging Africa have begun to chart the course and transform their business models. However, this is heavy lifting. To begin with, many countries do not have access to high speed Internet connectivity, therefore, bandwidth is constrained and hence, very expensive. In addition, there is a shortage of skill sets in these countries to execute on the vision which causes delays in implementation. The list of barriers is long, but the passion is stronger. I fully expect Africa to continue to make significant strides towards a networked society where ICTs and the applications they bring along with them truly deliver value to the population of these wonderful countries. Cisco and other large, global ICT vendors play an important role in this transformation. Our ability to assist these countries in there transformational objectives is critical at this fragile time in their development.