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Africa – Perception vs. Reality

October 17, 2007 - 2 Comments

african woman_market.jpgPerception 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.

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  1. Agree 100% with your observations. Many barriers exist and leadership at the top is critical. Prime Ministers, Regulators and Ministers of Infrastructure must have the vision, passion and the execution teams to deliver. Privatization is an area that many countries are exploring or have begun the transition. Change is not easy, especially for institutionalize organizations such as governments. Implementing these changes requires skill, focus and experience…each of which is limited in these Emerging African countries. Cisco and many organizations in the international community are committed to helping those countries who demonstrate the willingness and fortitude to change.

  2. what an interested article coming from someone like Jeff Spagnola, who has indeed spend the time and resources to see the realities on the ground first hand than relying on Western media perception as it has always been the case. Jeff, I am African based in the USA and I am into Information Technology and I spend most of my time back and forth between Africa and the US trying to kick off one or two ICT projects out there in my Country Cameroon, and I will have to tell you that Africa still have a very very long way to go as far as ICT is concern. Why do I say this you may ask? well the answer is not far fetch and it has to do with the bureaucratic systems that most African countries operate under . Most of these countries especially a country are still suffering from Civil Service Mentality thus its going to take a very long time for them to embrace privatization like we do have here in the West . Most of the government officials view privatization as a threat to their daily bread thus ..Take a country like cameroon, the potential s are there, for the past three years now cameroon has fiber optic system but how many people in a population of 17 million own personal Computers? This is the Million dollar question that a country such as cameroon has to answer in order to utilize its full ICT potentials. You will be surprised the amount of custom duties that the government charge on people who import a use PC Computer such as Pentium 11 ? With all these drawbacks, one has to wondered how Africa can really bridge the digital divide.In order to full utilize its full potentials as far as ICT is concern, the governments will have to change from a civil service mentality and embrace privatization and look at privatization as something positive not negative