Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
28 October 2007
Bridging the Divide in Africa: From Diagnosis to Implementation

Article by Dr. Tarek Kamel Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Egypt
 ITU Connect Africa Summit Publication
October 2007

Information and communications technology is an essential tool for development in Africa. The coordinated efforts of government institutions, development partners, the private sector, and civil society are essential to accomplishing developmental goals utilizing ICT. The task of development is a difficult process - but through political will, coordination and resource mobilization - the African continent will be able to improve conditions for all its citizens. Hence, the timeliness of the Connect Africa Summit which provides us with an opportunity to make a real difference.

 As an international ICT community, we have been meeting over the past few years to diagnose the problems facing ICT development and make recommendations for bridging the digital divide. Most notably the World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS, organized by the ITU in 2003 in Geneva and 2005 in Tunis, created a momentum in Africa to promote ICT for development. The African Regional Action Plan on the Knowledge Economy was formulated and almost 90 projects were identified by stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in Africa. The African Union has taken on the challenge of pushing the agenda forward and established the Conference of Ministers of Communications and Information Technologies in 2006, currently chaired by Egypt. The Bureau of the Conference of Ministers endorsed the selection of 11 flagship projects that aim to improve such necessary elements as infrastructure, education and capacity building including leadership development, women and youth empowerment, financing, and access.

  As human resource development is deemed crucial for taking full advantage of opportunities available in the new global information-based economy, Egypt proposed the development of an "African Regional Leadership Training Program for ICT Professionals" with a vision to leverage the individual experiences and capacities of young promising mid-career potential leaders in African countries to become change agents in the ICT sector. Delivered in a selective variety of qualified training centers and institutions around Africa’s five regions, this Program should provide a First-Hand experience of the ICT sector in the five sub regions of Africa.

 Access is also an issue of the utmost importance. In many cases lack of proper infrastructure is the single greatest barrier—or at the very least the first barrier—to bridging the digital divide that stifles development. As we discuss at the Connect Africa Summit the infrastructure gaps in our continent, we have to keep in mind our roles and responsibilities in reaching successful and effective implementation. Investment requires harmonized regulations, a business-enabling environment from the government, participation and acceptance from civil society, and capacity building and infrastructure from the private sector and development partners. Investing in infrastructure such as regional ICT backbones and Internet Exchange points will not only give millions online access, but will also reduce the transaction costs necessary for profitable business.

 In Egypt, the ICT sector has enjoyed sustained double digit growth reaching 25% compared to 7% for the national economy. With a solid infrastructure and a qualified human resource base, coupled with ICT reform, deregulation and public private partnerships, we were able to attract FDI and significantly contribute to the national treasury. Our national ICT strategy to 2010 aims at deepening the penetration of ICT in our society by leveraging successful e-access initiatives and deploying effective ICT for development pilots in education, health and e-content on a national scale. Innovation features prominently in our strategy to make use of Egyptian intellectual talent at home and abroad. We are proud to put our experience and resources at the disposal of our sisters and brothers in Africa.

 The ITU's initiative to bring us together again to focus on connecting Africa to achieve the MDGs is a welcomed step. The convergence of key stakeholders in Kigali is a demonstration of our commitment to mobilize resources to scale up ICT infrastructure in Africa. Our goals are not impossible, but I believe the Connect Africa Summit is an excellent venue to move forward in our plans to improve the lives of our people and create change on the ground. 

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