There needs to be an agenda for the African continent if the digital divide is to be conquered; this will include items such as infrastructure development, information economy management, and institutional development, as well as strategic directions and priority applications. International connectivity settlements and Internet dispersion within the country and regionally are extremely important for infrastructure development.
Furthermore, in spite of the fact that nearly all African countries are now fully connected to the Internet via Internet Service Providers (ISPs), a policy is needed to normalise the costs of ISP services in order to reduce the undue burden on the emerging countries that are performing a global service. Also, very high bandwidth information highways and exchanges must be constructed to interconnect all key towns in each country and also, every capital city on the continent.
Q: What else does Africa need to do?
There needs to be proper management of Africa’s information economy. Without a strong local economy, it is very difficult for developing countries to compete effectively in the global market because several of the required services – logistics, quality control, return policies, and the like – may not be on par internationally. Therefore, African countries should have policies that support local market development as a priority.
Furthermore, strong local markets benefit key applications such as e-commerce and e-governance. Liberal and competitive markets are important in stimulating needed investment in the telecoms market.
Q: What should be the role of African governments?
Industry development is one area where African governments can play a key role. It is a fact that a good amount of the technology components essential for implementing networking infrastructure are manufactured by a few multinational corporations who are not currently operating in African countries. Hence, African governments should devise policies and programmes that attract these multinationals to invest and manufacture some of the products in Africa.
Q: In 2008, a meeting organised by the International Telecommunication Union in Kigali, Rwanda, about bringing broadband connectivity to Africa strongly emphasised that Africa’s telecoms needs to be deregulated and opened up to market forces to allow individual states to bring broadband and ICT into their countries. Is it a point of view you share?
Yes, although one may go a little further from our computer networking orientation. After you have got the basic broadband infrastructure, things have to go through it and that is where the networking community comes in.
For example, issues such as shutting down ISPs are stupid things of the past. So are reversals of privatisation policies – they are really bad because they affect investor confidence. In general, one needs to accelerate things such as e-commerce, telephony, etc, so that we can get traffic going on these systems. And in so doing, we can begin to have a more established share of our information society and feel some sense of ownership and drive towards achieving that established share.
Q: You advised African governments that the continent would need at least two million locally trained ICT experts annually if Africa is to overcome the challenge of ensuring sustainable economic development through the use of the Internet. How did you arrive at such a figure? Has this target been achieved? Why or why not?