|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2005|
|Topic:||A strategic plan for the development of the ICT market in Africa|
Dr Birahim Seck, PhD, a Senegalese National, is the President of the NEPAD Council. The NEPAD Council is an African organisation adopted by the African Heads of State at the Tenth African Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee meeting (HSGIC) held in Maputo in May 2004, as a major component of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). NEPAD Council is a think tank whose mission is to assist the African Heads of State and Government in their efforts to improve the development of the continent. Since the NEPAD Council was initiated, Dr Seck has worked with several African Heads of State, including President Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), President Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal), President Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria), President Amadou Toumani Toure (Mali), President Joaquin Alberto Chissano (Mozambique), President Festu Mogae (Botswana), President Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and President Mwai Kibaki (Kenya). Dr Birahim Seck is an expert in International Development. He studied Social Sciences and International Development in Switzerland at the University of Lausanne and in the United States at Yale University. In addition to his position as President of NEPAD Council, Dr Seck is also a Lecturer at Yale University.
Structural economic problems have hampered Africa’s growth and competitiveness. Much of Africa is quite poor; the best way to deal with poverty is to create jobs. The Information and Communication Technology sector creates jobs and drives growth. Integrating ICT into Africa’s economy is vital to its future. Strengthening the private sector, upgrading the ICT infrastructure and networks, building ICT use and investment to empower the private sector and government policies that foster investment are essential to develop ICT in Africa.
While the political landscape in most of sub-Saharan Africa has significantly improved in recent years, a renaissance of Africa’s economy has yet to take place. African countries have not yet succeeded in laying a foundation of macroeconomic stability and a variety of structural and institutional rigidities have hampered growth. Africa’s relatively poor growth has been fully reflected in the competitiveness indicators developed by the World Economic Forum, where African states do not, on the whole, score well. As in many other development sectors, Africa is lagging far behind in terms of competitiveness and market growth as far as information and communication technology is concerned. However, the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector is not like the other development sectors in terms of business opportunities and profits. The ICT sector has brought wealth and economic growth to countries where the sector has begun to develop. In the last 15 years, the ICT field has become the fastest growing market in global business, generating billions of dollars in profits and earnings. In Germany, for example, the ICT market totalled some €100 billion in 2004. Today, CEOs from global ICT companies are among the most powerful people in business and are among the most influential players in the global economy. Improving Africa’s ICT market is critical for the building of the effective use of ICT in the continent. Africa needs a strong and competitive ICT market. The capacity of Information and Communication Technology to help Africa exploit digital opportunities has not yet been realised. There is an urgent need for a strategic plan to promote the development of the ICT market in Africa. Challenges facing the development of ICT market The market for Information and Telecommunication Technology has undergone a dynamic transformation and the breakneck pace of development in IT, telecommunications, software and services has opened up completely new perspectives to our work and daily lives. In Europe, North America and Asia, the ICT sector has become a major component of the global economy and has positioned its leaders among the most powerful people in business. Africa, on the other hand, due to its poor ICT infrastructure and networks – as well as the lack of a robust ICT private sector – has not yet succeeded in laying the foundation for a strong, competitive, ICT sector. Strengthening the private sector is a prerequisite for the development of ICT in Africa. To follow the same trends as in Europe, North America and Asia, Africa should urgently address the pressing challenges facing the development of the ICT sector by: √ Upgrading its ICT infrastructure and networks; √ Improving its ICT market by empowering the private sector; √ Implementing policies and regulations conducive to the increase of investments. Successfully tackling these issues, though, requires a strategic plan that addresses the specific challenges facing the development of Africa’s ICT sector. A strategic plan for the development of ICT market Promote peace, security and good governance The promotion of peace and security is critical to attract investors and investments to Africa. Continental, regional and sub-regional organisations such as ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) need to engage more effectively to prevent and resolve violent conflict in the continent and undertake peace support operations in accordance with the United Nations Charter. This implies working with African partners to deliver a joint plan for the development of an African capability to undertake peace support operations, including at the regional level. Emphasis must be given also to training African peace support forces, including through the development of regional centres of excellence for military and civilian aspects of conflict prevention and peace support, such as the Kofi Annan International Peace Training Centre. Better coordination of African peacekeeping training initiatives will be needed as well. Strengthen institutions and governance Development of the ICT sector requires the strengthening of Africa’s institutions and governance. Expanded capacity-building programmes related to political governance in Africa are called for. These will need to focus upon such African Union priorities as: √ Improving administrative and civil services, strengthening parliamentary oversight, promoting participatory decision-making, and judicial reform; √ Supporting African efforts to ensure that electoral processes are credible and transparent, and that elections are conducted in a manner that is free and fair and in accordance with the African Union’s commitment to uphold and respect “global standards of democracy”; √ Supporting African efforts to involve parliamentarians and civil society in all aspects of the NEPAD process; √ Supporting the reform of the security sector by assisting the development of an independent judiciary and democratically controlled police structures. Attract investors and investments It is urgent, indeed critical, for Africa to design workable strategies to attract investments in key sectors such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Such strategies should aim at improving national, regional and continental telecommunications and ICT regulations and policies in order to create ICT-friendly environments and attracting investments. Policies are called for to stimulate the development of the ICT market by: √ Initiatives aimed at improving the investment climate, including sound economic policies, efforts to improve the security of goods and transactions, consolidation of property rights, modernisation of customs, legal and judicial reforms and the mitigation of investors risks; √ Facilitating private investment financing through increased use of development finance institutions, and export credit and risk-guarantee agencies and by strengthening equivalent institutions in Africa; √ Initiatives aimed at fostering efficient and sustainable regional financial markets, at building domestic savings and financing structures, including micro-credit schemes, and aimed at seeing that credit and business support services focus on the needs of the poor; √ Enhancing international cooperation to promote greater private investment and growth, including through public-private partnerships; √ Supporting the efforts of African governments to obtain sovereign credit ratings and gain access to private capital markets, including on a regional basis. Upgrade ICT infrastructure One of the biggest ICT challenges facing Africa is the upgrading of its infrastructures and networks. African current ICT infrastructures do not meet international standards. The development of the ICT sector in Africa requires: √ The development of public-private partnerships to fast-track the development of ICT infrastructure; √ Capacity-building and the transfer of expertise for the development of infrastructure projects, with particular attention to regional initiatives; √ Developing a fibre-optic backbone for Africa. Develop a fibre-optic backbone for Africa Africa’s poor infrastructure, the high cost of telephone calls within Africa, the loss of telecommunication revenue to Europe and low Internet usage, will only change if a major effort is undertaken to develop a continental fibre-optic backbone. This backbone, planned, owned and operated by Africans, would interconnect Africa and the rest of the world via current and planned undersea fibre-optic cables. Fibre optic networks offer the high bandwidth necessary for African nations to catch up with the new global information technology. Fibre cables capacity reaches up to 2 Tbps (terabits per second), so one cable can handle millions of simultaneous voice channels. This is far more than the capacity of any anticipated satellite system, which typically only handles less than 1 Gbps. High capacity, real-time transmission and very low bit error rates are among the advantages of fibre over satellite. Satellite communications add a delay to communications making interactive data transmission difficult and subject the quality of transmission to external factors. A geostationary satellite link has a transmission delay of up to 600 milliseconds compared to 100 milliseconds for a combination of fibre and coaxial cable networks. Encourage public-private partnerships Public-private partnerships are becoming increasingly necessary to solve the world’s problems. Modern technology in transport, telecommunications and general technology as well as policy liberalisation have created a greater and more intimate than ever before sense of attachment and connections in countries. Private sector institutions need to make common cause with governmental organisations to address the big issues confronting Africa. Since the issues and the problems are bigger than any institution’s ability to resolve, partnerships with global corporations, the quintessential trans-national actors, are the key to solving them. To boost the ICT market in Africa, it is critical to create an environment and the mechanisms to foster effective public-private partnership. Strengthen Africa’s five economic regions One of the best ways to improve Africa’s ICT sector is to create a strong and competitive ICT market in Africa that encourages intra- and inter-regional trade and investment partnerships. To be more competitive in the international market, Africa needs to strengthen its five economic regions by promoting intra- and inter-regional trade and investment. As experience with Latin American and Asian Trade and Investment agreements shows, stronger ICT trade and investment leads to an increase of foreign direct investments in ICT. Consequently, Africa as a whole will be more competitive when each of its five economic regions (Southern, Northern, Western, Eastern and Central) is truly strong and competitive. Africa has received a lot of aid, but aid alone cannot develop the continent. For the last 50 years, Africa has been dependent upon aid and grants from international donors. During this period, Africa has not experienced significant change in its development. There is more disease now than 50 years ago and the level of education is still very low. There is more poverty now than 50 years ago. Jobs reduce poverty. When people have jobs they can feed their families, they can afford quality health care for their children and they can afford good education. The best way to deal with poverty is to promote strategies that create jobs. Investment creates jobs. Africa must urgently promote strategies to attract substantial investment. ICT is a very lucrative field. Since it generates so many jobs, there is an urgent need to develop strategies, such as those above, to promote ICT and boost Africa’s ICT market.