Building Africa's Information Highway

Building Africa's Information Highway

E/ECA/PSPI.9/4 2 March 1996

Original: ENGLISH


Ninth Session of the Conference of African Planners, Statisticians, and Population and Information Specialists

Addis Ababa, 11-16 March 1996


1. Resolution 795, "Building African's Information Highway", of the thirtieth session of the ECA Conference of Ministers responsible for economic and social development and planning, held in Addis Ababa in May 1995, requested the Executive Secretary to set up a high-level working group on information and communication technologies in Africa, made up of African technical experts, to prepare a plan of action in this field for presentation to the thirty-first session of the Conference of Ministers. The current document, a draft of the plan, is being submitted to
this Conference for peer review. Based on the comments of the Conference, the plan will be revised for presentation to the Ministers.


Building African's Information Highway: an Action Plan to accelerate African socio-economic development

2. An engineer in the field receives a solar pump design; a pathologist obtains an expert diagnosis of a rare ailment; electronic debt management cuts an African country's external debt by 50%; and drought warnings arrive in time to change planting times. These are some of the activities that are already taking place in Africa as a result of rapid advances in information and communication technologies in which all African decision makers and planners have a unique opportunity to participate.

3. The move toward the information age offers great potential to improve the quality of life of every person in Africa. Yet Africa remains far behind the rest of the world in harnessing the exploding possibilities in information and communication technologies. Action has to be taken quickly if the development
opportunities which are revolutionizing the global economy are not to be lost.

4. While the developed world now talks of "video on demand", there is only one telephone line for every 200 people in Africa. Much of Africa has no experience of what freely accessible communications can do for society to improve the flow of information and ideas that are the bedrock of modern socio-economic development and the information-based economy.

5. The relentless competition, innovation and convergence in technologies, which have led elsewhere to massive drops in the price of communications and information systems and fundamentally altered the nature of the global economy, mean that Africa has a window of opportunity to use these tools to accelerate
its own socio-economic development. The cost of entry into global markets is becoming virtually insignificant, and exploiting the information economy consumes minimal resources other than the effort and ingenuity of its members.

6. Information and communication technology can no longer be seen as a luxury for the elite but as an absolute development necessity. With the potential to create jobs at much lower levels of capital investment than in other sectors, these new technologies offer a chance to exploit Africa's information riches, without the need for corresponding financial wealth. With the youngest population in the world, Africa has unique opportunities because youth most easily adopt new ideas and ways of working with information and communication tools.

7. Since the current investment in older communications
equipment in Africa is relatively small, and the vested interests in existing infrastructure much lower than in the developed world, achieving the fabled technological "leapfrogging" appears possible.

8. The development of African information and communication infrastructure will also result in many hitherto unpredicted benefits. Aside from the clearly apparent benefits for economic integration, and for all forms of commerce and education, regional information infrastructure will provide African countries with many new low cost opportunities to disseminate its own cultural, news and entertainment information and programming and help counter the flood of information from the industrialised countries. It also offers great potential to reduce the need for migration to the cities.

9. Seizing these opportunities depends on African decision
makers taking quick action to create the enabling environment which will allow the development of Africa's own "Information Society" (sometimes called the Information Age) - a term used to refer to the pervasive benefits of proactive policies on information and communication technologies.

10. This document outlines an action plan for an African Information and Communication
Initiative (AICI) which proposes a framework for societal transformation to be used by the decision makers in African governments responsible for socio-economic planning. It seeks to complement the programme developed by the African ministers of transport and communications, known as the "African Telecoms Green Paper".


11. Driven by critical development imperatives and in recognition of the regional
integration goals of the Treaty establishing the African Economic Community which foresaw the necessity of information networks and data bases, this African Information and Communication Initiative aims at supporting and accelerating socio- economic development across the region by focusing on priority strategies, programmes and projects.

12. By the year 2010, the Initiative would hope to realize a sustainable information society
in Africa where: ~ information and decision support systems are set up to support decision making in line with each country's national development challenges; ~ every school child, village, government office and business, has access to computer and information resources; ~ information bridges are available to international, regional and national highways, with specific emphasis on the grassroots society, with "off-ramps" to the villages; ~ a vibrant business sector exhibits strong leadership capable of forging the build up of the Information Society; ~ African information resources are available which reflect the needs of government, business, culture, education, tourism, energy, health and national resources managers, and where efforts are made to empower the dissemination and use of information so business and the public at large can enjoy the rational choices in economy (free markets), democracy (freedom of speech), and society (freedom of cultural expression).

Strategic Objectives

13. To achieve the vision outlined above, it is necessary to encourage action within
African member States to realize the following: ~ ensuring the continuous flow of information and communication with the society by supporting initiatives that improve existing information and communication resources and encouraging those that widen the scope of knowledge by creating new resources through the establishment of value-added information networks in the different sectors of the society - education, health, employment, culture, environment, trade, finance, tourism and commerce; ~ creating a continent-wide information and communication network that allows low cost and reliable communication with other users in Africa and across the globe; ~ achieving maximum utilization of information by encouraging the development of systems that allow wide dissemination to individuals, business communities, NGOs and the public sector; ~ increasing the networking of businesses and people and creating "win-win" relationships by making linkages which increase the exchange of information between different elements of society; ~ fostering a new generation of Africans capable of using information and communication technologies to leverage the development of their nations by improving education systems and enhancing the human resources needed to install, maintain and use state-of-the-art information and communication technologies; ~ Linking Africa with the rest of the world by allowing the inflow of new technologies and the export of intellectual products and services to the rest of the world.

Related Goals

14. To achieve the strategic objectives of an African Information and Communication
Initiative, each member State will need to consider ways of making the following actions an integral part of national plans and programmes: ~ develop a master plan for building national information and communication infrastructures; ~ adopt a 5 year implementation plan to develop basic infrastructure in information and communication; ~ establish an enabling environment to foster the development of information and communication in society, including measures which energise the private sector to play a leading market role in the provision of services; ~ implement a policy for using information and communication technology in government services and develop national databases in all key sectors of the economy and national administration; ~ set up value-added information networks in key sectors of national priority, especially education, health, employment, culture, environment, trade, finance and tourism; ~ identify and develop information technology applications in areas with highest impact on socio-economic development at the national level; ~ take immediate steps to facilitate the establishment of locally-based, low-cost and widely accessible Internet services and indigenous African information content; ~ adopt plans to develop human resources in information and communication technology; ~ establish a strong regulatory body, independent from telecommunications operators and their ministries, to steer public/private sector partnerships, to assist in managing the involvement of the international private sector, and to review fiscal policies (such as tariffs, duties and license fees); ~ eliminate or drastically reduce import tariffs and taxes on information and communication technologies; ~ adopt policies and strategies to increase telecommunications density, with priorities in serving the rural areas and the grassroots level.

15. Together, member States will need to develop a coordinating mechanism to ensure
successful implementation of the African Initiative and eliminate duplication of activities.II.AFRICA'S INFORMATION SOCIETY: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

16. Globally, the information revolution has spread throughout the world. Yet, its waves
have not reached many African countries. For example, despite rapid progress in the last year. No more than 15 African countries have full access to the Internet, and some remain without any electronic connectivity at all. The recent ECA report Serving Africa Better: Strategic Directions for the Economic Commission for Africa describes Africa's development as "a classic glass half empty and half full". An African Information and Communication Initiative can accelerate the realization of new strategic directions for Africa. Bearing in mind the challenges which reflect ECA's new strategic direction, the following section highlights the opportunities which the global information and communication revolution offers Africa:

Job Creation Challenges: What jobs to create? Where to create such jobs? Who will create them? How will they be created? What resources will be used to attain a given level of unemployment?

Opportunities: The use of new information and communication technologies offers substantial possibilities for creating new jobs in the emerging global information-based economy. These technologies also offer the possibility to manage the existing job market more efficiently. At the national level, data and information can be made available on:
Employment and unemployment by sector and by geographic location Job opportunities in specific business sectors and on-line job market/ matching Information/Decision Support Systems to help manage human resource development New types of jobs through market access to the information economies of the world New fields of work in information services and technology related areas

Health Challenges: Epidemics, spread of infectious diseases, AIDS, etc. Highest levels of infant mortality rate in the world. Lowest levels of life expectancy in the world. Lowest world ratio of doctors per capita.

Opportunities: Empowerment of health administration and management through Medical Information Systems; Establishment of Information "Health Profiles" and decision support systems on regional, national, rural and district levels; Linking health centres, delivery services and medical transport for patients; Improving access to skilled diagnosis through telemedicine; Improving distribution and reducing costs of medical supplies.

Education Challenges: The world's highest illiteracy rate Lack of schools and large numbers of students per class Lack of local public libraries and national libraries with few resources Lack of educational materials Lack of skilled teachers

Opportunities: Providing access to distance education and the world's best libraries. Pooling of resources by building communications networks to link all educational establishments. Connecting universities and research centres to national and international communications networks. Promoting and supporting collaboration among professional educators and researchers. Providing remote access to national and international databases, libraries, research laboratories and computing facilities.

Culture Challenges: Deteriorating resources for preservation of cultural heritage (monuments, manuscripts, artifacts, music, etc.) Lack of regional or local access to national cultural sites Lack of awareness and knowledge about different African cultures

Opportunities: Making Africa's museums accessible too all parts of the region as well as to the rest of the world. Electronic preservation and documentation of manuscripts and artifacts. Increasing accessibility of rare manuscripts and artifacts to researchers and the general public through the development of cultural CD ROM products.

Trade Challenges: Intra-African trade is less than 2% of total trade (imports and exports of African countries). Internal and external trade is hindered by poor transport and communication systems, lack of information on procedures, import/export opportunities, markets, etc.

Opportunities: Link Chambers of Commerce, trade associations and the business sector to help increase trade Reduced transaction costs, new markets and new products On-line trade related information and import/export opportunities

Tourism Challenges: Lack of information on untapped tourist resources which remain unexploited sources of wealth generation from international and national visitors. Lack of information on tourism destinations, services and facilities

Opportunities: Attracting large numbers of visitors if they can be provided with high quality information and network connections. Reducing the costs of international promotions for attracting tourists. Improving the image of Africa through on-line promotional campaigns. Building national and regional tourism related databases for destinations and facilities. Providing a mechanism for virtual travel and information gathering utilizing the Internet. Provision of tourism related information and indicators that encourage and facilitate investment in tourism projects.

Food Security Challenges: Limited national food production to satisfy market needs because of underutilization of available resources. Lack of information on importing from best markets on the best terms. Lack of information on agricultural exports withthe most competitive advantages. Lack of guidance for planning of crop planting. Lack of access to food market information and pricing.

Opportunities: Establishment of food security information and decision support systems. Establishment of information systems for monitoring market performance and measuring market failures. Development of information systems to address food security issues such as agricultural production, government subsidies for food security, monitoring of water and land resources, disease problems, food transportation and storage. Efficient marketing of agricultural products. Access to new techniques for improving agricultural production. Reduced food storage losses through more efficient distribution. Gender and development Challenges: Women are 50% of the population but do 60% of work, earn 1/10 of the income and own 1/100 of the world's property.

Opportunities: Improve the rights of women through access to information and indicators which may be used for tracking gender issues and elimination of stereotypes. Ensure the equal access of girls to technological education.

Man-made Crises and Natural Disasters Challenges: Epidemics, floods, civil strife, earthquakes and other natural disasters often cause chaos in unprepared African countries, especially on the local and village levels. Ineffective emergency communications systems limit the effectiveness of responses by the state and international assistance organisations.

Opportunities: Establish low cost wireless communications systems and problem situation monitoring information systems as well as Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies, remote sensing and satellite early warning systems provide tools to anticipate such problems in advance and enable governments and international organisations to be more proactive and to respond more effectively when the need arises.



17. Building Africa's information and communication sector requires developing and improving four major components:
~ Human Resources ~ Information Resources ~ Institutional/Management and Legal Mechanisms ~ Technological Resources

Human Resources

18. Africa's social and economic development is to a great extent determined by the size and quality of its work force - its human and intellectual capital. Preparing Africa for the information age primarily necessitates investing in its human resources - training, education and promotion will be the cornerstones of Africa's new society. Human resource development should aim at having informed decision makers, informed businessmen, informed students and informed/skilled workers, and skilled professionals.

19. Facing these changes requires having : a new profile of management/labour forces; new skills, professional expertise and better understanding of the information technology; the ability to adapt, adopt and exploit new technologies and to manage the change creating new skills; creating new job markets; developing informed decision makers, informed businessmen, informed students, skilled workers and informed public society.

Within the Information Society at Large

20. Informed decision makers need to have: a good understanding of the ways to use new information technologies in decision making; access to a wide scope of national information sources covering different sectors; access to regional and international information resources; knowledge on how
to search, extract and use available information resources.

21. Informed businesses need to: have access to national market information. have access to regional and international market information. be provided with value added information services. know how to best use the available information resources to improve and develop their businesses. be able to conduct secure low-cost transactions through the information and communication networks.

22. Informed students need: to have access to national, regional and international electronic libraries. to learn how to use the new communication and networking technologies. to have access to international information networks. to have appropriate labs, facilities and resources to best utilize the new technologies which amplify the learning process in a wide range subject matters. self teaching and training packages and tools in different subjects. to be able to share knowledge and experience with students of the same level in other African countries and elsewhere. to access distance learning centres.

23. Informed/skilled workers need: easy and simple instructional tools to help them learn individually and jointly with other workers. knowledge of new techniques and developments in their areas of specialization. sharing their experiences and building links with other workers in other agencies in their own country or in other African countries.

24. An informed public needs to:
upgrade its level of computer literacy. promote the importance of information availability and usage. ensure information availability to NGOs and international organizations.

Within the Information Industry

25. Information systems specialists need to learn how to:
design and implement information systems in different applications and national sectoral databases. capture data, build and administer databases and decision support systems. build World Wide Web based information servers on the Internet.

26. Information service providers need to: know what value added information services their users require. know how to analyze user needs and identify information required from national, regional and international sources. update data on a regular basis. 27. Communication and networking specialists need to learn how to design, establish and maintain communication and information networks.

Proposed Programme for Information Society Readiness

28. The following proposed programmes aim at building readiness for the information
society among decision makers, the private sector and the public as well as among skilled students and professionals.

Programme (1) : Awareness Programme

29. The user awareness programme will aim at building informed decision makers, the private sector and the public through increasing their knowledge of : the value and use of information, information and decision support systems, national information resources, international information resources, methods of searching and retrieving on-line information, Internet and international information networks.

30. User awareness programmes would be designed and implemented on national levels in African countries. They would constitute a series of seminars and workshops to be conducted frequently to take account of new developments in the information age. Different activities could be conducted on the level of Africa at large, on sub-regional level for a group of countries and on national levels in each of the member countries.

Programme (2) : Educational Program

31. The educational programme aims at preparing students in schools and universities to deal with the new information and communication technologies. This programme will include: developing the software packages required in different subject areas and adapting available software packages to the needs of African countries, training the
teachers and students in how to use the software.

32. A continent-wide programme would be made up of a series of national programmes tailored to each country based on its needs and resources available. Exchanging and sharing experiences among African countries can be done through distance learning and virtual education projects. New educational tools and techniques would be utilized. Programme (3) : Professional Development and Training Programme

33. The Professional Development Training Programme would aim at building skilled
professionals and skilled information specialists. The professional development programme would include short term and long training courses in a wide scope of specialized technical areas.

34. The Professionals programme would focus on training professionals in different areas,
such as the health sector, industry, tourism, trade, etc., in using the new technological tools and techniques in their areas of expertise to better perform their jobs

35. The Information Specialists programme would focus on training communication and
networking specialists, information systems specialists as well as information services specialists.

36. The programme would focus on:
Building the infrastructure required, including training centres, labs, communication and networking facilities. Development of software packages. Training the trainers and teachers. Training the professionals and the information specialists.

37. The professional development programme would have regional components and national components. The regional components would provide regional centralized training facilities to serve African professionals at large. National programmes for each country would address the actual needs of professional skills development in the country. Distance learning, virtual training and computer based training methods would be adopted to accelerate and facilitate the training and professional development process in Africa and to maximize the utilization of the educational and training resources available regionally and internationally for the benefit of African countries.

Information resources - "infostructure"

38. Development of indigenous user-need based information resources are ultimately the yardstick by which the effectiveness of the information society in Africa will be judged. The content of the information infrastructure consists of the data and the information resources which need to be available in different sources as databases,
archives and libraries.

39. Building a wealth of continental information sources will have an immense impact on Africa, allowing it to: Create indigenous information content in Africa, so that African people are not simply passive consumers of imported information. Export information and to participate pro-actively in the information aspects of the global economy. Provide African researchers and scientists with access to information on Africa generated from within the continent. Collaborate with peers around the world irrespective of distance. Promote Africa's cultural heritage, including the modern cultural sector of its rich and growing film and music industries.

40. To build this content, decision makers, planners and information specialists will need to: Identify the key information and communication technology application areas with the highest impact on socioeconomic development at national and regional levels. Make choices in priorities for moving activities over to electronic systems. Match applications with available bandwidth. Make special efforts to capture the data, which is often difficult to obtain or is unreliable. Ensure timely and accurate provision of information for decision support systems. Manage the flow of information using systems which simplify the management of the information. Match the type of data resources with the needs required. Use software and data that addresses the variety of languages used in African countries and its oral traditions. Encourage the development of value added information services as well as electronic publishing and networking. Support initiatives which build local content. Develop a range of methods for information dissemination, including printed materials developed from on-line resources such as flash reports and indicator bulletins. Encourage the development of the 'information brokerage' sector which can act as an intermediary between the knowledge bases and the users.

Developing national information resources

41. In order to establish, develop and improve the information resources required for
building the African information society the following programs are suggested:

Programme (1) : Building National Information Sources This programme aims at building the national information sources of data and information on the African continent and insuring their coverage of all sectors of the economy. The programme would include: Building issue-based local and sectoral databases in accordance with national priorities. Formulating mechanisms for the continuous gathering, up-dating and processing of data from respective sources. Maintaining national databases and information resources. Programme (2) : Provision of Value Added Information Services This programme aims at providing imperative value added information services to ensure information availability to the public sector and enhance the competitive advantage of the private sector in Africa. The programme would include: Providing an enabling environment for the growth and sustainability of African information service providers; Ensuring Internet connectivity and African participation in the information content of the Internet; Providing value added information services in key areas of the economy such as trade and commerce, employment opportunities, tourism services, legislation, etc.

Programme (3) : Development of electronic libraries This programme aims at providing empirical information sources and helping to close the resource gap by making textbooks and periodicals electronically available, especially for schools, universities and research centres. This can be provided through building national electronic (on-line) libraries and providing access to international on-line resources. It would require: Automating national libraries and making them accessible on-line. Providing mechanisms for the exchange of information among existing libraries in ministries, municipalities, universities and schools.

Institutional/management and legal mechanisms

42. An African Information and Communication Initiative can hardly be realized without the appropriate institutional/management and legal mechanisms both on the national level and on the regional level. It is essential to address legal, regulatory and institutional practices in African countries which inhibit the development of national information services and connectivity to the global information highway for access to or offering of information, and notably those which inhibit the establishment and use of Internet and other value added services.

43. Within the institutional framework, the major obstacles affecting the quick realization
of an AICI are in the areas of finance, regulation, business environment and related factors. In Africa these obstacles include:


~ The high cost of telecommunication services which constitute the major factor in preventing a friendly environment for the establishment and use of value added services; ~ High levels of taxation for value added service providers and in particular the taxation of businesses which are in a start-up phase or are not yet profitable; ~ High levels of import duties on information and communication equipment Regulatory

~ Lack of adequate regimes for type approval certification of equipment; ~ Prohibitions on the creation of private telecommunication networks (whether based on
user-owned or leased facilities) and of obtaining the required extensions for access to public networks; ~ Difficulty in obtaining licenses to access international telecommunication carriers.

Business Environment ~ Lack of appropriate legal framework for the creation of enterprises or associations providing value added services; ~ Conditions inhibiting the availability of needed services for prospective and established value added services, such as information technology consultancy, information strategy planning, support services, etc; ~ Difficulty in obtaining capital for start-up and expansion.

Related Factors ~ Lack of appropriate enabling environments for the creation of African information products; ~ Underdeveloped intellectual property rights provisions; ~ Restrictions on freedom of expression, including measures to ensure law and order or national security, may be inappropriately applied to electronic information services.

National, subregional and regional levels

44. On national, subregional and regional levels an appropriate institutional/management
mechanism needs to be in place to ensure appropriate implementation of an AICI.

At the National Level Role of Government

45. The role of government is to provide a vision, a strategy and an enabling environment to develop the national information and communication infrastructure within the country. To fulfill its role in achieving these objectives, it is recommended that each African government establish suitable mechanisms or assign a leading national agency that would:

~ Develop national plans for adopting information and communication technologies
within the government or public agencies and follow-up their implementation (see Annex II for guidelines for building NICI's).

~ Establish an enabling framework that ensures the participation of major sectors in implementing the national information and communication infrastructure as well as ensuring coordination and harmonization of the multiple efforts of the different players, including the private sector, the non-governmental organizations and the media.

~ Work in concert with the existing efforts of the African Ministers of Telecommunications (viz., the"African Telecoms Green Paper") to develop a legislative/regulatory framework to address issues of cost and accessibility of communication, intellectual property, privacy, free-flow of information and the convergence of
broadcasting with telecommunications.

~ Carry out liaison with other countries, international organisations and regional bodies.

Role of the Private Sector 46. In the developed countries, the private sector is assuming a leading role in establishing the Information Society. Currently, African private sector activities have been largely limited to assuming the role of representatives of foreign companies who are selling their products and services. However, it is now more important than ever to build a critical mass of local business ventures that can provide a strong base for the development of information-based industry. The private sector in Africa has to play a major role in realizing the African Information Society by: ~ Stimulating
growth and assuming market leadership in developing national information and communication infrastructures through investment in relevant areas. ~ Encouraging and initiating the new business opportunities that arise from the implementation of the AICI.

47. This can be achieved through empowering the four main private sector components:
~ Entrepreneurs and business managers: support for managers of Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SME's) in information and communication fields. ~ The Environment: establishment of a legislative and organizational framework that eliminates constraints and supports business development in this area. ~ Investment Promotion Agencies: encouragement of agencies that can provide finance, marketing and promotional activities to entrepreneurs. ~ The Market: enlargement of the consumer base through provision of improved and greater ranges of information related services.

Role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) 48. Voluntary organisations and consumer and labour groups can play a catalytic and coordinating role with government and private sector, providing a balance to a market oriented service industry and helping to ensure that Universal Service objectives are realised. Specific support for participation in the AICI should therefore be
given for: ~ Voluntary organisations which can provide a vital voice in making known the needs of resource poor and disenfranchised groups such as the rural communities, the poor, the homeless, the aged and the sick. ~ Consumer associations which voice public concerns and needs and national associations of information and communication technology user groups which will be a particularly important force for defining priorities in developing the African Information Society. ~ Labour associations which are responsible for promoting the concerns of the workforce to employers and government All of the above associations should actively support the government in the formulation of its vision, strategies and plans for information infrastructure development. This could be achieved by the formation of joint boards (government, industry, labour and consumer associations) that are assigned plenary, monitoring, and regulatory tasks. These specialized boards will enable the appropriate platform for cooperation between NGOs, the government and the private sector agencies.

Role of the Media 49. In addition to being an essential means for information dissemination, the mass media plays a critical role in spreading awareness in Africa of the importance and benefits of the information revolution. Newspapers, radio, and television provide an easy, accessible, and cheap means of carrying information to the end user. Communities in Africa do not have to wait for the Internet to receive much of the information it carries. The mass media can plug into many of the sources of information and provide broad channels of communications to the poor, and to remote areas. Media organisations should therefore be encouraged to: ~ Create awareness about an AICI for the community at large. ~ Provide ways and means for disseminating information resulting from an AICI.
~ Reach out to all citizens and open channels for communication.

At Subregional and Regional Levels

50. An African Information and Communication Initiative needs to be very

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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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