UNECA: Africa Join the Internet by 1997

UNECA: Africa Join the Internet by 1997

News Release from the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, February 12 1996

A rallying cry from Addis to Africa: join the Internet by 1997

ECA steps up the information society campaign, Ethiopia gets ready

A High Level Working Group of policymakers, officials and experts from around the African continent, meeting in Addis Ababa this week, worked on the drafting of an Action Plan for submission to ECA's Conference of Ministers in early May that will bring Africa to the on-ramp of the Information Highway.

A rallying call to mobilise Africa's political will came from one policymaker when Ethiopia's Transport and Communications Minister Abdulmejid Hussein advised the closing session of the HLWG meeting at ECA: "Get the Ministers to commit themselves to have all of Africa connected to the Internet before the end of 1997."

Meanwhile it has been reliably learned that major donors are waiting in the wings to help Ethiopia move to Internet connectivity. Talks are being held at top level to sound out if the FRE Government is ready to give the green light to put technical preparations under way. This could bring the country within a year, into the group of the first dozen or more African nations that have full connectivity to the Internet, moving away from the risk of being pushed aside in the advance of information technology.

Ethiopia is known to be keen to harness state of the art communications technology, working with the private sector, with government as the regulator. Ministers want to be sure that when the wave starts sweeping in, it benefits a broad base of the people. They strongly support aspects of the Action Plan assigning high priority to communications for the rural areas, and the use of VSATs for the countryside, and spreading distance education using satellite and Internet.

The Addis-based UN Economic Commission for Africa has been playing a leading role in the campaign to promote electronic networking for development, and to bring Africa on to the Highway. In recent years, through its CABECA project and skills training, implemented by ECA's Pan African Development Information System (PADIS), it has helped to get e-mail networks going in more 24 African countries.

The spotlight at the meeting was thrown on telecommunications policy in Africa, and the need for deregulation to help bring the continent into the information society, when 300 policymakers, officials and activists gathered at a major symposium on Telematics for Development in Africa held at ECA last April. Then ECA's Conference of Ministers last year followed up a proposal from the symposium and resolved to set up the High Level Working Group to work on bringing Africa to the Superhighway.

This group - formally named the HLWG on Information and Communication Technologies in Africa - previously met in Cairo in November. In the Ethiopian capital, the meeting assembled a range of personalities in the world of information technology and communications, including two from Egypt, two from South Africa, one each from Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon, one each from Unesco, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank, the Telecommunications Foundation for Africa and the Global Information Infrastructure Commission and several from Ethiopia.

Among the Experts in the Group is the Speaker of the Ethiopian House of People's Representatives, Mr Dawit Yohannes, who is president of BITE, the campaign on Bringing Internet to Ethiopia. Addressing the group at some sessions were Minister Abdulmejid and his Vice Minister, Mr Ayenew Bitewelegne. The group revised the draft document entitled: "Africa's Information and Communication Initiative: an Action Plan to Accelerate Socioeconomic Development," to be submitted to the ECA's highest policy authority, the Conference of Ministers of Planning and Development. The draft of the Plan includes recommendations to member states for building Africa's information and communication infrastructure.

If the May Conference approves the Plan, it will be taken immediately to a series of important related meetings for launching. The week following the Conference of Ministers is the Regional African Telecommunication Development Conference, being organized in Abidjan by the International Telecommunication Union.

Another major gathering of global players will be present at the Information Society and Development Conference, in South Africa in mid-May. There it is expected that ECA's Executive Secretary Mr K Y Amoako will be able to present the Action Plan, which will also represent the African position towards the major economic powers on developing the Information Society.

Mr Amoako will be speaking to delegates from 42 developing countries, 15 of them African, including Ethiopia, and from the Group of 7 major economic powers. There will be 17 international organisations represented, and all of the UN regional economic commissions round the world - ECA's counterparts in other continents.

All delegates have been invited by President Nelson Mandela. The choice of venue was partly in response to a challenge from South Africa's First Vice President Thabo Mbeki, when he delivered the shocking comparison to the G-7 summit on the information society in Brussels last year - that there are more telephones in the Manhattan borough of New York City than there are in the whole of Africa.

The South Africa conference, scheduled for Midrand, near Johannesburg, will consist of two days of Ministerial meetings, followed by workshops on information infrastructure and new developments.

The first week in June the Plan will be presented to the AFCOM, '96 meeting in Herndon, Virginia (USA).

In addition to the Action Plan, the HLWG has also prepared country case studies on Africa's efforts to build the information highway, looking at Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa and Egypt, among others. These case studies are being complemented by video documentaries made by the World Bank, to be shown on African television, at the Addis Ababa meeting and after.

For further information, contact:

Tony Hall Acting Chief of Communications UN Economic Commission for Africa Addis Ababa Tel: +251 1 51 66 67 Fax: +251 1 51 44 16 e-mail: (marked for Tony Hall)

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 13:39:43 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: Ben Parker <> Subject: Africa: Join the Internet by 1997 (fwd) Message-Id: <>