UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Expert Group Debates Strategy for the African Information Society
A United Nations team of experts met for the first time in Cairo from 12-13 November to chart Africa's route onto the information superhighway.
At the request of the African Ministers of Planning, the UN Economic Commission for Africa brought together an international group of African specialists to make sure Africa can use the information technology revolution to accelerate development and catapult itself into the global information society.
As the "blank space" in world-wide connectivity maps, most of Africa has been increasingly left out of the emerging global information infrastructure. But unless African countries can become full actors in the information revolution, the gap between the haves and have nots will widen, opening the possibility of increased marginalization of the continent.
Hosted by the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre in Cairo and supported by UNESCO, the ITU and the IDRC, the expert group spent an intense two-days brainstorming on a blueprint for action which will be used by African nations and regional organizations to guide policies which build onramps to the Information Highway.
Among the multitude of resolutions and recommendations that were generated, the most urgent was to put the issue at the top of the agenda for the highest levels of decision makers. With consensus reached on collaboration wherever possible, a major push is expected from all fronts to gain Head of State level support for co-ordinated planning, mobilization of funding, elimination of regulatory barriers and initiation of continent-wide information highway projects.
Extensive liaison will take place between the expert group and all the interested parties in the generation of a final strategy document which will be presented to the next meeting of the African Ministers of Planning in May next year. Dr. Hisham el Sherif, Chairman of the Board of IDSC (Egypt) was elected chairperson of the group, Michael R. Jenson (South Africa) was named rapporteur.
In particular the sectors of health, education, and trade are being focused on to drive potential demand for information services. Many other less demanding applications should be able to "piggy-back" on the capacity generated.
Soon, the convergence of broadcasting technology with telephony is likely to have important implications for Africa in a variety of ways, especially for education and entertainment. The benefits of economies of scale in running all types of communication through the same "pipe" are especially realizable in Africa where the bulk of the population has still to be wired for television and telephones.
In addition, in Africa the existing investment in older capital equipment is relatively small and the vested interests in existing infrastructure is much lower than in the developed world, so achieving the fabled technology "leapfrogging" still appears possible.
The next meeting of the group will be held at ECA headquarters in Addis Ababa from 5-6 February 1996.
Subcommittees on Standardization of Information and
Documentation Meet in Cairo
The ever increasing role of information services in the field of development creates a continuous need for the exchange of information. However, compatibility problems are a major setback for information systems and networks, while exchange of information within a network requires a minimum set of common standards and methodologies. To facilitate the interchange of information and help in reducing technical barriers between members of its network, the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) set up the Standing Committee on the Harmonization and Standardization of Information Systems in Africa in 1988. In the framework of the above Standing Committee, PADIS in cooperation with member States and African subregional and regional institutions has developed and adopted a series of standards including guidelines, manuals and computerized programs for textual data base development and on-line authority file preparation. For the last two years, various operations of the subcommittees have been funded by a Grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Membership to the Subcommittees are open to any expert willing to contribute in the promotion of information exchange in Africa.
The following standardization subcommittees are operating under the umbrella of PADIS:
Subcommittee 1: Manual of document analysis
Subcommittee 2: Selection and evaluation of criteria of textual data base programmes
Subcommittee 3: Evaluation of textual data base formats and structures
Subcommittee 4: Selection and acquisition of microcomputer hardware configurations
Subcommittee 5: Computer networking, e-mail and on-line access
Subcommittee 6: Authority files
Subcommittee 1, 3 and 6 met in Cairo, Egypt from 13-16 November 1995 under the sponsorship of ECA, the Carnegie Corporation the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and hosted by the Egyptian National Scientific and Technical Network (ENSTINET). It gathered 13 experts from various African countries with a view to reviewing (a) the manual for document analysis together with the PADOR computer program, b) the authority file program for data entry and c) the common format for the African Development CD-ROM.
During the Cairo meeting, there was a breakthrough in the use of the PADDEV program by automatic installation of the structure of the PADIS main bibliographic data base under any other name without having to go through the whole process of data base definition. The major achievements of the subcommittee meetings were:
reg. The finalization of the PADDEV for:
data entry using customized worksheets;
automated selection of authority lists by adapting the ODIN program developed by Egbert de Smet;
index generation for purpose codes, sectoral codes, geographic codes, author index, shelf indexes; and
data export using comma delimiters by Fangorn facilities developed by Hugo Besemer; and
the adoption of a common format for the preparation of the African Development CD ROM and an on-line regional data base to be fed with data from member States and African institutions.
The PADDEV programme is for free distribution to African countries and institutions.
The subcommittees are continuing their work by exchanging ideas via electronic mail waiting for the 6-8 March meetings scheduled for next year in conjunction with the Joint Conference of African Planners, Statisticians, Population and Information Scientists to be held from 11-16 March 1996 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
News From PADIS
PADIS at the Association of African Universities (AAU)
PADIS participated in a workshop on "Collection and dissemination of Science and technology information from African Universities and tertiary institutions", 2-3 November 1995, Accra, Ghana. This workshop was organized by the Association of African Universities in the reformulation of a project proposal prepared by AAU for submission to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Specific tasks performed were the review of methodological tools such as questionnaires which have been developed by the African Universities for the implementation of the pilot phase of the project, as well as the design of a database. PADIS was represented by Mr. Saddik Solbi, Systems Development Officer.
The project proposal which was reviewed seeks to establish an interface between the universities and the productive sector, and between universities and existing viable regional science and technology information systems in Africa. Its general goal is to strengthen science and technology capacity in Africa through dissemination of information on research findings from African universities.
PADIS Carries Out
Informatics Policy Studies in
10 African Countries
The final workshop on PADIS' research project on "Effectiveness of Informatics Policy Instruments in Africa" was held in Harare, Zimbabwe from 4-6 December. Hosted by Dr. Elliott Zwangobani of Omega Informatics Plc., the workshop brought together the co-ordinators of the studies by language groupings (Mr. Zwangobani and Mr. Marius Francisco of Benin) along with 9 of the 10 researchers who had produced the country reports.
The International Development Research Centre (Canada), sponsor of the project, was represented by Mr. Peter Browne. PADIS was represented by Ms. Nancy Hafkin and Ms. Hirut Mammo.
During the three day meeting discussions centered on differences between anglophone and francophone countries in success in implementing national informatics policy instruments, indicators of effectiveness of informatics policy instruments and integrated policies, methodology used in project, issues addressed by informatics policy instruments, instruments introduced to address these issues, conclusions and suggestions for further work.
The project comprised 10 country studies in sub-Saharan African countries, 5 of them which use English as a working language and 5 which are francophone. The results of the studies made some key points about the absence or presence of informatics policies and its impact on exploiting the potential of information technology for development.
A broad difference was found between the two language groups. None of the anglophone countries studied (Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) had elaborated such policies) while most of the francophone had with varying application (Cameroon, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Madagascar, and Senegal).
While national promotional policies were largely absent in the first group, the countries, however, had enacted substantial numbers of laws and regulations to govern the area of informatics, many of which became constraints to rather than promoting the optimal utilization of informatics technology in the country concerned. Rather than promotional policy, what was found were regulatory policy instruments. In two countries, the importation of computers were actually banned for various periods of time on the grounds that they brought unemployment. In others, high tariffs and complex customs procedures have limited imports. Regulations requiring type approvals of equipment and bans or other limitations on communications equipment also prevented bringing information technology utilization to anywhere near the levels of developing countries elsewhere in the world.
In the 5 francophone countries, most of the countries had elaborated informatics policies. However, almost all of these concerned only the public sector and thus there were no policies to influence national global optimization of the potential of information technology. In some of the countries the elaboration of policy had pre-dated the arrival of microcomputers and had remained relatively unchanged despite the changes in information technology made possible by this phenomenon.
The studies found that whenever responsibility for implementing national informatics activities had been entrusted entirely to one office, resulting in centralization of activities, that had retarded the growth of the sector overall in comparison to national growth rates. In the countries where the policy was in nature promotional indicative and initiative, rather than controlling, appreciable results had been obtained.
Researchers undertaking the studies were: Boyom Sop Flaubert (Cameroon), Ange Nambila (Congo), Safoura Fadiga (Cote d'Ivoire), Teferi Kebede (Ethiopia), Roger George Okado (Kenya), Roger Andrianasola (Madagascar) G.A. Alabi (Nigeria), Moustapha Ndiaye (Senegal), Howard Shila (Tanzania), and Hael Moyo (Zimbabwe).
The studies are being published by PADIS. Additionally, they will be inputs into the Action Plan for Utilizing Information Technology to Accelerate Socio-Economic Development in Africa, being prepared for presentation to the 1996 session of the ECA Conference of Ministers.
Copies of the consolidated reports of French speaking and English speaking countries are available from PADIS, along with a report of the meeting. Copies of the individual country reports are also available from PADIS at the address listed on p.1.
PADIS Participates in Symposium
on Information Super Highways
What Strategy for Africa ?
The second edition of Sciences and Technology biennial " AFRISTECH'95", took place in Dakar, Senegal from 11 to 16 December 1995 on the theme "Science, technological and African regional integration". This provided a timely framework for reflexion on the topic of the Information Super highways.
The technological breakthrough of this decade in the fields of information techniques, mainly favored by the digital revolution and the versality of the microprocessor, has given rise to tremendous innovations in information processing and diffusion techniques and their underpinning, increasing of mass storage capacity, the growing speed of processors and the development of multimedia.
The stakes of this revolution can be measured by the instantaneous exchange of thousands of millions of digital data composed of information in the form of fixed or moving images, and sounds. This allows governments, private organizations, households and ordinary citizens to share daily an immense flow of information with great impact at the financial, economic, socio-cultural and political levels. African countries cannot isolate themselves from this extraordinary movement which is going to turn the industrial society into a world of virtual reality. Information being tomorrow's raw material, highways to convey it are gradually being constructed in the northern countries, whereas in the South, particularly Africa, there is a great risk of exclusion with most economies staying off the highways or dragging heels. These African countries must pay much attention to the risks of exclusion and the resulting new disparities likely to emerge.
Aware of these states, the Senegalese Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology, in association with the private sector organized the above with support of UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
In a speech read on his behalf by Mr. Makane Faye of PADIS, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Kingsley Y. Amoako, told the meeting that the commission has and will continue to play a major role in strengthening information resources in Africa and building capabilities in individual countries, regional institutions and the private sector, both by providing the needed information support, and by developing standards and viable information systems. He further told the meeting that ECA is a player among the growing number of major donors willing to tackle connectivity and technology issues, and that its proposal to extend Internet services to 20 African countries and to work on central policy issues with a larger number of countries was accepted by the United Nations Advisory Coordination Committee as part of the United Nations' System-wide Special Initiative on Africa.
This Symposium was inspired by the results of the Symposium on telematics as a factor in development held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3 to 7 April 1995, and examined major themes dealing mainly with:
World technological tendencies and opportunities in technology;
the infrastructure, acquired experience and initiatives in Africa;
technical problems and their solutions;
national and regional policy on telematics;
a financial and institutional cooperation mechanism to promote the development of value added services indispensable to Africa.
Launching of An African Development Communications Research and Training Network
An African Development Communication Research and Training Network was launched in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, 7-8 November 1995. The objective of the African Communications Research and Training Network (RESAREC) is to identify and meet the environmental, agricultural and community health communications training needs at graduate level. These training needs have been requested by a selected number of training institutions and other stakeholders. It calls for the creation of a network of key communications research and training institutions in Africa, through the design, testing and operationalization of adequate consultative mechanisms as well as relevant research, learning and training tools and programmes. PADIS was represented at this meeting by Mr. Saddik Solbi, Systems Development officer. This meeting was sponsored by the IDRC.
Review of The Population Multilingual Thesaurus
PADIS participated in the meeting held in Paris, France, 27-28 November 1995, to review the Population Multilingual Thesaurus (PMT). The Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography (CICRED, in French) invited PADIS to participate in the meeting of the working group regarding the updating and maintenance of the Population Multilingual Thesaurus (PMT). PADIS was invited in its capacity as member of the global Population Information Network (POPIN) advisory Committee.
The meeting recommended that the terminology in POPLINE, the population multilingual Thesaurus and the IUSSP multilingual Dictionary be merged into an alphabetical list with scope notes to provide a controlled vocabulary of common terminology in the field of population and demography, in order to better facilitate international access to population information. This list should be compiled in English, French and Spanish at first and made available in other languages; namely: Arabic, Chinese. Portuguese and Russian if resources permit.
When completed, the new edition of the POPIN thesaurus will be made available through the INTERNET in the POPIN Gopher/Webesite, in other electronic formats such as diskettes and CD-ROM, in hard copy and through the regional and national population information networks. The vocabulary needs to be enlarged by the addition of new descriptors especially in gender, reproductive health, migration and other related topics. The meeting recommended that CIRCED should prepare a work plan and budget estimates for the implementation of this project. The revision is being undertaken to provide greater flexibility of use with new and emerging technologies. PADIS was represented at this meeting by Mr. Saddik Solbi, Systems Development Officer.
PADIS in Uganda
The Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) invited PADIS to participate in a workshop on the strengthening of library and documentation services within the IGADD countries. This workshop was held in Kampala, 10-13 October 1995. Presently, PADIS is working closely with IGADD in the Strengthening of Information Management capability and networking. In collaboration with IGADD Secretariat in Djibouti, PADIS is implementing a project funded by USAID, to link IGADD member States.
The workshop devoted part of its deliberations to discussing a project for the improvement, availability, accessibility and quality of information for the IGADD member States, namely: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda. Information support for IGADD five year plan which focuses on commitment for improving food security, infrastructure building and maintaining stability is the main objective of the project.
The representative of PADIS to this workshop, Mr. Lishan Adam, Associate Project Officer, presented the experience of PADIS in implementing their Capacity Building for Electronic Communications in Africa (CABECA) project. He stressed the need for a good information base, available communication infrastructure and computing technology. Problems facing African information providers such as low level development of infrastructure, limited local input, the low quality in existing data bases and information services were discussed. The workshop was told that the countries of the subregion vary in their communication infrastructure.
Interconnection between those member States ranges from public telephone lines, micro wave links and X.25 connection. Tariffs, regulatory policies and traffic vary from one country to another. The low level of computing technology, inadequate facilities for the advancement of local capacity, turnover of skilled technicians were cited as major problems facing computing environment of IGADD countries.
A Grant For PADIS
The government of the Netherlands has approved a US$139,668 grant to PADIS. This grant is to assist PADIS in implementing a project on building electronic communication infrastructure in Africa. The development objectives of the project are to end Africa's information isolation by developing the supportive infrastructure necessary for sustainable computer based networking and to promote regional integration and cooperation in both public and private sectors, through increased information exchange.
The immediate objective of the project is to assist eight African countries in developing the supportive infrastructure necessary for sustainable computer based networking. This will comprise the following specific objectives:
Establishment of nodes in four countries of Sub-Saharan Africa where they were previously either weak or non-existent.
Strengthening of electronic communication infrastructure in four other countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Development of a cadre of locally-based system operators through training, skills transfer and on-going technical support.
Development of a corps of skilled users in eight countries through training, troubleshooting and on-going technical support.
Expansion of African national, regional and international connectivity through co-operation with networking projects and networks.
Expansion of awareness of the potential of electronic networking in Africa among policy and decision makers, planners and researchers in Africa.
The main beneficiaries of the project will be African States, institutions and organizations which will be assisted in developing their communication capabilities through set up and provision of training programmes on electronic networks. Equally important, individuals and groups of users (policy and decision makers, planners, researchers entrepreneurs and technicians) will have access to information available through the network and will acquire the necessary data communication skills to access data stored at the national, sub-regional and regional levels and to other information and services provided by world-wide networks. By improving access to information and communication, the project will empower African countries and users therein to improve capacities in research, planning and thus overall national economic development. The project will begin in January 1996.
Make A Date in Your Diary
The Ninth Session of the Joint Conference of African Planners, Statisticians, Population and Information Specialists is scheduled to take place at ECA Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 11-16 March 1996. During this conference four committees, namely: Planning, Statistics, Population and Information Science, will considered important agenda items.
Among the items related to information to be examined in plenary and at committee level include:
Building Africa's Information Highway
Capacity Building in Information Technology in Africa
Promotion of norms and standards for the exchange of development information in Africa, and
Progress in the implementation of the ECA work-programme in development information systems and work-porgramme for 1996-1997.
The theme will be: Harnessing Information for Development . One unique feature of this particular conference will be a workshop on "data dissemination", conducted by the US Bureau of Census which will form part of the conference agenda. This workshop will discuss the ways of addressing problems affecting the efficient collection, processing and dissemination of data in Africa.
Information specialists interested in attending this conference should consult with their ministries of foreign affairs or economic planning for details. They may also wish to get details from Chief of UNECA/PADIS (Fax +251 (1) 51 44 16; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Food For Thought:
Africa and the
Writing in Africa on-line, BBC focus on Africa, Ruth Evans, States that the world is getting very excited about the Internet, also referred to as the "Information Superhighway". It promises to revolutionize the dissemination and reception of information. But she asks; what exactly is it? And what role will Africa play in this new information age?
Ruth, maintains that "when half the world's population has never made a phone call, and only one person in a hundred in Africa has access to a telephone, will the Internet, which relies on telephone lines, widen the gap between "information rich" and information poor countries? Will it leave Africa marooned in an information backwater? or will it enable the continent to leapfrog into the technology of the 21st century?
Internet can do for people "virtually everything, apparently. It can introduce one millions of new friends, gave one something called repetitive strain injury and above all, provide you with more information than you could possibly need, want or conceive of. There are communiques from obscure rebel organizations and IMB, speeches from politicians and on-line newspapers, reciper, fashions and fetishes, safaris and soulmates, primates and playmates, digital diaspora on line, Afrocemtricity in cyberspace. You can buy champagne, find out President Clinton's schedule and check out ones favorite soaps.
On the Internet one can talk to anyone and never have to meet them. In cyberspace there are no awkward silences or misinterpreted body language. One's fingers do the talking. "Its a big place and growing fast" But there is no road map, and it's also full of mindless drivel." It is possible to stir through hours of rubbish before finding your gram of gold". One can use Internet also for education.
Where does Africa fit into all this? Despite the claim of Internet to be a global superhighway, the Internet's map of the world has some major omissions. Most of Africa is currently a blank. Although telecommunications have in fact improved enormously in Africa over the past few years, outside urban areas, few have access to working telephones, and more than 70 percent of the continents population still live in villages with no electricity. So, could the Internet widen the gap between not only the information reach and information poor countries, but also the gap between the relatively affluent African cities and rural areas?
One major problem is that some of the Africa governments that need the Internet the most, also have the most to fear form it. Autocratic governments are wary because they have little control over the information that goes in or out on this "anarchic web".
With the information age affecting Africa and with the problems facing Africa in joining the Internet, What solution can be offered to African countries?
Library Oriented Lists on the Internet
A detailed list of library related listservers can be found via the World Wide Web at http://www.clark.net/pub/listserv/lslib1.html. Another document, which
New Journal Information and
The first issue of Frontiers of Information and Library Science (FILS) was sent out in June, 1995. The publication is bi-annual, issued in the months of June and December. The scope of FLIS includes experience of practice in information centres and libraries around the world; the results of empirical research in any aspect of information and library science; and personal experience in research and development activities especially in science and technology, presented in a form directly consumable by non-specialists.
Contact: Dr. Ken M.C. Nweke, kkEditor-in-Chief, FLIS, University of Nigeria, Department of Library Science, P.O.Box 3139, Nsukka, Nigeria. Ref. No. 483
Mid Career Masters in Research
The School of Library, Archive and Information Studies at University College, London, UK, has introduced a mid-career M.Res., aimed to serve the flowing two purposes: To be an opportunity for practicing information professionals to gain further academic qualifications, which often will be related to the student's current employment; and to be an opportunity for potentional M. Phil/Ph.D. candidates to development their research skills before registering for the higher degree. The M. Res. will complete the Masters in Computerized systems, another mid-career course at the institution, but the emphasis on practical computing skills and application within libraries, record offices and other informational units. Both of the courses are available full time (1 year) or part-time (2 years).
Contact: Gillian Martin, School of Library, Archive & Information Studies, University College, London, Gower Street, London WCIE 6BT, UK. Tel: +44-171-387 7050 ext. 2476. Ref. No. 484
New MBA Programme
Loughborough University, UK, has launched an MBA Programme in Information and Library Management as a joint initiative by the University's Business School and the Department of Information and Library Studies. The Programme is aimed at middle and senior managers in information and library services and related areas. The programme is structured for part-time study on an individual block release basis.
Contact: Sarah Wilshire, Management Development Centre, Loughborough University Business School, Rutland Hall, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE113TU, UK. Tel: +44-1509-223 Fax: +44-1509-233 313. Ref. No. 486
Library Oriented Lists on the Internet
A detailed list of library related listservers can be found via the World Wide Web at http://www.clark.net/pub/listserv/lslibl. Another document, which provides brief information about selected Internet and BITNET lists and electronic serials, is gopher://info.lib.uh.edu:700/00/tools/netinfo/library. The lists cover a wide range of topics related to different aspects of the LIS profession. Ref. No. 492.
Web Pages for Libraries
Librarians interested in developing World Wide Web (WWW) pages for their libraries, and who are interested in seeing how some public libraries in the USA have developed home pages and organized links to various sources on the Internet, might look at the CARL Corporation's home page, http://www.carl.org/carl.html. CARL is an automation vendor in the USA and this address provides access to their customers.
Source: The Electronic Library, 1995, vol.14,k no.3, 232-233 pp. Ref. lNo. 493
January - April 1996
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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