The Microsoft corporation is teaming up with African leaders to try to bring development to the continent through technology. As part of the partnership officials are holding a three-day technology forum in Burkina Faso, which brings together government donors and experts from across Africa to share their knowledge in the technology sector. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz reports from the conference in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.
At a recent EU meeting, officials concluded that if all African nations were united as one country, it would be the 12th most technologically advanced nation in the world.
But the continent faces many challenges in exchanging knowledge in information and communication technology. That is why Microsoft has teamed up with the African Development bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to bring together African leaders, technology workers, and aid agencies in a forum to share these innovations.
Cheikh Diarra, Microsoft's chairman in Africa, said bringing these countries together offers social and economic opportunities to Africans.
"We came to the conclusion that the best way to accelerate the development of this continent is to create this kind of forum where best practices can be shared and we can identify people who can help other countries replicate this kind of success story," he said.
Diarra says the idea came from a think tank organized by Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaore, whose government also collaborated in the organization of the forum.
In addition to Mr. Compaore, the presidents of Benin, Thomas Boni Yayi, and Congo-Brazzaville, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, said information technology is key to attaining a better future for Africa's underdeveloped countries.
Speaking to reporters after the opening speeches, Mr. Yayi said African countries need to share expertise in order to catch up to developed countries in the technology sector.
"We cannot do anything without this sector," he said. "It is very important to harmonize all the practices of our countries and in so doing we will be able now to face the challenges of this century."
The conference, the first of three to be held across Africa, focused on high tech strategies for government, called e-government, such as applying for an identity card over the Internet or monitoring election results by SMS.
Microsoft's Diarra said technology innovations like these are key to increased peace on the war-torn continent.
"This is, in my opinion, something that is going to bring about a lot of peace in the continent," he said. "Because a lot of countries get into trouble after elections. Today the technology is such that we can not only make sure that everybody who entitled to vote can vote, but that the votes are counted and there is no way to cheat about it."
He also said e-government could lead to more use of technology in other areas, such as health and education.
But many Africans have no access to telephone lines or electricity, let alone a computer or Internet connection. In addition to finding ways to increase literacy rates, African leaders and Microsft say one of the biggest challenges will be to ensure most people have access to and are able to use the advanced technology.