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Experts Urge Narrowing Technology Divide Between Africa and The West


An African-wide conference of policy makers, engineers, industry leaders, scientists, and experts in the information and communications technology field, known as ICT, has opened in Kenya.

Organizers say the conference is an attempt to bridge, what they call, the information and communications technology gap between Africa and the West.

The experts at this conference and associated meetings want to improve Internet connectivity and rural telephony, learn about new generation networks, and discuss other ways to develop the information and communications technology sector in Africa.

Kenya's Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information and Communications, Bitange Ndemo, described to delegates some aspects of this technological gap.

"Africa has only 1.5 percent of its citizens who are connected to ICT," he noted. "Compare that to Hong Kong, where 70 percent of its citizens are connected. The cost of internet in Africa is extremely high. Just an example: one gigabite of bandwidth in the U.S. costs $20 a month. One gigabite of bandwidth in Kenya costs $1,800. I do not need to tell you the income per capita in the U.S. compared to Kenya."

Ndemo said the situation does not have to remain as it is, because there are ways for Africa to narrow the technological gap as it happened elsewhere.

"We need to cut costs by 1000 percent," he added. "We can cut the cost as a continent by working harder to bring in fiber connectivity for Africa to be competitive. We can achieve it because we have seen the numbers; the rest of the world is going that way. The people we need to compete with - India, Philippines - they are getting their bandwidth at $80."

He urged African governments to make information and communications technology investment a priority, and said many African countries are looking to South Africa and Kenya to lead the way because of their relatively large economies.

The main organizer of the four-day conference is a council that supports the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a continent-wide plan under the direction of the African Union.

Within NEPAD is an ICT commission that, among other things, seeks to increase the number of scientists and engineers in Africa and to develop the continent's information and communications technologies.

According to the commission, a few industrialized countries carry out 80 percent of the world's research and development activities.

Africa pays about $400 million a year to route intercontinental voice and data through Europe and North America.

Another NEPAD commission is looking at projects to lay a submarine cable in East Africa and to connect landlocked African countries with fiber and other high-bandwidth links.

Bandwidth refers to the size of the pipeline through which data is transmitted. The larger the bandwidth, the faster the information travels.