Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade says information technology can be Africa's ticket out of poverty. The president spoke at an award ceremony in which he and the managing director of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus, were honored for their contribution to the information society.
The International Telecommunication Union kicked off its first World Information Society Day Wednesday by honoring two men for following through with their belief that the information technology can free people from the shackles of poverty.
The ITU cited President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal for his vision in creating the Digital Solidarity Fund, an organization which aims to close the digital divide between poor and rich countries.
In accepting the award, Mr. Wade said the internet has profoundly changed the lives of people. He added Africa must not miss out on the opportunities afforded by new technologies.
He said children in Africa, at a very young age, must become computer literate. He refuted the arguments of critics who call computers a luxury for people who have no means to feed themselves.
"Well that is just ignorance because computer is a tool for agriculture, in offices and factories because many modern farms are managed through computers today and they work very well thanks to all different kinds of savings and also the efficiency culture," said President Wade.
A proposent of a virtual university in Africa, Mr. Wade said this institution would connect African students by satellite to a network of partner universities around the world to pursue their studies.
"At the end of their course, these students would not need to go to the U.S. or Europe to gain knowledge," he added. "They will have the same degrees as those granted by partner universities and through this we intend to contribute to combating the "brain drain" from the African continent."
The co-recipient of the ITU award, Muhammad Yunus, founded the Grameen Bank. The bank gives small loans to poor rural people, 96 percent of whom are women, to run their own businesses.
He was honored for bringing the information and communication technology to rural Bangladesh by putting mobile phones in the hands of poor women. When he first proposed the idea, Yunus said people thought he was mad.
"But, poor women responded to my idea with enthusiasm," he said. "They learned quickly how to handle the phone and the business. Today there are 200,000 telephone ladies in Bangladesh earning good incomes for their families and contributing $11 million worth of revenue per month to Grameen Phone, the mobile phone company."
Both President Wade and Muhammad Yunus said the new information technologies can dramatically change the fate of the poor. They said they believe it is possible to create a poverty-free world by closing the digital divide.