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UN Alliance Works to Bring Internet Access to All Africans

A new U.N.-sponsored initiative is being launched to bridge the "digital divide" and connect African countries with each other and the rest of the world. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports from U.N. headquarters in New York, where the world body, governments and the private sector are working to bring Africa's 900 million inhabitants online.

The African continent is the fastest-growing cellular phone market of any region over the last five years, but has not been able to replicate that success with the Internet. Fewer than four out of every 100 Africans have access to the worldwide web.

Experts say upgrading Internet access, or what they call ICT for Information & Communication Technology, will enhance development and enable Africans to compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

Mohsen Khalil of the World Bank says the "Connect Africa" initiative, which aims to make Internet connectivity widely and cheaply accessible, will create an information revolution in Africa. "When you give access to a human being you unleash the power of human innovation and entrepreneurship. It is really so powerful all they need is access," he said.

International Telecommunication Union President Hamadoun Touré says the "e" in "electronic" will also stand for "economy," because improving Africa's Internet connectivity will increase its wealth. "ICT [Information & Communication Technology] today is a catalyst, is an enabler, is a tool for all sectors of economy: be it education - "e-education," be it government - "e-government," be it business - "e-business," or health - "e-health," every sector will have the 'e' component in it," he said.

The average monthly cost for broadband service in Africa is three times higher than in Asia. The initiative's creators say marketplace competition and private sector investment will lower the cost of Internet connectivity. They are also trying to model their strategies in Africa after successful ones in China, India and other countries.

Organized under the U.N.'s Global Alliance for ICT and Development, the "Connect Africa" initiative kicks off next month at a summit in Kigali, Rwanda.