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African, International Business Leaders Share Technology Innovations During Burkina Faso Meeting

African government and international business leaders have gathered in the capital of Burkina Faso to share innovative technology in use across Africa. Participants at the second annual ICT Best Practices Forum say the ideas shared this week will have a far reaching, positive impact on healthcare, education, business and government. Uma Ramiah has more for VOA from the conference site in Burkina Faso.

The 2008 African Information and Communication Technology Best Practices Forum kicked off in Ouagadougou, bringing together leaders from business and government to share proven and often ingenious uses of technology across Africa.

In partnership with technology giant Microsoft and the European Union, organizers say the forum is intended to help African countries use new technology to improve lives where other methods have failed.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke at the forum's opening ceremony.

"Let me start by being clear that information and communications technology will not solve all of the problems of the poorest people in the world," he said. "But in a world where a cell phone will have the power of a personal computer, and wireless networks will provide access to the internet from almost any location, technology can really have a significant impact. There are exciting pockets of innovation where Africa is already delivering breakthroughs that are applicable around the world."

Mr. Ballmer cited an example from Kenya, where cell phones are using a new digital payment technique to transfer money, at low cost.

"In truth, I am also here because I am excited by Africa's incredible potential, and its undeniable progress," he said. "You have vast natural resources, but more than that you have an incredible richness in human resources - nearly a billion people, almost two thirds of them under the age of 30 and anxious for progress, for opportunity, and for prosperity."

Mr. Ballmer said current trends in technology, including smaller devices, increased and more compact data storage, and the expansion of wireless internet access would help overcome barriers to technology in Africa - where cost, limited access, and a lack of training have kept many from reaping its benefits.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré thanked participants for their willingness to share experiences and expertise. Emphasizing the importance of technology in development and its role in pushing towards the U.N. Millenium Development Goals that aim to eradicate poverty, Mr. Compaoré encouraged African nations to work together and to use techniques that have worked for neighboring countries. He says information technology empowers and creates new opportunity in Africa.

Sessions this week will cover topics such as technology in healthcare, education and governance.

From a livestock identification and tracing system in Botswana to a computerized passport and ID card management system in Somalia, forum participants will share stories of their successful and often highly creative technology solutions in hopes of contributing to sustainable development in Africa.

Conference leaders say African nations can only benefit from sharing technology success stories.