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Technology summit aims to boost African development

By dpa news     Oct 30, 2007 in Technology
Buying a mobile telephone in Rwanda's booming capital Kigali is a tricky endeavour but not for the reasons you might think.
Finding a phone is easy; the difficulty is navigating the crowds of young men and women jostling and shoving in line at the shopping mall in order to buy a slim, black phone made by Chinese telecom giant ZTE.
The phone is now available for less than 30 dollars, which might explain its popularity among young people.
The use of cellular phones has exploded across Africa, rising from 16 million subscribers in 2000 to 136 million in 2005, according to the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Professionals use mobile phones for business while a rapidly growing number of youth use their phones for the "business" of being young.
"We believe in buying cell phones because they help us to communicate," said Cleophas Kanamugire, a 29-year-old development worker who trains Rwandan youth in the use of technology. "If you want to call your girlfriend, or she wants to call you, it's important."
A two-day global technology "Connect Africa" summit underway in Kigali, aims to capitalize on Africa's burgeoning IT industry.
Ten African heads of state and representatives from technology giants including Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and Ericsson are meeting to discuss ways to bridge the "digital divide" and bring Africa on par with developed nations.
Participants, who numbered nearly one thousand, made clear that the conference is about business, rather than aid.
"No one will get rich off of handouts and charity," said Hamadoun Toure, Secretary General of the ITU, which organized the conference in conjunction with the World Bank and the African Union. "Africa is open for business and we are looking for partnerships."
Toure said he expects investors to sink at least 300 billion dollars into Africa's IT sector over the next five years, a staggering number, but one that may not be far from fact.
Representatives from global trade association, GSM, which represents 70 mobile phone service providers encompassing 3 billion subscribers, announced at the summit that GSM will double the amount of investment in sub-Saharan Africa's telecommunications industry to 10 billion dollars per year over the next five years.
"The mobile industry sees Africa as a major area for development," Tom Phillips, GSM Chief Government and Regulatory Affairs Officer, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Investors have the added benefit of knowing their dollars will help reduce poverty across the continent, he said.
"You can expect a huge increase in the number of jobs," Phillips said. "Ultimately, (investment) creates the employment, the economic growth and development that will bring that basic infrastructure, electricity and roads to people."
The main hindrance to investment in Africa, investors say, is corruption and instability of African governments.
"We always point to examples where governments change the rules at short notice, sometimes literally overnight," said Phillips. "And they create through those types of actions, uncertainty."
Summit delegates told dpa that Rwanda was chosen as the site of the summit because the central African nation's transparent and progressive policies on investment and development are very attractive to foreign investors.
African heads of state including the leaders of Malawi, Burundi and Djibouti said they were prepared for the challenge of expanding the continent's IT sector.
Most panel discussions at the two-day summit that began Monday, focused on committing to concrete plans for investment and development.
Some leaders gently mocked the proliferation of summits on African development in recent years, many of which have seen little success.
"African children don't even have toys," said Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, addressing the summit on opening day. "The one thing we have enough of in Africa, is summits." dpa nk bve