Revisiting Connect Africa Summit’s goals
Although a Google search for “Connect Africa Summit” produces 83,100 results, only 171 of these were indexed in the past year which is somewhat surprising given the 1,036 participants. Not much is directly said about the 2007 Connect Africa Summit, other than annual publications by the ITU. Still, the heads of state/government, ministers, and corporate leaders continue to mobilize the resources needed to bridge gaps in ICT infrastructure with the aim of stimulating economic development.
The final report summarized the conference, along with the goals to:
- Interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.
- Connect African villages to broadband ICT services by 2015 and implement shared access initiatives such as community tele-centres and village phones.
- Adopt key regulatory measures that promote affordable, widespread access to a full range of broadband ICT services, including technology and service neutral licensing/authorization practices, allocating spectrum for multiple, competitive broadband wireless service providers, creating national Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and implementing competition in the provision of international Internet connectivity.
- Support the development of a critical mass of ICT skills required by the knowledge economy, notably through the establishment of a network of ICT Centres of Excellence in each sub-region of Africa and ICT capacity-building and training centres in each country, with the aim of achieving a broad network of inter-linked physical and virtual centres, while ensuring coordination between academia and industry by 2015.
- Adopt a national e-strategy, including a cyber-security framework, and deploy at least one flagship e-government service as well as e-education, e-commerce and e-health services using accessible technologies in each country in Africa by 2012, with the aim of making multiple e-government and other e-services widely available by 2015.
Perhaps few individuals cite the goals of the 2007 summit since many of the suggestions cannot be achieved “on schedule”. After all, how, in two years from now, can every capital be connected to broadband and every nation have a national e-strategy in place? Will Africa realize the goals in their entirety by even 2020? Most likely not. However, lofty goals have been necessary to motivate ICT development. At the very least, the Connect Africa Summit helped kick-start Africa’s push for broadband capability and e-learning. In 2007, the summit drew commitments of over 55 billion US dollars in a 5-year period. Through 2009, despite the economic downturn, over 21 billion US dollars had already been invested in the African ICT sector. The financial commitment is there, but ICT infrastructure projects are proving more costly than once thought.
Hopefully, the rate of investment can increase as the global economy strengthens. At the same time, in order to accomplish these goals, dollars need to safely find their way to nations who lack the leadership necessary to create national e-strategies. Finally, perhaps, gatherings such as Connect Africa Summit need to stop focusing on the holistic continent and instead develop more granular goals based on the needs of each country. A new and more focused approach could prove more effective considering the historical inability for African ICT to meet developmental goals.