4 June 2012
Information and communication technologies can help governments across the continent improve their services to citizens, Communications Minister Dina Pule said at the opening of the inaugural ICT Indaba in Cape Town on Monday.
The three-day event, organised by the Department of Communications and endorsed by the International Telecommunications Union, aims to formulate an African agenda to promote ICT as a catalyst for socio-economic development on the continent.
Pule told the high-profile gathering at the Cape Town International Convention Centre that governments could use technology to improve the quality of healthcare services as well as connect schools to the internet to improve the quality of education.
Pule said that, through various regional ICT agreements, Africa was on track to overcome the challenges of connecting its cities, towns and villages.
The African continent was now connected to Europe, North America and Asia by nine undersea cables, with the recent launch of the West Cable System representing the first connection to an undersea cable for Namibia, Togo, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Five more undersea cables were planned for the continent by 2014, including one connecting Africa to the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – partner countries. This would further reduce communication costs and improve the quality of internet services on the continent.
However, in order for the technology revolution to benefit as many of Africa’s citizens as possible, governments needed to coordinate their efforts for improved development.
“Deliberations in this conference have to lay the foundation for the harmonisation of continental policies, such that these cable connections can create thousands of jobs and enable millions of people across the continent to communicate at cheaper rates,” Pule said.
South Africa had taken a decision to overhaul its ICT policies in order to achieve universal access to broadband much faster, Pule said. “To this end, we have invited nominees to serve on the ICT Policy Panel of Experts, a group that will work with the department to provide for policy recommendations.”
The minister expressed concern that broadband prices in the country remained comparatively high.
“We are taking steps to address this by introducing more competition in the data market. Through the licensing process which we have embarked upon, we expect to identify capable internet service providers who will make use of the radio frequency spectrum to push prices lower,” Pule said.
South Africa’s IT sector is a leader in the fields of electronic banking services, pre-payment and fraud prevention systems, and the manufacturing of set-top boxes.
“The local manufacturing of the set-top boxes, as part of the rollout of digital terrestrial television, will enhance this leadership position through greater investment in innovation,” Pule said.
“We expect that this strategy will result in the creation of many jobs across the continent as factories go up to manufacture the boxes.”