Africa seeks to 'get connected' at Kigali meet

by Aimable Twahirwa

African leaders and technology experts met Monday in Rwanda to discuss plans to boost the continent's development by securing universal Internet access by 2012.

Several heads of state attended the "Connect Africa" gathering, organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and supported by international bodies including the African Union and the United Nations.

"It is now time to deliver for the African continent to achieve its Millennium Development Goals," ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure told AFP ahead of the landmark two-day conference.

One of the UN's millennium goals -- due to be achieved by 2015 -- is to "make available the benefits of new technologies -- especially information and communications' technologies."

"At least 300 million dollars will be invested in projects aimed at promoting ICT (information and communication technology) across the African continent by 2012," Toure said.

According to the ITU, less than four percent of Africans have Internet access while the rate of broadband penetration barely reaches one percent.

Better inter-connectedness is seen as key to developing the continent's economic potential as nearly 70 percent of Africa's Internet traffic travels through intermediary networks outside the continent, costing more for consumers.

According to the World Bank, the cost of connecting to the Internet in Africa is the highest in the world, at some 250-300 dollars per month.

Participants in the "Connect Africa" summit will seek strategies to replicate the success of mobile telephony development, as private operators continue to mushroom across the continent.

"African countries have registered the world's highest mobile phone growth, ranging from 50 to 400 percent in the last three years," Toure said.

Summit-host Rwanda has been at the forefront of the drive to bring technology to the continent.

President Paul Kagame made ICT a priority in his budget and a key factor for promoting economic growth.

African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare also attended the summit, as well as heads of state including Mali's Amadou Toumani Toure, Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade, Malawi's Bingu wa Mutharika, Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore and Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza.

Several officials from China and India were also present.

The fast-growing Asian giants have been driving investment in Africa in recent years and are expected to lead ICT growth on the continent.

"Once the infrastructure is there, once you have the proper capacity building, you can have real growth, with exponential figures," Toure said in a recent statement.

The Kigali summit is the first landmark in the ITU's "Connect the World Initiative," a global project aimed at bridging the digital divide.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.