Africa Counts on Education, Technology to Ease Poverty

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-06-11 Print this article Print

With 60 percent of its 1 billion population under 30 years old, Africa looks to education, technology and investment to give its youth a path away from poverty and chronic unemployment.

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, West Africa—The Information and Communications Technology Best Practices Forum held June 7-9 here saw a number of plenary panel discussions about the many challenges facing West and Central Africa, and how best to address these. One of the most urgent challenges for the region is giving its children a competitive education as well as integrating technology into the school curriculum.
In session after session, Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsofts Emerging Segments Market Development Group, reiterated the software companys belief in, and commitment to, the region, which is racked by poverty and unemployment.
He also repeatedly pointed to Microsofts Unlimited Potential initiative, which aims to give an additional billion people access to computers by the year 2015, as one of the potential solutions to help solve these issues. Africa, where 60 percent of the 1 billion population is under 30 years old, has enormous potential, as its youth can contribute greatly to their countries and societies going forward, Ayala told me in one of our many interviews here. Broad access to PCs and technology needs to be a right, not a privilege, for every citizen in the world, especially given the dramatic reduction in the prices of the hardware, software and memory, he said. Click here to read about how African nations share their Information and Communication Technology best practices. But I wanted to hear more about this from people other than Microsoft, so on June 8 I shadowed Ayala on a number of site visits around Ouagadougou. The first stop was at the Maison de lEnterprise, which provides business development services for foreign investors and SMBs (small and midsize businesses) directly, through a network of Centres de Formalites des Enterprises. While there I heard from staffers that one of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of small businesses, which are the engine of economic growth, is the price of technology. The average cost of a refurbished computer is $800, which is often loaded with pirated and unreliable software, and with no support or services included. Some 50 percent of this cost is due to taxes, they said. To read more about how Microsoft has been an SMB matchmaker in Africa, click here. Another stop was at the Lycee Philippe Zinda Kabore, which is the largest secondary school in Burkina Faso with 6,000 registered students but only 183 teachers, meaning that the average class size is 110. The schools computer lab has just 20 computers, and even the schools headmaster, Ali Sawadogo, does not have a PC in his office. The last stop was Sonapost, which is the countrys national postal operator and also operates a national network of iCafes, where General Manager Arthur Kafando told us that a connection equivalent to a T-1 line would cost between $1,000 and $2,000 a month. Each of Sonaposts iCafes host some 200 customers a day, who pay about $1 an hour for Internet access. Next Page: Busy Internet cafés.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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