I also asked others from Africa about the challenges facing their nations and whether they thought Microsofts goal of bringing computer access to 1 billion people by 2015 is realistic. Dr. Ini Urua, a divisional manager and principal engineer at that African Development Bank, which has decades of experience on this continent, told eWEEK in an interview that the billion people figure is realistic and an achievable target, but can only happen if countries have the political will to pursue key objectives.The bank has a policy of nonexclusive partnerships so as to bring value to the continent. Africa, he said, is more in the international limelight now than it had been in the past primarily because African leaders committed to certain goals for the region several years ago and then reached out and asked for help in achieving those goals. The citizenry, particularly the young, are increasingly demanding more from their governments and are not willing to sit by passively, he said.
Representatives from other African countries also told me that Internet penetration is not high, but that their governments are taking action and offering discounts, incentives and financing to increase PC ownership and connectivity.
Dr. Ashraf Abdelwahab, the deputy to the Egyptian minister of state for administrative development, said that just some 5 million of Egypts 76 million citizens are connected to the Internet.
There are a number of initiatives under way to increase penetration, he told me, including using a modem and fixed phone line, giving users the ability to connect for the price of a local phone call, and subsidizing the cost of DSL, which starts at $5 a month.
The government is also offering citizens with fixed phone lines the ability to get bank financing and monthly installment payment terms for computers. Some 70,000 computers are acquired each year this way, Abdelwahab said.
Another initiative designed to help create more Internet cafés has been undertaken by the Egyptian government in conjunction with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations. A citizen who has a property suitable for a café is given 10 computers and free Internet connection for the first year, after which the owner is required to pay for connectivity. So far some 1,400 of these Internet cafés have been set up across Egypt, Abdelwahab told me.
So, after all this, I have to agree with Ayala, who told me that while a lot has already been achieved in Africa, there is much more work to be done before the true potential of its inhabitants can be realized.
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"I believe we are seeing an increasing commitment from governments in the region to applying technology to help achieve their socio-economic and political goals," he said.