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.
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.
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.