African ministers of science and technology and the European Union have jump-started the EU-Africa strategic partnership on science and IT and agreed to coordinate ICT development plans in Africa.
The EU has agreed to fund African science and technology programs including the New Partnership for Africa's Development ICT broadband infrastructure project, aimed at providing high-speed broadband connectivity to Africa. The New Partnership for Africa's Development, or Nepad, is a regional organisation headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, chartered to accelerate the continent's economic development.
The broadband infrastructure project is aimed at reducing the costs of regional and international connectivity and to bring down the high cost of telecommunication in the region.
The EU-Africa strategic partnership on science and information technology was first hammered together at the summit of heads of government of the EU-Africa, held in Lisbon, Portugal, in December last year.
A meeting of the African ministers of science and technology and the EU took place in Windhoek, Namibia, last week and was aimed at looking at how best to implement the EU-Africa joint strategy.
The Nepad ICT broadband infrastructure project, comprising Uhuru.net and Umoja.net, will run under the Indian Ocean to hook Africa to Europe and the rest of the world. It will cost US$2 billion, becoming the most expensive cable project in the region. Through the cable project, Nepad hopes the cost of telecom in the region will decline significantly, as the cable will be operating on an open-access basis, with telecom operators in each country getting equal amount of bandwidth at the same cost.
Details on how much the EU will give Nepad for the project are still sketchy, but the cable is expected to be operational by 2010.
The Zambian minister of science and technology, Peter Daka, said that no country in the region will survive without the development of science and ICT.
"There is need to develop science and technology because everything that we need, including energy and communication, hinges on science and technology development," Daka told the IDG News Service.
The African region has instituted forward-looking programs through Nepad, but a lack of financial resources has been a hindrance. The EU wants Africa to start implementing three main programs between this year and 2010. The three areas of focus are science, technology and a space program.
Africa, according to the EU, needs hybrid solutions to connectivity, such as fiber and broadband wireless connectivity technologies, and a comprehensive approach in terms of infrastructure growth and regulations.
Inhibitive ICT policy regulation is, however, considered a major hurdle to the development of ICT in Africa.