29 October 2002

South Africa: Africa Should Use Open Source, Says Minister

Johannesburg — In the context of limited financial resources, Africa should investigate how to better use the opportunities presented by the emergence of open source software, Public Service and Administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of the e-Africa Workshop at Caesars in Gauteng, she said the high costs of information and communications technology (ICT) goods and services forced such an approach.

"The cost of ICT goods and services is astronomically high, owing to these being primarily developed in the West and therefore being sold in volatile foreign currencies."

She encouraged workshop participants to develop innovative ways to ensure price increases did not have a hugely adverse impact.

"As you are aware, free open source software is on the workshop agenda. I would like us to start thinking critically about how we can make better use of the opportunities availed by the emergence of open source software to drive the costs of ICT products and hopefully services to our benefit. I am hopeful that in the next workshop we will reflect on success stories either in Africa or elsewhere in the world where it was implemented."

Resolutions from the three-day workshop, held under the theme, "Building e-governance capacity in Africa", will be infused into the macro-plan of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Fraser-Moleketi said one of the critical issues to consider was how e-governance would impact hunger, poverty, HIV/Aids, health, jobs and cross-country co-ordination and collaboration.

"We also need to find a way of monitoring and evaluating performances of e-government. We need to have measurable and tangible results and mechanisms of how to gauge whether we are performing as planned. At the same time, we must initiate a process to communicate such successes and failures to the stakeholder community. If indeed there are failures, we need to develop timely remedies for such failures."

She said there seemed to be recognition of the role that ICT could play in facilitating development. The workshop had been organised primarily to look into issues that were critical to improving service delivery to all the citizens of Africa and to assist with the elimination of the digital divide.

The workshop also aims to present and explore the use of e-government to foster democracy, efficiency and transparency, leading to an increased possibility for countries to attract foreign investments and financial assistance. Participants will appraise their countries on the opportunities, challenges and requirements of e-governance for socio-economic development.

Themes to be discussed include e-governance in the development process; opportunities and challenges; e-governance experiences in Africa; e-governance for institutional and administrative reforms; the role of ICT in the promotion of good governance; e-governance for social development; and e-readiness in Africa.

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