Information communication and technology experts of countries in West Africa on a conclave here in Banjul have committed themselves to bridging the ICT divide in the sub-region to enhance development.
Cognizant of the ever-expanding symbiotic nature of the world and the revolution in science and technology, such a commitment could not have come at a better time. However, the commitment without delay must speak the language of action otherwise development in the sub-region will be wishful thinking. We need not remind the ministers of the significance of ICT for development. Everyone knows that information and communication technologies (ICT) have transformed our economies and our lives considerably. Until recently, communication used to be made through telex or telegraphs and telephones, which were a luxury, for a few priviledged people. But now, the world is witnessing gigantic breakthroughs in communication and information technologies. These triumphant undertakings have evidently transformed human lives and societies around the world, with multi-billion Dollar investments being pumped into the sector, owing to its dynamism and seemingly unending potential and opportunities for new discoveries.
Ample evidence also shows that ICT plays a crucial role in facilitating the diffusion and utilisation of communication technologies in Africa. However, the development of ICT in a country is determined by the availability of computer equipment, internet connectivity, telephony, ICT human resources, accessibility to ICT services and quality. Although internet connectivity and quality service provision still remain as challenges, considerable improvements have been made on other fronts. With renewed vigor and unwavering commitment to technology, all the artificial bottlenecks, which appeared to have stymied some of our progress, will be adequately dealt with.
In fact, huge cost reductions and new ICT innovations have worked together to drive the expansion and diffusion of new applications that have subsequently enabled the development of additional high-tech products and services, new investments, and new ways of doing things. In other words, the positive economic feedback generated by most ICT innovations has stimulated higher levels of economic productivity and increased economic gains.
Taking The Gambia as a case study, the formulation of sound ICT policies, coupled with the high political will is increasingly turning the country into a hi-tech society, resulting to the proliferation of internet outlets and a good number of determined service providers- such as QuantumNet, Unique Solutions and Net Page ect, who are reputed for their long-term plans of bringing the internet to the doorstep of the rural communities. This makes the private sector participation all the more crucial if the country is to rapidly move forward on her march for technological advancement, as well as accelerate the efforts for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Information and communication technologies have increasingly been mainstreamed into some of our development initiatives over the past decade. For the first time in our history, computers inbuilt with the numerous accessories and internet connections are now available in almost all the well-established schools in the country, workplaces and even our homes. Within the government structure, many of the departments have a fair share of ICT products and internet connectivity. More than 50 per cent of government institutions have computer workstations and servers, and more is being done through the current structural reforms that would bring ICT to the rural institutions. The introduction of the wireless internet technologies, notably the broadband and other wireless facilities further catapults The Gambia forward in ICT development. With a view to transform commitment to action, we hope the ministers will learn from the Gambia's experience.