The way ahead on ICT: progress through partnership

November 28, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Correspondent, SciDev.Net

The geographical proximity between Africa and Europe has inevitably led to a long and close relationship between the two continents. Over the past few centuries, colonialism has meant that the relationship has often been a painful one, with Europe as the dominant partner reaping the greater benefits.

Today, as speakers emphasised at the first session of the 2012 Africa EU Cooperation Forum on ICT, which opened this morning in Lisbon, Portugal, the situation is very different. Cooperation between neighbours for mutual benefit is the theme of the day. And nowhere, it was stressed, is the potential for cooperation stronger that in the field of information and communication technologies.

As Moctar Yedely, head of the information society division of the African Union Commission, put it: “our relationship is something that should never fail because we are so geographically close that we have no choice but to be close and to be friends”.

Yedely stressed that ICT was about more than telephones and computers. “It is about those applications that will bring value to transforming African societies”. He added: “If a small village in Africa has access to the potential of ICT, it may bring benefits to a remote village in Europe”.

Zoran Stancic, deputy head of the European Commission’s directorate general for communication networks, content and technology (DG-Connect), emphasised that joint work on ICTs was a central element of the broader partnership between Africa and the European Union (EU).

He pointed out that the EU already recognised ICT as providing a central pillar for facilitating growth and jobs. “We see the same thing happening throughout Africa,” he said, pointing out that the number of mobile phone users in Africa had grown from 8 million to 800 million today.

Stancic said that there was an “avalanche” of new innovative solutions being developed in Africa. For example, innovation in mobile banking in Kenya was a success story that needed to be promoted in a broader context.

Cooperation in research was one way that Europe could help Africa achieve more successes. He said that there had been a constant rise in the number of African institution participating in Europe’s framework programmes, from 40 partners in the 6th Framework Programme (which lasted from 2002 to 2006) to more than one hundred in the current 7th Framework Programme.

“We see the next framework programme as an important instrument to help this flourish in the future,” Stancic added. “A proper approach to facilitating cooperation between EU researchers and researchers in Africa can bring benefits to both sides. We want to work together to support capacity building in Africa, but European scientists can also benefit from our friends and partners in Africa.”

The current challenge, both in Europe and Africa, he said, was to promote success stories in a way that would help political leaders “make the right choices in the future”.

Portugal, the host for today’s meeting – and one that has the longest links with Africa of any European country – is one country that needs little convincing.

Leonor Parreira, the secretary of state at the country’s Ministry of Education and Science, said that Portugal was committed to continuing initiatives that had already been started in area related to ICT, and to build on established alliances to evolve strong knowledge networks based on regional diversity and complementary.

“It is critical that these partnerships become sounder to overcome differences between cultures and demonstrate that we have common interests,” Parreira said. “ICT has the potential to enable this.”

Lots of fine words. The next two days will show what they mean in practice.

This blog post is part of our 2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT blog, which takes place 28-29 November 2012, in Lisbon, Portugal. To read news and analysis on ICTs please visit our website.

Hilarious moments from world leaders at #rioplus20

June 23, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net

Live captioning at Rio+20 is a testament to the successes and shortcomings of speech recognition technology today.

That conference organisers trusted the technology enough to let it loose on the plenary floor is impressive, but depending on it to document or report developments could get you into some trouble.

Let the text speak for itself on the difficulties it faces, when at a side event for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative it proclaimed: “The challenge will be how to do even wonderful string”!

Livetext in play at #rioplus20

At the plenary session today, it almost felt like the private sector – quite a prominent presence at this conference – was sending subliminal messages through the Serbian representative’s text, when he made “teleproposals” on the “strength to regional corporation system” and how “2015 can increase Porsche”. Even the “mime minister of Denmark” was culprit to subconscious lobbying, when in calling for “gene jobs and green business” she endorsed a “pro-Pound transition to green economy.”

Civil society may agree with the Iraq representative, when he told the plenary about being “grayed upon as the concept of a green economy, because this preen economy must be autists.”

“Let’s be oftenest”, in the textualised words of Hillary Clinton, there’s a difference between arable land and “airable land”. And the Prime Minister of Samoa may have scripted so, but it is questionable whether Rio is of any “spatial significance” to small island states.

Reading Clinton’s lines would have one believe that she thinks ‘when’ but not ‘whether’ to have kids is a woman’s right: “Women must be empowered to make decisions about Mr. and when to have children”. More to the point, though, was the Somoan PM’s comment on how satisfying everyone’s goals was elusive, and an “exercise in fertility”.

Sometimes subtext emerges in the text, like when Clinton described U.S. efforts “under the I don’t want initiative on urban sustainability”.

But other times it is just a jumbled mess, for example when “the holy seat” stressed the importance of “moving from a merely tech logical model of development, to an intest test test test grellerly human model.”

But deciphering the meaning of the following beauty may be even more difficult than moving world leaders towards a truly sustainable future:

“The fixed number of the changes have corrupted image and is going to increase the number of cars, so the challenge is there, especially in the field of energy we have high energy in the functioning of the board and work that could be utilized.”

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

If only sustainable development had moved as fast as ICT

June 19, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net

Reminiscing about the quaint information communications technology (ICT) used at the last Earth Summit, Nitin Desai, former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at Rio +20, was speculating yesterday what life would be like now if sustainable development had changed in as radical a way.

Flickr/ Fora do Eixo

Desai described how in 1992, the World Wide Web was still an emerging technology, with the web browser Mosaic, credited with popularising the World Wide Web, only launching a year later. Although conference organisers “were quite ahead” and used the Internet two decades ago, it involved using a huge computer with servers occupying half the room. “If you caught connection speeds of 14.4 you were doing wonderfully,” he added, and document transfers would go on through the night.

By those standards, technological transformation has been extraordinary.

At the same venue today, and locations across Rio, 67,000 users can simultaneously access the wifi network set up by the Brazilian company Oi, the official sponsor and supplier of telecommunications services for the conference.

Oi have also installed 1800 broadband access points, 180 internet kiosks to access the conference, and the latest 4G mobile internet service is on demonstration at a side booth. The company also equipped organisers with cloud computing, smartphones and tablets – not that this would distinguish them from the tech-loaded conference attendants.

Paper is on the decline, with PaperSmart services printing only ‘essential’ documents, and only by request. More often than not, it’s easier just to browse through the five official websites dedicated to communicating the latest discussions.

“If sustainable development had moved at the same pace as ICT had, we probably wouldn’t even need this conference,” said Desai, suggesting that sustainable development hitches a ride with speeding technologies.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

Health going mobile: Mobile Health Summit 2011, Cape Town

June 3, 2011

There are five billion mobile phone subscribers in the world. For many in the developing world it represents the most efficient and reliable way of accessing information and communicating with each other. This provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to improve healthcare for people living in hard-to-reach areas.

The emerging field of ‘m-health’ technology applications will be the focus of the Mobile Health Summit that will be held in Cape Town next week (6-9 June). I will be on site, reporting on the latest innovations and the challenges in rolling them out in developing countries.

On this blog, you will read about the first comprehensive global survey looking at how 112 countries use mobiles to achieve health goals. This report, prepared by the UN Foundation, as part of a partnership with the Vodafone Foundation, and the World Health Organisation will be launched on Tuesday (7 June).

I will also attend an invite-only roundtable where ministers, mobile companies and international development organisations. And of course there will also be a bunch of m-health success stories (and some not so successful ones) to light the road ahead.

Meanwhile, you can check out some of SciDev.Net‘s coverage of mHealth issues on our homepage. Most recently, Jody Ranck argued that using mobile to collect and share health data can make healthcare cheaper, faster and more equitable and we reported from a similar mHealth Summit in Washington DC in November.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


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