The Race Against Marginalisation

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source : Review of International Co-operation Vol.89, No
1/1996, 22-23.

                 The Race Against Marginalisation
                     by Momar Aly Ndiaye*

Coordinated Support is Needed
In many African countries, the political will to invest in the
new information and communication technologies is there,
making coordinated support more dispensable than ever.

The information highways may well constitute a risk of
perpetuating developing countries's marginalisation in the
world economy:  without adequate access, they will be
handicapped in an economic and political competition that will
depend largely on having access to the right information at
the right time.  African countries still excluded from zones
where the greatest strides have been made must begin intensive
preparations to connect with the major world networks. This is
the only way to ensure their participation in the modern
scientific adventure.

Neither outdated infrastructures nor the low level of consumer
purchasing power should stand in the way of this ambition. A
positive but little known fact is that the large
communications companies are increasingly counting on making a
significant slice of their profits in developing countries
where telephone density remains low and the market potential
is still largely unexplored. These companies often take a
stake in the national telecommunications systems of the least
developed countries engaged in a liberalization process. The
latter must consequently design policies to promote higher
value-added services which create wealth and stable employment
in many different sectors.

Services on Demand
The "teleworking" sector, for example, opens the way to
establishing offshore companies specialized in gathering and
creating information from a distance, a venture favoured by
managers seeking to make the most out of our labour's 
competitiveness. Telematics offer vast possibilities for
providing information servers in the fields of economics,
education, tourism, science, etc.

In the health field, diagnostic imaging and clinical analysis
done from a distance can compensate for a lack of specialists.
Information highways can facilitate communication, access to
and the spread of knowledge on a wide-scale, as well as the
development of distance education. It can also speed up
decision-making through multimedia and digital or vocal
delivery systems.

The  political will to invest in these sectors, which is vital
to making the information highways a priority equal to health,
education and agriculture, is beginning to take shape. As
examples, two initiatives are worth mentioning:

-    SITTDEC, a centre for exchanging data on investment,
     trade and technology in countries of the South, was
     launched four years ago by the heads of state in G15
     member countries. Its ambition is to create a vast
     information network available to decision-makers and the
     business community in the countries concerned.

-    the resolution made in May 1995 by ministers of the
     Commission for Africa to create a group of experts
     charged with proposing a strategy for an African link-up
     with the information highways and the promotion of
     telematics and value-added services. The group will
     publish a white paper on the economic and strategic
     foundations of information globalisation and will suggest
     short and long-term political responses required to build
     an institutional and regulatory environment conducive to
     infrastructure modernization and increased trade. A
     prerequisite for the whole enterprise lies in developing
     a coherent policy for making maximum use of human
     resources and stimulating investment.

In Senegal, a country with meagre resources, the National
Telecommunications Company already counts 24,000 km of
fibre-optic cables with an international network equipped with
state-of-the-art technology. The Internet recently came into
service there, as it has in South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia,
Zambia and Kenya. The process of liberalizing
telecommunications has already begun in these countries and is
underway in others such as Ghana, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Cote
d'Ivoire and Guinea.

Large Sums of Money
However, insufficient investment hampers the  modernization of
networks in developing countries and better link-ups between
them. The support of the international community is
indispensable. However, coordination is needed for the
initiatives now underway with support from UNESCO and various
other international organizations and development agencies.
In this context, UNESCO has a key role to play in grouping
these complementary initiatives which mobilize considerable
sums of money but show signs of duplication. These initiatives
would also be more beneficial if developing countries could
agree on an overall strategy and the appropriate technological
choices to go along with it. Furthermore, it would be a
mistake to overlook the role of private initiatives in
enhancing business opportunities tailored to the needs of
business people, scientists, universities and other clients.

I believe that the many experts in the North and South,
working both for governments and aid organizations, have
succeeded in weaving a network founded on fraternity and a
commitment to overcoming poor development. With time, they
will undoubtedly constitute a lobby capable of serving the
common interests of all partners, be they public or private,
national or international.

(Momar Aly Ndiaye is Informatics Advisor at the Ministry of
Scientific Research and Technology, Dakar, Senegal (UNESCO
Sources No.75, Dec. 1995 - Jan., 1996)