African IT infrastructure needs cash

World Bank Group head Paul Wolfowitz Monday called for increasedinvestment and involvement in development projects targetingpoverty in Africa with more bucks for Internet and telcoinfrastructure.

This isn’t just a job for governments and aid agencies, he said.Private companies have a role to play too but a public/privatebalance will have to be found between the kind of basicinfrastructure work that will never return a profit and those thatwill.

“Africa’s infrastructure may have been adequate in the 1960s and1970s but high population growth combined with rapid urbanizationhas lead to a severe mismatch between the need for infrastructureand what’s available,” said

Wolfowitz speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Heis in Tokyo to attend a two-day World Bank conference ondevelopment economics.

“By most estimates African countries need to be investing aboutnine percent of their GDP, or roughly US$40 billion per year, inbuilding infrastructure and maintaining old facilities if they areto meet millennium development goals. That’s more than twice whatthey’ve been spending over the last decade,” he said.

His comments refer to a wide range of infrastructure typesincluding basic water and electricity supply to more advancedservices like cellular telephone and Internet connections.

In its World Development Indicators 2006 report, the bankunderlined the potential that information and communicationtechnology has in reducing poverty and helping foster growth indeveloping nations. It noted that companies using IT grow fasterand that a survey found sales growth is 3.4 percentage pointshigher in companies that use email to do business with clients andsuppliers.

Some technology companies are already working on projects to bringcomputing and Internet access to developing nations.

Most notable is the One Child Per Laptop (OLPC) project led byNicholas Negroponte [cq] that grew out of the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. OLPC hopes to begin delivering millions oflow-cost laptop computers to governments from next year. IT giantsincluding Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Google Inc., News Corp. andNortel Networks Ltd back the project.

Intel Corp. has partnered with a Mexican telecoms company to sellan affordable PC designed for first-time computer users indeveloping countries and last week Microsoft Corp. detailed plansto offer low-cost pay-as-you-use computers in developingnations.

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