Lack of research widening digital divide, ICT minister says

KAMPALA, UGANDA – A lack of ICT research and limited co-operation and information sharing among research groups is widening the digital divide between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world, according to Uganda’s minister of ICT, Ham Mukasa Mulira.

Collaboration between Africans and the rest of the world is important with regard to the development of ICT in Africa, he said at the opening of the EuroAfriCa-ICT Awareness Workshop in Kampala on Monday.

The EuroAfriCa-ICT project presents an opportunity for the sub-Saharan region to explore new areas of collaboration, like joint research, ICT application development, mentorship and industrial attachment, Mulira noted.

“Europe has a lot of expertise in undertaking research of different kinds related to science and technology, which could be of great advantage to many young researchers in the region,” added Ugandan Prime Minister Appolo Nsibambi.

According to Nsibambi, Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to reap benefit from e-health, e-education, e-commerce and business process outsourcing.

“In order for these to take root,” he said, “it is very important that research provides the foundation for the implementation of such projects.”

However, Mulira pointed out in his address that the biggest challenge confronting the sector, especially in eastern Africa, is the lack of access to international undersea cable systems.

“This has inevitably denied our people access to the cheap international bandwidth due to the sole dependence on satellite, which is expensive and limited in capacity,” Mulira said.

Ongoing regional undersea cable initiatives such as EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System), TEAMS (The East African Marine System), SEACOM, and UHURUNET are expected to address the bandwidth constraint by end of 2009.

With proper infrastructure in place, Mulira noted, universal access will become feasible, allowing developing nations to leapfrog ahead.

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