Adopt a regional Digital Solidarity Fund

The recently concluded “Connect Africa” Summit has taken the right angle of ‘Act Now’ to reduce the digital divide, which is a crucial element in pursuing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since it is time to act, let us embrace a “Digital Solidarity Fund” (DSF) for each region.

The recently concluded “Connect Africa” Summit has taken the right angle of ‘Act Now’ to reduce the digital divide, which is a crucial element in pursuing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since it is time to act, let us embrace a “Digital Solidarity Fund” (DSF) for each region.

The Digital Solidarity Fund is a contribution from a consortium of states that need special assistance in the development of the ICT sector.

This is  an initiative currently accepted by nearly all member states of the United Nations, although some have not yet accepted it formally.

In Africa, only Senegal introduced what it dubbed as the “1% digital solidarity” on all public procurement contracts for IT equipment and services.

The supplier pays the contribution to the central DSF that funds development projects that respond to ICT infrastructure.

Adopting the global DSF is a vital initiative for the region that seeks the commitment of all member states especially since they will be the main beneficiaries.

That is why not only the EAC member states but the entire African continent should rally behind such a fund by paying at least one off voluntary contributions and continuing to support it unceasingly.

The same fund can be used to team up with manufacturing companies like IBM or Microsoft to recycle one of the threats to the African environment; the electronic waste.

Whether newly acquired or recycled, electronic equipment contain toxic components that are hazardous to the environment and public health especially when it is out of use.

Serious management of digital equipment, particularly its disposal, must therefore be at the front on the agenda of such a fund.

The e-waste management is more urgent in developing countries where, due to economic reasons, second hand equipment is often used.

Through e-waste management, we shall ensure that the transfer of technology to developing countries is not more of a curse than a blessing for most deprived populations.

Once adopted, such projects will protect future African generations from the damaging effects of e-waste, and make its processing more viable by creating job opportunities and improving on the ICT sector working conditions.

The implementation of the resolutions reached during prior meetings of the “Connect Africa” Summit that aimed at examining key success factors for ICT development in Africa, should include such factors like the DSF and e-waste management. In this way, enhancing of workforce training in the ICT sector and developing policies that favour investment will be registered.

Low economic empowerment is one of the big barriers and discriminatory factors that have denied some African nations the right to develop and take full advantage of the benefits of the information society and age.

The only way such nations can get out of this racket is by becoming members to the Digital Solidarity Fund, so that they can also contribute to achieving its noble objectives.

At the just concluded “Connect Africa” Summit when President Paul Kagame decried the low investments in building the necessary ICT infrastructure, saying that we have stalled in the required communications infrastructure, he was awakening us to embrace better ways of creating a permanent fund from which even our future generations will profit.

This responsibility is not only for leaders but all Africans with a Pan African spirit that will drive us into an all-encompassing Digital Solidarity Fund to see the success of both knowledge acquisition and bridging the digital divide affecting the continent.

Scrapping taxes on all ICT equipment may not be enough to realise the meagre investment into the industry.

Once the DSF is adopted, the 1% example that Senegal and other developed countries introduced on all public procurement contracts for IT equipment and services will also serve as a maintenance fund for any skills required in keeping the high-tech equipment run for years.

Definitely we cannot fail to thank Microsoft and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for teaming up to support programmes that will provide skills development and capacity building along with the delivery of relevant applications and services throughout the African continent.

However, because ICTs are not an end in themselves, but essential tools for modern development of society, together with the Microsoft and ITU teams, embracing the DSF will help address the growing risks involved in installing and using equipment with functions that the manufacturers hide from the end users.

It will also help in the better understanding and use of applications with codes developed by monopolies that have a great relationship with intelligence services which act against developing nations.

The challenges facing most developing countries towards achieving the MDGs have resulted into a persistent and gradual widening of the gap that requires stronger alternatives like the DSF to intervene.

We are ready to act. Let us adopt such an alternative first at regional levels and eventually have a continental embrace. It will be a step ahead in dealing with the food shortages in some parts of the developing world.

Governments will employ the techniques of information society age to harness their agricultural monitoring and research capabilities to ensure food security in the entire African continent.

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