Perspectives, Impacts and Goals of IT as a Source of Development for the Young People of Africa. Nigeria as case study
Residence: Lagos, Nigeria.
As the process of globalisation continues to gain momentum, Africa is still a dot on the map. The continent comprising of 13% of world population with more than 40% of this population below the age 20, has only 2 percent of the world telephone lines, and only 0.4% of the content on the worldwide web. Recent studies show that African consumers pay among the highest telecommunications tariffs in the world, despite having some of the world’s lowest per capita income. Developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) until recently have been among the slowest the in world. Excluding South Africa, sub-saharan Africa has fewer than one line per 100 inhabitants and over 50% of these lines are in urban areas whereas over 70% of the population is rural. The question is, how long will Africa, with its enormous potentials in terms of population and other resources continue to remain a sleeping giant? Recognising the potentials of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to transform development, it is obvious that the continent of Africa has not been able to benefit much from the information revolution because facilities have not been made available. The telecommunication infrastructure is inadequate to meet the challenge of the information age. The average cost per line is $4,500 compared to the industry average of $1,500 and Africa still pays $400 million a year in transit fees to route calls through Europe. While the impact of the information revolution is tremendous, the existing infrastructure, socio-economic, cultural, and political situations pose major difficulties in introducing, implementing and diffusing the new technologies for internetworking. China for example, installed more telephone lines in a year than the total installations in Africa over a century. The technology and funds are not necessarily the major inhibiting factors, but the will and awareness do not seem to be present in the continent, although the poor telecommunication system has made the matter worse. It is time the continent realises the potentials of the African youths. Considering the knowledge-based nature of the ICT, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Africa as a
continent to effect development in ICTs without an actively participating and youthful labour force. African countries should renew collectively attempt to promote sustainable development and capacity building of the youth by taking advantage of ICT as a veritable catalyst. It should be appreciated that the bulk of the ICT - based workforce in most developed countries is the youth. Africa therefore, must lay a solid foundation for the thriving and consolidation of ICT development. We cannot and should not depend solely on foreign partnership for our development. Sustainability of any technology depends on the knowledge base and skills of the people using it. Africa can turn our digital divide into digital opportunity by challenging the intrinsic potentials of the youth for the present and the future. The African youth deserves investment opportunities for their development. These investments must move beyond solving problems and promoting academic achievements to support a full range of positive outcomes geared at getting information technologies to the doorstep of the African youth irrespective of the location in the continent.
MAJOR ICT YOUTH FORUMS IN AFRICA.
The future of the continent depends on the youth. Their readiness to effect growth and development for the continent has been a major focus of many local and foreign initiatives in Africa. Efforts are now geared at incorporating youths in ICT initiatives since young people constitute a major force to be reckoned with in terms of ICT developments all over the world.
THE NEPAD YOUTH FORUM: VIJANA DOT FORCE
The New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), a new initiative geared at instituting socio-economic recovery for the continent has development of ICT as one of its priorities. The ICT objectives of NEPAD are: To double teledensity to two lines per 100 people by 2005, with an adequate level of access for households;
To lower the cost and improve reliability of service; To achieve e-readiness for all countries in Africa; To develop and produce a pool of ICT-proficient youth and students from which Africa can draw trainee ICT engineers, programmers and software developers;
To develop local-content software, based especially on Africa’s cultural legacy.
NEPAD has recognised the importance of the African youth in effecting ICT development on the continent. This culminated in a youth forum termed the VIJANA DOT FORCE with a major objective of building e-awareness in youth, by building a structure of African youth that can work in partnership with other world youth in initiatives to bridge the digital divide in Africa. The launching of the VIJANA DOT FORCE took place during the NEPAD Youth Forum (12th – 16th November 2001) in Johannesburg, South Africa with youths from Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa as participants. The VIJANA DOT FORCE is a renewed collective attempt by African countries to promote sustainable development and capacity building of the youth through the use of ICT to bridge the apparent digital divide. The main goal is to involve youths in fostering development amongst NEPAD countries thus making the continent a key player in a knowledge driven global economy.
ITU YOUTH FORUM
According to ITU, “Quality of life in the 21st century will to a large extent be dependent on the preparation of a diverse corps of leaders who can build a stronger nation”. The fundamental purpose of the ITU Youth Forum is to spur growth in a global economy, which places high value on technology leaders. ITU believes that in order to sustain and advance development in the new millennium, potential leaders in nations, which can be described, as the Information Communication Technology "have-nots" must receive guidance and support to prepare them for the fastpaced ICT workplace.
The main objective of the youth forum is to enable exceptionally talented university students (men and women) from all the ITU African Member States to access the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. The union sponsored 84 youths from 42 countries in Africa to the Africa Telecom 2001 in Midrand, South Africa. Special sessions were devoted to the Youth Forum, with themes on technology, regulation and finance. The combination of their experiences at AFRICA 2001 and their academic excellence will help to make them constitute a corps of future leaders in the ICT field. ITU made such enormous investment in order to improve the knowledge of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) amongst the talented young people who will be Africa's future government and industry leaders, given the increasing importance of ICT in the global economy and on existing regulatory structures. The programme therefore builds on the ITU's long-term commitment to assist and support low income and least developed countries (LICs and LDCs) in their efforts to progressively improve the standard and scope of their telecommunication infrastructure and to bridge the digital divide.
AFRICAN INFORMATION SOCIETY YOUTH NETWORK (AISYN)
AISYN history can be traced to African Development Forum (ADF ’99) organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. African Youth were accorded a special focus group as a crosscutting feature of the conference theme. The Youth Focus group members participated in all the parallel thematic discussion sessions, and presented a report at plenary session, touching on all the theme areas from a youth perspective. One major recommendation was the critical need for the establishment of a region wide youth electronic network to coordinate and facilitate Youth targeted ICT initiatives in the context of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) framework. The Aims and objective of AISYN include: To provide young people in all parts of Africa with easy access to information and knowledge resources;
To facilitate further education and training, especially career and health related training and guidance for youth;
To develop, coordinate, and extend electronic, economic and other networks and databases that can empower and develop young women and men;
To develop a workforce capable of creating and sustaining a knowledge -based economy;
To enforce the fundamental human right to communicate, and to participate in society through equitable access, and use of, ICTs;
Promote access to local content and the use of local language through appropriate systems for capturing; sharing and exploiting local information and knowledge resources for community development;
Promote access by youth to global knowledge resources through ICTs, and customize it to local social economic, and cultural priorities;
Promote sustainable youth livelihood in the knowledge creation and capture, access, packaging and dissemination industry (information economy);
Ensure effective access by youth to the international and regional institutions that influence global development and trends in the ICT sector; AISYN involvements include information audits, further development of its web site as an interactive information resource, an electronic journal that will report ICT activities in Africa and beyond, youth exchange programmes, an African youth information society trust, and a Pan African youth information society conference.
THE ICT DEVELOPMENT OF THE NIGERIAN YOUTH
Nigeria, with a large population of about 120 million people is the largest black nation in Africa. Recent statistics has it that 44% of Nigerians (about 52 million people) are below the age of fifteen. This is a reflection of the enormous potential the nation has if she can transform this enviable manpower into a bequeathing IT work-force. The wealth of nations
is no longer equated on the scale of the quantity of the inherent natural resources but on the quality and strength of the knowledge-based workforce. For decades, the nation’s development has depended solely on the rich natural heritage in crude oil and other associated resources. But, we are still under the scourge of poverty, religious unrests, and different ethnic unrests. Until recently, ICT development in Nigeria was among the slowest in the continent with only 450,000 functional fixed telephone lines for a population of 120 million and low internet penetration due to poor telecommunication infrastructure and expertise. The introduction of GSM mobile services by two operators Econet and MTN, has increased the teledensity of the nation from less than 0.5 to 0.8 in six months making Nigeria one of the fastest growing telecommunication market in Africa. Presently the two operators have about 700,000 subscribers. NITEL, the incumbent national carrier has only skeletal GSM services in the capital city Abuja with plans of rolling out the service in Lagos soon. The path to ICT development should be such that the youth are made a veritable component of our national strategy. Recent moves by the government which include: the launch of the New National Telecommunications Policy in September 2000 to liberalize the sector; the declaration of information and communication technologies as national priority project; the approval of the National policy on Information Technology and the establishment of a National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in March/April 2001; the launch of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSRDA) for the Nigerian satellite system; are laudable schemes in the right direction but must be implemented with youth development in focus.
NITDA – PROGRAMME FOR THE YOUTH
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has recognised the intrinsic potentials of utilising the youth workforce in actualising the nation’s Information technology policy. The agency has plans targeted at developing and empowering youth with IT skills to make them globally competitive. These include: Provision of IT facilities for the various levels of the educational system to support the necessary restructuring to cater for the challenges of the information age. IT facilities shall therefore be provided at the primary (including the UBE programme), secondary and tertiary institutions. Promoting “Training the Trainers” scheme using existing establishments such as the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to boost capacity building in IT. The agency has partnered with CISCO and is presently rolling out local CISCO academies in the universities and later the polytechnics so as to bring the IT learning environment to the doorsteps of the university students, whilst empowering them with requisite skills upon graduation. The agency is working out modalities with its strategic partners in the private sector to generate IT related jobs for urban and rural youths. Organizing workshops to demonstrate the features and benefits of IT for performing artists through the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. Encouraging massive local and global IT skills acquisitions through training in the public and private sectors with the view to achieving a strategic medium-term milestone of at least 500,000 IT skilled personnel by the year 2004.
EDUCATION TASK FORCE – SCHOOLNET NIGERIA PROGRAMME
The SchoolNet Nigeria programme is the nation’s response to the global call for the harmonization of school networking activities worldwide. The mission is to play a significant role in transforming the nation’s education through the introduction and application of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to Nigeria’s children, adolescents and youth in and out of school. Some of the specific goals of the scheme include: Encouraging the use of ICT in education for human resource development and capacity building, particularly among the youth and disadvantaged and/ or rural schools through partnership and association with other organizations (national and international); Promoting the development of cross-cultural understanding and joint knowledge development between children and youth in Nigeria and those around the world by facilitating online collaborative projects (and through project based learning) In addition, there is the ThinkQuest Nigeria program (our variety of the ThinkQuest Africa Initiative), which is part of the SchoolNet Nigeria programme. It is aimed at encouraging students of ages 12-19 to use the Internet to create high quality, information-rich webbased learning tools and materials, of particular relevance to Africa. It is worthy to note here that Nigeria’s Oyinda Osonowo was one of the winners of ThinkQuest International competition despite having limited (and expensive) access to the Internet. This is indeed a pointer to the fact that the possibilities are infinite within and outside our shores, only if the opportunities and necessary environment are provided
OTHER YOUTH ICT EMPOWERMENT ACTIVITIES.
CyberSchuul, an institute in executive management training sponsors an annual Website Design competition where the winner is awarded the prestigious “Nigeria Information Technology Youth Ambassador”.
Computer Association of Nigeria, COAN organises Annual software competitions for University and Polytechnic students aimed at stimulating originality and development amongst the youths
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 9
A COMPARATIVE ANALOGY
The entire world is now suffering from lack of enough skilled manpower in the information technology industry. This has led to a global traffic flow, irrespective of colour or race, of IT experts with demand increasing on daily basis. Recently, the German government employed a few thousand Indian software engineers. Nigeria is renowned for a large pool of educated youth. Unfortunately, the employment rate in this country is very low, but the nation can make investment in the development of human capital for creation of new jobs and new wealth. The information technology age has now created new jobs and new employment opportunity all over the world. The analogy is that the child in Nigeria
develops in the local language when young and at a later stage during the school days, the child is taught the English language. Consequently, the child is given a tool that can make him or her to be globally competitive in language i.e. this new language can make him to interact with most of the global community. Similarly, we have all been used to the traditional jobs, traditional ways of creating wealth etc. and we need to learn new
language or paradigm which is information technology in order to make us globally competitive as well as to open new avenues for job creation and wealth. Information technology gives a new empowerment in the global competitiveness. For example, we have a large number of unemployed graduates in Nigeria. These young Nigerians can be re-trained in ICTs in order to make them globally competitive as well as give them opportunity to create new wealth. These graduates when re-trained in the information technology in areas such as software development, e-technology, e-commerce, web enabling technology etc, they will acquire new skills that will make them employable or become self-employed thus contributing to poverty alleviation. This experiment has been carried out successfully in India. The nation’s projected that export of IT software will hit $10 billion by 2002 and $50 billion by 2008. The domestic software industry is also
projected to hit $30 billion by 2008. India exports IT goods, services and human capital. What India has is only a fraction of the world potentials in the ICT market. Africa can use our comparative advantage of population to equip our youth to maximise this global market place for the development of the continent.
The numerous ICT initiatives on the continent are all geared towards a major goal Developing the ICT manpower and infrastructure base for the continent to be globally competitive. For these to be sustainable there must be full participation of all Stakeholders, both government and the organised private sector. Knowledge is power and we must act fast as IT is one of the shortest routes to development in the present world order. Encouraging the involvement of the African Youth in ICT Development in Africa is a must for the development of a sustainable IT base for the continent. Despite the fact that we started late, trends change. Africa is currently the fastest growing ICT market in the world. Providing the necessary infrastructure and putting in place a system that will imbibe quality IT skills in the African youth will form the basis for our leapfrogging into the global knowledge driven economy of the future. The African youth should be well equipped for the greater challenges of the future. We cannot sit back and wait for the continent to be slaved in the modern knowledge driven economy. Efforts should be made by our governments and the private sector to provide ICT infrastructures in our schools, encourage expertise, investment in R&D through appropriate political will, legislation and greater financial backing. Our yearly budgets should change from expenditure–targeted to investment-oriented budgets. Investment in IT human resources will form a new base for the enrichment of the continent and should be exploited. The youth should be the focus for such schemes. The average time for training a graduate on any specialised IT field is one year after which he/she will be in a position to be either self-employed or get employed; the multiplier effect to the economy cannot be over-emphasised. Programmes that will involve the re-training of unemployed graduates and school leavers should be embarked upon. This will lead to the creation of new jobs, generation of wealth through foreign exchange earnings and indeed contribute to the alleviation of poverty in the continent in this new economy. Information technology constitutes the hope for the future for the African youth.