[AfrICANN-discuss] West Africa: WAFICT 2010 - Experts Call for Policy Harmonisation in West Africa

LO MAMADOU alfamamadou at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 8 17:57:55 SAST 2010

West Africa: WAFICT 2010 - Experts Call for Policy Harmonisation in West Africa / Daily independent
Emma Okonji
7 June 2010

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) experts from West African sub-region, who attended the just concluded West African ICT (WAFICT 2010) Congress and the 10th edition of West African International Telecommunications and Information Communication Technology Exhibition (W.Afri.Tel) in Lagos, said the exhibition has positioned the sub-region as the focus of ICT in emerging markets.

They, however, called for policy harmonisation across the sub-region in order to grow ICT in the region.

Identifying some of the impediments to speedy and cost effective rollout of ICT products and services among operators in the sub-region, speakers like Ms Funke Opeke, Chief Executive officer of Main One Cable system; Gbenga Adebayo, President of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON); and Olaseni Ashiru, West African representative of Ericsson, explained that poor policies across the sub-region, poor protection of operators' critical infrastructure like fibre optics lines, insecurity, power issues and low development of last mile infrastructure to carry traffic, may impede ICT growth in the sub-region.

Managing Director of Zinox Computers, Mr. Emomine Mukoro, said there was need for harmonisation of the operating and policy environment of West African countries if the sub-region would make more progress. This, he said, would help remove the various bottlenecks that continue to impede the actual development of ICT in the West African countries.

The Zinox boss feared that West Africa would require another 500 years to reach where countries of Europe and America have reached, adding that the paradigm shift in both regulatory and investment climates should not be cosmetic but be backed by genuine intentions.

Other issues that were raised in the course of the three-day combined exhibition included the need to appropriately educate consumers by operators and businesses in the ICT sector.

For the first time in ICT exhibition in the sub-region, a full complement of eight Indian ICT companies, led by the Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), exhibited some of their cost-efficient telecom products and services with presentations at the conference.

Confirming India's commitment to the promotion of ICT market between the Asian country and Nigeria, the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mahesh Sachdev, commended the good relationship that existed between both countries promising that the participation was just the beginning of greater cooperation between both countries.

Speaking at the first day of the conference, Bashir Gwandu, Executive Director, Standards, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), who represented the Minister of State for Information and Communications, Mr. Labaran Maku, commended the positive contributions of the WAFICT and W.Afri.Tel exhibitions to the development of ICT in West Africa.

Gwandu, in his paper, traced the historic rise of Nigeria from relative obscurity in telecom to becoming the giant in Africa. He pointed out that in spite of the nearly 80 million subscribers in the country, there were still more work to be done in the sector.

He listed some challenges that are common among countries in the sub-region to include multiple taxation and levies; poor state of power generation, poor road network and inadequate skilled manpower required to drive the exponential growth in the region.

In his keynote presentation on the second day of WAFICT, former Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, identified some of the landmark events that have helped shape the ICT landscape in West Africa and identified the need to get to the rural underserved population as an issue that must be tackled with every strength the sub-region operators and governments could muster.

According to Mr. Akin Braithwaite, General Manager, Customer Care at MTN Nigeria, who spoke on business growth as the reason for the establishment of MTN Customer Care, insisted that the customer must be educated to retain total loyalty.

Making what seems like a revelation to most of the participants, Mr. Basheer Patel of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) in the United Kingdom gave various options for financing for operators in the sub-region, emphasising that these funds were always available for what he described as viable and objective projects in the ICT industry.

Former Minister of Communication, who currently doubles as member of the NCC board Olawale Ige, informed the delegates to the conference on the need to always remember where the countries in the sub-region are coming from and the underlying factors for their seeming poor infrastructure development.

Ige said "although the sub-region may appear slow in catching up with the rest of the world, there is a lot that has been done and even in the present state, there are still more work that need to be done by the various stakeholders, government, operators, regulators and the public."

President of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Mr. Chris Uwaje, was concerned with the efforts of Nigerian software developers in developing software and applications that would help sustain the growth so far recorded and take the country to a new height.

The issue of developing local and marketable content came up for discussion on the third and last day of the conference as most speakers observed that every of the present content used in Nigeria and indeed the West Africa sub-region were generated outside the region and if the region was ever going to be independent and maximise its potentials and generate more revenue, local contents would be necessary.

President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Titi Omo-Etu, urged Nigerian operators to commence the domestication of their domain name. ATCON, he said, took the decision only a few days ago, thus signaling the Nigerian content of the long anticipated domain name of businesses and individuals in the country.

Identifying the enormous work that still needs to be done by Nigerian companies especially in the area of data, President of Nigerian Internet Group (NIG), Lanre Ajayi said the country in spite of the large number of voice subscribers is far behind even in Africa in Internet penetration and suggested that urgent step be taken to remedy the situation.

It was the conclusion of the speakers and delegates that there was urgent need for governments in the sub-region to harmonise their policies in the area of ICT as this would enhance the speedy growth of the sector in the sub-region.

Exhibitors and participants were worried about the scanty presence of government at the exhibition, and called on government officials to participate in subsequent exhibitions.
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