Bringing together around 325 attendees coming from 55 different countries over Europe and Africa, the “2010 Euro-Africa Week on ICT Research and e-Infrastructures” took place in Helsinki, Finland, on December 7-10 and ended on a very high note of optimism. Presentations and debates were welcomed with very enthusiastic participation from the delegates and most of the interviewed participants judged the event to be a resounding success, giving a very good or excellent rating to the overall event (including networking opportunities) and content (note: a comprehensive online survey will be soon administrated to all participants).
Expressing the current political momentum for boosting both scientific and ICT partnerships between Africa and Europe, the “2010 Euro-Africa Week on ICT Research and e-Infrastructures” was designated as an official side event to the "3rd Africa-EU Summit" (November 29-30, 2010 - Tripoli, Libya) with the main objective of launching the newly adopted Action Plan 2011-2013 of the “8th Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on Science, Information Society, and Space”.This series of events (conference, forum, lab visits, brokerage meetings) was held under the aegis of the European Commission (DG INFSO: International Relations Unit + GEANT and e-Infrastructures Unit) and the African Union Commission with the significant support of the Finnish Government (Ministry for Foreign Affairs + Ministry of Employment and the Economy). This week was organised by the FP7 EuroAfrica-ICT and the ei-Africa EU-funded projects with the assistance of the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.
A first wave of market liberalisation and private investments are at the origin of impressive developments in Africa such as the unprecedented boom in mobiles with a number of mobile users that grew from nearly 10 millions in 2000 to almost 400 millions today (note: mobile networks currently covers 90% of the urban population...). This means that through innovative business models (eg e-Services) as well as infrastructures sharing, network operators are today cutting costs and increasing access. But these efforts have limitations without favourable regulatory environments, licensing and taxation regimes that further enhance business, investments and penetration, instead of inhibiting them. There is a lot to do in this field, especially since the high levels of coverage hide significant variations between countries.
Unlike expanded access to mobile telephony services, access to the internet and broadband services remain very low on the continent, mainly due to prohibitive tariffs, limited capacity and availability of infrastructures as well as poor computer literacy. In this domain again, fair and predictable pro-access regulatory environments, promoting markets liberalisation and competition need to be implemented as well as sound spectrum management, which is essential for the roll-out of wireless broadband services.
The challenges are now to tackle those remaining gaps in line with the AU Summit outcome, in order among other things to exploit the potential of mobile and wireless technologies, including satellite technologies, for high speed data services, and leverage the conditions that fuelled the success of mobile telephony penetration, to further increase investments in broadband infrastructures. New international submarine cables are bringing the broadband fibre capacity Africa was lacking, and competition among providers is resulting in substantial tariffs decreases. But still, terrestrial backbones are missing and strong coordination and investments efforts are needed for bridging the gaps and exploit synergies, especially with the transport and energy sectors.
Among the mains issues that came under the spotlights of this important event focusing on the “Information Society” component of the 8th Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on Science, Information Society, and Space (the so-called Partnership 8) and aiming - among other things - at getting an insight into the status and perspectives of the Euro-African collaborative initiatives addressing research, development and innovation on ICT (ICT research: forum of Dec. 7-8) and the research and education networks (e-Infrastructures: conference of Dec. 9-10) were the following:
- Presentation of the different S&T/ICT cooperation frameworks by the European and the Africa Union Commissions
- Identification of leading S&T/ICT research areas of common interest and mutual benefits to the two regions (especially in the health and the education sectors)
- Reassertion of the necessity to have in Africa a more inclusive and affordable access to ICT applications and services and a widespread use of ICTs (in particular the Internet) across all socio-economic sectors in order to fast-track the MDGs objectives
- Identification of impediments to be overcame (such as the lack of a dedicated financing tool and appropriate financing sources which constitute a prerequisite for the implementation of Partnership 8; this despite the recognition at the highest level of ICT as a critical driver to fast-track African transformation (i.e. the 2010 Addis Ababa AU Summit Declaration on ICT for Africa's development where African Union leaders have declared ICTs as a top-level priority in their development programmes and paved the way to the necessary reforms and programmes to be launched in order to unleash the full potential of those technologies on the continent)
- Reassertion of the need to enhance cooperation as regards the digital economy and to reduce the digital divide (including the private sector, international financial institutions and United Nations agencies)
- Reaffirmation of the absolute necessity to promote cooperation in Research and Education Networking exploiting interconnection between the European GEANT network and established African regional networks, and supporting the development of an integrated pan-African Research and Education Network
The overall consensus among the participants who attended the event was that the “2010 Euro-Africa Week on ICT Research and e-Infrastructures” had provided them with significant insights into the ongoing and planned EU-AU programmes for ICTs. Delegates found the opportunity to meet key players from the region and exchange experiences with international experts of great value and generally departed in an optimistic mood knowing that significant advances have been made since the launch of the “Africa-EU Strategic Partnership” in Lisbon in 2007 and the “1st Euro-Africa Cooperation Forum on ICT Research” that was convened in Brussels in March 2009..
The next edition of this event will be convene in 2011 in - most probably - Africa.
- Event presentations, attendee lists and pictures to be available by Dec. 17
- Full week report to be released in early January 2011
About the EuroAfrica-ICT project...
- EuroAfrica-ICT is an EU/FP7 support action with the aim of enhancing and supporting the development of S&T cooperation on ICT research between Europe and Africa.
- Partnership: AUF, Belgium / ACU, UK / CSIR, South Africa / KIST, Rwanda / Makerere University, Uganda / Sigma Orionis, France (Coordinator) / TWAS, Italy
About the eI-Africa project...
- eI-Africa (e-Infrastructures Africa) is an EU/FP7 support action aiming at strengthening Euro-African cooperation on e-Infrastructures.
- Partnership: Sigma Orionis, France (Coordinator)