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Harnessing ICT for Ethiopia's Renaissance

By Addis Mulugeta
Tigrai Onlne - June 25, 2014

This month the national ICT Exhibition, Bazaar and Conference event was held for the seventh time. The event took place at the Exhibition Center in first week of the month with the participation of over 350 local as well as international ICT firms presenting their products in three categories; that is, hardware, software and service promote their impact on the national growth.

Harnessing ICT for Ethiopia's Renaissance

As the Minister for Communication and Information Technology, Dr. Debretsion Gebre Michael, stated the aim of the annual ICT week is not only to raise the level of ICT awareness, display advanced technological equipment and services; but it is also  intended to enable the sector play it due role in national development.

The theme of this year's ICT week was befittingly set as “ICT for Ethiopian Renaissance”. Given the potential of the sector, in the advancing Ethiopia's on-going path towards national renaissance.

Indeed, the government of Ethiopian government have long recognized that in the emerging global economic order, the basis for national prosperity is information and communications technology (ICT), and that Ethiopia cannot afford to be left behind in its development.

The government didn't simply see ICT as one more technological import rather within the wider context of its socio-economic development objectives and set policy directions to take advantage of these technologies to accelerate the rate of economic growth and alleviate poverty. Indeed, the Government sees ICT as a key factor for achieving progress in economic and social development. 

As a result, in 2001, when the government launched a comprehensive National Capacity Building Programme (NCBP), the development of Information and communications technologies (ICT) was made one of the priorities.

Indeed, ICT was identified as a key sub-programmes that cut across and support all the rest fifteen sub-programmes.

The National Capacity Building program document underlined the government's direction of ICT as follows: ICT is known to provide an opportunity to foster vital development goals such as poverty reduction, basic health care and education, etc. But it also promotes good   governance by facilitating interaction between the Government and the population, thereby creating the conditions for enhancing transparency, increasing accountability and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-sector delivery. ICT thus creates new opportunities for sustainable growth and poverty reduction and helps in deepening the process of democratisation and good governance. The use of ICT creates the conditions for improved transparency and governance.

Clearly, ICT will be of enormous help in implementing the Government's   decentralised service delivery at the grass-roots level by making data and information  readily  available in all regions and at all levels of government.

The development of ICT comprising, among  other things, policies and strategies, and  information and communications infrastructure  aimed at  harnessing its vast potential  for the country's social and economic development is the goal of the Government. It is committed to enhancing the impact of ICT on its overarching goal of reducing poverty and good governance. Towards this end, the Government will pursue policies and strategies that will ensure greater application of IC T by building capacity aimed at improving knowledge and skills at all levels. This applies to all aspects of programmes under PSCAP.

Accordingly, the government embarked on various undertakings to enhance the exploitation of ICTs for accelerated socio-economic development by elaboration and institutionalization of the national ICT development framework. The 2004, ICT policy made it clear that the Ethiopian Government has made the development of Information and communications technology one of its strategic plan priorities.

The ICT policy covers knowledge and information as a tool for development & ICT as a sector or industry. The major areas of ICT application in the area of democratic governance were identified as to include on-going programs such as civil service reform, justice reform and decentralization. ICT promotes democratic governance by enabling all citizens to participate in the political process as well as have access to global knowledge and information.

Thus, the objective of the government in ICT was set as ensuring that all citizens have equal and equitable access to government services and to knowledge and information. Hence, the Government has a commitment to accelerate the development of ICT in order to strengthen the on-going process of sustainable development and poverty reduction as well as good governance and democratic system.

The ICT policy has already been approved in 2005 and the initial implementation plan had been underway since 2006 for a period of five years due to end in 2010. It declares as its vision improving ‘…the social and economic well being of the peoples of Ethiopia through the exploitation of the opportunities created by ICT for achieving rapid and sustainable socio-economic development, and for sustaining a robust democratic system and good governance.’ The mission of the policy is also stated as developing ‘…Ethiopia into a socially progressive and prosperous nation with a globally competitive, modern, dynamic and robust economy through the development, deployment and exploitation of ICT within the economy and society.’ The policy has also stated four broad goals all of which deal with transforming the nation’s society in to a knowledge and information society with globally competitive ICT industry that supports the nation’s rapid economic development and also helps in enhancing government efficiency and good governance.

In line with that, the government of Ethiopia also articulated an e-Government Strategy with the aim of realizing the need to integrate these initiatives to provide a strategic direction for e-Government implementation in the country. The e-Government strategy for Ethiopia has been designed, with a focus on facilitating effective delivery of government services to customers (residents, businesses and visitors).

The strategy envisages implementation of 219 e-services comprising of seventy seven (79) informational and one hundred forty (140) transactional services over a five year period. The implementation is proposed to be done through twelve (12) priority projects and service delivery would be through four channels (Portal, Call centre, Mobile devices and Common service centers) and delivery will be facilitated and strengthened through Six (6) core projects, including National Payment Gateway, Enterprise Architecture framework, Public Key Infrastructure, National Data Set, National Enterprise Service Bus and National integrated Authentication Framework.

The e-government strategy that was approved in 2011 envisages the implementation of 219 e-services comprising of 79 informational and 140 transactional services over a five-year period. Implementation is proposed through 12 priority projects and service delivery would be through four primary channels—Portals, Call centres, Mobile devices and Common service centres. The e-government service delivery will be facilitated and strengthened through six core projects, including: The National Payment Gateway, The Enterprise Architecture framework, The Public Key Infrastructure, The National Data Set, The National Enterprise Service Bus and The National Integrated Authentication Framework.

In addition–common applications which will horizontally cut across all ministries are proposed, which include initiatives like E-Procurement, Human Resource Management System, E-Office, E-Mail and Financial Management & Information System.

In terms of institutional framework, the coordination and supervision, planning and implementation of Communication and Information Technology development initiatives and ICT policies was elevated to an Agency level with the establishment of Ethiopian ICT Development Agency (EICTDA), Now, it is further elevated to Cabinet level with the establishment of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT).

As a result, Ethiopia's ICT sector grew exponentially in the last decade, with major programs; such as; enabling every Ethiopian access telecommunication services within 5 km of her residence, increasing Tele-density for fixed line by fivefold and Tele-density for mobile by fifteen-fold, expanding the number of Internet users by more than eleven fold as well as providing 15,000 (almost all then existing) Kebeles with at least five telephones lines. The expansion of telephone services in the rural areas were hoped to deliver much more than faster exchange of market information for farmers. It was also aimed at expediting public mobilization for development and entrenching participatory democracy.

Progresses have been made in the provision of applications that bring efficiency in delivery of public services. Some of the achievements include the launch of a Government Portal, a Justice Information System, a Driver and Vehicle Management Information System, a National Records and Library Management Information System, a Public Sector Human Resources Information System, a Trade Registry System, and an Exam and Placement System.

The SchoolNet project is one of the largest initiatives of the government that provides educational satellite television broadcasting to 1,710 high schools in Ethiopia via a total of 15,600 Plasma TVs. Some 1482 television programs in 6 subjects (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Civics and Ethical Education, and English) are broadcast to grades 9 to 12 students across the country. The WoredaNet is another public project that provides a terrestrial and satellite-based network linking 950 districts. It was designed with the primary objective of providing ICT services such as video conferencing, directory services, messaging, Voice over IP, and Internet connectivity to the Federal, Regional, and Woreda level government administrative units across the country.

The ICT sector in Ethiopia has seen substantial growth over the last decade. Mobile telecommunications grew from a mere 1.2 million subscribers in 2007 to around 23.7 million subscribers in 2013. The voice communication  geographic coverage has reached 64%, a progress by all standards considering Ethiopia's start from a very lower base in 2005.  Ethiopia's fixed telecommunications network stands at 790,188 subscribers, representing about 1% of the population.

The country has also seen a substantial growth in mobile Internet users largely fuelled by the availability of CDMA across the country. The international bandwidth for Internet capacity was 8.686 Gbps in 2013 with about a quarter of a million subscribers.

The use of mobile for Internet is growing. A Research ICT Africa Network survey shows that the proportion of mobile Internet users was 1.2% in 2012 driven by increasing use of social networks such as Facebook. Ethiopia reached the million Facebook users level in 2013 with an increase in the users by 20% between 2012 and 2013. The demand for mobile services and Internet access continues to grow exponentially.

Today, the national operator, Ethio-Telecom provides fixed, mobile, Internet and value added services. In addition, it provides dialup Internet, CDMA 2000 wireless Internet, ADSL and wireless Internet using AIRONET, VSAT, and EVDO. It uses VSAT technology for the delivery of services to various government networks such as WoredaNet, SchoolNet, AgriNet and to non-government organizations. Furthermore, Ethio-telecom provides other Value Added Services (VAS) such as Domain Name registration and management for the .et country code top-level domain (ccTLD), the Domain Name System (DNS), Web hosting, and Internet Protocol Address service. The resale of airtime vouchers and Internet services through cyber cafés is allowed for the private sector.

The recent data on Ethiopia's Communication Sector shows that:

Service Type

Subscribers in 2013

Mobile Telephone

24,637,007

Fixed line telephone

890,188

CDMA telephone

136,744

Internet and data

221,000

WCDMA Telephone

296,897

CDMA 1X

104,003

GPRS

4,208,989

EVDO

76,445

Internet bandwidth

  1. ps

Indeed, as the Acting CEO of Ethio-Telecom pointed out this month, there are major expansion to works intended to expand the number citizens  benefiting from Ethio-Telecom services, which is now about 27 million, to increase to 60 Million. He added, “the expansion works being undertaken within a year demonstrates the leapfrog in the information communication technology sector and that the task is too rapid and intensive compared to the nationwide expansion tasks undertaken so far”.

It is to be recalled that few months ago, Ethio-Telecom announced that: that it has concluded the task of telecom vendor allocation and it proceeds to the launching of the telecom expansion project implementation in order to realize the Government's Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) in telecom sector until 2015.

As it was disclosed at the time, the 1.6 billion US dollar worth telecom expansion project contract signed with two Chinese companies includes two categories of tasks.

The first one, called "network lot", consists: Mobile service core networks, Transmission and fiber optics capacity increase and utilizing of latest technology, Radio access Network, Core network as well as tasks of power supply and environment, Fixed line next generation network and Internet Protocol backhual. 

The second one, called "information system lot" consists: IP (internet) service, Customer Billing System, Customer relations management system, Next generation Call Centre, Security Operation Centre, Telecom Fraud Management , Video Surveillance, Operation Support Centre and Multi value added services.

When completed, the project contract would increase the mobile service capacity to 60 million and enables provision of the fourth generation (4 G) service or LTE/Long Term Evolution in Addis Ababa. Through this contract the country's telecom network total coverage will reach 85 %.

Another major work in the direction of exploiting the potential of ICT for development was the building a national "ICT Park" with the aim of attracting multi-national ICT service companies such as those involved in business process outsourcing, Software developers, manufacturers, system integrators, incubators and R&D centres.

The government launched the Ethio-ICT-Village with the aiming of providing impetus for the development of ICT sector in the country by offering a world class business environment along with a conducive policy and regulatory regime, state-of]the]art infrastructure and a value proposition geared towards positioning Ethiopia as the preferred IT hub of Africa.

The EthioICT-Village which lies in an area of 200 hectare site is located at Addis Ababa on the eastern side of Bole international Airport, just a few Kilo meters away from the center of Addis Ababa making it the ideal place for new development and as a location for companies looking to invest in Ethiopia in any business related to ICT.

The EthioICT-Village is also seen as a vehicle for transforming innovative ideas into commercial products and start-up companies. This would in turn spur the research and development in the country, creating investment opportunities (both local and foreign) as well as generating employment for Ethiopians. It is expected that the Ethio-ICT-Village initially upon full build-out will generate jobs for approximately 300,000 employees.

Indeed, Ethiopia will continue harnessing the potential of ICT towards the national renaissance. As the Great Leader Meles Zenawi said in 2005:

"Not long ago, many of us felt that we were too poor to afford to seriously invest in information and communication technology."

"We were convinced that we should invest every penny we have on securing the next meal for our people. We did not believe serious investment in ICT had anything to do with facing the challenges of poverty that kills. Now I think we know better."

"We recognize that while ICT may be a luxury for the rich, for us the poor countries, it is a vital and essential tool for fighting poverty - for beating poverty that kills - and ensuring our survival".

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