Members of the ICT4Democracy East Africa Network, CHRAGG and iHub Research attended the IST Africa 2012 conference last week. The conference started with an opening plenary where the Guest of Honor, Tanzania’s Professor Makame Mbarawa (Minister of Communications, Science, and Technology) kicked off the conference. A round table on the Implementation of the Information Society Track of the 8th Africa-EU Strategic Partnership followed. For more information on the project, check out their website. The aim of the project is to strengthen ICT research and policy links between Africa and Europe. The project builds upon the substantial results obtained and the significant momentum created by several previous projects, designated over the years as the “EuroAfrica ICT Initiative.” The next EuroAfrica ICT Awareness & Training Workshop will be June 13 – 14 in Maseru, Lesotho.
After lunch, iHub Research presented their M-Governance exploratory survey results, funded by SPIDER and conducted as part of the ICT4Dem Network.
A reoccurring theme throughout the conference was the development of local content.
Professor Nkoma of TCRA stated that challenges in Tanzania include lack of local content as well as last mile connectivity. Twitter followers on #istafrica2012 agreed that this is an issue not just in Tanzania but also in Kenya, Zambia, and across Africa. The question then arose, “Do people have the skills necessary to develop local content?” The KINU representative (an incubation hub in Tanzania) stressed the need for local capacity building in order to spur businesses and local content generation. Catherinerose Barretto (KINU) stated, “We need to foster innovation and creativity from an early age. In addition to mentorship and skills-based training on the job, we also need to teach students to question and think critically.”
It was raised during the conference that the East Africa community has already seen the need to come together and create communities to catalyze innovation. iHub together with The KINU, RLabs, and HiveCoLab were mentioned as examples of the local community coming together to build local content.
The conference was comprised of 3 days of paper presentations using a parallel stream approach with six on-going parallel sessions. Overall session topics included: Internet of Things; M-Health; EGovernment & eDemocracy; Broadband Access in Africa; TV White Space Spectrum; Living Labs; ICT Entrepreneurship in Tanzania; M-Learning; ICT for Environmental Risk Management.
An interesting presentation was a session on “Sensors, Empowerment and Accountability,” SEMA for short. All presenters during the session came from ITC from the University of Twente, Netherlands and spoke on different aspects of the 3-year project that they have recently launched. The SEMA project looks at enhancing the relationship between citizens and government agencies through mobile communications and web technology in Tanzania. One of the project managers, Jeroen Verplanke, spoke on “slow burn” versus crisis reporting. “Slow burn” issues are on-going over an extended period of time and don’t look to improve in the short-term. Verplanke noticed this phenomenon stating that daily needs that are not events do not often trigger app use because even if these daily needs are not met, coping mechanisms exist. On the other hand, a disaster or crisis situation is much more emotionally engaging as a reminder to report or act.
At the end of Verplanke’s presentation, he highlighted an often-repeated challenge that “technology can be an enabler, but you need the right processes and support in place.” This is so important to keep in mind in ICTD discussions; it deserves to be often repeated.