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Internet & technology

Africa: Pan African e- Network: a model of “South- South cooperation”

2009-04-24, Issue 429

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/internet/55920

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This project deals with the Pan- African e- Network Project launched by the government of India on 26 February 2009 as a part of its ‘aid to Africa’ programme. This project connects the nodal centres in India with 53 nations of Africa through the use of electronic information and technology (ICT) and provides tele-medicine and tele-education to its African counterparts. The pilot project in Ethiopia launched in mid 2007 whereby connectivity between educational and medical centers of excellence in India and Ethiopia was launched has proved to be a success.

Pan African e- Network: a model of “South- South cooperation”

Abstract

This project deals with the Pan- African e- Network Project launched by the government of India on 26 February 2009 as a part of its ‘aid to Africa’ programme. This project connects the nodal centres in India with 53 nations of Africa through the use of electronic information and technology (ICT) and provides tele-medicine and tele-education to its African counterparts.

The pilot project in Ethiopia launched in mid 2007 whereby connectivity between educational and medical centers of excellence in India and Ethiopia was launched has proved to be a success.

The tele-education and tele-medicine projects bear testimony to India’s commitment and transfer of skills and technology and aims to change peoples lives through bridging the digital divide between them and their African counter parts within the framework of ‘South- South co-operation’. The good will generated by the project through its use of soft diplomacy will certainly help India further its economic and strategic diplomacy as well.

Key words: Pan African e- Network, Information Communication and Technology ( ICT), digital divide, tele-medicine, tele-education, South- South co-operation.

Introduction

The former President of India, Dr. A.J.P Abdul Kalam, at the inaugural session of the Pan- African Parliament held at Johannesburg, South Africa proposed the ambitious e- network scheme, the Pan African e-Network project,1 that aims at bridging the digital divide by connecting 53 nations of the African continent through an international under sea fiber cable connection and via a satellite and fibre optics network. The ambitious project proposes to make available tele-education and tele-medicine through the use of electronic information communication and technology (ICT) and thus share India’s cutting edge quality education and health care with its African counterparts despite the distance between India and the African continent. It addition it also has provision for internet videoconferencing as well as supports e- governance, e- commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological services. ( See <www.panafricanenetwork.com/portal/aboutPtoject.jsp>)

The project showcases India’s proficiency and core competence in the ICT sector. It was aptly described as a ‘shining example of South-South cooperation’ by the Minister of External Affairs, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, at the inauguration of the project on 26 February 2009. This unique venture certainly is an example of genuine cooperation between two long standing partners, India and Africa. What is remarkable about this undertaking is the high priority that it accords to two social sectors, education and health, that touch the lives of people- of each and every individual who resides in the rural as well as the urban parts of the continent. The project comes at a time when the African countries are hit hard by conditionalities imposed by international donors the since the 1980s. In their attempts to keep the inflationary pressure at bay the African states have had to slash their spending on the social sectors such as health and education. The state support given to hospitals and educational institutions has been reduced and this has worked to the detriment of schools and heath clinics/hospitals. With reduction of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank monies in recruitments and salaries, there has been a massive outflow of skilled personnel to mainly European countries over the past several years. Further, there has been a reduction in overseas financial aid from traditional donors such as Europe and America in the wake of the current global recession. The reliance on overseas development assistance (ODA) to fund state budgets is unfortunately high is several African countries. The financial set back due to the drying up of funding sources is compounded by a decrease in the demand for and decline in the prices of African commodities and this has led to the plummeting of export earnings. The general de-acceleration in trade and investments and the increase in trade deficits have further reduced the monies available for investments in the social sector. Due to the above stated reasons, African governments have been unable to meet their budgetary commitments in the two main social sectors, health and education. Thus, the initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs under its ‘Aid to Africa’ programme comes at an opportune time for the African continent.

About the Project

The network: The project, a joint initiative of the Indian government and the African Union, was approved by the Union Cabinet of India on 5 July, 2007 at a budgeted cost of rupees 542.90 crores. This includes the expenses for supply, installation, testing and commissioning of hardware and software, end to end connectivity, satellite bandwidth, operational and maintenance (O&M) support for extending tele- education and tele-medicine services to 53 African countries for a period of five years through the implementing partners Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), a TATA enterprise, on a turnkey basis. It is hoped that in the coming five years the project will be fine tuned and will be continued through the auspices of the Africa Union.

In the first phase of the project eleven African countries -- Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon Ghana Ethiopia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, and The Gambia, will be connected via a satellite Hub Earth Station at Senegal and a high tech data Centre along with a studio for relay and transmission at the office of the TCIL, the implementing partners for the project. A total of 33 countries have signed the agreement with TCIL to be linked up via the project. In addition to the eleven countries mentioned above the other countries are Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is expected that other countries will join the project in the coming months. In the second and third phases, it is proposed that 18 more countries will be connected by the end of June 2009.

An International Private Leased Circuit (IPCL) would connect the proposed hub station in Senegal with a submarine cable landing station in India. The data Centre in India will connect with seven Indian Universities, namely; the Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU), Delhi University, New Delhi, University of Madras, Chennai, Amity University, Noida and Indian institute of Technology, Kanpur (located in the state of Uttar Pradesh), the Indian institute of Science (IIS), Benguluru, Karnataka and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani in Rajasthan, through optical fibre based connections.

The network envisages the telecast of medical education and offers online medical services through tele -consultation by linking the twelve super specialty hospitals in India selected through their expression of interest that include; the All India Institute of Medical Science ( AIIMS), the Escorts Heart Research Centre and Moolchand Hospital, New Delhi, Apollo Hospitals and Sri Ramchandra Medical College and Research Centre located in Chennai, Care Hospitals in Hyderabad, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences situated in Kochi in the state of Kerala, Narayan Hrudalaya and Manipal Hospital at Bengaluru in the southern state of Karnataka, KEM Hospital in Mumbai, Fortis Hospital at Noida and Santosh Hospital at Gaziabad, both in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, with learning centers and hospitals in Africa.

At present the African Union has short listed three leading regional universities and two regional hospitals for participation in the e-network. These include, the Makerere University, Uganda ( east Africa), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology- Ghana ( west Africa), University of Yaounde, Cameroon ( Central Africa), Ebadan Hospital, Nigeria ( west Africa) and the Brazzaville Hospital, Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Africa). In Africa, 53 e- learning, tele-education centres, tele-medicine centres and VVIP communication nodes for hotline connection between Heads of States (i.e., one in each country) are being set up by TCIL. 2

Scope and outcome of the project: Under graduate and post graduate courses in sunrise sectors such as human resources, international marketing, business administration, tourism management and finance investment and analysis are being offered by the Indian counterparts. In addition, diploma and certificate courses in subjects that have current relevance and demand in the market, such as database and information systems, networking and operating systems, electronic instrumentation, accounting, child care and HIV/Aids and language courses in Arabic, English, French and German, are being taught through e- connectivity.

Pilot project: Ethiopia volunteered to be tested for a pilot project and the e-network project was formally inaugurated on 6 July, 2007 in the country. Connectivity between the IGNOU and the tele-education Centers at Addis Ababa University and Haramaya learning Centers in Ethiopia and the Black Lion and Nekempte Hospital in Ethiopia with Care Hospital in Hyderabad, was established. The first batch of 34 Ethiopian students pursuing an MBA programme from IGNOU, New Delhi since 2007 would be completing their course in June 2009. The two Ethiopian hospitals have received on- line medical consultation from medical specialists of Care hospital in the southern state of Hyderabad in India.

Over a period of five years it is proposed that the project will benefit 10,000 students; 5000 for diploma and certificate courses, 3000 for under graduate and 2,000 for post graduate courses.

As a part of the tele-medicine project, live consultation is being offered for one hour every day to each of the 53 members states of the African Union in eighteen medical disciplines such as cardiology, neurology, urology, pathology, oncology, gynecology, infectious diseases/HIV/Aids, ophthalmology and pediatrics etc. In addition offline consultation for five patients per day from selected hospitals has been provided for. The project also offers skill upgradation through sharing of information with the medical personnel in the African countries through its continuing medical education (CME) programme. 3

Conclusion: The tele-education and tele-medicine projects bear testimony to India’s commitment and transfer of skills and technology to their African counterparts within the framework of ‘South- South co-operation’. The provision of telemedicine to hospitals in Africa including to those situated in remote areas through mobile clinics provides the much needed access to global quality medical expertise to rural Africa through Indian hospitals that have now earned a formidable reputation in the global health market. The African countries can branch out from their nodal connections and network with other rural or distant educational or medical centers and thus cut costs and time on travel for the recipients of this unique service. The project will also help Africa achieve its targets vis a vis the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) in education and the health sector

Indian educationists and doctors are committed to this new partnership in the spirit of the earlier days of non- alignment and it is hoped that it will reinvigorate the emergent New Asian African Strategic Partnership (NAASP). The project also is also an example of the fact that support structures such as this e-network venture can effectively counter the reduction in social spending such as those under the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). It certainly is in the interest of Africa and other countries of the South to build such counter hegemonic models of ‘South- South cooperation’.

This project will certainly arouse interest and curiosity among Africa watchers. India bashers may see this initiative as based on vested self interests, for example, to seek the critical support of its African counterparts in its efforts to bid for a place at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and to shore up India’s stand at other regional and international fora such as the Non Alignment Movement (NAM), G-77, G-20 and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and as a desperate measure to counter the dragon.

India probably cannot counter the sheer magnitude of investments made by the Asian giant China, mainly because it does not have such deep pockets, but it certainly can engage in Africa in a non intrusive manner that works to the mutual advantage of the two partners. It must be reiterated here that India like China is certainly interested in trade and investments in strategic sectors and the resources and markets that Africa has to offer, but wishes to do so within the framework of partnership and co-operation that is developmental, sustainable and touches the lives of ordinary people in the African continent The project was endorsed by the Dean of African Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador of Sudan to India in 2005 thus;

the Pan African e- Network is the biggest project in South- South Cooperation. I t is giving Africa- India relations a new substance and content. I t is not only bridging the digital divide, it is bridging the hope divide between the have and the have nots…

The good will generated by the project through its use of soft diplomacy will certainly help India further its economic and strategic diplomacy and also counter the intensifying and menacing presence of China in the region. The strong presence of the Indian Diasporas in several African countries will also help leverage brand India.

The e- network project that aims to change lives of the African peoples through the use of ICT has several opportunities and challenges. It has barely taken off and will probably face teething problems like any newborn does. The project is indeed novel and people-oriented but its achievement will lie in its successful implementation.

Africa has the opportunity to use the services of Indian technical experts to improve their ICT connectivity and expand further from their main nodal connections to the remote areas. The African Union (AU) has the immense task of steering the project in a direction that best suits the needs of the users, carefully monitoring the progress and evaluating the advantages and shortcomings of the project, so that they can be overcome over the next five years when the onus of running the project will be entrusted to the AU. The ultimate test of the project lies in evolving this government-to-government model into a sustainable model of private-public partnership which is cost effective and affordable for the common man.

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