Advancing African socio-economic development with ICT

As EAI continues expand its operation in Africa, we get the wonderful chance to hear thoughts from more and more forward-thinking researchers and innovators from the region. This was one such opportunity, as we asked Dr. Tesfa Tegegne Asfaw from Bahir Dar University’s Institute of Technology a couple of questions. He is the general chair of ICT4DA 2017, 1st EAI International Conference on ICT for Development for Africa (September 25-27, 2017, Bahird Dar, Ethiopia), an event that is sure to shed some light on the regional socio-economic issues, and the role of ICT in addressing them.
Since this will be the first edition of the ICT4DA conference, could you introduce its central topic and why it is important? What is this event‘s vision?
This international conference aims to address the impact of ICT in fostering economic development in Africa. Recently, both in developed and developing countries, ICT plays important role in changing the life of the society. The expansion of Internet brings a lot of change in socio-economic development of the society.
The central topic of this conference is impact of ICT fostering socio-economic development of Africa. It includes electronic based services, Natural language processing, intelligent systems, and privacy and security areas that impacts the life of society directly and indirectly.
This conference will be a very important venue for African researchers to share their findings with the rest of the world researchers. It will provide ample opportunity for further research collaboration with other researchers elsewhere and create a good networking opportunity for individuals and at institutional level. The vision of this conference to create a venue where scientific findings are disseminated, as well as to get innovation that can tackle problems that declined socio-economic development.
What have been the most recent and promising developments of ICT in Africa? What are the biggest challenges that this region is facing?
Information and communication technology has become pervasive and it plays an important role in the daily lives of the society. It becomes a transformational driver for the socio-economic progress, ICT have a potential to make the world a better place.
Africa has witnessed quite extraordinary ICT growth, particularly in mobile cellular communications. A decade ago, mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa (like Ethiopia) was very very low (below 2 percent) and it was considered a luxury for the wealthy.  Recently, however, the mobile penetration of sub-Saharan Africa as estimated by the International Telecommunication Union (IT), reached about 70 percent.  Similarly, the expansion and usage of Internet is huge in Africa. Although, Internet is confined in the biggest cities (in Ethiopia), mobile Internet provides rural areas and villages with Internet access. As noted in various literature, Africa took advantage of mobile Internet to foster socio-economic development (from mobile banking, to mobile health care, to mobile agriculture, and etc. ). Generally, the expansion of mobile cellular communication bridges the digital divide that Africa had with other regions five years ago.
Although Africa tries to bridge the gap,  ICT faces many challenges. For example, in case of Ethiopia, there is no specialized IT-related industry for its sustainable development of the sector. Besides, ICT penetration in rural areas (except mobile cellular Internet),  lack of ICT awareness, and illiteracy or low level education and poverty (to own ICT devices) are challenges that hinder the development of ICT in most African countries. Moreover, the limited number of ICT related research and innovation center hampers the growth and development of ICT in Africa. Only few African countries such as South Africa and Egypt own well-organized research centers. As a result, there are very few research and innovation products come out from Africa. Besides, limited financial resources from both public and private sectors to invest on ICT affects the development of the ICT sector.
How could the international community help overcome these problems?
To overcome the above mentioned problems and challenges, the international communities can work together with local (African) researchers by developing a collaborative research and innovation projects, by finding and securing grants for research and innovation, by transferring technology, and by sharing knowledge and experiences.
What are your expectations for ICT4DA 2017?
I am a very ambitious and I have a lot of expections form this conferernce. Some of them are;

  • Expecting many manuscript submission, as well as many local and international participants in the conference
  • Opportunities for collaboration and networking with international research communities
  • Making the conference a yearly based and to have a strong collaboration with EAI
  • Joint research opportunity with some thematic areas, as well as seeking research grants in collaboration with other research centers and individuals.

ICT4DA 2017 is still accepting papers, don’t miss the May 31 submission deadline!