One of the world’s poorest countries is following offer African nations in looking to IT offshore services and crowd-sourcing
The effects of a twelve year civil war may still be very much in evidence in the African Republic of Burundi but aid-workers and educators believe the Internet could offer a brighter future for the country.
Neighbouring Rwanda has invested heavily in broadband and IT infrastructure in the years since the country was rocked by genocide in the mid-90s and Burundi appears to be following a similar strategy. UK charity World Emergency Relief issued a statement this week explaining its decision to fund a computer lab in a school in Burundi’s capital city Bujumbara.
The charity said over 500 pupils from some of the poorest areas of city attend the Himbaza School – and the new IT suite goes some way to offering them a future. The charity believes that by giving more African children access to computers and the internet, the continent could potentially challenge India and Asia in the market for outsourced IT services and virtual admin tasks also known as crowd sourcing.
“At the moment this is principally benefiting areas which already have a reputation for competitive software development such as India and South East Asia but there is absolutely no reason why Africa should not become an extremely competitive option,” the charity states.
Other African nations such as Kenya have also hit on the potential of IT outsourcing. In August the NHS and UK Department For International Development together with Kenya’s ICT board and tech vendor Cisco, launched a scheme in Kenya designed to create thousands of internet-based learning centres across the country.
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WER Chief Executive Alex Haxton said that it was obviously unrealistic to expect nations such as Burundi to develop an IT industry overnight but any project that offered a way for the country to generate revenue now or in the future was worth considering.
“In a country like Burundi we are not talking at this stage about an unrealistic objective of developing a large or even medium-sized tech industry,” he said. “Instead projects like this IT suite are about giving individual children the edge to allow them to set up micro-businesses in the future that will bring much needed income to the country. In a country where the average wage is less than $2 a day, the incomes available online through open bids and competitions has the potential to transform lives.”
According to the WEP, Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries and computer literacy is extremely low. Only 0.7 percent of the population have access to the internet which compares to 24.5 percent for the world population and 79.8 percent of the UK.
As well as benefiting the children in the school, the suite will be opened to the general public and for a small fee locals will be able to access the internet and take part in adult education classes, WER said.
Speaking at the first day of the UN International Telecommunications (ITU) Union Telecom World 2009 conference in Geneva in October, UN secretary general Ban ki-moon said that providing broadband access and IT equipment to deserving individuals is too expensive for many developing countries but connecting schools offered a way to bring internet and computer access to an entire community. “Connected schools can become connected community ICT centres. They can provide a vital link to marginalized and vulnerable groups,” he said.
In another project announced in August, the University of Bournemouth donated around 500 used PCs to a project in Zambia designed to create the largest rural mesh network in Africa. The machines were donated via UK IT charity Computer Aid which takes computers from British businesses, refurbishes them, and distributes them to schools and other deserving recipients in emerging economies.