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[KIGALI] African leaders have unanimously agreed to improve access to information communication technology (ICT) to address the continent's development shortfalls and cut poverty by 2012.

The African leaders gathered in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, yesterday (29 October) at the 'Connect Africa Summit' — convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) — to discuss ways of ensuring better access to ICT.

In support of this, the World Bank announced at the summit that it will double its financing for African ICT initiatives, to US$2 billion over the next five years.

The ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Toure said the meeting in Kigali is a way to stimulate the implementation of past resolutions agreed at international conferences, such as achieving universal ICT access for Africa.

Information ministers, who met a day before the conference, agreed that all ICT infrastructure initiatives must be interlinked to facilitate delivery of both energy and access to ICTs.

Leaders at the conference emphasised the need to create 'digital villages' so that people in rural areas would be less likely to migrate to urban areas.

Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, said the biggest hindrance to Africa's development has been its lack of ability to provide fast Internet and telecommunications access to the millions of people, such as farmers, who require access to market information to sell their products at the best prices.

"In ten short years, what was once an object of luxury and privilege, the mobile phone, has become a basic necessity in Africa," he said.

Better technologies would also give African farmers access to information on seed varieties and better farming methods, and using new technologies in medical fields could also lead to the expansion of services such as telemedicine.

Senegalese president Abdulaye Wade said the introduction of telemedicine in his country had resulted in a "cultural revolution" which saw doctors operate on a pregnant woman 500 kilometres away.

Senegal is currently introducing new diagnostic technologies to digitally "revolutionise" its entire healthcare system, he said.

Sha Zukang, UN under-secretary general on economic and social affairs said building a knowledge economy in Africa would not happen without adequately trained ICT personnel.