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[NAIROBI] The African Union has called for its member states to adopt information and communication technology (ICT) policies that suit the needs of the region rather than any individual country.

The call was made at an e-learning conference in Nairobi, Kenya, last week (28-30 May).

Esam Abulkhirat, a senior ICT policy officer at the African Union (AU) Human Resources Science and Technology Department told SciDev.Net that inter-country ICT projects will be successful only if member countries harmonise their guidelines.

Most African countries are in the process of developing ICT policies, and disparities in the willingness and pace at which different countries are taking up ICTs are hindering implementation of these projects, he said.

For example, Ethiopia currently has a ban on use of text messages, while other countries have prohibited Voice over Internet Protocol technology — the routing of voice calls over the Internet.

The call for uniform policies comes at a time when eastern and southern African countries are investing in undersea fibre optic cables that are expected to boost ICT in the region. (see Africa online: getting set for a digital revolution).

According to Mark Matunga, education and community program manager of Microsoft East and Southern Africa, the lack of basic infrastructure — such as reliable electricity and connectivity — has been a major challenge to using ICT in education effectively.

Abulkhirat said members must also develop policies that recognise the role played by youth in developing ICT.

"Young people are the driving force behind technological entrepreneurship and innovation," said Abulkhirat. "Despite this technological expertise, the young in Africa remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalised demographic groups."

Ghana deputy minister for education and science, Kwame Twumasi, said digital educational material must be relevant to Africa.

"Many of the e-learning facilities we have do not have the African flavour and this makes the understanding of concepts hard. If we talk of snow to a Ghanaian child, this would have no meaning as snow is not common in Ghana." 

Kenyan minister of education, George Saitoti, said Kenya has made quick use of ICT by delivering examination results through mobile phones and the Internet.