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[KIGALI] The African Development Bank (AfDB) has unveiled a new science and technology policy with the primary objective of boosting training in digital technologies.

The policy was endorsed by African leaders, ministers and experts at the Connect Africa Summit held in Rwanda this week (29–30 October).

AfDB president Donald Kaberuka says the policy will prepare Africa for the challenges ahead, including the lack of trained personnel required to propel it into the digital age.

In line with the new policy, the bank has allocated US$1 billion to fund various information communication technology (ICT) initiatives in Africa through the private sector. The bank believes it can implement projects faster than individual governments, recognising the key role of the private sector in Africa's economic growth.

Plans include investing US$14.5 million in the US$235 million Eastern Africa Sub-Marine Cable Project and US$100 million in the Orascom project for African satellites.

Kaberuka says the emphasis on training is crucial. "You might have all the fibre optic cables but without the experts to implement them, they will not go anywhere."

The policy aims to create training links, including joint training programmes and exchange of students and teachers between universities at national and regional levels. This would increase the number of people able to take full advantage of the technologies.

Joseph Ogutu, chief of corporate affairs at Kenyan mobile phone company Safaricom, welcomed the bank's announcement, saying it would alleviate a major shortage of trained ICT personnel, including telecommunication engineers in Africa.

"The benefits of such a policy are enormous. This is really crucial because currently we get graduate engineers from universities but still have to take them through training," he told SciDev.Net.

Kaberuka said the bank's policy shift was meant to have a "catalytic effect" to help initiatives like ' Connect the World' , launched by the UN's  International Telecommunication Union in May this year, which aims to build digital communications capacity. 

The Connect Africa Summit gathered experts and African leaders together to discuss the institutional and political initiatives required to drive the ICT revolution in Africa.