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The African Union and Microsoft have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that seeks to catalyse the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the region.

The major components of the MoU include ICT capacity building and enhancing technology access — particularly among the young and rural populations.

It is unclear when the policies will be implemented. Microsoft's Claudia Toth says, "So far we have identified key areas of cooperation but have not yet laid out the details of specific projects. The next step will be to decide which projects will be executed."

Toth says the overarching goal of the programme is to overcome some of the barriers to ICT access, such as living in remote areas, poverty or lack of computer skills.

"Once they have acquired these skills, people are able to find information on the Internet more easily, secure better employment because they are skilled, and hopefully have a better chance to start and run their own businesses more efficiently," she says.

"Governments, in many cases, have asked for advice on the implications of policy development with regards to ICT. Through our partnership with the AU, Microsoft will explore how it can support AU member countries in this regard."

The AU–Microsoft partnership also aims to provide support for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) e-schools (see Africa's schools connect to the 21st century) and e-parliament programmes.

The e-schools programme aims to equip every school in Africa with computers and Internet access by 2013, and the e-parliaments project aims to enable parliamentarians to source and share information.

NEPAD signed its own MoU with the Global Digital Solidarity Fund — an international foundation which funds ICT for development — in April to jointly fund the programmes.

Since the e-schools initiative was launched in 2003, just eighty schools in fifteen countries have had computers and printers, local networks, audiovisual equipment and Internet connectivity installed.

The AU–Microsoft MoU was signed at the International Telecommunication Union Telecom Africa Conference in Egypt this month (15 May).

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