South Sudan accelerates ICT in all sectors
The first South Sudan Information Communication Technology for Development Conference (ICT4D) was held in Juba, South Sudan culminating with key recommendations to accelerate the integration of ICTs in all the sectors of South Sudan. The three day conference from 25 – 27 February, 2015 brought together over 200 participants, including experts from other countries, all drawn from ICT organizations, academic institutions, senior government officials, IGOs, NGOs, private sector, civil society, diplomatic community, media practitioners, as well as bilateral and multilateral donors.
This was echoed by Mr Salah Khaled UNESCO Country Representative, who abhorred the lack of ICT facilities especially internet access outside the urban areas of South Sudan and recommended support to establishment of community learning centers and community owned and managed radio stations.
The conference was organized by UNESCO, the Youth Technology Development Organization (YTDO), the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal services with the support of UN Women, Huawei, Ericson, and Forcier Consulting.
Delegates identified the ICT gaps, discussed solutions and made recommendations on the way forward. Participants also deliberated on key aspects of the role of ICTs in development including:
- concerns over ICTs penetration in South Sudan,
- the fundamental Infrastructure,
- level of uptake of ICTs by Government ministries, institutions and parastatals in service delivery,
- lack of human and technical capacity,
- innovative ways of use of social media to promote peace and development; and
- the role of ICTs in promoting gender equality
Mr. Thomas Muto, YTDO Chairperson emphasized the importance of this conference, noting that being the first South Sudan Youth ICT for Development Conference is ground breaking for YTDO as a youth Organization for the young people, who are a backbone of this new and young nation and at the same time, it helps put a foundation stone to the nation.
A key highlight of this conference was the presentation and demonstration of skills acquired by 43 South Sudanese youth, who have been undergoing training supported by UNESCO and Zain, on mobile applications development and use of Innovative technology.
Ms Martha Chumo, Director of The Dev School (Kenya) and the trainer on mobile raised great concern over lack of equal number of women and men venturing into technology, stating that “the gender disparity in technology only becomes apparent as learners get into high school and one sure way to ensure gender equality in technology is to introduce concepts such as mobile apps development, game development and hardware hacking to children while they are young and build a learning environment that both girls and boys can excel in”.
Concerns were raised over the limited use of information technology in South Sudan due to the low penetration rate of personal computers as a direct consequence of the very low level of household income, computer illiteracy and the very limited broadband infrastructure.
The participants also deliberated on the importance of use of ICTs to empower people with disabilities in South Sudan. Dr. Toyin Aderemi working with the light of the world, outlined accessible ICTs for people with disabilities and called on the government to develop & update ICT, disability & education legislation and policies to include accessibility and integration of Sign language interpretation in newly developed educational plans, including Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET). In this regard, the conference participants urged the policy makers to promote and mainstream inclusive education at all levels.
Calls to establish an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in South Sudan and having a neutral institution to champion and facilitate the establishment of an IGF chapter in South Sudan and to also serve as a secretariat was one of the key recommendations.
UNESCO’s call for the dire need to establish a technology innovation hub for the youth was strongly recommended by presenters and participants. In this regard, UNESCO committed to spearhead and mobilize partners to support this initiative as a laboratory to incubate information and technology ideas and with a view to creation of jobs and youth self-employment.
Other recommendations emanating from this conference included the need for gender mainstreaming in the ICT sector, establishment of a fund to support research in innovation technology, support to exchange programmes in technology, establishment of ICT training centers for the youth in all the states and Innovation exhibition forums were also highly recommended as important elements for that will improve the citizens livelihood and development of the country.
This ICT conference also comes at a time when South Sudan’s new fibre optic cable is expected to not only open up regional connectivity, but also ensure faster and cheaper internet access in the country. It also coincided with the Mobile Learning Week held in Paris and with the launch in South Sudan of the One Network Area that covers Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, treating all calls inside the region as local and making all these Countries connected with uniform Telecommunications service, which significantly makes the use of mobile telephony across the boarders cheaper.
The potential for the South Sudan ICT sector being dynamic and fast growing has been compromised greatly since the conflict broke out on 15th December 2013. There is a significant rural-urban division in terms of access to media and telecommunications and a critical level of illiteracy among the population reaching 70% among males and 90% among females. Few households own televisions or computers and Internet access is extremely limited. As the current conflict and crisis persists in South Sudan, majority of the rural communities have no idea of what is happening outside the borders, the fact that they do not have access to internet and digital literacy is extremely low. Social media on South Sudan issues is mainly dominated by those living in the diaspora and have access to online platforms.