ECA AND UNCTAD launch book

(WANJOHI KABUKURU, ADDIS ABABA 14TH/10/2010) The United Nations Economic Commission (UNECA) and the Geneva based United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have today launched “Information Economy Report 2010”.

Sizo Mhlanga & Remi Lamy

Sizo Mhlanga & Remi Lamy

The 154-page book was launched at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa at a function which was presided over by Dr. Sizo Mhlanga who is the Chief, ICT Policy and Development at UNECA’s ICT Science and Technology Division and UNCTAD’s Associate Economic Affairs Officer Remi Lang.

The book’s launch which also served as key highlight of the on-going 7th African Development Forum (ADF) was meant to showcase the increasing role that ICTs (information and communication technologies) are playing in climate change. Indeed the book’s main pillar is “ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation. Complete with hard facts, the book urges governments to harness inventive opportunities offered by mobile phones and other ICT opportunities to boost livelihoods.

The book cites African mobile success stories such as M-Pesa (Mobile Money) in Kenya and Wizzit in South Africa.

Remi Lamy

Remi Lamy

“Mobile money services seem to have been taken-up quickly by farmers and are used extensively to facilitate trading in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence from Western Kenya shows that the number and size of financial transactions through M-pesa are highly concentrated on a weekly basis with a clear peak on market days in rural areas.” Notes the book.

The book further showcases yet another novel idea from Kenya dubbed “Kilimo Salama” (Swahili for ‘safe farming’) which is an endowment scheme that works as a weather-indexed insurance for Small scale farmers in the Kenyan Rift valley region.

“UNECA has been supporting member states to embark on the development of policies by realigning its objectives to the country’s development goals. A good example is the Gambia which provided an opportunity to deliberate on the goals of the country’s development efforts specifically those aimed at poverty reduction as well as the efficiency and transparency of its administrative structures, institutions and strategies. Mhlanga says.

But the book is not just sprinkled with success stories from Africa and Asia, it also addresses policy concerns and rudimentary regulatory frameworks that either encourage or impede full utilization and exploitation of the mobile phone as a trajectory of development.

“In terms of concrete applications mobile phones have proved to be an important ICT tool for development due to their ability to easily leapfrog the infrastructure barriers in remote and rural areas in Africa. Mobile telephony continues to expand in the developing world and is increasingly being used for m-banking, disaster management and other non-voice applications for development. By 2009 cellular subscriptions per 100 people had reached the 50% mark.” Notes Mhlanga.

“There are more mobile phones than bank accounts in developing countries. The same applies to the level of transactions handled through mobile phones in a day as compared to other money transfer schemes offered by banks.” Lamy reveals.

The book which is technical and is aimed at reaching decision makers and policy formulators do make a strong case for fresh and strategic thinking in policy and regulatory frameworks governing mobile phone usage.

“Farmers, fishermen and entrepreneurs are increasingly using mobile phones and other ICT gadgets to improve their lives, better their social standing and economic fortunes. This is a fact we cannot ignore and with the assistance of UNECA we have collected best practices to prove that if well regulated and utilized mobile phones hold the key.” Lamy revealed.

Giving evidence of successes in terms of employment creation, financial access and early warning systems all associated to mobile phones the book seeks to convince decision makers and policy bureaucrats to embrace fresh thinking and “make the ICT sector a more important component in their poverty reduction strategies.”

The launch of the book couldn’t have come at a better time and place as it coincided with the forum which has seen heads of government, policy makers, opinion shapers and leaders converge in this same venue to discuss how the continent can adapt and mitigate effects of climate change.

Information Economy Report 2010” has followed in the footsteps of “M-Banking: An African Financial Revolution” which was launched in the same venue by UNECA earlier in the year. For the last 15 years UNECA has been driving the continent to embrace ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies), and is now calling the continent to embrace ICTs as tools for climate change adaptation.