INFORMATION
TECHNOLOGY GROWTH IN ETHIOPIA

The 1960’s witnessed the advent of information technology in Ethiopia, when the mainframe computers were introduced for the first time in Africa. Despite being installed in the important??????? sectors of military, defense, finance, telecom, electricity & power, and railways, the mainframes had no interactive boundaries within the sector.

Later, microcomputers spread widely in the country either by direct purchase or through donor development aid. Like its predecessor, the initial use of microcomputers was characterized by inadequate literacy and patchy understanding of the technology by potential users.

A centralized approach to building information and communication technologies in Ethiopia was first proposed by donor agencies such as UNESCO and IDRC as soon as microcomputers were introduced to the county. In 1986 national computing and information center was also established. However, the intended goals were not realized by the centre due to high control by the military government of the time, inadequate resources, high turnover, shortage of skilled manpower and insufficient knowledge of information technology by decision makers.

After the change of government in 1991 the efforts were resumed with regard to promoting the awareness and growth of computers. A survey carried out in response to a study on national informatics policy in Ethiopia in 1993 covering 81 major institutions reports 1550 microcomputers, 38 mini computers and 8 mainframe computers. 25% of these machines were owned by international organizations and aid agencies. By the end of 1998, extensive growth in computers in business, academic institutions and households were seen raising the figure to an estimated 15,000 microcomputers.

Awareness of the effect of information technology has been growing among users in the field of research, those working for international organizations and those in business. All of which has encouraged the IT sector in the country -  proliferation of private companies that provide value added services in information technology, training centers and the establishment of a computer science unit at Addis Ababa University, efforts towards standardizing Ethiopic software, etc.
Public access links were introduced in 1990 and the first Internet connection was established by the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporations (ETC) in October 1996 with a T1 connection to the United States. Currently there are over 2500 Internet users but the quality of service leaves much to be desired.
Recent move of the government towards increasing the bandwidth to 1Mb line, privatization of energy and telecommunication sector could open further opportunities for growth in information and communication sector. However, surveys show as much as 83% of the capacity of a PC is often underutilized and the quality of services offered is often poor.


Challenges to the Growth of Information Technology in Ethiopia
Full adaptation of the technology has been difficult due to:

  • Lack of national guidelines and consistent information and communication policy
  • Lack of academic institutions that act as sources of well-grounded study in information technology
  • Non-existent computer literacy in primary and secondary education
  • A weak education infrastructure
  • Shortage of skilled human resources and computing infrastructure colleges and universities
  • The School of Information Studies for Africa (SISA) that was to become a center of excellence in new techniques of information systems development for Africa has limited intake of students - degrees for less than fifteen African students per- due to its heavy reliance on donor funding and lack of vision.
  • Shortage of programmers in custom and new systems development
  • Poor quality of internet services
  • A restrictive information seeking culture
  • Limited access to software and training materials
  • Diverse local languages, scripts and dialects in Ethiopia - user friendly interface in the local languages for on-line connectivity is needed in promoting information sharing and developing a successful national network in Ethiopia

The Role of International Organizations and Development Aid Agencies
The international organizations and aid agencies have played a significant role in information technology diffusion in the country. Their existence has helped create opportunities for demonstrations of key information technology, transfer of ideas, sponsoring structural development projects and a potential market segment for emerging small and medium enterprises in the field. The number of international organizations recognizing the importance of information technology for the development of local capacity has been increasing.

Potential Benefits of Information Technology in Ethiopia

  • Efficient communications for manufacturing, service and tourism sector
  • Fast response to natural disasters and effective rural health and family planning services
  • Effective governance and administrative effectiveness
  • Efficient education, research and communication of research results
  • Access to global market and research information
  • Employment opportunities for small and medium enterprises
  • Effective and enhanced data and information gathering and distribution for better planning
  • Enhanced national cohesion and integration of heterogeneous social composition or geographical dispersal

Core ICT Application Areas for Development in Ethiopia
To attain the benefits mentioned above, Ethiopia should define areas of outmost strategic importance that should be put in place for continued economic development. This would include those areas that:

  • Promote food security (food chain information systems, agricultural information systems and networks, etc.)
  • Help in overall poverty reduction enhancing quality and quantity of education and health (basic education and health care information systems, telemedicine and healthcare networks)
  • Build the necessary human capital (school, university and research networks)
  • Facilitate general economic activity (statistical information systems, geographic information systems, judicial and administration systems such as inland revenue, municipalities activities, land registry information systems and networks)
  • Improve financial market and the development of private sector (property, land and business registry systems and networks, payment clearance and financial institutions oversight systems);
  • Improve trade and global competitiveness (trade information systems, customs and clearance systems, business promotion information systems and networks)
  • Improve the delivery of infrastructure and social services (transport, communication, utilities management information systems and networks)
  • Support the management of macroeconomic planning and project implementation at national level (planning, budgeting, monitoring, tax administration, expenditure management system both at national and federal states level).
  • Assist in the preservation of the environment (regional planning, environment monitoring, early warning information systems, etc.)
  • Encourage the tourism sector (promotional and cultural information systems) and
  • Provide conditions for popular participation (community centers, information systems between various regions).

Recommendations
Ethiopia should develop a National Information Infrastructure (NII) plan that covers the above mentioned areas of strategic information systems and networks backed by efficient telecommunication networks and people that implement it.
The NII plan should encompass connectivity (built on robust and low cost technology), content (mainly strategic information systems), infrastructure (human, energy, telecommunications, and social) and enabling policy for private sector investment and participation.
Ethiopia should not leave ICT as sector for commercial interest or free market and privatization as such but rather regard them as part of the general public interest, participation, use and debate.
With the growing population pressures, the policy on rural economic development requires considerable investment and attention to ICT to achieve sustainable growth in the long term.
The application of information and communication technology does not just encompass technology – hardware, radios, computers, telephones and software and the content or data, but also needs organization, incentives, procedures and people
The ability to participate in information and communication technologies requires participation, partnership, understanding of social implication of new technologies and management of changes at national level.
Furthermore, democratization of access to ICT to the 90 percent of rural and sub-urban disadvantaged communities is also crucial. But it requires considerable resources.
Some of the key steps for democratization of access to ICT that remain as a principle to Acacia initiative and crucial for Ethiopia include:

  • Promoting applications and services that respond to communities' needs (e.g. enhancing the delivery of education, distribution of health and agricultural information, and other applications)
  • Fostering it and telecom policies which are hospitable to ICT access in rural and small town communities (e.g. changes in pricing policies, regulatory frameworks, the delivery of public information, and promotion of universal service/universal access);
  • Supporting human capacity and innovative infrastructure that extends communication networks to rural and small town communities (e.g. radio, satellite, cellular phone-computer linkages);
  • Encouraging the development of tools and technologies that facilitate ICT use by the marginalized groups including the disabled and illiterate (e.g. graphic, touch-screen or language interfaces); and,
  • Developing, organizing and dissemination of content in structured and non-structured format through a variety of media to be accessed and advanced by communities.

Besides meeting the general needs of the rural areas the National Information Infrastructure should take overall national strategy for development into consideration. The NII plan should also be built on existent tools and infrastructure that underpin the current economic activity and new tools and technologies that must be put in place to sustain emerging economic activity.

Ethiopian Information Technology Professional Association – EITPA is an association dedicated to promoting Information and Communication Technology for development in Ethiopia. We understand the need of a sound IT infrastructure in our society and how important it is for the whole nation to progress. Ever since the establishment of the first Internet Service Provider in Ethiopia in 1996 there have been great advancements in the field of Information Technology. There is still a lot to be done and we at EITPA are committed to work with the people of Ethiopia for a better future. For all of us!

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country with a population of around 85.2 million people. It is also the tenth largest country in Africa in terms of area. This supports the idea of transforming this nation into a metropolitan hub. The manpower of Ethiopia is hard working and the standard educational institutions need to be improved considering the sincere dedication of the people of this country in seeing Ethiopia rise. There was considerable growth in IT sector in 1993 but this was not matched with throughout the years. The situation recently became so bleak that The School of Information Studies for Africa (SISA) has limited funding and therefore, can enrol only a limited number of Ethiopians in their courses. Other than that there is minimal or none computer education in primary and secondary classes, making it even more difficult to implement IT in institutions, but making it vital even more to work on this situation. The situation gets more complicated since there are many languages and dialects spoken in this hub of African culture and there needs to be implementation of software in the respective languages to make it user friendly for the local community.  EITPA is consistently looking for people and organisations who can help us improve the academic situation of this region.  Ethiopia’s GDP has been one of the most significant in the world in recent time and it was the fastest-growing non-oil-dependent African nation in 2007 as well as in 2008. Ethiopia also has the greatest water reserves in Africa, something of extreme importance in a region that has had its share of drought problems.

The telecommunication industry in Ethiopia has been modest and there’s a lot of prospect for advancements in this field as in many of the areas (if not all) Telecommunication and Information Technology go side by side. With just one T1 line (High security telephonic line) and a facility of just up to 1MB internet speed in corporate industries and private sector, it literally shows the urgent need for developing the Telecom industry in such a populous country where the citizens require better and advanced services. EITPA recognizes that there is a strong need among the people of this historically important nation to improve their living standards and a passion to work for their nation, helping it compete with the progressive nations of the world. Exports from Ethiopia totalled to USD $ 1.4 billion which were not significant, mainly due to many corporations and private entities using illegal and indirect means to export from Ethiopia. The Capital City Addis Ababa is a hub for logistics companies and there is strong potential for the export industry if set up in an organized way with the latest IT methods to cover all the bottlenecks.

Technological architecture is on the rise in this country and it is EITPA’s mission to improve the usage of Information Technology in Health Management, Food Chain Information Systems and agriculture. We also want to improve the tourism sector, as it can help generate huge revenue for this country of immense culture and beautiful scenic views with one of the tallest mountains as well as some of the lowest points on earth! Preservation of environment is also necessary to help tourism grow as all the regions of cultural heritage need to be well kept. We need to train human capital and help the community financially in both, macro as well as micro financial terms, building confidence with the people of Ethiopia , creating job opportunities in the private sector and cutting the monopolistic market strategy of government institutions which has been accused of corruption throughout the decades. Ethiopia needs to develop a National Information Infrastructure (NII) that needs to cover these areas and it is EITPA’s core duty to help this idea come to fruition. It is a task worth working for.

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