TECHNOLOGY IS THE SOLUTION, SAYS GATES

Computing

Microsoft founder Bill Gates touted technology as a solution to Africa's development problems, saying his organisation aimed to boost development on the world's poorest continent.

The computer billionaire was in Cape Town where he toured Aids and tuberculosis clinics and made remarks ahead of a two-day Microsoft Government Leaders' Forum, which he will attend as well as former US president Bill Clinton.

"Microsoft's goal is to work in close partnership with governments and non-governmental organisations from across Africa to help strengthen the role that technology plays in accelerating social and economic development," the business leader said.

Gates' remarks were contained in a statement released ahead of the talking shop to be addressed by himself and Clinton. The forum, opened by South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, was also attended by African Union president Alpha Oumar Konare and a plethora of top government and business leaders. An agreement with the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to promote the innovative use of ICT (information communication technology) in support of entrepreneurship in Africa was announced at the forum.

"SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are the driving force behind the creation of new and better jobs, as well as the force behind stimulating competitiveness and innovation," said UNIDO director general Kandeh Yumkella, adding: "We aim to ... foster a thriving knowledge-based economy that creates wealth and brings down poverty levels."

Microsoft was also spending money on education programmes and making software available in local languages, the company said.

African languages available were Afrikaans, IsiZulu, Kiswahili and Setswana - enabling more than 150 million people to interact with technology in their own language, according to a Microsoft count.

Microsoft plans to add Amharic (Ethiopia), Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo (Nigeria), IsiXhosa and Sesotho (South Africa), Kinyarwanda (Rwanda) and Wolof (Senegal) to this list by next year.

Gates and Clinton were expected to jet to Lesotho where they will have further visits to clinics in the poor mountain kingdom.

INet-Bridge