Africa's effort to accelerate development through increased Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) has gained momentum with the formation of the NEPAD e-Africa Youth Programme that is intended to generate awareness on information society.

Participants from various African countries gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, in mid-April to form the NEPAD e-Africa Youth Programme.

The main objective of the programme is to build a cadre of youth who will serve as active participants in building an inclusive information society in their countries and on the African continent.

The NEPAD e-Africa Commission is determined to ensure that the youth, through this programme, are empowered to articulate their contribution to the information society in order to reduce the digital divide.

The meeting, which was also attended by observers and youth groups, out-lined youth programme governance structures, roles, terms of reference, rules of procedures and the need to foster partnerships with governments, business and civil society.

A three-year programme was designed and will be presented for adoption at an official launch that will coincide with the NEPAD Youth Summit to be held in June.

The programme will be linked to the NEPAD e-schools programme and governments will form the programme focal points in their respective countries.

Youth participants at the meeting decided to set up an Internet portal for information sharing on matters such as career guidance, skills development, learning materials and funding mechanisms.

The programme will also address health and poverty issues using English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, some of Africa's official languages.

The participants pledged to ensure success of the programme, working closely with their respective governments and the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, which is the advisory body of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC) on ICT development.

The meeting, organized by the e-Africa Commission in conjunction with the South African Department of Communications, focussed on sharing views youth involvement in development.

Gladys Muthoni, a participant from Kenya, said, "We need to go back and implement this innovative programme and give pride to Africa. This portal will help us share our experiences, using ICT, across the continent."

The purpose of the NEPAD ICT Programme is to accelerate development of ICT infrastructure, and impart ICT skills.

It is also intended to bridge the digital divide within Africa and between Africa and the rest of the world.

The step taken by the youth is backed by the decision made by the Summit of African Union Heads of State and Government in Sudan in January to establish a continental watchdog on education and culture.

The Summit was held under the theme "Education and Culture" and discussed the state of the continent's education sector.

African Heads of State and Government have taken the issue of Internet governance seriously. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) conference held in Tunisia from 16-18 November 2005 called for consolidated efforts to narrow the digital divide.

The leaders who addressed the summit, notably Mozambican Prime Minister Luisa Diogo and South African President, Thabo Mbeki called for solutions to the Internet governance issue.

They suggested that an "Internet Governance Forum be called to bring together multilateral, multi-stakeholder, democratic and transparent dialogue that should cover all necessary areas."

Southern African News Features