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Senegal's President Wade addressed OPTIC's conference last week on ICT in West Africa. After a series of rather predictable introductory speeches, Wade held the floor while he gently lectured delegates from Senegal and elsewhere in West Africa about the need to implement ICT, particularly in the small companies of the informal sector. A local cynic remarked that "in the run-up to the coming presidential elections in 2007, he always tells people what they want to hear" but that is perhaps the nature of politicians. Below are selected highlights:

"The effects of the ICT sector irrigate all other sectors.…ICT is an extraordinary tool to leverage the gap between the developed and developing worlds".

"We might end up repeating the things we said in Geneva, Abuja and elsewhere. We have to move head (and do things) or we run the risk of repeating ourselves".

"Africa must be more practical and focus on implementing ideas. We have given a full description of the projects needed in NEPAD but we appear to be marking time. A few weeks ago we met with the representatives of the different sector projects and said that they must now focus on practical things".

"ICT can also contribute to the area of management, particularly for SMEs. But how many of these businesses in Senegal use ICT?"

"If you had a relative in prison for embezzling USD2 million, who would not be tempted to dip into their business to help them. I don’t think I could resist that request. With ICT in place, this would be much harder".

"Just yesterday, the Minister of Finance decided to reduce taxes. We can reduce taxes but you have to make an effort to manage better and export more. Wrestling is very popular in Senegal. Businesses in Senegal are wrestling with others in global markets. I’m the manager of Senegal. It’s an SME but it’s going to be more M than S".

"I proposed the digital solidarity network. I want to create a national network of DSNs. The Mayor of Besancon has just promised 20,000 computers. These will be refurbished by disabled persons in this country. I have asked the Ministry of Education to select the disabled computers and then (once they are refurbished) get them to the rural areas. This is digital solidarity in action".

The real difficulty is the distance between this extremely well articulated and unarguable rhetoric aimed in large part at an international audience and Senegal's own rather limited approach to liberalization that has allowed its incumbent Sonatel to acquire de-facto monopolies in almost every significant market. The President made no reference to these rather more difficult structural issues on his own doorstep.

- Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) chairman Mandla Langa today criticised the licensing provisions in the draft Convergence Bill. In presenting the regulator's response to the Bill, Langa said that “Chapter three (licensing) is the engine that drives the Bill; if the engine does not work, the rest of the Bill will not work. The licensing framework set up in this chapter is not workable.” Langa said the Bill has the unintended effect that large and small communications networks will be dealt with as individual licensees. ICASA proposes that individual and class licences be granted in all licence categories. It also needs the authority to exempt certain activities from licensing. ICASA said national economic policy may require the minister of communications to retain control of market entry for large communication network services.

ICASA also has issues with the chapter requiring ICASA to submit proposed license conditions to the minister for approval, as this involves more ministerial involvement than currently envisaged under the Telecommunications Act. Langa also pointed to chapter three, section 10. He said as it is currently phrased, it negates a public process for the amendment of licences. ICASA has made detailed proposals on substantive and procedural issues in this regard, he added. He pointed specifically to the issue of local loop unbundling.

Langa also wants ICASA to have more regulatory power to promote empowerment, as well as limits on ownership and control, together with statutory limitations on broadcasting services. Looking specifically at chapter 13, which covers transitional licensing issues, Langa said this would entail a huge re-regulation and licence conversion project. It will also require new regulations for implementation of the Bill and will require the allocations of considerable financial and human resources. “This diverts the authority's attention from opening new markets and licensing new entrants,” noted Langa. He proposed that ICASA sets the timeframe for converging licences and regulations.

Langa said interconnection underpins successful competition. “Our main concern is that certain licence classes which are not communication network service providers would need to interconnect in order to offer their services.” Regarding communication facilities leasing, Langa said this is a critical enabler of competition and lower prices, and that undersea cables and landing stations should be declared essential facilities.

“This will have enormous significance to increase domestic competition and decrease the prices on international bandwidth.”

-Lack of or poor Information Communication Technology (ICT) and disorganised marketing systems have limited the growth of agricultural sector, the Minister of Water and Livestock Development, Edward

Lowassa, said last week. Opening a two-day stakeholders workshop on agricultural financing organised by Tanzania Chamber of Agriculture and Livestock (TCAL) in Bagamoyo, Lowassa said there was a need for both national and international alliances for exchange programme to address common interests in a globalised world. 'We need to strengthen our communication technology and improve marketing information system that would reduce the knowledge gap between producers, professionals, traders and consumers. I challenge TCAL to assist its members during trading processes,' he said.

On the move: Senegalese ICT professional Coura Fall has joined Computer Frontiers.