KOFI ANNAN CENTRE SETS BOLD AMBITION BUT GETS PRIVATE SECTOR CRITICISM

Computing

Ghana is to be the site for the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence that will be linked to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing in India as a further step in realising its ambition to be come a middle-scale ICT player in Africa, writes Eric Osiakwan.

The Centre is an advanced training institute which was suggested by Kofi Annan during a discussion with the Indian government during his visit last year. The ideas was then followed up by President Kufour when he also visited India and the then Minister of Communication and Technology Mr. Felix Owusu-Agyapong concluded with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the project. The institute is meant to build capacity in the country’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) development by bridging the gap between academia and industry.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Ghanaian government, it is contributing a two storey building (which is almost complete) to house the software, hardware and expertise being provided by the Indian government. Twelve Ghanaian Information Technology professionals have just returned from India where they underwent a train-the-trainers programme to build their capacity to the international level required.

At a meeting with local stakeholders Ken Dapaah, Minister of Communication and Technology declared that "this is going to be a world class training, research and innovation centre that would move the country to be part of the league of nations with high level ICT Business capacity". According to him the involvement of the private sector in the Centre would go a long way to ascertain the viability and impact of the Centre since it is meant to serve them more than the public sector. "We do not see this as another government project but as a partnership more in the interest of the private sector" said Dapaah.

The centre would have a two (2) mbps circuit connection to the Internet through Ghana Telecom and this would allow it to provide Internet services such as e-mail, browsing, chat, newsgroup, and search engines. It would also offer Video Conferencing facilities through an Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) circuit to be provided by Ghana Telecom.

The Centre would be independent of government support after the initial seed money to be contributed and would be overseen by a board of governors with the Director General and two other directors (academic and finance & administration) taking care of the day to day administration to start with. According to Adu Gyan, the ICT Advisor to the Minister of Communication and Technology, the academic council which would oversee the "dynamic curriculum" would be made up of local industry actors and academics in order for the courses to respond to the needs of the industry as well as meet international standard".

The Centre would be linked to five (5) pilot Community Information Centre (CICs) in remote areas in Ghana to address the ICT skills need of those areas in an attempt to bridge the rural urban divide in the country. The building of these centers would be the second phase of the project says David Gyewu, Deputy Minister of Communication and Technology. According to him the centre would also do some business incubation for Entrepreneurial students who may not have the other resources needed to start their own business since he would like to see more entrepreneurial materials coming out of the institute.

The programme structure of the Centre is based on partnerships in four areas namely the CDAC-partnership, Vendor & Industry partnership, University & Academic institutions partnership and local ICT industry partnership. The first partnership programme is with the Centers of Excellence in India to offer diploma in System Programming, Business Computing, Web technologies, MS networking and certificates in Object oriented Programming, Database Technologies, Visual Basic, Web and C programming.

The Vendor and Industry partnership would offer Cisco, CompTIA, SUN, Oracle, Microsoft and Linux. According to Adu Gyan, the long term objective would be to make the centre a regional academy for these Vendor certification programmes. The centre which has three (3) laboratories equipped with about 125 Desktops, 15 laptops (50) computers, four (4) lecture theatres with capacity of twenty four (24) students minimum, a two hundred (200) capacity auditorium and a forty-eight capacity library would cooperate with the University of Ghana and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) by providing resources for their postgraduate programmes through the University and Academic institutions partnership programme. In its partnership programme with the local ICT industry there would be an opportunity to organize practical seminars, workshops, refresher courses and international conferences.

According to Kweku Nsiah who is also an ICT Advisor to the Minister of Communication and Technology "we would like to have CEOs within the local ICT space as part time lecturers and would also welcome their inputs into the curriculum". He also indicated that the Centre would not only offer technical courses but would also focus on personality development programmes like technical writing, presentation skills, leadership & motivation, team building, stress management and entrepreneurship skills. Most industry actors welcomed the development at their recent meeting with government but wondered why they were not part of the process right from the word go. And the explanation of the Minister is that, "we had to build the collaboration with the Indians to a certain level before bring you in and we think this is the right time".

Ato Wright, President of the Ghana Institute of Engineers was of the view that the centre was offering too generic knowledge and that is his view it would be better for the institute to offer specialized skills and develop applications in e-commerce, e-business, e-government that are tropically tolerant to meet not only Ghana’s need but also that of the sub-region. The CEO of Arrow Networks Systems, Kwaku Boadu was skeptical about it and did not hide it at the meeting with government when he asked "what is in this for the Indians, because there is no free lunch?"