Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Africa gathers to bridge technology gap
Schoolchildren stand to gain from improved information technology
By Johannesburg correspondent Greg Barrow
Delegates from across Africa are meeting to discuss ways of narrowing the widening gap in information technology between the developed and the developing world.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that Africa would remain marginalised in the global economy if more was not done to improve access to information technology and modern telecommunications on the continent.
Currently, Africa has only 14 million telephone lines - less than most big cities in Europe and America.
Mobile telephone lines, computers and knowledge of the internet are common only among the rich urban elite.
The vast rural population remains isolated from the global telecommunications revolution.
The delegates, who have gathered in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for a meeting of the United Nations Economic Commission, are considering ways of improving access to information technology across the continent in an attempt to close the growing gap with the developed world.
Some analysts see Africa as one of the largest untapped telecommunications markets in the world and they believe that countries with outdated telephone systems could quickly leapfrog several stages in technology development if the right investment environment is created.
One of the biggest obstacles to development is the tendency in some countries, like Kenya, to block private enterprise in telecommunications.
Kenya currently lags far behind its neighbours, including even war-torn Somalia, where entrepreneurs have overcome the chaos of eight years of civil war to install state-of-the-art telephone systems supporting easy and cost-effective access to the internet.