Africans lend tech savvy to elections, banking, education

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Africa is wired and fast proving its tech savviness as millions of Africans adopt new technology. A decision by UEMOA, an eight-member country, to approve several millions of dollars to boost ICT in universities comes in a backdrop of specialised election web applications and mobile banking tools that have taken the continent by storm.

Building a ‘virtual library in West Africa

The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), which groups eight Francophone countries in the region, is providing $12 mn for a project to boost the information and communications technology capacities in their universities.

In February, Soumaila Cissé, president of the UEMOA Commission, signed an agreement with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to support the three-year project, which will install new hardware and software on the campuses of eight universities. Each will receive fibre optic equipment and at least 200 computers.

In addition to a “cyber institute” that will provide professors with online training courses and a database to calculate students’ course credits in a standardized way, the network will also create a “virtual library” of online research materials that can be easily shared among the campuses. “The virtual library we are creating will serve our young people both as roots and as wings,” Mr. Cissé commented.

Ugandan elections go high-tech

Following opposition complaints about possible vote tampering during earlier elections, Uganda’s Electoral Commission adopted a number of innovations to ensure greater transparency in the country’s presidential and legislative polls in February.

These included the introduction of biometric voter registration cards with photo and fingerprint, the release of the complete registration list online and the posting of polling station details via SMS messages to voters’ mobile phones.

A Web-based programme allowed district election officers to quickly transmit results to the national tally centre in Kampala.

In one especially hotly contested race, for mayor of Kampala, candidates held a debate that was broadcast live over television, radio and the Web. Journalists posted reports via Twitter during the debate, and people outside the hall were able to pose questions directly to the moderator via Facebook or Twitter.

In the presidential election, the Electoral Commission declared that President Yoweri Museveni had won yet again, with 68 per cent of the vote.

In Tanzania, mobile banking races ahead of the laws

“Mobile banking” — the use of mobile phones to conduct banking and payment transactions — was only introduced in Tanzania in 2008. But out of some 20 million telecommunication subscribers, more than 9.2 million are already registered with mobile banking services.

The most popular is M-Pesa, offered by the UK’s Vodacom. Clients not only use the services to transfer funds between accounts, but also to pay for retail goods and services, such as adding minutes to their mobile phones or paying water and electricity bills.

While aspects of mobile banking are covered in an ad hoc way under existing laws and regulations, there is no comprehensive law to regulate the fast-growing sector. According to officials of the Bank of Tanzania, the government is currently considering broad legislation on mobile banking, which may be submitted to parliament sometime this year.

Africa Renewal  Africa Renewal magazine, published by the United Nations, examines Africa's development, achievements and challenges. It provides expert analysis and on-the-spot reporting to show how policies affect Africa's people.
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