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Ghana-CIC10-5A one day ICT4D forum has been successfully organised at the Salaga Community Information Centre. The centre, which is located in the East Gonja District in the Northern Region of Ghana, offers telecentre services.

The forum was organised with the support of the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

In a welcome address, the Deputy District Coordinating Director, Mr. Abdallah Abdul-Rahaman Ahmed welcomed all for coming to share knowledge on the topic and sought for their full support for the success of the forum.

The District Chief Executive, Hon. Alhassan Mumuni encouraged all to actively participate in the discussions. He was grateful that his district is one of the 10 to be enjoying this support:            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMrc3eddbv0

When he took his turn, the resource person, Mr Tom Laari, The East Gonja District Resource Manager for Integrated Approach for Eradication of guinea worm through Water Sanitation and Hygiene (I WASH) mentioned that “The East Gonja District is a part of the Global community and cannot afford to be left out in the current global transformations. You either die by stagnating or survive by moving along with the compelling global forces.  The choice is ours, and I don’t think we are choosing to suffocate. I am urging everybody to get along so that, we can use ICT to develop and market our potentials”.

In his presentation on the topic “The role of ICT in marketing the East Gonja District” Mr. Laari mentioned that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) facilitate the creation, storage, management and dissemination of information by electronic means. He gave a global overview on the history of the internet. He mentioned that Internet originated in the 1960s as a computer network funded by Advanced Research Project (ARN) with the US Defense Department. He added that the original work was then taken over by the National Science Foundation in the 80s, which translated into the currently decentralized network.

On the major reforms in the field, Mr. Laari explained that there was liberalization and privatization in the sector leading to competition and expansion in ICT infrastructure at national and global levels. He added that there has also been expansion of market for ICT infrastructure and services globally, especially in south-eastern Asia and Africa and that less developed countries like ours have now migrated from the use of simple and less effective to complex and very efficient and effective ICT equipment.

Mr. Laari gave an overview of some ICT initiatives in Ghana. He explained that Ghana has already developed a national ICT for Accelerated Development Policy passed by parliament for implementation. He added that the Governments of Ghana and India in partnership with Abdus Salam international center for theoretical physics have over the years trained over 1000 professionals in ICT. He again added that while the Ghana/India Kofi Annan ICT Center of excellence was established with the responsibility of developing human capacity needed for the developing ICT industry in Ghana, a Wide Area Network called Research and Educational Network (REN) for Ghanaian Universities and local research institutions such as CSIR and Ghana Atomic Energy Commission to share information was established in 2000.

Mr. Laari in his presentation explained the link between ICT and economic growth. He mentioned that ICT provides the opportunity for acquiring new and improved knowledge, which is capable of translating into quality and quantity in production.  He sighted an example of new ways of processing cassava into cassava dough to meet international requirements.

He also said ICT facilitates handling of large volume of data, and provides opportunity for quality analysis and information generation and improved decision making, which has the potency of averting negative future occurrences and improving lifestyles. Geographical Information Services (GIS) can be used in predicting drought or bumper harvest.

He further said it is common knowledge that human resource development is key for economic growth and transformation. “ICT has facilitated academic and professional training through the use of internet. In fact, today, a lot of working class people obtain degrees and certificates from universities, colleges and professional bodies in Europe, USA and other parts of the world without necessary traveling to such destinations”.

Mr. Laari mentioned that the advent and introduction of ICT in Ghana has reduced communication barriers. Every district in Ghana is connected to at least one mobile telephony network. Some districts are connected to internet facilities through the establishment of Community Information Centers (CICs). This, he said has reduced the cost of transacting business to perhaps a quarter if quantified. A business woman in Salaga can purchase goods and services using a mobile phone instead of traveling.

He further added that ICT has reduced geographical barriers to accessing global market place. He explained that business individuals and groups can now display, advertise their products and access business information on the internet.

Touching on the role of ICT in marketing development, Mr. Laari stated that setting up a community or local radio station to broadcast development projects, opportunities and challenges is a way of using ICT to market the district. He mentioned that the community radio station could be used to discuss the capacity and business opportunities of the cassava processing plant at Kpembi, a community in Salaga would widen the raw material collection base and market for its finished products. This would also open the district to potential investors in cassava production or marketing of its finished products.

He added that initiating and sustaining radio and TV discussions of development projects, tourist attractions and development challenges attracts the attention and sympathy of the general public and sometimes stimulates further discussions, leading to evolution of solutions for local problems. He mentioned that making a video and telecasting of the current state of the Tamale – Salaga  road can stimulate a discussion in parliament, which can compel Government to take a more serious look at it and devise ways of handling the situation.

Mr. Laari further added that the District Medium Term Development Plan (DMTDP) and or District Water and Sanitation Plan (DWSP) could be placed on the district website or blog and this would be the most effective way of advertising the development issues, priorities, opportunities and challenges to potential development partners, international business community and other interest groups. “Showing a documentary on the water and sanitation situation in the district can attract attention of the international community and propel development of new water initiatives” he said.

Placing district profile and available community data on the district’s website can lead to the development of friendship and twin community linkages between communities in East Gonja district and other communities in more developed jurisdictions. This, Mr.Laari mentioned can result in sharing of development information, exchange visits and investment promotion.

Touching on the challenges of ICT Development, Mr. Tom Laari mentioned the following;

  • High infrastructure and subscription cost unmatched with quality of services provided by service providers
  • Inadequate human resource at the district level to manage ICT infrastructure and as well transfer knowledge and skills, especially at the district level
  • Lack or inadequate political will to advance the development of ICT at the grassroots
  • Inadequate investment in ICT development at the local levels (District level)
  • High illiteracy rate prevents poor, deprived and rural people from using internet facilities
  • Available content are usually in English and not in local languages
  • Limited internet connectivity and access in rural areas
  • Cost of hardware, software and connectivity are considerably high and beyond the reach of rural poor
  • The running cost, especially power is significantly higher in rural areas than urban centers as most rural areas are not connected to the national power source. Mobile phone and internet service providers have to depend on alternative high cost source such as solar or fuel generators for operations.
  • Poor rural people lack knowledge of how beneficial and powerful the internet could be for their development

Mr. Laari concluded his presentation with conditions for bridging rural divide and the opportunities that could further be explored. He mentioned the physical availability of network connections, including payphones and wireless networks in rural poor settlements, reduced cost for network connections in relation to conditions of living of people in the rural areas and the quality of service matching with cost of connectivity.

He called for an increasing Government investment in ICT. He said the existences of the Community Information Center (CIC) is an opportunity for the youth to get interested, learn and apply ICT to improve their lives. He further called for the strengthening of the IICD/DA collaboration in this regard.

The occasion was used to inaugurate a steering committee to steer the affairs of the community information centre. Members of the steering committee included the following;

  1. Mr. Jacob Adams, representing the Ghana Education Service
  2. Mr. Eric Attah of SEND Foundation, representing the NGO sector
  3. Mrs. Zeinabu Alidu, representing the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs
  4. Mr. Alaru Kamaldeen, representing Community Based Organisations
  5. Peter Owusu Frimpong, representing the District Assembly
  6. The Ministry of Information was represented by the District Information Officer.

The District Chief Executive charged the members of the committee to “take a very vigorous approach to get the CIC growing”