Chapters

PAN-African e-Network

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Former President of India

During 2003-04, I visited African countries such as Sudan, Tanzania and South Africa. I addressed the Pan-African Parliament on September 16, 2004 in Johannesburg which was attended by representatives of the countries of the African Union. Based on my study of the communication, health care and education needs of our friendly African countries, I proposed the concept of a Pan-African e-Network on behalf of India for providing seamless and integrated satellite, fibre optics and wireless network connecting African nations.

 
The Pan-African e-Network project is estimated to cost around $125 million. As part of the project 12 universities (7 from India and 5 from Africa), 17 Super Speciality Hospitals (12 from India and 5 from Africa), 53 tele-medicine centres and 53 tele-education centres in Africa will be electronically connected.
 
The e-Network is primarily providing tele-education, tele-medicine, internet, videoconferencing and VOIP services. It is capable of supporting e-governance, e-commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological services. Each remote location is able to access the internet through the network by linking the hub to internet backbone.
 
Using this network, Heads of State in all African countries will have the provision for instant communication. The network is designed to have 169 terminals and a central hub to deliver tele-education and tele-medicine services. It uses state-of-the-art technology and can be integrated with the latest broadband technologies like Wi-Fi and Wi-Max. It is scalable to support different applications catering to increased number of users.
 
The network, is, therefore, an enabler which has a cascading effect on the socio-economic development of many nations and societies. Enterprises and institutions of tomorrow should look at the avenues of bringing about value addition in such enablers which change the environment and rate at which development takes place.  
 
Role of Diplomacy 
I would like to narrate the sequence of events which took place before the signing of the MoU between India and the African Union (AU) for the implementation of the Pan-African e-Network project. The partnership between India and the African Union has helped evolve a new model of the international social responsibility. As soon as the project was announced, a technical committee was appointed by the Indian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to generate the project report. The project report was prepared in 16 weeks, coordinated by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), with technical experts drawn from President’s Office, Department of Space and Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL) in 2005.
 
The External Affairs Ministry had also interacted with the AU and member countries in this period. After a review by the PMO, the ministry organised presentation of the project report by a high-level team to the AU chairman and members. The AU also constituted a Technical Review Committee consisting of members drawn from the AU and international organisations. After the series of technical discussions and review, the final presentation was made by the Indian team to the technical review committee which observed that this proposal was in line with the missions and objectives of the AU and held enormous potential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through the use of innovative ICT. The partnership between India and the African Union has helped evolve a new model of the international social responsibility.
 
Meanwhile, a presentation was made at the President’s Office to 28 ambassadors of African countries stationed in Delhi. They also visited the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and familiarised themselves with the operational tele-medicine facilities. I could witness the active contribution of MEA team members, Director (Technology Interface) at the President’s Office, and the Indian Ambassador to Ethiopia in coordinating various activities connected with the project in a mission mode by comprehensively addressing the technical, programmatic, financial, contractual and international relationship angle. This enabled the signing of the MoU between India and the AU on October 27, 2005.
 
The first phase of the project, covering 11 countries, was inaugurated in February 2009 by the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The second phase, which brought in another 12 African countries in the ambit of the project, was launched in August, 2010. So far, 47 African countries have joined the project, out of which implementation is completed in 34 countries and the remaining would be progressively completed towards the end of 2011.
 
Regular tele-medicine and tele-education services have already been started on this network. At present, tele-medicine consultations are regularly being conducted from super-speciality hospitals from India to African countries on a need basis. Moreover, regular Continued Medical Education (CME) sessions have been started with effect from April 22, 2009 from 11 Indian super-speciality hospitals. So far, 1,500 CME sessions have been conducted on this network.
 
For tele-education services from India, more than 2,000 students from Africa have been enrolled in five different top ranking universities in India in various disciplines like MBA, Master in Finance Control, PG Diploma in IT, M.Sc. in IT and Bachelor in Finance & Investment Analysis and many others. Regular tele-education live sessions are being conducted from India; and African students have shown great interest in the courses.
 
What Next?
In order to make this service reach the target audience in Africa more effectively, India and Africa have to assess the current usage pattern and get regular feedback from the users and reorganise the scheduled sessions on appropriate timings. We have to ensure that the services reach the target audience by matching the Indian-African time zones.  
 
India needs to work out a plan of incentivisation to expand the audience for CME sessions, and knowledge sharing and dissemination effectively y understanding the needs of African doctors and medical staff. The project’s implementation has to be accelerated so that the intended benefits reach Africa on time and contribute effectively for fulfilling the objectives to meet the MDGs. It is essential for India and Africa to ensure that the creative leadership is in control from implementation to end-user levels.
 
India may endeavour to extend this international social responsibility to all developing nations in a mission mode based on this Pan-African e-Network so that knowledge shared is knowledge multiplied.
 
Our efforts aim at sharing the knowledge gained among the friendly nations, so that India, with its mission of a knowledge society, holds the hands of other developing nations together to achieve sustainable development across the world. This, in turn, will ensure inclusive growth, remove the socio-economic imbalance in society, and help achieve a happy, prosperous, secure and peaceful global society.


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