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Cisco Networking Academy Program Plays Vital Role in Ethiopia's IT-based Economic Regeneration Plan

July 26, 2005

by Jason Deign, News@Cisco

Up to 100 Cisco Networking Academies® are expected to play a critical role in an ambitious plan for economic regeneration in Ethiopia.

The nation's government has embraced the Networking Academy program as a means to deliver information and communications technology (ICT) skills.

The Government believes this will help lift Ethiopia from its position as one of the poorest countries in Africa to potentially become a net exporter of ICT talent.

The Ministry of Capacity Building has committed to helping boost the number of Networking Academy programs from two up to 100 within a year, to support a major IT infrastructure project aimed at using broadband Internet to deliver education, health and ultimately prosperity to his people.

"Not long ago many of us felt that we were too poor to seriously invest in information and communication technology," Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told delegates at a conference called E-enablement of Ethiopia - transformation in Africa, held in association with Cisco Systems® earlier this year.

"We were convinced that we should invest every penny we have on securing the next meal for our people. We did not believe serious investment in ICT had anything to do with facing the challenges of poverty that kills. Now I think we know better."

While there are formidable challenges to rolling out broadband across the country, including a mountainous terrain and around 20 different native languages, the project, which is the largest broadband infrastructure build-out in Africa, also has much going for it.

The country's Prime Minister is fully behind it and Cisco has contributed its talent, donated equipment and provided technology expertise to the program.

For the last two years, the Ethiopian government, through the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), has been working on the project with Cisco, its South African systems integrators Business Connexion and Dimension Data, and local suppliers Global Computing Solutions and Micro Sun & Solutions.

Using next-generation optical and IP-based network technology, including Cisco ONS 15454 SDH Multiservice Provisioning Platforms, Cisco 12000 Series high-speed backbone routers and Cisco 10000 Series broadband access routers, the nationwide network will help transport high-quality voice, data and multimedia services to government departments, corporations and citizens who need access to the Internet for their daily business.

The US$40 million infrastructure rollout involves laying 2,500 km of fiber optic cables and is scheduled to last a total of five years. It already covers major population centers in the country, such as ?d?s ?bebà, Nazr?t, Bahir Dar and Gonder.

However, in order to meet the government's target of delivering broadband nationwide, a massive IT training program is needed to ensure there are enough people with the skills to use and fix computers and network devices even in remote areas.

This is where the Networking Academy programs come in.

In addition to helping set up regional Networking Academies and train the people who themselves will go on to become tutors, Cisco is working alongside an organization called Close The Gap to help provide homes in Ethiopia for more than 10,000 refurbished PCs collected in Western Europe.

Ethiopia's Networking Academy plans would give the country nearly a quarter of all the Academies in Africa, putting it on a par or ahead of leading skills centers on the continent such as South Africa and Uganda.

Cisco is also working with the Minister of Capacity Building in Ethiopia and ETC to deliver, through local companies, leadership and management training for key government leaders, to help:

  • Accelerate plans to reform government organizations, encouraging efficiency and improving the delivery of services to citizens.
  • Create a new set of government leaders who will become champions of change and guide their organizations through the reform process.
  • Government leaders to select ICT investments that deliver the right value to business processes and equip them with the knowledge to understand the ingredients of success for these projects, if applicable.

The program aims to train more than 1,000 managers and leaders in the next couple of years, using local resources.

A number of countries, including Ethiopia, that were recently given initial instructor training in Cairo, and Ethiopia, will be among the first to put its ICT capacity program training into practice.

Observers from other African nations are already watching the progress of the Ethiopian project with interest.

Ethiopia currently has a gross domestic product (GDP) of around $6 billion and 51,000 Internet users from a population of more than 73 million, although the government's Ministry of Capacity Planning hopes to provide more than 100,000 lines before the end of 2005.

More than half the population cannot read or write and the economy is overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture, which provides 80 percent of total employment and contributes half the GDP and 60 percent of exports.

"The government recognizes that we need alternative long-term growth strategies to create a knowledge-based economy," says Ato Asfaw Haile Mariam, deputy general manager of information technology and data services at ETC.

"That is why we are embracing this technology to enhance the education and agriculture sectors and improve the government's ability to deliver high-quality public services."

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.

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