Connecting India and Africa via e-network

Power of Idea: Connecting India and Africa via e-network

By Manish Chand

It’s a life-changing miracle, midwifed by technology and given wings by creative diplomacy.Ten years ago, a pioneering idea was born that promised to cohere technology, knowledge and innovation to transform the lives of thousands of Africans and to bring India and Africa closer in an empowering partnership of mutual resurgence. That idea has now blossomed into a full-fledged network that provides telemedicine and tele-education to Africans living thousands of miles away by linking them with top educational institutions and super-speciality hospitals in India.
The network aims to bridge the digital divide by providing seamless and integrated satellite, fibre optics and wireless network connecting African nations. Called the Pan-African e-network, it has now come to encompass 48 African nations and has emerged as a symbol of innovation and development-driven partnership between India and a resurgent African continent.

Bridging Digital Divide

The evolution of the e-network telescopes the culture of close consultations and collaborations that mark the burgeoning India-Africa partnership. Brainchild of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, India’s preeminent scientist, the idea was first proposed by the then president during his speech to the Pan-African parliament on September 16, 2004 in Johannesburg, which was attended by officials of African countries as well as the African Union. The idea struck an instant chord, with paper work being completed in a record time, leading to the signing of a pact between India and the AU for setting up the pan-Africa e-network in the summer of 2005.
The first phase of the project, covering 11 countries, was inaugurated Feb 26, 2009 by India’s then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is now the president of India. The second phase launched in August 2010 brought 12 more African countries within the compass of this ambitious project that is scripting a new path of salvation for the African people through better health and education. The project is also equipped to support e-governance, e-commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological and other services in the African countries, besides providing VVIP connectivity among the Heads of State of the African countries through a highly secure closed satellite network. India’s Ministry of External Affairs is the nodal ministry for the project while Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) is implementing the project on a turnkey basis.

Transforming Lives

Built at a cost of $125 million, the e-network is already transforming lives of ordinary Africans. Under the tele-education component of the network, more than 2000 students from Africa have been enrolled in five different top ranking universities in India in a host of disciplines like MBA, Master in Finance Control, PG Diploma in IT, M.Sc. in IT and Bachelor in Finance & Investment Analysis. Regular tele-education live sessions have elicited an enthusiastic response from African students. Tele-medical consultations have also started between the African doctors and the Indian specialists. Nearly 700 Continued Medical Education (CME) lectures have been delivered by Indian doctors from top Indian super specialty hospitals. Enthused by the African response, India has even offered training at the regional level by conducting workshops in the tele-medicine and tele-education modules for optimizing benefits of the project.

Knowledge-Sharing

Hailed as a “shining symbol of South-South cooperation,” the project has garnered many accolades, including the prestigious Hermes Prize for innovation in the field of sustainable development. The prize was announced by the European Institute of Creative Strategies and Innovation, a think tank that promotes strategies for innovation and renewal in Europe and worldwide, at a meeting in Paris four years ago. Blending technology with social transformation, the project shows the creative possibilities of using ICT to catalyze lasting socio-economic changes.
Dr Kalam, the progenitor of the e-network concept, has aptly described the network as “a model of international social responsibility” and “an enabler which has a cascading effect on the socio-economic development of many nations and societies.”“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,” says Kalam.
With its focus on knowledge-sharing and skill-building, the e-network project epitomises India’s development-centric engagement with Africa that revolves around the trinity of trade, training and technology transfer. Capacity-building and human resource development are twin prongs of India’s larger strategic intent to partner the African continent in its ongoing resurgence. It is with this larger vision of aiding Africa’s quest to become a knowledge-driven society that India is looking to set up over a hundred training institutes across Africa. These training institutes encompass diverse areas ranging from agriculture, rural development and food processing to information technology, vocational training, English language centres, and entrepreneurial development institutes. In the two India-Africa summits held in New Delhi in April 2008 and Addis Ababa in May 2011, India pledged over $8 billion in lines of credit for a host of development projects across the continent. On the economic front, bilateral ties are on an upswing, with trade growing manifold from less than a billion dollar barely two decades ago to over $60 billion. If the Afro-enthusiasm among the Indian businesses is anything to go by, the two sides can easily surpass the target of scaling up bilateral trade to $90 billion by 2015.This multi-pronged development partnership is expected to scale new frontiers when New Delhi hosts the third India-Africa summit later this year.

The African Dream

Africa is often described as resource-rich, but with more than half its billion-plus population young and restless to carve their own destiny, the continent should be more fittingly labelled as “people-rich.” It is this inexhaustible richness of the African people that India, with its proven prowess in knowledge industries and capacity building, is banking on to help fructify the African dream. The pan-Africa e-network has shown the way to think innovatively and partner Africa in its transformational journey. Let a thousand ideas bloom and connect, to create enduring networks of knowledge and innovation that shrink distances, create an inclusive global society and bring people together in quest of more fulfilling lives.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine and journal focused on international relations, the India Story and emerging powers. He is also Editor of “Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship” and a co-editor of Engaging with Resurgent Africa).

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