Canada’s efforts to bridge the digital divide in Africa will have components that will help companies both here and on the other side of the ocean. The initiatives arise from proposals agreed upon at the Group of 8 summit in Kananaskis AB this summer as well as the Digital Opportunity Task (DOT) Force that Canada has been working on for the past few years. One section of the final communiqué from the Alberta talks dealt with an action plan for the continent. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) seeks to build a partnership between developed nations and less-developed countries. Several sections of the document deal with the ICT sector and its role in improving life for Africans. Canada has established three programs to fulfill its requirements. "The three initiatives, which totaled $35 million, were the creation of what was called an e-policy Resource Centre in Canada for use by African countries to assist them in the development in national e-strategies, the types of laws, policies and regulatory frameworks that would encourage the development of and use of information technology," Richard Simpson, director general of Industry Canada’s electronic commerce branch, explains to Network Letter. "The second initiative is the DOT Force Entrepreneurship Network, which was a private sector-supported DOT Force initiative aimed at providing assistance of various kinds to small business and entrepreneurs in developing countries, specifically those in the information technology sector and working in the new economy. The third initiative was the creation of a connectivity centre for Africa, which would be housed in the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and which would provide assistance to communities and organizations in developing African countries to use networks and information technology to further social, economic and civic development." The e-policy resource centre will be located in Ottawa, with partners in Africa. The federal government will invest $25 million over three years to create the agency. Plans call for it to be a virtual institution, with a small support staff. "We’re talking about less than a handful of people, but primarily would tap into the expertise in government and the private sector, which could be used by developing countries for telecommunications policy and regulation, Internet governance, electronic commerce laws and policies, and so on," Simpson says.The IDRC connectivity centre will have a broader scope. Like the e-policy hub, it will have its headquarters in Ottawa. But the IDRC has regional offices around the world, including bureaus in Kenya, Egypt, Senegal and Tanzania. These will facilitate the operations of the connectivity centre. The government agency has experience with connectivity programs. It is already administering a similar Institute for Connectivity in the Americas, a project established after the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City (NL, May 7/01). It is expected the African centre will be a counterpart to the older program. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time of the original announcement compared the connectivity centre for Africa with the work being done in this country by SchoolNet. It stated that Canadian expertise and models can be adapted to support the needs of African countries, especially in education, health, and community development. The African centre will work with the Open Knowledge Network, an initiative of the DOT Force that supports the creation of local content and applications. The members of the network tend to be non-governmental organizations working to provide aid to the region.A more symbiotic system for Canada and Africa will be the DOT Force Entrepreneurship Network (DFEN). Simpson anticipates benefits for organizations on both continents. "The DOT Force Entrepreneurship Network is meant to be a way of creating partnerships between Canadian firms of various sizes, and Canadian individual entrepreneurs, and small businesses in the IT arena in Africa," Simpson says. "So the investment would be primarily focused on Africa for something like the DFEN, with the idea being that this would be enabling investment for partnerships with Canadian firms. Large firms sometimes have difficulty making huge investments themselves in these countries. They would operate, just to give a very simple example, perhaps on a franchise basis with a local entrepreneur in a smaller African market and this fund set up by the DFEN would be available to start that partnership rolling." The final communiqué from the G8 offered assistance in this goal. It said the eight member states would help create digital opportunities by working to establish universal access to information technology. The eight pledged to help African countries improve telecommunications and regulations to create IT-friendly environments. Companies interested in establishing a presence in Africa can take part in an upcoming trade mission to the continent. International Trade minister Pierre Pettigrew is heading a multi-sector delegation that will visit South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria from November 15-26. The government is hoping to increase the sale of goods and services to sub-Saharan Africa. Last year Canada exported $690 million worth of goods, while service sales in 2000 totaled $630 million. Canada has agreed to participate in the G8 proposals for Africa but has not finalized all of its plans for the initiatives. Simpson expects that funding will be in place before the government’s fiscal year ends next March. Where the efforts will take place has also not been determined as of yet. Nations such as Senegal and Mozambique are suggested as possible sites. "It’s more or less accepted though as part of the G8 thinking that went into the Africa action plan that they are looking at a few countries that have established stable environment for investment, both private sector as well as official development assistance," Simpson explains. "And these countries are particularly the ones who are most anxious to apply information technology, the most e-ready." The initiatives could open new markets for some Canadian firms, or expand already existing markets for other ones. SaskTel International, a subsidiary of the provincial ILEC, has been operating in Africa for years and has a regional office in Tanzania in addition to its headquarters in Regina. It has been working, on its own and in partnerships, with clients on telecom projects. Among the technologies it deploys are fibre optics, digital switching and Internet services. The G8 programs for Africa are in addition to industry support systems already in place. While agencies like the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada provide assistance to Canadian companies, the G8 initiatives are targeted exclusively to building capacity in one specific region. Simpson believes the various programs complement one another, since they are aimed at different aspects of the business relationship.