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Mbeki Pledges African E-Renaissance

[Okinawa, JAPAN] Speaking after the conclusion of the G8 summit on the Japanese island of Okinawa, South African President Thabo Mbeki pledged to bring the African continent into the electronic information age. Mbeki, who had earlier secured a G8 commitment to the launch of an investigative "Dot Force", said that the availability of technology and its dissemination is crucial for the economic and social development of Africa.

The South African President, along with Nigerian President Obasanjo and Algeria's President Bouteflika, was instrumental in lobbying for the 'Dot Force' that will investigate ways in which the poorer nations could harness the Internet and e-commerce for economic upliftment. Speaking on Monday at a post-summit leadership program, Mbeki evinced memory of his landmark 'African Renaissance' speech that spoke of a vision of a new African unity.

Mbeki intimated yesterday that for his initial vision to reach fruition, the focus would need to be on e-enabling a continent that, excluding South Africa, boasts fewer phone lines than either Manhattan or Tokyo, a sparse 14-million.

This will be an immense task, especially when one considers the gap between even South Africa and developed countries.

At the end of last year, there were only 829 engineers and 1,416 IT professionals in the South African public service, a number which Mbeki pointed out as being a fraction of the comparable statistic for the U.S. or European countries. "If the government is to play a leading role in the process of ensuring that our country is not left out of the information society, then we need to act urgently to bring appropriate skills and training to the public sector," he said.

The Digital Opportunity Task-Force, or 'Dot Force', will present its findings at next year's G8 summit scheduled to be held in Genoa, Italy.