Formally launched on 4 June 1996,
the Leland Initiative (LI) has proved to be one of the
most effective projects to bring Internet access to
the African continent.
Designed as a five-year USD 15 million United
States Government effort, LI seeks to promote the use
of the Internet as a means of fostering sustainable
social and economic development in approximately 20
African countries. Administered by the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID), LI is designed to help Africans
realize the power of the Internet as a communication
and development tool. Working with international and domestic partners, USAID helps
target states get the infrastructure and training
necessary for becoming active participants in the
global information society.
Since its inception, LI
facilitation has helped many African states to
modernize their governments, environmental protection
programmes, agricultural production mechanisms,
education institutions and healthcare systems.
While it is still too early to definitively
determine its long-term effectiveness, LI and its
affiliated USAID programmes demonstrate that access to
information and the global knowledge pool can
significantly increase the capacities of indigenous
communities, thus sending Africa on a more positive
Despite the great strides made by
some African states in terms of ICT-based development,
the continent as a whole remains largely disconnected
from the global information and communication network.
In an effort to make LI relevant to the unique
institutional, legal and social environments
throughout Africa, USAID and its partners designed the
project to be flexible and scalable across different
levels of development.
While the overall goal was to bring affordable
information access and contextually relevant content
to the continent, USAID identified three key
objectives that would determine the effectiveness of
an enabling environment: This includes helping
African governments reform ineffective
institutional and policy structures, while
breaking down barriers to connectivity to the
global information network.
The project managers believed that by
reforming the policy framework governing the
deployment and diffusion of ICTs in Africa they
could help make the Internet affordable, free and
open to all members of society.
Initially the LI focused on introducing
competition and pricing reforms to Internet
since 2001, the LI has begun to focus on broader
telecommunications policy and regulatory capacity.
the establishment of a sustainable supply of
Internet access: LI is helping countries
committed to establishing an Internet-friendly
policy environment to establish an effective and
reliable national Internet gateway.
LI experts and consultants provided
equipment, training, marketing and business plan
development and helped national gateway operators
to create a level playing field for indigenous
Internet Service Providers. These ISPs began to serve as the engine for a dynamic
and growing information access industry.
USAID also encouraged indigenous ISPs to
form local Internet Society Chapters to advocate
and support the development of the market.
the Internet as a tool for sustainable development:
By brokering domestic and international
partnerships, LI organizers helped facilitate
information sharing between all of the
stakeholders involved in the modernization
process, including the private sector, civil
society and government entities.
A key component of this objective is to
help Africans develop the skills necessary for
using the Internet and related ICTs, thus
contributing to the creation of a broader user
base and a sustainable market.
With these objectives in mind,
USAID country mission representatives began by
assessing the feasibility of ICT development in a
given country, looking into the national telecom
policies, infrastructure build out and demand for
During the assessment stage, each
target country is ranked on a variety of factors,
ranging from ICT strategy and mission, institutional
use of information, comprehension on the potential
contributions that ICTs can have to sustainable
development, infrastructure build out and potential
for success. Once
the country assessment reports and rankings have been
completed, the project administrators work with USAID
begin outlining innovative ways to promote the use of
ICTs in African institutions.
Drawing on the existing development strategy
plans developed by USAID missions (e.g. USAID/Mali),
the project administrators begin looking for partner
institutions, organizations or individuals for ICT
One crucial component for successful deployment
and diffusion of ICTs in any society is identifying a
ďchampionĒ to serve as an advocate or opinion
leader on the projectís behalf.
Finding such a champion is an important element
to ensure the success of LI over the long term.
Despite the realization that ICTs can be a productive
force in addressing underdevelopment or information
poverty, barriers exist in many African countries that
hinder the deployment of modern technologies.
These barriers can be a means of maintaining
existing power arrangements or the incumbent
telecommunication carrierís market position, and
they often keep the country at the margins of the
world society. Ineffective
telecommunication policies, lack of awareness and
technology, under-trained technicians, and computer
illiteracy are some of the key hurdles that LI has had
to overcome. To
address these barriers, USAID offers a variety of
training and skills development workshops for local
project managers and members of the community.
was launched, the Leland Initiative has helped over 20
African states realize the power of ICTs for social
and economic development.
Together with international and domestic
partners, USAID has successfully implemented a variety
of innovative ICT-based projects that have helped tap
into the creative capacities and the entrepreneurial
spirit of thousands of Africans.
While there are a variety of success stories
stemming from the LI, there are a few examples that
have been extremely important in the continentís
First, realizing the ineffectiveness of the
institutional governing structures that are
commonplace throughout Africa, USAID sought to empower
citizens by providing them with access to electronic
information in an effort to promote democracy on the
the increased connectivity to the global information
network brought by the LI, USAID has helped civil
society use digital media systems to open new
communication channels with the state and decision
USAIDís Learnlink project, a forerunner and partner
of the LI, empowers marginalized groups by providing
them with culturally and contextually relevant
technologies that are necessary for sustainable
Learnlink allows disparate individuals and groups to
work together via ICTs to improve access to basic
Learnlink has been especially important to
women who are often excluded from formal education and
information relating to modern healthcare resources in
many African states.