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Country focus
Seychelles leads Africa in ICT development
 
 
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Photo credit: © EmmePi Images/Alamy
About 25 000 people live in and around Victoria, the capital of Seychelles, on the island of Mahé

While all eyes may be focused on South Africa as it prepares to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Seychelles has been unveiled in ITU’s ICT Development Index as the leading country in information and communication technology (ICT) development in the African region.

Seychelles, a small island nation located in the Indian Ocean about 1600 kilometres east of Kenya, comprises more than a hundred islands. Its capital city Victoria is situated on the north-eastern side of Mahé, the largest island. Victoria is home to about 25 000 people, out of the country’s total population estimated at more than 87 000 at the end of December 2009.

The country’s main industries are tourism and fishing, but the government has been promoting diversifi cation in the economy of this small island developing State, by promoting agriculture and smallscale manufacturing. And during the last decade, the Seychelles Petroleum Company has developed the country’s first fleet of modern petroleum tankers. All of these industries need robust ICT infrastructure.

According to the ICT Development Index, Seychelles has a teledensity of about 27 fixed phone lines for every hundred inhabitants — and mobile penetration has surpassed the 100 per cent mark. Around a quarter of households have a computer, and some 40 per cent of the population are users of the Internet.

Linking to a broadband fibre-optic cable

Seychelles has always been among the leaders in the region with regard to ICT deployment. A programme of ICT development is under way to boost broadband in the country. In January 2010, Benjamin Choppy, Seychelles’ Principal Secretary for ICT, announced that the country is to build a link by the end of 2011 to one of the international submarine fibre-optic cables installed along the east coast of Africa.

The USD 47 million project will significantly improve the country’s Internet connections and access to international telephone calls.

The geographically isolated position of Seychelles makes connectivity a key issue. A feasibility study on the link to the east African cable was carried out for the Seychelles government by French consultancy firm Axiom, and funded by the African Development Bank. Currently, the Seychelles uses very few megabytes of bandwidth for international connections via satellite but being linked to a fibre-optic cable could give up to 200 megabytes immediately, with the possibility of several thousand more in the future. Such connectivity will not only benefit Seychellois citizens, but will also give a further boost to inward investment and the crucial tourist industry. A company called Seychelles Cable Systems was formed in 2008 to start up the project. Although it was formed by the government, private firms are welcome to be part of it.

In his state-of-the nation address on 26 February 2010, James Alix Michel, President of the Seychelles, expressed his delight and pride at the progress being made by the country to increase connectivity and develop technologies of the future. “The awards which I received, on behalf of the Seychellois people, at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and in Beirut last year, symbolize the innovative spirit of a people who have enjoyed equal opportunities in education,” said President Michel. “We have proved our ability to innovate and to make possible what had appeared impossible.”

The government of the Seychelles believes that the country’s ability to enhance its economic competitiveness and improve the quality of life of its citizens is crucially dependent upon its developing as an ICT hub. As a consequence, a national ICT policy has been published, which looks to international best practice and promoting the use of ICT in all sectors, including the government itself. The policy has five areas of focus: ICT infrastructure; legal and regulatory frameworks; human resource development; ICT industry; and government.

Seychelles’ Minister for National Development, Jacquelin Dugasse, highlights the importance of the country working together to ensure further ICT development, in his foreword to the National Information and Communications Technology Policy (NICTP). “The publication of the NICTP lays the foundation stone required for the development of a comprehensive National ICT Strategic Plan, which will be the road map to guide ICT development in this country,” explained Mr Dugasse. “I am therefore confident that each and everyone involved will rise up to the challenges and contribute to the creation of a conducive environment and make provision of the appropriate ICT tools for the social, economic and cultural development in the fulfilment of the aspirations of the people of Seychelles.”

The Seychelles has recognized that providing affordable, accessible, high quality and well-maintained ICT facilities and services is key to realizing the goal of a modern, innovative, knowledge-based society. The development of the ICT sector is a significant undertaking by the government, illustrating the acknowledgment of the vital role that access to information and communication technologies can have on the advancement of the country as a whole. Committing to the expansion of ICT services will aid the progression towards a more informed society, the promotion of sustainable development and improving the quality of peoples’ lives in Seychelles.

 
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Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Young people in Seychelles will be able to benefit from increasing access to ICT

Developing a knowledge-based society

President Michel has put great emphasis on Seychelles maturing into an efficient, knowledge-based society and not just following the developments in ICT but actually being part of the innovative processes, highlighted by the opening of the University of Seychelles in September 2009, the first, independent, not-for-profit university in the country’s history.

As well as business administration, it offers courses in computing and information systems. Students can gain qualifications from the University of London, in the United Kingdom, through its external programme. Study includes in-depth online research, and support and guidance is provided to help students develop these skills. The university says that all students qualify for the concessionary purchase of a laptop computer.

“It is the principle of justice and equal opportunity that is the basis of our government and despite the challenges of 2008 and 2009, we have increased our investment in education to ensure that equality of opportunity is always there,” said President Michel in his address to the nation. “Our university is a great step forward. We are proud of our 54 students who started their studies last year. There are also 229 young people benefiting from government scholarships overseas and many others on various other training programmes.”

An initial priority of the University of Seychelles has been to establish ICT facilities that not only serve its own needs, but that will also link with public and private sector entities in the country, as well as non-governmental organizations. One of the stated key goals of the university is “to serve as a hub for the development of a knowledge-based society”.

The “Small Islands Voice” initiative

Encouraging young people to learn about and use ICT is extremely important in setting a precedent for future generations. The concerns of residents in countries such as Seychelles are reflected in an initiative called “Small Islands Voice”, begun in 2002 by UNESCO. It focuses on the concerns of islanders in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions, and, as well as meetings and workshops, uses the potential of ICT to generate dialogue among these communities, and to enhance their capacity to take part in the information age.

The goal of this initiative is to ensure the voice of the general public in small islands is heard and becomes a driving force for island development. While this is a long-term vision, it is hoped that “Small Islands Voice” can make a significant contribution to the achievement of sustainable development goals in small island economies around the world.

Several activities have taken place involving young people in Seychelles, as well as the general public. For example, an online discussion was organized between Seychellois students aged from 13 to 15 at Anse Royale Secondary School in Mahé and those in St Vincent and the Grenadines and in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, as well as with students in Palau and in the Cook Islands in the Pacific. Each group of teenagers posted their views on topics such as the advantages and disadvantages of living on an island and their prospects after leaving school.

Innovation as the key to success

Seychelles is making great strides in ICT development and this is reflected in its ranking as top nation in the African region in ITU’s latest ICT Development Index, featured in the report Measuring the Information Society, published in February 2010. Establishing a Council for Technology and Innovation illustrates President Michel’s commitment to continue this progression and push towards the goal of a modern ICT-enabled economy and a knowledge-based society.

“When we look at our place in this globalized world, it is clear that innovation is the key to our success,” said President Michel. “It is for this reason that I am establishing a Council for Technology and Innovation, to promote creativity, research and development. We are preparing our country for tomorrow.”

 

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