Brussels, 23 Sep 2003
A science portal, an e-newspaper and an e-book won prizes for being at the crest of a 'new media' wave sweeping across Africa. African journalists say that information and communications technologies (ICTs) promise to bear fruit for the entire continent.
Three websites were the lucky winners of the 2003 Awards for the Innovative Use of New Media in Africa at a special ceremony in Grahamstown, South Africa. Now into their fourth year, the prizes are part of the Highway Africa conference, which operates under the banner of "mainstreaming media in the information society".
First prize in the non-profit category went to Science in Africa. The judges deemed that the diverse scientific resources for students, teachers and children made this pan-African portal a very important tool for the continent's web users. "A culture of science is spreading across Africa. Get informed, enter the debates and decide for yourself," the website challenges.
The winner of the corporate category was the on-line version of Egypt's biggest circulation daily Al Ahram. Established in 1875, the newspaper has Arabic, English and French editions. The judges were impressed by the news site's "focus on ICTs" and its attempts to present a "non-biased view" of the current conflict in Iraq.
The individual category was awarded to a website set up to promote Ama, a novel which won the British Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2002. The site allows visitors to read segments of Manu Herbstein's award-winning novel about an African woman's plight as an 18th Century slave.
Portal to a better life
Delegates at the conference say that efforts to get Africa wired are already bearing fruit and the internet can provide the impoverished continent with a portal to a better life. "Investment in computers with internet access is expensive, but it is essential. With information comes opportunities," Nigerian communications consultant Mkpe Abang told the gathering.
"New technology has been used in literally hundreds of instances throughout Africa this year to create opportunities and wealth," echoed Alfonso Dagron, a development communications specialist.
Despite their potential, some delegates warned of the obstacles standing in the way of the spread of ICTs in Africa. "There are technical problems, like the lack of telephone lines. There are financial hurdles that prevent the poor from participating in the information age ... But there are also social and governmental matters that stand in the way," said Amanda Singleton of South African phone company Telkom.
The European Commission Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) is backing research into boosting the potential of ICTs – some of which will involve African partners in the context of FP6's international co-operation activities – to the tune of over €3.5 billion.