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By EVELYN LEWIS, Freetown, Sierra Leone

If you have not joined the bandwagon by now, it’s not too late to join the ICT boom in Sierra Leone. A few years ago,
everything ICT was a nightmare and exclusively for the rich. Much as some of those challenges have been there, we can see
a gradual change to things with the coming of the ACE undersea fibre optic cable. This would bring a huge impact on our
economy, jobs, and training among others. Perhaps, we may consider the biggest change to hit Sierra Leone as the entry of
the undersea fiber optics.

So you ask: what is fiber optics, do I need milk with it? Well not quite! But with the presence of undersea fiber optics
cable in Sierra Leone, the information to find the cheapest milk anywhere in the world can be that much closer, easier to
find and faster to search.

The move of internet Society which is an organization of businesses houses and the members of the public came together to
formulate what is now the national ICT policy, a document which has laid the roadmap for Sierra Leones much awaited dive
into technology to improve the lot of its citizen.

It is said that any country lacking internet access or might I add affordable access to its population is certainly bereft
to the bottom of the human development index as information and communications technologies are now even seen by the United
Nations as a human right in itself. Sierra Leone for the most part have been on the back burner of this facet making it
nearly impossible for even those who could afford it to use it without added stress of slow connections at a very high
cost.

You might have probably experienced it, someone from the heavens of broadband sends you a link to view a video thinking
your life in the broadband world is a good as theirs, but failing to realizing you are browsing at at 20 years old dialup
speeds or pay through the nose for still inadequate speeds you want. If you were used to browsing at those speeds, it
feels like you are back to Stone Age when using the net in Sierra Leone.

Well, in some way this is the past that is soon to come thanks to this visionary move of the ICT policy and the
implementations thereafter. When ISOC met the government, it was in awe as to the positive response it got, with his
Excellency being the Chairman of the presidential ICT task force comprising of various members supervised but the Office of
the Vice President and the Minister of information and Communications. Gone are the days when our elders would tell you
off by saying do not bore me with geeky technology speak that we do not understand, but bright are the today when they
usher a new mind to thinking of how to make Sierra Leone competitive in the global arena by doing the basics of not only
the policy, but building alliances to allow technology to play its role in national development.

In today’s world of information technology, you are at risk if you cannot do the basics using information and
communications technology and should be scouring to make sure that you remain competitive whether as someone in school,
business, government, employment or wherever your day to day finds you. The next person could be getting the opportunity
ahead of you for simply knowing how to do some basic things in ICT.

To do those basic things, we must first have the basics, what those in the field called Location Readiness index. This
means, power, devices, connectivity, knowledge. Of all these, our biggest challenge to date has been connectivity, as you
have to have a good and affordable one to be useful. In fact it was seen as a major snag for development by donors such as
the World Bank. Lucky enough for Sierra Leone, His Excellency was able to convince World Bank who with its partners has
provided a soft loan to Sierra Leone to join the big cable which links Sierra Leone to the rest of the world with much
bigger speed and cheaper costs. Due to the war as some would say, we missed on getting this cable to land at the rare
opportunities they pass our shores for other countries and have had to rely exclusively on Satellite connectivity for data,
voice and video communications.

Imagine the average cost according to the World bank for such connectivity is $5,000 per month for a 1mb( one megabyte
connection), whilst people in America and other parts of the world pay less than $50 per month for ten times the speed.

There was much long debate as to the high cost of fiber optic for a nation like Sierra Leone, as a colleague put” the
question is not how much it costs Sierra Leone to have the connection, but how much it is costing us in lost productivity
in not having it.” The cost of availing the net at a free or affordable rate to a young Sierra Leonean to go online and
learn how to develop websites and challenge someone from another country to win that outsourced work in the thousands would
be a tremendous addition to our GDP and socio-economic gaps.

Thus the arrival of the cable would be a moment to remember in our lifetime. In every lifetime there are series of great
events to remember, and this would be one to cherish. The day it lands and the day it is commissioned would forever begin
to change the socio-economic landscape of this great nation to those who avail themselves to growth opportunities.

Evelyn Lewis, CEO of the SBTS Group is also the chairperson of the Internet Society, Sierra Leone Chapter

 

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