Ethiopia has no coherent policy in place to support the growth of IT industry. Existing high import tariffs (40%) on computer and communications equipment make the widespread use of such systems rather expensive, particularly for smaller businesses and institutions.
Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is the incumbent public telecom operator, with a monopoly over all telecom services in the country (fixed, mobile, Internet and data communications). Independent Very Small Aperture Terminal Satellite (VSAT) connections and satellite phones are not allowed, and call-back services are illegal.
The national telecommunication switching capacity of Ethiopia is about 550000 lines, of which about 340000 are currently in use. About 60 percent of telephones are concentrated in Addis Ababa, the capital city. Ethiopia's teledensity is about 0.54, one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. Use of mobile phones in Ethiopia is limited to 90000, but it is growing. Costs are relatively affordable, but service quality and availability are low. ETC plans to introduce pre-paid and subscriber mobile lines (about 400,000 new lines during 2004-2005) to alleviate the situation.
The number of Internet accounts in Ethiopia is still limited to only 6000. Despite the availability of the nationwide local call tariff for dial-up Internet users, the distribution of Internet users is still strongly skewed to the capital (94% are located in Addis Ababa). This is partly due to the limited availability of telecom infrastructure, and partly because of the low level of computerisation outside the capital.
For Ethiopia to meet its development objectives using ICTs as enablers, considerable investments are needed in institutional and sector capacity building efforts. The same is true about human resource development needs, and communications and information technology infrastructure. Appropriate policy and regulatory reforms are needed to ensure equitable, reliable, and affordable access to information and communication technologies. In response to these challenges, the government has embarked on a major effort to put in place many of the building blocks required for developing a robust ICT sector in Ethiopia.
Signs of change
ICT development in Ethiopia has been treated in an ad hoc manner. But there are signs that this is changing. The 'ICT Policy Paper of 2003' provides a framework for defining the direction of the sector and its development objectives. It also sets the stage for institutional arrangements for policy development, and the promotion and regulation of the ICT sector. The Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) is the new regulator. However, it does not have any spectrum management and monitoring activities due to lack of licensing schemes, human resources, and monitoring equipment. The government has recently established the Ethiopian ICT Development Authority (EICTDA) to propose policy and to coordinate a multi-sectoral effort for development of the ICT sector. Two key telecommunications agencies (ETA and ETC) now have newly appointed managing directors and the new management teams are keen on advancing the ICT sector development objectives. All these developments could facilitate the steady growth and development of the sector.
Education and training
Considerable efforts are under way to increase the number of trained ICT professionals in Ethiopia. These include vocational training programmess offered by various institutions, as well as college and university level degree programmess in computer science, electronics, telecommunications and information theory, software engineering and programming, technical management, and design and maintenance of management information systems.
ETC's Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (ITIT) provides basic training in plant maintenance, telegraph and telex, switching, transmission, traffic and management of telecommunication networks. ITIT has recently begun basic training on computer applications and is planning to offer graduate courses in telecom engineering, management and information technologies in 2004 – 2005. Since 1992, the private sector has been providing basic computer and software applications training. The growth of computer training centers in the country, despite their uneven quality, has improved the general level of computer literacy and resulted in more skilled computer usage.
The basic education system has been virtually untouched by computers or Internet. Very few of the 12000 primary schools have computers or Internet access. The government is currently implementing a School Network program (SchoolNet) that will connect about 500 secondary schools as part of a national network. The government has started to introduce ICT training programs in secondary and Technical and Vocational and Educational Training (TVET) schools.
The tertiary education system comprises of 6 national universities and 3 polytechnics with a total of approximately 75000 students. Addis Ababa University (AAU) is the largest tertiary institution and is also host to the African Virtual University (AVU) facilities. AAU has developed a campus-wide network with partial access to Internet. Most other institutions have limited access to computer networks and Internet.
Ethiopia has one of the lowest health status indicators in the world. Infant mortality is 98/1000, maternal mortality rate is 1,800/100,000, and life expectancy is 42 years (2002 World Development Indicators). Health services are only accessible to about 50 percent of the population, and most of the medical experts are concentrated in the major cities. To increase the use of ICT in health service administration, the government is developing a computer based Health Information System.
e-Commerce and the use of the Internet in trade are at a very early stage of development in Ethiopia. e-Commerce related laws and regulations such as privacy protection and digital signature are yet to be adopted. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are being introduced on a pilot basis.
There are about 350000 civil servants in Ethiopia, of which only 2200 have e-mail accounts (based on 735 government EthioNet accounts each having 3 users). It is estimated that only about 14 percent of public servants have access to PCs. Several government ministries and agencies, including Ministry of Finance, have only parts of their operations computerised.
There are also plans for computerisation of other public sector management operations. Through the European Union Delegation, the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) has provided funding to the Ethiopian Federal Parliament and the Federation Council for a project called Development and Upgrading of the Parliamentary Information System (DUPIS). The Ethiopian Civil Service College in Addis Ababa is operating a Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) centre, offering video conferencing and distance learning services in Addis Ababa. The two-way video conferencing facility is housed in a classroom capable of taking up to 40 students. A variety of courses have been offered to about 1,200 students.
The government is developing implemention plans for a government network and a local authority (Woreda) network, to connect the Federal, regional and local governments. The initial phase will create a regional and Woreda administration network that will connect over 560 high schools and 611 Woreda administrations with the regional and Federal governments. The government is also considering broader use of these facilities for service delivery to local communities and offering them as access points for rural connectivity and access through a variety of arrangements, which include public as well as private service providers.
The private sector has been increasingly active in offering IT related goods and services in recent years. Over 170 companies offer computer technology related products and services, mostly in Addis Ababa. Encouraging developments in licensing of private sector operators to set up cyber cafes and to engage in sales, installation and service of communication equipments are also consistent with the government's stated objectives in its ICT Policy paper.
The Broadcasting law allows setting up of NGO programmes, but non-governmental operations or programmes are virtually nonexistent in Ethiopia. Staff of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) lack exposure to international best practices and the development of local (language) content. ETC's position as the incumbent monopoly has led to its inefficiency and ineffectiveness in responding to customer needs. The national government has recently decided to proceed with the licensing of rural connectivity initiatives, private sector Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and community radios.
Major challenges remain in the areas of rural connectivity, development of national telecom infrastructure, mobile telephony, data communications, and availability and affordability of Internet and related services. The Information Technology sector (computers, networks, and related services) is small but growing. ICT human resources are limited due to small markets, low salaries, low on the job incentives, and lack of institutional infrastructure. Sector-specific ICT applications are limited in scope, and very often are implemented in a disjointed and fragmented manner. The implemented solutions are also generally under-utilised. Information availability, particularly in local languages, is limited.
The utter lack of ICT standards hinders widespread growth of applications, particularly in local languages. In practical terms, a number of regulatory, technical, and operational pre-requisites must be instituted before ICTs can have a significant impact on Ethiopia's poverty reduction and socio-economic development efforts.