Dakar (SEN), May 2007 - START (also called the EuroAfrica-ICT initiative) is a project supported by the European Commission. It aims at connecting Sub-Saharan Africa and the European Union for ICT partnerships through the Framework Programme 7. Ken Lohento from the Panos Institute West Africa is Coordinator of the START initiative in West and Central Africa. He gives us an update on the situation.
Could you please inform us about the current stage of the START project?
Ken Lohento: Two meetings ("concertation" meetings) have been organized in Brussels during which organizations involved in EU-sub-Saharan Africa cooperation in ICT research exchanged their experiences and visions in order to develop synergies between their activities. In March, two awareness and exchange workshops were also organized in Senegal and South Africa respectively in order to inform African stakeholders, but also European organizations that participated, about opportunities offered by the Framework Programme 7.
The objectives of those two meetings were also to discuss African R&D issues in the ICT field and to exchange thoughts about strengthening the European Union and sub-Saharan Africa cooperation in this domain. The next awareness and exchange workshops are planned in July.
Apart from these meetings, an online open consultation process has been launched to gather stakeholder views in Europe and Africa about strengthening cooperation between the two regions. A helpdesk service has also been put in place in order to facilitate proposal submission. The website www.euroafrica-ict.org that was created in November 2006 gathers all information related to FP7 and also functions as a portal providing information about the ongoing cooperation between the European Union and sub-Saharan Africa in the ICT field.
Through email dissemination, we also have informed key stakeholders and mailing lists about FP7 opportunities in the ICT field. The first draft of the strategic document that will provide recommendations about ways to strengthen cooperation between the two regions is being written; this document will be validated by a Reference Panel of experts that will meet in July in Ghana. The EuroAfrica-ICT project team (Panos Institute West Africa, Meraka Institute, and Sigma Consultants the coordinator) also participates in various international meetings in order to promote ICT FP7 opportunities.
How can African and European stakeholders benefit from the Framework Programme7?
Ken Lohento: They can participate by submitting project proposals for selection by the European Union, but this should only be done in response to EU "calls". The first call will close on May 8, 2007, but two others will be launched for this work programme. It's important to mention that only consortiums (group of organizations) can submit projects in most cases, and, in particular, African organizations need to have European stakeholders in their consortiums before being eligible for the funds available.
I would like to mention to African stakeholders that since other regions (including China) are already benefiting from the Framework Programme, Africa should also try to benefit from it by joining or putting in place consortia with European partners. Organizations from public or private research institutions can participate, which means NGOs, government institutions, and private sector organizations are all eligible.
For which themes and challenges can projects be submitted?
Ken Lohento: The themes selected for Call 1 included the network of the future, service and software architectures, cognitive systems, robotics, embedded systems design, computing systems, digital libraries and technology, personal health systems, etc. Horizontal support actions can also be proposed. For more information, please check http://www.euroafrica-ict.org, our official website. It's important to say that the projects to be proposed should fall within the themes selected.
Could you please give us some examples of projects that received funding so far?
Ken Lohento: Projects that received funding in the past - especially projects that benefited other African institutions in one way or another - include the BEANISH
project (Buildind Europe- Africa collaborative Network for applying IST in Health care sector; the 6DISS project (IPv6 Dissemination and exploitation); the Free Libre and Open Source Software - Worldwide Impact Study ( FLOSSWORLD ); and the the European - South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme ( ESASTAP ).
How would you summarize the results achieved so far?
Ken Lohento: In order to be more concrete, since the Panos Institute West Africa, my organization, only manages parts of the project (less than a third), my answer will be related to the tasks we manage. The main result we have achieved so far is the information of stakeholders of the existence of the Framework Programme and the opportunities it can offer to African organizations.
In West and Central Africa (that PIWA covers first of all), the great majority of people didn't know that initiative. We therefore, have a lot of questions regarding what FP7 is, what the themes targeted are, what kind of organizations can benefit from it, how Africans can benefit from it, etc. The Senegalese government, through the Ministry of Scientific Research and the Ministry of ICTs, chairs the regional workshop in Senegal, and I think they are really willing to seize the opportunities offered. Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, among others also participated in that meeting.
We are also trying to link some key players we met who participate in consortiums being put in place in Europe. Because FP7 is new to most people in our regions, it seems they have not yet taken the initiative to found a consortium, for example. Maybe we won't have important African participation in the first call because many people have not yet discovered the work programme, etc., but we hope the situation will improve in future calls.
You are working for the PANOS Institute West Africa. What is the role of your organisation in the Euro/Africa - ICT Initiative?
Ken Lohento: The Panos Institute West Africa is participating in the Start Project through its initiative called CIPACO (Center for International ICT Policies - West and Central Africa), a component of the ICT Programme. We are mainly responsible of organizing three to four awareness and exchange workshops in Africa, contributing to the promotion of FP7 (notably through the helpdesk service), coordinating the open consultation process, and we also contribute to the production of the Strategic Document on strengthening scientific and technical cooperation between Europe and Africa on the ICT field.