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South Sudan tech officials decry their country’s technology gap

Esther Muwombi
South Sudan, one of the least technologically developed countries in the world, continues to lag the internet innovation underway elsewhere in Africa, South Sudanese officials acknowledged.
21.12.2015  |  Kigali, Rwanda
A DSTV installation in Yei, February 1, 2006. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)
A DSTV installation in Yei, February 1, 2006. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)

South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, still doesn’t have an internet domain and some internet applications, including google maps, bing, mapquest and yahoo maps, don’t recognise the country.

Rebecca Joshua Ocwasi, South Sudan’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), attended the Transform Africa summit, Africa's biggest ICT summit in Kigali Rwanda, representing President Salva Kiir.

Transform Africa was attended by 2,500 specialists from 81 countries as well as seven heads of states.

Speaking at the event, she acknowledged her country’s technological deficit and hoped swift improvement would benefit other spheres, like health and education. “Technology is an enabler for us to be able to lift countries like ours from that stage. We are barely five years old,” she said.

Technology in South Sudan is hampered by a lack of key infrastructure, including electricity, she said. “We need power for our devices and gadgets and to carry on innovating; but the good news is that South Sudan is endowed with a lot of power. We have already taken steps on developing these resources. Soon we will actually be a big source for power in Africa.”

South Sudan’s progress has been reined back by protracted violence in many parts of the country since late 2013, which has killed more than ten thousand people and has set back the nation in its tentative bid to establish infrastructure and respond to basic humanitarian needs.

But one analyst said South Sudan needed to stop underestimating its potential by emphasising that it is a young nation. “Rwanda is growing fast because it took itself as a mature country from the start, South Sudan needs to take this example,” said Mugume Rwakaringi, CEO of the Nile Fortune Magazine.

Rebecca Joshua Ocwasi also revealed that plans were underway for South Sudan to connect to fibre optic broadband, which would improve the country’s patchy internet connection.

“We are in the process of bringing fibre optic connectives. We have laid the foundation stone this year of connecting a 1,600 km fibre network through Uganda to the cable in the sea and also through Kenya to Kopeota and Tanzania,” she said, adding that the World Bank was supporting the project that is earmarked to be completed in a year’s time.

South Sudan has only one percent internet outreach and 27 percent mobile penetration, largely because of unrest and high illiteracy rates. South Sudan, however, wants to develop its ICT sector. Recently, South Sudan joined the one network area scheme, removing international roaming charges for calls between Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan.

“The digital tsunami is not leaving us behind. We joined Transform Africa in 2007 before we were even born as a country. Our President is even a founding member of this summit,” said Rebecca Joshua Ocwasi.

Rose Poni, from South Sudan Youth Technology Development organisation said that the conference had boosted her hopes that technology would help South Sudan move faster towards development and peace.

“It is sad that South Sudan is not recognised on the internet but at least I am happy that now we are serious about developing our ICT sector,” she said. “Through ICT we can reduce illiteracy rates in South Sudan and even spread peace messages.”

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