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The Recent USAID ICT Assessment in Eritrea and the Effort to Integrate Gender Analysis

Presenters: Roshika Singh and Kim Jefferson, USAID/Information Resources Management/Program for Technology Transfer/SETA Corporation.

Chair: Roberto Chavez, Lead Urban Specialist, World Bank

In March, 2001, USAID led an ICT Assessment in Eritrea to gauge the IT enabling environment and examine potential IT opportunities. Ms. Singh and Ms. Jefferson shared USAID's ICT assessment approach and the findings of this study. The assessment consisted of 5 points of analysis:

Pipes - current state of telecom infrastructure, including connectivity and access to IT.
Public Sector - examination of the legal and regulatory framework.
Private Sector - current state of the private sector.
People - examination of human capital, training capacity and educational curriculum.
Gender - identification of opportunities or obstacles women and men face in terms of access to IT.

Using the findings from each of these five points of analysis, the presenters identified barriers to diffusion of ICTs in Eritrea. These included:

Legal and Regulatory Framework - fees charged for calls to ISPs were found to be three times higher than for regular telephone calls.
Tariff and Pricing Policies - although the official tax rate and duty on imports was reasonable, if equipment was not accompanied by a letter of credit, the invoice was not valid. As a result, the duty was calculated based on a price according to custom's records, and this was typically driving the cost of importing hardware up by a significant percentage.  
Appropriate Models - literacy levels, language barriers, hardware needs and sustainability need to be accounted for in public access centers.
Time Poverty - inelasticity of time leads to high opportunity costs associated with training and has gendered differences.

Following the assessment, the Eritrean government issued a directive on National Telecommunications Tariffs and Rates which normalized charges for calls to ISPs. It was also found that the Internet was beginning to contribute toward transparency and freedom of expression. This was illustrated by the ability of the media to comment on a letter published that expressed views contrary to the government.

In follow up, USAID plans to finance the upgrading of Internet services in Eritrea, conduct a hyper text markup language (HTML) training session to raise digital literacy, as well as convene an e-commerce workshop.

After the presentation the discussion focused on the e-readiness assessment, users and providers of ICT services, training, comprehensive frameworks, and sustainable models of public access centers.

E-readiness assessment - The type of assessment USAID used and how it differs from other models which assess e-readiness was discussed. The USAID team developed their template incorporating ideas used by other private firms and institutions through researching existing models and adapting ideas so that they would be relevant in the context of the countries that ICT assessments were being conducted in. A template was designed as a result. They tried to integrate methods that would identify who is using the Internet, what is the demand for IT services, and what is currently hindering unmet demand.

Users and providers of Internet services in Eritrea - Participants asked about the profile of those opening ISPs and establishing businesses. The presenters explained that the most of the Eritreans involved in these activities are people who had left the country during the conflict, were trained and educated abroad, and then returned. There was some tension between this diaspora and certain members of the government. On the other hand, some participants showed their interest how diaspora contribute to their homelands' IT development in many countries.

Training - It was suggested that training should focus on three areas: finance; social networking of women; and participation through the Internet giving people access to the Internet is also empowering and results in increased transparency.

Comprehensive framework - Participants emphasized that it is important to have a comprehensive framework for implementing an ICT strategy and that the infrastructure needs should not be underestimated. It is also important that the strategy be supported by the government.

Developing sustainable models - The challenge of developing a financially sustainable public access center that is targeted to a specific segment of the population was discussed. Participants discussed the option of starting telecenters with public funding in areas where the private sector would not enter. One participant suggested a model of putting computers in secondary schools. The schools could then use the computers during the day and the labs could be open to the public for fee-based services after school.

Updated: 6/9/04

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Presentation Materials 07/18/01