Addressing the ICT Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said improved access to the internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) can help Africa to meet its social and economic goals.
He said only 5.7% of Africans had access to the internet and while the continent made up 14% of the world's population, only 3.6% of the world's internet subscribers were from Africa.
"We believe that strategic investment in ICT will allow Africa to increasingly play a role in the development of new applications and technological innovations that are relevant for the needs of our continent and that this will ensure a continued multiplier effect on economic growth," he said.
He said South Africa should consider best practice in smart cities and skilled workers that have helped to developed knowledge economies.
It was also important to look at ways that entrepreneurs can adopt green technology and consider ways to bring more rural areas online - especially because 55% of Africans live in rural areas.
He singled out 28-year-old Nigerian, Saheed Adepoju, who developed the first African-made tablet PC - the Afritab as an inspiration for Africa.
African countries must approve internet access for libraries, schools, health care centres and science centres, he said.
"Africa carries on its shoulders a historical burden next to none in the use and provision of technology. We therefore have to rise to the occasion and weigh-in our salt's worth by becoming a strong player in the world ICT's market," he said.
Seventy percent of employees in the developed world worked in the knowledge economy. The biggest commodity in the world today, Motlanthe said, was knowledge and the ability to generate access and distribute knowledge was key to developing any country.
ICT had helped propel South Korea from a developing nation, which in 1960 had a GDP equal to that of Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon, but within 30 years had grown to become one of the eight richest countries in the world.
A knowledge economy allowed nations to enhance their competitiveness and growth, said Motlanthe, pointing out that studies by the World Bank had shown that for every 10% growth in ICT, the economy grew by 1.4%.
He said no African country was placed in the top 50 countries out of 154 the International Telecoms Union's ICT Development Index.
Mauritius, at 69, was the highest ranked African country.
He said South Africa's policy environment must be able to foster foreign direct investment, while the country's ICT regulatory framework must ensure reduced costs and ensure secure networks.
Added to this, the necessary skills must be in place for a robust knowledge-based economy and adequate funding must be in place to ensure access to broadband for all.
Houlin Zhao, the deputy secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said industry, leaders and youth shared a strong commitment to seeing Africa grow.
He said Africa was the most dynamic continent, with 57% mobile penetration and added that the continent had the potential to overtake the Asia-Pacific region in access to mobile and broadband communication if it continued on its current trajectory. - BuaNews