Eritrea hooks up on IT.

Author:Street, Jennie

Computers e-mail and the Internet are relatively new concepts to most Eritreans. But, as Jennie Street reports, the country is catching up fast.

When Eritrea won its independence in 1991, there were no computers, except for a few brought in by the EPLF from their time in the field. Now there are about 30 computer companies, and according to Mr Tewelde Ghebreab, Director of the Eritrean Information Systems Agency (EISA), located within the president's office, "on average, computers are being introduced into Eritrea at the rate of about 400-500 per annum."

Although a lot of computers are coming into the country, "computer use is very limited, and even those who use them, are not aware of their capacity," he says.

EISA was established to set standards for computer software and hardware, to design systems and programmes, provide maintenance, and training in maintenance and software use, mainly to the civil service, on a commercial basis. Their greatest success has been designing a system to streamline the business license office. Similar overhaul is being planned for the Ministry of Transport and for the customs and taxation offices.

Mr Menghis Samuel, a communications engineer who returned to Eritrea to develop his company, Ewan Technology Solutions, after 17 years in the US where he worked for AT&T, feels that it is not advisable for a government body to be a service provider. "Programming and other services should be left to the competitive market, after the initial period of stimulating competition."

Because Eritrea started so late, e-mail connections only began in 1996. Ewan serves 250 customers commercially, to promote the technology. "We help business to understand that it is cheaper to e-mail than fax or phone," Mr Samuel commented.

But Eritrea is still not on the Internet. This puts it among the last two countries in Africa not to be connected. The other one is Libya, which cannot be connected because of sanctions.

Mr Estifanos Afwerki, director of the Telecommunications Service of Eritrea (TSE) told African Business that six ministries were about to go on the Internet, being served through Addis Ababa. "I would definitely welcome the Internet, it is not a threat, but we have to build the [telecommunications] network before we can connect to the Internet. What's the use of the Internet if only some businesses in Asmara use it and cannot connect to the rest of Eritrea?"

Mr Samuel is not satisfied with this state of affairs. "We need...

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