UN representative to Amman ICT Forum: Middle East still lags behind on IT development

Published October 6th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

The Middle East Information Technology (IT) industry is developing at a slower pace compared to other world regions, asserted AOL executive John Vandenberg, in an interview with Albawaba.com correspondent on the sidelines of the ICT forum recently held in the Jordanian capital of Amman.  


The official referred to the region’s rate of adopting computer technology and the Internet, as well as producing computer peripherals and software. In addition to his role at AOL, Vandenberg attended the forum in his capacity as the UN representative through Markel Consulting Corporation, which supports Jordan’s efforts to develop a local IT industy. 


Markel provides consultancy services to the United Nations, as well as other international organizations and governments, focusing on the use of information and communication technology in the national economic development process. 


Despite his gloomy valuation of the regional state of IT development, Vandenberg noted that he is optimistic, estimating that there is great potential for IT development in the region, which includes a 300-million strong Arabic-speaking population.  


The region’s possibilities depend on those who are committed to working towards progress at the economic and social levels, he added. In view of this, the international expert anticipated that the “region will become an important market in future.” 


Markel Corporation has recently shifted its focused towards Jordan, stated Vandenberg, setting plans for promoting IT penetration. “There is no doubt that America On Line (AOL) will be present in this part of the world, which witnesses a good penetration of Personal Computers (PCs) and is committed to the spread of IT,” added Vandenberg. 


The AOL executive revealed that his company is negotiating with some corporations and firms in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt and Jordan. Yet, he confirmed that nothing has come out of these negotiations yet. “We have not yet decided to enter the region but we are still observing market development and we will take our decision when progress is achieved in this respect,” said Vandenberg. 


AOL is already present in many West European countries and is active in Mexico, Argentine and Brazil. At present it is expanding its operations throughout Asia, including Japan and China, in addition to its established presence in the Australian continent. 


Regarding the framework through which AOL could seek to penetrate the region once the decision is taken, Vandenberg said, “our general vision focuses on providing the same quality of service as we provide in the US but with some consideration to content that suits Arab users and the equipment they have.” 


Giving examples of such region-specific considerations, Vandenberg said, “German experts prepare content that is more German oriented due to the particularity of this country. Once we introduce our service to the Arab world, our Arabic site will be designed, programmed and developed by Arab experts in a manner that best suits Arab users.” 


Commenting on CNN’s Arabic site, Vandenberg implicitly said that this endeavor has not lived up to expectations. “It is only the beginning and the site is growing in consistency with the growth and development of IT market in the region,” said Vandenberg. 


He added, “You penetrate into the market and grow with it, hoping that the models surrounding you will grow in a manner that will help you. This entails many risks and challenges. Naturally there are no guarantees in a market full of competitors such as the Jordanian market.” 


Responding to a question on his impression of Jordan, Vandenberg said, “what I saw in Jordan was astonishing and I cannot but admire the transparency, continuous efforts and endurance capability, which the leadership of this country has demonstrated in the field of IT.” 


“There is a will and determination to continue modernization and there is a constant assessment process with the help of foreign assistance. This indicates impressive self confidence,” added the AOL executive, who described the cooperation between Jordan’s public and private sectors in promoting IT development as remarkable. 


“This harmony between the public and private sectors combined with the vision of King Abdulla II on a regional IT partnership, if adopted as a model in the region, will definitely accelerate development and progress in the region,” said Vandenberg.  


He added, “from the US point of view at least, the region seems to fail to achieve continuous advancement due to the lack of sufficient economic and political reforms and obstacles on the way of creativity, investment, freedom and equality between man and woman. Nonetheless, Jordan has succeeded in addressing these issue and I believe we will witness great progress in future.” 


Responding to a question on AOL and Time Warner’s international plans, Vandenberg indicated that attention is centered on China, which he described as the fastest nation in terms of Internet penetration. “In China the number of Internet users increased from two to 30 millions in one year and the figure is still growing,” he added.  


“Since last year we have been focusing on China and we are optimistic that we will be able to reach agreements in our current negotiations with the government of China,” concluded Vandenberg. — (menareport.com) 

© 2002 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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