Africa's Inexpensive Laptops

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African countries are bracing themselves for this month's rollout of US$150, Linux-based laptops for school children under the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.

The OLPC is the brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for example, said last week that the government intends to provide the laptops to primary schools.

The Rwandan government, through the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research will collaborate with the OLPC in rolling out the machines in schools.

"Rwanda wants to transform into a knowledge-based economy hence the need to provide schools throughout the country with computers," Kagame said in a statement.

Libya, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia, among other countries, are also expected to receive the machines this month.

Libya has agreed to work with the OLPC project to deploy the laptops for every school-age child in the country. The commitment for the PCs however, differ from country to country depending on the number of primary school going children, according to Jackie Lustig, a spokesperson for OLPC.

"Nigeria, Rwanda and Libya have showed commitment to the OLPC. We are also in discussion with several other countries that have approached us and showed varying levels of interests," Lustig said in an e-mail exchange.

Lustig said that Libya has committed to provide 1.2 million children with the laptops within one year while Rwanda will provide 2 million children with the laptops in five years.

Libya has said, however, that it will buy more laptops than the number of children in the country and will contribute the excess machines to poorer African nations.

The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has said Nigeria has committed to buy one million OLPC machines.

The rollout has already started in some countries in Africa but the full-scale roll out is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of this year, Lustig said.

African countries are signing up for OLPC laptops because of the huge need in Africa for low-cost PCs. There are different projects under way to meet the need. In Kenya, the government has managed to assemble low-cost computers with the help of several vendors.

Lenovo Group Ltd., Sahara Computers Ltd. and Mecer PC have been appointed by the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) to assemble the first computers in the Madaraka line this month. These computers are priced at $450.

Lustig said the OLPC machines will be priced at cost -- meaning that the price will change over time. While the prices of the laptops are currently $150, Lustig said the plan is to hit $100 in the 2008-2009 timeframe and $50 in 2010-211. The laptops will only be sold to governments and issued to schools.

The companies that are participating in the OLPC project include Google Inc., eBay Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., Advanced Micro Device Inc. and News Corp. with Quanta Computer Inc. of Taiwan as the original design manufacturer for the laptops.

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