2005 presents an historic opportunity for Africa with much attention being devoted to the continent realising its full economic potential.
NEPAD, G8, the Millennium Development Goals and the private sector are working towards overcoming the impediments to trade and investment in Africa. Against this backdrop, the role of Nigeria is extremely important at the continental and global level. Perhaps never before have the opportunities for building the competitiveness of African countries and companies in order to give practical reality to economic growth, been as abundant as now.
Many SA-based companies have paid attention and resource to expanding into west Africa with the telecoms boom set to continue in Nigeria - the number of telephone lines will double to 20 million by the end of the year, for example.
South Africa's digital mapping developers, MapIT and Johncom West Africa, formed a partnership of mapping experts in Nigeria who are well placed to provide the data for MapIT Nigeria to publish a range of street guides, wall maps and atlases of equal distinction to that which we are accustomed to in SA.
With the multimillion rand, 3-phase contract between MapIT (whose major shareholder is Johnnic Communications - through New Holland Publishing), technology shareholder Georigin, and Johncom West Africa moving into its second phase, the ambitious undertaking can now provide visually assistive tools to answer the need for geo-located information in this emerging economy.
GM Nigeria visits SA
During a recent visit to South Africa, MapIT Country general manager for Nigeria, Celine Ikioda, was keyed up at the wealth of business expertise to be gained from MapIT's South African successes. "MapIT's objectives to create a seamless map of Africa dovetails with our local objectives to use this as a base upon which a sustainable, commercially viable mapping business can be established for Nigeria. My trip to SA has connected me with South African suppliers and distributors of products using digital mapping and given me a much better understanding of the wide range of opportunities for my own country."
Ikioda is responsible for rolling out MapIT's Nigerian mapping business based on the SA model. She sees herself as a modern day pioneer, establishing an entire industry from the ground up, based on new technology and in an emerging country. "My job of launching a new enterprise is challenging in that the infrastructure is not as neatly in place in Nigeria as I have observed it is in SA. I have to introduce the country to mapping, create satellite businesses in paper-based and virtual mapping applications, build the brand and develop an understanding of the business-related opportunities offered by location-based services. I see myself in the sphere of building a structured society while at the same time fostering sustainable economic growth."
Maps in action
With the recent completion of the Nigerian Road Atlas, immediate possibilities for products may cover paper-based wall atlases, glove compartment atlases and a plethora of tourism-based atlases, especially with the lack of information supporting the tourism industry in that country.
Ikioda states that this is also a great way of letting children know more about the world and their country, "Our plans to introduce the Atlas to learning institutions and schools will play a key role in accelerating and deepening children's understanding of geography, particularly with reference to their own country. Anchoring their learning of the territory in accurate and well produced geo-referenced material will, I believe, encourage intra-African interaction as they reach the business world. I am hoping this will encourage the entrepreneurial spirit so central to the growth of the country."
MD of MapIT South Africa, Ray Wilkinson, has a positive outlook for the future of Africa, "Celine Ikioda has a challenging task ahead of her. Africa is the next frontier for investment and the largest source of jobs and wealth creation often comes from small business. A mapping-based industry can generate many opportunities for a wide scope of businesses based in geo-referencing; wall maps, digital mapping products such as full service navigation from a PDA or desktop, asset control and fleet management. The capacity building prospects exist once the mapping data has been created. With the completion of the Nigerian Atlas we have a solid foundation upon which to go forward, knowing that the data is geographically accurate - a crucial factor in keeping the integrity of subsequent geo-locational products in place. The spin-off products from the road atlas are waiting to be uncovered and Celine's visit to SA has familiarised her with what we have come to accept as 'everyday' - digital directories, streetmaps such as those offered by MapStudio, navigation and mobile services. The next phase of map data development will offer all the breaks possible offered by street level data of the inner city of Lagos."
A history of development
Over three thousand years ago there were two important developments in West Africa: long distance trade and the ability to manipulate stone, clay and metals to a sophisticated degree. Against this background, the trend has continued in Nigeria and we now see the redevelopment of the continent based on the resources and resourcefulness of the African people themselves. In its own way, MapIT will be joining in to meet Africa's resource gap.