The current moment is a particularly challenging one for the continent of Africa. Following in line with the global economic crisis, growth in Africa is now expected to be only 2.8 percent in 2009, following five years of consecutive growth above 5.5 percent. Yet no time is more important than now to bolster Africa’s investments in technology that can boost regional economic growth.

On September 28-29, nearly 300 business leaders and government officials gathered in Nairobi for the Third EU-Africa Business Forum to discuss a positive way forward towards improving the economic climate in Africa. The event, themed “Africa and Europe: On the Road to New Win-Win Partnerships,” discussed the issue of increasing regional integration and the notion of creating an EU-like entity “to achieve prosperity, well-being of the people, and development in the African region.”

In keynotes and discussions, a particular emphasis was given to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a critical backbone of economic growth and regional integration—among other factors like trade, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and energy. Expressed through our Unlimited Potential initiative, Microsoft has long believed that the power of ICT to encourage regional economic development is critical in the 21st century, so this topic was particularly encouraging to witness being addressed at such a substantial level among key African stakeholders.

Representing Microsoft’s viewpoint at the Forum, as well as serving as its Co-Chair, was Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra, the company’s Chairman for Africa. Dr. Diarra explained how an economic climate of scarcity and challenge can actually benefit the use of ICT as a solution: “A lot of people still don’t realize that in fact when you are called upon to be more productive, to be more effective, more efficient, especially during this time of crisis, that is the best time actually to call on ICT to help you actually meet those challenges.”

Broad support for the topics discussed during the Forum has been extremely encouraging—the EC has pledged €5 billion in funding, out of which €1.5 billion is designated for regional integration. Further, the European Commission is calling on private companies to contribute expertise for ICT applications and interconnectivity.

As always, it’s our hope that the ongoing progress of events like the EU-Africa forum that bring together stakeholders from across the world to help solve regional and global issues, including the furthering of ICT, will continue to make a positive impact for communities, governments, and people across Africa and the globe.