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close this bookInformation Technology in Selected Countries (UNU, 1994, 148 pages)
close this folder2: Information technology in Ethiopia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. Historical perspective
View the document3. Government policy and the role of key institutions
View the document4. Telecommunication infrastructure
View the document5. IT applications in the service sector
View the document6. Education and training in IT
View the documentAppendix: Computer courses
View the documentReferences

(introductory text...)

Teferi Kebede

1. Introduction

This report presents some highlights of the application of information technology (IT) in Ethiopia and attempts to show the overall situation. However, it may be worth noting that, on the basis of the present activities and the 10-year perspective plan, it is very likely that the situation will change dramatically in the next two to five years.


Ethiopia has a total land area of 1,251,282 km2, comprising a central highland mass surrounded by low land. It is the seventh-largest country in Africa. The country extends from latitude 3°N to 18°N and longitude 33°E to 48°E, with approximately equal east-west and north-south dimensions.

With a population of 46 million, Ethiopia is one of the most populous of the least developed countries in Africa. The age distribution shows that the country's population is predominantly young, with 46.6 per cent of the population under 15 years of age and 69 per cent under 30 years of age.

Early Ethiopian civilization indicates a number of achievements in the application of science and technology. The remnants of impressive architectural works of pre-Christian and Christian times are evidence of the progress made in civil engineering and architectural works.

A detailed historical overview of science and technology in Ethiopia has been given in the document entitled "Assessment of the current situation and problems of S&T in Ethiopia" presented to the conference on the National Science and Technology Policy of Ethiopia.1

Mention should also be made that Ethiopia has its own script, "Amharic," which is an official language of communication in government organizations and schools. Innovative development of IT in the country takes this fact into consideration.

Report Outline

In section 2 the historical development of IT is reviewed and data on suppliers presented. Section 3 deals with the role of key institutions in the promotion of IT in Ethiopia. Section 4 concentrates on the telecommunications infrastructure. The application of IT in some of the major organizations in the service sector is discussed in section 5. Finally, the current situation with regard to education training in IT is presented in section 6.

2. Historical perspective

The application of computers, and thereby the development and awareness of mechanization, is closely related to the introduction of computers into Ethiopia by foreign suppliers. In this report an attempt is therefore made to show how computer usage started in Ethiopia in relation to the major suppliers, namely IBM, NCR, SERIC Ethiopia, and Burroughs.

IBM in Ethiopia

The introduction of IBM products dates back to 1962. The first IBM numerical accounting machine introduced in that year was model 1421/814. A very slow printer was attached to it. Programming was done using wiring panel, which needed a qualified engineer.

In 1963 IBM introduced a semi-mechanical accounting machine, model 407, at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Progress was made by introducing an IBM computer, model 1440, which was an auto code. One of the institutions that installed this computer was the Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority.

Although the exact date is not known, it was between 1965 and 1970 that an electronic data-processing system, an IBM model 360/20, a punched card system, was installed in Ethiopia. It had a memory capacity of 8-16 KB.

A transition from card to tape-disk system was made in the 1970s with the introduction of system 3/10. This system involved a monolithic capacity ranging from 32 KB to 64 KB, the magnetic tape reading speed was equivalent to 1,000 cards per minute as compared with 250 cards per minute of system 360/20. The major software language was Report Program Generator. It was the longest-used computer in Ethiopia and was in operation in some organizations until 1986.

As a result of competition between suppliers in Ethiopia, changes in the technology were brought to the attention of users. Demand for more efficient systems began to be felt. To this end, IBM introduced system 34,36 model 4361 between 1981 and 1986, a transition from a card system to a fully magnetic system.

NCR in Ethiopia

As with IBM, the history of NCR began with the introduction of cash registers and, later, mechanical accounting machines (NCR models 2000 and 3000), with major applications such as payroll and building. NCR introduced electronic systems, like the 399 and 499, for the same purpose. The first NCR Model 8200 minicomputer was installed in 1976. It had 64 KB of main memory and 9.6 MB of hard disk. NCR also installed its 850 minicomputer between 1977 and 1984. Since then a number of installations have been made.

SERIC in Ethiopia

Société d'études réalisation, information et de conseil (SERIC) is a representative of Hewlett-Packard Computers in Ethiopia.

The introduction of HP computers in Ethiopia is a recent phenomenon, starting from 1980. However, SERIC has shown a rapid growth in the number of computer installations in a short period as compared with the other suppliers. HP systems are now widespread, and include those in international and regional organizations located in Addis Ababa. The HP 3000 series used to be very common but now personal computers (PCs) have been installed in many organizations.

Burroughs in Ethiopia

Burroughs introduced its products with desktop calculators and Model 1500 accounting machines in 1968. Its first computer was installed in Ethiopian Airlines. Late in the 1970s it introduced the Model B80 minicomputer in a few government organizations. Although Burroughs closed its office in 1981, a number of its installations have been made in government organizations by BURCO Systems.

Electronic Usage in Ethiopia

As an industrial activity, electronics has yet to start in Ethiopia, though some efforts have been initiated towards assembling radio receiver sets.

Sophisticated systems are in operation in the fields of mass media, radio communication, telecommunication, and communication and navigational aids for civil aviation. The data-processing sector, which was practically nonexistent about 30 years ago, is now within reach of many operational areas.

The earliest use of electronics in Ethiopia was in the mass communication subsector, followed by telecommunication and radio communication. Table 2.1 shows imports of electronic products other than computers in 1980. Total value amounts to US$13.54 million. As from 1980 imports began to increase. It was reported in 1983 that 63 per cent of such imports were of telecommunication and broadcasting equipment. In 1988, some 280 computers were imported, mostly PCs, and in 1989 the figure rose to 345.

Table 2.1. Imports of electronics products, 1980

Product and other details

Quantity No.

Value Birr

Calculating machine

BTN :84.52



SITC :751.210

Duty: 30%

Cash register

BTN: 84.52



SITC: 751.230

Duty: 30%

Accounting machine

BTN: 84.52



SITC: 751.220

Duty: 30%

Automatic data processing

BTN :84.53



SITC: 752.00

Duty: Free

TV broadcast receiver

BTN : 85.15



SITC: 761.110

Duty: 50%

Radio receiver

BTN :85.15



SITC: 762.110

Duty: 25%

Other radio receiver including radiograms and cassette recorders

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 762.111

Duty: 50%


BTN: 92.11



SITC: 763.110

Duty: 50%

Record player, tape or wire recorder and deck

BTN: 92.11



SITC: 763.180

Duty: 50%

Other sound recorders and reproducers

BTN :92.11



SITC: 763.800

Duty: 50%

Electronic line telephone and telegraphic apparatus

BTN: 85.13



SITC: 764.110

Duty: Free

Microphones and loudspeakers

BTN: 85.14



SITC :764.210

Duty: 25%

Other radio broadcasting apparatus

BTN : 85.25



SITC :764.310

Duty: Free/15%

Other television transmission apparatus

BTN: 85.15



SITC :764.311

Duty: Free

Other television video cameras

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 764.820

Duty: 50%

Radio navigational aid apparatus

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 764.331

Duty: Free

Other radio navigational apparatus, radar, etc.

BTN :85.15



SITC :764.832

Duty: Free (when imported by government)

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus falling within heading 764.110

BTN :85.13



SITC: 764.910

Duty: Free

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus falling within heading 764.210

BTN :85.14



SITC: 764.920

Duty: 25%

Radio spare parts

BTN :85.10



SITC: 764.931

Duty: 25%

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus and equipment falling within 763

BTN: 92.11



SITC: 764.900

Duty: 50%

Radio valves, tubes and transistors

BTN :85.21



SITC: 776.000

Duty: 35%

Source: Ref. 2.

3. Government policy and the role of key institutions

This section deals with the main means by which IT innovation has been encouraged since 1975; the degree to which the government has been involved in the promotion of IT innovation; and the role of institutions in implementing the IT innovation.

The Context of IT Development

In general the major commitment of the government to provide the requisite political will and authority for the coordination and promotion of science and technology, its application to development, and overall evaluation of results achieved in the field has been manifested by the establishment of a national commission, the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission (ESTC), in 1975 by proclamation No. 62/1975.

The commission is the apex decision-making and coordinating body for science and technology (S&T) in the nation. Its aim is to create conditions conducive to the development of the organic growth of a viable scientific and technological system.

One of the policy statements relevant to the theme of this report is the following: "Establishment of a system for the evaluation and monitoring of imported technologies and identification of areas where indigenous technologies can be developed." Among the actions taken by the commission to make such systems viable is the creation of institutions for S&T services to support the development of key sectors in the economy.

The programmes designed by the commission for the promotion of IT innovative development are included in the Emerging Technology area, which has been given due attention.

The National Computer Committee

The National Computer Committee was established under the Central Statistics Authority, and was then transferred to ESTC in 1987. The members of the committee were drawn from seven organizations that represented key sectors in the national development plan.

The terms of reference of the committee are:

(1) to evaluate projects that are related to computers;

(2) to approve the importation of IT products on the basis of the reasonableness of the cost and saving of foreign currency, availability of local maintenance services, software availability and compatibility, upgradability and expansion potential and training of personnel;

(3) to keep records of imported IT products;

(4) to prepare a policy draft on computerization.

From the above one might think that the committee was set up as a mechanism to control the type and number of computers. However, it is rather to encourage individuals and organizations to develop interest, mostly in the application of PCs, and thereby promote IT innovation in Ethiopia.

The National Computer Centre

Having studied the overall situation with regard to the use of computers in Ethiopia, it was decided to establish a coordinating body for the overall development of computing in the country. As a result, a National Computer Centre (NCC) was established in 1987 under the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission.

The computer centre was established with the following major objectives:

(1) to conduct R&D activities in computer S&T and to disseminate the results;

(2) to promote the development of computer knowledge and services in Ethiopia;

(3) to provide consultancy and maintenance services;

(4) to provide training courses.


In order to meet its objectives the centre focuses on the following major activities:

(1) Find permanent solutions that will help to utilize computer technology economically and effectively for the country's socio-economic development, recognizing the fact that the computers imported into Ethiopia are from different vendors and are of different makes and hence have different maintenance needs.

(2) Search for a reliable means fully to exploit usage of computer capability in the national language and thereby enhance its wider application in all sectors of the economy.

(3) Design and provide appropriate training courses to alleviate manpower problems in the area. In addition, act as a national focal point for consultancy in curricula development in infotechnology and research activities in the field.

(4) Assist government organizations in designing projects, preparing terms of reference for consultants when required, and monitoring project implementation.

(5) Conduct R&D activities in infotechnology and ensure that its applications are in line with the country's development objectives. (Hardware & software research and development.)

(6) Provide a full-fledged maintenance service.

Since its establishment, the NCC has been involved in a number of IT innovation development efforts. These had enabled the centre to develop application software packages in Amharic and usage of PCs in the local language for word processing, databases, desktop publishing, statistical analysis, spreadsheets, etc.

Achievements of the NCC


The NCC has developed a range of Amharic software for distribution. At present these run on IBM PC, XT and AT, PS/2 and compatibles and range from Amharic operating system "AGAFARI" to Amharic Publishing "MAHTEME."


To make the IBM PCs and compatibles operational in the Amharic language, an add-on device has been developed at the NCC. In addition, such items as printer chips for Amharic are also available. It should be noted that some of these services and outcomes are the result of its R&D activities during just one and a half years, i.e. up to July 1988.

4. Telecommunication infrastructure

The Ethiopian Telecommunication Authority (ETA) came into being in January 1953 with the responsibility of catering for national as well as international telecommunication services, excluding military telecommunication.

The ETA is managed by a General Manager who is the chief executive under the direction of a board of directors whose ex officio chairman is the Minister of Transport and Communication. ETA, a state-owned agency, has administrative and financial autonomy.

The telecommunication services offered by ETA include telephony, telegraphy, and telex. Broadcasting was also handled by ETA until it was transferred to the Ministry of Information and Guidance in 1977.

Existing Facilities

Existing facilities for domestic communication include long lines, microwave, UHF, and RRC transmission systems. For international telecommunication traffic, the ETA depends mainly on its INTELSAT standard A earth station SOT-1A. Some international traffic is also handled by the PANTEL microwave system.

An important feature of the development programme of ETA is the commencement of digitalization in 1989, which has led to the development of an integrated services digital network. Along with the digitalization of networks, telex, facsimile, data transmission, international subscriber dialling, and a national data-processing service have been introduced. ETA is also implementing a computerized management information system.

Future Plans

To consolidate the sixth Development Programme (1984-1988) and to extend telecommunication services to remote areas, the next plan premised on the National Development Programme is under preparation. This plan, which is scheduled for 1989-1994, envisages digitalization of the older microwave routes and opening up of some 320 remote stations using terrestrial radio systems and small satellite earth stations. As for switching, 20 more digital exchanges with a capacity of about 60,000 will be connected to the network, bringing the total capacity to 268,000 lines. The ETA development programmes and targets are shown in table 2.2.

5. IT applications in the service sector

In this section, application of IT in the sectors most affected by IT is briefly reviewed through some government organizations that represent some of the priority sectors.

It should be noted that although the agriculture sector has not been directly affected by IT it still remains and is expected to remain the largest sector of the economy in the foreseeable future: 15 per cent of the working population are in the transformative and services sectors, while 85 per cent are engaged in the agricultural sector, with a negligible number in the other extractive sectors forestry, fishing, and mining.

Central Statistics Office

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) started using data-processing equipment in 1964. Its first rented brand was an IBM 421 model 14. This was a mechanical machine with a reproducer, collator, sorter, and printer. The CSO used the equipment for processing statistical and research-oriented applications. The B14 was in use until 1968 when the magnitude of data-processing activity outgrew the capability of the system. The B14 was a first step up from manual processing.

In 1969, the CSO's activities justified migration to equipment that was another step forward in technological advancement. The CSO rented an IBM system 360 model 20, which was a typical card-oriented computer with a monthly cost of US$1,269. The 360/20 electronic computer had a card reader of 250 cards per minute and a printer with a speed of 200 lines per minute (LPM), and had 15 KB of memory of which the operating system used only 2 KB. The computer was limited to the Report Program Generator (RPG) compiler. The major activity of the CSO was statistical tabulation based on data collected from sample surveys conducted from time to time.

Table 2.2. Ethiopian Telecommunication Authority Development Programme target objectives

6th Development Programme 1984-88

7th Development Programme 1989-94

At start

At end

Growth %

At start

At end

Growth %

No. of automatic exchanges







Capacity of automatic exchanges







No. of manual exchanges







Capacity of manual exchanges







No. of telephone service stations







No. of PBX







No. of coin boxes







No. of direct exchange lines







No. of telephones







No. of telex subscriptions







Fixed assets(US$'000)







No. of employees







Source: Ref. 3.

The memory was too small to contain a complete compiler plus a program to be run, and several passes, each involving the reading of the program, must be made through the system in order to compile a program. Naturally these operations of reloading the input deck or tape took quite a long time.4

As the bulk of incoming transactions increased and timely information from the CSO's electronic data-processing (EDP) centre was requested, the centre failed to respond adequately owing to the small size and slow processing power of the computer. It would take 150,000 cards on 5 columns about 15 hours to generate a single tabulation report, and operators had to attend to the sorting routine throughout since there were no media to store cumulated information for further processing.

In 1973, the CSO rented an IBM system 3 model 10 computer at a cost of US$1,990 per month. System 3 was a transition from a card-based system to a magnetic tape system. The physical size of the equipment was very much reduced and the processing power and performance were increased.

Additional statistical applications were introduced since the facility provided RPG 11 and FORTRAN IV for array processing and closed subroutines. The CSO computer centre performed its major task of processing the first census made in 1968 with the system 3 computer.

The CSO rented out excess computer time outside normal working hours. Users who had their own programs, punched data, and continuous paper were charged for the central processing unit (CPU) time at 100 Birr per hour plus 10 Birr per hour for the computer operator. The average charge for data capturing was 3-7 cents per record depending on the magnitude of the record length. Program preparation was negotiated according to the complexity of the application. In most cases the average charge amounted to Birr 75,000.

System 3 was used for seven years in an environment that was next door to sawmill dust. The malfunctioning was intolerable and frequent jamming of cards delayed normal work processing. In addition, the maintenance and rental charges, which were payable in US dollars, had increased excessively owing to the vendor's policy and world inflation.

In 1980, the CSO installed the NCR 8455 model. The 8455 was a multiprogramming and multi-tasking system with a virtual storage capacity. It had 512 KB of memory and 200 MB high-capacity disk storage. The computer centre supervisor reported that the NCR 8455 had never been operational during its period of two years at the CSO centre.

At the beginning of 1983, the CSO purchased the HP 3000 series 44 computer system. The system initially had 1 MB of memory and 800 MB of mass storage with 12 block mode terminals. The computer was set up to deal with the first nationwide census ever held in the country. It was then upgraded to series 48 with 2 MB of memory and 42 terminals, with an additional 24 micros used for data capture; total disk space available is 2 GB. At this period the computer centre was highly organized with additional staff and expatriate consultants. It is said that the generation of timely reports of the census was credited to both the capacity of the computer and the organized effort of the EDP staff.

The software library has FORTRAN, COBOL, RPG 11, SPL, BASIC, and PASCAL. The CSO uses packages like SPSS, CONCOR (used for editing), CONCENTS (COBOL census tabulation system)? and X TALLY and CO X TALLY for report generation.

EDP Personnel and Organization

The CSO established its data-processing centre with a staff of one supervisor, one machine operator, and five key punch operators. Two program trainees who joined the centre were assigned different levels of work as operators or control clerks.

The giant data-processing centre of CSO does not have qualified systems analysts and this level of work is covered by the EDP supervisor. The current number of staff is 25, of whom 19 are data entry operators and coding clerks. Contract employees are used for large volumes of data entry.

The Ministry of Finance

The Ministry of Finance was first introduced to mechanization in 1968. The primary factor in the introduction of automation was that large volumes of transactions of the government accounts had to be consolidated and presented annually to the then parliament.

In 1968 it was decided to rent an IBM system 360 model 20 computer. The computer had 16 KB of memory, three tape units, a card reader, and a 200 LPM printer. The monthly rental charge was US$5,000.

Government accounts were the first to be computerized. Once the computer power and the capability of staff had been appreciated, subsequent applications like budget authorization, capital authorization, foreign loans, and payroll were installed in the period 1969-1976.

Excess computer time was rented to the Addis Ababa University and the Ministry of Education, with a charge of 100 Birr per unit CPU time. Applications were accounts and student registration.

The programming language used by the 360/20 was RPG 1 and most applications were developed in-house. Nevertheless, problems used to arise between the computer centre and user sections in cases where incoming data were not in accord with given system specifications. Frequent coding errors, negligence, and inconsistency in data transmission were causes of irregular outputs. Most of the computer time was engaged in data certification and this hindered the overall process and sometimes caused delay in generating final outputs and timely reports.

At the end of 1976 the ministry acquired Burroughs B3700 model with 200 KB and 256 MB of storage and a 700 LPM printer. This was a change from a tape-oriented to a disk-based computer. It was on a rental basis with a monthly charge of Birr 14,000. The power of the processor and the speed of the peripherals gave rise to timely presentation of reports. However, since no additional applications were introduced, the ministry was left with excess computer time.

Higher officials of the ministry decided that an overall systems review must be done and that future applications and growth must also be studied in a more comprehensive manner. Foreign systems experts were invited to conduct the operation. On their recommendation, in 1987 a Burroughs A3 model replaced the Burroughs B3700. The A3 has 6 MB of main memory and a disk storage capacity of 750 MB. There are 13 on-line terminals for data capturing and program development.

The major application of the A3 is the Inland Revenue system, and systems development and programming are under way to use modems and telephone lines for the network system to utilize the immense power of the A3 computer.

The centre is oriented predominantly towards financial operations. It is headed by a manager with substantial computing experience.

Ethiopian Air Lines

Ethiopian Air Lines (EAL) was one of the first organizations to introduce modern management information systems and mechanization for work simplification and efficiency. Data-processing (DP) activity started in EAL in 1961 with IBM class 421. The DP centre was mainly organized for financial operations and most of the early accounting routines were processed using the unit recorder.

In 1964, EAL replaced its ageing and outdated 421 with an IBM 1440. This early computer had 8 KB of memory capacity with a card reader and sorter. It was then a step forward and EAL utilized the system to develop more applications such as asset control and inventory control systems. At the time the inventory files were reloaded onto 15 removable disk packs with a capacity of 2 MB each. As the need for a more efficient system arose, a Burroughs B3500 was installed in 1970. The computer had 120 KB of memory and all of the applications that were running on the 1440 were remodified for the B3500. There were then 20 staff in the data-processing centre, of whom 8 were analysts and programmers. The EDP staff of EAL are highly trained and even senior staff are given computer appreciation courses locally and abroad.

The involvement of EAL and its reputation among international airlines required a highly advanced system, and in 1981 two HP computers were bought. The HP 3000/40 and HP 3000/44 each had 2 MB of memory. The HP 40 was exclusively used for data capturing and verification, while the HP 44 was for data processing.

The data-processing centre was reorganized as a decentralized system. Every department has a terminal for data entry and is directly responsible for its major activity. The data entered are processed in a batch mode at regular time intervals. All major areas of activity are currently computerized, and decentralization has helped user departments to participate and engage fully in their day-to-day activity using mechanization.

Ethiopian Air Lines, being a member of SITA, an international airlines body that uses its own communication network, uses the facility for a reservation system for its ticket offices throughout the world.

In 1984, EAL purchased the IBM 4361 as an additional computer. It had 4 MB of main memory and data storage capabilities used for applications such as ARACS (Airlines Revenue and Accounts System), EMPACS (Engineering and Maintenance Planning), and IPOCS (Integrated Flight Operation System).

EDP Personnel and Organization

EAL's data-processing centre is organized under the Corporate Planning Department. Every department of EAL is directly affected by the data-processing centre. They are linked to various applications on the mainframe.

EAL has taken care to organize qualified personnel for the operation. After rigorous training schedules, it now has 42 staff members, of whom 24 are programmers. This is the highest number of programmers in an EDP centre recorded by this survey.

EAL's plan for the future is to develop a real-time processing environment for some of the applications that are now running in a batch mode, and to utilize communication facilities for networking systems.

Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority

The Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority (EELPA) was one of the earliest users of mechanical and electrical accounting machines.

It started with an NCR class 299 and IBM 421 for head office bookkeeping in 1962. Later, in 1964, the data-processing centre was organized under the Finance Department. The first computer to process payroll and billing systems was an IBM 1440. Organizing the DP centre and setting up the system was done by a British data-processing expert. The expatriate also managed the centre until the end of 1967.

The capacity of the 1440 was unable to meet the increasing volume of customers' billing and a decision was reached to rent a more powerful computer system, an IBM system 3/20. In 1973, the EELPA rented the system at a monthly cost of US$15,000. It has 32 KB of memory and model 5445 removable disks with a total capacity of 20 MB each. A high-speed printer of 1100 LPM and two tape drives were also part of the peripherals. Previously installed applications of payroll and billing were redesigned and applied. General accounting and inventory systems were the major achievements of the data-processing division on the system 3/20 computer.

In addition to the EELPA's applications, excess computer time was leased to different organizations. The first customers to use EELPA's system were the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority and Nazareth Water Supply Office. The application developed by EELPA for the customers was billing, a customer being charged 10 cents per bill.

EELPA also developed a payroll system for the Ethiopian Navy, which paid 120 Birr per unit CPU time. Another customer was Rental Housing Administration, which had a statistical application to generate household inventory and reports of lessee and rental charges of government houses.

In 1982, EELPA rented an NCR V8455 for a period of five years at a monthly charge of 30,000 Birr. The V8455 had 2 MB of memory, 600 MB of disk storage capacity, and 12 on-line data capturing terminals. According to the DP manager, Mr. Assefa Shifa, conversion from IBM RFGll to NCR RPG was a painful job. It was delayed because the NCR system, which is COBOL oriented, had to be equipped with additional software facilities. As a result, the memory was upgraded to 6 MB and the disk storage to 1 GB. The manager said that, on account of the available staff, most of the work done on the NCR was conversion and modification of existing systems. No additional application was installed despite the computer's unexplored facilities. However, spare computer time was rented to the Transport Construction Authority at 300 Birr per hour. The NCR computer was also engaged to process engineering designs for Gilgel Gibe Project. At the end of the lease period it was decided to return the computer to the supplier.

In May 1987, EELPA purchased an IBM system 36 model D21 with a capacity of 4 MB and 1 GB of disk storage. The system configuration consists of two high-speed tape drives and two printers with a capacity of 1200 LPM and 400 LPM. For program development and data capture, the system 36 has 15 terminals stationed in the DP centre. EELPA was predominantly RPG oriented for 15 years but has now caught up with micro developments. Currently each department of EELPA has one IBM PC used for staff computer appreciation courses and small desktop applications. Mr. Assefa further stated that the user relationship is now satisfactory. However, this has been achieved gradually as management's confidence in the DP centre increased. The billing system in particular, which is the major source of income for the EELPA, was closely scrutinized by management. Mr. Assefa recalled that there were times when the computer centre was blamed by customers for any mistakes in meter reading.

In order to increase the level of awareness of users, the data-processing division has organized an information support section. Its main objectives are to arrange computer appreciation and advanced training for users and EDP staff, to plan capacity, and to develop standards and procedures.

EDP Personnel and Organization

The EELPA data-processing division is organized under the Special Services Department. The division is further subdivided into the sections of operations, systems and programming, and information support. The number of staff in the DP department grew from 4 persons in 1967 to 60 in 1988, of whom 1 is a systems analyst, 2 are analysts/programmers, and 14 are programmers.

The manager stated that, apart from the EDP head, all other staff were trained locally by IBM. The courses given were predominantly at the level of the operating system only and it was left to the programmers to catch up on the techniques and facilities in the course of their normal work. Since EELPA applications mostly use RPG compilers, programmers do not have the motivation to learn other high-level languages.

The future plans of the EDP division are to mechanize all technical areas using IBM PC, and to create networking facilities and lines. To expedite the plan, an overall pilot survey is under way, and EELPA is expecting an expert group in data communications from Canada in the near future.

Maintenance and Supplies

Problems of computer down-time were experienced by EELPA as far back as the 421 period. It was reported that local engineers were few in number and did not have the necessary training and experience. Software support was lacking in all areas. Mr. Assefa said vendors did not keep spare parts locally and it took months to repair major breakdowns. The El LPA keeps its own supplies and has never experienced shortages.

Ethio-Djibouti Railways

The Franco Ethiopian Railways (later renamed Ethio-Djibouti Railways) was one of the earliest "organized" business establishments in the country. Along with its management system it brought some level of mechanization in office activities. Early mechanical machines and desktop calculators were employed for processing routine accounting procedures.

In 1969, an IBM system 360/20, along with its peripherals of verification machines and sorters, was rented. The only application that was running smoothly on the computer was payroll. The staff used the machine to acquaint themselves with it and to explore its facilities. No apparent reason was given and information could not be obtained why there was eventually a need to change to an IBM system 3.

However, the installation of system 3 in 1972 gave rise to more applications, such as inventory control, general accounts, and the movement of trains and locomotives. Computer time was rented to Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority, Humbergen Vendergen Amsterdam (sugar manufacturers), and the Tourist Organization. Computer time was charged at the hourly rate of the computer monthly rental in Birr.

Four years later, the card-based system 3 was replaced by a tape (cassette) oriented NCR 8200 at a monthly rental charge of 7,404 Birr. It has 64 KB memory and 9.6 MB of fixed and removable disk space. The data capturing mode is by off-line cassette encoders, model 7200. This system is still in operation, using IMOS operating system and COBOL software, unlike the previous IBM machines. Mr. Tsigie, the head of the data-processing centre, said that they had big problems with the conversion from one mode of operation to the other. This was mainly due to lack of qualified manpower, and also system conversion procedures were not discussed with the vendor in advance. File handling was completely reorganized. It took a very long time to normalize operations.

The additional application installed on the 8200 is a ticketing system, which provides a receipt from one destination to another along the railway lines. The system is integrated with the accounting system and run frequently.

EDP Personnel and Organization

The EDP centre is organized under the direct supervision of the General Manager. The centre has a head of data processing, a supervisor for all operations, a programmer, three encoders, and three operators.

The head said that initially the qualifications of the staff recruited did not meet the minimum required level for the profession. Intake was from 10th graders and below and as a result any attempt to upgrade the level was futile. Staff from the EDP centre were sent to local training centres, but they did not gain from the training or develop their level of understanding of computers.

The other major factor affecting the growth of consciousness was past work methods. All programming and operation activities were done by a single person. Other staff were allowed to do clerical jobs only. Currently the system has only one console/terminal, which is always occupied by the operator. Even the programmer does not have the opportunity to develop programs, let alone other staff. Mr. Tsigie's concluding remarks were about the future plans of the EDP. The railway will in the near future acquire an NCR 9020 with five on-line terminals on a rental basis.

Library and Information Services

Present Situation

Automation of library and information services in Ethiopia is a recent phenomenon. Although several government bodies such as Addis Ababa University, Ethiopian Air Lines, the National Bank of Ethiopia, the Central Statistics Authority, and the Ministry of Industry have introduced computers to their systems for efficient operation, their application for information and documentation work remains at only a conceptual level.

A survey conducted in 1987 by the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission to assess library and information services and resources in the country indicates that, among a total of 63 libraries and information centres covered by the survey, apart from documentation centres of international organizations such as ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa) and ECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) and government organizations such as the Central Statistics Authority, the National Meteorological Services Agency, Ethiopian Airlines, and the Development Project Study Consultancy Agency, none of them had automated their services.5

Although the automation of library and information services in Ethiopia is at an early stage, the efforts being made by some government bodies could be cited as an example of a good practical step forward towards the provision of accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information to the scientific community in general and to researchers in particular. In line with this, it is worth mentioning the effort that is being made by the National Scientific and Technological Information and Documentation Centre (NASTIDC), which was established in 1987 under the auspices of the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission.

Computer applications for NASTIDC bibliographical and non-bibliographical services activity were developed in two stages. The first started immediately after its establishment in 1987 with an NCR IBM-compatible microcomputer with Unesco's software package CDS/ISIS. The second stage started in January 1988 when NASTIDC acquired an HP3000XE minicomputer and terminals. All the records on CDS/ISIS were then down-loaded to the minicomputer, where the International Development Research Centre's MINISIS software is used. The application of MINISIS has enabled the centre to develop different in-house databases based on users' requirements. In addition, external databases from ILCA and the ECA's Pan African Documentation and Information System have been acquired on magnetic tapes, thus giving access to data sources beyond the centre itself as required.

A further development in NASTIDC's services and its effort to utilize modern information technologies is the acquisition and application of CD-ROM technology for retrospective literature search service. Some of the CD-ROM databases include AGRICOLA and MEDLINE. Reference materials such as Groiler Electronic Encyclopedia and Science and Technology Reference Index are also considered.

In support of these and other developments with respect to IT application and automation activities, NASTIDC had given prior consideration to manpower development. To this effect, in 1988, five of NASTIDC's core staff were trained at Masters level in information science and technology.

Furthermore, the visit made by the core staff to various similar centres in the country and abroad, and the experiences developed from NASTIDC's automation activities, have been used to assist other government organizations in computerizing their own libraries and documentation centres.

In addition to government bodies such as NASTIDC, the libraries and documentation centres of international organizations such as ILCA and ECA play an important role in creating an environment conducive to the promotion of IT innovation in libraries and information services in Ethiopia.

The ILCA's documentation centre has its own computerized information storage and retrieval operation, using an HP 3000/111 minicomputer and 25 terminals with MINISIS software. Furthermore, the centre owns three HP125 microcomputers and a computerized typesetting machine.

The ECA's Pan African Documentation and Information System had installed an HP3000XE minicomputer and 60 terminals with MINISIS software for its information storage and retrieval system, and it offers an on-line search service on its bibliographical databases such as PADDEV, which covers economic, technological, and social development information on Africa.

Future Trends

Progress is being made in the area of on-line networking, on-line ordering, and electronic document backup services, which have been seen as major functions of NASTIDC since 1989.

The network is envisaged to include nine sectoral systems in the first instance. This trend is expected to help professionals involved in information processing, storage, and dissemination to exploit the potential of IT and thereby encourage and promote innovative development of IT in the country.

In addition, NASTIDC's plan to create a remote on-line link for literature search services is one of the measures that would contribute to the high degree of the involvement of this sector in the application and utilization of IT products, including telecommunication facilities.

The existing modern telecommunication network, which is digital, will inevitably facilitate and ease the networking project. The Ethiopian Telecommunication Authority attested to the fact that there would not be any technical problem in implementing the proposed networking plan. Besides the national network, linkage with regional and international data banks seems possible since Ethiopia owns a communications satellite earth station.

Automation of library and information services should be backed by rigorous training of the required personnel. Therefore, it is NASTIDC's future plan to arrange regular training schedules for library/information professionals at different levels. In this programme, automation of library and information services will be given major emphasis.

6. Education and training in IT

Computer training was started by companies such as NCR and BURCO, and most of the training was provided at their customers' installations. However, recently NCR and BURCO have conducted training courses at their offices. The computer courses provided by the NCR Corporation, BURCO Systems, and the Bureau for Electronic Computer Services are listed in the Appendix.

The National Computer Centre

The NCC started providing training courses in 1988. The training programme was designed and given by practicing engineers and their assistants, who form the core of NCC's R&D staff.

The courses are offered to three categories of trainees. The first category comprises those interested in word processing, database management, and the preparation and use of spreadsheets. The second category comprises those with an in-depth knowledge of either computer software or hardware. Courses in programming, digital techniques, etc., are offered to this group. Lastly, there are courses for professionals such as engineers, architects, and economists, who use computers to facilitate and improve their work. For these there are courses on packages relevant to their field of specialization like CAD, MICROSTAT, SYSTAT, and SPSS.

Training on the Amharic disk operating system and other Amharic application software is also given. NCC also organizes tailor-made training programmes to institutions by special arrangement.

Addis Ababa University

Minor and diploma programmes in computer science are among the regular programmes offered by the Department of Mathematics of Addis Ababa University since 1986. The department has now revised the previous programmes so that it helps satisfy the present requirements as seen by the department.

Appendix: Computer courses


Course subject



NCR Corporation

TIME: Monday through Friday, 5.00 to 8.00 p.m.

1. Introduction to data processing

7 days


2. COBOL 74

14 days


3. IMOS III Operating Systems

7 days



14 days



14 days


6. Basic systems analysis skills

14 days



14 days


8. Personal computer operation

14 days


Bureau for Electronic Computer Services

TIME: Monday through Friday, 5.00 to 8.00 p.m.

1. Electronic data processing concept

14 days


2. Basic COBOL programming

30 days


3. Intermediate COBOL programming

30 days


4. BASIC programming

21 days


5. FORTRAN IV programming

21 days


6. Systems analysis and design

14 days


BURCO Systems

TIME: Monday through Friday, half-days

1. Introduction to computers & programming

5 days


2. BASIC programming

12 days


3. ANSI '74 COBOL programming

30 days


4. FORTRAN programming

12 days


Source: Information is based on 1988 catalogues.


1. Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission. "Assessment of the Current Situation and Problems of S&T in Ethiopia." Conference on National Science and Technology Policy of Ethiopia, ESTC, 1988.

2. Development Project Study Agency. Technology and Development Perspective Studies, No. 3, 1983.

3. ETA Bulletin. August 1988.

4. Statement by Mr. Behabtu Degu, Central Statistics Office supervisor, 1969.

5. Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission. "A Survey on Library, Information and Documentation Activities in Ethiopia." ESTC, 1987.