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KEY NOTE SPEECH
H.E DR. AHMED NAZIF
PRIME MINISTER OF THE ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT
OPENING CEREMONY OF ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008
11 May 2008

Dr. Hamadoun Toure, Secretary General of the ITU,
Ministers and Ambassadors,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008. Egypt is delighted to be hosting this prestigious ICT celebration for the third time. I would also like to express our thanks to the International Telecommunication Union for partnering with Egypt to make this event a major success.

Over the last four years since we met in Cairo in May 2004, information and communication technologies have made a significant contribution to sustainable social and economic development in Africa. I am glad to state that ICTs have become an essential building block in our development efforts. Governments encourage investment in ICTs and especially Foreign Direct Investment, to finance ICT infrastructure, to provide societies with the productive equipment, software, services and human resources they need to contribute to our overall growth. ICTs also kick-start a virtuous cycle, whereby investment generates improved efficiency that in turn attracts further development in other sectors. This effort is by definition a multi-stakeholder partnership.

Today, and as all the African people are looking forward to the future, TELECOM AFRICA brings in members of the ICT community in Africa and the whole world to identify the areas of opportunities and those of challenge, share effective responses and witness major achievements. The African ICT sector, with all the technical, financial, and manpower potentials it has gives us a competitive edge.

As the African continent is battling to overcome education, health, and income difficulties, IT-enabled services and Internet-based tools emerge as new horizons for offshore and outsourcing services from which African countries can benefit. African countries can maximize their gains from such promising activities by providing the favorable environment and qualifying the workforce needed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The whole world is now going through a new form of revolution, which is the knowledge economy. A considerable number of African countries have made progress in maintaining better economic performance, and increasing international interest is being witnessed in promoting development in the African continent. We support such efforts, and further believe that there should be a dialogue on the best means to integrate Africa into the global economy.

With a total population of 1 billion, Africa is a growing continent in terms of penetration of ICT services. A brief look at the ICT sector in Africa reveals that:

  • Africa in 2006 had only 2.1% of the main fixed telephone lines of the world, i.e. 28.5 million lines, which means 3% of the inhabitants, and this is has still to grow.
  • Most African states are allowing more than one mobile operator, and Africa remains the region with the highest growth rate (32% in 2006/2007) in mobile penetration. It has risen from just 2% at the beginning of this century to almost 30% of the population today. In 2007, the African continent added over 60 million new mobile subscribers.
  • In 2006, Africa counted 5% of world Internet users, while the world average is 17%, another opportunity for further growth.

You will with no doubt agree that despite the mentioned progress in expanding the reach of basic and new ICT services and applications in African countries, it is clear that some portions of our population still do not have enough access to telephones and computers, as well as basic ICT services.

As African countries struggle to bridge the digital divide, surveys and research studies suggest that inadequate funding and less developed infrastructure are only part of the problem. And here please allow me to be frank. One of the main obstacles sometimes tends to be poor implementation of sound policies. Overcoming such problems is more about political commitment and sound governance than just about investing vast amounts in physical infrastructure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our experience in Egypt clearly demonstrates that liberalization of the ICT sector has a positive effect on the consumers, the operators, the national treasury and the economy as a whole. As a result of liberalization and deregulation, the ICT sector in Egypt was transformed from one competing for resources to a net contributor to the treasury enabling us to improve the welfare of citizens through safer transportation, better schools and a healthier environment.

In addition, we believe that our success, and any success, is based on multi-stakeholder partnerships and consultations with relevant international expertise. We engaged the private sector and civil society in the planning and implementation process, and benefited from their capabilities in reaching out to as many brackets of the society as possible. Such an approach helps create a sense of ownership across the community.

Dear Guests,

Let me now turn in a little more detail to the case of Egypt. The target of our economic reform efforts is a functioning free market economy that takes social aspects in to consideration. Therefore, we are building the institutional and regulatory framework for a successful market economy as well as continuously working to improve the investment climate. GDP growth has exceeded 7% with double digit growth in ICT, Tourism and Housing. Tax reform has yielded significantly better revenue, an increase of 68% after slashing taxes by 50%. FDI has multiplied and exceeded 11 billion USD in 2007 and exports are growing by more than 30% annually.

The national ICT sector emerges in all these reforms as a role model of deregulation and privatization as well as a catalyst for reform in other sectors. The sector has managed to maintain growth rates of up to 20%, and attract local and foreign investments of more than 8 billion US Dollars over the past 3 years. ICT is contributing to our overall efforts to raise the productivity of various other sectors of the national economy. The competitiveness of Egypt's ICT sector is increasing in the region and beyond.

Egypt has also been exerting efforts to attract investments in various fields, and to maximize the volume of service exports to different parts of the world. In a study conducted by AT Kearney Egypt is ranked 13th in providing IT offshore services worldwide. Some of the local, regional, and international companies already investing in off-shore services in Egypt provide valid evidence on the off-shoring and outsourcing capabilities that the Egyptian ICT sector can provide. They have attributed this ranking to a number of factors, including:

  • Strategic geographic location
  • Strong government support for the sector and Pro-business reforms
  • Stable macroeconomic environment and solid infrastructure
  • Favorable labor and infrastructure costs
  • Strong technical and multilingual skills in key segments
  • Domestic market size

We also believe that Egypt can partner with its African friends as the gateway to providing offshoring services to Europe and the rest of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Egypt has realized the need to establish a unique, specialized, and modern business park to be the flagship hub for ICT. The Smart Village, which I strongly encourage you to visit during your stay in Cairo, stretches over 600 acres. It is Egypt's first fully operational Technology and Business Park, and the first of its size in the region. It accommodates multinational and local telecommunications and information technology companies, financial institutions and banks, together with related government authorities. Currently, over 13,000 professionals run the operations of more than 100 Companies and institutions at the Smart Village, and the number is expected to exceed 40,000 by the end of 2014. Egypt is also delighted to share its expertise in building business and technology parks with African friends such as Gambia and Nigeria.

Believing in the role that ICT can have in accelerating growth, Egypt has also introduced a number of projects that utilize ICT for development. The Egyptian Education Initiative was launched with the World Economic Forum to enhance the effective use of ICT at all levels of education for life-long learning. The Tele-medicine network, health informatics program, and the medical emergency call center are examples for reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of public health services in Egypt. E-government services have been adopted and applied in Egypt in a number of sectors to improve the quality of services, and introduce new services to citizens. E-government enhances the performance of public entities, facilitates government transactions, and saves money, time, and effort. Again Egypt has been approached by several African countries to share its experience and again we are committed to do so.

It is remarkable that Arabic content on the web accounts for less than 0.5%, in a striking contrast to the immense contribution of Arab culture to human history. Egypt is rich in content and has historically made a significant contribution to the culture of our region through entertainment, books and scientific content. We have a challenge to put it online in digital format with the right mechanisms, at affordable prices, and the right quality of service in order to ensure that we will continue to benefit the Arab region and the world as a whole. We have therefore launched the Arabic e-Content Initiative and created a specialized portal for Arabic e-content. Additional efforts include the establishment of a center of excellence that has been receiving international recognition and accreditation: the Center for the Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, CULTNAT, that is affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. I also recommend CULTNAT as an important stop in your visit to the Smart Village.

Dear Guests,

Egypt's efforts to use ICT in development have always been, and will remain, supported by a national, regional, and international dialogue, and coupled with coordination with international partners. We are therefore encouraging the forging of more partnerships to share experiences with the world and to tackle the common challenges that we all face.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in providing food supplies and in food prices. Such a crisis is affecting all nations, and especially in Africa, and its consequences will last for a long time to come. I take this opportunity at this gathering to invite the big players of the ICT sector to contribute to the international efforts that deal with this problem by creating innovative mechanisms that can help close the gap between demand and supply, and further introducing tools and applications that would increase productivity and improve the management of food supplies. I think we still have some serious challenges ahead of us. Egypt is ready to be part of any global and regional partnerships to tackle this important issue of using ICT to manage the global food crisis. This would be an excellent opportunity for the ICT sector to help manage global issues.

Finally, I would like to say that I wish you a most successful event, and a memorable stay with us in Egypt.

Thank you.