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SPEECH

by

Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid

Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT)
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Geneva

AFRICA REGIONAL PREPARATORY MEETING (RPM-AFR) FOR THE
WORLD TELECOMMUNICATION DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE 2010

Kampala, Uganda
3-15 July 2009

Right Honourable 2nd Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Henry Kajura,
The Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, Hono
urable Aggrey Awori,
Distinguished delegates,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Africa, the second in a series of preparatory meetings for next year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference. 

I would like to thank Uganda for hosting this meeting, and for the efforts they have made to make us feel welcome here in Kampala.

I consider this meeting to be of utmost importance for you to bring to our attention the issues, priorities and needs of African countries for ICT development.  Not only is it wise to have a clear development strategy in this time of global financial instability, but our discussions here will provide input for the World Telecommunication Development Conference and shape the future of ITU’s development work in Africa. I want to fine tune BDT activities to meet the needs of members with as much impact as possible.  I am dedicated to achieving maximum effectiveness in our work, for which I count on your support as well as your views and advice.

As you all know, growth in the ICT sector in Africa has been phenomenal in the last decade, especially in mobile.  From 2000 to 2007, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions increased by almost 22 times, adding nearly 229 million subscriptions.  Indeed Uganda was one of the first countries in Africa where the number of mobile subscribers overtook fixed-line users.

This exceptional rate of growth is often cited and we should certainly take inspiration from such a success.  However, this should not distract us from the work that is still to be done. 

At the end of 2008, Africa accounted for only six per cent of the world’s mobile cellular subscriptions, less than one per cent of the world’s fixed lines and two per cent of the world’s Internet users.  The stagnation in fixed-line service has impacted on broadband connectivity and internet access remains limited and expensive.

The Africa region faces many challenges in improving connectivity, such as the large proportion of the population living in underserved rural areas, problems of interconnection, the high cost of access to ICTs and sometimes harsh environmental conditions.  Africa’s geographical disposition and level of development also makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change

But ICTs are so vital as an enabler for socio-economic growth that we must find ways to overcome these challenges and press ahead with connecting Africa.  A recent statistical report states that a 10 per cent increase in broadband results in a 1.38 percent increase in GDP.  ICT development cannot be looked at separately to overall development.  When looking at our recently published ICT Development Index I am convinced that the level of ICT development we see now in a country will prove to be a good predictor of its future prosperity. 

When measuring ICT development in the future I would like to see that the discussions here today and the decisions we will take at the WTDC will have made a major contribution to achieving wider access.  I believe we must focus on three main areas:

  • infrastructure development which is most effectively implemented through public-private partnerships. 
  • Creating a policy and regulatory environment that is conducive to ICT investment.
  • And for ICT development to be sustainable, dedicated attention must be given to human capacity building.
  • ITU has been actively pursuing its work in these areas:  

  • The Connect Africa Summit held in Kigali in 2007 was organized to stimulate investment in the ICT Sector in the region.  The high level of participation in the Summit, which gathered some 1036 participants from a wide range of stakeholders, and the commitments made were an encouraging sign. 
  • ITU is working with regional and international partners to develop broadband access and networks.  A large-scale project for wireless broadband infrastructure is also underway. And we are pleased with the success of our project for developing guidelines on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting for countries throughout Africa.
  • On the regulatory side, the Forum on Telecommunication Regulation and partnership in Africa has been a successful yearly event gathering African Telecom and ICT stakeholders to exchange experiences on regulatory and partnership issues.  A large scale project on harmonization of ICT policies in western Africa was carried out in partnership with the European Commission and building on the success of that project a similar project is being carried out for all African countries and the model is now being used in other regions.
  • We are also active on human capacity building in the region.  I am pleased with the success of the ITU Regional Human Capacity Development Forum, held just prior to this meeting here in Kampala. The Centres of Excellence projects are also making good progress:  the project for English and French-speaking countries was completed in 2007, and a new project for Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries has now been launched. 
  • I give these examples of our work in the region, but a full report on the implementation of ITU activities has been made available to you, so I will not take up more of your time with this.

    What we need to consider now is the best way forward.  Where should we be concentrating our limited resources?

    How do we ensure that Africa makes the most of the benefits offered by access to ICTs?

    How do we make that access sustainable and affordable?

    Where should we focus our attention?

    Where and how can we have the most impact?

    In my view, there are three fundamental pillars for sustainability: establishing regulatory environments which encourage investment, extending and upgrading services and their underlying infrastructure, and empowering people through education. As Nelson Mandela once said: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world".

    In the converged telecommunications/ICT sector, issues of high priority for governments, regulators and operators have taken on an increasingly multidisciplinary nature.  What does this mean for our future activities?

    The RPM document "A fresh look at ITU-D activities" has been provided to help trigger your discussion on these important issues. I ask you to take it into consideration and to give us the benefit of your wide experience in the ICT Sector in this Region.

    Let us come out of this meeting with a clear idea of the way forward and a renewed commitment to Africa’s ICT development. You count on the ITU. We count on you. We are committed to Connect the World we are committed to Connect the World. g

     

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