Connect Africa is a global multi-stakeholder partnership to mobilize the human, financial and technical resources required to bridge major gaps in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure across the region, with the aim of supporting affordable connectivity and applications and services to stimulate economic growth, employment and development throughout Africa.
Connect Africa will be launched at a Summit of leaders in Kigali, Rwanda, 29−30 October 2007, under the patronage of the President of Rwanda, Mr Paul Kagame, as well as the Chairman of the African Union and President of Ghana, His Excellency, Mr John Kufuor. The Summit will be and organized by the International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, in partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
This collaborative effort seeks to involve various stakeholders active in the region, including among others China, the European Commission, G8, OECD and Arab countries, major ICT companies, the United Nations Development Programme and other international organizations.
Connect Africa will bring together partners to help implement a number of ICT projects of significant, catalysing impact on the development of ICT infrastructure in Africa. In doing so, partners will build on the progress of countries which have established an attractive ICT policy and regulatory environment to accommodate the private sector investment required for sustainable network build-out. These projects will in turn trigger a cycle of further investment and development.
Connect Africa aims to complement, accelerate and reinforce existing public and private sector ICT projects and investments by targeting major gaps, mobilizing resources, and enhancing coordination between stakeholders, in support of national and regional activities and priorities. Ministers of the African Union have identified mobilizing resources for key regional ICT initiatives as a top priority, and are expected to actively participate in the Connect Africa Summit along with other partners.
Achieving Development Goals
Recognizing the significant role of ICT as a catalyst to help realize the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, leaders from Africa and around the globe at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005 agreed to a set of specific targets, including ten ICT connectivity goals to be achieved by 2015 (see Annex).
These goals were also emphasized by African ICT Ministers as part of the “Accra Commitments for Tunis 2005” and since reinforced by the flagship ICT initiatives of the African Regional Action Plan on the Knowledge Economy, under the aegis of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, as well as the Doha Action Plan Regional Initiatives adopted at the 2006 ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference.
Despite this wide consensus, with the 2015 target date less than eight years away, we are at serious risk of not achieving these ICT and development goals. Connect Africa is the first of a series of dynamic multi-stakeholder efforts to be planned in different parts of the world with the objective of significantly accelerating ICT investment in underserved areas and supporting broader social and economic development.
Current Situation in Africa
Investment in ICT infrastructure in Africa has improved dramatically in recent years, representing a total of USD 8 billion in 2005, up from USD 3.5 billion in 2000. These figures reflect an increasingly vibrant private sector investment environment, which has been stimulated by the opening of most African telecommunication markets to competition, coupled with the establishment of independent regulators in almost 90 per cent of countries in the region.
This increasingly dynamic environment has resulted in lower prices for consumers and significantly widened access to telecommunications, particularly for mobile services in urban areas. The African mobile market has been the fastest-growing market of all regions, growing at twice the rate of the global market, with a leap from 16 million to 136 million subscribers between 2000 and 2005. Mobile now outnumbers fixed line penetration by nearly five to one in Africa.
Despite this very encouraging trend in mobile access, effective high-speed Internet services needed for important business, government and consumer applications continue to be either very expensive (especially when compared to average local incomes) or not available, depending on the location. This is due to limited broadband infrastructure investment in many parts of Africa. Where available, the cost of broadband Internet access in Africa is on average three times higher than in Asia for example, where such infrastructure investments have been made. It is not surprising then that broadband penetration is below one percent in Africa, compared to close to 30 per cent in some high-income countries.
In addition, while urban areas are benefiting from increasing access to mobile telephone and Internet services (albeit at dial-up speeds), many smaller towns and rural communities remain without any ICT access. And, locally relevant content, applications and services, for both Internet and mobile, which would support growing usage, are not yet widely available.
These market gaps present challenges, but they also reveal new opportunities for private investors and innovative “win-win” public-private partnerships to complement the successful experience of mobile telephony in Africa. Recognizing this potential, new players are entering the market. This has increased need for coordination and information-sharing among public funding partners and the private sector to avoid incoherence in infrastructure and service roll-out across the region.
Connect Africa Summit
As host of the Summit, the Government of Rwanda will welcome some 500 participants, including Heads of State/Government and Ministers from Africa and other regions, CEOs and senior executives of global and African ICT companies, heads of international and regional organizations and financial institutions, international and local media as well as other stakeholders.
The Summit will have a practical, results-oriented format, including interactive, multi-stakeholder panel discussions, partnership announcements, as well as opportunities for participants to showcase their ICT development projects to potential partners and donors. The Summit will also provide an excellent networking platform for leaders from the public, private and financial sectors to meet and forge new partnerships for the future.
Participants in the Connect Africa Summit will examine key success factors for ICT investment and development and identify areas for collaboration to:
- expand broadband backbone infrastructure and access networks, using innovative business and financing models, such as infrastructure-sharing and demand aggregation among local and regional institutions. This new infrastructure investment includes national and regional interconnectivity initiatives, such as Internet exchange points and rural connectivity projects;
- enhance workforce training to support employment and growth in the ICT sector and the overall economy;
- stimulate the development of locally-relevant ICT content, applications and services, and
- broaden efforts to develop an enabling policy and regulatory environment for investment, including harmonization across regions and sub-regions.
The Connect Africa Summit will be preceded by several months of preparations between the partners, including an analysis of the current situation and requirements, an assessment of constraints and an elaboration of policy options to promote private sector investment, strengthening statistical capacities to improve tracking of progress, as well as the development of specific project proposals for funding that will be presented to potential partners and donors.