The critical role of connectivity in the
socio-economic development of the African people
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a tremendous pleasure to be here with you Accra today, and I would like to thank the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization for your kind invitation to participate in this important forum.
I am also delighted to see so many good friends of ITU here today, including of course Ghana’s Minister of Communications, Haruna Iddrisu, who was also the very able Chairman of ITU Council 2009.
We are looking forward very much to seeing the Ghanaian delegation in October at the ITU’s 18th Plenipotentiary Conference, PP-10, which will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 4 to 22 October.
The Plenipotentiary Conference is the key event at which ITU Member States decide on the future role of our organization – and thereby determine our ability to influence and affect the development of ICTs worldwide.
PP-10 promises to be a landmark event – because what we achieve there will not just affect the future of ITU and ITU’s work: it will affect the lives of everybody on the planet, in one way or another. And I look forward very much to seeing you there!
The subject of my speech here today is ‘The Critical Role of Connectivity in the Socio-economic Development of the African People’.
Those of you who know me well will know that I am passionate about ITU’s core mandate, to Connect the World. You may also know that I am particularly concerned that the digital divide is not allowed to become a broadband divide.
Here in Africa, tremendous progress has been made recently in the adoption and use of information and communication technologies, especially in the massive uptake of mobile cellular communications.
By the beginning of this year, mobile cellular penetration had reached 44% in Africa as a whole, up from just 15% four years earlier. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, mobile penetration had reached 34% by the start of 2010. And in many developing countries across the continent, more than half of households in rural areas now have a mobile phone.
What is most interesting to me – and what highlights the critical role of connectivity in Africa – is that once people have access to ICTs, they don’t give it up, even when their social or economic situation changes. Put simply, Africans want to stay connected, and they work hard to make sure they stay connected.
The next big challenge, of course, is to do for the Internet and broadband in Africa what we have now so successfully achieved with mobile. Although much progress has been made, with Internet penetration trebling in the past four years to reach 11% by the beginning of 2010, we still have far to go – especially where broadband is concerned.
Why am I making so much of broadband, when the great majority of Africans today don’t even have dial-up access to the Internet?
Because broadband is an extraordinary tool for social and economic development.
Indeed, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that it is perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for human progress on this great continent of ours.
It is my firm belief that broadband in Africa will be an extraordinary enabler, especially in countries with large rural and remote populations.
Let me give you just a few examples:
- With broadband networks, health services can be delivered far more effectively to ageing or isolated populations. Remote monitoring of patients, for example, has proven to be far more effective than bringing people in to clinics or hospitals.
- With broadband networks, we can better educate the next generations of children, wherever they live. With wireless and mobile networks we can reach out to them wherever they are.
- With broadband networks, traffic networks can be streamlined, government services can be delivered more efficiently, and energy supplies can be properly monitored, controlled and conserved.
- With broadband networks, we can create the right environment for applications like mobile banking, which can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people – and is already proving such a success in countries like Kenya.
- With broadband networks we can help to ensure environmental sustainability and help to manage and mitigate climate change.
- And with broadband networks, progress can be accelerated towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Two things need to change, however, if broadband is to become a ubiquitous resource for all Africans.
Firstly, governments need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda, so that rollout is accelerated and the benefits are brought to as many people as possible.
And secondly, broadband needs to become much more affordable.
At the moment, in many UN-designated Least Developed Countries, a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100% of average monthly income.
This is scandalous.
But there are grounds for optimism, and broadband access is getting more affordable every year. Worldwide, broadband prices dropped by 42% between 2008 and 2009, and broadband became more affordable in almost every market across the globe.
One of the most important drivers in terms of bringing down costs has been an ongoing increase in capacity, itself driven by a newly competitive environment.
In Africa, we are seeing new broadband capacity coming on-stream fast, and I was delighted to be personally present in Kenya in March when a new submarine cable was brought onshore, and then to be in French Guiana earlier this month to see new satellites for Africa being launched.
These are truly inspirational events, and signs of the very positive times in which we live.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As Secretary-General of the ITU, let me close with a few examples of the very specific work that my organization is doing in terms of helping increase vital connectivity in Africa – and which demonstrate the importance of taking a public-private and / or multi-stakeholder partnership approach.
Many of you here today joined us in Kigali in 2007 for the ITU Connect Africa Summit – and I am delighted to report that an impressive US$ 21 billion was spent on ICT infrastructure investment in Africa in the two years following that event.
We now confidently expect the final total over a seven year period to exceed US$ 70 billion – more than US$ 15 billion more than was originally pledged. This demonstrates the true power of partnership and business-friendly initiatives which serve real people across Africa.
Other ITU initiatives I would like to briefly mention before closing include the HIPSSA project; Connect a School, Connect a Community; the Wireless Broadband Partnership; and the ITU Academy.
The first of these, HIPSSA – ‘Support for Harmonization of ICT Policies in Sub-Saharan Africa’ – is co-chaired by ITU and the African Union and is being carried out with the support of the European Union.
We have adopted a common list of priorities articulated around eight main subjects including licensing; universal service and access; frequency management; numbering management; interconnection; cybersecurity; analogue to digital broadcasting migration and the collection of statistics.
By incorporating all past and current sub-regional initiatives, along with other EU and international organization programmes, we are greatly increasing efficiency and avoiding duplication – and the African Union has particularly welcomed this approach.
The first major milestone was a report assessing the current level of harmonization related to the eight main subjects. This was the first report to provide a continent-wide analysis of all the initiatives regarding harmonization, and is already helping to fuel harmonization discussions currently taking place across Africa.
Another flagship project which I think ITU can be rightly proud of is Connect a School, Connect a Community.
ICTs provide unprecedented opportunities to accelerate social and economic development, so communities which lack ICT access and know-how risk being even further marginalized.
The problem is that providing individual or even household connectivity in rural and underserved areas, or trying to serve disadvantaged and vulnerable groups within communities, is often impractical.
Smart policies and innovative public-private partnerships promoting community access through schools represent an attractive, affordable and scalable alternative.
Through Connect a School, Connect a Community, ITU is working with a range of partners to identify and compile best practices on polices, regulation, applications and services – as well as practical experiences to be shared with interested countries through the development of an online Toolkit and related capacity-building activities.
We hope that the project will act as a ‘one-stop shop’, bringing together all best practices systematically, and holistically addressing all of the inter-related layers of the school connectivity ecosystem.
Another exciting project is the ITU Wireless Broadband Partnership, which is mobilizing key stakeholders to finance, plan, build, operate and maintain wireless broadband infrastructure within beneficiary countries.
We are already working with governments and other partners to identify specific areas to be covered within each participating country, and to determine and mobilize the resources required for implementation.
One of the most important aspects of the partnership, in my view, is the recognition of the need to balance social and economic development aims with the need for investors and industry participants to see sufficient returns. Only then will the model be truly sustainable in the long term – and able to be widely replicated.
Finally, it is always worth reminding ourselves that without the skills to use them, ICTs are in and of themselves no use to anyone.
This is why we set up the ITU Academy, which streamlines our numerous capacity-building efforts in the area of ICTs and telecommunications.
Through the ITU Academy we offer training in a wide range of ICT-related subjects, including broadband wireless access; cybersecurity; competition and price regulation; IPTV and Mobile TV; national ICT strategies; next generation networks; regulatory reform; and spectrum management – among others.
Supporting the ITU Academy initiative are a number of front-line training partners including the ITU Centres of Excellence and Internet Training Centres – all key players in delivering education, training and information.
Today there are more than 60 ITU Centres of Excellence distributed around the world, and last year more than 2,000 individuals were directly trained through their programmes.
ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau has also so far helped to establish some 77 Internet Training Centres in 62 nations, and together the ITCs have trained over 8,000 graduates, with a further 2,000 students currently enrolled.
Through our multiple and combined efforts we work daily to build on Africa’s most important and abundant resource, which is of course human brainpower.
And I am convinced that together we can Connect the World and bring the unrivalled benefits of broadband to Africa’s people, wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances.
Let’s work together to realise that dream!