Building Information Infrastructure in the 21st Century for Africa's Development:
Role and Responsibility of Governments
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have great pleasure in addressing you today here in Brazzaville. Not least, because we are in the cradle of African civilization, the fount of ancient knowledge and information. It is from here — from the banks of the river Congo — that the drum beats of African culture and music have resonated across the world. And it is from here that we can continue to build upon these vibrant traditions, ensuring that the drumbeats of 21st century information and communication will reach everyone on the African continent, fostering peace and sustainable development through the millennium.
Africa has demonstrated time and again that the digital revolution has paved the way for a social and economic revolution which is driving positive change across the continent.
It is our collective commitment — ITU, along with ATU, the political leadership of Africa, Regulatory Authorities, industry and civil society — to take responsibility to build the ICT infrastructure on the continent as it is essential for furthering Africa’s economic and social development.
Mobile technology has connected millions of Africans. Indeed, Africa has been witnessing some of the highest growth rates of any region in the world. ITU estimates that over the past five years, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in Africa increased by an average of 41 per cent per year. In the Republic of Congo alone, we have nearly 2.2 million mobile cellular subscriptions.
The figures are remarkable. Several of Africa’s Least Developed Countries are now among the world’s fastest growing mobile markets.
The success of this highly liberalized and competitive mobile market suggests that the right regulatory environment and a combination of African and foreign investment have been able to address the region’s communications needs.
African ingenuity and ability to innovate also creates new opportunities in the marketplace. The removal of “entry barriers”, such as the introduction of pre-paid services and associated credit value checking as well as M-banking can be seen as “innovation” generated by the competition — and the need for operators to respond to market characteristics.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Looking back over the decade, there is no doubt that Africa has made great strides, representing remarkable achievements for both investors and end-users.
And looking forward, the horizon is clear for new investment opportunities in the ICT sector. This will not only help power the growth of other sectors, but also act as a catalyst in meeting the social and economic aspirations of the people.
Building ICT infrastructure in Africa is clearly the priority.
With infrastructure development as the goal, ITU organized the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali in 2007. The gathering of African leaders, international experts and industry chief executives from around the world drew commitments of over 55 billion US dollars aimed at:
- expanding broadband backbone infrastructure and access networks
- enhancing national and regional interconnectivity
- broadening efforts to develop an enabling policy and regulatory environment for investment
- building human capacity and employment opportunities in the ICT sector, and
- stimulating the development of locally relevant ICT content, applications and services
Over 21 billion US dollars have already been invested in the African ICT sector. Much more is yet to come as Africa takes off on the road to digital success.
The vision stemming from Kigali is to connect all schools, hospitals and institutions in Africa in order to help meet the millennium development goals.
- In order to achieve this, government intervention is needed to develop policies that respond to market needs and create a regulatory environment conducive to investment. Policy makers must ensure that legal frameworks are enabled to take advantage of technological progress that contribute to reduce costs and tariffs.
- Clear policies are needed for the disbursement of Universal Access Funds, which are now established in most African countries.
- ITU has assisted a number of countries in the region including Burkina Faso, Burundi, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to use the Universal Service Fund to build passive infrastructure, such as towers in rural areas that can be used by ICT service providers along with other utilities to provide access in remote areas.
- Infrastructure sharing was the theme of the Global Symposium for Regulators in 2008, and it is a viable option to reduce the cost of infrastructure development and for operators to provide services in less attractive markets.
- IXPs can be used to maintain local traffic and at the same time facilitate exchange of data/files for e-learning, e-health and telemedicine at relatively low cost.
- Even as local Internet traffic through national IXPs has begun to flow within the Eastern and Southern areas of Africa, the need to develop effective and more robust regional interconnection networks are of paramount importance. Inter-country traffic should be handled within the region, thereby increasing efficiencies and lowering costs of Internet traffic.
- The implementation of global roaming services on the continent could also be considered to decrease high interconnection costs, particularly for mobile communications.
Ladies and gentlemen,
ITU is committed to supporting governments in Africa in building the ICT infrastructure for the 21st century.
In this respect, ITU plays a catalytic role through its programme on human capacity and digital inclusion. This includes the delivery of training activities through face-to-face, online or self training under the ITU Academy portal and ITU Centres of Excellence. Furthermore, ITU organizes human capacity development forums and workshops for decision-makers and managers from national administrations, regulatory authorities and operators involved in capacity building training activities and learning.
ITU also provides several platforms, such as the GSR where policy-makers, regulators, operators, and other ICT stakeholders can share experiences and best practices. This coming November, GSR will be meeting in Dakar where the theme “Enabling Tomorrow’s Digital World” will discuss the development of ICT infrastructure as well as the rollout of broadband.
I look forward to participating in the discussions here and hope to make further progress in Dakar in a few weeks. I also take this opportunity to wish all success to the Secretary-General of ATU, Mr Akossi Akossi and to all delegates and participants attending the ATU Plenipotentiary Conference which begins tomorrow.