Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and an honour to be with you here in Burundi today and to be able to discuss with you the importance of information and communication technologies in the 21st century.
In particular I would like to highlight some of the important work being done under the auspices of our Telecommunication Development Bureau, BDT, both here in Burundi as well as in other developing countries around the world.
At ITU we have a mandate to connect the world, and it is therefore very pleasing to see the progress that has been made in ICT development in all countries over the past decade – especially in mobile communications.
Here in Burundi, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grew eight-fold in the space of just five years, and by the beginning of 2010 mobile cellular penetration had surpassed 10%. I am convinced that in the next few years we will see even more spectacular progress.
The next big challenge is to do for the Internet and broadband in Africa what we have now so successfully achieved with mobile. Because although much progress has been made, we still have far to go – especially where broadband is concerned.
But is the Internet really that important, when we still have much to achieve in other areas – such as healthcare, education, and even the provision of shelter; sufficient, affordable food; and clean drinking water?
Yes it is!
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is no exaggeration to say that the Internet – and particularly broadband – represents perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for social and economic progress on this great continent of ours.
It will allow us to deliver more effective healthcare. Better education. Environmental sustainability. More efficient transportation services. Smarter and more economical energy supplies.
It will also enable a whole raft of new applications and services – such as mobile banking, for example, which is already proving to be so revolutionary here in Africa, and notably in Kenya.
Two things need to change, however, if the online world 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.
This is why ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year – and we have been very successful in raising the issue at the highest political levels, including the 2010 MDG Summit in New York last September.
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, and we have some 50 Commissioners from the highest walks of life across the public and private sectors.
Secondly, we need to ensure that Internet access – and especially broadband access – becomes very much more affordable than it is today.
I am an optimist, and there are clear grounds for optimism, since broadband access is in fact getting more affordable every year – though much more remains to be done, especially here in Africa.
Both access and affordability are being helped by an ongoing increase in capacity, itself driven by a newly competitive environment.
Here in Burundi, I am pleased to be able to say that ITU is working very actively to increase broadband access, most notably with the ‘ITU/Craig and Susan McCaw Broadband Wireless Network project’.
By increasing wireless broadband connectivity and developing ICT applications, the project will provide free or low cost digital access for schools and hospitals, and for underserved populations in rural and remote areas in Burundi.
The network is already operational, and we are now working on network optimization, and bringing in the necessary PCs and LAN equipment for schools and hospitals. We have also delivered field training of local experts.
This is just one of many projects where ITU has actively been involved in Burundi over the past few years.
We worked closely with you to restore your telecommunications network following wartime destruction, and assisted you with the creation of the ICT Ministry and the ICT sectoral strategy. We have also delivered technical assistance in terms of spectrum management and have participated in numerous training and human capacity building exercises.
Burundi also benefits from other local and regional ITU activities to help increase connectivity and expertise in Africa, and I would like to highlight a number of these before closing – particularly as they all demonstrate the importance of taking a public-private and / or a multi-stakeholder partnership approach.
Let me first update you on the progress made since we held the ITU Connect Africa Summit in 2007. I am delighted to report that in the two years following the summit – 2008 and 2009 – an impressive US$ 21 billion was spent on ICT infrastructure investment in Africa. We now confidently expect the final total, over a seven year period, to exceed US$ 70 billion – which is more than US$ 15 billion above what was originally pledged.
Other ITU initiatives I would like to briefly mention include the ITU / EC Harmonization project, HIPSSA; Connect a School, Connect a Community; and the ITU Academy.
The first of these, the ITU / European Commission Project on ‘Support for the Harmonization of ICT Policies in Sub Saharan Africa’, is known as HIPSSA.
We have adopted a common list of priorities articulated around eight main subjects, including: licensing; universal service and access; cross border 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.
When it comes concretely to Burundi, we have supported the ECCAS Member States – Burundi being one of them – to draft a set of Model Legislations on the above priorities.
The assessment of the current situation in the ECCAS countries Members has now been undertaken and a draft Model Legislation has been prepared. These documents have been distributed to the country focal points for their preliminary comments and have been discussed for their validation during a workshop that took place just last week in Libreville, Gabon, with representatives from Burundi. The next step will be to present them during the next ECCAS ministerial meeting.
In parallel, we have just launched a new activity covering all 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa which seeks to improve the coordination of frequencies at country borders. This is the first time such an activity has been launched on this scale, and it is of particular importance for Africa, where so many important cities lie close to borders.
Additionally, we will shortly launch a new activity assessing the situation of cost modelling, and in a second step propose regional training to build on these assessments.
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.
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.
Last but not least, we have the ITU Academy – because it is always worth reminding ourselves that without the skills to use them, ICTs are really not much of use to anyone.
The greatest free resource we possess – human brainpower – needs to be channelled and focused in the right direction.
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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I close, let me remind you that in October we will be organizing ITU Telecom’s 40th anniversary edition in Geneva. The event will bring together world leaders at the highest level along with top executives from many of the world’s most powerful players in the ICT sector.
Let me therefore urge you to note the dates in your diaries – 24 to 27 October – and encourage you to come to Geneva and to play your part in the debates and discussions which will help shape the future of the ICT sector.