Distinguished presidents of the Parlementarian Commissions,
Honourables membners of the National Assembly and of the Senate,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and an honour to be with you here in Burundi today and to have been offered this opportunity to address you.
Over the past decade, we have seen information and communication technologies become ubiquitous and pervasive, and we have seen their influence spread into all domains of human activity.
Indeed, it would seem fair to say that we have seen a paradigm shift away from the idea of ICTs as a luxury, to ICTs as essential drivers of social and economic progress.
Who today – most especially here in this assembly – could imagine conducting their business or running their lives without the existence of mobile phones? ICTs have dramatically reduced distance, bringing people closer together than ever before – and they will continue to do so.
This has enormous and far-reaching implications for my organization, ITU – which as you know is the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for ICT development worldwide.
Last October, ITU held its 18th Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was the occasion for our membership – now standing at 192 Member States, with the recent addition of Timor Leste – to set out the priorities for the Union for the forthcoming four years, and to ensure that ITU remains relevant, right at the heart of the ICT sector.
It was very interesting to see that the need to prioritize and roll out broadband infrastructure was mentioned in the overwhelming majority of policy statements made by Member States – and I will come back to the importance of broadband in a moment.
In Guadalajara, our membership took a number of significant decisions and passed many important resolutions, concerning – among other issues:
- ICTs and climate change;
- Strengthening ITU’s regional presence;
- Measures to help prevent the illicit use and abuse of telecommunication networks;
- Conformance and interoperability;
- Emergency communications and humanitarian assistance;
- The admission of Sector Members from developing countries;
- Bridging the standardization gap;
- Opening up the way for the participation of academia in the Union’s work;
- Special measures to assist Small Island Developing States and Landlocked Developing Countries; and
- Electronic meetings.
Membership also passed a number of key Resolutions on Internet issues, which strengthens and underlines ITU’s commitment to work with the Internet community in extending the benefits of the Internet to all global citizens.
All of this means that we will have a very busy four years ahead of us at ITU, and we will be looking to each and every one of our Member States – and that of course includes Burundi – to continue supporting us in their own work, as indeed they have done for many, many years. In Burundi’s case, we have had your support since you joined ITU almost fifty years ago, in February 1963.
Honourable members of the Parliament,
We are very rapidly approaching the 2015 deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the targets set by the World Summit on the Information Society.
And it is my sincere belief that we cannot hope to accelerate progress towards meeting these goals and targets if we do not enhance the full power of ICTs.
ICTs help us make tremendous steps in improving healthcare, reducing poverty and creating gender empowerment. They help generate jobs, and drive growth, productivity and long-term economic competitiveness.
I am therefore delighted that during my first four-year term as ITU Secretary-General, we saw so much progress in global ICT development, and that there are now well over five billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide.
Even in many of the world’s poorest countries, household mobile cellular penetration in rural areas now exceeds 50%.
Here in Burundi, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grew eight-fold in the space of just five years, but the penetration rate, the teledensity measured this year is only 20%, which is one of the lowest in the Continent estimated at an average of 50%.
Here in Burundi, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grew eight-fold in the space of just five years, but the penetration rate, the teledensity measured this year is only 20%, which is one of the lowest in the Continent estimated at an average of 50%. Meanwhile, I am convinced that in the next few years we will see even more spectacular progress here taking due consideration of the strategies under deployment by all the stakeholders and the commitment of the Governemental retreat devoted to ICT, I had the pleasure to attend in NGOZI yesterday.
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. Because although much progress has been made, with Internet penetration trebling in the past four years across the continent, to reach 11% by the beginning of 2010, we still have far to go – especially where broadband is concerned.
Some people ask me: Is the Internet really that important, when we still have much to achieve in other areas? Areas such as healthcare, education, and even the provision of shelter; sufficient, affordable food; and clean drinking water?
And I say the answer is: Yes, it is!
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. And 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. 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. This will only happen with increased capacity and increased competition – which we are now seeing across the continent.
Ladies and gentlemen, honourable Parliamentarians
This brings me to my closing statements, which concern the vital importance of regulation in terms of ICTs.
Effective regulation and sound regulatory frameworks are absolutely key for stimulating growth, increasing access to ICTs for all, extending broadband rollout, and ensuring that we speed up progress in meeting the MDGs.
For the ICT industry, good regulation delivers predictability and stability, and it reduces risk. It encourages investment in ICT infrastructure and rewards competition and innovative business models.
At the same time, it protects consumers, by delivering a transparent market place and a fair system for resolving disputes.
This is no simple matter, however, especially in a world where we are faced with increasing complexity, growing divergence, and a rapidly evolving ICT environment.
We no longer live in the simple, analogue world of posts and telecommunications, but in the complex digital world:
- where the boundaries between infrastructure and content have converged and all but disappeared;
- where cybersecurity has become an issue for all players;
- where ICT applications and services now go far beyond the ICT sector alone;
- and where the only true constant is change.
This changing technological environment imposes to the Legislative authorithies a regular review of the respective laws.
That is why I am always preaching for an excellent cooperation between the government and the parliament and I will request your appreciated and wise support when considering the emergency of the ICT laws in order to match the technology trends.
I would like also to refer to the excellent collaboration between the International Parliamentarian Union and the ITU. Our common activitites organized in geneva aimed to the dissemination and the sensibilization of all the world parlamantarian on the ICT challenges and the hope their represent towards building a better world for the next generations.
I am honoured to share our experience with you and invite all of you when attending some interpalementarian events in Geneva to seize the opportunity to visit also ITU Headquarters, at the Place des Nations.