It is a tremendous privilege and a great pleasure to be with you here today in Addis Ababa for the 14th Session of the African Union Assembly and I am grateful to you for putting ICT for development in the agenda and I am proud of the response by so many stakeholders who are present here today.
First, however, let me recall the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti earlier this month – and let me urge everyone here today to continue doing their bit in the reconstruction efforts. ITU itself has done the little that it can, in sending satellite terminals to re-establish basic communications, and in sending experts, mobilizing the whole Telecom Industry to set up equipment and assess how networks can be rehabilitated.
Also my condolences to the people of Ethiopia for the tragic air disaster which happened earlier this week.
My job is easy, especially compared to our great leaders President Kagame, President Wade and President Zuma.
In the 21st century, the social and economic development of every country on earth will depend on equitable and affordable access to high-speed networks.
The year 2010 marks a critical milestone on the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Unfortunately most of the MDGs remain off track, particularly in the African countries amid a climate of global economic downturn and increasing uncertainty in donor overseas development assistance (ODA) commitments. Fortunately many countries have come to realize that assistance alone is not the solution.
The economic crisis means the global challenge of the MDGs is in serious risk of receding over the horizon. As the two thirds MDG review approaches in New York in September 2010, what should be the primary focus of the African Continent?
Broadband is the transformational technology that will totally reshape the way essential services are delivered – from e-health to e-education to e-commerce to e-government.
Broadband is the most powerful tool ever devised to drive global social and economic development, and accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
But while the technology exists, the benefits are not being realized in most countries. That is quite simply because broadband networks can never deliver on their full potential until they provide each and every citizen with fast, affordable access.
In the 21st century, broadband networks must be regarded as basic national infrastructure – just like transport, energy and water networks. Build broadband networks and everything else will follow:
- The ability to control and use energy more efficiently
- The ability to manage healthcare in poor, ageing or isolated populations
- The ability to deliver the best possible education to future generations
- The ability to take better care of our environment
- The ability to streamline transport networks
This is a true project for the African Continent.
It is now being recognized by many African Leaders that broadband network rollout can be financed by innovation and cost-savings in other sectors of the economy. And there are African Success Stories. I take this opportunity to thank the African Heads of States who have taken the lead in their countries and are supporting my initiatives as Secretary General of ITU at the Global level.
I sincerely hope that this Summit will provide the opportunity for Africa to act as One in its approach to formulating a vision 2020 that will make this decade, the Decade of an integrated Africa through ICT, addressing strategies including common codes, common spectrum management, and harmonization of Policy and Regulatory frameworks, low cost continental roaming, affordable rural access, Direct inter-continental links through fibre and satellites. A vision that will also address key Global issues related to ICT such as cybersecurity, cyber peace, and emergency communications especially in case of natural disasters; content development through e-health, e-commerce, e-government, e-education, e-agriculture are giving clear direction to Regulatory bodies and the Africa Telecommunication Union.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Africa has never been such a land of hope, such a continent of opportunity, as it is today, at the start of this new decade.
Why do I say this?
Because we are making extraordinary progress. At present there is a real opportunity to use all the potentials of public-private partnership to innovate and attract investment in this sector. For that the driver will be a policy and regulatory framework conducive to competition and growth, a policy of capacity building and training. A good example is the HIPSSA project – ‘Support for Harmonization of ICT Policies in Sub-Sahara Africa’ – a joint project between the European Union and the ITU, which is co-chaired by the ITU and the African Union. This kind of project – and many like it – should make us rightly proud of the huge ICT progress Africa has made in recent years, especially in terms of mobile cellular subscriptions.
At Connect Africa, in Kigali, under the leadership of President Kagame in 2007, organized together with the African Union Commission and key partners such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank a total of US$ 55 billion was raised in ICT investment pledges over five years.
In the first year, US$ 9 billion was invested in new ICT infrastructure, and by the end of last year, a total of US$ 21 billion had been invested – mainly in mobile infrastructure. There is reason for hope.
African businessmen and businesswomen have shown that they can do what is necessary. And foreign business has shown that it is ready and willing to invest in Africa.
We can build on unlimited reserves of human brainpower across Africa through targeted training and capacity building which will create new opportunities, leading to new jobs and new hope.
Ladies and gentlemen,
By the beginning of 2009, mobile teledensity across the African Union reached an extraordinary 38%. Today it is 42%.
As the Secretary-General of the ITU – which is ‘committed to connecting the world’ – this obviously means a great deal to me.
But for Internet usage, even though Africa has had a tremendous growth rate of 48% in 2008 alone, the penetration today is only 8%. However as an optimist I take this challenge as an opportunity.
Access to broadband presents also the same challenges and opportunities.
Because I believe, in the 21st century, that broadband will help us leap ahead and deliver on our true potential as Africans.
But can Africa afford to roll out national broadband networks?
Yes it can!
Because Africa has the potential to be an ICT powerhouse, if we can realize the economies of scale which can be driven by a whole region rather than just a few nations.
So let’s work together and make this new decade the decade of broadband for Africa.
And let’s build on broadband for a bright African future, when Africa enters the knowledge society we are dreaming of – a society where every citizen can access, create, use and share information.