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Forum Opening Plenary Session “ICTs in Africa – A Continent on the Move”
Cairo, Egypt
12 May 2008

Address by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Excellencies,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the opening of the Forum at ITU Telecom Africa 2008. I am delighted to see so many familiar faces and old friends here today, as well as so many newcomers to the event. Together, we have the power to leverage the incredible opportunities Africa has to offer.


The first decade of the twenty-first century has already proved decisive in ICT development across the African continent, with Africa having made the most impressive progress of any region over the past eight years, in terms of mobile subscribers. It is highly appropriate, therefore, that the theme of this week’s Forum should be ‘ICTs in Africa – A Continent on the Move’.


Even the most optimistic projections for growth within the mobile sector have been massively surpassed.


Ten years ago this week, at the end of ITU Telecom Africa 1998, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki was confident that Africa had the political will to put in 50 million lines over the next five years. Many doubted him. Remember, in 1998, that there were just 20 million telephone lines serving – or indeed under-serving – the entire African continent.


But by 2003, five years on, Africa could indeed boast more than 50 million more lines, with a total of some 78 million telephone subscribers.


And now?


The answers can be found in the ITU’s latest report, ‘African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2008’, which was launched here in Cairo yesterday.


The report reveals the incredible news that by the beginning of this year, 2008, Africa had not 100 million, and not even 200 million, but an astonishing 300 million fixed and mobile subscribers.


This quite extraordinary growth has been driven by the explosive uptake of mobile cellular communications continent-wide. So that today, over a quarter of all Africans – some 265 million people – now have a mobile subscription of some kind.


The figures that come out of the report are truly mind-boggling.


Over the past five years, for example, while economic growth has chugged along in single digits globally – even during boom times – mobile cellular growth in Africa has averaged an astonishing 48% per year. Africa’s mobile market has grown ten-fold in that time, from 25 million at the start of 2002, to 265 million by the end of last year.


That means there are now more cellular subscribers in Africa than there were in the whole world at the start of 1998.


What has driven this incredible surge in growth, in what has historically been regarded as something of an economic backwater?


I leave this answer to the panel during our discussions and I will certainly learn from both the panel and the audience on that analysis of the success factors in Africa.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


As the Secretary-General of an organization which is ‘committed to connecting the world’, I cannot tell you how much this progress means to me.


As you know, ITU firmly believes that by connecting the world, and fulfilling everyone’s fundamental right to communicate, the world will become a better and a safer place.


That’s why ITU does its utmost to build consensus and get everyone to work together – government and industry alike – to come up with innovative and effective solutions; Solutions for sharing knowledge, developing new tools, and building and safeguarding today’s and tomorrow’s networks (cybersecurity/cyberspace).


This is the whole purpose of events such as the one we are participating in today – and I am tremendously optimistic that the vision we share and the goals we set here this week will themselves be comfortably surpassed in the next few years.


Naturally, ICT development is not just about mobile communications. It is also about delivering easy, affordable access to the Internet, and enabling all people, whether rich or poor, to benefit from the advantages the online world brings to business, communities and every individual.


Here, too, Africa has made remarkable progress in the first few years of this new century. At the end of 2001, fewer than 7 million Africans had access to the Internet – meaning that it was available, in effect, to only a select few in major urban centres. Two years later, at the end of 2003, that number had more than doubled, to 14 million. But by the end of last year, it had almost quadrupled again, and today over 50 million Africans now access the Internet.


The development of the ICT sector has resulted in exciting services and opportunities for the region. The growth in mobile is fueling local m-commerce applications such as pricing information for rural farmers and – in Kenya, for example – the use of mobile phones to pay for goods and services. Connectivity to international fiber networks is providing opportunities for African countries to tap into ICT service exports – as is the case in South Africa.


This is not enough, however. Where, for example, are the many millions of broadband users we would like to see in Africa?


I firmly believe, as an African, and as the leader of the International Telecommunication Union, that Africa is now in a better position than ever before to not just sustain and broaden its ICT growth, but to rapidly expand access in areas such as Internet and broadband too.


And I am counting personally on all of you to help us fulfill our dreams.


Thank you.

 

 

 

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