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