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International Telecommunication Union
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New Opportunities for the World’s Poorest Countries:
Least Developed Countries Explore ICT use as Escape from Poverty Trap

Geneva, 11 August 2004 — The first Global ICT Forum for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), recently held in Mauritius, considered ways to help least developed countries join the Information Society. Organized jointly by the International Telecommunication Union and the Commonwealth Business Council and held in association with NEPAD’s E-Africa Commission, the Forum enabled development partners to hold a series of bilateral and multilateral negotiations on innovative development solutions and practical strategies for deploying information and communication technologies (ICTs) projects that can help the world’s poorest countries break away from the poverty trap. 150 participants from government, business, civil society and donor agencies took part.

The meeting followed a two-track format: one track set the stage with presentations by the various stakeholders of their expectations, requirements and initiatives, while the other brought together government and small and medium-sized enterprises from the LDCs in one-to-one meetings with development partners to discuss specific areas of cooperation. The Forum gave donors and businesses an opportunity to underscore the current problems of investment in LDCs, while participating governments showed great interest in finding out how to attract financing into their ICT sector. The debate gave rise to a number of policy options that could help increase investment flows into LDC economies.

The novel format of the meeting proved to be extremely effective with the last day organized as a "speed-dating" event where donors, investors and LDCs were given the opportunity to identify, through one-to-one meetings, whether there existed areas of common interest in specific development projects. For example, Mali sought assistance on an e-government project to link 27 ministries through the Internet. USAID, whose assistance programmes focus on facilitating the provision of e-government services to increase transparency, particularly in government procurement projects, responded positively to Mali’s call.

Lesotho’s plea for assistance in strengthening the regulatory skills of the regulatory agency’s board members raised positive interest from the African Development Bank, which also showed great interest in financing two Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) from Malawi and Mauritius.

The meeting aimed at stimulating positive change. In particular, it examined proposals and models that can be translated into concrete projects mainly in the areas of infrastructure, universal access, education services and entrepreneurship development. It also sought to identify possible sources of funding. In addition to creating a trading platform, the meeting offered an exclusive networking opportunity to participants who were able to gather information and explore possibilities for cooperation in order to build synergies in their LDC-related activities as a way of hedging against risk.

Speaking at the event, Mauritius’ Acting Prime Minister Jayakrishna Cuttaree said that the borderless nature of ICTs was making the world a global marketplace. "The digital economy has a growth potential for the gross national product of many countries of which LDCs cannot be an exception." He added, "adapting to this new phenomenon within the shortest span of time is the sine qua non condition for getting out of underdevelopment and ensure prosperity."

"Technological developments, if left unmanaged, can widen the current digital gap and trap developing and least developed countries in a perpetual spiral of poverty and exclusion," said Hamadoun I. Touré, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT). "This is why this multi-stakeholder event is a very important one, not only for LDCs but for all of us trying to make a difference on the ground", he also said. He urged participants to ensure effective cooperation and coordination at all levels in order to achieve the required synergies, complementarities, and efficiencies. Warning governments against over-regulation that can stifle innovation, he urged them to ensure they put in place dynamic but flexible and transparent regulatory regimes. He challenged business leaders to explore the abundant market opportunities that remain untapped in least developed countries. While cautious, he expressed confidence that private sector was now able to develop services in LDCs that have set up adequate regulatory environments with the perspective of an adequate return on their investment.

Celebrating Success

The Forum provided an opportunity to showcase a number of success stories with projects jointly implemented by ITU with Sector Members in developing and least developed countries. Among them, the ITU Internet Training Centre Initiative implemented in over 50 countries in partnership with Cisco Systems, the ITU Global Telecommunication University supported by Cable & Wireless and the ITU Youth Education Scheme that operates under a partnership arrangement with Vodafone, Anacom of Portugal and NTI of Egypt.

Comoros and Kiribati saw merit of the ITU Internet Training Centre initiative for their countries and embarked on discussions with ITU and Cisco to join. A number of participating businesses expressed interest in the ITU Global E-Learning Initiative aimed at providing Internet connectivity to rural schools and e-health services to remote communities in cooperation with Inmarsat and I-Linx. Bhutan’s ICTization project aimed at connecting 20 schools and surrounding communities to ICT, has also generated a lot of interest from the Global VSAT Forum, Cisco Systems and Inmarsat. As part of the follow-up activities, ITU will facilitate full-fledge commitments and delivery on the basis of the initial contacts established at the Forum.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Cosmas Zavazava
Head, Special Unit for Least Developed Countries
Telecommunication Development Bureau
International Telecommunication Union
Tel: +41 22 730 5447
Email contact

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