Speech from Mr Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General
WTDC-10, Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Africa Region
Kampala, Uganda
13 July 2009

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, and all Elected Officials, I warmly welcome you to the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Africa. 

I would like to thank Uganda for hosting this meeting and for welcoming us to this beautiful country. Uganda with its mountains, lakes, semi-desert, forests, many different cultures and extraordinary wildlife is a haven of diversity.  Where better to bring together so many countries to discuss the varied issues of the ICT Sector.  I visited Uganda two times in the past, 2003 and 2008, both were invitations by the Uganda Administration to join the CTO Conference.  Today, I am very pleased to come here to join the ITU meeting. 

You are here to discuss the ICT priorities for Africa.  ICTs have the power to change people’s lives and have become the basic foundation of modern societies, crossing cultural divides, giving access to vital information, facilitating health-care and stimulating commerce.  ITU is committed to ensuring that people in all regions of the world in general, and in the Africa region in particular, can share these benefits.

There is no doubt that Africa faces many challenges when it comes to connectivity.  But it is interesting to see that these challenges have often inspired innovation in technology. Indeed, disruptive innovation may well find its home more easily in this region, where sustaining technologies are less entrenched.

The impressive growth in the ICT sector in Africa in the last few years and especially the exceptional evolution of mobile telephony gives hope for the future and shows us what can be achieved and Uganda is an excellent example.  In July 2003, when I visited this country, Uganda had 60’995 fixed telephone lines and 776’000 mobile subscriptions.  In March 2008 when I came here for the second time, Uganda had 168’000 fixed telephone lines and 5.6 million mobile subscriptions.  I am sure that today you have more.  However, many Africans, particularly in some South-Sahara areas, still lack basic ICT services and where access is available it is not always affordable or sustainable.

Unfortunately, the global downturn and the present financial climate are not favourable for stimulating the investment needed to bring connectivity to all African people. This makes it all the more important that you consider over the next few days where the priorities lie for ICT development in Africa, so that resources can be put where they are needed most.  I am very pleased to note that the African countries expressed more and more their voices to look for a win-win partnership solution for future investment.

The right partnerships will also be crucial in order to progress and succeed in today’s difficult economic environment.  Government, industry and financial institutions must all work together and make ICT development their common goal, confident in the knowledge that they will see sufficient returns.

That is why ITU and its partners organized the Connect Africa summit in Kigali in 2007, bringing together different stakeholders to make a commitment to invest in Africa’s future.  The Summit showed that the will exists to work together on improving connectivity in the region. Since then many activities have been undertaken, some of which with the involvement of the ITU.  I know that my friend and colleague, Sami al-Basheer will be updating you on the follow up to the Summit.

In today’s world it is clear that ICTs must be part of the roadmap for development and it is encouraging to note that many countries are including ICT investment in their recovery packages.

Not only should ICTs be part of the roadmap for development, but we must also maximize the use of ICTs to mitigate climate change.  ITU is intensifying its action on climate change through standards for energy efficiency of ICT technologies, climate monitoring and disaster prediction, detection and relief.  A number of countries in Africa have in recent years experienced flooding, severe drought and earthquakes which called for emergency support. ITU is giving direct assistance, such as the deployment of satellite terminals to Zambia after the March 2008 floods, as well as working with countries to include emergency telecommunications in disaster planning and preparedness.  In addition to this, a few African countries continue to experience civil emergencies due to political situations which also require emergency intervention from time to time.

The ITU is also very much concerned by cybersecurity.  The Global Cybersecurity Agenda or GCA has positioned itself as the leading framework to deliver concrete solutions in our collective efforts to reduce cyber threats at a global level.  This year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day was dedicated to a cybersecurity theme, Child Online Protection,  and we were honoured to welcome President Lula of Brazil to the ITU in Geneva to receive his award for work in this field.  With more and more African people connected by cyber-connections, we have to address this issue in Africa as well.

Last but not least, I would like to advise you that ITU will be holding TELECOM World in October this year in Geneva.  The underlying theme of the event is Open Networks – Connected Minds, this is not just a platform to technology development, but also an opportunity to focus on the modes of dialogue that bring peoples of the world together to address many issues such as ICT for sustainable development, climate change, ICT regulatory environment, WSIS implementation, MDG implementation etc.  I am very pleased that many African countries will organize their national pavilions to show their telecom development and a number of Heads of States of African Member countries and many Ministers and Heads of Regulatory Agencies have confirmed to join the Event.  I very much hope that we will see you in Geneva for TELECOM World.

As I will not be able to join you at the closing session I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the great efforts to assist the Africa Region by the BDT staff and the African Regional and Area staff, under the strong leadership of Mr. Sami Al-Basheer, Director of the BDT. 

Thank you for your attention and I wish you well with your discussions over the next three days.