Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Tour, ITU Secretary-General

Minsk, Belarus
21 April 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank the government of the Republic of Belarus for its kind invitation. It is an honor and a pleasure to come to Minsk, not only because it is the premier city of Belarus, but also because it is an incredibly dynamic city: a city which proactively responds to the challenges of globalization; a city which – looking ahead to 2020 – has developed a vision on sustainable development; and a city that promises to be a world leader in terms of expertise in financial markets and knowledge intensive production. With everything that I’ve seen during this visit, I believe that Minsk, already a guiding light in the development of Information and Communication Technology on a national level, has the potential to carve out a strong position at the international level, reaping the benefits from both ICTs and globalization, and making a worthy contribution to world development.

The world is full of examples that demonstrate the positive effective ICTs can have on job creation, enterprise development, income sustainability, innovation and even cultural identity. In fact, ICTs have become a vital source of social development and economic growth. Today, being connected to the world means having an effective ICT infrastructure. At ITU, we’re committed to connecting the world. We’re committed to enabling the evolution of the telecommunication and information networks that are necessary to connect the world. And we’re committed to bringing about a future where everyone, everywhere can actively participate in the global information society. That is why we took the leading role in organizing the WSIS – the World Summit on the Information Society – held in two phases: in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. And it is why we are happy to be here today.

At the Summit, ICT leaders collectively charted a vision for the future development of a global information society, which was then laid down in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Action Lines, followed by the Tunis Commitment and Tunis Agenda. Together, these documents set out a clear and ambitious set of targets for 2015. These include connecting all villages, towns and cities of the world, as well as recognizing the role of ICT in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: goals such as cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring that all children receive a primary school education, improving literacy and health care, promoting gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability.

It is now 2008 and we have only 7 years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals on schedule for 2015. In fact, ITU is ambitious enough to hope that we can even connect all those as yet unconnected by 2012. However, we know that we cannot meet this challenge alone. That is why we launched the Connect the World initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to mobilize the necessary resources for realizing concrete projects in every region of the world. We were delighted with the success of the first regional initiative, Connect Africa, which was launched at the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali in 2007. At this summit, 55 billion dollars was pledged to develop ICT infrastructure on the African continent, clearly demonstrating the willingness of investors to commit to the telecommunication markets of the developing world. Connect Summits for other regions will definitely follow. ITU plans to use these summits and the momentum created to continue to mobilize like-minded stakeholders in each region, matching up global players and creating win-win partnerships which will work together to expand ICT networks, attract further investment, and foster broad social and economic development.

The Connect the World initiative is a good example of ITU’s response to the goal of greater global connectivity, a goal laid out in one of Action Lines defined at the Geneva phase of the WSIS. While ITU actively supports all Action Lines, it was given a special mandate to take the lead role in two of them, namely “Information and communication infrastructure” and “Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs”. These two WSIS Action Lines, for which ITU is sole Facilitator, are closely aligned with ITU’s own strategic goals of “Bridging the Digital Divide” and “Safeguarding Networks”.

The goal for all of us is achieving universal access. This is not without its challenges, of course. Cybercrime, for example, is a real threat. That is why, last year on 17 May, I launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, an ITU framework for international cooperation, aimed at proposing strategies for solutions to enhance confidence and security in the information society.  In addition, I created a High Level Expert Group (HLEG) of representatives from governments, industry, regional/international organizations, academic and research institutions from around the globe to advise me. 

Developments in the field of ICT can also be, as you all know, incredibly rapid, which is why we are helping small countries band together to develop common strategies. Furthermore, every country has its own particular barriers to development, which is why we are doing everything we can to support Member States in meeting their WSIS commitments by 2015. And at this year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day in May, the theme is “Connecting People with Disabilities: ICT Opportunities for All”. After all, universal access means just that – we must ensure that no one is left out.

ITU is doing everything it can to mobilize the technical, financial and human resources needed to make the global information society a reality. We ask all stakeholders – manufacturers, service providers, international organizations, NGO’s and policy makers – to join us in creating a more equitable, more peaceful and more connected world.

Today, with you, I welcome the opportunity for ITU to work more closely with Belarus in achieving these lofty aims. Initiatives like the ambitious “Electronic Belarus” programme – incorporating everything from evolving infrastructure to personnel training – demonstrate your commitment to building an accessible, effective and inclusive information society. I am confident that Belarus will be an important partner our global goal of connecting the world.

Thank you.