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

UPU - 24th Universal Postal Congress
Geneva, Switzerland
30 July 2008

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Director-General for the kind invitation to address you here today, in what is UPU’s 24th Congress. It is an honour and a privilege.
ITU and UPU have remarkable histories and share many similarities. UPU was established in 1874, less than a decade after the founding of ITU. Both organizations were responsible for the internationalization of the leading communication technologies at the time. UPU and ITU have enjoyed a long-standing relationship and our collaboration over the years has truly helped to connect the world. Without our two organizations, the global village – as we know it – would not exist.

ITU and UPU have long worked towards the ideal of universal access. Now, at a time when the digitalization of our industries is rapidly changing the communication landscape, we are still working towards this ideal.

The goal of universal access was the reason for ITU’s Connect Africa initiative, launched at a high-level Summit in Kigali last October. While great gains have been made in the African continent in recent years, there remains much to do if we want to eliminate the digital divide. Bringing connectivity to every region in Africa requires mobilizing all possible human, technical and financial resources – both public and private. At the same time, Connect Africa has demonstrated that such mobilization of resources can create exciting business and investment opportunities.

UPU, of course, has had its own role to play in this process. As has been so often the case in the history of our two organizations, we again find ourselves not only standing side-by-side, but working actively together. Let me give you 3 examples:

  1. Bhutan
    Post offices – probably more than any other institution – play a central role in people’s lives. In rural areas, especially in developing countries, post offices often also serve as the de factor governmental presence. This is true even in the remote corners of Bhutan and it was the reason behind the creation of a project to turn Bhutanese post offices into windows to the world.

    Working together, ITU, UPU and India initiated a pilot project in which 38 Bhutan post offices were selected to become region ICT centers. Six of these were provided with connectivity through assistance from India. These revamped post offices provided most people with their first access to ICT.

    Now complete, this project provides concrete evidence that providing rural and remote areas with access to digital technology can have significant benefits. In this case, both for the populace at large, as well as for Bhutan Post. Perhaps most dramatically, this project has made it possible for the democratic election results from remote locations to be announced in real time, using the post office facilities, instead of waiting for any where from 3 to 7 days, as was the case in the past. Furthermore, the project has revolutionized governance in Bhutan, changed the work culture of Bhutan Post as an organization, and encouraged innovation among the staff.

  2. Afghanistan
    A second joint venture involving ITU, UPU and India is a project in Afghanistan, in which post offices are providing communities with a wide variety of electronic services: email, e-post, money transfers and salary payments. Although still new, this project has already proved useful to the communities.

  3. South Africa
    A third collaborative project – and one of the reasons that I am here today – involves South Africa, ITU and UPU. The project, funded by South Africa, aims to promote universal access to ICTs through entrepreneurship. By strengthening market forces, both at the level of infrastructure as well as in the provision of services and content, this project hopes to extend ICT services to rural areas. We are working together with financial institutions – both major banks and micro financial institutions – to help unlock market potential.
    Here again, the postal system, with the central role it plays in peoples’ lives, has a major role: both in giving entrepreneurs a platform for providing postal and ICT services, as well as providing services themselves.

We are living in exciting times. Technological developments, new business practices and policies are making the task of providing ICT services to rural and under-developed areas more feasible than ever. In many cases, digital services are significantly cheaper and easier to employ than traditional access technologies.

The World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis set out a clear agenda for achieving the objectives of the global information society.
ITU and UPU – with their long legacy in the information and communication arenas – will continue to work together towards these goals.

We will continue to harness the potential of ICTs to empower people and create a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.

And we will continue to turn challenges into opportunities.

I have no doubt, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the goal of universal access offers us an opportunity to strengthen the partnership that we have enjoyed for more than a century.

Thank you.