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

West Africa ICT Road Map to Opportunities - Luncheon Keynote
Accra, Ghana
10 July 2008

Ambassador Gross,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2006, the 15 nations that make up ECOWAS took a landmark decision that has the potential to open the floodgates to a vast pool of untapped opportunity across the region.

That decision was the adoption of a new, common ICT regulatory framework that will harmonize national approaches to spectrum management, competition policy, interconnection tariffs, infrastructure sharing, licence fees and more.

The fruit of a partnership project launched by ITU in cooperation with the European Union, this new framework integrates inputs from a wide range of stakeholders, including government Ministries, national regulators, telcos and service providers and, of course, ICT users.

It has been developed around best practice guidelines adopted at the WATRA Ordinary General Assembly in 2005, which were themselves the result of extensive consultation and study by national and international regulatory experts, followed by fine-tuning via a series of multi-stakeholder workshops held throughout the West African region over a two-year period.

When this harmonized framework was adopted at the 6th Meeting of ECOWAS Ministers for Telecommunications and ICT, we were confident of having a comprehensive text that was not only appropriate and relevant to the varying needs of all countries, but highly workable from a legal perspective.

At the time, ECOWAS representatives and others hailed the adoption as a major milestone in promoting further economic integration and eliminating the barriers that obstruct the free flow of information and transactions between the countries of the West African region.

It was also widely regarded as a springboard to a liberalized regional market that would stimulate the deployment of the broadband infrastructure that’s becoming increasingly critical to competing effectively in rapidly globalizing markets.

If, today, I may seem to be labouring the point, it is because I believe it is absolutely vital that we do not lose sight of the prize that is now within our reach, after so many years of hard work.

West Africa’s leaders have committed themselves to this new framework. Now, they must translate that commitment into action, and move fast to implement the harmonized directives that will establish a common West African market for ICT goods and services.

The potential benefits are innumerable, and extend far beyond better access to better quality ICT services. Around the world, ICTs have emerged as the key enabler of just about every other economic sector. They are also an important generator of new jobs, and an important bridge to new opportunities in new sectors.

Our host country, Ghana, has already been making impressive headway in establishing itself as a new hub for international business process outsourcing. Senegal, too, is building itself a niche market among francophone countries for call centre and data processing services.

I know very well that, as African leaders, you have a great many pressing priorities, and a great many calls on your resources.

But I cannot over-emphasize the benefits we could reap if we work more closely together towards common goals.

This is generally true of national and regional ICT development initiatives, where we must take advantage of complementary projects and not waste our resources in duplicating effort.

This is particularly true of regulation, where a common, harmonized approach will cut our network deployment costs, improve our purchasing power and market sway, and make our region even more attractive to the many foreign investors looking for new opportunities beyond the saturated markets of the north.

I therefore urge all leaders here today to move quickly to implement West African harmonization, and to give this region the impetus it needs to leverage its many formidable assets.

Thank you.