Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General
I think most of you will agree that there’s never been a more
exciting time to be involved in West Africa’s ICT development. As regional
markets begin to gather momentum, there’s so much opportunity and potential
waiting to be unleashed through constructive new partnerships, enlightened
regulation and the power of emerging technologies.
If the first few years are any indication, it’s proving
something of a miraculous century for just about every country across the
region. Over the past five years, our host, Ghana, has grown its mobile
teledensity by over 80% annually, to reach an impressive 32% today.
Figures for the region’s 11 UN-designated Least Developed
Countries are also spectacular. Six years ago, just two people in a thousand in
my home country of Mali had a mobile phone. But with Mali showing one of the
fastest rates of mobile growth in the whole world, at over 120% annually, mobile
phones are now in the hands of one in five Malians. Incredibly, Mali now has a
higher mobile teledensity than the United States did at the beginning of 1998,
or France had in early 1999.
Explosive growth in mobile has created the most unwired market
in the world, with well over 90% of African subscribers adopting wireless
technology. But at the same time, strong demand for Internet access across the
region is also steadily driving fixed connections.
The sheer size of the West African market and the positive
growth forecasts for many of the region’s economies is seeing foreign investors
scramble to take advantage of new opportunities prompted by the progressive
introduction of competition and the regulatory harmonization that is helping
create important economies of scale.
At the same time, new broadband wireless technologies like WiMAX,
Mobile WiMAX, IMT-Advanced and VSAT are emerging as promising solutions to West
Africa’s broadband bottleneck. Much better suited to the African environment,
these technologies could soon help Africans overcome the tyranny of distance and
chronic lack of landlines, ushering in a new age of cheaper, faster and more
accessible Internet access.
Already, some West African nations are trading on their ICT
skills and infrastructure to grow their service sectors to take advantage of
today’s globalizing marketplace. Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal have been
successfully targeting the international IT outsourcing market, while Côte
d’Ivoire has launched a free trade zone designed to lure world-class ICT
In short, West Africa’s ICT future has never looked so
promising, offering great opportunities for telcos and service providers,
equipment manufacturers and the investment community.
What then should we, as ICT leaders, be doing to ensure that
these opportunities are seized, and that this promise is realized?
Enlightened regulation and pro-ICT policies will be critical. So
will new approaches like infrastructure sharing, which served as the focus of
ITU’s 2008 Global Symposium for Regulators. Through this new approach, telcos
can leverage existing networks like GSM cellular, electricity and transport to
dramatically reduce the cost of wireless broadband deployment.
Of course, infrastructure is only part of the puzzle. Empowering
people to use these new tools and building confidence in online networks will be
essential to creating strong, healthy ICT-led growth.
In the face of a mounting cybercrime menace, we all face
challenges in enforcing cybersecurity – yet it’s clear that many African nations
lack the resources to effectively counter this threat.
Some West African countries in particular continue to be plagued
by this scourge – damaging network performance, undermining public confidence,
and damaging their international reputation.
The far-reaching nature of the legal, technical and
institutional challenges will necessitate an international approach to stamping
out cybercrime. That’s why ITU has taken the initiative of launching a new
Global Cybersecurity Agenda. This framework builds on existing national and
regional initiatives and encourages wide-ranging collaboration between all
stakeholders, with the aim of building a safer and more inclusive Knowledge
Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that development initiatives led
by government and intergovernmental agencies like ITU will continue to be
important in prioritizing and focusing investment. ITU’s Connect Africa Summit,
held in Kigali last October, generated over 55 billion dollars worth of
commitments to interconnect all African capitals and major cities with broadband
infrastructure and to strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.
But that said, I am convinced that the real secret to West
Africa’s success lies in partnership. Partnership between governments,
partnership between public and private sector organizations, and partnership
between locally-based enterprises and international companies.
Through ECOWAS, WATRA and other cooperative regional
initiatives, West Africa has already been leading the way in demonstrating the
value of partnership. I hope, during the course of the next two days, we can
identify many more constructive ways of working together, with the shared goal
of creating a thriving West African ICT sector.