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

West Africa ICT Road Map to Opportunities - Welcome Plenary Session
Accra, Ghana
9 July 2008

President Kufuor,
Ambassador Gross,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure to be with you today at this very important ICT conference for the West African region.

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 companies.

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 Society.

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.

Thank you.