Ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this morning. I am a great believer
in the power of cooperation and collaboration, particularly between
organizations such as ours, which share so many ambitions and so many common
ITU has a mission which can be expressed very simply: we are “Committed to
Connecting the World”.
Incredible progress has been made, particularly in the first decade of this new
Today, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions has passed the four billion
mark, and well over 1.5 billion people have access to the Internet.
Of all the world’s regions, Africa has made the largest relative improvements in
mobile subscriptions, with a combined average annual growth rate of an
astonishing 49% from 2002 to 2007.
By the end of 2007, African mobile teledensity was higher than that achieved by
the Americas in 2002, and the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in Africa
was greater than that in the whole world just a decade earlier.
Africa also had the world’s fastest relative improvement in numbers of Internet
users, with a combined average annual growth rate of 39% in the five years to
But these improvements are relative – and a gaping digital divide still remains.
By the end of 2007, mobile penetration had reached 114.6% in Europe, meaning
substantially more mobile subscriptions than inhabitants, compared to 28.6% in
Africa, or fewer than one subscription for every three people.
And the entire African continent in 2007 – home to over 50 countries and more
than 950 million inhabitants – had fewer Internet subscribers than France.
By the beginning of last year, Africa had a fixed broadband Internet subscriber
penetration rate of just three subscribers per thousand inhabitants – compared
to 194 per thousand in the developed world.
Clearly, there is an immense amount of work still to be done.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There are many reasons to be optimistic.
New technologies – and especially low-cost wireless technologies – offer
tremendous potential to dramatically increase connectivity in Africa, and to
deliver the full online experience to the millions of people across the
continent who either have no access at all, or who are stuck in the slow lane on
the Internet superhighway.
But technology is only one part of the puzzle. Without widespread expertise, at
the local level, any potential increases in connectivity will necessarily remain
Universities, I believe, have a very powerful role to play – and form a key
component in the programmes which ITU and ICTP are working on together.
Across Africa, there are many millions of young people in tertiary education,
and we should never forget that young minds are the greatest natural resource we
have – and the only resource we need in order to continue to innovate.
Local universities therefore have a crucial role to play – both in developing
smart technological solutions based on solid scientific knowledge appropriate to
the local environment and needs, and in building capacity within the local
Through science and technology research, start-up companies can be inculcated
with local skills, thereby expanding ICT industry at the local level, and
creating valuable new jobs. This creates a virtuous circle, with more people
becoming interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
education, and themselves then becoming the next generation of ICT
Key to increasing knowledge and skills in local institutions is knowledge
exchange and collaboration at the local, the national and the international
Training and exchange programmes, funding grants and other institutional
capacity building efforts are germane to the success of such collaborations –
seeing the spread of technological competence beyond simple pilot projects and
into operational practice.
We are a firm supporter of ICTP’s activities in this field, and it is of great
encouragement to see ICTP becoming a scientific hub, connecting individual and
institutional mentors in the developed world with African scientists,
researchers, developers and educational institutions. Academic work at the local
level can also be greatly enhanced through online access to libraries and the
latest academic journals.
ITU itself is contributing directly to the expansion of broadband backbone
infrastructure and access networks, as well as increasing investment in rural
connectivity projects, through flagship initiatives such as our ‘Wireless
Broadband Partnership’, and the ‘Connect Africa’ event, which took place in
Rwanda in 2007.
My friends and colleagues,
The natural synergy between the work of ICTP, and ITU’s goal of bringing the
benefits of the information society to all the world’s people, makes it not just
logical but a pleasure for our organizations to cooperate.
Renewed Joint activities between ITU and ICTP date back to 2005, when the ‘ICT
Technology Observatory and Training Unit for Developing Countries’ was
established after the agreement signed by our institutions. The training program
included various elements such as project management and the financial aspects
of wireless networking.
Joint ICTP-ITU training activities have included the yearly Wireless Networking
School, and joint workshops such as the one held recently on the ‘Relevance of
low cost wireless ICT solutions for Development’, which targeted international
experts and decision-makers from Africa. These workshops were particularly
timely, as recent technology advances, including the emergence of very low-cost
wireless solutions, allow the use of ICTs in a wider range of development areas
– and particularly in the educational and scientific environment.
Next month, ITU and ICT are launching perhaps our most important collaboration
to date, in the shape of the ‘Strengthening Training Capacity in Wireless
Networking in Africa’ project.
The main aim of this project is to transfer low-cost wireless technology
know-how to African educational institutions, by mentoring students and sharing
knowledge through e-learning – as well on-site visits to transfer specific
This will help develop networks of expertise, through a ‘train-the-trainer’
approach, which will allow the rapid spread of knowledge into the wider
community, thus enabling the rollout of new networks and new opportunities for
The project will establish wireless technology training centres at selected
African educational institutions; the training of trainers on related ICT
curricula; the provision of training materials; and launching of dedicated
The project will also encourage the participation of women and young people in
the ICT sector. This is particularly important, given that in sub-Saharan
Africa, women are more under-represented in tertiary education than in any other
region of the world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
ICTs are the great enabler of modern society, helping people communicate across
distance and across cultural divides, facilitating trade, and providing access
to critical resources, such as healthcare and education.
In the 21st century, ICT networks are at least as critical to economic and
social development as more traditional networks like transport, power and water.
I therefore applaud ICTP’s efforts to ensure that ever more of the world’s
people have access to modern, affordable communications infrastructure, and the
social and economic benefits which derive from them.