The key to accelerating post-COVID recovery across Africa
*The following article has been adapted from my opening remarks at yesterday's Ministerial Roundtable Forum to Commemorate ATU-ICT Day.
The past two decades have seen a period of intense growth in information and communication technology (ICT) development that has enriched people’s lives worldwide and proved essential in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current situation is grave, but imagine what it would be like if we did not have the ICT infrastructure and services that so many, including the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU), have worked so hard to develop!
I want to express my appreciation to ATU, its members, and all those who have made this possible. Today, we celebrate the role of ICT in our lives but also its importance in the social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
When COVID-19 hit, ITU quickly reacted by launching the Global Network Resiliency Platform. Since then, REG4COVID has become a place where ICT regulators, policymakers, and others can share best practices and lessons learned. And I am pleased that many African stakeholders have used and contributed to the platform.
One key lesson from this crisis is that we all need to work together to exchange critical information, analyze problems and co-create solutions.And we need to put public interest first. COVID-19 is threatening people’s lives but also their livelihoods.
As millions are being pushed into extreme poverty, Sub-Saharan Africa is being hit the hardest. Our response to and recovery from the pandemic must therefore be a joint effort, with increasing investment in ICT at its center.
This is the message I have taken to world leaders since the start of the crisis, from United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 75 to the BRICS meeting of Communications Ministers to the G20 meetings of ICT, Finance, and Health Ministers. In concert with our partners, ITU has been calling for the use of digital infrastructure, technologies, and services in support of the COVID-19 response and recovery.
We have launched the Connect2Recover initiative in partnership with Japan and Saudi Arabia to respond to the glaring gap in digital infrastructure, especially in Africa where we are working with the most affected countries to extend this infrastructure to those areas yet unreached. We are also leveraging existing efforts like GIGA, an initiative of ITU and UNICEF to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.
The ITU-ILO initiative “Boosting decent jobs and enhancing digital skill for the youth in Africa’s digital economy” is another example that contributes to Africa’s recovery from COVID-19. There are also efforts to work with African countries to ensure resilient Digital Financial Inclusion, especially for SMEs and rural folks, to enshrine digital Government and build enduring African Digital Economies.
As terrible as COVID-19 has been, and still is, there are steps that ATU Members and others can take to continue to curb the virus but also hasten recovery in Africa.
I invite you to rethink the positioning of broadband infrastructure development and deployment in your national priorities, because it is now proven to be as critical as health, clean water, electricity, and others.
I call on you to rethink your regulatory and policy frameworks, making collaborative regulation with the private sector a central element of your recovery efforts. And I encourage the involvement of youth in the conception and execution of Africa’s post-pandemic recovery plans.
My vision going forward is based on what I call the ‘4 I’s’: Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation, and Inclusiveness.
Effective coordination within these areas will be instrumental in expanding connectivity, as well as in the development of emerging technologies ranging from AI to 5G that will become central to not only Africa’s digital economy, but that of the world.
Let me reaffirm in the strongest terms ITU’s commitment to ATU and our African Member States on the road to recovery from COVID-19.
I wish you all a very happy ATU-ICT Day!
Image credit: ITU