Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

African Forum on Best Practices in ICT

 Inaugural Address

11 October 2013, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso



Mr President,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and a real pleasure to be with you here in Ouagadougou for the ‘African Forum on Best Practices in ICT’.

Looking at the agenda for this meeting, we have a tremendous range of subjects and speakers over the next two days, and I am really looking forward to hearing the outcomes.

To provide a framework for the discussions, let me take a step back and look at: the progress we have already made; the gaps that remain to be closed; our role at ITU in helping to connect all the world’s people; and last but not least, the need to ensure safety and security in the online world, just as we do in the real world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have made quite extraordinary progress in terms of ICT development in the past decade or so.

Back in the year 2000, mobile cellular penetration here in Africa was under 2%, and very few people believed that mobile phones would be anything other than a luxury for the wealthy few.

And yet today mobile telephony is affordable and available right across this great continent, and by the end of this year ITU data suggests that African penetration will surpass 63%.

More recently, we have seen the astonishing rise of mobile broadband, which is bringing Internet access to more people than ever before, and which continues to show the fastest growth of any technology in human history.

Africa has been incredibly quick to take advantage of mobile broadband, and is catching up with other regions faster than with any previous technological advance.

Indeed mobile broadband penetration here in Africa coming into 2014 will be close to the mobile broadband penetration rates seen in the Arab States and the Asia-Pacific regions just two years earlier, at the start of 2012.

But we still have a very long way to go – because 70% of people in developing countries, and over 90% of people in the world’s least developed countries will still be offline as we come into 2014.

This is incredibly important – because it is not about technology for technology’s sake. It is about technology for educating people; it is about technology for better health care; it is about technology for gender empowerment; it is about technology as a means to reinforce environmental protection.

Distinguished guests,

At ITU we are working across the whole organization to help bring all of the world’s people online – and also to improve the online experience for those who are already there.

In terms of connecting the world, our Development Sector, ITU-D, does excellent work in providing assistance to developing countries, and in particular in capacity building and in helping countries adopt regulatory frameworks that will help increase infrastructure rollout and user access to networks.

In terms of improving the user experience – and the possibility for users to get online in the first place – the work done by our Radiocommunication Sector, ITU-R, is invaluable: in ensuring that global spectrum is appropriately allocated (and where appropriate re-farmed) and coordinated, and of course in terms of satellite coordination as well.

And in terms of making the infrastructure work better, we can all thank our Telecommunication Standardization Sector, ITU-T – for example in making sure that network infrastructure can work together seamlessly, and in areas such as standardizing compression technologies. Indeed, the most recently-agreed compression standards from ITU will mean that users will only need half the current bandwidth to download the same content. I don’t need to tell you how important that is in places like Africa, where bandwidth is still far too scarce.

On a broader policy level, ITU has been active in advocating increased global broadband rollout, in order to help accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs.

On this front we teamed up with UNESCO in 2010 to create the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, and over the past three years we have been working hard to raise awareness of this crucial development issue.

The Broadband Commission met in New York on 21 September to launch this year’s ‘State of Broadband’ report, which includes the latest country rankings in terms of broadband accessibility and use.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the world becomes increasingly connected, and interconnected, and as more and more of the world’s information and knowledge finds its way into the realms of bits and bytes – and very often borderless bits and bytes – we need to be sure that we have trust and confidence in this wonderful new online world.

This means not just ensuring that the online world is safe and secure, but also that freedom and privacy are ensured and protected.

We need to reduce the risks posed by the illicit use of ICTs as much as possible – with a forward-looking vision and, most importantly, in a multilateral but also multi-stakeholder fashion.

This means working together with intergovernmental bodies and ensuring the active participation of other stakeholders such as local and regional bodies, as well as civil society organizations.

Good progress is being made, with initiatives such as ITU-IMPACT, which has now been formally endorsed by 145 countries, and which held a very useful and illuminating meeting here in Ouagadougou yesterday of course; we are very grateful to President Compaoré for his support as the Chairman of IMPACT’s International Advisory Board.

Another very important initiative is Child Online Protection, COP, which is an international collaborative network for action to promote the online protection of children worldwide. With a growing number of partners, COP provides guidance on safe online behaviour in conjunction with other UN agencies and partners, and has already reached a very wide audience.

Distinguished guests,

Personally, I believe that in the fullness of time a global framework on governing cyberspace is possible – with the full participation of governments, the private sector and civil society.

This task is as important as getting people online in the first place – because what is the point of being online if you can’t have trust and confidence in the online world?

We therefore need to work hard to make the Internet safer for everyone – while ensuring that fundamental human rights are not sacrificed when responding to new risks, or when using ICT capabilities to address real-world threats.

And here I can give you ITU’s full commitment to the process of collaborating and working together.

In closing, let me once again thank Burkina Faso for hosting this important Forum, and in particular let me thank President Compaoré for his patronage and his personal support.

Thank you.