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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Transform Africa Summit

  Keynote / Futurist Talk
28 October 2013, Kigali, Rwanda


Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me thank you for this opportunity to say a few words about the progress we have already made in Africa – and the even greater progress I expect Africa to make in the years ahead.

As I mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of being here in Kigali in 2007 for the hugely successful ITU Connect Africa Summit – and there is nothing in the world that would have stopped me from seizing this opportunity to meet up here again, six years later!

As I will describe further in this address, our Continent has gone a long way since 2007. The time is ripe to take another major step. From mobile telephony to broadband. From Connect to Transform. Transform our businesses, jobs, lifestyles, education, healthcare, government, and cities. ICT-driven Africa shall and will be a place where people prosper, communities enjoy strong bonds, businesses thrive, and governments enable strong and sustainable development as well as efficiently and effectively serve their people.

Opportunity is here. It is up to us to seize it. And I am happy to be today with so many of you, who clearly share this excitement and who are committed to contribute to and be part of the Future of Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ITU Connect Africa Summit in 2007 was the first of the ITU Connect events which have since taken place all around the world; the last in the current series will be held in just two weeks time in Bangkok, for the Asia-Pacific region.

Connect Africa set forward a number of concrete goals for this great continent, and in the context of Transform Africa this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of them:

  • The first goal was to interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world.
  • The second goal was to connect African villages to broadband ICT services by 2015 and implement shared access initiatives such as community tele-centres and village phones.
  • The third goal was to adopt key regulatory measures that promote affordable, widespread access to a full range of broadband ICT services, including technology- and service-neutral licensing/authorization practices, allocating spectrum for multiple, competitive broadband wireless service providers, creating national Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and implementing competition in the provision of international Internet connectivity.
  • The fourth goal was to support the development of a critical mass of ICT skills required by the knowledge economy, notably through the establishment of a network of ICT Centres of Excellence in each sub-region of Africa, and ICT capacity-building and training centres in each country, with the aim of achieving a broad network of inter-linked physical and virtual centres, while ensuring coordination between academia and industry by 2015.
  • And the fifth goal was to adopt national e-strategies, including cyber-security frameworks, and to deploy at least one flagship e-government service as well as e-education, e- commerce and e-health services using accessible technologies in each country in Africa, with the aim of making multiple e-government and other e- services widely available by 2015.

These goals have provided a solid foundation for private-public collaboration and partnerships – for the investment in the infrastructure, developing skills and providing ICT-enabled services.

Apart from these five goals, the Summit also resulted in some US$ 55 billion in pledges for the investment into the ICT development in the Continent, primarily from private sector. These commitments covered the seven-year period ahead.

I am very pleased to announce that these pledges will be met and exceeded.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is worth remembering that in the opening years of the new Millennium, by the time of Connect Africa, the region had already witnessed tremendous ICT progress, particularly in terms of mobile communications.

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

By the time we convened the ITU Africa Connect Summit, however, at the end of 2007, mobile cellular penetration in Africa had already grown to reach 23.5%.

By the end of 2007, access to the Internet, however, remained minimal across Africa, with only one in 25 Africans having any access at all – and even then almost exclusively via dial-up, narrowband access.

Distinguished guests,

I am delighted to say that we have made really quite extraordinary progress since then.

Today, mobile telephony is affordable and available right across this great continent, and by the end of this year ITU data suggests that African mobile cellular penetration will surpass 63%. This is almost three times the level we had achieved at the time of the ITU Connect Africa Summit.

We have also seen great progress in terms of Internet access – although from a lower base – with four times as many Africans online at the end of 2013 as there were at the end of 2007.

One of the keys to this progress has been solid and continued infrastructure investment over the past six years, and we have already surpassed the original US$ 55 billion that were made in investment pledges; indeed we are now confident that the final total for the seven-year period will exceed US$ 70 billion.

In terms of the goals that were set at the Connect Africa Summit, we have seen the capital cities and major towns in at least half of the African countries now connected due to private sector investment and public broadband projects.

We have also seen significant progress in the area of broadband connectivity with the landing of submarine cables in many countries, along with the expansion of national and cross-border fibre backbone networks as well as mobile and wireless services.

It must be said that improvements in Internet access in Africa over the past six years have mostly been confined to the capital cities – but the rapid spread of mobile data and 3G services is changing this very quickly now, and mobile networks are now bringing Internet access to many areas outside of the main cities for the first time.

Over the past six years, ITU has itself redoubled its efforts in Africa and all three sectors of ITU have been involved in projects across the region – although full credit must be given to our Development Sector, ITU-D, which has been most actively implicated on the ground.

ITU has been particularly active in Africa in terms of capacity building, regional harmonization, and the creation and maintenance of centres of excellence across the continent.

Our ITU Academy has trained thousands of Africans in areas as diverse as regulatory best practice, the digital dividend, IXP installation, and fibre-optic training – and we have been working most recently with the administrations in Chad, Congo and Gabon, as well as many other countries in the region.

ICT skills mean jobs for our people, especially our youth. Not just jobs – highly-skilled, high-value-adding and well-paid jobs, which our people should be able to fill.

This is specifically important today, when youth unemployment is a particularly acute problem. Furthermore, ability to access and use ICTs does not just make young people more employable. ICTs empower young entrepreneurs to create jobs for themselves.

Therefore, I am sure, that every Head of State and Government, every Minister would agree that ICT skills and ICTs themselves should feature very prominently in national development strategies. National as well as regional efforts to further develop ICT skills need to be strengthened.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now turn to the important subject of key infrastructure.

This has been brought home to me on several occasions in the past six years and in particular in 2010 when I travelled to Mombasa to celebrate a landing of a submarine cable.

This was a truly incredible moment, to see the cable come ashore, and literally deliver massive new connectivity to an entire country and region.

Over the past few years, submarine cables have tremendously enhanced international connectivity for many African countries. Africa now has over 10 terabytes of submarine connectivity along Northern Africa; about 7 terabytes along Eastern Africa; and 4 terabytes for Western Africa.

At the same time satellites continue to provide vital broadband connectivity, especially for rural and remote areas. New communication satellites further enhance connectivity opportunities for everyone in Africa.

Richer and more diverse connectivity landscape also results in cost savings, which are now being passed on to the retail level as well, allowing broadband to replace dial-up as the preferred access method. This process is already virtually completed in the continent's more developed markets.

The investments being made in infrastructure and services in Africa also signify something far more profound than bandwidth, however: they represent renewed confidence and optimism in Africa’s digital future.

This is a confidence which I certainly feel, and I know that many others, including you, share my optimism. Optimism that this increasing investment will result in tangible benefits for everyone in Africa.

These investments also demonstrate the true power of partnership and business-friendly initiatives – partnerships and initiatives which are not shy about the profit making, but which also serve real people across the African continent and create jobs, as well as provide new services and applications.

Indeed, if there is one message which should be heard loud and clear – and which I think we will hear very well articulated here at the Transform Africa Summit – it is that Africa will continue to offer significant returns on investment for a long time to come.

We also need to continue leveraging the power of public / private partnerships, and in this regard let me cite one of the follow-ups to the Connect Africa Summit, which is the ITU/Craig and Susan McCaw Broadband Wireless Network project for Africa.

This project continues to implement broadband wireless networks and develops ICT applications to provide free or low cost digital access for schools and hospitals, and for under-served populations in rural and remote areas in selected countries.

The Broadband Wireless Network is already operational in Burundi, and is ongoing in Djibouti, Burkina Faso and Mali – and also here in Rwanda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Policy, legal and regulatory environments established a solid foundation for the development of mobile services in Africa.

We now need to repeat the feat in broadband. It is true that technology convergence and rapid innovation have made the policy and regulatory environment much more complex, but it is time to rise to the challenge.

The challenge is not unique to Africa. Many countries are trying to identify most appropriate solutions. Work of our Broadband Commission provides valuable guidance in this process. Its most recent report “The State of Broadband 2013”, which I presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon on the 20th of September 2013, sets out a number of policy recommendations for the development of broadband and maximization of its impact.

I would like to encourage all countries in Africa to work to adapt their policy and regulatory frameworks to the broadband world. ITU stands ready to assist in this endeavour.

Distinguished guests,

There is no denying that we still have far to go. More than 80% of Africans will still be offline at the end of 2013, denied access to the incredible wealth of knowledge and riches that the Internet can bring into our lives.

This is a huge challenge – but more than that, it is a huge opportunity!

It is a huge opportunity to do business and to see real and lasting progress delivered – not just in the capital cities, but right out in Africa’s most rural and remote areas.

ICTs are truly transformational.

  • With the power of technology, we can educate every African citizen, right across the continent.
  • With the power of technology, we can open new opportunities and create new well-paid jobs for our people;
  • With the power of technology, we can deliver healthcare services to every African citizen, even in the remotest villages.
  • And with the power of technology we can empower African women and leverage the fantastic energy and passion of young Africans.

This is not just a pipe-dream: this is real.

Because we are already seeing technological progress on a scale never before imagined – particularly with the astonishing arrival of mobile broadband, the fastest-growing technology in human history.

It took 125 years to reach the first billion fixed-line subscriptions globally – and we will never reach the second billion.

But it took just nine years to reach the first billion mobile broadband subscriptions, and it took just two more years to reach the second billion.

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have witnessed a mobile revolution in Africa. It is now time for the broadband one.

Such a change, however, will not come by itself. Appropriate thinking, commitment and leadership are needed to bring benefits of broadband to everyone. This is why, we, together with UNESCO, have set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. I would like to very proudly acknowledge leadership of President Kagame as co-chair of the Commission. I would also like to use the opportunity to thank all the Commissioners for their dedicated work in promoting broadband for all.

This Commission has demonstrated importance of broadband in achieving Millennium Development Goals as well as post-2015 development agenda. The Commission have also outlined ambitious targets for broadband development. These targets equally apply to Africa.

Such goals provide the direction for further development. However, the development itself is in the hands of everyone – national governments, private sector, communities, and, ultimately, every citizen. We, ITU, as well as, no doubt, other international organizations, will be here to help. However, the Future of Africa can only be created by the people here.

Having seen the tremendous progress over the recent years, I am confident that Africa will seize the opportunity and employ the transformative power of ICTs to accelerate its development. And those who are committed to Africa’s development will be fairly rewarded.

So let’s continue doing this great work.

And let’s continue transforming Africa!

Thank you.