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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Local Inverstor's Conference on ICT Opportunities for Counties in Kenya
Keynote Address

12 March 2014, Naivasha, Kenya​

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me express my thanks on behalf of ITU to the Communications Commission of Kenya for organizing and hosting this conference, and for giving me this privileged opportunity to address Kenya’s County Governors.

Indeed, it is always humbling to visit the Great Rift Valley – the cradle of civilization – and I think this makes it the perfect setting for a conference dedicated to real human opportunities in the 21st century; and by this, of course, I mean ICT opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the 21st century, ICTs have become ubiquitous, and now play an important role in the lives of almost every person on the planet. As truly transformational drivers of social and economic progress, ICTs have the potential to make the whole world a better place – and nowhere is this more true than right here in Africa.

Indeed, Africa has given us many of the best examples of just how transformative ICTs can be in terms of development over recent years – from the spectacular success of mobile banking here in Kenya, to smart apps now being used across the entire continent for tracking and preventing malaria, to distance learning opportunities at every level of education, to telecentres which help preserve and enrich the cultural lives of rural and remote communities.

Africa has witnessed quite extraordinary ICT growth since the start of the Millennium – particularly concerning mobile cellular communications.

Back in the year 2000, mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was under 2%; today, however, mobile telephony is affordable and available right across the continent, and ITU estimates that by the end of 2013 mobile cellular penetration in sub-Saharan Africa surpassed 63%.

We have also seen tremendous progress in terms of Internet access. In the year 2000, just one in 200 people in sub-Saharan Africa was online, but by the end of 2013 that proportion had grown to one in six people.

Over the past few years, submarine cables have tremendously enhanced international connectivity for many African countries – with Kenya of course in the lead, with Kenyans now enjoying the most international bandwidth per Internet user in Africa, with 24 kilobits per user.

Partly this has been due to the landing of the fourth submarine cable system, LION2, in April 2012; but we must also give full credit to the open access National Fibre Optic Backbone Infrastructure terrestrial network, NOFBI, which disperses bandwidth within the country.

Access has torn down geographical and spatial boundaries; so that now all Kenyans can be global citizens, irrespective of whether they are from Turkana up in the north, Kwale in the south, or Kisumu in Western Kenya.

And let’s be honest: life is so much better when a child in Marsabit can confidently use ICTs just like the child in an upmarket Nairobi school!

The investments being made in infrastructure and services here in Kenya, and right across Africa signify something far more profound than mere bandwidth, however; they represent renewed confidence and optimism in Africa’s digital future.

There is no denying, however, that we still have far to go. More than 80% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are still offline, and are denied access to the incredible wealth of knowledge and riches that the Internet can bring into our lives.

And even for those who do have access, it is still far too expensive in many countries, with mobile broadband still costing 40-60% of average income in sub-Saharan Africa.

Distinguished colleagues,

Many of you here will know that last October, ITU and the Government of Rwanda co-organized the Transform Africa Summit, to take stock of progress to date, and to set the agenda for the coming years.

The Summit was attended by seven African Heads of State – including President Kenyatta – as well as 46 Ministers and over 2,000 participants.

It focused on the theme ‘The Future Delivered. Today’, encapsulating the tremendous spirit of optimism and confidence which we see right across Africa now, and which will help drive forward rapid social and economic progress such as we have never seen before.

The principal outcome which was adopted by the summit was the SMART Africa Manifesto and its implementation framework, the SMART Africa Alliance – both of which were subsequently endorsed by the African Heads of State at the subsequent African Union Assembly in Addis Ababa.

The Summit noted the extraordinary progress which has already been made – in large part due to solid and continued infrastructure investment.

Indeed, it is worth noting that we have already surpassed the US$ 55 billion that were made in investment pledges at the ITU’s Connect Africa Summit in 2007, and we are now confident that the final total for the seven-year period will exceed US$ 70 billion.

As far as this conference is concerned, it is important to note that while improvements in Internet access in Africa over recent years have largely been confined to the capital cities, the very rapid spread of mobile data and 3G services is changing this very quickly now, with mobile networks bringing Internet access to many areas outside of Africa’s main cities for the first time.

And let’s not forget that mobile broadband is 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 in sub-Saharan Africa coming into 2014 was already 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,

The goal, of course, is to make sure that all Africans have access not just to mobile communications, but to the benefits of fast, affordable broadband services – and I am very encouraged to see so many countries in Africa working to adapt their policy and regulatory frameworks to the broadband world.

This has been one of the very positive outcomes of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was set up by ITU and UNESCO in 2010, to bring broadband to the top of the development agenda – as a means of helping accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the new sustainability goals to be set post-2015.

‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’ is also the theme of ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference, WTDC-14, which will be taking place in Dubai in just a few weeks time, from 30 March to 10 April, and which will be preceded on 29 March by an Executive Strategic Dialogue focusing precisely on broadband.

Distinguished colleagues,

I think we are all in agreement that broadband is essential infrastructure in the 21st century – just like transportation, water or energy networks – but a key question that comes up time and time again, is ‘how will they be financed?’

I was therefore very pleased that the Broadband Commission has just created a new Working Group, dedicated to Finance and Investment.

This working group, which is chaired by President Moreno of the Inter American Development Bank, will be holding its first physical meeting in ten days’ time in Dublin, just ahead of the next meeting of the Broadband Commission.

Today – in particular following the credit crunch and the financial crisis – there is general agreement that the public and private sectors are going to have to work hand-in-hand together, if we are going to leverage the full benefits of broadband.

This is partly due to the sheer scale of the subject – broadband needs to become ubiquitous and affordable to all – and partly because today’s networks are already being used for so much more than merely commercial ends: they are also being used as platforms to deliver fundamental services such as education and healthcare.

I am ambitious, and I am an optimist, and I am expecting a lot from this new Working Group.

In particular, I am expecting it to come up with answers to some important questions, including:

I am sure that you all, like me, will be looking forward to hearing the answers!

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we bring more and more people online, we must also remember that there are individuals with ulterior motives. This calls for attention to cybersecurity mechanisms that will safeguard users on the net and give them confidence in the use of ICTs.

ITU has partnered with the Communications Commission of Kenya to develop a national cybersecurity management framework through the establishment of a national Computer Incident Response Team, CIRT.

Let me commend Kenya on its efforts to have a central point where as a country you can coordinate responses and manage cybersecurity incidents nationally, and to collaborate with other actors globally.

Kenya has long been a very active member of the ITU, and I personally have enjoyed close and cordial relations with Kenya – both in my tenure as Secretary-General, as well as in my previous capacities.

I wish to encourage your active participation in our work so that you can have informed processes here in Kenya, as well as benefitting from knowledge transfer from other country experiences.

I am confident that Kenya – at both the national and the county level – will seize the opportunity and employ the transformative power of ICTs to accelerate its development.

And I am absolutely confident that ICT-driven Kenya shall and will be a place where people prosper; where communities enjoy strong bonds; and where businesses thrive.

Thank you for your attention.