DIGITAL CONVERGENCE AND INNOVATION
DRIVING POSITIVE CHANGE
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to address you today at the Eighth Digital Africa Summit in Kampala. I am equally pleased that the power of information and communication technologies enables me to be here with you, virtually if not in person.
Africa has demonstrated time and again that the digital revolution has paved the way for a social and economic revolution which is driving positive change across the continent.
Mobile technology has connected millions of Africans and, by the end of 2009, ITU estimates that mobile cellular penetration in Africa stood at 39 per cent. This penetration level is un-matched by any other ICT service in the region.
Africa has also witnessed the highest growth rates of any region, and ITU estimates that over the 2004 to 2009 period, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions increased by an average of 42 per cent per year.
The success of this highly liberalized and competitive mobile market suggests that the right regulatory environment and a combination of African and foreign investment have been able to address the region's communications needs.
Looking back over the decade, there is no doubt that Africa represents a remarkable opportunity, both for investors and for end-users.
From the richest to the poorest of African nations, the figures are frequently astonishing. Several of Africa’s UN-designated Least Developed Countries are now among the world’s fastest growing mobile markets. Gambia, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania, for example, now boast mobile penetration rates between 50 and 70 per cent, up from around 40 per cent last year.
Here in Uganda, we’ve seen the same great success story. Ten years ago, teledensity stood at just 0.28 per cent, or just one telephone line for every 350 people. Today, the country is home to a thriving mobile market of over 9 million subscribers with 100% population coverage and 2.7 million Internet users.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 2007, ITU organized the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali, which drew commitments of over 55 billion US dollars in a 5-year period. I am pleased to inform you that despite the economic downturn, in the first two years over 21 billion US dollars have already been invested in the African ICT sector. This is only the beginning. Much more is yet to come as Africa takes off on the road to digital success.
While mobile penetration is high in Africa, prices are relatively low. Broadband prices, on the other hand, are very high and penetration levels are very low. It is obvious that the high price for broadband services in Africa remains a major bottleneck to greater broadband uptake.
Access to high-speed broadband is the key to realizing the full potential of converged services and applications and to deliver content and essential services such as e-health, e-education, e-commerce and e-government. Broadband must be recognized as basic national infrastructure, and in order to achieve the goals of a knowledge-based information society, firm measures need to be taken to make this access both equitable and affordable.
Governments must take the necessary steps to reduce broadband prices through increased competition in the broadband market and by ensuring the availability of sufficient international Internet bandwidth. A promising development in this direction is the growing number of submarine fibre-optic cables connecting East Africa.
By creating the right regulatory environment, governments will allow investors to take advantage of the untapped market and investment opportunities that the region presents.
This was the theme of my statement last week at the African Union Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa.
I was very pleased with my discussions with the Heads of State where they indicated their deep commitment and recognition that broadband will be the enabler for us to meet the MDGs in health, education, commerce and agriculture.
Ladies and gentlemen,
ICTs are the great enablers of modern society, helping people communicate across distances and across cultural divides, facilitating trade, and providing access to critical resources, such as healthcare and education.
Access to information and the sharing of knowledge empowers people to achieve their development aspirations and create unprecedented opportunities for positive change.
New convergent services and innovations with affordable access to IPTV, Triple Play and VoIP have stepped up demand from a growing consumer base, which can no longer be ignored by policy makers, service providers and the industry.
This convergence in technology has also generated a convergence of expectations in Africa — to fulfil the dream of stepping out at the same pace as the rest of the world and striving for positive change. The wealth of ingenuity and innovation among Africans has only fired that zeal.
So the moment is ripe for all of us — governments, Regulators, private sector and international organizations — to pull together to make the African dream come true.
I urge this eminent gathering of policy makers and entrepreneurs to seek the best way forward in meeting the goals that have been set at this Digital Africa Summit — of driving positive change through convergence and innovation.