Africa: ICT Ministers Pledge for a Vibrant Internet Ecosystem for Sustainable Development
ADDIS ABABA — African Ministers of Communication and Information Technologies gathering on 3rd September 2015 in Addis Ababa in their first ordinary session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Communication and ICT (STC-1 CICT) which they discussed the significant strides and innovation in societal transformations in the last decade.
The conference which is holding at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was officially opened by Dr. Elham Mahmood Ibrahim, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union, under the chairmanship of Honorable Yamfwa Mukanga, Ministers of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications of the Republic of Zambia.
Commissioner Ibrahim welcomed the ministers and expressed satisfaction to the fact that this meeting marks the opening of a new era for information society in Africa. “All communications and information matters including telecom and internet; broadcasting and media; and postal services are now being addressed in one gathering, one STC, hence meeting the nowadays requirements of convergence and integration of networks and services. ” ICTs have empowered the lives of the Africans and are driving entrepreneurship, innovation and income growth”, underscored the Commissioner. She added that the phenomenon of satellite broadcasting and online Medias has largely abolished the borders therefore reliable information and analysis is required to elaborate innovative and effective policies, implement efficiently and successfully networks and applications that can contribute to sustainable development to grant Africans full rights legally to information sources. “Africa must win the ICTs and communication battle as well as the battle of image to give an African conscience to the African people”. Emphasized the Commissioner.
Dr. Ibrahim however regretted the fact that broadband penetration in Africa is still low at 20% compared to an average of 80% in developed countries. This, she said is due mainly to the lack of connectivity that encompasses internet access and connections to all kinds of gadgets and transformative applications and services. ” During the last two decades, the continent has witnessed highest penetration rate in the world (95% in some places in the continent) of mobile telephony (GSM) carrying voice services but has not yet triggered the development of non-voice applications that would transform the continent and allow its leapfrogging beyond industrialized countries”, underlined the AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy. She recalled that the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the AU during its 14th session held in February 2010 in Addis Ababa dedicated on the ICT’s development committed to give a particular attention to the postal sector which they consider as a vital vehicle for the reaching out to the populations even in rural areas.
To that effect, Commissioner Ibrahim reiterated the readiness of the African Union to initiate and promote strategies and means that will contribute to the integrated development of the information society in Africa. .
The Chair of the STC on Communication and ICT, Minister Mukanga on his part noted that urged the Member States to significantly contribute to the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063 by developing Africa’s growth trajectory through enhancement of ICT with the view to empower the women and girls in every areas of human endeavours and also to ensure youth employment. “Behind us are Africa’s centuries of agricultural revolution and the industrial age. Ahead of us is the whole century in which information economies will dominate the globe”, underscored the Minister.
Honarable Mukanga reiterated his government’s commitment to work will all stakeholders on the information and communication sectors including all Member States, Regional Economic Communities, African Union, Specialized and International Institutions/Organisations, development partners, private sectors and the Diaspora towards achieving the objectives of the AU Agenda 2063 of the “Africa we want”.
“It is only through a united African Union that we can achieve sustainable economic growth by embracing ICTs, information and postal sectors as economic catalyst and deliver the desired development to our people faster”, He noted.
Representing the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr. Kasirim Nukwe, Chief of the New Technology and Innovation Section, underlined importance of the Information society as a crucial platform for sustainable development. He said Africa strongly believes that a voluntary access to the Information society is the most suitable way for the continent and for Africans to be part of the developed nations.
Mrs. Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Public Policy at the Internet Society, said the vision of the organisation is to ensure that internet is for everyone. She stressed on the important the African Union is spearheading to ensure that the continent sits at the forefront of internet expansion given that there is a vibrant internet ecosystem in Africa. “The internet needs Africa as much as Africa needs the internet”, she said.
In this regards, Mrs. Wentworth noted that there is a remarkable improvement in connectivity across the African continent, growing from 7% of the population with internet access in 2008 to over 20% in 2015. But still 80% of the population needs access opportunities to internet and therefore the need for Africa’s voice to be heard strongly so that more efforts is put to overcome all the challenges of the information age.
According to Mr. Brahima Sanou, Director of Telecommunication Development Bureau, there are more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide today; 3.2 billion people are using the Internet, of which 2 billion live in developing countries. “In Africa, over the last decade, growth in ICT use and uptake has exceeded all expectations particularly in the development of the mobile-cellular market driven by a high degree of competition, falling prices and prepaid services. Today 84% of Africa’s population is covered by a mobile network”, he said. Mr. Sanou however noted some new challenges such as the migration from Analog to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting which he said is still a priority because only 7 African countries met the deadline of 17 June 2015.
Mr. Sanou pointed out that there is still a great need for the development of ICT applications including m-payment, digital transactions, e-Learning, e-Health, e-Agriculture and creation of local content while paying due attention to persons with disabilities and consumer protection. We need to put human face on the ICTs. “These new challenges require Policy makers to go beyond the telecom/ICT sector and embrace the ICT ecosystem including all the new players and stakeholders.” He underscored.
Jointly organised by the Department of Infrastructure and Energy and the Directorate of Information and Communication of the African Union Commission, the Specialised Technical Committee on Communication and ICT brought together some 35 African countries including representatives from continental and international organisations specialised on the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
This first 2015 ordinary session of the Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Communication and ICT ends tomorrow Friday 4th September 2015.