Connect Africa: Mobilising development
International Telecommunication Union media release
Geneva, 11 July 2007 — The Connect Africa Summit will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, 29-30 October 2007. This was announced by ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré at a Press Conference in Geneva, held jointly with the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID).
While investment in ICT infrastructure in Africa has improved dramatically in recent years, representing a total of USD 8 billion in 2005 (up from USD 3.5 billion in 2000), and growth in mobile phones has increased by as much as 400 per cent, Africa has fallen back in overall connectivity. While mobile has surpassed fixed line telephone access, fewer than 4 out of every 100 Africans have Internet access; broadband penetration remains below 1 per cent; and 70 per cent of all Internet traffic within Africa is re-routed outside the continent, driving up costs for businesses and consumers.
"We need a Marshall Plan for ICT infrastructure development in Africa," said Dr Touré. "We have to mobilize the world’s human, financial and technical resources to support economic growth, employment and development across Africa." He added that support was pouring in from partners in this endeavour, including from leading ICT companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere — who have been given the challenge of replicating their successes in Africa — as well as from governments, international organizations and development banks. He pointed out that the Chairman of Intel Corporation Mr Craig Barrett is spearheading the efforts through his leadership of UN GAID.
With less than 8 years left to meet the 2015 targets of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), drastic steps are required. Dr Touré pointed out that meeting ICT connectivity targets would act as a catalyst in achieving the broader development goals. "ICT is a means of creating wealth and sustainable economic growth," he said.
UN Secretary-General to support Connect Africa initiative
Earlier, speaking at a function at the International Telecommunication Union, UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon expressed his full support to the Connect Africa initiative and said that it represented an important step in overcoming the digital divide. "This is an important vision," he said. "We need to make our best efforts, as part of our MDG programme, to bridge this gap." He also said that ITU should broaden its vision and commitment to meeting long-term global concerns, such as climate change.
The Connect Africa Summit will be held under the patronage of the President of Rwanda, Mr Paul Kagame, and Chairman of the African Union, President John Kufour of Ghana. It will be organized by the International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, the World Bank Group and UN GAID, in partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. This collaborative effort will engage some 500 high-level stakeholders active in the region, including China, India, the European Commission and G8, OECD and Arab countries, major ICT companies, the United Nations Development Programme and other international organizations.
"This will not be just another Summit," said Dr Touré. "It will be a Summit of commitment between partners, not a meeting to negotiate new resolutions." The private sector, governments and international organizations will be called on to work together, and there will be a commitment to creating an environment that promotes the improvement of ICT. "ICT is a business, and the only way to ensure sustainability and large-scale effects is to provide an environment that lets business deliver ICT," added Dr Touré. "For too long we have had negative information coming from Africa; we have to bring positive news."
Speaking on behalf of GAID, Mr Walter Fust, Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, said, "ICT is extremely important for managing knowledge for development, and for bringing local knowledge into development." He stressed the importance of the Connect Africa initiative and said that emphasis should be laid on a few targeted areas, such as using ICT to empower people with disabilities and to "reverse the pyramid of learning" by ensuring that all schools are connected to the Internet. He added that the goal is to establish 500'000 telecentres worldwide by 2015.