ITU Telecom Africa 2001 Wraps Up African Telecoms on Track for Massive Growth

November 19, 2001

The event, was opened on Sunday 11 November by the South African Minister of Communications, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, was hailed as a triumph by many of Africa’s leaders, who came to help promote telecoms development on the African continent. AFRICA 2001 was notable for the commitment and tremendous spirit of optimism expressed by government ministers, exhibitors, Forum speakers, delegates and media.

AFRICA 2001 was the watershed event at which it was announced that mobile subscribers across the continent now outnumber their fixed-line counterparts, and that Sub-Saharan telephone density had finally breached the one per cent subscriber barrier considered essential to economic growth. Projections by the ITU now forecast that there will be more than 100 million mobile cellular subscribers in Africa by the year 2005.

Towards the Global Information Economy

The Opening Ceremony featured keynote presentations from Yoshio Utsumi, the ITU’s Secretary-General, Dr Matsepe-Casaburri, and Mr Sizwe Nxasana, chief executive of Telkom, the Opening Ceremony’s sponsor. Mr Utsumi spoke of the need to provide the world’s people with access to modern communications services, saying “Giving everyone access to the wealth of information available online will be beneficial to us all and is not merely a matter of moral justice. The move from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy generated enormous wealth, and raised our standard of living throughout the world. The same quantum leap will be experienced in the transition to a global information economy. Everyone must be given access to the tools of this economy if they are to enjoy its benefits.”

The Minister announced the implementation of the first NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) initiative, the e-Africa Commission, which will be responsible for developing e-strategies and projects at continental level, as well as managing the structured development of the ICT sector. The President of Mali, President Alpha Oumar Konare, will be the chairman of the e-Africa Commission. The e-schools project will be the first project of the Commission and is aimed at ensuring that every high school student in Africa is e-literate within the next five years.

Speaking about the rapid and far-reaching transformation currently taking place in South Africa, Mr Nxasana drew attention to the huge task facing Telkom in bringing telecommunications services to every corner of the country, in addition to providing state-of-the-art services to the commercial firms relying on Telkom for their own competitive advantages.

An Exhibition and a Forum

Both at the Exhibition and at the Forum there was great enthusiasm voiced for smart partnership, where the interests of investors and governments were balanced so that investors saw a good return on their capital, while governments were able to pursue network expansion, improved access as well as their human development goals.

The Exhibition at AFRICA 2001 attracted 15,000 telecommunications professionals and many organizations whose role is to bring ICT to communities and who wanted to see what was on the offer to facilitate this role cost-effectively. They came to see the latest technology on display from more than 200 exhibitors from the telecommunications, information technology and audio-visual entertainment fields. Industry leaders at the highest level, from ambassadors and nearly 40 government ministers, to the CEOs of the front-ranked market players, participated, along with some of the most respected industry analysts and commentators.

The Opening Session of the Forum, held on Monday 12 November, featured speeches on Defining the Digital Divide by Yoshio Utsumi and Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, and was chaired by The Hon. DN Magang, former Minister of Communications and MP in the Botswana parliament.

The Forum at AFRICA 2001 was especially well attended, with standing room only available at some sessions. Altogether nearly 2,000 people attended the Forum (including VIPs, press, etc.), which encompassed a Policy and Development Summit, an Infrastructure and Applications Summit, and a Youth Forum.

A Telecom Development Symposium was also organized, in conjunction with the Forum, which brought 73 telecommunications specialists from 40 countries to AFRICA 2001 on a fellowship to discuss the principal factors that governments, regulatory bodies and operators need to bear in mind in order to be customer and business oriented, to provide services within their own countries and, in the case of operators, to survive in a liberalized market.

Speaking at the Opening Press Conference, Dr Matsepe-Casaburri applauded the ITU for having included the Youth Forum in the AFRICA 2001 programme, allowing young people of university age from all over Africa to deliberate on how technology can be used to advance their contribution to the reconstruction and development of the continent. The scholarships were awarded to delegates selected by a competition based on their ideas about the impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the future of their countries and the role of the youth. It is hoped that they will comprise a corps of future leaders in the ICT field.

Speaking at an Imbizo (a meeting of leaders to discuss the appropriate strategy to use in a forthcoming battle, or war — in this case the battle for improved telecommunications access across the whole of the African continent) in honour of the African Youth at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria on 15 November, President Thabo Mbeki urged the participants not just to speak, but to act. “Some people say I am a foolish President because I surf the net,” he said. “But I would encourage all of you young people to make use of the technology available to you today, to surf the net, and to make yourselves totally computer literate.” Encouraging direct action, he continued, “If this technology is not available to you, ask for it — in your village or town, wherever you are in Africa. And make sure you get it.”

A Spirit of Cooperation

During the week of AFRICA 2001, non-exclusive Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed by the ITU’s Secretary-General with Alcatel and Siemens within the framework of its Centres of Excellence (CoE) Initiative. These two European manufacturers will make an in-kind contribution in equipment and capacity building to manage and administer networks in Africa, Arab States, Latin America and the Caribbean. A third MoU was also signed between the ITU and Cable & Wireless at the event, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ITU/C&W Training Scheme. Under the agreement the UK operator will extend remote learning opportunities to telecommunication professionals in LDCs, by providing scholarships through the Global Telecommunication University (GTU), the ITU’s flagship programme for distance learning.

At AFRICA 2001 the ITU also initiated a high-impact humanitarian project involving the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization) to establish a network of three multi-purpose community telecentres in and around refugee camps along the north-western border of Tanzania. Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) signed a cooperation agreement with the ITU to participate in the venture, and WorldSpace Corporation said it will sign a similar agreement shortly, and announced the donation of equipment to the project. Other UN organizations are expected to join the partnership.

The Forum was closed on Friday 16 November by ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, ITU Deputy Secretary-General Roberto Blois, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri and Hamadoun Touré, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT).

African Telecommunication Indicators 2001

AFRICA 2001 was also the venue for the launching of a new ITU publication, African Telecommunication Indicators 2001, which provides analysis and statistics on every country in Africa. At the Opening Press Conference on Sunday 11 November, Mr Utsumi described the huge advances that had been made in telecoms development in Africa in the past three year, and suggested that it was time to put some old myths to rest. “No longer are there more telephones in Tokyo than in Africa,” he said, “In fact there are half as many fixed-lines and significantly fewer cellular subscribers in Tokyo than across Africa. No longer is the telephone density of sub-Saharan African subscribers trapped below the one per cent threshold considered essential to economic growth and development — in the millennium year telephone density grew from 0.9 per cent to 1.2 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. And no longer is Africa stifled by a lack of fair regulation and free competition — 36 new operators launched mobile services in Africa in the 18 months to June this year, and well over half of the countries across the continent have now established an independent regulator.”

AFRICA 2001 was the fifth regional telecommunications Exhibition and Forum for the Africa region to be organized by the ITU as part of its programme of regional ITU TELECOM events, following AFRICA TELECOM 86, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, AFRICA TELECOM 90, which was held in Harare, Zimbabwe, AFRICA TELECOM 94, which was held in Cairo, Egypt, and AFRICA TELECOM 98, which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa.