BUILDING THE AFRICAN INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE:
THE ATU PERSPECTIVE
Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is a singular honour for me, to have been invited to this distinguished event,
the 'AFRINET 2000' organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)
and the Nigerian Internet Group (NIG) in collaboration with the International
Telecommunications Union (ITU).
I regard this invitation as a recognition of the catalytic role the re-structured
African Telecommunications Union (ATU) is playing in the development of telecommunications
in the continent of Africa.
In my presentation, I propose to highlight some of the main information and
telecommunication developments that have been taking place in Africa and to
discuss a fewer of the key strategies for unlocking the huge and untapped internet
market potential in the continent.
By now I believe we are all familiar with what is being highlighted the new
challenge for Africa namely of 'bridging the digital devide' that is fast separating
the 'information rich' from the 'information poor'. We have all heard that the
world is moving past 'information society' to the 'knowledge society' whilst
many parts of Africa are at the starting block of 'agricultural society' and
have yet to experience and reap the benefits of the 'industrial society'. We
know about the continent's desire for an 'African Renaissance' in this 21st
Century that would see its people leapfrog into the 'knowledge society'. The
big question is therefore is what steps are Africans themselves taking to find
African solutions to Africa's problems?
. Build on the new political will
Mr. Chairman, the African Ministers of Communications made a landmark resolution
at the dawn on the new millennium on committing themselves to the vision of
making Africa a full and active participant in the 'Global Information Society'.
Further that this vision be achieved through working partnerships between stakeholders
in the public and private sectors. They did this during the 4th Extraordinary
session of the Conference of Plenipotentiaries of Pan African Telecommunications
Union meeting held in Cape Town South Africa in December 1999. They created
a new category of membership for private sector 'Associate Member' to work hand
in hand with 'Members States' in the renamed Union, African Telecommunication
Union (ATU) for accelerated development of telecommunications in Africa.
Higher level commitment for taking fresh initiatives for faster economic growth
was made during the OAU Heads of State and Government meeting in July 2000.
The resolved towards closer co-operation and regional integration recognising
the pivotal role telecommunications can play in pursuit of these goals.
The crucial contribution of information and communication technologies (ICT)
to economic development received attention at global level too during the meetings
of Group of eight (G8) and at the United Nations Millennium conference. At the
'G8' a Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT Force) was announced whilst at
the United Nations the Secretary General launched two 'digital bridge' initiatives,
namely Health Internetwork and UN Information Technology Service (UNITeS).
These developments illustrate the growing political will at the continental
and global level to make Africa part of the 'global digital community'. Building
on this goodwill will be a rewarding strategy for all ICT stakeholders in the
· Accelerate reform of policy and regulatory
Mr Chairman, Africa has made great strides in reforming the telecom sector in
the last couple of years. Over 50% of the countries have separated responsibilities
for policy making, regulation and service provision. This momentum needs to
be sustained and be accelerated through regional approaches. There is a lot
to be learned from the successes already realised in the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) through creation of Telecommunications Regulators Associations
for Southern Africa (TRASA). This strategy was further endorsed in August 2000
by telecommunication stakeholders (government and private sector) meeting in
Sun City South Africa during the ACT 2000 Summit (African Computing and Telecommunication
Exhibition and Conference). The participants unanimously resolved on the formation
of a Community of African Regulators within the auspices of ATU.
In recognition of the global interest to 'bridge the digital devide' in Africa,
ATU together with ITU (International Telecommunication Union) are organising
a 'Forum on Telecommunication Regulation in Africa' for African policy makers
and regulators. The main objective will be the preparation of regional action
plans for improved support of reform activities in the continent. This event
will take place in Botswana on 25-27th October 2000.
Member States of ATU will soon also benefit from services of the "African
Connection Project", a policy research and pre-investment studies unit
of the Union. It was set up by the Ministers of Communication in August 1998
following which negotiations with development partners were undertaken and were
concluded in August 2000 with the appointment of an Executive Director and Co-ordinator
for Policy and Regulatory Affairs. The team starts work in November 2000, with
key deliverable being an investors' conference in second/third quarter of 2001.
Top of the agenda in all these deliberation will be the creation of a platform
for delivering universal service obligation on self-sustainable basis and the
licensing of cross-border telecommunication operators to provide direct regional
· Involve private sector stakeholders in regional,
continental and global co-operation conferences
Mr. Chairman, Africa very often does not participate adequately in the global
arena. The reasons for these are not difficult to decipher. If individual member
states do not adopt a regional approach to globalisation issues it is unlikely
to have a voice at international conferences for 'treaty-making' and 'standards
The continent can learn a lot from the successes of Europe in setting the 2nd
generation mobile standards (GSM) through theirs standards body ETSI (European
Telecommunications Standards Institute). They are now active participants in
drawing up 3rd generation mobile standards (in context of ITU's IMT2000 programme).
In Asia, the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) is spearheading a similar standards
collaboration on regional and global basis through a subsidiary standards institute.
The key lessons in these collaborative initiatives are in the involvement of
both private and public sector stakeholders in ICT development with each contributing
in their areas of expertise. ATU has made a start in this regard by launching
the Associate Member category for African private sector participation in the
development of telecommunication. However given the small size of private sector
in the continent, an affirmative programme to enable their effective contribution
would still be necessary for quite some time. With African private sector inputs,
standards for telecommunications would be developed to recognise the realities
of Africa; where access commercial power is very limited but solar power is
in abundance; it is also where the majority of people are rural and pastoral
and thus would appreciate digital, multimedia and multipurpose devices for information,
communication and entertainment.
· Invest in ICT Education and Training
Mr. Chairman, we are all familiar with the phenomenal growth of the internet
which took only 4 years to reach 50 million users whilst radio had taken 38
years and TV 13 years. We also know about its power, as it is a communication
tool, with the widest range of applications, from information provision through
communication to entertainment. Thus for people with limited resources, this
multipurpose, multimedia capability makes it the tool of choice for growing
However given the speed it has been spreading, traditional approaches will not
work in raising awareness and expertise in its use. It will require infrastructure
intensive investment starting on pilot-scheme basis, before full roll-out when
working systems integration models has been identified.
Building on the global public and private sector interest, joint programmes
that expand on present initiatives will be the way forward. Some of the initiatives
- 'Centres of Excellence' programme by ITU
- 'Schoolnet' project by UN Economic Commission for Africa
- UN Information Technology Services (UNITeS) which will
carry out education projects
- Digital opportunity Task Force (DOTForce) by 'G8' countries
There are many similar projects at national levels but very few at regional
and continental arena. There is therefore compelling need for commitment by
African policy makers to innovative and quantifiable goals in support of the
'African Renaissance' vision.
Some of the examples in the education and training field will include the launch
of pilot projects, that overtime, would ensure that:
- Every school has IP based telecentre
- Every university lecture theatre is linked on a video conference
- Every research and development establishment has high bandwith
information sharing network
- Every country has an accredited and certified ICT education
and training centre.
· Induct non-traditional telecom players into
Mr. Chairman, the workload for bridging the 'digital divide' is huge and requires
licensing of many more players including non-traditional ones. Among those best
placed to provide additional capacities to meet growing Internet bandwith requirement
are the water and petroleum pipeline operators.
Others are power and railway line operators. These operators are already beginning
to use fibre optic technologies to fulfil their communication needs. With development
of Long Distance Telecom Operator (LDTO) licensing framework, they can get the
necessary commercial incentive to invest in the sector either directly or with
a strategic equity partner. The LDTO licences will enable them to provide Internet
Postal networks reach down to the village level in many countries. Postal Corporation
should therefore be given special Internet Service Provider (ISP) licences in
order to provide public access Internet services in their post office networks.
They too can consider a business model of operating through a subsidiary company
in which they have a strategic equity partner.
With growth of several ISPs in many countries a new 'peering hub' or 'telehouse'
business has arisen. Policy makers and regulators therefore need to develop
regulatory frameworks for promoting investment in these kinds of facilities.
A peering hub in every country will save on costly international bandwith. Furthermore
licensing of regional cross-border IP backbone carriers (CETOs) to interconnect
them will save the continent millions on transit fees.
· Prioritise an establishment of licensing framework
for regional cross-border operators
Mr. Chairman, there are several projects ongoing at the moment to inter-connect
Africa which when complete could start saving Africa the over USD 300.0 millions
in transit fees. These include the 'RASCOM' satellite project, 'Africa One'
submarine cable, 'COMTEL' microwave network and 'SAFE/WASC' submarine cable
projects. They could proceed faster if the regulatory hurdles they presently
face could be cleared through regional licensing frameworks. Such frameworks
could result for example in the availability of Cross-Border Telecoms Operator
(CBTO) licences that enable investors to build and operate inter-country internet
backbone networks. The CBTOs would offer services to organisations and industries
with regional presence like the Airline, Banking, and Mining companies. By making
licenses technology neutral they could select optimal technologies and plate
forms for their consumers.
For such an eventuality to be in place, all public and private stakeholders
would have to play their rightful roles. Hopefully during the ITU/ ATU organised
forum for telecommunication in Africa scheduled for October 2000 in Botswana
the subject will receive priority attention.
· Set up Regional Universal Service Fund Institutions
Mr. Chairman, Africa has 33 of the 48 countries classified by World Bank as
Least Developed Countries (LDC). Thus the majority of states in Africa will
not be able to attract sufficient private sector investors to provide full communication
access especially in the rural areas. Special mechanisms are therefore needed
in order to support Village/community Telecom Operators (VTOs) from start-up
phase until they are able to provide services on self-sustainable basis.
Regional co-operative approach will make it possible to develop programmes that
take account of similar legal systems and also bring together continental and
global development partners for each regional economic community. Bearing in
mind the new political will subsisting at continental and global levels, the
time to take such 'digital inclusion initiatives' is now. We should go for it.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your attention.