FRANCAIS

 

 




STATEMENT BY SECRETARY GENERAL OF AFRICAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION (ATU), MR. JAN MUTAI AT THE JOINT ITU/ATU FORUM ON TELECOMMUNICATION REGULATIONS IN AFRICA
Gaberone, Botswana, 25 - 27 October 2000

Mr. Chairman, Hon. Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen,

I am delighted and indeed honoured to be able to address such a distinguished gathering of Policy Makers and Regulators at this first joint ITU/ATU/UNECA/RASCOM Forum on Telecommunication Regulations in Africa. I am further gratified on behalf of ATU that this collaborative initiative, has finally taken off ground and will be useful basis for building synergy in our endeavours for the people of Africa.

May I take this early opportunity to thank the Government and people of Botswana for hosting this conference and for extending such warm hospitality and courtesies since we landed in this great country of Botswana. We applaud the skill and competence demonstrated by the event Organisers, Botswana Telecoms Authority and the BDT Bureau of ITU in Geneva.

We are very grateful to Mr. Hamadoun Touré, the BDT Bureau Director, for fulfilling a commitment to hold such a forum for regulators that he made at the birth of our new organisation in December 1999 at the Cape Town Plenipotentiary Conference of the old Union.

We also wish to recognise the special initiative and support we have received from Mr. Brahima Sanou, the Head of ITU Regional Office for Africa in the formulation and facilitation of this meeting.

By now, I believe, we are all too familiar with what is being touted as 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 way 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 continent.
· Accelerate reform of policy and regulatory frameworks
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 this '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. We hope we shall conclude on these issues in the next three days of deliberations.

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 connectivity.
· 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 setting'.

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 prosperity.

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 include:
- '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 network
- 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 the sector
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 backbone services.

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 this forum for telecommunication in Africa, 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, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your attention.


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