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STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL OF AFRICAN TELECOMMUNICATIONSD UNION, MR JAN MUTAI AT THE REGIONAL PREPARATORY MEETING FOR THE WORLD TELECOMMUNICATIONS DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE (WTDC-02) ON TUESDAY, 29TH MAY 2001, YAOUNDE, CAMEROON.

§ Mr Chairman
§ Honourable Ministers
§ Your excellencies Ambassadors
§ Director of ITD - BDT
§ Directors General and Chief Executive Officers
§ Distinguished delegates
§ Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address this August Assembly on the occasion of the Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC-02).

Let me at the outset express my profound gratitude to the Government and People of Cameroon for hosting this conference and the excellent facilities placed at our disposal. These arrangements and the excellent hospitality, no doubt augur well for the success of our well work. For us at ATU, which organisation I will touch on later in my address, it is most opportune that I seize this occasion to place on record our gratitude for the very strong support the Administration of Cameroon has consistently given the Union. Its leadership in the many areas of the Union activities including funding support as well as participation in policy and administrative organs of the Union, must be highly applauded.

Indeed I must also recognise the ITU and Mr. Amadoun Toure, Director of BDT, in particular, who is spearheading this event. We appreciate the guesture of inviting the Union to take part in this meeting and congratulate him and his colleagues at BDT for the enormous task of organising this meeting. May I say that very close and cordial working relationships exist between the Union and ITU and so far we have had several joint activities in the past, some of which touch on the Valletta Action Plan.

The significance of this meeting cannot be too strongly emphasised since in many ways, as it does, traverses memory lane to the Valletta Action Plan (VAP) adopted four years ago and projects us to future strategies five years into the new millennium. Looking back in time, a number of important developments of particular interest to the African region have been predominant. These include the phenomenon of liberalisation and privatisation. Significant achievements have been realised in Africa with a level of about 50% regulatory entities established as of the current period. The emergence of the mobile network has also greatly accelerated over the time and its impact is reflected in considerable growth in countries where these services have been established. Obviously compared to the Asian region where exponential growth has been experienced, growth on the African continent is still regarded as modest. At the global operational level, the period has seen the evolution of telecommunication policies impacted on by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on trade and services, giving rise to the accounting rate reform. The World Telecommunication Standardisation Conference (WTSA-2000), found this issue highly contentious as a result of concerns by developing countries over the negative impact the new reforms would have on net settlements. In spite of the continuing studies by ITU in this area, it appears unlikely that the new accounting reforms for international traffic will have positive results given the entrenched position of some developed countries over the matter.

Recently too, but with its background in the period under review, issues relating to the internet protocol (IP), in particular its use for voice traffic, was a subject of an ITU Policy Forum. This same subject proved highly contentious during the WTSA-2000. The concern as is well known, is the very likely erosion of revenues accruing from settlements which matter would impact negatively on the developing countries which so far have received net settlements on most of their relations. Indications are that emerging technology highly favours IP telephony and the possibility of administrations in developing countries keeping it at bay, appear to be wishful thinking. Whilst technical developments and innovations need to be supported, deliberate efforts must be made by the global community to provide a level playing field in international telecommunications operations, that will guarantee adequate revenues to operators in developing countries thus enabling them to enhance investments in ICT expansion. Without this commitment, the bridging of what is now referred to as the 'digital divide' may remain an illusive target.

I considered it desirable to refer to some of the key policy development over the period under review purposely to lay ground strategies and focus in the evolution of the future plan likely to arise from WTDC-02. In this regard, BDT working closely with administrations, regional telecommunications organisations and other stake holders will need to continue spearheading studies in such areas as international traffic revenues to ensure that networks in developing countries will continue to maintain adequate viability.

As we grapple with the above and other challenges ahead, it is important that future plans should address the need to enhance ICT development and expansion in the region given our dismal status so far. In spite of its size and population, Africa's tele-density stands at an average of only 2%. The very large majority of countries in the region are well below 2.5 %. With regard to the internet, the picture is equally depressing as current access estimates stand at 1%. Equally in global trade, Africa's position is a marginalised one with only 2% of trade and 1% patent applications.

The above scenario reflects the wider socio-economic situation not only in Africa but also in the developing regions of the world in general. Since it is now a well proved fact that there is a direct correlation between ICT penetration and economic growth, the former must be given greater impetus at national and regional level. This can be achieved through enhancing the investment climate within the region and the following have been identified as key factors in this regard:-

  • Enabling policy and legislative framework
  • Independent regulators within an effective regulatory environment.
  • Investment incentives for the catalytic ICT sector.
  • Reasonable access to capital funds and flexible financing.
  • Adequate access to skilled human resource.

Mr Chairman, permit me to make some comments about the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the organisation I have the honour to represent. The African Ministers of telecommunications made a landmark resolution at the dawn of the new millennium on committing themselves on the vision of making Africa a full and active participant in the Global Information Society. Further more that this vision be achieved through working partnerships between stakeholders in the public and private sectors. This was at the 4th Extra-ordinary Session of the Conference of Plenipotentiaries of the Pan African Telecommunications Union, held in Cape Town, South Africa, in December1999. They created a new category of membership for the private sector 'Associate Member' to work hand in hand with 'Member States' in the renamed Union, African Telecommunications Union (ATU) for accelerated development of telecommunications in Africa. An ATU strategic plan was further operationalised through the establishment of the Ministerial Oversight Committee (MOC) and the creation of the African Connection Centre for Strategic Planning.

At the higher level, current strategies for faster economic growth have been initiated by the OAU Heads of State and Government with the resolve to work towards closer co-operation and regional integration and also recognising the pivotal role of ICT in this regard. Work is currently proceeding on the Millennium Partnership for African Recovery Programme (MAP), a broad economic recovery strategy. A major ICT component of MAP is being formulated under Senegal's leadership. The objective is to submit this programme to the OAU for its adoption. ATU as a specialised agency of the OAU is deeply involved in these endeavours.

At the Secretariat level, we are actively working on a seven-pronged programme covering the following areas:-

  • Special Programmes for Least Developed Countries.
  • ICT policy and regulatory framework development programme.
  • Human capacity development.
  • Programme for financing and funding ICT development.
  • Priority Project Co-ordination.
  • Programme for the Development of the Information and Knowledge Society in Africa.
  • Partnership Programme - Regional and Global.
  • Enhanced Membership Programme.

The above constitute a broad thrust of priority activities on which the Union will concentrate during next financial year from June 1st, 2001. It has its genesis in the ATU Strategic Plan referred to earlier. As in the past, we will co-operate and collaborate closely with ITU and other stakeholders in our endeavour to accelerate ICT development in Africa. At Global level, we shall develop and seek harmonised positions ahead of standards-setting and especially treaty-making international conferences.

Mr Chairman, let me conclude my remarks by wishing the meeting successful results for input to WTDC-2002.

Thank you for your attention.


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