The African Telecommunications Union has been restructured
and is now ready to move into a new era.
The Pan African Telecommunications Union (PATU) has been given a new start
after its fourth plenipotentiary conference late last year at which past
problems were thrashed out by more than 20 ministers of communication
from across the continent.
PATU, now renamed African Telecommunications Union (ATU), is a specialised
agency of the Organisation of African Unity and was established in December
1979 to focus on telecommunications in Africa. The conference was held
to ratify the resurrection of the union that had been under way for the
two years prior to the meeting.
The restructured union is designed to provide the institutional basis
for forging public and private sector partnerships in telecommunications
infrastructure investment, given the trend of more private sector-led
investment in the sector.
This trend is already taking place in Africa where 80% of telephone lines
are provided by the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa (25% if South
Africa is excluded).
The meeting accepted the propasal that the union be reformed into a tripartite
structure comprising governments, regulators and service providers as
members. The private sector will participate only as associate members
and although they will have the right to participate fully and vote in
meetings of the union, they will not be allowed to do so at conferences
of plenipotentiaries and the Council. Associate members may attend these
meetings as observers.
The extent of private sector involvement is also taking place in the International
Telecommunications Union (ITU). In this forum, African countries in the
main , along with other developing regions, have objected to significant
private sector involvement saying that it amounts to the privatisation
of the union.
South Africa which currently has the chair of the ITU in the form of Lyndall
Shope-Mafole, falls somewhere between the two positions in its role as
a developing country on one hand and also as a country which welcomes
private sector involment on the other.
Another important development at the conference was the setting up of
a technical and development conference which will also involve the private
Its work will include :
• Considering the standardisation of specific radio communications
and other telecommunications.
• Establishing work programmes and guidelines for defining telecommunication
development issues and priorities .
• Identifying objectives and strategies for the development of telecommunications
on the continent.
• Serving as a forum for the examination of policy, organisational,
operational, regulatory ,technical and financial issues.
• Dealing with working groups.
An ITU international radio conference to be held in May to determine radio
frequency spectrums among other things will be the technical conference's
real test. another issue resolved at the Cape Town conference was that
of membership arrears which amount to $7.1 million. According to conference
documents, the worst offenders included Algeria, Comores, Chad, Egypt,
Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sierra
Leone and Sudan.
Timeframes for repayment of arrears were established with 30% payable
before May this year. The conference also decided that the union would
keep its official home as Kinshasa in Democratic Repulic of Congo ,where
the union was inaugurated in 1978. It was moved to Nairobi in Kenya in
1997 because of political instability of Congo, a situation which still
prevails.And Kenya , through the election of one of its nationals, Jan
Mutai, as the new secretary general, will head the union's work.
Mutai replaces Minemba Mamadou Keita from Mali. Other candidates put forward
for the position were Bernard Sakala from Zambia, Samir Fahmy Zion from
Egypt and Gideon Mwakatobe from Tanzania. Mutai, who was officially inaugurated
last month, is the CEO of the Tosha Learning Centre in Nairobi, a company
which he co-founded last year which focuses on computer training, software
development and network solutions.
A trained engineer, Mutai was previously managing director of Kenya Posts
& Telecommunications Corporation at which he laid the foundation for
the liberalisation and privatisation of the telecommunications sector.
Prior to thar he spent 23 years working in the oil industry for international
companies Shell and BP Amoco.
" Africa is the the continet for the new millenium. We must position
ourselves to unlock its potential. We must concentrate on policy making
and getting the policy framework right for investment. We are going to
concentrate on inter-Africa traffic , to focus on getting the costs of
talking to each other much lower.
He called for regulator regimes to be harmonised to make the situation
more accessible and attractive for investors. He said the harmonisation
should be done in conjuction with the private sector." If different
parties adopt different technology, it makes it costly and difficult to
do business." Developing capacity in member states is an area that
will require attention." We have to create confidence in the way
we do business so the subscriptions can go up and enable us to do more.If
we demonstrate an open, transparent approach in our work we will generate
confidence from members. Once they know the new team is prudent, accountable
and transparent, it will also convince those sitting on the fence that
they can find value. This way we will get others on board," he said.
" We need to recognise that funding is limited and reserve our funding
for real needs." On the issue of the union being headquatered in
Kinshasa, Mutai said he did not feel that this would affect business confidence
in the union. "We have to look at when it might be possible for the
union to go back there. Wars are a temporary thing. We have problems in
every country in our continent. We can't punish them because they have
certain internal problems. It is better to have constructive engagement."
However, he conceded that the Democratic Republic of Congo would have
to do alot of work itself in order to justify the relocation of the temporary
Kenya's Information, Transport and Communications Minister, Musalia Mudavadi,
said hosting the union over the past few years had not been without its
cost, among which was paying 10 years of contribution in advance.
Back to top