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Tunisia-Africa: Turning ICT challenge into opportunity

The 14th Ordinary Session of African Union (AU), held recently in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), the AU headquarters, was dedicated mainly to Information Technology and Communication in Africa in terms of challenges and opportunities for development.

Unlike telephony, where the Africa claims a penetration rate of 42%, delays must be met regarding the Internet and broadband, says Hamadoun Toure, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General, present at the AU summit. Interview:

At the level of  the African Union Summit  in Addis Ababa where the subject on the agenda  is precisely the information technology and communication, do you think that with this crisis of conscience today, ICT can emerge on the continent Africa?

A big step was made, and an African Union Summit was addressing for the first time a development theme relating to information and communication technology. In fact, we no longer need to convince heads of state of the necessity of implementation of information technology and communication as a development tool. It is for us to see how we can have strategies at regional and continental level so that we will be able to harmonize development policies, and I am very happy as ITU Secretary general to see finally that Africa is emerging and holds its rightful place among nations.

And at the level of International Telecommunication Union, are you ready to assist the continent? And what can you actually do?

You know that we’ve done a lot with the African Union Commission. Now, we are working hard together to harmonize and work out concrete projects. We’re now looking beyond harmonizing policies how we can concretely launch interconnection projects in the African continent because it’s the second thing that’s missing. Beyond this, the following two steps are: first, training and capacity development across the continent and secondly the development of services and applications for telemedicine, tele education and tele commerce and also e- farming which are  democracy tools providing  more power to citizens. So we now work with the African Union Commission on the issue and we’re also working with countries separately. There is already a big step that has been done in the mobile area.

You know that Africa now has a penetration rate of 42% which is phenomenal, and nobody could believe that only ten years ago , we were at -5%. So now we must capitalize on that and see how we can increase the rate of Internet penetration which stands at only 8% in Africa and also broadband penetration. These are two areas where we are experiencing delay, but, obviously, it is a challenge and we can turn this challenge into an opportunity, and I say that these are very large opportunities available to the African continent.

 Five years after the second phase of World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis, can we say today that the objectives have been actually achieved?

We are in 2010, five years after the World Summit on the Information Society which was organized by the International Telecommunication Union, and five years before the 2015 deadline which is also the date set for the objectives that have been set by the World Summit on the Information Society. So we are reassessing global progress in the field of information technology and communication.

 We have already at the level of the African continent,  held  a summit on “Connect Africa” in Kigali in 2007 to set a strategy in Africa , and that  was successful. In Kigali, too, ambitious but achievable targets were set:  connecting all African capitals by 2012. The process is moving on well, and it is also for us here in Addis Ababa to see how we can do interconnections between poles that already exist because many investments were made in these countries. On the other hand, we see how to ensure that we can develop a lot more content. This is yet another challenge, but we have checked many success stories in several countries. We have not to repeat mistakes that were made as well as we have to share information so we can move forward.

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