USD 55 billion committed to connect Africa

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The Connect Africa Summit closed yesterday with investment commitments amounting to over USD 55 billion, with the ICT industry taking the lead.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda set the tone at the outset, saying, “Investment and trade — as opposed to aid and charity — must drive the transformation of our economies.” He called for a dynamic ICT sector to connect Africa to the global information superhighway. “In order to realize this much-needed economic revolution, we have to forge productive relationships between government and business,” said Mr Kagame.

The Connect Africa Summit decided to bring forward ICT connectivity goals to 2012 to enable the achievement of the broader Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Commitments were made to interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012. By 2015, broadband and ICT services will be extended to all African villages. The Summit also sets out to meet the World Summit on the Information Society goals for capacity building, establishing an enabling environment for investment, and e-government services.

The role of governments in setting a level playing field for industry to compete was highlighted. It was also decided to ensure harmonization of the regulatory framework to stimulate cross-border integration in large-scale projects. Capacity building was identified as one key area for cooperation among all stakeholders.
Africa opens doors to ICT

Africa’s mobile market has been the fastest-growing of any region over the last five years, and has grown twice as fast as the global market. Mobile phones overtook fixed lines in 2001 and now outnumber fixed telephone lines by nearly seven to one, with nearly 193 million mobile cellular subscribers in 2006. This figure is projected to grow to more than 270 million by the end of this year.

Stepping in to consolidate the mobile revolution in Africa, mobile operators of the GSM Association announced USD 50 billion in new investment over the next 5 years to expand and upgrade networks across the continent by 2012. This would provide mobile coverage to more than 90 per cent of the population.

Success in mobile penetration is now set to be emulated in broadband connectivity in Africa, with new investment foreseen for ICT infrastructure.

“Africa is open for business,” said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré. “We are looking for investment through win-win partnerships in a viable marketplace by an expanding ICT industry.” He added that wealth creation is key to achieving the MDGs. “This new investment in ICT infrastructure will lead to new jobs and overall economic growth,” said Dr Touré.

The representative of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that innovative ways were needed to extend the reach of ICT to the most remote corners of the continent. “I am confident that with the entrepreneurial spirit of the African private sector working with their international partners, the support of the international community and the commitment from governments, universal connectivity in Africa is no longer a utopian dream.”

“This is not a technology problem — the technology is waiting to be deployed,” said Mr Craig Barrett, who serves both as Chairman of Intel Corporation and the United Nations’ Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development. “We now need the government priorities, decisions, and policies to drive the implementation of a pan-African infrastructure.”
International commitments for ICT

The European Commission announced support for trans-African networks that facilitate interconnectivity. An EU Trust Fund for Africa of almost 100 million Euros in grants and some 260 Million Euros for loans has been established along with the European Investment Bank and ten EU member states for the period 2007-2008. The fund, which will be substantially replenished at the end of 2008, will finance cross-border projects or national projects with a regional and continental impact that would include ICT. The Commission also announced a contribution of Euro 6 Million to support ITU’s regulatory reform initiatives in Africa.

The World Bank Group announced that it expects to double its commitment to ICT in Africa to USD 2 billion by 2012 from its current investment programme of USD 1 billion over the last five years. The financing will continue to promote private sector participation.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has scaled up its investments in infrastructure, and expects to invest 60% of its concessional resources on infrastructure, including ICT, in the next three years. AfDB has committed close to USD 65 million to two key regional infrastructure projects: RASCOM and EASSy.

“The development banks and other financing partners have a responsibility to step in where gaps are holding back development in the region,” said Dr Donald Kaberuka, President of AfDB.

Over one thousand participants, including six Heads of State, took part in the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, from 29 to 30 October 2007.

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