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General News
Invest in ICT -Spio-Garbrah 3/16/2007
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Commonwealth Telecom Organisation (CTO), Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, has urged African governments to invest, alongside private entities, in the creation of suitable content that will facilitate Africa’s development, rather than rely on foreign entities to develop most of the content currently consumed in Africa through various information and communication technologies (ICTs). The CEO also recommended the early establishment of an African regulatory body, to help reduce the costs of telecommunications in Africa. He was contributing to a panel discussion on the liberalization and regulation of African telecoms at a conference still underway in Johannesburg on Satellite Communications (SATCOM 2007).

According to Dr. Spio-Garbrah, although considerable liberalization has taken place in Africa’s ICT policies and and regulatory practices over the last ten years, which has led to a rapid expansion of access to ICTs on the Continent, Africa was still quite far from bridging the “digital divide” because most of the content currently being developed for use through ICTs consumed in the region is foreign. He noted, for example, that whereas the explosion in mobile communications growth has excited that segment of the telecom industry to begin promotion of 3Gs (mostly audiovisual content transmitted on 3 gigahertz frequency), much of the content of 3G transmission could be characterized as involving “Girls, Games and Gambling”—meaning pornography, sports and entertainment—whereas the real needs of Africa were for three Es, that is Education, Employment and Empowerment. “In order to bridge this widening content divide”, said Dr. Spio-Garbrah, “we need serious partnership between the government (public), entrepreneurial content develop (private) and consumers (people)-- a Public-Private-People’s Partnership—aimed at creating suitable content that meets the developmental aspirations of African people.”

Attending the SATCOM Conference are some 500 leading ICT practitioners from throughout Africa, including Ministers, regulators, senior civil servants, CEOs of operating companies and manufacturers, and other industry suppliers such as consultants, researchers and academics. Associated with the conference is an exhibition by some 50 leading suppliers of satellite and related services to Africa.

In his contribution to the discussion on liberalization in the African ICT sector, the CTO CEO—a former Minister of Communications of Ghana-- commented that most discussions of sector liberalization failed to take into account that liberalization and competition in the ICT sector in Africa has been aided by considerable liberalization across whole economies. As such, it was necessary to take into account liberalization decisions take in other spheres, such as in business registration, foreign ownership limitations, exchange controls, capital markets development, taxation of imports of ICT products, provision of expatriate work permits, in addition to the usually-cited liberalization of licensing regimes, access to international telecom gateways or even spectrum ownership and allocation. He argued that amongst the driving forces for telecom sector liberalization has been the realization of the great impetus and contribution that efficient communications plays in the development process. In this regard, he said. most African countries are committed to the promoting national ICT plans or e-strategies, which invariably required close attention to the merits of satellite communications in supporting especially remote and rural communication, and as well as some specialized needs, in the areas of geographic information systems, disaster early warning systems and management, meteorological information, land use management, civil aviation, maritime communications as well as radio and television broadcasts. Dr Spio-Garbrah agreed with earlier speakers who had highlighted the potential of satellite communications to make significant contributions to such areas as telemedicine, distance learning. e-governance and e-agriculture, and indicated that as long as the content for these were developed with Africans and by Africans they could be of immense value.

In separate comments at the Conference, Dr Spio-Garbrah re-iterated his long-standing view about the merits of a supranational ICT regulator for Africa. He stated that for African countries to reduce significantly the cost of satellite communications to the people of the continent, a Pan-African regulatory body which could be responsible for certain kinds of multi-country licensing and equipment approvals would be helpful to the industry. He recalled that he had first made this suggestion in 1997 when as Ghana’s Minister of Communications he, along with other African ministers, were contemplating at another conference in Johannesburg the strategic potential of telecommunications for Africa’s development. He clarified that such a Pan-African regulatory body will not replace or usurp the functions of existing country ICT regulatory agencies. In his vision, while African national regulators would continue to regulate those aspects of ICTs that were of purely domestic application, such as licensing most mobile and broadcast operations, the African regulator would concentrate on only those aspects of Africa’s ICT issues that involved multi-country approvals. He suggested that while such an initiative would have to come from African ministers, it was proper for the satellite and other interested segments of the ICT industry to promote such a concept and put pressure on policy makers, as African ministers and regulators were unlikely to move quickly enough in this direction without considerable encouragement from interested stakeholders.

SATCOM 2007 is the tenth anniversary of the conference series dedicated to satellite communications in Africa, and it has received considerable support from the satellite manufacturing and provisioning industry.

For further information, please contact Toby Davies at t.davies@cto.int or on 0870 777 7697. .


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