‘Connectivity, Affordability key to Africa’s Digital Inclusiveness’

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Emma Okonji with agency report

The Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU), on Thursday, stressed the need for digital inclusiveness among African countries, especially those that are yet to migrate from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting, also known as Digital Switchover.

ATU, which oversees telecoms regulation in Africa, insisted that connectivity, affordability and accessibility, are key focus for Africa’s digital inclusivity and rural network coverage.
The group made the disclosure yesterday at the close of this year’s AfricaCom conference, which held in Cape Town, South Africa from November 7 to 9.

Secretary General of ATU, Abdoulkarim Soumaila said at the ICT Africa forum during the premier Pan-African technology, telecoms and media event, that connectivity has the potential to positively impact and transform people’s lives in a number of areas, including health, education and financial services and agriculture.
“All people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to a better quality of life, dignity and equality.” Abdoulkarim said.

Statistics from GSMA shows that approximately 53 per cent of the world’s population is still unconnected, and four-fifths of the unconnected population are located in Asia-Pacific and in Africa. On average, 69 per cent of the African population do not have access to the internet, with many of those unconnected living in rural areas.
Abdoulkarim stated that there was need for smarter strategies and co-operation among the various stakeholders to ensure digital inclusivity.

“In order to make rural connectivity a reality, governments and stakeholders need to make it a priority. It is necessary to develop suitable networks at an appropriate time and gradually overlay infrastructure and services until the ultimate goal of an ICT Society and Knowledge Economy is achieved.” Abdoulkarim added.
The forum with the theme, “Build a Better Connected Africa – How to Accelerate the Development of ICT Systems”, was attended by government officials including communication ministers from South Africa, Angola, Ghana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, representatives from GSMA, Deloitte, Huawei and telecommunication operating companies in sub-Saharan region.

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services of South Africa, Siyabonga Cwele, said there were number of obstacles to increasing access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services among African countries, from low levels of digital literacy, to insufficient infrastructure to support the delivery of services, and the high cost to connect, which creates a huge digital divide, and the forum, he said, was an opportunity for leaders from regional government agencies, top carriers and industry stakeholders to exchange ideas on innovation, best practices and models for sustainable growth.

“Government approach towards reducing the digital divide should include both the supply side and demand side interventions. Creating ICT policies and regulation based on the new ICT ecosystem helps in defining the various roles that will be played.” Cwele said.

President of Huawei Southern Africa region, Lipeng Li, said most African policy-makers have created favorable environments for the ICT sector, and the private sector also plays an important role in provision of the technology, solution, service and training, help transforming and enriching people’s life through communication.

“Huawei is ready to share our local practices and global expertise with all related stakeholders, to contribute to accelerating ICT development in Africa,” Li said.