The African Telecommuni-cations Union (ATU) has identified connectivity, affordability and accessibility as key elements to connecting rural and remote areas of Africa to economic opportunities.
Its Secretary-General, Abdoulkarim Soumaila, who spoke during the just concluded AfricaCom in South Africa, said these three elements are vital to the continent’s digital inclusivity and rural network coverage.
According to him, connectivity has the potential to positively impact and transform people’s lives in a number of areas, including health, education and financial services, as well as 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 the Global System for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA) shows that approximately 53 per cent of the world’s population is still unconnected. Four-fifth of this unconnected population is 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 said there is a definite need for smarter strategies and co-operation amongst 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 Information Communication Technology (ICT) Society and knowledge economy is achieved,’’ Abdoulkarim said.
The forum with the them: 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 telcos on the continent.
Also speaking, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services of South Africa, Siyabonga Cwele, said there are a number of obstacles to increasing access to ICT services among African countries. According to him, these range 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. He said the forum 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’s 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, Li Peng, said most African policy-makers have created favourable 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,’’Peng said.