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UN summit aims to harness technology for Africa’s development

UN summit aims to harness technology for Africa’s development

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have strongly endorsed a summit to be held later this year aiming to boost information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in Africa to advance development on the continent.

The Connect Africa Summit, to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 29 to 30 October, will bring together the private sector, governments and international organizations to seek ways to address the “digital divide” across the continent and to promote the use of information technology to achieve development goals.

Stressing that the gathering “will not be just another summit,” ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré said it was vital to mobilize the world’s human, financial and technical resources to support economic growth, employment and development across Africa.

While investment in ICT infrastructure in Africa has improved dramatically in recent years, representing a total of $8 billion in 2005 -- up from $3.5 billion in 2000 -- and growth in mobile phones has increased by as much as 400 per cent, Africa has fallen back in overall connectivity, according to the ITU.

While mobile telephone use has surpassed fixed line telephone access, fewer than 4 out of every 100 Africans have Internet access; broadband penetration remains below 1 per cent; and 70 per cent of all Internet traffic within Africa is re-routed outside the continent, driving up costs for businesses and consumers.

During a visit to the ITU last week, Mr. Ban expressed his full support to the Connect Africa initiative and said that it represented an important step not only in overcoming the digital divide but also to help countries achieve the set of global anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“This is an important vision,” he said. “We need to make our best efforts, as part of our MDG programme, to bridge this gap.”

With less than eight years left to meet the 2015 target date of the MDGs, drastic steps are required. Dr Touré pointed out that meeting ICT connectivity targets would act as a catalyst in achieving the broader development goals. “ICT is a means of creating wealth and sustainable economic growth,” he said.

The Connect Africa Summit will be organized by the ITU, the World Bank and the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), in partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).