Private sector should push connectivity

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

Botswana’s Minister of Transport and Communication, Tshenolo Mabeo, has urged Africa to look at broadband seriously.

Speaking at the Africa Internet Summit in Botswana, the Minister said: “This year’s African Internet Summit theme of ‘Beyond Connectivity: Internetworking for African Development’ is indeed in line with the Universal Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs).”

He added that a cursory look at some of the key SGDs goals covering areas such as education, gender issues, climate change, economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, and sustainable cities; will make someone begin to see how ICTs are key in facilitating access to key information to bridge the digital gap and create knowledge societies which are critical for economic and social development. 

“Broadly, the three pillars of sustainable development revolve around economic development; social inclusion; and environmental protection – and these are indeed accelerated and strengthened through Information and Communications Technology.”

He said the growth of ICTs in Africa meant good for the continent and had defied projections by the ITU. “During the past 10 years, we have seen mobile cellular penetration levels in countries around Africa far exceeding the estimates set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). What does such a trend in the communications sector reveal? Has anyone taken the time to study the reasons behind the uptake of ICTs across the African continent? I believe that as we start to research and study these trends in the uptake of ICTs in Africa, we shall begin to understand Africa’s potential to develop its economy and people lives through ICTs.”

He added that the ITU Connect 2020 has set a target that 60% of the world's population should be using the Internet by 2020 and this is broadly equivalent to bringing another 1.5 billion people online.

“These are exciting times for the ICT industry as we see countries in Sub Saharan Africa make sizeable investment in developing and deploying infrastructure such as 3G and/or 4G networks to enable connectivity. With such efforts made by the ICT industry, it is my belief that Africa shall contribute significantly to the 60% of the people using internet by 2020.”

On Botswana’s contribution to the ICT genre the minister explained: “I am proud to inform you of the strides we have made on the development of the ICT sector. Botswana through my Ministry, has developed a Broadband Strategy which provides a holistic and coordinated approach to the implementation of the ICTs ecosystem in the country with a view to achieve long-term strategic outcomes. The overall vision of the Broadband Strategy is to connect every citizen, business, communities and the country to a high-speed broadband infrastructure at appropriate quality of services and affordable prices. One of our key achievements is the significant investment that we have made to provide faster connectivity via undersea cables to the rest of the world and roll out of ICT infrastructure to connect our cities, towns, villages and communities to the network.

We also have plans to roll out broadband Internet to remote and rural areas of our country. However, as Governments, we can only create an enabling environment and that you, as the captains of the internet industry must oversee the development of this sector.”

His belief was that the ethos of the Internet is “unfettered connection to the world and access to information. This is well and good. Governments, we are committed to develop our networks so that our citizens can also reap the full benefits that the Internet can afford them. But, how can we assure this commitment while reducing vulnerabilities that are often associated with the Internet?

He made a rallying call to all African minds present to look at broadband seriously. “For us as a continent to be successful, we must approach and take broadband as an ecosystem. For me as a Minister responsible for Connecting the Nation, this ecosystem means every aspect that is required to deliver service must be interconnected: networks, services carried through the networks, the applications they deliver as well as the users.”

As connectivity progressively underpins success in the era of knowledge-based economies, the critical question is: how do we allow for networks to develop, ensure trust and security so we accomplish and harness the benefits of a digitally connected Africa, while reducing the risks and vulnerabilities?

The minister said the government alone would find it difficult to complete the internet rollout. “I believe that if it were left to Governments to govern and prescribe how the Internet resource must develop, these dreams would be difficult to realize. The Africa Internet Summit brings together a unique model – one that advocates an open, collaborative processes and stewardship is necessary to ensure sustainable development of a truly global and inclusive Internet. I believe that everyone who should be here is here, or at least, represented so that we can deliberate on these issues.”

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