By Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele
Date of publication: 10th September 2018
This week South Africa and Africa are hosting world leaders in the Information and Communication Technologies in partnership with the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the private sector. The ITU Telecom World is being hosted in Durban at the iNkosi Albert Luthuli from today to 13 September 2018.
The conference is expected to attract 7 000 government Ministers, leaders of multilateral organisations, regulators, business, entrepreneurs and small businesses. We are embracing this opportunity because it ensures that Africa’s voice is heard in the important technology discussions which include preparations for 5G networks, impact and ownership of Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity and the risks and opportunities of a smarter world. These are important discussions because Africa cannot afford to be left behind.
We also need to ensure that small businesses are not left behind because they can give the continent a great lever in the development of local solutions to our challenges, thereby, localising the digital economy. The ITU Telecom World will also afford about 50 African and SA small businesses an opportunity to partner with other entrepreneurs and to also seek potential investors. They will be showcasing their ICT capabilities, forging deeper partnerships and staying abreast with global ICT best practices. One of the key legacies of this conference will be the African Digital Transformation Centre which will amongst other things test and standardise new African technologies on the continent. This will ensure that African innovation is tested on the African continent.
This annual conference is being held on the African continent for the first time and it coincides with the centennial anniversary of Tata Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu. Mandela was the first democratic South African President to address the ITU in 1995. This year’s conference takes forward Madiba’s vision of bridging the digital divide, using technology for development and ensuring that nobody is left behind.
Addressing the 1995 ITU Telecoms, Mandela said: “Given the fundamental impact of telecommunications on society and the immense historical imbalances, telecommunications issues must become part of the general public debate of development policies. Telecommunications cannot be simply treated as one commercial sector of the economy, to be left to the forces of the free market.”
It is clear that we shall need collaboration to achieve our goals much faster. This collaboration has to be with governments, regulators, private sector, labour and academia. As South Africa, we are hosting this conference with the sponsorship of the private sector.
The ITU Telecom World is scheduled to be addressed by His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, bringing hope of a new dawn for the country, Africa and the world. He is expected to emphasising once more that we should take advantage of the rapid technological developments to help our countries to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals in order to improve the quality of life of all humanity.
Collaboration will also help us to define Africa’s strategy in relation to data, which is evidently the fuel that propels the digital economy. Our collective decisions and actions will determine if we are become slaves or own our destiny in the digital economy. Decisions we make about data should support localisation of the digital economy.
In South Africa, we have the E-Government Strategy which is our guide for digital transformation and modernising our public service departments to improve service delivery to our citizens. This will enable the Government to offer more services online to the citizens. Some of the non-sensitive personal data generated through this initiative could be made available to third parties so that it can be used for development of new products.
Another area of focus should be the collaboration in the area of connecting the people who remain offline. The Smart Africa Initiative has resolved on launching the One Africa Network which is aligned to modern thinking in the rollout of infrastructure as the continent strives to connect her unconnected citizens. New ways of connecting people are required because existing methods have left us with the infrastructure gaps which are now trying to resolve.
Training people in digital skills is as important as rolling out infrastructure to cover everyone. In this regard, African countries are rolling out the Internet for All programme which focuses on the provision of digital skills, localisation of the internet content and manufacturing and the rollout of infrastructure. Some private sector companies are partnering with African countries to scale up digital skills training. All these initiative are important because they facilitate the meaningful participation of Africans in the digital economy and empowers them to do so in their own terms.
We want this collaboration to cybersecurity. Cyber criminals do not respect national boundaries and they can be defeated through collaboration.
The ITU conference is coming at a time South Africa is preparing to host the Investment Summit in October. It therefore offers an excellent opportunity to attract investment from ICT investors. South Africa is indeed open for business.
As we host the 2018 ITU Telecom World, we are committed to ensuring that more and more African citizens are connected to this important human right.