UN summit to address Africa' digital gap


Africa's need for infrastructure and communication technology to develop and bridge the digital divide is to be addressed at a United Nation's (UN) summit in October.

General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have endorsed the "Connect Africa Summit", to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 29 to 30 October.

The summit will bring together the private sector, governments and international organisations to seek ways to address the "digital divide" across the continent and to promote the use of information technology to achieve development goals.

During a visit to the ITU last week, Mr Ban expressed his full support for the summit's 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. We need to make our best efforts, as part of our MDG programme, to bridge this gap."

ITU Secretary-General, Hamadoun Toure, stressed that the gathering would not be merely another summit.

Dr Toure said it was vital to mobilise the world's human, financial and technical resources to support economic growth, employment and development across Africa.

With less than eight years left to meet the 2015 target date of the MDGs, drastic steps are required.

Dr Toure 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.

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 400 percent, Africa has fallen back in overall connectivity, according to the ITU.

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

The Connect Africa Summit will be organised 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.